“No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God’s hand is on the rein. They all go bad when they set up on their own and make themselves into false gods.”
May 15 marked the anniversary of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and two landmark addresses from our beloved Prophet and Sister Nelson. To say Sister Wendy Nelson “hit it out of the park” would be simplistic at best. However, after hearing President Nelson’s address, it seems to me Sister Nelson’s most evocative question encompasses everything President Nelson taught that evening. Indeed, what President Nelson’s discourse accomplished, gave us a vision of heaven, clarity on the unity of the Godhead, and a renewed vision of our identity. President and Sister Nelson were nothing short of prophetic.
In providing such an analysis and gushing review, I am fully aware I am not the standard for what constitutes prophetic truth. I am coming at this from the angle of one who has spent three decades in daily classrooms of youth and young adults. I have spent my time in the trenches and tropes of teens while standing vexed over their vices and vernacular. But, most importantly, I believe in the prophetic statements about them, namely that they “are hungry for things of the Spirit; they are eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. They want to know about the fundamentals . . . about our beliefs; they want to gain testimonies of their truth. They are not now doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth.”
I’ll get right to the point. We worship the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost. President Nelson’s prioritized list of our identity mirrors the roles and relationships of our Eternal Godhead. The world’s “mists of darkness” regarding our eternal identity “blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost” (1 Nephi 12:17). Consequently, we have a generation who, unwittingly, but sometimes rebelliously, goes slouching after the great and spacious building only to discover the promises to be nothing more than a Potemkin village—grand facades to be sure, but in truth, vacuous and dark. Or, like the baby’s binky, a perfect parental illusion to be sure, but unless the parent delivers the real thing, it is form without substance. Without the realized promise, the binky is no more than balderdash.
The Siren Song of Subjectivism
I do not mean to exaggerate the novelty of our situation, but things are changing at a rapidly accelerated pace unseen by any previous generation. Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s quip that the next few years and decades would be “high adventure” now seems painfully present. It certainly feels like the prophesied day when “all things shall be in commotion.” Still, we also have prophetic proclamations justifying our suspicion. Elder Bednar commented on the contemporary commotion when he said that the word “commotion” is “surely . . . descriptive of the day in which we live.” But, almost as a forerunner to President and Sister Nelson’s redemptive remedy, Elder Bednar observed, “In the commotion and confusion of the latter days, we are blessed with a sure knowledge of who we are, who each of us is, and Whose we are.”
If “in the last days,” as Elder Maxwell taught, “discipleship is to be lived in crescendo,” then it seems the song has hit triple forte, fortississimo, or just simply, very, very loud?! Indeed, what sort of musical piece is being played?! Is it reggae, rap, or a requiem? Sometimes, it sounds like rock and roll. Is it a concert or a concerto spanning multiple movements? I suppose the tune and tenor of our musical musings take on greater urgency when we understand that, according to Plato, the decay of civilization first happens through its music. This begs the question: Are contemporary cultures, countries, and communities in harmony with the Lord’s musical stylings? Is our discipleship in crescendo or diminuendo?
Furthermore, according to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, all that talk in the Doctrine and Covenants about the Lord hastening His work in his time is now coming to fruition. Amos prophesied that, in the last days, there would be “a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12). In the world, there is surely a scarcity of souls drinking of the living water, not because it isn’t present, but because it isn’t palatable. Chesterton noted, “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Therefore, as parents, teachers, and leaders, we must be about the business of irrigating the desert. So, it’s time to put on our boots, saddle up, and work on getting the prophetic vision.
President Nelson’s discourse directly sends a warning shot across the bow of subjectivism. Our youth are constantly barraged with slogans and messages encapsulated in the oft-heard catchphrase, “your truth is not my truth.” Consequently, according to the subjectivist, personal meaning and identity come from within—subjective whim—not from “absolute truth—eternal truth.” If there is no absolute, outside, and eternal standard of truth, then how do we know our views do not correspond closer than to those of a brick, bridge, or baboon? But, someone may object by saying, “bridges and bricks don’t have views!” to which comes the answer, “on subjectivism, your truth is not my truth. Without absolute truth, there is no way to tell whether a brick has a view or not.” Thus, the prophetic direction is not only nice but essential in irrigating the deserts of our hearts, homes, and humanity.
