"UNDERSTANDING IS A WELLSPRING OF LIFE . . ." 
Proverbs 16:22

Ricks College Campus Education Week Devotional
June 3, 1999
Elder David A. Bednar
1999 by Ricks College. All rights reserved

Good morning, brothers and sisters, and welcome to our Ricks College Campus Education Week. Sister Bednar and I are delighted to be with you. 

I pray for and invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with each of us today, that we may truly understand one another and be edified and rejoice together (D&C 50:22).

During my remarks this morning, I will refer to a significant number of scriptures— many more than we could possibly read together in the allotted devotional time. Some of the references I will specifically ask you to look up in your scriptures and read along with me; other verses I will quote directly and provide only the reference. For your convenience a number of scriptures and key concepts will be projected on the large screen directly above me. In addition, a handout sheet detailing all of the scriptural references I will use can be picked up at the conclusion of today’s devotional. You may find it helpful to study the quoted verses in more detail at a later time.

As Susan mentioned, the theme for our Campus Education Week this year is taken from Proverbs chapter 16 verse 22: "Understanding is a wellspring of life . . ." For some time I have been thinking about and working to understand the scriptural meaning of the word understanding. Today I would like to address two fundamental questions related to this important concept: (1) What is the scriptural meaning of understanding, and (2) what key principles are related to understanding?

Question #1 — What is the scriptural meaning of understanding?

In the scriptures, understanding is frequently linked to and associated with both knowledge and wisdom. For example, Exodus chapter 31 verse 3 describes an inspired artisan who helped to build and furnish the tabernacle.

And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.

In Proverbs chapter 4 verse 7 we read:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

In Proverbs chapter 9 verse 10 we learn:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

Job asks in chapter 28 verse 12:

But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?

Job then provides an inspired answer to his own question in verse 28:

And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.

Mormon, as he finishes his record, indicates that he writes . . .

. . . according to the knowledge and understanding which God has given me. (Words of Mormon 1:9)

Clearly, understanding cannot be understood apart from knowledge and wisdom.

Interestingly, understanding is also commonly described in the scriptures in relation to the heart. For example:

Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who hath given understanding to the heart?(Job 38:36)

My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.(Psalms 49:3)

So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding. (Proverbs 2:2)

Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise. (Mosiah 12:27)

. . . but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view. (Mosiah 2:9)

And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed. (3 Nephi 19:33)

You may now be asking yourself, Elder Bednar, what is the point? What are the relationships among knowledge, understanding, and wisdom? And why in the scriptures is understanding frequently associated with the heart? Let me try to briefly explain.

Knowledge typically is the foundation of understanding. We use our minds and our intellect, our experience, and the process of reasoning to acquire information, to analyze facts, to recognize patterns and relationships, and to summarize what we have learned and know about people, places, and events. As we learn in the ninety-third section of the Doctrine and Covenants, "Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come" (verse 24; emphasis added). Knowledge in and of itself does not guarantee understanding, but understanding cannot be obtained without knowledge.

Understanding is built upon knowledge and precedes wisdom. As described in the scriptures, we use our hearts and the process of revelation to obtain a confirming spiritual witness concerning the truth of what we have come to know. In and through our hearts the Holy Ghost certifies more completely and helps us to feel deeply the truth of what we have come to know intellectually. Understanding grows out of knowledge that is certified as true by the Holy Ghost and produces an illumination, a comprehension, a perspective, and a depth of desire and commitment not obtainable through reason alone. As President Harold B. Lee frequently taught, "When your heart begins to tell you things that your mind does not know, then you are getting the spirit of the Lord" (New Era, February 1971, pg. 3).

Please turn with me in the Book of Mormon to 1 Nephi 17. Here we find a classic example of the relationship between knowledge acquired through the mind and understanding obtained in the heart. You will recall that Nephi was commanded to build a ship, and in this chapter we learn about Laman and Lemuel’s lack of faith and their opposition to and murmuring about that particular task. Nephi exhorts his brethren and highlights in verse 45 the importance of both reason and revelation.

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words . . . .

Certainly, Laman and Lemuel had received knowledge about the purpose and importance of their journey in the wilderness—from loving parents, from Nephi, and even from an angel of the Lord. But apparently they had not " . . . applied their hearts to understanding . . ." (Mosiah 12:27), they had not received confirming revelations, and they did not feel the truthfulness of Nephi’s words. Therefore they were not wise.

