“A More Excellent Hope,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 60
We all have hope. Some hopes are more important than others. A few are major enough to have merited New Year’s resolutions. As the title of my message, I have borrowed a phrase from the Book of Mormon, “a more excellent hope.” That expression is attributed to Moroni, who further declared that “man must hope, or he cannot receive an inheritance in the place which [God has] prepared.”1
That verse of scripture came to mind the other day as I read a letter from a troubled friend who is wrestling with a profound personal problem. I would like to quote excerpts from that letter:2
“The guilt and failure I feel make it almost impossible for me to repent. I am losing my faith. The sins were first; the doubts followed. The order is important because sin needed doubt. When I doubted my faith, sins lost their meaning and guilt its bite. Doubting began, then, as a means of anesthesia. It served to diminish the guilt that was literally tearing me apart. Before long, however, the doubts thrived independent of the needs that conceived them.
“My painful indecisiveness, my tentativeness, my lack of direction, my paralysis of volition, my poverty of confidence have caused suffering and depression. My family, my future, and my faith are at stake. I am losing hope.”
Could the author of that letter, as well as others with such inner turmoil, have forgotten a promise of the Lord? He said, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”3 Unrighteous thoughts are the termites of character—and confidence.
To the author of that letter and to each person reading my words, I bring a message of hope. Regardless of how desperate things may seem, remember—we can always have hope. Always! The Lord’s promise to us is certain: “He that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome.”4 I repeat—there is always hope!
We came to the earth to receive our bodies and to be tested. Do we remember the scripture that states, “We will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them”?5 Passing tests of obedience requires faith and hope—constantly.
Hope is part of our religion and is mentioned in one of the Articles of Faith: “We follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.”6
A correlation exists between hope and gratitude. To illustrate, let me share a personal experience. For Thanksgiving a few years ago, Sister Nelson and I hosted a memorable family gathering. All of our locally available daughters, sons, and grandchildren were there, among others. We counted 63 people at the feast. As part of our after-dinner program, Sister Nelson distributed to each individual a sheet of paper headed “This year, I am thankful for _____.” The remainder of the page was blank. She asked each person to complete the thought, either in writing or by drawing a picture. The papers were then collected, redistributed, and read aloud. We were asked to guess who composed each reply, which, incidentally, was not very difficult.
Meanwhile, I observed a pattern. Generally, the children were thankful for food, clothing, shelter, and family. Their pictures were precious, though not likely to be shown in an art gallery. Our youth broadened their expressions to include gratitude for their country, freedom, and church. The adults noted most of those items, but in addition mentioned the temple, their love of the Lord, and appreciation for his Atonement. Their hopes were combined with gratitude. Counting blessings is better than recounting problems.
Hope emanates from the Lord, and it transcends the bounds of this mortal sphere. Paul noted that “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”7 Only with an eternal perspective of God’s great plan of happiness can we ever find a more excellent hope. “What is it that ye shall hope for?” asked Mormon. He then answered his own question: “Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ.”8
Have you heard the old statement that “hope springs eternal”?9 It can only be true if that hope springs from him who is eternal.
Have you noticed in the scriptures that hope seldom stands alone? Hope is often linked with faith. Hope and faith are commonly connected to charity. Why? Because hope is essential to faith; faith is essential to hope; faith and hope are essential to charity.10 They support one another like legs on a three-legged stool. All three relate to our Redeemer.
Faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. Hope centers in his Atonement. Charity is manifest in the “pure love of Christ.”11 These three attributes are intertwined like strands in a cable and may not always be precisely distinguished. Together they become our tether to the celestial kingdom. We read in the Book of Mormon: “There must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
“And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.”12
We know that there is an opposition in all things.13 Not surprisingly, therefore, faith, hope, and charity have their opposing forces. As illustrated in the letter from which I read, the antithesis of faith14 is doubt; the opposite of hope is despair. And the opposite of charity is disregard or even disdain for the Savior and his commandments.
