Preparing for Your Final, Final Exam
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
June 9, 2016
John S. Tanner
Most of you took final exams this week. Some of you may have taken the LAST exam you will EVER take in school. Just think of that! After all these years of taking tests in school, you may have taken your FINAL, final exam! CONGRATULATIONS!
But before you become too giddy let me quickly remind you that, even if you have taken your last exam in school, you most certainly have not taken your last exam in life. Mortality is divinely designed to test us. It is punctuated by personalized midterm exams.
These individualized mortal midterms will conclude with a common final exam, called the Last Judgment. It is of this final, final exam that I wish to speak today. My brief remarks are meant to help you graduates—along with all the rest of us—to prepare for your actual final, final exam.
What do we know about this final, final? Well, according to the scriptures, it will be an open book exam. However, it will not be like the open book exams you may have taken in school. For the book that shall be opened will be a book written by you. It is called the book of life—your life. In it are recorded your lived responses to the test questions the Lord has set for you during the course—meaning the course of your life. In the Book of Revelation we read
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 
So how can we prepare for this open book exam? Well, it’s clear that we cannot cram for such an exam. We write in the book of life every day through our works, words, and thoughts. The scriptures say that when we are “brought before the bar of God . . . our words will condemn us . . . our works will condemn us . . . and our thoughts will also condemn us” . Hence we are told: “watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments.” We prep for the final, final exam by living a good life every day.
However, if our book of life contains a record of everything we have done, said, or thought, who among us can hope to pass our final, final? The good news is that our book of life is not written in indelible ink. It is erasable. The pages can be wiped clean by the blood of Christ. His Atonement functions as spiritual blotter or a delete key. Our hope to pass the final, final thus lies not merely in our works but in His.
One of my favorite poets writes about this in a moving little poem entitled “Last Judgement”. In this poem, George Herbert imagines what it will be like to be brought before the “Almighty Judge . . . When thou shalt call / for every man’s peculiar [i.e., individual] book.” This dreadful thought makes Herbert feel like the student who thinks that everyone else in class is getting perfect scores, while only he is struggling. He says:
What others mean to do, I know not well;
Yet I hear tell
That some will turn thee to some leaves therein
So void of sin
That they in merit shall excel.
Herbert knows that he has not gotten 100% on all his tests. His own book of life records many flaws and failings. So he resolves to rely on the Atonement at the final, final exam:
But I resolve, when thou shalt call for [my book]
That to decline,
And thrust a Testament into thy hand:
Let that be scanned.
There thou shalt find my faults are thine.
Herbert knows that he is a sinner. Yet he also knows that, through the Atonement, his sins are engraven on the palms of Lord’s hands.
Like Herbert, I do not expect to ace the final, final exam with a perfect score. Rather, I, too, anticipate grasping the Lord’s wounded hand at the last day in the hope that he will take me, a sinner, to himself. My hope for salvation rests on the print of the nails.
Herbert’s poem reminds us that our final, final exam will be more than an open book exam. It will be an intimate oral exam--a searching, face-to-face interview with the Savior. Scripture says that the Savior “employeth no servant” at the threshold of Heaven. He shall be our examiner at Judgment Bar; there will be no proctor for our celestial bar exam. Gratefully, he who best knows how to balance justice and mercy shall be not only our Judge but our Advocate, if we have believed in him and repented of our sins.
So we must prepare for our final, final by having faith and repenting. However, I suspect that during the interview itself the Lord will focus less on our past deeds than our present desires. He will be less concerned with what we have done than with what we have become. I imagine in that final oral exam, the Savior will look deeply into our eyes and hearts to determine what and who we truly love.
Modern revelation makes it clear that we will be judged by our desires. This LDS doctrine has long been a powerful influence on the way I have thought about how to prepare for my final, final. I recommend it to you graduates. It is found throughout the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, but especially in Section 88.
This revelation makes it clear that that those who shall inherit the celestial kingdom will essentially be those who love it. Only they will be truly happy there. Those “who are not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.” . By contrast, those who are “quickened by a portion of celestial glory shall then receive . . . a fulness” . Thus when God confers celestial glory on them, He is making it possible for them to “enjoy that which they are willing to receive.”
To me this means that our final, final exam is not a matter of giving his children A’s and F’s but giving them what they have shown that they truly love and desire.
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift [such as exaltation] is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, never rejoices he in him who is the giver of the gift.” 
In practical terms this means that we need to learn to love what God loves. If we do not love serving and blessing others—for example by doing home teaching, missionary work, or being a good parent—then Our Father in Heaven will surely not punish us by making us a home teacher, missionary, or parent for eternity.
So we can best prepare for our final exit interview with the Savior by seeking to become more like him. This is the purpose of true education. As John Milton says,
“The end then of learning is to repair the ruins of [the Fall] by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him. . . .” (“Of Education”)
In conclusion, let me mention the final oral exam the apostle Peter had with the Master. A couple weeks ago I was presented with this bust of the Apostle Peter. It was carved by one of our talented students, named Esther Caldari. It portrays the chief apostle after the Resurrection. On the base Esther has engraved the dialogue from the Lord’s last interview with Peter as recorded in the last chapter of John: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”--a question repeated three times with increasing urgency.
This interview between Our Lord and his great-hearted chief apostle comes as close as any account I know to depicting the way I imagine our final, final exam. I believe that, like Peter, we shall all come before the Savior and he will look into our eyes and our hearts and ask us, “Lovest thou me?” He will not care much what we say with our lips, even if we say, with Peter, “Yea Lord, thou knowest I love you.” He will meet our verbal protestations with a glance that says, “Really?” And invite us again to consider the question in its full depth, “Lovest thou me?”. By the end of the interview we shall stand, completely transparent to him and to ourselves, as it were spiritually naked before the Master.
If we are possessed with the pure love of Christ at that day, then, as the scripture says, it shall be well with us.
So brothers and sister, let us be valiant in the testimony of Jesus. Let us love him with full purpose of heart, and love our neighbors as if the least of them were the Lord himself. If we do so, it shall be well with us at the most important final exams we shall ever take, our final, final.
In the name of Jesus Christ.