Wisdom is the application of understanding in righteous judgment and action. It is the precious fruit that is nourished by knowledge and reason and understanding and revelation. Please notice in the following verses how understanding leads to righteous action.

. . . but a man of understanding walketh uprightly. (Proverbs 15:21)

Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. (Psalms 119:34)

Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. (Psalms 119:104)

. . . they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught they taught with power and authority of God. (Alma 17:2-3)

Wisdom is always linked to righteousness. Recall in the New Testament the challenge to the sons of Sceva as they attempted to cast out evil spirits without proper authority.

And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? (Acts 19:15; emphasis added)

Even the devils know. But they do not understand, and they certainly are not wise.

Obviously the relationships among knowledge, understanding, and wisdom can be more complex than my simple graphics might suggest. However, the definitions and relationships we have discussed thus far this morning do provide a good beginning point in our effort to better comprehend these important concepts.

Question #2 — What key principles are related to understanding?

I would now like to discuss three key principles that are related to understanding. I believe these principles can help each of us as we seek to better understand understanding.
 
 

Principle #1 — Understanding is a gift from God.

May I suggest that understanding is not a characteristic or virtue we can jot down on our goal sheet or "to do" list, to be accomplished by the end of the month. Rather, understanding, in the scriptural sense that we have discussed this morning, is a gift from God. Please note the source of understanding in each of the following verses.

But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. (Job 32:8)

For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6)

Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. (2 Timothy 2:7)

For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding. (2 Nephi 31:3)

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand . . . . (3 Nephi 17:2-3)

Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth. (D&C 91:4)

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified, and rejoice together. (D&C 50:21-22)

It is important for all of us to remember that spiritual understanding is a gift to be received and not a trait or characteristic to be developed.

Now please turn with me to section 68 in the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps we will look at verses 25-26 a bit differently given what we have learned about understanding as a gift from God.

And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands when either years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. 

For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized.

Please note in verse 25 that parents are not simply to teach their children. Rather, they are to teach them to understand. And understanding is a gift from God.

I believe, brothers and sisters, that these verses in section 68 are a powerful admonition for parents to create a home wherein the Spirit of the Lord can reside. Within a Christ-centered home, love, trust, and confidence invite the presence of the Holy Ghost. In such a home the Holy Ghost can teach children to understand. Ultimately, it is not parents who do the teaching. Certainly, parents must diligently and effectively explain basic gospel doctrines, teach true principles, and share sacred experiences. But who truly does the teaching and certifies the truthfulness of what we come to know? The Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead. He is the Comforter who knows all things. He is thereby able to search the minds and hearts of all of us and then tailor a blessing to us, according to our individual needs and circumstances. And it is teaching and certifying by the Spirit that produces understanding. Parents in Zion have the responsibility to establish and maintain that type of Christ-centered and spirit-filled home.
 
 

Principle #2 — Hardness of heart hinders understanding.

The scriptures are replete with references to the relationship between a hard heart and a lack of understanding.

They have not known or understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. (Isaiah 44:18)

He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. (John 12:40)

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if you cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. (2 Nephi 32:4)

And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, or understand great knowledge, when it is given to them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Nephi 32:7)

And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. (Mosiah 26:3)

Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know . . . . (Alma 10:6)

But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. (Alma 33:20)

Now many of us may tend to think that a hard heart is the result of serious transgression and gross wickedness. Certainly that is true. But I wonder if you and I, as Latter-day Saints who are striving to be committed and active, might not also be subject to a more subtle and seductive type of hard-heartedness?

In February of this year, the First Presidency issued a letter that was to be read in sacrament meeting in every ward and distributed to every home in the Church. I now quote two paragraphs from that First Presidency letter:

We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.

We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely appointed duties that only parents and family can adequately perform. (First Presidency letter, 11 February 1999)

How have you and I responded to this counsel from prophets of God who have been divinely appointed "to guide us in these latter days"? I personally am aware of stakes and wards wherein the response of some members basically has been "this is not new, we’ve heard this same counsel before," and the inspired instruction has not been taken seriously and even casually discarded. Do we hear but fail to understand? Have we, like Amulek in the Book of Mormon, been called many times but refuse to hear? Do we know concerning these things, yet we would not know? Have we indeed applied our hearts to understanding both the content and timing of this admonition from modern prophets? Do the pace and comfort of our life-style produce a type of hard-heartedness that hinders our understanding. I am persuaded that two of the greatest sins of our busy and hectic generation are distraction and preoccupation. Clearly, if we have failed to understand and act upon this recent counsel from the First Presidency, we are lacking in wisdom.
 
