I have noticed that when he speaks of parenting and its importance, there is a scripture in the Old Testament that President Gordon B. Hinckley refers to regularly. It is Isaiah 54:13. Speaking of the latter days and the cause of Zion, it reads:
And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. (Isaiah 54:13; emphasis added)
Notice that this scripture does not promise peace without a price; rather, it promises peace upon the condition that children are taught of the Lord. This can be interpreted to mean that children are taught both about the Lord and by the Lord through the Holy Spirit. In either case, it is clear that for our children to experience peace we must be about the business of teaching them.
We live in a world that cries out for peace. I am haunted by the story of Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price. In the great panoramic vision of history and eternity that he beholds, Enoch hears the earth itself cry out for peace. Moses 7:48 recounts:
And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?
The world itself, haven for our children and their learning ground in mortality, suffers at the strife and war and wickedness that beset our children and families. Where lies hope in such circumstances?
In the mouths of the prophets. Enoch, having been taught of the great plan of happiness, was commissioned by God to carry that message forth to the families of his day. He is told:
Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children. (Moses 6:58)
Two prophets thousands of years apart in history, Enoch and President Gordon B. Hinckley, yet their message is one and the same: For our children to have the blessings of peace in their lives, they must be taught of the Lord and His divine plan. They must be taught.
The Commission to Teach Our Children
The commission to teach our children the things of the gospel of Jesus Christ is an everlasting command. It has never been revoked. It will never be repealed.
The standard curriculum for the teaching of our children is outlined in the scriptures and the teachings of our living prophets. I wish to comment briefly not on what it is that we are supposed to teach, but why it is that we teach our children and how it may bless them with peace.
Why Do We Teach Our Children?
We teach our children, first of all, that they might learn to fulfill the measure of their mortal creation–to exercise their moral agency and return to the presence of God. It is much more difficult for a child to learn the practice of moral agency, or choosing between good and evil, if he or she does not also come to understand the basis for moral choices. In the Book of Mormon, Alma teaches powerfully of this process:
Wherefore, [God] gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good– (Alma 12:31.)
I love this scripture because it teaches so powerfully and clearly of the state of each of us, of each child of God, as we come to mortality. We are in a learning situation where we have the capacity to “act according to [our] wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good.” And, of course, each of us will inevitably act contrary to God’s will at times and do that which is wrong. But I love the clarifying next verse, which has been highlighted powerfully by President Boyd K. Packer:
Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil . . . (Alma 12:32)
God’s commandments, which act as guideposts for us in the exercise of our moral agency, are most meaningful when we have come to understand how they relate to our journey through life and the plan of salvation.
So, why must we teach our children? First, so that as they are in the process of learning “to act according to their wills and pleasures” and in that context “whether to do evil or to do good,” they will understand God’s divine plan for them and the light by which they should choose.
At the center of the plan of salvation stands the Savior, Jesus Christ, his overarching love for us being expressed through the power of His divine atonement. The most potent and powerful exercise of our moral agency comes as we willingly yield our hearts and minds to following the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. This also must be learned and taught.
Some years ago I was going with one of my very young children through a checkout line at a local grocery store. As we waited in the line, we stopped before a magazine rack filled with a variety of magazines and tabloid newspapers. On the front of one newspaper was a large and colorful picture of Fidel Castro, the Cuban president, and a rather infamous personality. My son looked at the picture, a light bulb seemed to go off in his head, and he quickly pointed and said to me, “Look, Daddy! It’s Jesus!”
My parental panic button clicked on. What was I teaching my son? What would the other customers think? Was I part of a communist plot? These thoughts soon gave way to reason and a chuckle, and I responded with the assurance that the picture was only of a man, not of Jesus. While my wife and I have laughed often as we remember this experience, it also has helped us to remember that children need to be carefully and lovingly taught of the Savior.
It was the prophet Nephi who so compellingly stated a second powerful reason why we teach our children:
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
(2 Nephi 25:26)
We teach our children so that they may come to know the Savior Jesus Christ and how to repent through coming unto Him.
Are there other reasons that we teach? Of course. Yet these two reasons, to aid our children in learning to exercise moral agency and to come unto Christ, seem to me to be the most important.
How Our Teaching May Bless Our Children
A truth that is powerfully taught and remembered has great potential to bless the lives of our children. For example, a young man or woman who has learned that simple acts of moral choice can lead to dramatic consequences will be blessed if someone offers them an illegal drug such as heroin or methamphetamine and they resist and turn it down. Often we never see the beneficial effects of our own efforts in teaching our children. Yet great blessings may come to their lives through our teaching.
The Book of Mormon offers a consistent example of the power of parental instruction. Consider the following passages.
Nephi, in the opening lines of the Book of Mormon, writes:
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father. . . (1 Nephi 1:1)
Enos, in recounting his repentance and spiritual journey, writes:
Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man–for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord–and blessed be the name of my God for it–
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. (Enos 1:1-3)
King Benjamin was a teacher of his children:
And it came to pass that [King Benjamin] had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord. (Mosiah 1:2)
Thus, again and again we see repeated the message that being taught of the Lord by a caring father or mother was a critical dimension of the child’s spiritual direction in life. How do we know this? Because these accounts are not written by the parents of these prophets, but by their children. Lehi and Sariah were the parents of Nephi; Jacob was the father of Enos; King Benjamin was the father of Mosiah. It was these men, their children, who recounted the influence of the parental teaching they had received.
Our parental teaching may bless the lives of our children in the formation of their spiritual beliefs and their spiritual character. Even when our children make choices that are in opposition to the principles of the gospel, it is our teaching that may eventually bless them.
There are many examples, but a clear one is the story of Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon. This man, who lived a life of sinfulness and disobedience before his repentance and remarkable service as a disciple of the Lord, recounted his moment of choice before God:
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:17-20)
Alma the Younger’s pathway back to spiritual wholeness came about because he remembered what he had been taught by a loving father of Christ and His atonement.
In a world of pain and sin, as parents we long for the security and well-being of our children. We hope they will know peace. We want them to find peace. Peace is a promise of God.
Is peace possible for our children? Yes. But they must be taught. Nephi was taught. Enos was taught. Mosiah was taught. Alma the Younger was taught.
If God could tell us only one thing as parents, what would He say? I don’t know. But I imagine that He might say: Parents — teach thy children.