I recently wrote a post discussing Elder Bednar’s discourse on doctrines, principles, and applications. In that post, I focused on applications and policies as divinely inspired applications of eternal doctrine. In this post, I want to instead focus on the power of doctrine when understood to change our perspective.
Elder Bednar in his book Increase in Learning discusses in great detail the power of truly understanding, not just knowing divine doctrine. He first quotes President Packer’s well known saying and then offers two essential applications:“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
Elder Bednar first emphasizes that it is only true doctrine that when understood can powerfully change us. “True suggests doctrine that comes from God and is correct and accurate. The sources of such doctrine are the authorized teachings of the Lord’s anointed servants and the scriptures. False doctrines, personal opinions and speculation, and gospel ‘hobbies’ do not and cannot produce the same righteous effect upon our outlook and conduct.”
Second, it is only when doctrine is understood that it can change us. “Interestingly, President Packer did not teach that simply knowing true doctrine changes us. Rather, doctrine must be understood. . . . [T[he word understanding in the scriptures frequently is linked to and associated with the heart and refers to a revealed result or conclusion. Thus, true doctrine confirmed in the heart as true by the witness of the Holy Ghost changes attitudes and behavior. Knowing true doctrine is necessary but is not sufficient. Understanding true doctrine both in our minds and in our hearts is essential to righteous attitudes and actions.”
Elder Bednar also provides a very pertinent and timely example. He notes that “the eternal importance of gender and of eternal marriage can be properly understood only within the context of our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness.” When we try to discuss the importance of marriage without reference to God’s plan of salvation, it simply does not have the same power. “Emphasizing the institution of marriage without linking it adequately to the simple and fundamental doctrine of the plan cannot provide sufficient direction, protection, and hope in a world confused about these vital issues.”
Elder Bednar suggests one profound question that we can ask ourselves when we are struggling with understanding or living consistent with a gospel principle or application: “What doctrines and principles, if understood, would change [our] attitudes and behaviors?”
There is great power in thinking in this way.
In particular, I believe that many of us, myself included, can benefit from a greater understanding of the doctrines of the Plan of Salvation and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Above all doctrines, God’s Plan of Salvation, which includes at its core the Atonement of Jesus Christ, should be at the center of our understanding.
I believe that one reason that our leaders encourage us so frequently and forcefully to go to the temple regularly is that the temple is one of the greatest places where we can gain an understanding of the plan of salvation and have that understanding planted deep into our souls.
If we truly understood the plan of salvation, we would understand many eternal truths with the power to transform our lives. We would know that we are children of god. We would know of his abiding love for us. We would know that this life is neither the beginning nor the end of our journey. We would know that suffering and tragedy in this life is fleeting. We would know that delayed gratification or happiness in this life does not foreclose eternal happiness.
Likewise, if we truly understood the atonement, we would understand many eternal truths with the power to transform our lives. We would know that we are children of God. We would know of the depth and breadth of God’s love for us, for he sent his beloved son to die for us. We would know that Christ died for all mankind and know how precious every soul is in the eye of God. We would know that we have a great mediator and advocate before the father. We would know that Christ knows us perfectly and can succor us. We would know that through the enabling power of the atonement, we can sanctify ourselves and become purified.
We claim to believe in God’s plan of salvation, and in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet when crisis comes or something challenges our faith, or something in this life seems unfair, we are so quick to forget these divine truths. We live in a society that does not understand these eternal truths, and so it is easy to begin thinking about life from a limited mortal perspective. It is easy to loose sight of God’s eternal plan and our eternal destiny. We must therefore redouble our efforts to plant these eternal truths and cultivate them so that they can produce true understanding.
I have personally witnessed the power of these doctrines, when understood, to change our lives. My father has long suffered from serious health problems. And when I went on my mission, I was terrified that he would die while I was serving. That fear was at times paralyzing. Each p-day I would open my e-mails with a sense of dread, fearing the worst. WIth my father in particular, I feared because he was not a member of the Church, and I worried about his eternal salvation. I also worried that he would die while our relationship was still struggling from the effects of my decision to serve a mission.
I was blessed on my mission to be able to go to the Helsinki, FInland temple every three months so that we could renew our visas. On several visits, my soul was weighed down thinking about my father. And yet, entering into the house of Lord filled my soul with a sense of peace and understanding. In those moments, I knew that God’s plan truly was one of mercy and of love. I knew that my family could be eternal. I knew that death was only a temporary parting. This divinely inspired knowledge and understanding allowed me the power to put aside my fears and go to work.
At times when I hear about my father’s health struggles, I am still gripped by that fear. Our mortal understanding of divine truth is imperfect and must be regularly fortified. But in those moments when I struggle and my hope is darkened, I can also rest upon my faith in God’s eternal plan of happiness. And I can get on my knees and ask God to fill me with a spirit of understanding, and to send the comforter to ensure me of these truths.
I believe that there is no doctrine that would better transform our lives than a deep and abiding understanding of the Plan of Salvation and Jesus Christ’s Atonement. I hope that we can all continue to strengthen our understanding of these eternal truths.