Abraham described the creation before the gods organized and formed it as “empty and desolate” (Abraham 4:1-2). So it is with our lives. Without a standard beyond ourselves, we are left existing—not dwelling—in a lone and dreary world. Without God’s absolute truth, we can convince ourselves that our lives have meaning, but as one atheist poignantly proclaimed, we must confess, “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Our youth and young adults feel it, they get it at school, see it on social media, and breathe it through the cultural climate. Without adherence to absolute Truth, it is difficult to allay anxieties and depress the depression when there is, to use Shakespeare’s words, “much ado about nothing.” Life, therefore, feels as if we are nothing but walking shadows, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Without absolute truth, meaning lies within because the universe has been emptied. We not only “see through a glass darkly,” but modern telescopes do not allay our fears (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Without the Lord’s lenses, we see not the holiness of heaven but the vacuousness of space. “We make men without chests,” Lewis wrote, “and expect of them virtue and enterprise. . . . We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. All of us are, like Jacob, a “lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out . . . born in tribulation, in a wilderness” (Jacob 7:26), but we can live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27).
Amos’s ominous oracle of the last days of a famine in the land is a call to action. The youth and young adults thirst for water but, alas, too many are drinking from the beguiling basins of Babylon. Nephi observed a river of “filthy water” which coursed along the strait and narrow path (see 1 Nephi 12:16). The river containing the “depths of hell” offers a deluge of flotsam and jetsam that both distracts while it destroys. Treading water in the titillating tides of TikTok and Twitter, the Saints are carefully lulled “away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21). Indeed, what the Lord initiates, Satan imitates.
But, enough of the melancholy. Let us usher in the magnificent.
The Solution to Subjectivism
The prophet Ezekiel offers a vision of the last days wherein the desert, famine, and everything not right is set to rights. Ezekiel saw from the side of the temple’s altar a river of healing water weaving and coursing its way through the Judean desert until the sweet water touched the Dead Sea. Wherever the river touches, there is life. Ezekiel observed, “at the bank of the river were very many trees on the one side and on the other. . . . New fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (Ezekiel 47:7, 12).
Surely, Messiah’s promise to make us “trees of righteousness” is one fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy (see Isaiah 61:1-3). Wherever the river flows, emanating from the sacred sanctuary, brings life and light. The youth and young adults have “a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert” (Isaiah 4:6). The banks are no longer lined with the parched and the poor. Instead, the river of living water has renewed the dusty desert into rich loam. These formerly scorched and destitute trees, children of God, will be “planted by the rivers of water” and bring forth fruit in their season. “Their leaves no longer wither, but they proper in peace (Psalm 1:3).
On May 15, 2022, President and Sister Nelson offered such healing water to the young adults of the Church. Their counsel applies to all who walk the covenant path. Like the children of Israel, we are wandering in our daily deserts. But, gratefully, as Tolkien reminds us, “not all who wander are lost.” The thirsting ancient children of Israel journeyed until “they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees” (Exodus 15:27). Like the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles with the priesthood keys they hold, the twelve wells provide access to the living waters of life. Only through the duly ordained ministers of the Lord do we find and can we sup from the living waters of salvation. Jesus is the living water who saves, redeems, and cleanses.
Three Statements of Being—Three Members of the Godhead
President Russell M. Nelson offered three statements that encapsulate the first three statements of our being and the roles and relationships we have with each member of the eternal Godhead. President Nelson further observed that if the Lord were personally present, “the first thing he would make sure you understand is your true identity.” The first and most essential truth is that “you are literally spirit children of God.” He then asked if this eternal truth was “spiritually imprinted on your heart. Has this truth rescued you when confronted with temptation?”
The way we think about who we “really are,” President Nelson continued, “affects almost every decision you will ever make.” How we think the world works affects what we think a human being is. If there is at the end no eternal truth, no purpose or meaning for the end of our creation, then our existence is nothing more than a cause-effect relationship of materials and energy colliding together. Space above would be nothing more than a bunch of rocks orbiting about chemical reactions. Thus, as President Nelson continued, “if any label replaces your most important identifiers, the results can be spiritually suffocating.” We are not mere machines made of material; we are designed, so there must of necessity be a Designer.
