It was a stirring visual aid that President Russell M. Nelson gave us during this October 2021 General Conference. Taking us into the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple, he commended the pioneer builders for constructing a remarkable edifice “which served well for more than a century” and said “But this temple must stand much longer.”
Lest we faint or get tangled in trivial things, we are reminded. This work is a serious, eternal thing we are about. No superhuman effort or engineering feat is too great to support it.
The camera moved closer to the foundation stones, some of whose joints showed signs of corrosion.
“The foundation of any building, particularly one as large as this one, must be strong and resilient enough to withstand earthquakes, corrosion, high winds, and the inevitable settling that affects all buildings. The complex task of strengthening now underway will reinforce this sacred temple with the foundation that can and will stand the test of time.” President Nelson said.
“We are sparing no effort to give this venerable temple, which had become increasingly vulnerable, a foundation that will withstand the forces of nature into the Millennium.”
Now, with the perfect illustration before us, he made the clear parallel. “In like manner, it is now time that we each implement extraordinary measures—perhaps measures we have never taken before—to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
That last line was perhaps the watchword of the conference, a rallying cry and a deep warning.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
First the time is unprecedented. At 97 years of age, our prophet has lived through the depression, World War II, the upheaval of the 60’s, and still calls this time unprecedented, but we have the sense that is to make it clear to us, without rationalization or excuse, how unprecedented has to be our faith that is fixed on Jesus Christ.
He has talked before about how our spiritual survival depends on “the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost” He has told us, “I am optimistic about the future…But I am not naïve about the days ahead.” Now he says, “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
If there were a prophet among you, and he said such things, wouldn’t you rise up and take note? But there is a prophet among us, and that is just what he has said.
“My dear brothers and sisters,” he continued, “these are the latter days. If you and I are to withstand the forthcoming perils and pressures, it is imperative that we each have a firm spiritual foundation built upon the rock of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
“The Lord has declared that despite today’s unprecedented challenges, those who build their foundations upon Jesus Christ, and have learned how to draw upon His power, need not succumb to the unique anxieties of this era.
“He wants you to comprehend your privileges, promises, and responsibilities. He wants you to have spiritual insights and awakenings you’ve never had before.”
The God of heaven wants this for us—and when it comes to safety, the prophet returned to his striking image. “When renovations on the Salt Lake Temple are completed, there will be no safer place during an earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley than inside that temple.
“Likewise, whenever any kind of upheaval occurs in your life, the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants!” What a vivid, visual teaching. The world will be unsafe but we are safe inside our covenants.
Walking in a Circle
If President Nelson spoke of chinks in a foundation, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf used a different analogy to illustrate how easy it is to not end up where you believed you’d be when you started, describing how easy it is drift off course without fixed and reliable landmarks such as truth you can count on.
In this drifting age, where people’s highest truth seems to be what feels right, right now, the image is stark.
He noted, “There is an oft-repeated theory that people who are lost walk in circles. Not long ago, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics tested that theory. They took participants to a thick forest and gave them simple instructions: ‘Walk in a straight line.’ There were no visible landmarks. The test subjects had to rely solely on their sense of direction.
“How do you think they did?
“The scientists concluded, ‘People really [do] walk in circles when they do not have reliable cues to their walking direction.’ When questioned afterwards, some participants self-confidently claimed that they had not deviated in the slightest. Despite their high confidence, GPS data showed that they walked in loops as tight as 20 meters in diameter.
“Why do we do have such a hard time walking in a straight line? Some researchers hypothesize that small, seemingly insignificant, deviations in terrain make the difference. Others have pointed to the fact that we all have one leg that is slightly stronger than the other. ‘More likely,’ however, we struggle to walk straight ahead ‘[because] of increasing uncertainty about where straight ahead is.’
“Whatever the cause, it is human nature: without reliable landmarks, we drift off course.”
One of the reasons this time is unprecedented is because reliable landmarks are being purposely blown up as institutions we have always counted on are eroded. The idea that God is in His heaven and truth is objective has become not just unpopular, but disdained. Our convictions may change against the onslaught of this popular opinion, when we don’t realize they have.
Elder Uchtdorf said, “Most of the changes in our spiritual lives—both positive and negative—happen gradually, a step at a time. Like the participants in the Max Planck study, we may not realize when we veer off course. We may even have high confidence that we are walking a straight line. But the fact is that without the help of landmarks to guide us, we inevitably deviate off course and end up in places we never thought we would be.
“Sometimes this falling away takes generations. Sometimes it happens in a matter of years or even months. But we are all susceptible. No matter how strong our spiritual experiences have been in the past, as human beings, we tend to wander…
One author put it this way: ‘A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there. … And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same random quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.”
Prepared to Give “Not Less than Everything”
With so much at stake, in these times, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, said, “We are to declare ourselves ‘all in.’
