Skip to main content

Kevin J. Worthen

Kevin J. Worthen

13 Mar. 2017

Transcript

All Good Things Are Possible Because of Jesus Christ

Let me begin by thanking the BC Voices for sharing their testimony with us in such a powerful way. President Packer once observed that we learn through music some spiritual things that otherwise take us a long time to learn,[3] and I’m grateful that they were willing to share their testimonies, and grateful to Robert for his testimony as well.

In case you get lost in my talk, I’m going to be talking about the same thing Robert talked about; he just said it in a lot fewer words than I’m going to talk about. I’m also going to tell you something I think you already know, and that is you are blessed to have a wonderful president in President Richards. He is wise, he is visionary, he is energetic, and in those meetings which he talked about, in which we meet together, I can tell you very much his love for you is very evident. I hope you feel that; I’m sure you do.

One other observation before I start is I want to just tell you how good you look. Now, that’s a little different from being good-looking. You are good looking, too, but I want to say how good you look. You may not appreciate what radiates out from you because you are so used to being around each other. And you may not realize the power that comes and the impression you make on people who are not used to seeing the kind of light that radiates from you. It is a blessing to be here in your presence and to see that. And as I say, I hope you get glimpses from time to time of what an impact you have on people that you will never meet formally, but just because of who you are—the way you look, and the spirit that radiates from you.

Now, in the midst of his writing his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote one of the scriptures that I’ve always found most interesting. It’s in Romans 8:28, and he says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” As if we all know that—that all things work together for good to them that love God. It’s actually quite a remarkable promise—a remarkable assertion, I should say. One wonders if Paul really meant what he said, that all things would work together for our good to those that love God.

That God is serious about that comes from other scriptures which echo the same promise. I’ll just give you two or three. Doctrine and Covenants 90:24: “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.”

Doctrine and Covenants 100:15: “All things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly.” And finally, Doctrine and Covenants 105:40: “Make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, . . . and all things shall work together for your good.”

Apparently, God does intend for us to have this message, that all things will work together for our good. But think about what that means—all things. Think of your present situation. Maybe the grade that’s a little disappointing or a lot disappointing. Maybe a relationship that didn’t work out so well. Maybe an accident that you didn’t cause, or maybe you have been harmed by someone who did it intentionally. Can all those things really work together for your good? That’s the assertion that Paul made, and he said we all know this. And God seems to back it up.

So, what I want to talk about today is this remarkable promise to help us deal with the things that happen in our lives that we don’t want to happen in our lives but somehow seem to—some of our own making, some not of our own making but that of others. I want to do it by two things: number one, just try to understand what does this promise really mean; and then number two, how do we make it operative in our lives.

So first, what does the promise mean? Well, that requires an understanding of the three main terms: all things, working together, and good. What do each of those terms mean?

Let’s start with the things about all things. Does it really mean all things? One indication that it does is that the Lord repeats it three or four times in the scriptures and says all things will work together for our good. But in case we still wonder, let me just turn to another scripture I could have cited in the beginning, in the 122nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants verses five through seven, where you find a similar promise.

Joseph Smith is in Liberty Jail and crying out, “What has happened to me?” and “Why am I here?” and “It’s unfair,” and all the other things that we can think and imagine that he would have thought and imagined in those times and we would have thought if we were in similar circumstances.

And the Lord tells him this—and it’s a bit long, so stick with me. The Lord is illustrating this point that comes at the end. He says:

If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;

If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife . . . ;

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

Now, that doesn’t list every human tragedy that has ever happened to any of us, but it’s pretty comprehensive in a sense of saying that God really means if any of those things happen, all of those things will be “for thy good.” Now, that is a remarkable promise to think about. And in challenging times, we ought to ask ourselves if we really believe that, because it’s important.

Now, understanding what that means requires a little bit of an understanding about what we mean by good because the promise is that all things shall work together for our good. If we really want to understand about good, one thing we need to clear up is a misunderstanding that some in the world have about God and His purposes. In fact, there is an argument that goes around that really challenges that statement that God is good. And it’s a challenge, I think, for most philosophers who do not believe in a God, and it is what they think is the most powerful argument that you can have against God.

CS Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain characterized this argument this way; he summarized it.[4] He said,

If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy. And if God were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God either lacks goodness, or power, or both. That is the problem of pain in its simplest form.

As I say, it’s quite a challenging argument because you look around at all the bad things that happen, and you will hear the argument in various forms over and over again. If there were a God and His is all-powerful and all-loving, why do people suffer? And for some, that is reason enough not to believe in God, because they can say—just as CS Lewis articulated in the argument that he has a response for here in a second—either He’s not as good as we think He is, or He’s not as powerful as we think He is because people are not happy.

