Tag Archives: God

Why Do I Believe? Consider the Lilies

Lily DSC00554 BLMatthew 6:28-30 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” Jesus says to those hearing His Sermon on the Mount. “. . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Lilies are at the same time fragile and beautiful, yet earthy and sturdy.

Those who believe in evolution find many arguments—some real stretches of the imagination—to explain how every form of life on this planet developed from very small and simple organisms. Evolutionists have many rationales to explain how evolving organisms overcame this obstacle or that obstacle and became the complex plants and animals that we know—including human beings.

But for me, evolution can never explain beauty and variety. How did the plant know it

Yellow-headed blackbird.

One of the varieties of blackbirds.

needed to develop certain colors or varieties of color to survive? Why are there so many different varieties of birds, or lizards? If survival of the fittest was the rule, how is it that there are so many different varieties in the plant and animal worlds?

For me, evolution leaves too many unanswered questions. Those who accept only science as the explanation for all creation answer my questions with laws of genetics, physics, and astronomy. But all of their answers require a leap of atheistic faith in the end: You have to believe that what evolutionists postulate could have happened did indeed happen. And, of course, a god had no part in it.

I believe in God, and that this earth and all the life on it are His creations. I believe that He not only created a functional, self-sustaining ecosystem, but that He, as both the consummate scientist and artist, also made it beautiful for His children. (I have to say parenthetically that many of His ungrateful children are selfishly mucking up this beautiful world He created.)

Many years ago, as part of a school trip, I found myself in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Zoo with my high school biology teacher. We stood gazing at a flamingo in a pond when he said, “Anybody who can’t see that that bird is descended from a fish is a fool.” I gaped at him and answered, “Well, then, I guess you’re looking at a fool.”

Thinking back, I have had to admit he had a point. It would be easy to imagine how some of the organs and systems of the two creatures might be altered to create new life forms. But this does not mean it did happen that way, or that any such changes came about simply as cosmic happenstance.

In Matthew 6:30, Jesus went on to say, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you . . .?”

Faith, scripture, and a witness of the Holy Spirit tell me that He created the earth and its environs as a place to send His beloved children—all of us—to school. See, for example, Psalms 148:4-5: “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” We are also told that God contemplated all His eternal spiritual offspring before this world existed and established a plan to give them a terrestrial, mortal home: “. . . we will make an earth whereon these may dwell: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (See Abraham 3:24-25 in a book of modern scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. It can be found at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org.)

I do not know how long He took to create this earth or what methods He used. He has not given us that information. But I believe that the creation followed a long-term, organized, celestially ingenious plan. He who planned it used eternal, natural laws that we only understand now at very basic levels. I hope that someday, after my time in mortality, I may begin to learn about the mechanics of this creation in some celestial classroom.

In the meantime, if you ask me why I believe, I may simply have to tell you: “Consider the lilies.”

 

 

Race, Equality, and Talking to Each Other

Decades ago, in a graduate level class on communications theory, I learned that we rarely talk to another person as he or she really is. Instead, we talk to that person as we conceive the individual to be. We talk to the Other—our concept of who that person is.

In talking with a group, we may speak to the Generalized Other—what we conceive that group to be, based on our experiences with and knowledge of individuals in the group.

This means, in my mind, that the more experiences and knowledge we have in common with an individual, the more likely we are to exchange ideas and beliefs clearly. The greater the gap between us in shared experiences and knowledge, the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding.

I believe this gap in experience and knowledge is at the heart of a lot of our current conflict over racial equality.

As an old white man, I wonder if there is any contribution from me that could be acceptable in trying to close the divide.

I freely admit that I will never face some of the abuse, roadblocks or challenges that African-Americans face constantly because of their skin color. I will never know some of the prejudices they have felt. Because of what people call my “white privilege” I am largely spared those things.

I believe that I recognize racial injustice; I have seen it at work in this country and others. I have always supported civil rights legislation and other legal and social efforts to insure that people of any color have equal opportunity and equal protection in our society. But apparently, believing this and voting for it is not enough these days. Simply saying “I’ve always been for it” could be criticized as “virtue signaling”—jumping on the bandwagon as it is passing by.

Apparently something more is required of me—but what, and how do I approach it?

In all my years, I have had relatively few opportunities to associate closely with black people. That was not by my choice, but simply because of where life has taken me. Except for one long-ago exception, my experiences with black people have all been positive.

