Prominent voices in our day flatly reject eternal truths, whether about the nature of human sexuality, the proper attitude toward childbearing, the reliability of living prophets . . . or anything in between.
But, though prominent, their prominence doesn’t make these voices right. Or even impressive. The fact is, they are neither.
What You Should Know about Simple Yellow Pencils
To begin to see this, think about an object as simple as the pencils schoolchildren use to do their homework.
Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winner in economics, once popularized the use of such pencils to make a point about economics. Holding a simple yellow pencil, he declared to his audience: “There’s not a single person in the world who can make this pencil.”
Supporting this claim, he then remarked that the wood, for example, could have come from a tree in the state of Washington—but that, wherever it came from, it took a saw to cut the tree. And to make the saw, of course, required steel; and to make the steel required iron ore. The writing substance in the center, Friedman said, was compressed graphite, and probably came from mines in South America. The eraser, made of rubber, “probably comes from a land where the rubber tree isn’t even native, and is imported from South America by some businessmen with the help of the British government.” And the brass ring (which holds the eraser), the yellow paint, and the glue that holds it all together—who knows, he said, where they came from? Then, summarizing, Friedman observed: “Literally thousands of people cooperated to make this pencil.”
Friedman’s point was that no one person can make something even as simple as a pencil from scratch. As a matter of fact, no one person even has the knowledge to make it. Making a pencil from scratch would require extensive practical knowledge of mining, machining, metalwork, tool manufacturing, woodwork, oil extraction, pumice-mining, wax extraction, rubber harvesting, rubber processing, graphite chemistry, glue chemistry, paint chemistry, tree farming, lacquer production, machine stamping, international shipping and logistics, and probably multiple languages. Nobody on earth knows all that.
Icons’ Scorn and Destructive Paths
Although Friedman was making an economic point, his illustration is also useful to keep in mind when people find reason to complain about God’s ways—or at least to criticize what prophets say are God’s ways.
Think, for example, of prominent icons in our time who have come to scorn spiritual things altogether. It is easy for such voices not to believe in God, for instance, and to think that even if there were one, He certainly wouldn’t need a literal “Son” to walk the earth—not to mention being born just like every other child is born. It is equally easy to find various stories ludicrous: healing the sick, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fishes, walking on water, prioritizing which people get the gospel first, sending angels to visit mortals, creating a sacred record on gold plates, the Father and Son visiting a young farm boy to re-establish Their work on earth—and so forth.
All of these things are commonly rejected on intellectual grounds because they don’t make sense.
In this same general spirit, but playing out as specific cultural crusades, many voices also pursue such destructive paths as denying the difference between men and women, justifying the sexualization of children, defaming important figures of the past, promoting and celebrating abortion without restriction, preaching a culture of sexual anarchy where literally anything goes, stoking animosity and even violence, promoting the surgical alteration of sex in minors—and so forth.
The gospel of Jesus Christ stands as a stark repudiation of all such efforts. The problem is, those prominent voices do not recognize the gospel as truth or comprehend how their efforts could be opposed by followers of Christ. They imagine that even if there were a God, He wouldn’t disagree with their efforts, or have anything against them, since all they do is simply express freedom and/or seek to achieve some desirable end.
A God Who Creates Galaxies
But of course God does have something against such paths. All of them thwart His divine Plan for us. Many mortals can’t understand this, of course, just as many can’t understand His multiplying loaves and fishes—or His appearance to a young boy in New York. And, especially when prominent voices support such cultural movements—or scorn these scriptural accounts—the cultural impact is large.
But here’s the thing to remember: not one of these cultural icons even knows how to make a pencil. How can they possibly understand the attitudes and actions of a Being who creates galaxies?
Remember what the scriptures tell us about God. He “comprehendeth all things,” He “is above all things,” and He is “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things” (D&C 88:41). We also learn that while His creations are “innumerable unto man,” He declares that “all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them” (Moses 1:35). And, following his grand vision, Moses exclaimed to the Lord: “[W]ere it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations” (Moses 7:30).
Such reports (and there are many, many more) help us appreciate more fully the transcendent majesty and power of God. And this helps us put things in perspective: there is a vast chasm between mortals’ intelligence and God’s—a chasm so large that we can’t even begin to calculate it. This is why mortals so routinely misunderstand, or deny, God’s attitudes and actions: it’s simply because they are . . . well, mortals. Everything the Lord does—from His miracles to His teachings—makes perfect sense from a divine perspective. People who aren’t able to make a pencil might not be able to see this, but Those who create whole galaxies can.
A Perspective Going Forward
So let’s put the scorn and destructive efforts of cultural icons in proper perspective. Of course they fail to understand God’s doings on earth. Of course they are wrong in what they claim and in what they promote. They think the teachings of the gospel about sexuality, marriage, childbearing, and so on (and, for some members of the Church, the decisions of modern prophets on some of these issues), don’t make sense and therefore must be wrong. Particularly across our culture generally, the voices are loud and insistent and influential.
But there is no reason to be intimidated by these voices, however intelligent and impressive they might seem. After all, despite their prominence and level of intellectual acclaim, they cannot even make a child’s #2 pencil. Is it really any surprise that they can’t compute the doings of a Being who creates galaxies?
What matters for us is to receive the Spirit of the Lord, and to know the Church is true by that means. We certainly don’t know how to create galaxies—or even how to create a pencil—but we do know how to do that. Once we receive this Spirit, then, even though we might not understand everything the Lord is doing, we can at least know that through His living prophets He is the One in charge of it all. And, knowing that, we can then more easily ignore those who, unfortunately, don’t know it.
Duane Boyce and Kimberly White are father and daughter. Learn more about modern prophets in their new book, The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times.
 This is a transcription of Milton Friedman, “I—Pencil,” ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67tHtpac5ws.