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Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

January 26, 2010




Education: A Religious Responsibility

Elder Russell M. Nelson

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles



Photo of Elder Nelson









Thank you President Clark.  Sister Wendy Nelson and I are grateful for the privilege of participating with you today at this devotional assembly.  President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors as well as my associates in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles extend our love and greetings to each of you.  We and all members of the Board of Trustees express our gratitude to members of the faculty and the staff of this institution.  You are dedicated and devoted leaders.  And to the students, we express our deep affection and best wishes.  We love you!  The youth of this Church are part of a chosen generation.  You have been foreordained to be leaders in the Church of God.  We are honored to be with you.


Tonight Wendy will speak at the Women’s Meeting and I will get to listen to her message.  The assignment for me to speak to you this afternoon has come from the First Presidency.  If I had my preference, I would hear from each of you.  I would like to get to know every one of you.  I would like to learn of your faith, of your goals in life, and of your challenges.  Not knowing how I could make that happen, I had better be obedient to my leaders and do as they have asked.  Please accept my virtual handshake as a sign of my love for each of you.


I am still thinking about your opening hymn.  Thank you for your meaningful musical prayer:  “As I Searched the Holy Scriptures, loving Father of mankind, may my heart be blessed with wisdom, and may knowledge fill my mind.” [1]


From my heart and mind to yours, I address you on this occasion.  Please be true to yourself.  Honor—yes, even demand—highest expectations from yourself.  Pursue your education as a priority of the highest order.  Gain all the education you can.  With us as Latter-day Saints, education is a religious responsibility.  “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36).  


Your personal intelligence—your personal identity—is everlasting and divine (see D&C 93:29).  I believe that Thomas Jefferson must have felt that dignity and divine nature of the human spirit when he wrote, “I have sworn upon the Altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” [2]


Seek Education 

Your mind is precious!  It is sacred.  Therefore, the education of one’s mind is also sacred.  Indeed, education is a religious responsibility.  Of course, our opportunities and abilities will vary a great deal.  But, in the pursuit of one’s education, individual desire is more important than is the institution you choose; personal drive is more significant than is the faculty.


Our Creator expects His children everywhere to gain an education as a personal endeavor.  He issued this commandment: “Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118; emphasis added).  When you leave this frail existence, your material possessions will remain here, but the Lord has declared that the knowledge you acquire here will rise with you in the resurrection (see D&C 130:18–19).  In light of this celestial perspective, if you impulsively drop out or otherwise cut short your education, you would not only disregard a divine decree but also abbreviate your own eternal potential.


Each one of you may have had or will yet have your own day of personal commitment—your own scholastic Sacred Grove equivalent.  I still remember my moment of resolution.  Many years ago, as an untrained teenager, I secured temporary employment at Christmastime.  The work was dull, repetitive, and monotonous.  Each hour of the day passed slowly.  I resolved then and there that I would obtain an education that would qualify me for more meaningful work in my life.  I determined that I would become a doctor of medicine.


Many years later, when I was serving both as a medical doctor and a stake president, I chatted with many young people about their personal educational pursuits.  Some asked me how long it took to become a doctor of medicine.  I replied, “The general pattern would be four years at a university, followed by four years in medical school.  And, should you choose to specialize, that could add another five years or more.


My words would often evoke a response like, “You mean . . . ?  Why, that adds up to 13 years—and maybe more?  That’s too long for me!”


“That all depends,” I would respond.  “Preparation for your career is not too long if you know what you want to do with your life.  How old will you be 13 years from now if you don’t pursue your education?  Just as old, whether or not you become what you want to be!”


So my counsel then—and now—is to continue your education, wherever you are, whatever your interest and opportunity may be.  Determine how you can best serve your family and society and prepare well.


Regardless of your personal choice of career, your education is the key.  In the process, try to gain wisdom too.  Long ago, an important question was asked by Job: “Where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12)  Just for a moment, let us focus on his profound question.


Education is a vital component of wisdom.  Not long after the pioneers began the construction of their magnificent temple in Illinois, they established the University of the City of Nauvoo.  The First Presidency then proclaimed that this university “will enable us to teach our children wisdom, to instruct them in all the knowledge and learning, in the arts, sciences, and learned professions.” [3]


They listed wisdom as a priority and ranked it even before knowledge and learning.  Less than three years after the pioneers entered the valley of the Great Salt Lake, they inaugurated the University of the State of Deseret on February 28, 1850. [4]  Later, several academies of learning were established with the hope that wisdom could be instilled among their youth.