I have learned from personal experience that judging others by their physical characteristics leads me into foolish mistakes at best, and at worst deprives me of opportunities to be enriched by other people. I have tried to overcome the human failing of making snap judgments about people based on what they look like; instead, I try to learn more about the individual.

It is very difficult for me to communicate with anyone solely as a member of a group—an African-American, and Asian, a feminist, someone who has a disability, or a militant advocate of any particular cause. It isn’t that I oppose their calls for change, but I don’t like to be judged by someone else’s sense of commitment to a cause, whatever it may be. Sometimes there is an implied challenge: Either you respond to this exactly as I do, or you’re the enemy.

Often I have been approached by ardent activists for worthy causes whose invitation to discussion goes something like this: “We need to talk about this problem—but if you can’t agree from the beginning that I am completely right on certain points and you are all wrong, I say you’re not serious about helping.” That doesn’t put us on equal ground.

If it would help to heal the ugly racial divide in this country, I would be glad to sit down with anyone and discuss the differences in our lives because we are of different races. No doubt I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m willing.

But what I would prefer to talk about is how we are alike as children of God. How would the world change if we could focus more on our spiritual kinship with each other and with Him?

 

 

 

 

Blessed by Listening to His Promptings

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Sevier Dry Lake, Great Basin desert

We were not planning to make those two stops on our trip. But we are deeply grateful for the blessings that came when we did.

I continue to be amazed not only at how generously God blesses His children, but also at how frequently blessings come when we are paying attention to the whisperings we may feel from His Holy Spirit.

Our trip was to be a quick overnighter, out and back, the kind of experience we give ourselves to celebrate special occasions like birthdays. We were going to learn more about an area in our region we had seldom visited.

On our way out, we turned off the road in one place that looked interesting and hiked through sagebrush, rocks, and ant hills out to a dry lake bed. It is the kind of scene we have passed by many times in our travels. This time we turned around and went back. We enjoyed the stark beauty of the desert on a clear, sunny fall day, and I got some beautiful photographs that will fit well in a project I’m working on.

That was only the beginning of our rewards.

On our return trip next day, we stopped at two small museums in a rural farm town. In one we delighted at seeing items we remembered from our childhood in small-town America. The other told the story of a shameful episode in our country’s past, the detainment of loyal Japanese-Americans in a desert camp during World War II.

As a result of pondering what we saw in these two places, I received an answer to prayers I had offered earlier for direction. As so often happens, the direction did not come in words of a command: “Do this, then this.” Instead, I received ideas on how to solve a dilemma that I have long had. This particular problem has very little to do with the exhibits in those museums, and yet, because of what I saw, ideas came to mind that help resolve the dilemma. I saw a practical way forward, and I received an assurance that this was my answer.

That was not the end.

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Cabin of colorful western character Porter Rockwell, Eureka, Utah

We made one more unplanned stop on our way home, in a small, historic mining town. As a lark referring to my advancing age, we were taking pictures of “things older than Don.”  My wife wanted a picture of me in front of an old pioneer cabin. A man at the service station next door hurried over to ask if we would like to go inside it. Then he invited us to tour some of the old mine sites in town with him. It turned out that he was the mayor, and he shared with us his dream of how to preserve some of the town’s history.

What he shared brought a fresh flow of ideas for me—thoughts that built on and dovetailed with the inspiration I had received at the museum two hours earlier. It became plain that these experiences were not coincidence.  Our stops were perfectly timed; five minutes one way or the other, and we would have missed this opportunity.

My wife benefitted too. One of the mayor’s comments suggested a way forward with a project she has long wanted to develop. Moreover, as we finished our drive home, I received ideas on how I might be able to contribute to that mayor’s civic project, something it would be a privilege to do.

I know we were guided on that trip to receive answers we had asked for in prayer.

Some might scoff and say, “That was just coincidence, and your imagination.”

Some might say I’m boasting.

Scoffers deny themselves the opportunity to be taught by God, through whisperings of His Holy Spirit. Those whisperings are soft and subtle, but obedience brings rewards. Our Eternal Father is ever ready and willing to give us knowledge if we are willing to accept it. He will build on knowledge we have already gained, helping us learn lessons for eternity.

The answers that came to me were for questions I had not voiced to anyone but God. I have learned to recognize the sweet feeling of peace and assurance that comes with some of those answers. No, they are not my imagination.