Therefore, in our quest for faith, hope, and charity, we must beware of the dangers of doubt, despair, or disdain for the divine. Moroni so taught: “If ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.”15
Each of us is special, valued, and needed in building the kingdom of God. The adversary is also aware of our worth and will surely taunt us. When Satan’s temptations come our way, we need to remember this counsel from Alma: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, …
“Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts.”16
A more excellent hope is mightier than a wistful wish. Hope, fortified by faith and charity, forges a force as strong as steel. Hope becomes an anchor to the soul. To this anchor, the faithful can cling, securely tethered to the Lord. Satan, on the other hand, would have us cast away that anchor and drift with the ebb tide of despair. If we will cling to the anchor of hope, it will be our safeguard forever. As declared in scripture: “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast.”17
The Lord of hope invites all people to come unto him. Steps toward him begin with faith, repentance, and baptism. Mormon explained that “the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and … the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, … until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.”18 That destiny can only be realized when we “have faith unto repentance.”19
Insufficient hope often means insufficient repentance. The Apostle John said that “every man that hath this hope in [God] purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”20
The fruits of faith and hope are beautiful to behold. While in Hawaii several years ago, I met with a vice premier of the People’s Republic of China who had requested a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The vice premier was accompanied by his wife and by the Chinese ambassador to the United States. More than 20 other dignitaries were also in their party. Because Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy and I were already in Hawaii for meetings with Church leaders, we were asked to go to the center and extend an official welcome to the Chinese delegation in behalf of the First Presidency and General Authorities. As these influential visitors toured the center and the adjoining BYU—Hawaii Campus, they were impressed. The vice premier noted the sisterly and brotherly blending of some 60 different nationalities and 30 different languages. He even noticed that Samoans sang with Fijians, that Tongans danced with Tahitians, and so on. The spirit of unity among the Latter-day Saint youth was easily evident to all of us.
Finally he asked the question, “How do you promote such unity among your young people?” I answered his question later when I presented a copy of the Book of Mormon to him, describing it as the precious document promoting that unity—and joy.
Regardless of nationality, the Saints have always understood the word of the Lord, who declared, “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”21
When the Church’s 2,000th stake was created in Mexico City in December 1994, President Howard W. Hunter said that the “great purposes of the Lord could not have been achieved with dissension or jealousy or selfishness. … [The Lord] will bless each of us as we cast off pride, pray for strength, and contribute to the good of the whole.”22
In stark contrast to that divine objective, the real world in which we live is divided by diverse languages, cultures, and politics. Even the privileges of a democracy carry the burden of bickering in election campaigns. Contention is all about us. Ours is a pessimistic and cynical world—one that, to a great extent, has no hope in Jesus Christ nor in God’s plan for human happiness. Why such global contention and gloom? The reason is plain. If there is no hope in Christ, there is no recognition of a divine plan for the redemption of mankind. Without that knowledge, people mistakenly believe that existence today is followed by extinction tomorrow—that happiness and family associations are only ephemeral.
Such fallacies feed contention. The Book of Mormon bears record of these words from the first sermon of the Lord Jesus Christ to the people of ancient America. “I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”23
Unfortunately, our modern society is caught up in divisive disputation. Often unkind nicknames are added to—or even substituted for—given names. Labels are invented to foster feelings of segregation and competition. For example, athletic teams acquire names to intimidate others, such as “Giants,” “Tigers,” “Warriors,” and so on. Harmless you say? Well, perhaps not overly important. But that is only the beginning. More serious separation results when offensive labels are utilized with the intent to demean.
Even worse, such terms camouflage our true identity as sons and daughters of God. The desire of my heart is that we might rise above such worldly trends. God wants us to ascend to the highest level of our potential. He employs names that unify and sanctify. He gave a new name to Abraham’s grandson Jacob, saying, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men.”24 In Hebrew, the term Yisra’el means “God prevails.” Jacob was given a name to match his divine destiny.
