My dear young friends, congratulations! Years of hard work have culminated in today’s celebration of your achievement of graduation. Your increased knowledge and skills have been developed in large part through your obedience to the laws of nature, the laws of man and the laws of God. This characteristic of obedience will continue to be essential as you go forth to serve in the world and will allow you further opportunities to learn and share your talents as well as experience innumerable blessings.
In preparation to be with you here today, I explored some information about Hawaii. Looking at photos of the rugged volcanic mountains, the lush green valleys covered with rich farmland, rushing waterfalls cascading between blankets of ferns and colorful flowers, and beautiful expanses of sand stretched out in front of never-ending waves of the blue and green and gray ocean, I marveled at the beauties of nature clustered on this small gathering of islands. Truly some of God’s finest creations are found here!
We learn in the book of Moses how these natural beauties were made.1 On each successive day during the creation period, God added one more element to the earth that would support His crowning creations of man and woman. First, matter was organized, then dry land was separated from the waters, and lights were set in place for the day as well as the night. Next, trees and shrubs, grass and flowers were spread over the land, and finally, fish and birds and animals were added. Each of these elements was combined to encourage the full development of God’s children when they were placed on earth—truly making those children the pinnacle of His creative endeavors.
Laws of Nature
The power of the priesthood along with a perfect understanding of the laws of nature allowed Jesus Christ, under the direction of His Father, to create this masterpiece on which we live and breathe. At His command, each of the elements obeyed. As evidenced through the succeeding millennia, obedience to natural law continues to create order, peace, and progress in the natural world. The laws of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy, which many of you have studied and through which the earth was created, are still in force; they are universal.
The more we understand and righteously apply natural laws, the greater advantage we have in our quest to be healthy and safe on this planet. We can choose to disobey natural law, but there are always consequences for individuals who so ignore or disbelieve. If I choose to step off a cliff, I will certainly fall. My wishing it were different will not change that law or its effects. Again, those laws are universal, and being obedient to them leads to progress and happiness.
Laws of Man
The laws of man are designed to create order and peace in the community. One philosopher lamented: “We humans are an unruly bunch. So much so that we need laws to keep order. … Without our laws, society would quickly descend into chaos. The laws of man … [are] a necessary control against [our] inherent [selfishness].”2
Depending on the location and culture, the laws of man can vary a great deal. In one place, for example, laws may stringently prescribe the type of building construction that may be used while, in another, the choice is left up to the individual who resides there to build as he or she likes, regardless of the effect on the surrounding community. The disparity in laws around the world demonstrates that people are unclear about what truly are universal standards.
Despite such variations, as Latter-day Saints, “we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”3 Those who live in locations where the rule of law is understood and applied enjoy the blessings and security of the concept that both the government and citizens know the law and obey it.4
Again, we can choose to obey or disobey the laws of man. Consequences for disobedience sometimes occur immediately, sometimes later, and it is even possible to avoid negative consequences for a very long time in this fallen world. Regardless of how long someone can avoid consequences in this life, the time will come when we will all stand before our Eternal Judge and receive our reward according to the laws of mercy and justice. Complying with the just laws of humanity leads to greater peace of mind and increases order in the community.
Laws of God
Compared to the laws of man, the laws of God are consistent and can be trusted completely. From the time of Adam and Eve until today, God has given commandments that are designed for our happiness and eternal progress. Examples are the law of obedience, the law of tithing, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration. Heavenly Father sets His laws in place according to His perfect love and His absolute devotion to the redemption and exaltation of His children. They cannot be circumvented or changed simply because we don’t like them or don’t believe them.
Why does God give us commandments? Is it to keep us down, in groveling subjection to Him? Is it to remove any opportunity for real fun in this world? No, the opposite is true: God has given us commandments because He loves us. He wants to spare us heartache, misery, and regret. He knows that the only way to be truly happy in this life and experience unbounded joy in the world to come is to follow Jesus Christ’s example of obedience to the laws of God.
Yet because of the gift of agency given to us by our Heavenly Father, we can choose to obey the commandments or not. But make no mistake; Satan’s desire to take that agency from us has not diminished since he made the choice to disobey God in the premortal existence. He wants everyone to “be miserable like unto himself.”5 Elder L. Tom Perry explained: “None of us should ever underestimate how driven Satan is to succeed. His role in God’s eternal plan creates ‘opposition in all things’ (2 Nephi 2:11) and tests our agency. Each choice you and I make is a test of our agency—whether we choose to be obedient or disobedient to the commandments of God is actually a choice between ‘liberty and eternal life’ [or] ‘captivity and death.’”6
The first law of heaven is obedience; all else is built on that foundation. We are taught in the Doctrine and Covenants that “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”7
Obedience to the laws of God brings blessings and power. For instance, when we do our part through repentance and obedience, the Atonement of Jesus Christ guarantees our salvation.8
The opposite is also true: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”9
The blessings of obedience and the consequences for disobedience to God’s laws are often not immediate but will surely come in the Lord’s time. We can choose—we must choose—to obey or not.
Can you think of someone you know, or it might even be you, who has been blessed by obedience to the commandments—even in the face of challenges or difficulties? As you think about that person, what did he or she do to demonstrate his or her love of God? And how was Heavenly Father’s love demonstrated for them? If we had time, it would be marvelous to go around the room and ask each of you to bear witness of the blessings you have received through obedience—especially during your time here at BYU–Hawaii.