Beware of Unbalance 

While you search for education and wisdom, I need to offer a serious word of caution.  Choose carefully what you will learn, whose teachings you will follow, and whose purposes you will serve.  And don’t place all of your intellectual eggs in the solitary basket of secular learning.  Remember this warning from the Book of Mormon:

“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!  When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.  And they shall perish.


“But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:28–29).

That scriptural counsel was not heeded by a rich friend of mine who once proudly boasted that his climb toward wealth had come from tireless work and lessons learned in the “school of hard knocks.”  But his financial fortune had come at the expense of his spiritual development.  Only when it was too late did he discover, to his regret, that his ladder of success had been leaning against the wrong wall.  He had never heeded the following instruction from his Maker:


“Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich.  Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7; see also 11:7).


In retrospect, I can now see that mankind’s general and pervasive lack of knowledge of the scriptures has handicapped great numbers of people for long periods of time.  The suffering that has resulted from such ignorance is truly tragic.  I will illustrate that point with excerpts from history that pertain to the spread of infection from one person to another. [5]


Back in the 19th century, very little was known about the transmission of infectious disease.  Health officials and others ascribed infection simply to “air pollution.”  They were not concerned about pollution of the air by the visible, smoggy, hydrocarbons of today, but by what they called an invisible miasma.  That miasma was blamed for almost every infection.  In 1867, for example, the famous surgeon, Lord Joseph Lister, indicted bad air as the chief cause of infection.  Because of that notion, in 1869, Dr. J. Y. Simpson of Edinburgh urged a policy that hospitals be taken down and rebuilt every few years. [6]  Such a costly practice was also advocated by other experts. [7]


Even Florence Nightingale, a living legend following her heroic efforts in the Crimean War, was unaware of the transmission of infection from one patient to another—this despite her careful notations that wound infection accounted for 40 percent of postoperative mortality. [8]  Many others missed the connection, too.  For centuries, innumerable mothers and babies died from “childbirth fever”—serious infections unknowingly transmitted among innocent people by the unwashed hands of attendants. [9]


It was only in the latter part of the 19th Century that the great health heroes Robert Koch, Louis Pasteur, and others proved that infection could be caused by bacteria.  Infectious organisms in contaminated body fluids were transmitted from one individual to another by attendants who had not washed their hands.


With these painful recollections of history in mind, may I quote the word of the Lord, as recorded long ago in the Old Testament’s book of  Leviticus, chapter 15: 

“The Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying,


“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When any man hath a running issue [or as we would say, pus draining] out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean.


“And this shall be his uncleanness in his issue . . . .


“Every bed, whereon he lieth that hath the issue, is unclean: and every thing, whereon he sitteth, shall be unclean.


“And whosoever toucheth his bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water . . . .


“And he that toucheth the flesh of him that hath the issue shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water” (Leviticus 15:1–7; emphasis added).


Several verses follow that reemphasize those important instructions.  Then we read this conclusion:


“And when he that hath an issue is cleansed of his issue; then he shall . . . wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean” (v. 13).

Thus, our loving Heavenly Father clearly revealed, and His prophet faithfully recorded, the principles of clean technique in the handling of infected patients more than 3,000 years ago!


These scriptures are in complete harmony with modern medical guidelines. [10]  But during those many millennia, how many mothers needlessly perished?  How many children suffered because man’s quest for knowledge had failed to incorporate the word of the Lord in that quest?


Contemporary Challenges 

In our day, many challenges face us.  Some are new, some are old—simply clothed in modern attire.  The epistles of Paul include prophecies pertaining to our day.  Do these descriptions sound familiar? 

“In the last days perilous times shall come.


“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, [and the list of insidious qualities goes on] . . .


“Without natural affection, .  .  .


“Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; . . .


“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1–7).

Paul’s warnings describe these and other dangers of our day.  You and I know that many of these threats to happiness are wrong because they are contrary to God’s will.  Yet they are championed by persuasive people possessing more ability than morality, more knowledge than wisdom.  Their convenient rationalization provides self-consoling justification.  But the Bible warns us that “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15).  Indeed, individuals with ignorance of doctrine, or people with malignity of purpose, often wear the mask of honesty.  So we must constantly be on guard.


Presently, many influential people attribute problems of our day to overpopulation.  That concept of overpopulation has become broadly believed, and efforts have been made to control birthrates—with regrettable results.  For any society to survive, its birth rate must average at least 2.16 births per woman.  In the past 50 years, the birthrate has dropped in nearly every nation of the world.  In the nations of Europe, the birthrate has dropped from the replacement rate of 2.16 children per woman to the present rate of 1.45. [11]  Data from the United States show similar worrisome trends.  In 1960, minor children constituted half of the population; now they are only 30 percent. [12]  Predictions are that by the year 2025, single-person households in the United States will outnumber families with children. [13]


Meanwhile, the Lord’s command to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (see Genesis 1:28; 9:1; Moses 2:28; Abraham 4:28) has never been rescinded.


