Seeing the Divinity in Others
MPA Director, Professor of Public Management
July 31, 2018
MPA Director, Professor of Public Management
July 31, 2018
When our children were teenagers, whenever they would leave our home, my husband or I would usually say to them, “Remember who you are.”
If you asked them what that means, they would probably say a couple of things. First, it means that they are a Wadsworth and that there are certain behaviors and responsibilities that come with that. But, more important, I hope that they would say it means they are children of God. We knew that each time we sent them out the door, they would be faced with all kinds of decisions—some that were very difficult—and we wanted to make sure they were armed with the knowledge of their divinity.
I believe that knowing of our divinity changes the way we view ourselves and influences our daily decision-making.
President Boyd K. Packer shared the following:
You are a child of God. He is the father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it. However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!1
I love the counsel to “fix that truth in your mind and hold to it.” We need to be unwavering in our belief in our individual divinity. As President Packer described, we each have “a single line” that leads directly back to our Heavenly Father.
The power of that single line can be accessed through prayer, scripture reading, and church and temple attendance. Each of these seemingly simple steps are vital to seeking and receiving access to inspiration and revelation from our Heavenly Father. These are the steps of “holding fast to the rod,” as illustrated in Lehi’s dream.2 And, just as promised, these steps will provide access to our own personal revelation and will “safely guide us through.”3
In Doctrine and Covenants 112:10 we are told, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.”
I know without a doubt that He will answer your prayers when you are making decisions about things like marriage, raising children, and a career. He will even answer seemingly simple prayers. Prayer is the opportunity to ask for and receive guidance; it is an essential part of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
As we come to know and understand what it means to be a child of God, we also must come to know that everyone else on this earth is a child of God.
Look around you. You are surrounded by children of God. Every single person on the earth now and forever is a child of God. It doesn’t matter what their religious or political affiliation is, it doesn’t matter where they come from or the color of their skin, and it doesn’t matter if they are just like you or are vastly different from you—they are all children of our Heavenly Father.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton shared the following insight:
It seems interesting that the first principles the Lord Jesus Christ chose to teach His newly called Apostles were those that center around the way we treat each other. And then, what did He emphasize during the brief period He spent with the Nephites on this continent? Basically the same message. Could this be because the way we treat each other is the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ?4
In Ephesians 2:19 we read, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
If knowing that we are children of God changes the way we think and behave, how important it must be for us to acknowledge the divinity of others—these “fellowcitizens”—all around the world. I believe it will change the way we view and interact with them.
I would like to suggest seven principles that will help us in this process of becoming “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens”:
1. Don’t judge others
2. Avoid contention
3. Respect the opinions and beliefs of others
6. Love all people
Let me share with you some counsel and insight that describe each of these principles.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught in the April 2012 general conference:
This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick.5
It seems like he said it pretty eloquently and simply. Are we practicing his counsel in our own lives? Do we judge others who have different beliefs, values, or opinions? When we are tempted to judge another, do we just stop it?
Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women general presidency reminded us:
Everybody has struggles we don’t even know about, and it’s so important that we be aware that everyone around us is loved of God and that we need to see them through Christlike eyes. And we cannot allow judgment to dictate the way we interact with people. It’s just simply not right. . . .
We just cannot be . . . a disciple of Christ if we are not helping others along that path. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not marginalize people. People marginalize people. And we have to fix that.6
Taking Elder Uchtdorf’s advice, we simply need to stop judging others—not because we don’t want to be judged ourselves but because as disciples of Christ we need to see others as He sees them.
President Dallin H. Oaks shared this counsel in the October 2014 general conference:
On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. . . .
. . . We should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.7
President Oaks went on to describe a couple of specific practices that “violate the Savior’s command to love one another.” The first is the practice of some to behave in ways that offend and alienate those not of our faith. He specifically shared examples of parents who don’t allow their children to associate with those who are not Latter-day Saints and examples of teenagers who bully or ostracize those not of our faith.
