“No Other Gods before Me,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 22
I had the privilege of knowing and being influenced by many great people during my childhood—but I especially appreciated the influence of my mother. She profoundly influenced me and in doing so taught me a great deal about God. I did not love and follow her because she held a position of authority over me but because of the kind of person she was. If her authority had disappeared, I still would have followed her.
That is the way I feel about God. Of course, worshipping him, and him only, is obedience to his commandment: “I am the Lord thy God. … Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2–3.) I do not worship him, however, only because of the commandment. I listen to his counsel, follow him, love him, trust him, and place no other gods before him, not only because he is God, but also because he is God, my perfectly loving and all-wise Father.
Anyone who studies the Old Testament soon realizes this is the reason for the first commandment. “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?” the Lord asks. (Isa. 46:5.) The Old Testament Saints followed God not only because he was God but because there was no other god like him. Hannah praised the Lord with these words: “There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” (1 Sam. 2:2.)
When I was a child, my mother introduced me to the nature of God with a story from her own childhood: “As a little girl, I walked home from school with my brother. We always took a shortcut past a large black dog that chased us as we ran by his house. If we ran at just the right time, we could make it to a fence and to safety. My brother would tell me when to run.
“One day I was alone and didn’t run at the right time. The dog threatened me, and I froze on the sidewalk in terror. As he lunged toward me, I cried out as loud as I could: ‘Heavenly Father, help me!’”
Suddenly, my mother recalled, the dog was halted as if his way had been barred, and she crawled through the fence to safety. She knew her prayer had been answered.
That story spoke volumes to me about the God my mother worshipped. It gave me a sense of security, a comfort I could not have put into words.
My understanding of prayer has deepened over the years, and I realize that even when we don’t see clear, direct answers to our prayers, the Lord is still listening and blessing us. He will reach through eternity to touch the hearts of his sons or daughters if they will let him into their lives. Surely there is no god like him.
Paul taught, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Gal. 4:6.) There is a reverent informality in these words. “‘Abba’ is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; ‘Father’ expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child.” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966, p. 9.) This trusting confidence enabled Job, Abraham, Joseph, Hannah, and David to face the challenges life sent them. That trust is the backbone of the first commandment.
We trust God because we know he loves every soul. We are—every one of us—his children. “Doubtless thou art our father,” wrote Isaiah, “though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father.” (Isa. 63:16.) The footnote to this scripture suggests that while ancient fathers like Abraham and Jacob have passed away, we may always look to our Father in Heaven for help.
At the birth of each of my children, during those precious, solemn moments when I held them for the first time, I felt the whisperings of the Spirit teaching me of their unique qualities. When these impressions first came, I doubted. But as my children grew, the truths suggested at their birth were verified. I feel wonder for a God who would thus offer counsel to a new father as He transferred His precious children to that father’s earthly care.
This gentle teaching should not have come as a surprise. Did God not teach Rebekah of the struggling twins she carried in her womb? (See Gen. 25:21–23.) And did he not instruct Samson’s father “what [he] shall do unto the child that shall be born”? (Judg. 13:8.) Surely there is no god like him.
At my baptism, mother explained that Heavenly Father and I were making promises with each other. I believed her as she taught that through the scriptures, God made promises to me, which he said he was “bound” to keep if I kept mine. I have a vague memory of a grownup making a promise to me and breaking it because I was “only a child.” Does a king make a promise to a peasant and bind himself to keep it? Yet here I was, only eight years old, and the Creator of worlds without number was binding himself to keep a promise to me.
With awe proper to that truth, we read of the covenants God made with the children of Israel and of all the other divine covenants recorded in the Bible. How patient and true was God with Samson! Not until Samson had broken every Nazarite vow did God withdraw his strength. The God we worship is a patient and loving Father. Surely there is none other like him.
The God we worship seeks our happiness. Indeed, he is a Creator of joy. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1.) I didn’t know much about either the heavens or the earth when I was small, but I did know that just up the street was a field full of lizards and horned toads. As I brought them home, my mother would say, “Which of God’s little creatures did you find today?” I learned to love God because of the “little creatures” he hid in the fields for me to find. But they were not just in the fields. We often went to the ocean, where I spent all day digging sand crabs out of the receding surf. I loved the way they tickled my hands, and I believed, as a boy, that God had created them for that tickling sensation. These, too, were God’s little creatures.
