"Human Life Divided by Reason Leaves a Remainder"
There is a beautiful symmetry between the spiritual and the intellectual in the mosaic of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. My testimony that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is the mighty prophet of the Restoration, that each of his successors through President Gordon B. Hinckley have held the same keys and authority, and that the Book of Mormon is a marvelous witness of Jesus Christ is based on treasured spiritual experiences. My testimony is also based on understanding that has come through serious study and reflection. Simultaneous quests for spiritual understanding and secular learning have been a part of my life since I was quite young. The first and great commandment urges us to love God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls (Matthew 22:37). I believe that we demonstrate our love for the Lord by serious study and intellectual growth as well as by serving him with all our hearts and souls.
I can never remember feeling that spiritual growth and intellectual pursuits needed to be pitted against each other. The scriptures clearly indicate that wisdom and learning come “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). Even the mortal growth of our supreme exemplar, Jesus Christ, came in all dimensions of his life—mental, physical, spiritual, and social (Luke 2:52). Jacob, the brother of Nephi, reminds us that “to be learned is good if [we] hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). I am grateful for these scriptural perspectives. I can remember as a college student hearing the eminent LDS chemist Henry Eyring share the general idea that there are not really any major conflicts between science and religion. As we come to know more about God and about science, we see many gaps closed and ultimately we will understand that there are no major conflicts, that all truth fits together in a perfect framework. The perceived conflicts are the result of man’s limits in learning.
In the meantime, we can adopt the attitude Alma did regarding unresolved conflicts that exist in our own minds between religious truths and intellectual pursuits: “These mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear” (Alma 37:11).
I have reflected upon the odyssey of my own spiritual and intellectual growth during the prolonged process of my formal education and a working career spanning nearly three decades (principally in higher education). I thank God beyond expression for my priceless testimony of the restored gospel. Though I have always had warm feelings for the Church and the restored gospel, my testimony has grown through study, service, and prayer—as well as through my work. And while I have had a handful of exceptional spiritual experiences, I feel that the growth of my testimony and my faith in God and his Beloved Son has come “line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12)—more through this sacrament meeting and that Sunday School lesson, or through opportunities to serve and home teach, than through dramatic experiences. I would like to share four foundational experiences that have been important in the development of faith and testimony throughout my life.
My parents, Lowell and Merle Bennion, set an important template for me in serving, learning, and studying. The world of ideas was exciting to both Mother and Dad. In their later years, although their physical health seriously declined, they fortunately retained clear minds and eyesight. They relished reading about a variety of subjects. This quest and hunger for learning have been powerful examples to me and my siblings. The differing intellectual and spiritual interests of both parents have enriched our perspectives. In fact, just over a year ago, when I dropped in one day to visit my homebound parents, I asked Dad what he had been reading. He said, “The Book of Mormon.” When I asked him where he was in this reading, he said, “I read the whole book on Monday and Tuesday of this week!” While frail physically, his mind and spirit seem to soar. (Mother passed away in September 1994.)
My father devoted much of his life to teaching religion. He was the founding director of the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah and served in that capacity for nearly thirty years. He taught by faith and also by reason. I believe he blends them in a uniquely wonderful and powerful way. I thank him for that, and I have heard literally hundreds of his former students offer similar expressions of gratitude. Institute classes from Dad and his associates, such as Elder Marion D. Hanks and Brother T. Edgar Lyon, were highlights of my college years. Perhaps a picture of Dad’s approach can best be painted by quoting from a talk he gave on education at the Church general priesthood meeting in April 1968:
Buddha said, “In eating, fearing, and sleeping, men and beasts are alike. Man excelleth the beast by engaging in religious practices; so why should a man, if he be without religion, not be equal to the beast?”
When I first read this, it struck home. In eating, fearing, and sleeping, men and beasts are alike. Man excelleth the beast by being human, by engaging in things of the spirit, of the mind, of the heart.