He then described the second practice as follows:
The Savior taught that contention is a tool of the devil. That surely teaches against some of the current language and practices of politics. Living with policy differences is essential to politics, but policy differences need not involve personal attacks that poison the process of government and punish participants. All of us should banish hateful communications and practice civility for differences of opinion.8
Similarly, in the April 1992 general conference, Elder Ashton spoke of the practice of people using their tongues as “sharp swords.” He used this analogy to illustrate how people are becoming more inclined to bash others.9 Now remember that this talk was given in 1992. I think it is clear that this practice of bashing others with different opinions has become even more commonplace twenty-six years later.
You and I have both seen—and perhaps, more commonly, read—expressions and comments that bash those who disagree with the author. How can we justify this type of behavior if we know that the recipient of our bashing or contentious response is a child of God and a fellow citizen in the household of God? As President Oaks reminded us, “Contention is a tool of the devil.” If we fall into the practice of bashing and making personal attacks, we are giving Satan power over us, and we lose some of the access to the Spirit that we so desperately need in this life.
This leads to the third principle.
Sister Sharon Eubank, president of LDS Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said the following at a BYU forum earlier this year:
We live in a world that is coming apart, that is being pulled apart, so that the unity of community and respect for other people’s beliefs, tolerance of differences, and protection of the minority voice are being shredded. It is extremely destructive to all of us when everyone outside of our narrow clan becomes an enemy we vilify. As those forces in our society rise up, then so must an answering strong sentiment and skill set on the opposite side.10
So how can we answer the destructive pulling apart that Sister Eubank described—this lack of tolerance, respect, and protection? How do we develop “an answering strong sentiment and skill set on the opposite side”?
Let me share with you two recent examples from the Mormon Newsroom on LDS.org.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently spoke at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, England. The discussion was about how nonprofit organizations, governments, and faith groups should support both the physical and spiritual needs of refugees, specifically citing the Yazidis of northern Iraq. Elder Holland described parallels with the persecution in early Church history:
I do not pretend my people’s experiences are the same as what we see happening in so many places today. However, all refugees share some common denominators of grief and suffering, so perhaps there is some insight buried in the persecution of my ancestors nearly two centuries ago.11
A second example occurred earlier this month when the Church provided the following official statement:
We remain committed to support community efforts throughout the world to prevent suicide, bullying, and homelessness. Every young person should feel loved and cared for in their families, their communities, and their congregations. We can come together, bringing our perspectives and beliefs, and make each community a safe place for all.
God’s message is one of hope, and we want our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that they are loved, valued, and needed in His Church.
So much good can be done when a community comes together to address important issues. We appreciate the sincere efforts of many who are trying to prevent suicide, bullying, and homelessness among vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth. We are grateful to be a part of the work to find solutions.12
I love the reminder that “God’s message is one of hope.” It is a message of hope for all of us, and we can be the messenger of that hope in the way we interact with others. Rather than looking for differences between us and our brothers and sisters, we should be actively looking for commonalities that we can use to build strong relationships of mutual respect and understanding.
We are counseled in James 1:19 to “be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, was even more specific when he said, “Nature has given man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear twice as much as we speak.”13
How often are we tempted to quickly jump to conclusions based on a very limited amount of information? The instant access to messaging that is now readily available in many forms makes it much easier to judge each other quickly and harshly. Practical advice regarding the use of social media is to weigh our thoughts and words carefully before we post our reaction online. I am sure most of us can recall a time when we responded to an email or social media post too quickly, only to later regret the stance that we took or the tenor of our response.
You might be familiar with the story of a man who got a flat tire while traveling and needed to borrow a jack. He saw a light on in a nearby farmhouse and walked toward the house. As he got closer, he began to rehearse what he might say and imagined the response of the person living in the farmhouse. Pretty soon his mind had gone from an expected response of “Sure, help yourself” to one of the farmer demanding payment and questioning why he was so rudely awakened. By the time the man reached the farmhouse, he knocked on the door angrily and said, “I don’t want your stupid jack anyway!”14
We might fall prey to this same type of behavior—assuming the intentions and response of another without giving them the benefit of the doubt and listening.
Just a few weeks ago Elder Gerrit W. Gong spoke at a devotional at the This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City. His topic was on honoring our pioneer ancestors, particularly those who had crossed the oceans and plains. He then told the audience that we still need pioneers today and encouraged us to become pioneers who
[cross] school playgrounds, parking lots, and cultural halls. This kind of pioneer crosses any fence or wall of separation to build bridges of understanding, compassion, friendliness, and good neighborliness.15
As we listen to others, we are crossing barriers that might divide us, opening lines of communication, and building bridges of understanding. May we follow Elder Gong’s counsel to be bridge-building pioneers who are so needed in the modern day.