President Nelson pleaded that we “not to replace these three paramount and unchanging identifiers with any others because doing so can stymie your progress or pigeonhole you in a stereotype that could potentially thwart your eternal progression.” What we sow, we reap (see Galatians 6:7-8). If we buy into and plant the seed of secular subjectivism or metaphysical naturalism, there is no purpose of existence. There would be no “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). In fact, there would be no measure of the stature of anything because there is nothing to measure it against. No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”
President Nelson said the labels most significant to our identity are (1) “You are a child of God,” (2) “As a member of the Church, you are a child of the covenant,” and (3) “You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.” President Nelson further declared, “No identifier should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations. . . . Any identifier that is not compatible with these three basic designations will ultimately let you down. Other labels will disappoint you in time because they do not have the power to lead you toward eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God.”
These three “paramount and unchanging identifiers” find expression in our daily lives with the roles and relationships with the three members of the Eternal Godhead.
President Dallin H. Oaks recently recited the Prophet Joseph Smith’s bold declaration of the roles each member of the Godhead has with us. The Prophet Joseph Smith said,
“Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all. …
“… These personages … are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator.
“[It is] the province of the Father to preside as the Chief or President, Jesus as the Mediator, and the Holy Ghost as the Testator or Witness.”
First: You Are a Child of God—The Kingdom of God Our Eternal Father
The kingdom of God, our Eternal Father, is the celestial kingdom of heaven. God the Father is the Supreme Creator. Through Jesus Christ, He created heaven and earth and all things in them (see Moses 2:1). We “were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth.” For, the Lord declares, we are “spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:23, 33-35).
We resonate with that which is of God because we are beings of light and truth. When we receive the light, we apprehend and understand truth. When we act upon that truth, we receive more light. This cycle of receiving light and truth grows and expands until we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Thus, as the Lord declared, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24). As children of our Eternal Father, we are designed to “run on God.” As the combustible engine is designed to run on gasoline and the body is designed to run on food, our spirits are designed to run on God.
Second: You Are a Child of the Covenant—The Kingdom of God the Second, the Son
President Nelson declared, “As a member of the Church, you are a child of the covenant.” Jesus Christ is “the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). As God our Eternal Father is the destination, we are “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:69). This new and everlasting covenant is administered by and through the kingdom of God on the earth, “even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:4).
The Savior taught His disciples: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also. … He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:7, 9). Jesus Christ is “the express image” of the Father’s “person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). To be the “express image” is both a statement of description and vocation. In his First Vision, the Prophet Joseph Smith observed that the Father and Son “exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness.” But to be the “image of God” is to also be the imager of God. He is the one who reflects God’s glory into the world as the “great high priest.” Therefore, let us “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4, 14, 16).
Third: You Are a Disciple of Jesus Christ—The Kingdom of God the Third, the Holy Ghost
President Nelson said, “You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.” We follow him because he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We love him, so we keep his commandments (see John 14:15). Therefore, to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we must receive the Holy Ghost. The role of this member of the Godhead “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Nephi 31:18) and reveals and teaches “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). How can we speak, act, or follow the teachings of Jesus Christ unless we know the truth relating to Jesus Christ? Thus, the Holy Ghost becomes essential in our walk of discipleship.
Jesus said we must be “born again” to “see the kingdom of God.” This requires acting upon the light and truth we possess. As we are “born of water and of the Spirit,” we “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5). The Prophet Joseph Smith commented on this passage, saying, “It is one thing to see the kingdom of God, and another thing to enter into it. We must have a change of heart to see the kingdom of God, and subscribe the articles of adoption to enter therein.” The Holy Ghost becomes our “constant companion,” who not only speaks peace to our souls, but renews, regenerates, and restores our souls. Truly, the Holy Ghost provides us with the kingdom of God within our hearts, minds, and bodies. We become the temple of God because God, the third member of the Godhead, dwells within.
Sister Nelson’s Summarizing, Simple and Salient Question
Sister Wendy Nelson, the beloved wife of our Prophet, spoke first during the recent devotional. She prefaced her remarks by whetting our appetites for living water by inviting us to consider one question. Acting upon this question can, as she said, “increase your confidence, decrease your anxiety, motivate you, lift your mood and your sights, increase your productivity, increase your focus and clarity of thinking, help you resist temptation, help you detect deception, increase your gratitude, decrease the stress in your life, increase your capacity to love, and help you make better decisions.”