Countless examples of those who were blessed for their obedience despite being persecuted are well illustrated in scripture. From Mother Eve to Queen Esther, from Joseph of Egypt to the Prophet Joseph Smith, disciples of Jesus Christ of all dispensations have chosen to keep the commandments of God in the face of great challenges. They have been blessed to overcome their difficulties and are assured of a place in the kingdom of heaven, “to go no more out.”10
That same glorious promise is in force today:
“Verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments … ; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.
“For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.”11
And this is one of my all-time favorite scriptural promises: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”12 Such blessings come only through obedience to His commandments. And they come in a multitude of ways—small or large, now or later—but they do come, and those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” will recognize and rejoice in the Lord’s hand in their lives.
My young friends, however motivating these promises of the future are, times will come in your life when you will be tempted to choose the lesser path. It takes intentional, determined, time-and-again obedience to withstand the challenges you will inevitably face. A perceptive woman wrote, “If we think we can casually saunter up the strait and narrow path13 and make it to the Tree of Life, we are deceiving ourselves. If we believe we can keep one foot on the path while dangling the other foot in the river of filthy water, think again.”14
What will help you stay on the “strait and narrow”? Keeping the “first and great commandment” to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”15 provides the greatest motivation for choosing to be obedient.
We read in the Book of Mormon about young people like yourselves who were motivated by this truth. When Helaman reported to Moroni on the successes and challenges of the battles he and the young warriors under his command had experienced, he described their noble characteristics and the astonishing results of their faithful obedience. Could Helaman’s description of them be said of each of you?
“And they were all young men [and let’s include you, young women], and they were … true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.
“Yea, they were men [and women] of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.”16
Despite being outnumbered by their enemies, these young men were victorious. All were wounded in battle, but every one survived. Continuing to keep the commandments of God, they continued to be blessed even in their difficulties. In this, your day, you will fight against enemies that may seem overwhelming, but remember that the power that comes from obeying the commandments of God will allow you to overcome all things.17
Choose to live as the stripling warriors did: “But behold, they … received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.”18
Many of you have sacrificed much to receive your education. Your wounds may not be visible, but at times you have been exhausted, hungry, nearly destitute, lonely, struggling to understand, and often homesick. You have been tempted and have made mistakes. Yet you have persevered, repented, and accomplished your desire. Today you will be crowned with leis of glory and will bask in the satisfactory feeling of a job well done. As you look back at your time in this sacred place, remember the blessings that have come to you because of your obedience to gospel principles. Remember how you felt when you chose to obey the commandments of God. Remember those wonderful people who set righteous examples for you to follow and who have reached out in love to lift you. Remember the promises and the prophecies of what is to come.
As you go forth from this remarkable campus, I hope you will continue to fulfill the mission of BYU–Hawaii: to LEARN and LEAD and BUILD. You have learned much in your time here and can choose to continue to learn in your career, in your families, in your Church service, and in your community. You will have the opportunity to lead others by your example of obedience to God’s laws. As you do so, you will be building people and even nations, wherever you are in the world.
My hope for you is expressed by a thoughtful grandfather: “May your star light the path for others.”
He goes on to say: “You are blessed with talents and challenges. Remember that no talent is above its purpose, and no challenge is below your ability [when you rely on Heavenly Father. Allow the Savior to help you] perfect your talents and welcome your challenges, for there is purpose and struggle with both.”19
The promised blessings for keeping God’s commandments are all-encompassing, as King Benjamin explained: “Moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”20
I echo that inspired and heartfelt testimony of a Book of Mormon prophet. As we sing in the familiar Primary song, I pray you will—
Keep the commandments!
In this there is safety; in this there is peace.
He will send blessings; …
Words of a prophet:
Keep the commandments,
In this there is safety and peace.21
As we keep the commandments of God, the blessings of obedience will be ours. May we each make those daily choices that lead to safety and peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
- See Moses 2.
- Marcelo Gleiser, “Laws of Man and Laws of Nature,” National Public Radio, June 26, 2013, npr.org.
- Articles of Faith 1:12.
- See Rule of Law Institute of Australia, “What Is the Rule of Law?” ruleoflaw.org.au.
- 2 Nephi 2:27.
- L. Tom Perry, “Obedience to Law Is Liberty,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 86–87.
- Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21.
- See Articles of Faith 1:3.
- Doctrine and Covenants 82:10.
- Alma 34:36.
- Doctrine and Covenants 58:2–4.
- 1 Corinthians 2:9.
- See 2 Nephi 31:18.
- Lynne Perry Christofferson, “The Parable of the Bathtub: Avoiding Spiritual Desensitization,” Meridian Magazine, Feb. 14, 2018, ldsmag.com.
- Matthew 22:37–38.
- Alma 53:20–21.
- Doctrine and Covenants 75:16.
- Alma 58:40; emphasis added.
- William J. Monahan, “ Grandpa’s Three Gems: Beware, Be You, Be True,” Meridian Magazine, Feb. 11, 2016, ldsmag.com
- Mosiah 2:41.
- “Keep the Commandments,” Children’s Songbook, 146.