I Am a Child of God

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Yifen BeusDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

June 14, 2007
Yifen Beus
Associate Professor of International Cultural Studies

It's been humbling four months since I received this assignment while preparing for this talk. It is also quite stressful to have to speak right after the out-going and in-coming presidents of the university. In addition, as a teacher in the classroom, at least I know enough to pretend that I know everything on the subject that I teach, but when it comes to gospel topics, I feel that I will always be a student just like many of you, hungry for instruction and enlightenment. As a convert to the church, I often feel inadequate about my own knowledge in the scriptures and historical references about the church. Thus I chose a topic of which I think I have a pretty good grasp and one that was most fascinating to me when I was investigating the church. I pray that during this short presentation we will journey together through some of the most fundamental teachings of the gospel and that you will never be too shy to teach me, because "when it comes to acquiring perfect virtue, a man should not defer even to his own teacher," as the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius would counsel.

"I Am a Child of God" is one of the hymns most often sung by church members, young or old. I think it is also paradoxically the simplest and yet perhaps one of the most complex sentences we can utter to describe our religious and cosmological beliefs, our identity, our responsibilities and moral obligations, and overall our world view. From this sentence come arrays and layers of meanings and implications. In Romans 8:16, this scripture clearly describes our relationship with God: The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And in the next verse, it furthers the implication of our identity as God's children; "we are then heirs; heirs of God, and thus are also joint-heirs with Christ." Another scripture, Psalms 82:6, also confirms this relationship: "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most high." Embedded in the verse here is the nature of man as the spirit child of Heavenly Father and man's potential to become like Him. With it come also our responsibilities, as is said in Mosiah 4:15: But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. Thus under the very broad statement of being a child of God, in my talk today, I would like to address two major inter-related ramifications that come from this very short and yet powerful phrase which we say so often: 1) our identity as a child of God through our relationship with Heavenly Father in a cosmological and yet very real, everyday context, 2) our responsibilities as a child of God.

If we look through the topical guides on God the Father, we find the following attributes of Him that we all know so well: He is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present through his Spirit. Mankind has a special relationship to God that sets man apart from all other created things: men and women are God's spirit children (Guide to the Scriptures, LDS.org). In addition to the fact that we are offspring of God, we are also His servants. Let's take a minute to ponder on this intriguing relationship. For those who have children at home, we perhaps would hear the following whiny complaints once in a while if not more often when we ask the children to do chores or house work: "Why do I get to do this? I am not the servant of the house!" — well, at least my children do this. Thus the rationale behind this complaint is that as members of the family, we are sort of on equal footing in terms of social status—we will love each other, do things for each out of this love; whatever the relationship may be, it is not one of master and servant. And among all the definitions of "service," those that are not free in particular (such as service as an occupation, an administrative division, a public facility, etc.) tend to occupy quite a bit of our everyday living. It involves a social contract of some sort; it becomes a job. Even those that are free seem like an obligation on the giver's part that has its inconvenient implications— having to give up time or render service. It is interesting how we might have such a negative view towards being a servant for another human being, even our very own parents. We all know well what Christ did during his ministry on earth, as a son of man and as son of God by serving and helping others. Thus true disciples of Christ simply follow his footsteps in serving others disregard of their status and the status of the people that they serve. It is true that we are all given free agency to choose. We can choose to see our relationship with God as a contracted obligation through serving others or, we can choose to see this commandment as a natural extension of our love to Heavenly Father. Our true relationship with Him is often manifested through our dealings with others. We all realize that one can never live alone, and that is why this is such a plain principle to guide our daily living by figuring others, families and strangers alike, into our relationship with God: "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This is from Galatians 5:13-14. Heaven and earth are indeed inseparable in terms of humans' eternal progression and destination. We can never forgo this obligation on earth to maintain a relationship with Heaven. As a child of God, the earth is but our temporary dwelling, and if we look to Heaven, we know that it is home, and we have a Father who expects all of us to return by providing us this sure and firm knowledge as well as clear principles and guidelines for us to live by, knowing that we are indeed his very own children. Loving and serving are inseparable, for "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17).