He said, “In his characteristically memorable prose C. S. Lewis imagines the Lord saying to us something like this: ‘I don’t want . . . your time . . . [or] your money . . . [or] your work, [as much as] I [just] want You. [This tree you are pruning.] I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want . . . the whole [thing] down. [And that tooth.] I don’t want to drill [it], or crown it, or [fill] it. [I want] to have it out. [In fact, I want you to hand over to me your] whole natural self. . . . [And] I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my . . . will shall become [your will].’”
“All who speak in this general conference will all be saying, one way or another, what Christ said to the rich man: ‘Come unto your Savior. Come completely and wholeheartedly. Take up your cross, however heavy it may be, and follow Him.’ They will say this knowing that in the kingdom of God, there can be no halfway measures, no starting and stopping, no turning back.
“To those who requested permission to bury a deceased parent or say goodbye to other family members, Jesus’s reply was demanding and unequivocal. ‘Leave that to others,” He said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’
“When difficult things are asked of us, even things contrary to the longings of our heart, remember that the loyalty we pledge to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of our lives. Although Isaiah reassures us it is available ‘without money and without price,’ we must be prepared, using T. S. Eliot’s line, to have it cost ‘not less than everything.’
Are God’s Blessings “Unconditional”
We live in a time, when if people do believe in God, they see Him as sponsoring a really lavish “come as you are” party, that we will be invited back into His presence merely because He loves us without any other conditions. The requirement of merit seems unloving and marginalizing to some.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, continued the theme of a God of high expectations. He said, “Because God’s love is all-embracing, some speak of it as ‘unconditional,’ and in their minds, they may project that thought to mean that God’s blessings are ‘unconditional,’ and that salvation is ‘unconditional.’ They are not. Some are wont to say, ‘the Savior loves me just as I am,’ and that is certainly true. But He cannot take any of us into His kingdom just as we are, ‘for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.’ Our sins must first be resolved.
“Professor Hugh Nibley once noted that the kingdom of God cannot endure if it indulges even the smallest sin. ‘The slightest taint of corruption means that the other world would be neither incorruptible nor eternal. The tiniest flaw in a building, institution, code, or character will inevitably prove fatal in the long run of eternity.’ The commandments of God are ‘strict’ because His kingdom and its citizens can stand only if they consistently reject evil and choose good, without exception.
“Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observed, “Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never did even once).
“The way of the world, as you know, is anti-Christ, or ‘anything but Christ.’ Our day is a replay of Book of Mormon history in which charismatic figures pursue unrighteous dominion over others, celebrate sexual license, and promote accumulating wealth as the object of our existence. Their philosophies justify in committing a little sin, or even a lot of sin, but none offer redemption. That comes only through the blood of the Lamb. The best the ‘anything but Christ’ or ‘anything but repentance’ crowd can offer is the unfounded claim that sin does not exist, or that if it exists, it ultimately has no consequences. I can’t see that argument getting much traction at the Final Judgment.
“Ours is not a religion of rationalization nor a religion of perfectionism, but a religion of redemption—redemption through Jesus Christ.”
Patience and Persistence
The call for us is to dig in, repent, develop new spiritual muscles and resilience, yet what is equally clear is that we have a God of love and compassion who works with us over the long haul and incrementally. This journey in mortality is for our good, and He knows personally its challenges, because He took them on for each of us individually and collectively through His atonement.
Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men’s presidency said, “We must strive to keep God’s commandments and never give up just because we slip up.
“Some mistakenly receive the message that repentance and change are unnecessary. God’s message is that they are essential. But doesn’t God love us despite our shortcomings? Of course!
He loves us perfectly. God loves us as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way.
“Repentance and recovery are lifetime pursuits.”
Brother Wilcox gave us this image:
“Life is like a cross-country road trip. We can’t reach our destination on one tank of gas. We must refill the tank over and over. In short, we promise to press forward on our journey and God and Christ promise to refill the tank.”
He said, “God’s message is that worthiness is not flawlessness. Worthiness is being honest and trying.”
He quoted Elder Bruce C. Hafen, who said that developing a Christlike character “requires patience and persistence more than it requires flawlessness.”
“The Lord has said the gifts of the Spirit are ‘given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do.’”
He added, “Some mistakenly receive the message that God is waiting to help until after we repent. God’s message is that He will help us as we repent. His grace is available to us “no matter where we are in the path of obedience
“His grace is not just a prize for the worthy. It is the “divine assistance” He gives that helps us become worthy. It is not just a reward for the righteous. It is the “endowment of strength” He gives that helps us become righteous. We are not just walking toward God and Christ, we are walking with them.”
He spoke of one young man who turned to the Lord to overcome a problem who said, “These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I have done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what He has done.”
Oct. 2021 General Conference was a feast, where listeners were reminded they were loved of God, that they were called to a great work, and that they could withstand the anxieties of this time, with a firm foundation in the Lord.
When the prophet mentioned that there was safety in our covenants, he also announced new temples in Taiwan, Phillipines, Liberia, DR Congo, Madagascar, Mexico, Brazil, Boliviz, Santiago West Chile. In addition, new temples were announced for Fort Worth, Texas; north Rexburg, Idaho; Heber Valley, Utah; and the reconstruction of the Provo, Utah temple once the Orem, Utah temple has been dedicated.