At the fourth-floor entrance to the Tanner Building, there is a bust of President N. Eldon Tanner with this quote: “Service is the rent we pay for living in this world of ours.”16
Service is a basic principle of the gospel, and we have been taught and encouraged to serve. We serve family and friends in small, everyday ways and in big, significant ways. We serve our ward members through our callings and our ministering assignments. We serve our community by actively participating in voting, community projects, and other activities that make an impact.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:
Make the world in which you live a better place for yourself and for all who will come after you. There is much to do. There are many challenges to be met. . . .
Yes, there are adversities to be overcome, not a few of them. There are trials to be endured. There is much of evil in the world and too much of harshness. . . . Do what you can to rise above all of this. Stand up. Speak out against evil and brutality. Safeguard against abuse. . . . Rise up in the stature of your divine inheritance.17
What are we doing to make the world a better place? Are we helping those who are hurting? Are we standing up and speaking out to protect our Heavenly Father’s children?
I teach an undergraduate ethics class. Last fall I shared with my students a story based on a study conducted in 1970 at Princeton University. On the morning of the final exam, a class of students showed up to the scheduled classroom only to find a sign on the board telling them that the room had changed and the correct room was across campus. Imagine how you might feel in that circumstance. These students had to quickly get from one end of campus to the other in order to make it in time for the final exam.
The students rushed across campus to find their professor waiting for them. The professor then told them that they had just completed their final exam.
The students were quite perplexed. The professor explained that he had set up several “situations” across campus that provided opportunities for them to show their ethical behavior. For example, one person had dropped an armful of books on the sidewalk. One was seen being verbally abused by another. A third person had fallen off their bike right in the students’ path, while a fourth was frantically looking for a small child.
The professor asked the students, “Did you stop to help pick up the books? Did you check to see if those who were hurt or in danger were okay? Did you join in the search for the lost child?”18
This professor was trying to tell his students that the important learning is in real-life application. You see, this life is not just about writing papers and passing tests. It is not even about working hard at your job. It is all about how we treat others.
I am not sure how it will be when we leave this earth, but I wonder if, when we stand before our Heavenly Father, it will go something like this:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.19
Or will we be on the left hand? There we will be told:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. . . .
. . . Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.20
What is our duty to mankind? I am not suggesting that we “run faster than [we have] strength.”21 What I am suggesting is that we actively look for ways we might better serve the children of God. As we provide service and show kindness to others, we immerse ourselves in loving and helping rather than in judging and causing contention.
On the Church’s Instagram account earlier this year, a woman shared her story of a difficult personal situation. She then wrote:
Something I have learned from not always feeling like our family fits into Church culture is that if you’re having a hard time understanding or loving someone, move in closer. Move in to see the mother hurting because her daughter is ostracized because she won’t be baptized like the rest of her peers. Move in to see the teenage boy terrified to tell his parents that he doesn’t want to serve a mission. Move in to see those who struggle with doubts or grief and still want to fit in. Move in to see [how] amazing [people are], regardless of where [they are] on [their] faith journey. Honestly, the worth of a soul is way, way too great to not move in when the chance presents itself. Plus, you may be surprised at what you find.22
I love the imagery of moving in closer. Moving in closer gives me a better perspective of the people around me. As I step closer to you, I see more clearly what you are experiencing. My sight is more attuned to the nuances of your pain and suffering and your goodness and strength.
Elder Ashton taught:
If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.23
How do we move in closer? Our natural instinct might be to back up when we see people in difficult circumstances. Perhaps we don’t want to intrude on what seems like a personal matter, or we are unsure what to say or do. If this is the case, I challenge all of us to be brave and move in closer—to literally and figuratively stand with those who need us and to link arms with those who are suffering.
We can use Elder Ashton’s challenge to look into their hearts and understand their unique situation and perspective. Until I see you more clearly and understand you, I cannot truly love you.
