The Human Spirit Yearns to Be Free
Most of us have been stirred by the recent news of the events going on in the Middle East, where millions of persons have been involved in civil unrest and revolt against regimes that have ruled over them for decades. It is hard to imagine how quickly the voice of freedom can rally disparate souls in seeking a release from the chains that bind them. The simplest act of one individual who could no longer tolerate the coarse rule of a corrupt and jaded regime ignited a flame that is spreading from town to town and from country to country.
Cell phones are abuzz. We see the news and radio about sacrifice, about blood, and about death. And our hearts go out to those who are struggling and fighting and dying. The courage of the helpless, the valor of the downcast and the powerless, and even the face of those who have not the courage to fight but have the prayers for those who do—has over the annals of history shown that man will not be ruled without his consent.
We who enjoy such a free society are blessed. Knowing what we know, our hearts reach out in sympathy to those who are struggling, for we know that freedom is never free.
Since the time of Adam and Eve, this world has only known opposition in all things. There resides in every person a GPS that tells us that justice and equity and fair play belong to every human being. Yet, because there are those who feel that it is their prerogative to rule over their fellow man either by force or subterfuge, the basic human rights of freedom are trampled on and set at naught.
I want to tell you of a time in my life when I experienced a people who were enslaved by a totalitarian government. During the latter part of the 1970s, I was conducting a technology exchange project in the former Soviet Union. From my office in Washington, D.C., I would travel to meet with government and scientists. A major effort was being made to find pockets of advanced technology that could be sellable in the Western societies. And as I met in conference with these groups and officials, I felt such a yearning to help them extricate themselves from their oppressors.
Over the many trips into that great land, I had a good schooling in seeing firsthand the plight of an imprisoned nation. People were functioning but only in a robotic semblance—body present, mind in pain. Everyone suspected everyone of being an informant. Seldom could anyone trust anyone. An entire population disenfranchised from making personal and family plans and decisions. Human despair was everywhere. There was no safe harbor and no balm of Gilead. In meetings or in the barren shops or on the streets, the prevailing sense of capitulation was overwhelming. Conversations were hushed, confidences few, and friendships were strained.
What is it about the human mind that yearns to be free? How did man get this internal homing device that says to him he is of value and of worth? And where is the repository that tells us of the dignity of the human soul?
The psalmist David said, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8:4-5)
And it was Moses who, when tempted by Satan, gave us the knowledge of our divine parentage. “It came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For … I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:13)
Knowing that we are of divine birthright gives us the security that we seek. Knowing that God is our Eternal Father and that we belong to His celestial, eternal family plants peace in our souls.
Somehow we need to keep focused on the eternal heritage that we have, and to lift our eyes to heaven and look beyond the here and the now. The Apostle Peter focused our personal compass and declared to us truly, who we truly are. Said he, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking . . . Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him that hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:1, 9)
In the deep winter of 1838-39, the young Prophet Joseph Smith, while confined in Liberty Jail—isn’t that an oxymoron, Liberty Jail—weighed down by the fear of the disintegration of the Church, distraught because the Saints were in flight under the extermination order of a misguided civil servant, implored the Lord: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
“How long shall thy hand be stayed…?
“Yea, O Lord, how long shall [thy people] suffer these wrongs and [these] unlawful oppressions…?” (D&C 121:1-3)
Then the Lord answered him, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine affliction shall be but a…moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…
“Thou are not yet as Job….” (D&C 121:7, 8, 10)
“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee….
“… And above all …the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things will give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
“Therefore, hold thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, [and] they cannot pass….fear not what man can do, for God will be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:1, 7-9)
Some of you may have experienced the recent broadcasting of the musical, Les Miserables. I believe it’s on again tonight, on KBYU. I hope you have time to watch it. Do your studies first. In this wonderful musical, which is based upon the classic book by Victor Hugo of the same title, there is a song of the oppressed called, “Do You Hear the People Sing.” It goes:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
(by Harold Kretzmer, copyright 1986 by Alain Boublil Music, LTD)
As you well know, that monolithic and oppressive government of the USSR came to an abrupt end, as was prophesied by Isaiah: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for a time to come for ever and ever:
“That this”—meaning the oppressive government—“that this is a rebellious people, lying children … that will not hear the law of the Lord:
“Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
“…Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despised this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
“Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
“…And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way.” (Isaiah 30:8-10, 12-13, 20-21)
Who are the teachers? Those who bring the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Further, Isaiah said, “The nations are as a drop of the bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…
“[He] bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
“…Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is he weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
“He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” (Isaiah 40: 15, 23, 28-29)
Perhaps some of you have personally witnessed a form of confinement, whether political or personal. There are many kinds of prisons that can bind us and enslave us—pornography, substance abuse, disease, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, to name a few. Approximately 15 years later, after my time there, the gates of that country were flung open, as well as many other countries, and those countries that were held by a flaxen cord became free. Now they are open to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No doubt there are amongst us today some who have served missions, or will yet serve missions, in those distant lands. We rejoice that God has heard their, and our, petitions and prayers.