Now we have spent a little time on our relationship with Heavenly Father, which is indispensable without our relationship with others on earth, I'd like to look at our identity as potential kings and queens who inherit all the glories of His kingdom just as Jesus Christ has. When I was a student at Provo, after a theory and criticism class where we were analyzing German playwright Goethe's first part of Faust, my Professor and mentor Dr. Woodbury said that Mormonism is indeed the most Romantic (with an capital "R") of all. One of the main characteristics of the late 18th- and early19th-century European Romanticism is that man, in an age of new humanism, seeks to liberate the "ich" the personal "I", by transcending the limits of self to reach a superhuman state that is beautiful and sublime. It is this ineffable yearning that marks the freedom the writers of this period wished to represent. The similarities between this particular Mormon doctrine and the Romantics, as elaborated by Professor Woodbury, lie in the fact that we believe that we can be like God, a notion that is typically considered a great sin of pride in the Protestant interpretation of the relationship between man and God. Of course, this is an over-simplification of a complex philosophical discourse over Faust's eligibility for salvation, but I was a new convert back then, and this idea fascinated me greatly. It was indeed a very hopeful and beautiful notion to me that we humans have the potential to be elevated to the degree of glory as God. This new identity I acquired as a child of God, who has the opportunity and has been given tools to be like Him has since helped me through many trials and times of doubt. It is indeed a very Romantic notion.

And of course, to be elevated to such a degree of glory, we have to work for it. Last week, President Wheelwright mentioned conditioned as well unconditioned blessings that come with Christ's atonement as well as being children of God. The very truth that we are His children and are entitled to all the help that we need to return to him is an unconditioned blessing. Now let's hear these scriptures again and think of the subject and voice in each sentence: Ye are gods, children of the most High; We are the offspring of God; Be in subjection unto the Father of spirits; I am a son of God; You shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters; They shall become my sons and my daughters; Ye certainly will become a child of Christ; Thus may all become my sons. Almost all forms of personal pronouns are used in these scriptures! Think of our responsibilities that come from being a child of God. When we say "I" am a child of God, are we thinking of just the "I", but not all the relative connections and relationships that come from the definition of this "I." Each "I" is a child of God, and thus there should be no distinction between I, you, he/she or they in terms of our relationship with God the Father and our blessings as well as obligations in fulfilling our duties. Thus the very meaning embedded in this sentence helps us break down the boundaries between the conventional notion of self and other, just as Father and Jesus are one. And this one-ness is indeed a commandment as is said in John 17:21-22:

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.

In Moses 6:68, again it reads: Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Thus in spirit, we are one with each other, we are one with our elder brother Jesus Christ, and we are one with our Heavenly Father. In goal and purpose of this life, we are also one as brothers and sisters, that is, to keep the commandments, live righteously and have our eyes singled on life eternal, just as the lyrics of the hymn say: to live with Him once more.

However, we also know that we are all different in our physical conditions, which is purposefully so in Heavenly Father's plan to help us learn to live together, to achieve the same goal, to be one. In last year's General conference talk entitled "The Need for Greater Kindness," President Hinkley gravely stressed the necessity of love and tolerance towards each other despite our diverse appearances and physical conditions:

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity…Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.
We are now living on the most diverse campus, and this of course is by no means accidental. As we all know by heart the prophetic mission of our university, our education here is instrumental to the internationalization of our church. In a 1994 Ensign article "Laie — A Destiny Prophesied", Dr. Alton L. Wade, BYU-Hawaii's 7th president, says:

The continuing internationalization of the Church depends on members who understand and respect each other's cultures and heritages. Within the gospel culture, we must be like a delicious fruit salad, made up of distinctive parts yet unified in our purpose. BYU—Hawaii is recognized as a model in ethnic diversity and cultural relationships. At a time when some college campuses are being torn apart by racial strife and when wars are being fought over ethnicity, BYU-Hawaii stands as a beacon of harmony amidst diversity.