Now CS Lewis has the right description for that, by understanding what God is trying to accomplish. He says this:

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively his lovingness. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we had delight in doing, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves,” and whose [idea and] plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “good time was had by all.”

Then he said God loves us much more than that, and we sell him short when we think that’s what God would do. We understand, because of the restored gospel, even more that God has a plan for us to become like Him. And He loves us enough that everything He does is to that end. And He loves us enough that, whatever it takes for us to become like Him, He will help us through it and help us experience it. And it’s important for us to understand that when we talk about God making things work together for our good. It’s not just that we’re contented the whole time, because we really don’t want just a “grandfather in heaven” who says, “Well, as long as they’re happy, I don’t care what they do.” He cares deeply what we do because of what we may become. And that’s sometimes the challenge.

Now, in a simple way, we can see how it works. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin once characterized this by looking at a child who is learning how to walk. He said:

What parent would say to a child, “Learning to walk is such a painful and difficult experience, you will stumble, you will most likely hurt yourself, you will cry many times when you fall. I will protect you from this struggle [and make sure I carry you wherever you go]? . . . Out of my love for you, I will save you from this.’”[5]

Would we really say this, because we cannot bear to see our children take a tumble at times? Would we really keep them from learning how to walk?

That is unthinkable for a loving parent. . . . Even knowing that the process would be difficult, we [know] that the freedom and joy of walking would outweigh any temporary pain or adversity.[6]

And that’s how it is with Heavenly Father. Could He remove every challenge from our path? Possibly. But not without destroying the plan He has for us to become like Him. This is illustrated well in a story that most of you are familiar with, and I’m going to use it again because it is such a great story.

It’s told by President Hugh B. Brown, who was a counselor in the First Presidency at the time he told this story.[7] He talks about growing up in Canada, which is where he did, and he lived on a farm. It was a run-down kind of farm, he said. He went to work at it. He went out one morning to see a currant bush that had grown over six feet high. It was all gone to wood; it was not producing any fruit.

He had grown up on a farm and he knew what needed to happen, so he got out his pruning shears and chopped back the currant bush until nothing was left but the stumps. And then he said,

It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on the top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. . . . I looked at it, and smiled, and said, “What are you crying about?

He said,

I thought I heard that currant bush talk. And I thought I heard it say this: “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me, because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the [kind] gardener here.’

President Brown said,

That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, . . . [so] I answered . . . , “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring enough about me to hurt me. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’”

Then President Brown continued:

Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. . . . I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. And I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. [The] one man between me and . . . the office of general in the British Army . . . became a casualty [in the war], and I received a telegram from London. It said, “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” Signed . . . General Turner.

I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the General. . . . He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment [of General for you]. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer.”

President Brown said,

That for which I had been hoping and praying for ten years suddenly slipped out of my fingers

[The general got up and] went into the other room to answer the telephone, [and on his desk I saw my] personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it written in bold block-type letters was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. . . .

[The general] came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” . . . I got on the train and started back to my town . . . with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure.” . . .

When I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap . . . on the cot. I clinched my fists and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.

And then,” President Brown said, “I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.’ The bitterness went out of my soul,” President Brown said.

While kneeling there I heard a song being sung in an adjoining tent. A number of Mormon boys met regularly every Tuesday night [and that was them]. . . . As I was kneeling there, praying for forgiveness, I heard their voices singing:

“. . . But if, by a still, small voice he calls

 To paths that I do not know,

I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:

 I’ll go where you want me to go.”

President Brown said, “I arose from my knees . . . [and said], ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’” My life, he said, from there was changed. He would have been a good general, but he would not have been a general authority. And which was more important? And what lesson was more important?

We need to understand that when God said things would work together for our good that He has a plan for us and He will make it all work together for our good—everything that happens to us, whether He wills it or not. And He doesn’t will everything that happens to us because agency operates—but He can make it all work together for our good if we’ll just understand the plan.

Finally, in understanding what it is, we have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to “work together for our good”? Because the promise is not that everything that happens to us will immediately be to our benefit. The promise is that in the long run, things will work together for our good.

Now, it’s interesting: one way to think about this, if you’ve taken chemistry—sodium is an element, chlorine is an element. Both of them are reactive. That means they’re not stable. That means they are poisonous. Sodium by itself is poisonous; chlorine by itself is poisonous. When they combine together, you get sodium chloride. Some of you now know what this is, and that is salt, which is not only not poisonous, it adds flavor to things and preserves things, and to some extent it is necessary for life itself. That’s an example of how God can take, if you will, two things that may be bad and put them together in a way that works together for our good.

