Learning for Eternity
JAMES E. FAUST
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this devotional
address was given at Brigham Young University on 18 November 1997.
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I have said repeatedly that Brigham Young University is a continuing experiment on whether an institution--the majority of whose trustees are prophets, seers, and revelators--can continue to be true to its trust by the world's changing standards and yet be a first-class university academically. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it well: "The 'watchmen on the tower' cry out for those who will integrate, coalesce, clarify, and give both order and rank to important human knowledge" ("A School in Zion," BYU Annual University Conference address, August 1988, p. 27). At Brigham Young University the secular must be taught in a spiritual context. Indeed, as President Spencer W. Kimball points out, "The secular without the foundation of the spiritual is but like the foam upon the milk, the fleeting shadow" (TSWK, p. 390).
Each of you, on a personal level, has the same challenge that exists for the university. You need to know the purpose for your being. Each of you needs to ask yourself, Why am I here on earth? Why am I at this university rather than at any other university, one that will teach only secular learning? Am I here to enjoy a scintillating social life? Is it to support the athletic program? Is it to find a companion? The answer is, You are here to learn for eternity.
A year ago, when President Gordon B. Hinckley was on this campus, he admonished:
If this university meets the purpose for which it is maintained, then you must leave here not alone with secular knowledge but, even more important, with a spiritual and moral foundation that will find expression to improve the family, the community, the nation, even the world of which you will be a part. [Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand Up for Truth," BYU 199697 Speeches (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1997), p. 23]
Learning and education have always been the hallmark of our people. Every president of the Church, beginning with President Joseph Smith, has zealously fostered, encouraged, and supported the cause of education. The reason for this emphasis is that education equates with our eternal well-being. In a First Presidency message dated March 26, 1907, the Brethren said:
To the Latter-day Saints, salvation itself, under the atonement of Christ, is a process of education. That knowledge is a means of eternal progress, was taught by Joseph Smith:--It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.--A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.--The glory of God is intelligence. [Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comp. James R. Clark (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 4:14647]
In the law school I attended not far from here, our dean told us we were studying the law so that we could learn to think straight. He said the law would change, but if we could learn to think critically by separating the wheat from the chaff, we would be better qualified to become effective advocates. Brigham Young stated it better: "Education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world's work, and the power to appreciate life" (Brigham Young, quoted by George H. Brimhall in "The Brigham Young University," Improvement Era, vol. 23, no. 9 [July 1920], p. 831).
The clocks tick as you pursue your studies at Brigham Young University. This should be a happy time as you move forward, tooling up for your working lives. Don't forget to laugh at the silly things that happen. Humor is built very largely upon incongruities and contrasts. It is a powerful force for good when used with discretion. Its physical expression, laughter, is highly therapeutic.
To summarize, President Brigham Young's statement really is talking about internalizing what we learn, going from what we know to what we do to what we are. All our learning and living should prepare us for leadership in the Church and the community. As President Hugh B. Brown pointed out:
Every doctrine has its associated duty, . . . every truth has its task. The gospel when the Master first proclaimed it, was not intended primarily for preaching--it was intended for action. . . .
No man can truly assimilate Christianity by impression alone, there must be expression as well. ["Service," Relief Society Magazine, December 1969, p. 888]
For 25 years I have been privileged to walk with and sit at the feet of the prophets almost daily. Some have excelled academically or in the business world. Others achieved distinction in medicine, in science, or in law. Yet they are all men of great humility and wisdom. They bear witness, as expressed by our late President Howard W. Hunter, that
belief must be realized in personal achievement. Real Christians must understand that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a gospel of belief; it is a plan of action. His gospel is a gospel of imperatives, and the very nature of its substance is a call to action. [CR, April 1967, p. 115]
Do not become puffed up with pride as you progress in secular learning.
My challenge to you is to learn to think spiritually. That is far harder to master than learning by rote the many facets of secular education. I emphasize spiritual thinking because secular learning is ever changing. Even the so-called exact sciences, with some exceptions, are changing. Spiritual knowledge and intelligence are unchanging and eternal.
Your purpose in being at Brigham Young University is to help you reach to eternity. The quest for eternity begins now, this year, this month, this day, this moment. You want to be able to compete as competent equals with others in your discipline.
As we think about what we will take into the eternities, it will only be our faith and our understanding and knowledge, both spiritual and temporal.
Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. [D&C 130:18-19]
We do not want to arrive in the next world educationally bankrupt, though I am afraid I have a lot of chemistry and math to learn! I hope I will be a better student there. Also, I expect our teachers there will have enhanced abilities.
President Lorenzo Snow taught:
The whole idea of Mormonism is improvement--mentally, physically, morally, and spiritually. No half-way education suffices for the Latter-day Saint. He holds with Herbert Spencer that the function of education is to "prepare man for complete living," but he also maintains that "complete living" should be interpreted "life here and hereafter." Joseph Smith declared that the glory of God is intelligence, that a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, and that whatever principles of intelligence he attains to in this life, they will rise with him in the resurrection, giving him the advantage over ignorance and evil in the world to come. He taught that man by constantly progressing may eventually develop into a divine being, like unto his Father in Heaven. [Teachings of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984), p. 27]