When we embrace the gospel and are baptized, we are born again. We take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ.25 We become as his sons and daughters and are known as brothers and sisters.26 We become members of his family; he is the Father of our new life.
In receiving a patriarchal blessing, we each receive a declaration of lineage—a name that links us to our heritage. We understand how we become joint heirs to promises once given by the Lord directly to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.27
In a prophecy regarding us, the Apostle Peter utilized uplifting terms. He declared that we “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.”28 We recognize the adjectives chosen, royal, and holy as complimentary. But what about the term peculiar?
I looked it up in a modern dictionary. It is currently defined as “unusual” or “eccentric”; “strange,” “queer,” “odd”; “standing apart from others”; “exclusive” or “unique.”29 But the term peculiar as used in the scriptures means something quite different. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term from which peculiar was translated is cgullah, which means “valued property,” or “treasure.” In the New Testament, the Greek term from which peculiar was translated is peripoiesis, which means “possession,” or “an obtaining.”30
With that understanding, we can see that the scriptural term peculiar does not mean “queer” or “odd” at all. It signifies “valued treasure,” “made” or “selected by God.”31 Thus, for us to be identified by servants of the Lord as his peculiar people is a compliment of the highest order.
When we know who we are and what God expects of us, we are filled with hope and made aware of our significant role in his great plan of happiness. The day in which we now live was foreseen even before Jesus Christ was born, when a prophet said, “Our father hath not spoken of our seed alone, but also of all the house of Israel, pointing to the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”32
These are those latter days. We are the ones foredetermined and foreordained to fulfill that promise.33 We are the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are, in fact, the hope of Israel. We are God’s treasure, reserved for our particular place and time.
No wonder China’s vice premier noted what he did. Our faithful Latter-day Saints are filled with hope and motivated by love of the Lord Jesus Christ. With that hope, we assiduously avoid labels that could be interpreted as derogatory. When the Nephites were truly righteous, their previous patterns of polarization vanished. “There was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. …
“There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
“And how blessed were they!”34
Unfortunately, the sequel to that story is not a happy one. This pleasant circumstance persisted until “a small part of the people … had revolted … and taken upon them the name of Lamanites,”35 reviving old prejudices and teaching their children again to hate, “even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.”36 And so the polarizing process began all over again.
I hope that we may learn this important lesson and delete segregating names from our personal vocabularies. The Apostle Paul taught that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”37
Our Savior invites us “to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”38
Happiness comes when scriptures are used in shaping our lives. They speak of the “brightness of hope”39 for which we yearn. But if our hopes were narrowly confined only to moments in mortality, we should surely be disappointed. Our ultimate hope must be anchored to the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”40
An understanding of that objective should help us approach the future with faith instead of fear,41 with a more excellent hope in place of despair. God sent each of us here to be happy and successful.42 Meanwhile, he also needs us. We are to “seek not the things of this world but seek … first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness.”43 He decreed that “no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things.”44
President Howard W. Hunter was such an individual. On one occasion, he said: “It is incumbent upon us to rejoice a little more and despair a little less, to give thanks for what we have and for the magnitude of God’s blessings to us. …
“For Latter-day Saints this is a time of great hope and excitement—one of the greatest eras … in any dispensation. … We need to have faith and hope, two of the greatest fundamental virtues of any discipleship of Christ. We must continue to exercise confidence in God. … He will bless us as a people. … He will bless us as individuals. …
“I promise you … in the name of the Lord whose servant I am that God will always protect and care for his people. … With the gospel of Jesus Christ you have every hope and promise and reassurance. The Lord has power over his Saints and will always prepare places of peace, defense, and safety for his people. When we have faith in God we can hope for a better world—for us personally and for all mankind. …
“Disciples of Christ in every generation are invited, indeed commanded, to be filled with a perfect brightness of hope.”45
President Hunter’s counsel is timeless.
By way of summary and promise, I quote the words of Nephi: “Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”46
May the “God of hope,” in the words of the Apostle Paul, “fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, that [we] may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”49