Teachings of the Living Prophets – Theology Essay
In a spiritually turbulent world, General Conference is a wonderful haven. The messages from the General Authorities never fail to bring the Spirit and inspire us to draw closer to Christ; it is clearly evident from their pleadings that they who speak in Conference desire nothing greater than our eternal happiness. The April 2002 meeting certainly was no exception.
Those who spoke chose a myriad of topics with which to focus their message, but a general theme appeared in every talk—the world is spiritually dangerous, but Christ’s example and Gospel give us the sole means by which we can fight the influence of Satan, improve, and progress.
The meeting opened with President Hinckley’s characteristic optimism. It was the first Conference since the Olympics took place in the same city, and our Prophet had nothing but good, inspiring news about the Church’s positive influence and growth as a result of that international event. He tells us, “out of all of this came something wonderful for the Church” (Ensign, May 2002 5). The media, which in general had outdated and otherwise prejudiced concepts of the Church, quickly discovered that they were mistaken. They wrote kind things about our institution that were not only positive but accurate. In a spiritually treacherous world, President Hinckley has given us hope and assurance that we are on the right team—that we who follow the Church of Christ are doing what is going to be not only temporally but eternally beneficial.
Elder Hales also spoke of the benefits of the last Olympics. His talk centrally concerned the concept of emerging into light out of darkness; the Church has certainly accomplished this with the recent events in Salt Lake City. However, Elder Hales continues to expound on this concept of “marvelous light” by explaining that the ultimate example of light is Jesus Christ. “I bear my special witness that Jesus Christ ‘is the light and the life of the world’” (Ibid. 71). Only by pursuing and looking toward our Savior and His teachings as the ultimate light source can we survive the turbulence of the worldly forces around us. In the following talk, President Hinckley enhances this point by likening the darkness to the unknown in front of us. He says that faith is the light by which we can progress into that unfamiliar. “We reach toward the unknown, but faith lights the way. If we will cultivate that faith, we will never walk in darkness” (Ibid. 73).
Elder Russell M. Nelson speaks of this faith as a foundation against the stormy darkness of the world and the burdens it can cause. This foundation is two-tiered. First, of course, there is the immovable foundation of the Lord’s gospel—our Savior’s teachings in amalgamation as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But on a second level, our individual faith is a foundation. Elder Nelson says, “We know that God lives and that He loves us. Standing on that firm foundation, we can reach up and find strength to endure the heavy burdens of life” (Ibid. 76). Certainly, building a foundation of faith in Christ’s gospel is essential to withstand the buffetings of the world.
Faith as a foundation is fundamentally important, but how do we progress from there? Elder Scott expands on the principle of faith with the concept of “full” or “true” conversion. He tells us, “Stated simply, true conversion is the fruit of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience” (Ibid. 25). Not every member of the Church is fully converted; conversion and Church membership are not synonymous terms. However, by building the foundation of faith, repenting when necessary, and striving to be obedient in a consistent manner, we can attain “full conversion.” Being fully converted means that we are fully equipped to combat Satan and his influence. But more importantly, Elder Scott stresses the point that this process brings about what the prophets ultimately desire—our happiness.
Often heard coupled with this “happiness” is that wonderful word “peace.” What an ephemeral concept in these turbulent days! Nevertheless, Elder Ballard reminds us how to obtain peace despite our tremulous surroundings. Peace is not found through unchaste activities, or through actions devoid of charity, pleasurable as they may be. Peace is not found in any manner of wickedness. “Peace—real peace, whole-souled, to the very core of your being—comes only in and through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ibid. 88).
Though location of this peace may be difficult at times, the Lord is always willing to help us obtain it, and the greatest way we obtain help from the Lord is through prayer. We all need the Lord’s help. It is all fine and great to preach obedience and champion progression, but we cannot really go too far without assistance from our Heavenly Father. Luckily, we have His help when we need it. James E. Faust teaches, “[prayer] is recognition that we need help beyond our own ability” (Ibid. 59). Most assuredly, this is true. God has allowed us to be on the Earth at this time, but He has not done so without promise of His loving assistance.
Heavenly Father cannot assist us, however, without an action to assist. President Monson relates how the success of the Tahitian sea captains can be attributed to a single poignant phrase—“They pray and they go.” In other words, they do not pray for safety and success and then sit at the docks. Faith for them is how it should be—a belief and an action. President Monson later admonishes, “Let us … be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Let us pray; then let us go and do” (Ibid. 51). Through faith in the Gospel and subsequent application of that faith, we will be able to withstand the storms of this world just as the Tahitians navigated the tempests of their islands.
Never has correct application of our faith been so important as it is today. President Hinckley speaks of the tragic evils of spouse abuse, abuse of the elderly, and the malevolence of child abuse. Molestation and abuse of children is a terrible problem; Elder Boyd K. Packer’s talk on children gave an even further assurance that this evil is one of the greatest plagues of our modern era. The Prophet counsels that our behavior and actions “must be above reproach” (Ibid. 52). Although he is speaking specifically to priesthood holders, this council certainly has universal application.
No one, of course, is perfect. The Lord loves us anyway. Elder Maxwell assures us that “the Lord has said consolingly, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’” In addition, “He has also promised to make weak things strong” (Ibid. 38). And Elder Holland, in his talk on the “other prodigal,” makes it clear that Heavenly Father loves us—“insecurities, anxieties, self-image and all” (Ibid. 64). In addition, we are given friends to help us progress in our quest to become like Christ, as Elder Eyring points out. Sometimes these friends bring us to the Gospel and sometimes they provide reinforcements in the battle against the world.
The battle against the world is raging fiercely in these latter days and the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only true and lasting counsel against its onslaught. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reflects in his talk that he is “grateful for the warnings of the scriptures and Church leaders on things to avoid” (Ibid. 35). He then describes the importance of taking on the “whole armor of God” to be able to withstand the last days. The rest of his talk is also wonderful in its description of the ability of the Church to assist in our progression. He makes it clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way by which we can truly improve and fight against the evils of pornography, alcohol, drugs, and gambling, to name a few. Elder Wirthlin calls these vices “nets,” and likens them and other addictive or worldly pursuits to the nets of Simon Peter when the Lord called out to him, “follow me.” In other words, they may be difficult to leave because they are so comfortable, addictive, or pleasurable. We can imagine it was a big thing for Peter to leave his nets—they were, after all, his livelihood and he was no destitute fisherman by any means. Elder Wirthlin summarizes his point by telling us, “Jesus the Christ is ‘the way, the truth, and the life: no [one] cometh unto the Father, but by [Him]” (Ibid. 17). Basically, following Christ is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of the world and come “unto the Father.”
Just as he opened optimistically, President Hinckley exuded similar hope and faith in his brief closing remarks. Probably the most significant of those remarks was his hope that, “Each of us should be a little better for this rich experience. Otherwise, our gathering has been largely in vain” (Ibid. 90). Implicit in this statement is the inference that the purpose of the General Conference was to help us improve and progress. Obviously, then, we should not ignore or passively take in the talks given at Conference. Even in this world, with its spinning tempestuous wickedness and plummeting standards, our ultimate goal still remains to progress toward eternal happiness by following the teachings of Christ. It may be more difficult than it has been. It may require a little more effort. But this is why we have prophets today: to guide us and teach us the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the only path to attain joy on Earth and happiness in the eternities.