But we have to be patient because it doesn’t happen just magically. As I say, it’s not that every event that happens we will say, “Oh, I see what good this is going to be,” because there are some events in which we won’t see much good, and there may not be at that immediate moment any good at all. But God’s promise is that in the long run, these things will work together for our good if we will but trust Him.

President Kimball said,

If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be a calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.[8]

We have to be patient if we’re going to see all things work together for our good, because in time they will. But we can be patient because in the long run, in the eternities, time will not matter. And we have to, again, trust the Lord that He knows what He is doing.

Well, that’s what the promise means—that is, it really does mean that all things will work together for our good. The question for us is, how do we make this operative in our lives today? Let me just give you three suggestions.

First, note that each of the promises in the scriptures is conditional. It doesn’t say that God will make all things work together for our good no matter what; there is always a condition for each one of these. In fact, just in the verses I read there are seven different conditions. One is, it says in Romans, they work together for good to those who love God. In Doctrine and Covenants, it says we have to search diligently, we have to pray always, we have to be believing, we have to walk uprightly, we have to remember the covenant, we have to make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten us.

I have to admit, as I go through that list myself, I am exhausted and thinking, “Well, yea, if I could do all that, I’d be perfect already.” I think God does not say, “You have to do all of those things in order for this to work.” In fact, no one of those verses repeats all seven of these; there’s just a little condition here, one there, one somewhere else. It is possible, it seems to me, that maybe God is saying, “If you could just do one of these things—I’ll give you a choice of seven different ones. If you could just do one of these, I’ll make it work for you.” He really is that good.

I don’t understand the whole thing, but I think the one thing that He really asks of us—and the point I want to make—is it’s conditional because we have to do something. At a bare minimum, we have to trust Him enough and have the attitude that He will make things work together for our good. We have to exercise that much faith.

It’s possible that if you do one of those seven things, the others will follow. For example, if we really love God, my guess is we’ll pray pretty diligently. We’ll search. We’ll believe. We’ll walk uprightly—not perfectly, but we’ll do the best we can. And what He really asks of us—and the point I want to make—is that in all of our situations, agency operates and we have the opportunity of deciding. In the long run, it will depend upon us.

As CS Lewis once said in the long run, there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done” and those to whom God will say, “Your will be done.”[9]

God will bless us as much as He can, and the biggest barrier is going to be, do we let Him? Do we really believe? Do we do the things that He asks us to do? If we can do that much, He then will make all things work together for our good. But we have to exercise that choice ourselves.

Second, we need to—and it helps us to—focus on joy in our lives, both the long-term joy we can see (maybe in the next life) but also the joy in our immediate circumstances. And that can be a great aid in helping God—allowing God, is a better way of saying that—to make all things work together for our good.

President Russell M. Nelson, in the most recent general conference, talked about the spiritual strength to carry on in difficult times that comes from joy. Because, he said, “focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives.”[10]

One of the challenging things we have to overcome is to be joyful when bad things are happening. You may remember President Nelson talked about Eliza R. Snow being with a group of 80 Saints who were being expelled from Missouri, being housed in the wintertime overnight in a cabin that was 20 feet by 20 feet. They couldn’t even lie down. The chinking between the logs, she said, had already been removed by prior groups trying to get a fire going.

But, she said, if you had come across this merry band, you would have thought they were on an excursion somewhere rather than being exiled. Because, she said, “none but the Saints [could find joy in] every circumstance.”[11]

Now, that’s a remarkable thing, and it makes our lives better. It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be easy, but it does make our lives better—if we can find joy, both in the immediate circumstances and in the long run. Again, let me just share one example, because doing this is not easy.

I met a couple a few years ago who were struggling because they had been married for some period of time and they wanted to have children and they were not able to have children. They tried everything they could, and they were bitterly disappointed that they couldn’t have children. They eventually tried in vitro fertilization, and the first two or three times—a very expensive thing for this young couple without much means—did not work. And they were even more discouraged.

But eventually, they discovered to their joy that they—in their terms—were pregnant with twins. They were very excited. Things went well for a few weeks. They were really excited. They bought a double stroller and started making a crib.

And then, at the 12-week appointment, their doctor told them they should see a specialist because something didn’t look right on the ultrasound. Further examination showed that one of the twins, the boy, was not developing correctly. He had a condition called acrania, which meant he didn’t have a skull. The term the doctor said to them was indelibly linked in their minds. He said this defect is “incompatible with life.”

The news was hard for them to bear after trying so long to have children. And now, they were told one child would not survive. They hoped for a miracle. They prayed and fasted, and fasted and prayed. Others joined them, but it was to no avail.