. . . how often do you contemplate the wonderful qualities and aspects of your mind? Imagination is one of the qualities of a human mind that I cherish deeply; it is the ability to take single images and to put them into a new image that has never existed before. Only a human being can reorganize life around him after his own image. . . . Only human beings can keep the entire past with them. You and I can live with Jesus, Beethoven, Socrates, and our grandfathers. Animals . . . [tend to] live in the present. . . . Only human beings have language, the power to symbolize feelings and ideas and to communicate. Imagination, memory, language—these are wonderful gifts of the human spirit.
Until a year or two ago I kept a pig. My pig never got his eyes above the trough, except when I came to feed him; and . . . when I went out to feed my pig, I thrilled at the color on Mt. Olympus, and I pondered its geology, and I worshipped at the foot of the mountain. I sang “O Ye Mountains High” to myself alone, and “For the Strength of the Hills.” I like animals, but believe me, I am grateful for those qualities which are distinctly human and which are divine.
You and I were not only created in the physical image of our Father in heaven; we were also created in his spiritual image. And if the glory of God is intelligence, then the glory of man is also intelligence. If God is Creator, man must be creative to satisfy his soul. If God is love, man must be loving. If God is a person of integrity, then we must also be honest, to be true to our own nature, which we have inherited . . . from him.1
“Develop Spiritually Apace with Your Mental “
Another foundation experience that left an indelible imprint on me was receiving my patriarchal blessing about the time I turned eighteen. I was preparing to leave for military service, and thus I may have been more humble and spiritually receptive. The counsel I received from that inspired patriarch, who knew me only by name, included the following:
I bless your mind that it will be alert and retentive, and urge that as you are acquiring your education, you continue in the services of our Father in Heaven. Magnify your calling in the priesthood, attend to church meetings and give your attention, time and energy to whatever assignment is given you, that you may develop spiritually apace with your mental development.
At that time I did not know what my educational plans would be. But from the time I began college as a freshman in the spring of 1960 until I completed a Ph.D. seventeen years later, in 1977, I was engaged in school full time or part time for all but four years. While time was precious to meet family, church, work, and study responsibilities, I am grateful for that counsel not to ignore spiritual pursuits during those busy years.
After completing both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I accepted an employment offer in Wisconsin. By this time we had two young sons. Two years later I decided to enroll in a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With encouragement from my wife, Marge, I began work on this program. During the next year and a half, I was able to take two classes each semester and do quite well. Just as I began my fourth semester, we were surprised by my call to serve as bishop of the Madison First Ward. No doubt the ward was even more startled, for I was still in my twenties. We accepted the call and I placed my Ph.D. program on a slower back burner. With a young family, a job that required about fifty hours a week, and a call to serve as bishop, I knew that I did not have the time and energy to work aggressively on a Ph.D. program. I worked on a class here and there, and with encouraging support from my employer and faithful counselors in the bishopric, I took a three-month leave to prepare for comprehensive exams and write the first chapter of my dissertation. I was able to successfully complete this phase of my program.
After just less than five years, I was released as bishop and launched back more intensively into the doctoral program. I completed several more classes. We had added two more sons to our family while I served as bishop. A fifth child, our only daughter, was born about five months before I completed my doctorate. I was still employed full time in order to provide for our growing family. When it was time to finally complete my dissertation, I had saved up five weeks of vacation and requested an additional week of unpaid leave. Our two oldest sons went to Utah for a few weeks with grandparents, leaving Marge to wrestle with the three youngest while I dissertated. It was early June and hot and humid in Madison. With only two chapters of the dissertation written, I knew it would be a mammoth undertaking to complete the balance in six weeks; then I would have to successfully defend it before my faculty comittee.