As for boasting—what hypocrisy it would be! I am still a child in learning to walk by faith. Throughout much of my life, I have been a weak, headstrong person who did not listen to my Heavenly Father nearly as frequently as I should have. Perhaps I could have accomplished more—so much more—for my family and for others if I had listened better. I am ashamed that I have not been a better servant.

But I pray that for whatever life is left to me, I can continue learning to listen better. And if what I share now can help someone younger learn to listen sooner in life, then I am grateful I can help.

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Barbed wire art work on a fence at the barren site of the abandoned Topaz internment camp.

How Clever the Corn: Belief and Rationality

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Corn in July, before it grew “as high as an elephant’s eye.”

Here in western Illinois, the corn seemed to zoom skyward early in the summer. I thought we could almost measure the growth by the hour. Then the growth of the stalks slowed down and ears began to develop. And now we are enjoying this year’s delicious corn on the cob.

How clever the corn is in this established pattern of growth! After its spurt of growth, the Corn ear Jul17_01641Bwhole purpose of the plant seems to change as it develops ears for harvesting. It is as though some Great Horticulturist had made the plants to function this way.

And yet some people will insist this could not be so. They may insist that evolution is the only possible explanation.

Somehow that seems superstitious and ignorant. What is rational or intelligent or “scientific” about ruling out God as one of the possible explanations for creation? Is it because some people cannot see evidence that matches their limited mortal understanding? Absence of evidence is still proof of nothing. Where is any reliable, measurable, quantifiable evidence proving that God could not have been involved?

Attempts to explain creation without God seem superstitious in that they rely on some unknown chance or force that somehow accidentally created life. Really? Some mysterious, unexplainable inner drive is an acceptable possibility, but God is not?

Some might ask if I believe in “intelligent design.” I couldn’t answer because I do not know what the term implies in the mind of those who ask the question.

But I believe that this earth and its environment were created by God over six time periods according to an organized plan. I do not know what techniques He used or how long each time period was. I do not believe that they were six 24-hour “days” as we measure by our clocks, but six “days” as we speak of “our day” or “ancient days”—extended, indefinite time periods.

I believe He followed patterns that His greater intelligence told Him would work. Perhaps he used similar techniques or systems in moving from creation to creation, from organism to organism. Perhaps if a muscular or cellular system or organ worked in one animal or plant, He would employ that system again in another one. What rational being would not do this?

The knowledge I lack on the topic of creation is vast. What concerns me about some of the people who develop alternative explanations for creation is that they seem unwilling to acknowledge their own intellectual limits. They may have many years of education and experience in particular scientific fields, and yet their knowledge is minuscule compared to what they do not know. Some are nevertheless willing to speculate, so long as the discussion does not acknowledge that God could be the answer.

I believe in a God who wants us to learn all we can about this mortal life and our existence on this planet, a God who delights in helping us. If He were to reveal to us all the details of how He created everything, we could not possibly comprehend His works. But I believe He is pleased when we seek knowledge and that He will help us learn more. (After all, His Son taught, “Seek, and ye shall find.”)

God is under no obligation, however, to prove anything to us on our terms. If we want to know more, we need to seek on His terms, and this involves faith.

Who would begin a scientific experiment without some degree of faith that there will be answers—that time and experience will reward us with knowledge? But a true scientist has the wisdom to recognize that the answer may not be the one we want or expect. The hypothesis we began with may be wrong, and the answer may be something we did not believe in the beginning. A true scientist studies natural phenomena or performs an experiment seeking the truth, not seeking a way to make carefully selected facts support a prior conclusion.

This life is for schooling. We are sent here to learn, and to grow through our experiences. We are here to prepare for even greater learning hereafter.

In some future “day,” I hope to enroll in Celestial Biology or Celestial Geology 101 and learn how it was all done. But for the time being, I’m trying to master the lessons in human relationships that my Creator would have me learn here.

 

“One Nation under God”

COB1 2My08The two words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance when I was a boy in elementary school. My very patriotic mother made sure I had an opportunity to know that pledge before I started school, and I can still remember learning to recite the pledge with those new words in the third or fourth grade.

No one objected at the time. Everyone seemed to agree that the addition was a good idea.

It’s hard to imagine that such a change would be accepted now. I am surprised that in this era of secularism in government, the Pledge of Allegiance has not faced serious legal challenges.

It seems to me that we commonly say it incorrectly: “. . . one nation . . . under God . . . indivisible . . . .” When we separate nation and under God and indivisible, we are missing the point of those added words. If we are not a nation under God, then we will not be a nation indivisible. Only by following the moral guidance of a loving Heavenly Father can we be secure as a country and people.

