This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
Some General Conference talks hit me with such unexpected force that I can never be sure if there is something particularly forceful in the talk, something especially resonant in the hour, or some coincidence of circumstance that makes it stand out so clearly from the other (also good) talks of the session. I can’t explain it, but it’s what happened when I read Elder Marion D. Hanks’ talk, Trust in the Lord. I hope I can share a couple of reasons why I loved it so much.
The Lord delights to bless us with his love.
The idea that there is a God who not only does bless us with love, but who delights to do so is arresting. It reminds me of a quote from Jonathan Haidt that has always stuck with me:
Although I would like to live in a world in which everyone radiates benevolence towards everyone else, I would rather live in a world in which there was at least one person who loved me specifically, and whom I loved in return. (The Happiness Hypothesis, page 131)
Specificity is vital, and it goes both ways. God is not merely some generic, omnibenevolent abstraction. God is a title that refers to persons, like Jesus Christ and His Father, and they recognize and love each of us individually. This simple idea, that “The Lord delights to bless us with his love,” can pass by unnoticed like just another ornate phrase, but you should stop and really consider what it means. There is a person out there who sees you, who loves, and who is positively delighted to be able to bless your life.
But Elder Hanks’ talk is not all sunshine, and that is what made me love it all the more:
The power that remade Paul, that poured in love and washed out hostility and hate, did not save him from the great travails, from Nero’s dungeon or a martyr’s death. Christ lived in him, he said, he had found the peace of God that passed all comprehension. Nothing, not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, nor any other creature, could separate him from the love of Christ… Christ died on a cross, and won his victory; his disciples and followers also have been subject to the brute forces and foibles of this world, yet through enduring faith they have shared and will share in that victory.
The Problem of Evil is confounding, and yet I find that religion is never deeper, or more beautiful, or more vital than when it confronts this problem head-on. The idea of a loving God seems so absurd in contrast with a world full of tragedy, war, disease, and disaster. And yet, doesn’t the idea of a God being executed and hung on a cross seem just as absurd? The world mocked Christ and misunderstood His supreme victory as an ignominious defeat, confusing the end of His life with the beginning of our hope. This is a mistake we’ve made before.
Elder Hanks is not speaking theoretically, nor in the abstract:
I am not really thinking in the abstract, but I’m thinking of many noble souls who have met difficulties with courage, like my mother and many others who had little to rely upon—who had little but ingenuity and will and courage and faith. I’m thinking too of a more recent scene—a beautiful young face whiter than the hospital sheet upon which she lay, her sorrowing parents nearby grieving, as a relentless disease consumed her life. Comfort came to them in the quiet knowledge of the nearness of a Savior who himself had not been spared the most keen and intense suffering, who himself had drunk of the bitter cup.
It is awful what some of us are asked to go through. And—in terms of principles like fairness or justice—it is just as awful that so many of us are inexplicably not required to pay the same high price. I don’t think I could ever love or even respect any leader—including a God—who asked their followers to go through what they were not willing to do. But Jesus is not the kind of leader. Jesus did not shy from the shadows; he walked through the deepest shade.
This talk is more than a meditation on suffering and joy and darkness and light. It is a stirring and humble call to action:
We know that the Lord needs instruments of his love. He needs a Simon Peter to teach Cornelius, an Ananias to bless Paul, a humble bishop to counsel his people, a home teacher to go into the homes of the Saints, a father and mother to be parents to their children.
This is one of those talks that makes the General Conference Odyssey worth it for me. No matter how hectic and stressed my life becomes, my soul needs testimonies like these.