 

Principle #3 — Understanding brings great blessings.

The blessings associated with understanding are marvelous indeed. 

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels. (Proverbs 1:5)

The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge. . . . (Proverbs 15:14)

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. (Proverbs 3:13)

And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. (D&C 76:9)

Thus, three of the specific blessings of understanding are (1) an increasing desire for additional knowledge, instruction, and learning; (2) happiness; and (3) a precious perspective of the eternal that transcends the limited view of the mortal.

Let me provide just one brief example of the blessings that come from understanding. Susan and I recently traveled to Arkansas to attend the funeral of a dear friend named Kirk who died suddenly and unexpectedly. We first met Kirk and his wife Carol when our family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1980. Kirk was serving at that time as a counselor in the bishopric. I have fond memories of the very first Sunday we attended church in Fayetteville and the warm invitation we received from Kirk and Carol to come to their home for dessert. That Sunday afternoon marked the beginning of a strong friendship. We worked and played together often, and we were next-door neighbors for more than ten years.

Kirk and Carol recently were traveling together in China on a business trip when he had a massive heart attack. His sudden passing was a shock to all of us who knew him. The blessings of perspective and of spiritual strength that derive from a true understanding of the plan of salvation are perhaps most evident when we stand at the doorway of death. The peace and steadiness that we observed in Carol and other family members are clearly blessings that grow out of the gift of understanding. This good and faithful woman knows and understands we are born to die and we die to live. Carol knows and understands that death is only a temporary separation from her beloved husband and not the permanent end of a relationship. Because of what she knows and understands, she has hope for a glorious resurrection and reunion with Kirk. In moments of our greatest sadness and loneliness, an understanding of the gospel plan and sacred covenants provide a "peace . . . which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

Brothers and sisters, we learn in the Book of Mormon that King Benjamin had three sons. These three young men were taught in the language of their fathers that " . . . thereby they might become men of understanding . . ." (Mosiah 1:2). My prayer for all of us this morning is that we likewise may become men and women of understanding.

Clearly we are all at different stages in the process of receiving understanding from God. And like many blessings, understanding is received gradually, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. Over time, however, the promised blessing is sure as we work and apply our hearts to understanding.

Let me now conclude with three brief examples of how understanding is built upon the foundation of knowledge and leads to wisdom and righteous application.

A mature couple recently submitted their papers in anticipation of serving another mission, their third full-time mission since retirement. This couple returns home from the mission field just long enough to get their personal affairs in order, to hug and kiss the grandchildren for a while, and then they return to the mission field. This man and woman have heard the Brethren on repeated occasions describe the urgent need for more mature missionary couples throughout the world. They know and understand who they are and why they are here, they understand the covenants they have made in sacred places, and they respond righteously and wisely to the call to serve.

A young couple expecting their first child wisely chooses a more modest life-style so the mother can discontinue her employment and devote her full time and attention to the family and home. This young man and woman have studied diligently and know the teachings of living prophets about the respective roles and responsibilities of men and women, particularly as contained in the Proclamation on the Family. As this young couple has sensitively worked together to establish proper priorities and discern the difference between needs and wants, they have been blessed with understanding. They know, they have been blessed to understand, and they are acting and responding with wisdom.

A young man excitedly enters the MTC in Provo. He has read the Book of Mormon on his own and with his family. He has a developing testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer. He is anxious to share the message of the restoration with those who are not members of the Church. He is clean and pure. This young man did not need to make significant or last-minute changes to his hairstyle, to his preferred music, or to his manner of speech. This young man knows, he understands, and he has been preparing and responding with wisdom.

Brothers and sisters, may we indeed become men and women of understanding. The principles we have reviewed this morning are true. I testify that God lives and that He does indeed bless us with understanding. I witness that Jesus is the Christ. And I know that the Holy Ghost is real and can enlighten our minds and certify to our hearts the truth of things that matter most. The fullness of the gospel has been restored to the earth in these latter days, of which I testify and declare my witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.