We learn a lot about someone by studying the things he creates. A horned toad or a sand crab is a marvelous thing, especially to a seven-year-old boy. These creatures taught me to love God.
When I was older, I backpacked into Glacier National Park. I rose one morning at five o’clock and walked to Lake Elizabeth. There wasn’t a ripple to break the surface. The peaks behind were lit by the rising sun, whose light reflected off a hundred tiny waterfalls. There was just a hint of pink against the morning blue of the sky. I could smell the pines, feel the breeze, and hear a pair of loons call their haunting, lonely cry. My words were inadequate to describe the majesty of the moment, but words revealed to Joseph Smith came to mind:
“All things which come of the earth … are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; … to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man.” (D&C 59:18–20; emphasis added.)
That morning on Lake Elizabeth, I could feel God’s pleasure, his love of beauty and solitude.
Overwhelmed by the beauty of Creation, the Psalmist wrote: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. …
“Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. …
Last summer I took my son and his friends through some canyons in southern Utah. On the last day of our trip, we hiked the chute of Muddy Creek, a narrow, water-carved sandstone canyon. The Chute has the greatest mud on earth! It was simply wonderful!
Skating and sliding along the creek bank was sheer delight to those boys. Though they did not dwell on the majesty of the setting, I think their reactions revealed something just the same. I watched the boys sliding wildly across the mud, saw their fascination with the sound it made as they pulled their feet out of it, watched the exhilaration of their races over it. Occasionally in life we get the feeling that we are being watched; there is a certain silence that causes us to look around. That day at the Chute I felt that silence and sheepishly looked to see if anyone was watching the frolic. No one was there, but someone was watching. I could feel his delight in our delight.
It is wonderful seeing others enjoy what we have provided. This, too, is an attribute of the God we worship. He is the God of Muddy Creek as well as of Glacier Park, the Creator of men and of sand crabs. He can appreciate the delight of children while at the same time giving grown-ups a sense of awe and wonder as he reveals himself to them through his creations. Surely there is no god like him.
As a boy, I had many heroes—fictional characters like Zorro and sports figures like Willie Mays. But Mother also saw to it that I had truer heroes—those found in the scriptures. We had a popular Bible storybook in our home, and my mother often read it to me. As I grew older, we read directly from the scriptures. In time I grew out of my sports and TV heroes, but those in the scriptures grew larger. I soon realized that these men were great because of the God they worshipped. His influence gave them dignity, courage, and compassion.
John Taylor said, “A man, as a man, could arrive at all the dignity that a man was capable of obtaining or receiving; but it needed a God to raise him to the dignity of a God.” (The Mediation and Atonement, Deseret News Co., 1882, p. 145.) No other gods, influences, or forces can turn ordinary men into the spiritual and moral giants found in the scriptures. Only worshipping God gives man that dignity.
As a missionary I was privileged to meet a living Apostle, Elder Boyd K. Packer. All the missionaries were waiting for him at the meetinghouse. We were talking and excited. My back was to the door when Elder Packer arrived, but even without seeing him, I knew he had entered the room. He filled it with the same power and purity I felt at my mother’s side. It was as though he had stepped out of one of the scripture stories. I thought: This is what a lifetime of obedience and communion with God makes a man.
I have sensed this greatness in other men and women. In addition to marveling at God’s power, I adore my Heavenly Father because of the kind of person he inspires me to become. If we obey him in patience, our lives begin to resemble his, as exemplified in the Savior’s life. In our Savior we are shown the final end to which our worship leads us. What other worship inspires humanity to such heights? God commanded, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3.) Why? Because no other god will help us become as he is.
We must learn what it means to truly worship God. My six-year-old son taught me the meaning of worship one day while I was preparing a lesson. He was playing when he noticed that I was underlining my scriptures. He dropped his toys, ran into his room, and returned with his own copies of the scriptures. He lay beside me on the bed, duplicating my exact position, and opened his scriptures.
