Learning, Doing, and Being
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
November 2, 2015
Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Elder Clark, President Tanner, administrative officers, faculty and staff of Brigham Young University–Hawaii, honored guests, parents, family members, and graduates—my dear brothers and sisters—Sister Christofferson and I offer our congratulations, respect, and love to each of you. We are grateful for the privilege of being with you on this grand occasion and rejoice with you in the achievements that we honor today. We are pleased to be able to convey to you the greetings of President Thomas S. Monson, his counselors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We extend that greeting and their commendation most warmly. I think they all wish they were here today.
It is a wonderful thing to celebrate the learning that a college graduation represents. Certificates, diplomas, and degrees are important milestones as they recognize skills and knowledge truly attained. We congratulate and honor you, the individuals who graduate today; we are happy for you and happy with you.
All of us appreciate the excitement that accompanies personal growth in knowledge, wisdom and skill. I can still remember and even still feel the joy that came to me with learning to read. In my day I think all children in the United States used the same, simple books that we called “readers” to master the art and skill of reading. We all became familiar with the central cast of characters in these readers: Dick and Jane and the famous dog, Spot. The words, “See Spot run,” are forever etched in my brain. When our family got a dog, it was easy to come up with a name—and it helped that our Spot was a Dalmatian.
In addition to being a noble and soul-satisfying endeavor, we acknowledge the benefits that education has for making one’s way in this world. Life and employment are highly competitive, and a good-looking résumé is certainly helpful in opening doors that might otherwise be closed. In the end, of course, titles will not substitute for the learning and skill that should be behind those titles, and professional and vocational success require the substance not just the form. But I judge you graduates today to be men and women of substance. That is the specialty of Brigham Young University–Hawaii.
In October General Conference of 2008, President Thomas S. Monson spoke of what he called “three imperatives” that I would like to address in my remarks today. They were: “First, learn what we should learn. Second, do what we should do. And third, be what we should be.”
Learn what we should learn.
What should we learn? The expanded understanding that comes through study, prayer, and experience are pleasing to God. He has said, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. . . . I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you.”
He commands His disciples to teach one another, something that is particularly applicable to this university filled with disciples who are both professors and students:
“Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
“Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.”
We rightly rejoice in and express gratitude for all that God has revealed as He rewards both spiritual and scientific inquiry, but at the same time we must acknowledge how much more has not been revealed. As God Himself expressed it, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
We should live with an awareness of our divine heritage and destiny, yet not forget our present earthly limitations. “The Hasidic rabbis taught: ‘Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other according to his need. In his right pocket are the words, ‘For my sake the world was created,’ and in the other, ‘I am [but] earth and ashes.’”
The Lord defines truth as “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” BYU Professor Emeritus Chauncey C. Riddle commented on this verse as follows:
“That being the definition of truth, we can also see that no mortal being can have any but a small shred of the truth about how things are, and were, and will be. And since we understand by relationships, we as mortals cannot comprehend that shred we do know in its totality because the shred has its full significance only when related to everything else and the past and future of everything else.”
He adds that “To rescue humanity from this limited ability to discern truth, our Father has given us our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.” All of us are endowed with the Light of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” His light quickens our understanding, and enables us to distinguish between truth and error. Those who love and learn to use this divine influence, the Light of Christ, qualify to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost, and then with baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost. And we know that “by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things.”
Professor Riddle concludes:
“Authoritarianism, rationalism, empiricism, statistical empiricism, pragmatism, skepticism, the Light of Christ, and personal revelation, including the use of scholarship and science as special strategies, [all] have their proper place. It is the mission of the Holy Ghost to bring to all covenant servants of Christ all of the light (wisdom) and truth (knowledge) they need to fill their missions on earth as those covenant servants are true and faithful to their covenants. If one cannot or will not gain and use personal revelation as his ultimate epistemology and final check on everything, that person must use another worldview. The Restored Gospel worldview fully functions only in connection with personal revelation.”
Do what we should do.
And so we are to learn truth, all we can, especially that which comes through the Light of Christ and from the Holy Ghost. What then should we do?
Under the increasingly dominant secular humanist worldview, man and human intelligence are supreme and truth becomes relative. The logical end of this philosophy is that propounded by Korihor—“every man [fares] in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man [prospers] according to his genius, and . . . every man [conquers] according to his strength; and whatsoever a man [does] is no crime.”
But we who have a witness of the existence of God and our relationship to Him know Korihor’s humanist worldview to be fundamentally flawed and in the end, unsustainable. In Jeremiah we read, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” By contrast “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not [fear] when the heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”
With the truth that underlies the gospel worldview, we recognize our obligation, actually our right and privilege, to learn and fulfill the will of God. Humanism sees man as a chance creation, simply a creature of his biology and environment. We know that “there is a spirit in man” created by God and endowed with agency. Humanism champions extreme individual autonomy and the fewest possible limits on the expression or indulgence of personal desires and appetites. We seek to follow Jesus Christ who said, “I do always those things that please [the Father].” Humanism stipulates that we bow to the intellectual elites among us. We bow to our Father in Heaven who is not only intellectually superior but omniscient, who so loves us “that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The unchanging truths that come by revelation teach us that the key to success in this life, and to freedom and happiness hereafter is to keep God’s commandments. As we do, we grow in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, we approach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Be what we should be.