Now, let me ask you a question.  Is the world truly overpopulated?  Consider the facts.  The latest data indicate that the world’s population is 6.8 billion people.  If every one of those 6.8 billion people were allocated one quarter of an acre (for example, under that formula a family with a father and a mother with two children would be given one acre), I repeat, if a quarter of an acre were allocated to each man, woman, and child now living on the earth today, they would all fit in the country of Brazil, with 20 percent of Brazil still left unoccupied!


So the real question is, do we have faith in the word of the Lord?  He said, “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17).  God’s work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, and He has provided this earthly opportunity for us to prepare for that glorious goal.


My young brothers and sisters, to build a house straight and strong, you do not choose crooked boards.  So to build your eternal destiny, you cannot—you must not—limit your lessons only to those lessons that are warped by the world to exclude the truth from God.  The Book of Mormon underlines this note of caution and hope:


“Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.  For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works” (Jacob 4:10).


Avoidable deaths and mounting financial burdens are also being incurred worldwide because of indifference to or ignorance of God’s declaration that tobacco “is not good for man” (D&C 89:8).  Many other societal problems could be listed, such as alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, pornography, immorality, infidelity, and erosion of family stability.  We may know much, and still remain unwise.  Where is the knowledge we have lost in obtaining information?  And where is the wisdom we have lost in gaining knowledge? [14]


Wisdom Found 

Wisdom is to be found in pure intelligence—in that divine light of the gospel which can guide people in all countries, all climes, and all continents.  The Lord has promised that “a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel” (D&C 45:28).  Then the Lord lamented: 

“But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men. . . .


“And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land. 


“But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. 


“And there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me” (D&C 45:29–33; see also 87:6).

In contrast to the darkness of such bitter chaos, the bright light of the gospel of Jesus Christ beams as the hope of the world.  Missionaries and members courageously proclaim its brilliance.  Wise students throughout the world heed its light and enrich their education by adding the curriculum of Church seminaries and institutes.  The Lord hides His wisdom from no one.  His disciple, James, wrote, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally” (James 1:5).


Again we consider the question once asked by Job: “Where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12.)  The answer: it emanates from the Lord.  He declared, “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more” (2 Nephi 28:30).


Divine light and wisdom continue to increase when love for Deity grows: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24; see also 88:67).


Here is the Lord’s promise to you and to me: “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93:28).


Where is wisdom?  It pulses and surges in the Lord’s light of truth!  With that light, He lifts us toward His glorious goal of eternal life, when we may dwell with Him forever.


Be we again reminded that in our opening hymn we prayed for wisdom and knowledge.  Each of us sang, “As I Searched the Holy Scriptures, loving Father of mankind, may my heart be blessed with wisdom, and may knowledge fill my mind.”  These blessings granted will provide undergirding and everlasting hope in our hearts.


I know that God lives.  Jesus is the Christ.  This is His Church.  We are His disciples.  I leave my testimony, love and blessing with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.



[1] “As I Search the Holy Scriptures,” Hymns, no. 277.
[2] Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, in Elbert D. Thomas, Thomas Jefferson, World Citizen, 1942), 251.
[3]  History of the Church, 4:269. 
[4] See Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 28 Feb. 1850, 1–2.
[5] See J. Lister, “ On a New Method of Treating Compound Fracture, Abscess, Etc., with Observations on the Conditions of Suppuration,” Lancet, 1
[6] See J. Y. Simpson, “Our Existing System of Hospitalism and Its Effects,” Edinburgh Med. Journal, 14 (1869):817.
[7] See L. A. Stimson, “Bacteria and Their Influence upon the Origin and Development of Septic Complications of Wounds,” New York Med. Journal, 22
[8] See Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, 2 vols. (1913), 1:352–438.
[9] See Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss, Die Aetiologie, der Begriff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebers, reprinted from 1861 ed. (1966), 102–13.
[10] See Isolation Techniques for use in Hospitals (National Communicable Disease Center, 1970), 9.
[11] See United Nations World Population Prospects: 2006 revision—Table II.1,p.9.
[12] See David P. Goldman, “Demographics & Depression,” First Things (May 2009), 24.
[13]  Ibid.
[14] See T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock,’” The Complete Poems and Plays (1971), 96.