During the next half hour I was aware that he was underlining with my colored pencils. When I looked up, he showed me his work. Somehow he had found the page I was working on. There in his own book was an exact replica of my own work. He had highlighted the same words in the same colors. My arrows, lines, and numbers were there. He had even duplicated my marginal notes until his large handwriting forced him to stop. Apologetically and almost in tears, he said: “My lines aren’t straight like yours.”
This small incident helped me see a greater principle: true worship is imitation. It happens when we drop our worldly toys, study deeply the Savior’s life, and try to imitate the tiniest details of his character. In doing so, we also imitate the Father. Our lives are not sin-free as his, but the Atonement’s power is sufficient if our love and effort are sincere and deep. The eventual result of our worship will be godhood, not to mention a happier, more stable society here and now.
Becoming like God demands effort and sacrifice, but the Lord promises his constant help. To ancient Israel he said: “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
“And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
“To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?” (Isa. 46:3–5.)
We can worship the gods of the world and bear them like a burden, or we can be lifted and carried by the Lord from birth to the grave.
The portrait of God I have painted is a very personal one. It is an incomplete portrait, for I have barely touched upon the many perfections in his character. Yet some will say: “What about the God of the Old Testament, the God who commanded the destruction of the Canaanites down to the last living animal? (See 1 Sam. 15:2–3.) What about natural disasters? What about brutal men?” I do not have an answer that will put to rest the questions generated by the oppositions inherent in earth life. But we are not left entirely without insight.
From time to time we all struggle with injustice, pain, and suffering. How can we, with confidence, reconcile these conditions of human misery with a God who answers a little boy’s prayer? The Old Testament contains the plaintive pleas of the ancients for understanding. Job wrestles with the issue, as do Malachi’s people when they say: “It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts?
“And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up.” (Mal. 3:14–15.)
Real understanding began for me when I became a father myself and became more aware of the purposes for this life and of its intended trials and tests. God desires children who are like him, reflecting all his perfections. What is God like? He is full of mercy, compassion, empathy, and charity. He works for his children’s happiness. He serves and forgives. To become like him, we, too, must acquire these traits. What experiences of life are most conducive in developing these qualities? When others suffer, we feel mercy and compassion. When others sin against us, we learn to forgive. Through others’ needs, we learn service, empathy, and charity. The most trying times of our own lives often are the best producers in us of godlike qualities.
We are given choices in mortality. We can choose to let the pain of life develop cruelty, indifference, and doubt within us. Or we can let it build compassion, wisdom, and faith. What happens depends on how we react to the vagaries of life.
One day as my children approached their teenage years I sat in the temple and prayed: “Father, I am willing to sacrifice anything thou wilt ask of me if thou wilt bless my children and lead them back into thy presence.” It was one of the most sincere prayers I ever offered. I would be willing to suffer any pain if I knew that my suffering was producing in my children the qualities of godliness. I believe most parents understand this desire. It is not unique to me.
So it is with a wise Father in Heaven. With infinitely greater perspective than ours, he allows suffering, even intense suffering, for he knows that more often than not it produces in his children the mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and charity of his own perfect character. This growth is part of the road to exaltation, part of the purpose of our earthly trials.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” our Father commands. Worshipping him is the only way to happiness. There simply isn’t any other way.
The scriptures describe the Lord’s love for us as that of a bridegroom for his bride. (See Isa. 61:10; Isa. 62:5.) At a temple wedding, I once asked the bride what time she arose to prepare for her marriage day. “Four o’clock in the morning,” she answered.
“Why so early?” I asked.
“I wanted to be more beautiful for my husband on this day than I had ever been before.”
We, too, must desire to be as beautiful in our righteousness as a bride on her wedding day. May our love of God echo the Shakespearean character Portia’s words of love to Bassanio:
You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
Such as I am. Though for myself alone
I would not be ambitious in my wish
To wish myself much better; yet for you
I would be trebled twenty times myself—
A thousand times more fair.
(William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, act 3, sc. 2, lines 149–54.)
Surely there is no other god like our God. Surely our worship of him must be worthy of all that we are and all that we can become, of all that he is and all that he has done for us.