We mortals each tend to look out for our own good. But this nation rises to greatness when we as individuals band together to work toward a common cause. The strength of the United States has come from individual willingness to bind ourselves to principles of morality and integrity. Greatness has come from a recognition that we are all children of the same Eternal Father, no matter what faith we espouse or what meetinghouse we attend.

We may not agree in all our thoughts, but if we want to remain free, we must be one in protecting the right to worship according to our own conscience. Each of us may enjoy this God-given right so long as we do not infringe on another’s right to pursue life in liberty. I believe that the United States was set up by divine providence to be a land where this freedom would exist.

In the Old Testament (Ezekiel 34:23), God said He would set one shepherd over His people. In the New Testament (John 10:16), Jesus Christ taught that there should be “one fold, and one shepherd.” In a modern volume of scripture, He taught: “. . . be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).

Nvoo My17_02935We become better as a nation by becoming better individuals. If we divide ourselves from God and His teachings by ignoring Him, we will not be strong enough to stand alone.

Religions in general seem to agree that we ought to treat each other as children of the God who created us. What I know of Islam suggests that in its true form it protects the rights of all believers in God our Father. I cannot believe in a god who would teach his children to hate and slaughter each other to honor him. That is the kind of teaching we would expect from the enemy of God. Anyone who tries to deprive others of liberty or life in the name of Allah or Jesus Christ or Jehovah is hijacking religion to serve his own prejudices and sadistic, criminal lust for power. Mixing hate and slaughter with religion is taking the name of God in vain.

Three times now I have left this post for further review as I tried to refine and focus its central message, which is this: If we want to maintain our freedom, we must honor and obey the God who gave us law to govern us. I pray that our sacred right to worship Him according to conscience may continue to be respected. I fear it could be eroded away because of those who are unable to acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

If that right to worship is ever lost, may God have mercy on those of us in this country who believe. We will have no effective defense, moral or physical, but to pray for safety and hope for the best.

 

 

 

Let Me Sing of Beauty

Nvoo SGK home20170513_009Sometimes I just have to give praise to God for the glories of this earth He created.

We have been very busy for the past several weeks in our service assignment for our church, but we have still had time to enjoy the beautiful things and creatures on Heavenly Father’s good, green earth.

The woods north and south of the place we live “are lovely, dark and deep.” (Homage to Robert Frost here.) We have seen deer watch us curiously as we are out walking, and Squirrel Nvoo 9My17_00438other creatures—including lots of lively squirrels—scampering nearby. The neighbor’s bird feeder draws cardinals, blue jays, redheaded woodpeckers, and other beautiful birds we can see from our kitchen window.

To the east, toward sunrise, there are houses with beautiful expanses of green lawn and fields with healthy crops coming up. One mile to the west, our street ends at the Mississippi River. Before the river, there are the restored homes and sites of historic Nauvoo, surrounded by bright flowers (including some that we helped plant last week).  More often than not, the evening brings a spectacular sunset across the Mississippi.

The works of man here are interesting, but the works of God are glorious. They bring these thoughts.

O let me sing of beauty

In creation’s wide expanse,

For thou art surely master

Of more than form and function,

Adding artistry in the shaping

Of the countless living things

That fill our ordered sphere.

How shall we see a leaf

And fail to recognize

Thy careful hand as artist

In its green pulse of growth?

Cardinal Nvoo My17_DSC00470How shall we see a cardinal

And not ask if brilliant red

Was somehow essential

To its graceful flight?

How can we see the river’s

Wide and surging power

And not see in its flow

The surging fount of life?

We live midst ordered systems,

Each driven by its laws,

Yet something more than order

Dresses and shapes creation,

Something more than function

Adds hue and pleasing form.

The delights of earth around us

Are products of Thy hand.

O let me sing of beauty

That is a gift from Thee.

Among Believers

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Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Our worship service was a bit different last Sunday. It involved seven people balanced on the edges of beds or on hard chairs in a small hotel room in St. John’s, New Brunswick. We came from three different countries and four different faiths.

What the seven of us had in common was belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to worship Him on the Sabbath. We met in that hotel room at the invitation of a Presbyterian minister from Illinois traveling with our tour group. He followed the order of worship he would have followed at his pulpit back home that day.

Those of us in that room could have found doctrinal differences, I am sure, if we had chosen to discuss them. Instead, what we found together was comfort in the knowledge that through the Lord Jesus Christ we all may be forgiven of our sins and become better followers of His.