Elder Uchtdorf described this process when he said:
The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.24
When I turned fifty, I compiled a list of sixty things I wanted to accomplish before I turn sixty. There are a couple of goals that I want to share with you that help to describe the importance of seeing. One of the goals is to visit all of the national parks in Utah. Another is to drive on all of the major roads in Utah.
In order to accomplish these two goals, my husband and I have taken a lot of out-of-the way drives instead of more direct routes. Rather than driving seventy miles an hour down I-15, we have had to slow down and drive on small two-lane roads, and we have needed to stop to see the sights along the way. In so doing, we have seen beautiful sceneries at almost every glance. I have gained a greater appreciation for slowing down, looking out the window, and seeing the world around me.
The beauty of the state of Utah hasn’t changed; what has changed is my perspective. I am now seeking out picturesque scenery, and having done so, my mind and soul have been edified and my vision has increased.
I believe our sojourn in this life is sort of like my experience. We all have a lot to accomplish and numerous places to get to, but in our busyness, are we perhaps missing the real purpose of this life? Maybe we need to seek ways to slow down, look out the windows of our lives, and see the people around us.
In the Church’s new ministering program, we have been counseled to follow the Savior’s example as “He loved, taught, prayed for, comforted, and blessed those around Him, inviting all to follow Him.”25 We are counseled to love others and to pray for those we seek to love. As we do so, we will be aided in our pursuit to learn more about those around us and to strive to understand their needs.
A recent LDS.org video titled “A Friend to All” illustrates a great example of this principle. In the video Elder Ulisses Soares shared the story of his family’s conversion to the Church when he was a young boy. His parents struggled with some of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but Elder Soares described how the members of their branch embraced them, helped them, and loved them. Elder Soares went on to explain that we are all children of God and are put on the earth in different circumstances. When we understand people, their conditions, and their circumstances, we can then love them. Elder Soares taught that love is a Christlike attribute; it is through our expressions of love that people will feel the love of the Savior. We are simply the instruments in God’s hand to lead others to that love.26
Do we embrace, help, and love those who are different from us? Are we developing the Christlike attribute of love in our interactions with others? It might be easier to love some of God’s children more than others, but we are commanded to love all people.
We are taught both in the New Testament and Book of Mormon to
love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us];
That [we] may be the children of [our] Father which is in heaven.27
If we are honestly striving to love others, we must also pray for them, even if they are our enemies—maybe especially if they are our enemies. As we humble ourselves to earnestly pray for others, our eyes and hearts will be opened and we will gain a greater love for them. I would suggest that we also pray for ourselves—that we might see others as our Heavenly Father sees them and that we might have a testimony of their divinity—so that through our actions we will treat others as children of God.
In the Book of Mormon we read about the four sons of Mosiah. After their conversion to the gospel, they turned down the opportunity to rule the kingdom as their father and the people wanted. Instead they decided to deliver the gospel message to the Lamanites. At this time in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were enemies of the Nephites. The Lamanites were described as people “who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them.”28
So what did the sons of Mosiah do? They prayed. Their prayers to Heavenly Father are described in Alma 17:9:
And it came to pass that . . . they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth.
Their prayers were answered with the message that they should be comforted, and they were told:
Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.29
You will notice that they weren’t told that this would be an easy experience. They were instead told to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions,” which might scare off some potential missionaries. But these four young men took to heart the message of loving their enemies. They prayed and fasted for the strength and courage to serve and teach their enemies. And in so doing, they became instruments in the hands of our Heavenly Father in doing His work on the earth. Those who had been enemies were seen as fellow children of God.
Elder Ashton taught:
When we truly become converted to Jesus Christ, committed to Him, an interesting thing happens: our attention turns to the welfare of our fellowman, and the way we treat others becomes increasingly filled with patience, kindness, a gentle acceptance, and a desire to play a positive role in their lives. This is the beginning of true conversion.
Let us open our arms to each other, accept each other for who we are, assume everyone is doing the best he or she can, and look for ways to help leave quiet messages of love and encouragement instead of being destructive with bashing.30
Knowing that everyone is a child of God changes the way we see, think, and behave. If we internalize these seven principles of discipleship, then
Simply put, we will behave as children of God and as disciples of Jesus Christ. As we do so, we will become more like Christ in the way we interact with and respond to others—especially those who are different from us—and we will be “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
I know that our Heavenly Father has a work for each of us to do. We can make a difference in our families, our wards, our communities, and our workplaces—wherever we are. That requires that we have a testimony of our divinity and the divinity of all of God’s children.