That’s quite a list, to be sure, and implied in her language and list is the power of moral agency. We indeed have “the power within” to decrease anxiety, motivate, and lift our moods. Apparently, enduring joy is an inside job, or a state of being, and not found in a state of the Union or anywhere else in the world. Or, to use President Nelson’s oft-repeated statement, “Joy has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
So, what is the question? Sister Nelson said, “What would a holy young adult do?” That’s it. She effectively summarized the terms of Heaven at play in mortality. Holiness, as a people, begins with individuals learning to “stand” in “holy places and be not moved” (Doctrine and Covenants 87:8). The Lord declared to the children of Israel, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). So then, Sister Nelson asked, “How would your day start? What would you read? What would you watch? How would you prepare for marriage?” Holiness is a way of life and a statement of Being.
The Lord’s declared, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). To bring about his eternal purposes, he must know the purpose of our creation. Hence, the adversary seeks to blind, deceive, and turn the Lord’s children from finding, entering, and staying upon the covenant path that leads to Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Therefore, the Lord has given us wells of living waters emanating from the place of his covenant sanctuary. Those waters prepare the soils of our hearts until the living waters emanate from the covenant sanctuary of our souls. To renew, regenerate, and restore our souls, the Lord’s Prophet invites us to consider our “true identity.” The most significant identifiers by which the rest of our perceived identity must draw strength is in the truths that we are children of God, children of the covenant, and disciples of Jesus Christ. These three identifiers correspond with the roles and relationships of the three members of the Godhead, even God our Eternal Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
Sister Wendy Nelson summarized and encapsulated these supernal teachings with a moving question providing the way forward: “What would a holy young adult do?” By extension, what must ask and move forward with these questions: What is holiness? Who is Holiness? What answers we find, the conclusions we reach, and the actions we take, affect not only time but eternity. “For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).
 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, (New York: HarperOne; 2015), 100.
 Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults with President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy W. Nelson, May 15, 2022; https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/event/worldwide-devotional-for-young-adults-may-2022
 President J. Reuben Clark, “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” Address to seminary and institute of religion leaders at the Brigham Young University summer school in Aspen Grove, Utah, on 8 August 1938; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/shared/content/english/pdf/language-materials/32709_eng.pdf?lang=eng.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “The Old Testament: Relevancy within Antiquity,” in CES Symposium on the Old Testament, BYU, 16 August 1979, 12.
 Doctrine and Covenants 45:26-27; See Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Preparation for the Second Coming,” General Conference, April 2004; Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “These Are Your Days,” Ensign, October 2004.
 “Through the Power of the Scriptures, Elder Bednar Teaches BYU–Hawaii Students What Matters Most”; https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/through-the-power-of-scriptures-bednar-teaches-byu%E2%80%93hawaii-what-matters-most
 Plato, The Republic, Book IV.
 See Doctrine and Covenants 99:73; Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be With and Strengthen Them,” General Conference, April 2018.
 G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World, Part I, Chapter 5, “The Unfinished Temple.”
 President Russell M. Nelson, “Pure Truth, Pure Doctrine, and Pure Revelation,” General Conference, October 2021.
 Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, (Basic Books, 1996), 133.
 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 26.
 J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 40.
 See Dallin H. Oaks, “The Godhead and the Plan of Salvation,” General Conference, April 2017.
 ““Church History,” 1 March 1842,” p. 707, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 21, 2022, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/2
 15 October 1843, Joseph Smith History, vol. E-1, [1 July 1843—30 April 1844], The Joseph Smith Papers, spelling standardized, emphasis added, josephsmithpapers.org.
 Elder David A. Bednar taught, “As we honor our covenants, we may always have the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion—but we talk about it and we treat it as if hearing the voice of the Lord through His Spirit is the rare event. . . . [The Holy Ghost] ought to be with us all of the time—not every nanosecond—but . . . . if you and I are doing our best, and we’re not committing serious transgression, then we can count on the Holy Ghost guiding us.” (Evening with a General Authority 2020; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media/collection/evening-with-a-general-authority
 See Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28.
 “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” General Conference, October 2016. Incidentally, search the phrase quoted above to see how many leaders of the Church have used that statement. That’s a statement for the fridge, the wall, and definitely, the heart.
 Ezekiel 47; John 4:13-14; 7:38-39.