In several cities during this trip, my wife and I have seen many people who appear to be wandering aimlessly in life. They seem to know how to fill their days with activity, but not how to fill their lives with growth and useful experiences.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02991BAnd yet we have met others who find fulfillment in giving of themselves. In our tour group, these included the outdoorsman who has spent many years in lifesaving on Australian beaches, and the teacher who uses music to help young people through their educational and emotional struggles. The minister and his wife are also among those people who purposefully give to others. While he and I might have differences on theological themes, I have to admire his willingness to share the knowledge of God with others. In that he is an example to me.

In high school, an agnostic friend of mine once said that Hell is every church’s gift to every other church. He was too cynical, I think, and too inexperienced to see how good can draw people together no matter what their backgrounds. I believe in a loving, caring Heavenly Father who will reward every one of His Children for the good we do, no matter what church we attend.

On a personal level, some doctrinal differences matter very much to me. I dare not minimize the principles of faith to which I am committed. Belief in those principles has shaped every crucial decision in my life. Trying to live those principles is making me a better disciple of Christ. I will hold them dear even as many in the world abandon them, and even if my beliefs are challenged and mocked.

Lunenburg 27Jn16_02982BBut I do not believe that God reserves His blessings only for those who share my doctrinal views and my church affiliation. Experience teaches that there are many upstanding people of other churches—or of no church—who are intent on doing good to those around them. Surely God will answer the prayers of any of His children who desire righteousness. Often we mortals simply need to work on understanding the wisdom of His answer, be it “Yes,” “No,” or “Follow the counsel I have already given in my holy scriptures.” Sometimes the answer may be, “Are you ready to follow the direction I will give you through my Holy Spirit?” Jesus Christ wasn’t just leading us on when He taught that if we ask in faith, we will receive (Matthew 21:22).

So on a Sunday far from home, we were grateful to be among a group of believers—people who believe in asking for His blessings, and who have the faith to receive.

Consider the Lilies

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“Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? . . .

“. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;

“And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is and to morrow is cast Lily_2574into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

“(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

(Matthew 6:25-33)

To the Question: Is There a God?

The eminent physicist Stephen Hawking said recently that he does not believe there is a God. With all due respect to Mr. Hawking’s knowledge and accomplishments—and they are truly noteworthy—I do not believe he is what the courts would call a competent witness on this topic. I doubt that he has the knowledge or expertise to testify on the matter.

There would be two significant problems with taking Mr. Hawking’s word that there is no God. First, while he seems to have made himself as familiar as anyone can with the workings of the universe, this is no indication that he has made himself similarly familiar with the workings of God. Second, and more important, it is not for Mr. Hawking, or anyone else, to tell us whether there is a God. Each one of us has the opportunity—the responsibility, in fact—to learn this for ourselves.

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How can the order and symmetry of the universe and the things in it have come about through the workings of unexplainable, unguided forces?

We ought to be able to do this with a kind of scientific experiment or an application of the scientific method. Our experiment would have to begin with a hypothesis, and since it seems impossible to prove a negative, the hypothesis would have to be positive: “There is a God.” (Every atheistic assertion I have ever seen comes down ultimately to this: “I know there is no God, because I have not seen Him. He has not shown Himself to me.” This is not only arrogant, but silly—and obviously inconclusive.) However, in order to prove our hypothesis that there is a God, we would have to investigate according to rules He has established, and this would require faith. We would have to act with belief in order to detect a response from Him. (And why would a legitimate scientist, who acts with belief in a hypothesis within his own field, question the need for belief here?)

Mr. Hawking has been quoted as saying, “The universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” I would agree with his last sentence. I do not know how God set the universe, and all His creations, and our little earth in motion, but I know that he did it according to laws he knows intimately. All things operate according to laws which He decreed and will not violate. I have seen His works, and they testify to me of the order He created to govern the universe and His children.

Moses told the people of Israel, “God doth talk with man, and he liveth” (Deuteronomy 5:24). Moses, we are taught in the Bible, was a personal witness to the glory of God. Few of us will ever have the opportunity to see God as Moses saw. But we have the opportunity to know for ourselves that God exists.

In the beauties of nature, I see not unguided development, but the hand of the foremost scientist and the consummate artist.

In the beauties of nature, I see not unguided development, but the hand of the foremost scientist and the consummate artist.