May we each practice the principles of discipleship in the way we treat all children of God. And may I say to you, during your time here at BYU and also throughout all your endeavors in this life, “Remember who you are.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Women and Men,” Ensign, May 1989.
2. 1 Nephi 8:30.
3. “The Iron Rod,” Hymns, 2002, no. 274.
4. Marvin J. Ashton, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992.
5. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy,” Ensign, May 2012; emphasis in original.
6. Carol F. McConkie, “Lifting Others,” Mormon and Gay, 0:49–1:54, mormonandgay.lds.org/videos?id=9655787446538818627&lang=eng.
7. Dallin H. Oaks, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” Ensign, November 2014.
8. Oaks, “Loving Others.”
9. Ashton, “The Tongue.”
10. Sharon Eubank, “Turning Enemies into Friends,” BYU forum address, 23 January 2018.
11. Jeffrey R. Holland, quoted in “New Approach to Tackle Worldwide Humanitarian Challenges,” Mormon Newsroom, United Kingdom, 3 July 2018, mormonnewsroom.org.uk/article/new-approach-to-tackle-worldwide-humanitarian-challenges.
12. “Official Statement: Church Applauds Community Efforts to Fight Suicide, Bullying and Homelessness,” Mormon Newsroom, 18 July 2018, mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-applauds-community-efforts-fight-bullying-homelessness-suicide.
13. Epictetus, All the Works of Epictetus, Which Are Now Extant, trans. Elizabeth Carter (Dublin: Hulton Bradley, 1759), 440.
14. See Bill Hull, Anxious for Nothing: Guidelines to Help You Fill Your “Anxiety Space” (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), 147.
15. Gerrit W. Gong, quoted in Jason Swensen, “Elder Gerrit W. Gong Urges Today’s Pioneers to Build Bridges of Understanding, Kindness,” Church News, 17 July 2018, lds.org/church/news/elder-gerrit-w-gong-urges-todays-pioneers-to-build-bridges-of-understanding-kindness?lang=eng.
16. Motto and part of the admission ceremony of the organization Toc H, founded in 1915 by Reverend Philip “Tubby” Clayton: “Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth.” See also “Odds and Ends, Facetiae, Etc.,” Observer (London), 19 October 1862, 2: “Good words and good deeds are the rent we owe for the air we breathe.”
17. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Rise to the Stature of the Divine Within You,” Ensign, November 1989.
18. See John M. Darley and C. Daniel Batson, “‘From Jerusalem to Jericho’: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27, no. 1 (1973): 100–108.
19. Matthew 25:34–40.
20. Matthew 25:42–43, 45.
21. Mosiah 4:27.
22. Chelsea Homer, post on LDS Church Instagram account (@ldschurch), 7 February 2018, emphasis in original, instagram.com/p/Be5eJdjFim_/?hl=en; see also Chelsea Homer, “Who Do I Choose—God or My Husband?” LDS Church blog, 25 July 2018, lds.org/blog/who-do-i-choosegod-or-my-husband?.
23. Ashton, “The Tongue.”
24. Uchtdorf, “Merciful Obtain Mercy.”
25. “9. What is ‘ministering’?” in “Ministering with Strengthened Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums and Relief Societies,” enclosure to First Presidency letter, 2 April 2018; see also “Frequently Asked Questions,” This Is Ministering, 1 April 2018, lds.org/ministering/ministering-faq?lang=eng.
26. See Ulisses Soares, “A Friend to All,” LDS Media Library, lds.org/media-library/video/2018-06-0020-a-friend-to-all?cid=HP_FR-13-7-2018_dPTH_fMLIB_xLIDyL1-C_&lang=eng.
27. Matthew 5:44–45; see also 3 Nephi 12:44–45.
28. Alma 17:14.
29. Alma 17:11.
30. Ashton, “The Tongue.”
© Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.
Lori L. Wadsworth, a BYU associate professor of public management and the MPA program director, delivered this devotional address on July 31, 2018.