Even though today many new freedoms have come to those of whom I have been speaking, and although we here live in a free society, I beg the question: Are we really, truly free?
In the gospel of John we read that the Savior, teaching that coming unto Him and accepting His truth, by thus doing we are truly free. To those who believe on Him, He said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) And then He further defined that “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:7) “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
It was King Benjamin who helps us to understand that true freedom only comes through coming unto Christ and denying ourselves of all ungodliness. It was he who said that “under this head are ye made free,” meaning Jesus Christ. “And there is no other head whereby ye can be free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ…that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.” (Mosiah 5:8)
Perhaps some of you have personally witnessed a form of confinement or enslavement. God gave us a very precious gift—agency. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” (D&C 58:28)
What is it about humans that yearns to be free then? How did this internal homing device teach us of our own value and worth? There are other freedoms yet to be known. There are those that have left this earth that are trapped in the spirit prison, and cannot yet escape without our help. They are waiting for us to come to their rescue. A selfless act of temporal service by those who are living can open the prison doors to those who long awaited their release.
I think I have time for one story, President. I think some of you recall, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, or prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, a man by the name of Gorbachev, that you maybe recognize, and he was beginning to lean toward openness—glasnost. There were those who were concerned that he was becoming weak, in abandoning the Communist Manifesto. And so, while he was on vacation, they arrested him and put him in confinement in his dacha on the Crimea. The coup, led by seven men, took control of all government offices, radio and television stations, the military. One who was elected as president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin was his name, went to the Kremlin and asked, “What is going on?”
They said, “We are in control now. We are relieving you of any authority. Go back to your office, tell your staff they are cashiered, and leave the building.”
Boris Yeltsin returned to the White House, which is really a white building in downtown Moscow, and said to his staff, “We’ve been told to leave by this junta that has taken over control. But I was elected by vote”—which is quite rare—“of the people of the Russian Federation, and I am not leaving.” He defied the order, and so did his staff. And so the junta brought in the tanks and surrounded the White House, and ordered him to leave or they would bring the building down around his ears.
About the same time, a Russian composer/conductor by the name of Rostropovich who was at that time the conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, gave these remarks at a prayer breakfast that the president of the United States has every year. He said, “When I heard that there was a coup going on in Moscow, I gathered up as many Russian-language Bibles as I could find, and flew to Moscow.” He said, “When I arrived there, the tanks had surrounded the White House. So I took the Bibles and I went from tank to tank, and I handed it to that young lieutenant, and I said, ‘Please, do not crucify the Christ a second time.’”
About that same time, the order came to fire on the White House. A young captain by the name of Lubarets called in his lieutenants and said, “I’ve been ordered to fire on them. But they are our people. I’m not giving you that order. I know that by defying that order I will be executed. So you are at liberty to fire if you so desire.” And all of the sudden, when those young cannoneers in their tanks, turned their turrets around, facing away from the White House, preparing to take on the next group that would be ordered to take them out also. And suddenly the coup came undone. And Boris Yeltsin and many others, in smaller countries which were part of the former Soviet Union, all declared their independence from the Soviet Union. When the history of that part of the world is truly written someday, there will be another chapter yet to be written.
About six months later, two wonderful missionaries, walking down the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, went up to a young couple and asked if they could teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. That young couple said, “Yes, come to our apartment. We’d love to hear your message.” And they, with their children, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That man was the captain who would not give the order to fire on his own people. And today he is a stalwart, active member of the Church.
As you go forth from this noble institution, may you seek to make this a better world and a better place. May you be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of your own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27)
The Prophet Joseph Smith told us, “Let everyone labor to prepare himself for the vineyard, sparing a little time to comfort the mourners; to bind up the broken-hearted; to reclaim the backslider; to bring back the wanderer; to re-invite into the kingdom such as have been cut off… [to] work righteousness, and, with one heart and one mind, prepare to help redeem Zion, that goodly land of promise, where the willing and obedient shall be blessed.” (History of the Church, 2:229)
I pray the Lord to bless us that we may shake off the bonds of sin that weigh us down, that keep us from the peaceful comforts that come only through living a righteous life. Much of the future world will need your selfless acts of service, love, kindness, and caring. Your faithfulness to the principles of the gospel will do more to bless the world than teachings of social justice and political freedoms. May you serve the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, and embrace the truth. For, as Isaiah said, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and …walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Of this I testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.