Three Critical Questions


Christensen CommencementCommencement Address given at 
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

December 17, 2010 
Roger Christensen
Assistant Commissioner in the Church Education System


I am grateful to be assigned to participate in these graduation services with Elder Perry. I love him; I honor him; and I sustain him as a prophet, seer and revelator. Like you, I look forward to hearing his message so I will be brief.

Graduation is a wonderful time for rejoicing and looking to the future, but it also provides a reference point for reflection - not only for what you have accomplished, but also on some of the messages you will hear. Recently, I read a talk to the graduates of USC given by its retiring president, Steven B. Sample, at their 2010 spring commencement that has allowed me an opportunity to reflect.     

In his final commencement address, Dr. Sample asked three poignant questions. I was quite surprised by the topics he chose to address at a non-religious university graduation, but was impressed by his insightful responses to these questions, at least from an academic or secular perspective. I would like to share some of his thoughts with you and add a gospel perspective for you to consider as you now leave this university where spiritual matters are an integral part of all things discussed.

The three questions Dr. Sample asked were: How do you feel about money; how do you feel about children; and, how do you feel about God? 

First, how do you feel about money?  Dr. Sample emphasized that the question is not how should you feel about money, but how do you feel about money?  How important is money to you? And to what extent can making, accumulating, and spending money motivate you and satisfy your deepest desires?  In discussing this question with a colleague at a critical juncture in his own career he concluded, "The world is full of unhappy people who have never figured out how they really feel about money. There are multitudes of priests, teachers, artists, and public servants who, deep down, would be much more fulfilled by the pursuit of wealth, and who, in following that inclination, would probably make much more significant contributions to society. "  He continued, "Similarly there are many people caught up in profit-seeking jobs, where the principal reward and measure of success is money, who would be much happier and more productive if they were engaged in more altruistic occupations. "  He concluded by saying, "If a person can discover early on how he feels about money, he will be able to address many of life's choices in a more definitive and satisfying way. "  

Now, from a doctrinal perspective, it is important to understand what the scriptures say about money and wealth. We are all familiar with Paul's rebuke in his epistle to Timothy when he wrote, "For the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Does that mean that money is inherently bad?  Not at all. Money can be a resource for doing much good in the world. Paul's emphasis was on the love of money, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).

The message of the Book of Mormon about money is clear - and the pattern illustrated repeatedly - that wealth can lead to pride, and pride leads to destruction. One example of this pattern was described by Helaman, the son of Alma, about his people, "They grew proud, being lifted up in their hearts, because of their exceedingly great riches; therefore they grew rich in their own eyes, and would not give heed. . . to walk uprightly before God" (Alma 45:24). However, pride does not have to be the only outcome when acquiring wealth. A little later in the Book of Mormon, after the people were humbled by war and afflictions and had repented, they were again blessed with abundance. The scriptures note, "Notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him" (Alma 62: 49).
In our day the Lord has said, "And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old" (D&C 38:39).

Since this is a graduation, we might appropriately paraphrase another scripture to say, "To be learned [and to become wealthy] is good if [you] hearken to the counsels of God" (2 Nephi 9:29). As you come to grips with your personal feelings about money, remember to keep your motives pure and your priorities straight.

Next, how do you feel about children?  After describing some of the conditions and challenges children in the U.S. and the world are facing, President Sample asked, "What commitments are you willing to make to your child and what sacrifices are you willing to make on his or her behalf?"  He added, "As you move into positions of authority and power, ask yourself to what extent the welfare of our children should affect the formulation of public policy and the allocation of public resources. Ask yourself to what extent you see yourself as a teacher and protector of the young. . . no matter what your compensated occupation may be one of the greatest opportunities you will have - to make a truly lasting contribution to society - will be as teachers and exemplars for children. "  He concluded this topic with sage advice, "Our greatest single challenge in the years ahead will be the reconstruction of our society into one that is user-friendly to children. " 

Now the doctrine. We are told in Psalms: "Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the Brethren proclaim, "Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. "  The scriptures and statements from Church leaders have emphasized this: families are, and must always be, our most important priority. Harold B. Lee was noted for saying, "The greatest work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home. "  Whether your home is blessed with many children, or few, or none at all, you need to decide how you feel in your heart about children. Remember the Savior said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).
Finally, how do you feel about God?  For Latter-day Saints, this seems like an odd question. Almost every Primary child in the Church, if asked that question, would burst forth in a stirring rendition of "I Am a Child of God. "  But for much of the world there is little comprehension of who God really is and what our relationship is to Him. Dr. Sample commented, "The vast majority of people duck this question altogether. It is simply too scary or too overwhelming for them to address in any serious way. There are millions of people. . .who regularly attend religious services, and yet haven't the foggiest idea of how they feel about God. . .Similarly, there are millions of agnostics who have concluded that questions pertaining to God are simply unanswerable or unimportant, and yet who find it impossible to fully suppress their concerns for the spiritual and transcendent aspects of their own existence.  One of mankind's deepest and most abiding concerns. . .is our feeling for and relationship with God. "  He summarized, "My point is that you may be able to run from your true feelings about God or non-God, but it is very difficult to hide from them in the long term. "   

For Latter-day Saints, let us rejoice in the doctrine. As Job of old, we can boldly declare, "I know that my redeemer liveth" (Job 19:25). As we go through life we most certainly will be tested and tried, as was Job, but like Job we should never lose sight of our knowledge that God lives; that He is our father; and that our goal is to become like Him and qualify "to live with Him some day. " 
As you give careful consideration to these fundamental questions and come to understand the doctrine to an even greater degree, you will learn a great deal about yourself: who you are, who your Heavenly Father is, and more about your relationship with Him. You will find joy and happiness as you come to understand God's plan for you. Like Moses, you will hear His voice expressing to you: "I have a work for thee, Moses, my son [or David, my son, or Sione, or Ungatea, or Chiu Yi, or Marianna, or Angalelei, or Hiroko]" (Moses 1:6). As you pursue that work, whatever path you may take as you leave this wonderful place, stay safely on the path that will lead you back to Him.

I know that He lives. I know that He loves you, and I know that He will lead your path if you will listen to and follow Him. Of that I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Photo by Monique Saenz.