I know. I have not seen Him as Moses did, but He has made himself manifest to me in my heart and my mind and my life in ways that are incontrovertible—not in abstract impressions, but in personal words of counsel and in concrete actions and events. One involves an event that saved my life, and I have shared the story often with others, but some experiences are so sacred and deeply personal to me that I do not share them.

It would probably not be appropriate for me to transfer my knowledge to another person, even if I could, for it is up to each one of us to learn of His existence through our own relationship with Him. I cannot learn of God’s existence for you, any more than you could learn it for me. Through personal faith, God speaks to each individual’s heart. He does not give someone else the assignment to obtain this knowledge for us.

Moses said that God talks with man. Throughout history God has called prophets to teach us and lead us in His paths, if we will listen to them. There are prophets on earth today. Their calling is to teach and lead. But the knowing Him and His will is still our individual responsibility.

Knowing requires exercising our faith—putting our hearts and actions behind our beliefs. If you need help with this, there is a passage in the Book of Mormon that describes the process of nurturing the little seed of faith, and what we can expect when we do. (Alma chapter 32, verses 26-43—pp. 289-291) But if you already know how to exercise faith without studying the process, then go for it.

We cannot trust the responsibility of knowing to someone else, no matter how intelligent or accomplished that person may appear. Appearances are no substitute for truth that we experience personally. It has always seemed strange to me, and oddly superstitious, when those who trust in science refuse to acknowledge that God may have had a role in creation and organization of the universe and the life found in it. In seeking explanations that rule out His involvement, they offer no concrete evidence; they offer only their own doubts or lack of knowledge. It is as though they are afraid to acknowledge that there could be some Greater Intellect who understands even more about all of this then they do.

I know that God lives. Do you wonder whether this could be true? Don’t ask me, or Stephen Hawking, or someone else. Find out for yourself.

 

What Are We Doing with Our Privileges?

There is an incredible sense of privilege when we look back over the route we have just traveled. We have driven, more or less in reverse, the route our Mormon pioneer ancestors followed 167 years ago. The journey took them a little more than three and one-half months. We drove it in a day and a half.

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Avard Fairbanks statue of a pioneer couple struggling across the plains, Winter Quarters ceemetery

At freeway speeds on I-80 we covered in one hour about the same distance they covered in a week. We left Salt Lake City early on a Thursday morning and we spent Friday afternoon visiting the pioneer cemetery and the LDS Temple at Winter Quarters, in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska.

As a boy, my father’s father drove the freight road in eastern Utah with his father, transporting goods from Price to the Vernal area. He told me that in a loaded wagon pulled by a team of horses, 10 miles was a good day. Today, we can drive the distance from Price to Vernal in a matter of hours. So sometimes it is hard to comprehend the obstacles our pioneer ancestors faced.

Building on the efforts of pioneers in science, industry, and medicine over the past 100 years, we have created a world in which we are free to do things my grandparents could not have dreamed of.

There is a temptation to indulge in old guy stories here: “I remember when we had to pick up a phone in the nook in our hallway and give an operator the number we wanted so she could connect the call.” I remember when we bought our first 512K Mac computer—allowing us to type electronically and play a few simple games—a generation ago now. My seven-year-old grandson, who has his own small tablet computer, cannot conceive that such a primitive world ever existed.

But the point here is not that the world has changed. The question is: In a world with machines, devices, and systems that make it possible to accomplish so much more, what are we doing with our opportunities? Do we aspire simply to the same things our parents and grandparents hoped to do when so much more is at our fingertips?

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Chimney Rock, pioneer landmark along the Platte River, Nebraska

I no longer have to spend all day plowing or planting so that we have a crop for food in the winter. What, then, am I doing with my time? Since I do not have to spend time in another day of trekking across the Great Plains with my wagon, what is on the wider horizon? Can I perhaps spend my time on something that will benefit others? My wife no longer has to spend all day building a fire, heating water, scrubbing clothes in a tub, and hanging and gathering them on the clothesline. She spends a lot of her time serving others.

Are we doing enough? Is there more I could do to put myself in tune with the infinite—or to be less vague, to learn my Heavenly Father’s will and do it? What would He have me do for others?

Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once taught that most of us live far below our spiritual privileges. We could receive so much more of what God has to offer us if we were in tune with His Spirit. The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis taught something of the same thing in writing that God could make so much more of our lives, if only we would let Him.

So the question we need to ask ourselves (or at least that I need to examine myself on daily) is: What are we doing with our privileges?