And so we are to learn truth and live by that truth. We are to seek the will of God and keep His commandments. What then are we to be?
The Savior asked and then answered this question, “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” We become as He is by following His example. By repentance and obedience we develop a Christ-like character. As Moroni declared, when we “deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for [us], that by his grace [we] may be perfect in Christ.”
The character of Christ includes, among other things, virtue, love, patience, knowledge, justice, mercy, humility, sacrifice, service, and obedience to the will of God. As we develop such attributes, we make better decisions; we become more productive in worthwhile endeavors; we can distinguish priorities— long-term and day-to-day—more clearly; our capacity to dismiss temptations grows; we see others’ needs and act to help them in ways that are, in fact, helpful; charity, the pure love of Christ, motivates and sustains us; and we grow in light and truth.
Possessing the character of Christ does not mean that we avoid all failures or face no challenges or disappointments. There will still be reversals of various kinds and even tragedies. These are the stuff of mortality. But acting and reacting with the character of Christ will keep us bound to the source of aid, consolation, and recovery. Then, our mortal trials and tragedies will not outlast mortality.
This concept of overcoming with the character of Christ was expressed by Eliza R. Snow, in a simple, thoughtful poem titled “Some Good Things”:
Some Good Things (Eliza R. Snow)
When from injustice’ bitter cup
We’re forc’d to drink the portion up,
And wait in silence heaven’s reward,
‘Tis good to lean upon the Lord.
When haplessly we’re plac’d among
The venom of a lying tongue,
‘Tis good to feel our spirits pure,
And our inheritance secure.
‘Tis good, ‘tis soothing to the mind,
If friends we cherish prove unkind,
And meet us with an angry mood,
To know we sought to do them good.
When pale-fac’d Envy seeks to fling
Across our path its envious sting.
‘Tis good to know we never aim’d
To gain a prize that others claim’d.
When by unmerited demand
We bow beneath oppression’s hand,
‘Tis good within ourselves to know
That tides of fortune ebb and flow.
When persecution aims to blind
The judgment and pervert the mind,
‘Tis good to know the path we’ve trod
Is sanction’d and approv’d of God.
When superstition’s meager form
Goes forth and stirs the wrathful storm,
‘Tis good amid the blast to find
A steadfast, firm, decided mind.
When we are tossing to and fro
Amid the varying scenes below,
‘Tis good to hope through Jesus’ love
To share his glorious rest above.
‘Tis good to live by every word
Proceeding from the mouth of God:
And freely own His precepts just.
‘Tis good His faithfulness to trust.
I believe that your education here has helped you learn what you should learn, do what you should do, and be what you should be. My plea is that you continue in that path and even quicken your pace in the years ahead.
As to learning: continue to search for truth and understanding, “even by study and also by faith.” As to doing: discern the will of God and keep His commandments. The Book of Mormon repeatedly states the Lord’s promise, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.” We wish for you graduates prosperity of all kinds, and we certainly pray that you would never endure the opposite, which is not poverty, but being cut off from the Lord’s presence. As to being: Develop in yourself the character of Christ. Remember that the most important thing is and will always be what you are, not what you have.
May you always be able to look back upon this day with rejoicing, basking in the approval of loved ones and the Lord Himself. I offer you my witness of the Resurrected Christ and invoke His blessing upon you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Thomas S. Monson, “To Learn, to Do, to Be,” Ensign, November, 2008, 61.
 Doctrine and Covenants 50:24-25.
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-79.
 Isaiah 55:8-9.
 William B. Silverman, Rabbinic Stories for Christian Ministers and Teachers , 49.
 Doctrine and Covenants 93:24.
 Chauncey C. Riddle, Think Independently, , 132.
 Chauncey C. Riddle, Think Independently, 133.
 Doctrine and Covenants 93:2.
 See Doctrine and Covenants 88:11.
 Moroni 10:5.
 Chauncey C. Riddle, Think Independently, 125; emphasis in original.
 Alma 30:17.
 Jeremiah 17:5.
 Jeremiah 17:7-8.
 Job 32:8.
 John 8:29.
 John 3:16.
 3 Nephi 27:27.
 Moroni 10:32.
 Eliza R. Snow, “Some Good Things,” in Out of the Best Books – An Anthology of Literature Volume 4: The World Around Us, Bruce B. Clark and Robert K. Thomas , 261.
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.
 2 Nephi 1:20; see also 1 Nephi 2:20; 2 Nephi 1:9, 31; Jarom 1:9; Mosiah 1:7; Alma 36:1; 37:13; 49:30; 50:20.