When they returned for the 16-week appointment, the initial diagnosis was confirmed, and they were told there was a heart defect as well. Their son was born a few weeks later only a minute after his twin sister. The father, in his own words, explained their feelings at this time:

From the time we found out about our son’s condition, we hoped that he would live until birth, so we would at least be able to meet him. When he was born, he was breathing on his own and had a heartbeat of 120. We were able to give him a name and a blessing and hold him and bathe him. We ended up getting seven of the best hours of our life with him. He was a sweet little boy, and our short time together was filled with love, peace, and happiness. The Spirit was strong. It was a wonderful time.

The mother echoed the sentiment. She said this:

We decided a long time ago, as we were going through infertility, that we wanted to be happy, even in all the stress and emotions that came along with being infertile. I didn’t want to get to the end of that trial and look back on it to realize we had been unhappy and bitter when we could have taken advantage of all the extra time we had together. Luckily, I realized that just because we got pregnant, it didn’t mean that all of the hard things were going away.

She said, “I prayed to see miracles, small and big, during our experience, and it did happen. It would take hours to list all the blessings we saw, especially the day our children were born. It was a perfect day, filled with love. We couldn’t stop stroking our son’s hands and cheeks, and holding his perfect little feet. We kept telling him how much we loved him, how perfect he was. That little boy, along with his twin sister, have brought us more happiness than anything else could. And we have been given immense peace, and just wanted to share our gratitude for what we have been given.”

Now, that’s a remarkable example of how you can find joy in those circumstances. But the story continues from there. They decided to have a service for their young son, and invited all the people who had helped them, most of whom were non-members. Catching on an idea they had heard from someone else, they took copies of the Book of Mormon with their testimonies in them. The husband said, “We thought about this idea a lot and decided we would do something similar. This was important, because so many of the people in our community were dealing with similar feelings of grief and our grief, but they did not have the gospel context for comfort and solace. We wanted to provide that.”

And so, 34 copies of the Book of Mormon were given away that day. Now, that’s remarkable. And all of us, when we see these kinds of things happen, would say, “That’s a tragedy. It’s horrible. It’s terrible. Can this really work out for good?” And with the proper perspective, that couple said, “In the long run, it will be for our good, and we even find joy in the very moment, and we will share that joy with others.”

If we focus in on joy, as President Nelson said, we will have strength to do what we need to do, and we will have the proper perspective.

Finally, the last thing that we need to do is to remember that all good things are possible because of Jesus Christ. Because He descended below all things so that He could comprehend all things, He knows how to make all things work together for our good. That is His message; that is His purpose. That is why He came to earth.

To use the words of Isaiah, He came “to give . . . beauty for ashes.”[12] Things we have burned up, things we think we have messed up, things we think others have messed up for us—there is nothing we can mess up so much that He cannot fix, that He cannot only fix, but turn to our good. That is why He repeatedly promises that all things will work together for our good, if we will but trust Him and allow that to happen.

I bear you my witness that we have a Heavenly Father, a loving God who loves us with a love deeper and broader and more consistent than we can conceive. He knows us individually, and His Son Jesus Christ suffered in some way in Gethsemane that He knows how to console His people perfectly. And He knows how to make all things work together for our good.

I bear you my witness that Christ lives, that He directs this Church today, that He directs it through a prophet—a living prophet, Thomas S. Monson—but also through others throughout the Church, whether a Relief Society president, or teachers, or Primary presidents, or husbands, or mothers, or sisters, or brothers. He is operative in our lives and will turn all things to our good, if we but allow Him to do so. And I leave you that witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] Kevin J. Worthen quoted in “Kevin J Worthen J.D. Named Brigham Young University’s 13th President,” Mormon Newsroom, Mar. 11, 2014.

[2] Kevin J. Worthen quoted in “New University Personnel Orientation,” https://training.byu.edu/nupo/.

[3] See Boyd K. Packer, “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,” BYU Speeches, Feb. 1, 1976.

[4] CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Touchstone: New York, (1996) p. 35–37.

[5] Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Finding a Safe Harbor,” Apr. 2000 General Conference.

[6] Wirthlin, “Finding a Safe Harbor.”

[7] Hugh B. Brown, “The Currant Bush,” New Era, Jan. 1973.

[8] “Chapter 2: Tragedy or Destiny?” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, (2006).

[9] See CS Lewis, The Great Divorce.

[10] Russel M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Oct. 2016 General Conference.

[11] Eliza R. Snow quoted in Russel M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Oct. 2016 General Conference.

[12] Isaiah 61:3.