President Hinkley taught us again:

"We must never forget that we live in a world of great diversity. The people of the earth are all our Father's children and are of many and varied religious persuasions. We must cultivate tolerance and appreciation and respect one another. We have differences of doctrine. This need not bring about animosity or any kind of holier-than-thou attitude (Ensign, May 1999).

And yet realistically, how can we reach this ideal state while the difference between us and others is a real, and quite often, challenging condition? As Elder Dallin H. Oaks on a trip to Melbourne Australia last month explained on the issue of diversity that in essence we are unified in one in terms of our divine identity as children of God, as one in terms of our goal to obtain eternal exaltation ("Diversity in Australian Congregations Challenges Stereotypes," Church NewsRoom, May 10 2007). This will take us to the next topic about the moral obligations and responsibilities coming from knowing that I am a child of God. In order to reach this goal, we are commanded to teach of God, as is commanded through out the scriptures. And through modern revelations in Doctrine & Covenants 88:78-80, we are also to:

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; …That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.

That is why we are here. If we truly understand that the purpose of seeking knowledge is to serve God, to build his kingdom on earth, to unite his children as one, the secular knowledge we are teaching and pursuing indeed has a divine purpose for us. It helps us broaden our understanding of the construction of differences and helps us overcome the tendency to use them as basis for un-Christlike thought and behavior. Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve speaks of Education for Real Life in the 2002 October Ensign by elaborating the above scripture. He said:

"Let's start with the purpose of our learning. The Lord and His Church have always encouraged education to increase our ability to serve Him and our Heavenly Father's children. For each of us, whatever our talents, He has service for us to give. And to do it well always involves learning, not once or for a limited time, but continually…It is clear that our first priority should go to spiritual learning. For us, reading the scriptures would come before reading history books. Prayer would come before memorizing those Spanish verbs. A temple recommend would be worth more to us than standing first in our graduating class. But it is also clear that spiritual learning would not replace our drive for secular learning. The Lord clearly values what you will find in that history book and in a text on political theory. Remember His words. He wants you to know "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" (D&C 88:79). And He favors not only Spanish verbs but the study of geography and demography. You remember that His educational charter requires that we have "a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms" (D&C 88:79). There is also an endorsement for questions we study in the sciences. It is clear that putting spiritual learning first does not relieve us from learning secular things. On the contrary, it gives our secular learning purpose and motivates us to work harder at it."
As now we understand the purpose of our secular learning is to serve our brothers and sisters, which ultimately signifies serving our Heavenly Father, as the next step, how do we know that we are truly committed to the implications of this short sentence "I am a child of God"? Indeed, in order to be convinced that we are one, we need to first be fully converted to this notion, to this gospel that teaches about our nature, our purpose, and our destiny. This oneness again signifies sharing our inheritance and blessings from our Father in Heaven. Thus as the literal meaning of gospel is "good news," we are indeed obligated to share this good news. In the true spirit of sharing, we are to enjoy equal shares or amount of what is given to us. In his writings on religion and the church, 18th century Irish writer Jonathan Swift poses the following question: Suppose I share my Fortune equally between my own Children and a Stranger, whom I take into my Protection; will that be a Method to unite them? As we are spiritual children of our Heavenly Father albeit we may be perhaps strangers in our different physical conditions on earth, could we confidently respond and say, yes, we have indeed been united because Heavenly Father has divided his fortune equally between us, family and strangers alike?

By way of conclusion, as the choir sings "Holding Hands Around the World," one of the most appropriate songs on the tour to describe our relationship with each other and with Heavenly Father, I would like to share a photomontage of the faces of our brothers and sisters we encountered in China and Mongolia. The tour has been such a spiritual tour de force to all of us who went. Seemingly unknown faces, I saw in so many of them the light of Christ, for they have treated us with utmost respect and love. As we are reminiscing this great experience of bringing harmony through music to these people, and as we share our life together on this campus with those who come from afar, may we also reflect on what we have learned from them and of them. And as we directly or indirectly teach them of our ways of life, our language and our beliefs, may we also have the desire to learn about theirs as part of our secular learning imperatives, for only through our genuine desire to learn of one another, can we truly serve and thus be one with each other, for after all, we are all children of God. This is my hope and prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.