(Church talk given October 18, 2009)
In the Priesthood session of our recent General Conference, President Uchtdorf spoke of the principle of learning as one of the things that sustained him and his family after they lost everything in the years after World War II. As he grew older, President Uchtdorf struggled to continue learning and eventually got a job at a research institution where he could spend much of his free time in the library.
Speaking of that time he said, “In those days, I understood first hand the words of an old saying: education is not so much the filling of a bucket as the lighting of a fire.” That saying is old indeed. It dates at least as far back as Plutarch, a priest of the Oracle at Delphi, born around the year 45 A.D.
President Uchtdorf continued, “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea it is a commandment. We are to learn of things both in heaven and in the earth and under the earth. Things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad.”
The Lord has always commanded his people to learn. The Proverbs say, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning”. In the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham learns about the sun, moon, and stars…, the eternal nature of spirits, pre-earth life, foreordination, the creation, the choosing of a Redeemer, and about the beginning of life here on Earth. And Nephi tells us that “having been born of goodly parents, therefore [he] was taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father.”
In modern times, the Lord commanded the Saints to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. 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.” We are also “to obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion.”
The Prophet taught the Saints that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 217). “Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is…. In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because he has greater knowledge” (Teachings, 288).
Early in 1833, the Savior commanded the Saints, “And as all have not faith, 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.”
In response to this command, Joseph Smith organized the first School of the Prophets which began meeting on January 23, 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio. This school was to combine spiritual and temporal learning. They fasted, prayed, exercised faith, received revelation, grew in unity and studied the doctrines of the gospel. During one meeting, Joseph received the revelation contained in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, known to us as the Word of Wisdom. They discussed social and political issues relevant to the Church and met regularly until spring.
They met again during the winter of 1834 and again in 1835, this time expanding to include many more people and to hold classes in two locations. In addition to doctrine and spiritual preparation, they taught many secular topics including penmanship, English, Hebrew, grammar, arithmetic, philosophy, literature, government, geography and history. It was in this school that the Lectures on Faith were first published and studied.
Today the Churn owns and operates several universities and many institutes and seminaries throughout the world. In 2001, President Hinckley announced the formation of the Perpetual Education Fund to help faithful youth in developing areas “step out of the cycle of poverty.” As of last month, the Church had made over 38,000 loans. Clearly education and learning remain a strong emphasis today.
Throughout our lives, we should be furthering our education and learning more of the world around us. We are often busy with the demands of life: school, work, children, church callings, spending time with our family and friends, paying bills and other activities.
It may seem a little odd that I included school in that list. Mark Twain once remarked “I never let schooling interfere with my education.” And Albert Einstein used to say that “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” School can help educate us, but learning is a personal responsibility with or without school.
In 1909, the arctic explorer Commander Robert Peary was the first man to reach the North Pole. Of 23 men who began the journey, only six made it the full distance: four of the native Inuit and Peary’s long-time black colleague Matthew Henson.
Born just after the American Civil War, Henson suffered the intense racism common in the late 1800s. And while Peary viewed him as an inferior, it was Henson who was essentially the leader of their expeditions. He took care of the other men, dogs, and supplies. He repaired the sledges. He spoke the Inuit language.
Booker T. Washington described Henson in these words:
During the twenty-three years in which he was the companion of the explorer he not only had time and opportunity to perfect himself in his knowledge of the books, but he acquired a good practical knowledge of everything that was a necessary part of the daily life in the ice-bound wilderness of polar exploration. He was at times a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a cook. He was thoroughly acquainted with the life, customs, and the language of the Esquimos. He himself built the sledges with which the journey to the Pole was successfully completed. He could not merely drive a dog-team or skin a musk-ox with the skill of a native, but he was something of a navigator as well. In this way Mr. Henson made himself not only the most trusted but the most useful member of the expedition.
Henson spent little time worrying about racism. He went to work and taught himself how to thrive in one of the harshest environments on earth. It was believed that blacks could not survive in the harsh cold of the Arctic. Henson proved otherwise, in part through continually improving his skills and knowledge.
In 2005, Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He began by saying, “I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” He went on to describe one of his experiences after dropping out.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts…. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
By continuing to learn, even when it may have seemed impractical or unrealistic, Jobs later found his knowledge to be of great worth.
Closer to home are skills useful around the house, from fixing a leaking faucet to preparing a proper home-cooked meal. From etiquette and manners to gardening to putting up shelves. These things can be done well, with care. Or poorly, with neglect. The difference is in our attitude about learning how to do it well.
Joseph Smith taught that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” So we can add diligence and obedience to study and faith. And what did he mean by intelligence? The Savior revealed that “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” We can all grasp all of the light and truth there is, through the power of the Spirit, regardless of how the world measures us in what it calls intelligence.
Temples are a great example of how we can learn by diligence and study, and also by obedience and faith. Temples are deeply symbolic. The meaning of the symbols can be learned or recognized by study and experience. And the Lord will often supplement our knowledge by inspiration. In other words, he will teach us directly the mysteries of his Kingdom. Sometimes even in ways that go beyond the symbols.
We can have the same experience while studying the scriptures. Beyond the stories and instructions which, as Nephi tells us, can be applied to our lives, the Lord will often expand our knowledge beyond what is written. He knows us personally. If we are faithful and ask in humility, we can learn, through revelation, deeper truths meant just for us or for our families.
The Spirit will also inspire and teach us when reading other good books or when studying non-doctrinal topics. The gospel encompasses all truth.
I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter books and have often imagined how fun it would be to be able to perform magic. Sometimes it seems like fictional worlds are more miraculous than real life. But I must remind myself that Enoch moved mountains, Elijah called down fire from heaven, Nephi asked God to send famine, Moses parted the Red Sea, Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho, the brother of Jared saw the finger of the Lord and more, and Joseph Smith spoke with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Our world is full of miracles. Today, perhaps, more than ever before. As fun as it is to read good books, I stand in awe of the great wonder and potential of real life.
Spirituality is a skill that can be learned and improved through study and faith, through diligence and obedience. Through learning the doctrines and practicing them. Through trusting the Lord and following his commands. Through faith, repentance, and receiving the ordinances of the gospel. Through covenants and humility and love.
The end of the Plan of Salvation is that we become like God who is a father of spirits, creator of worlds and savior to others. Do we have to learn everything? Yes, eventually. But we have time as long as we keep learning. We should learn all we can about the world, about the heavens, about ourselves, and about our God.
When she was six, my daughter was excited to tell her grandmother, “I know how to read. I don’t even need the books.” As we continue to learn and gain knowledge, we will eventually come to know light and truth by heart. At some point along the path of learning, we will cross over into the next world and receive for ourselves a full measure of light and truth. Until then let us learn what we can by study and by faith.
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