From Monday through Saturday I would arise at 4:30 A.M. and read and write until 9:00 or 9:30 P.M. I would take a break once or twice in the day, but for the most part, I was glued to our study and old typewriter. I had completed only 90 pages and two chapters before the six-week writing marathon. I had four chapters to go, projected at more than 300 additional pages. I needed to write about 50 or 60 pages a week. I had done my research, but the writing had to flow fast. My dear Marge shouldered the challenge of caring single-handedly for the children’s needs day and night and also helping me with meals and editorial recommendations. The adrenaline was moving quickly as the clock went into fast forward. I finished the next three chapters and about 260 pages in five weeks and four days. I had only two days left before I had to have the last chapter ready for typing by two special friends and sisters in the ward.
The first day was an exercise in frustration. I struggled at length through that day and produced only 4 pages. By 9 o’clock that evening, I was discouraged and desperate: I had only two nights and a day left to compose a compelling concluding chapter. I decided to get a good night’s rest the first night, leaving myself only a day and a night to complete the chapter. I remember offering special prayers both that evening and the next morning. I pleaded my need to the Lord, reminding him of my good wife and family and their faithful support while I worked on the dissertation and served as bishop. I acknowledged gratitude for opportunities and then asked for special spiritual help to quicken my mind and spirit for the monumental challenge of completing the final chapter in a single day.
I arose the next morning at 4:30 and began to write. The words flowed as I had never before experienced. The next 42 pages came far more easily than the first 4 had the day before. Heaven smiled on me and my family in a way I can describe only as miraculous. I wrote those f42 pages during that day and night and finished at 5 o’clock the next morning. I crashed for two short hours of rest, completely exhausted but greatly relieved.
When I awoke, I asked Marge if she would review the final chapter before we ran it to the typists. Marge chopped the first 4 pages up brutally; then to our mutual amazement, she did not suggest one change in the final 42 pages. I readily acknowledged then, as I do now, that there was a remarkable blessing in that undertaking. My heart was filled with gratitude and also tremendous relief. Those splendid typists efficiently completed their work, and I successfully defended the dissertation about a week later.
Now, more than seventeen years later, my heart is yet filled with gratitude for that wonderful blessing that came from the Lord after my herculean effort to write most of the dissertation in a short six weeks. I realized then. as now, that, more important than completing my dissertation and doctorate, I could be grateful for a growing testimony of the Lord and his restored gospel. I also knew I could rejoice in my feelings of faith and in the gospel’s special influence in my life and my family’s lives through the long years of formal education.
The Pivotal Role of Faith in Jesus Christ and
My faith and understanding were further strengthened by two foundational experiences that helped me to better understand the pivotal role of faith in Jesus Christ and faith in our Church leaders. I have learned that these two are inseparable (D&C 1:38).
As a young priest in our East Mill Creek Ward, I heard an inspired lesson by Bishop Stephen C. Richards. Bishop Richards indicated that he and his wife were married in the temple by a Church leader who had subsequently lost his Church membership. He went on to say that their temple marriage was just as valid as if the current prophet, President David O. McKay, had performed it. Our good bishop then went on to note that the first principle of the gospel is not just faith, but faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our exemplar, Savior, and ultimate role model. He said that in our lives we might encounter people we admired, possibly even a trusted Church leader, who on occasion may disappoint us. Then he pleaded with us to remember the importance of anchoring our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who would not disappoint us. Bishop Richards assured us that the First Presidency would not lead us astray and that we need not let our faith and testimonies of the Savior and his restored gospel be weakened by the failings or misdeeds of others.
When I was in my twenties, I had a second experience related more directly to the Lord’s direction and calling of his prophets. When I was serving in the administration at the University of Wisconsin, some of us younger employees would sometimes have brown-bag lunches and discussions together. In January 1970, President McKay passed away. There was much speculation in the press that with the likely successor to President McKay being the ninety-three-year-old Joseph Fielding Smith, the Church would consider deviating from its pattern of installing the senior apostle as president of the Church in favor of a younger leader. At one of those lunch sessions I was posed that same question, with a dozen colleagues listening intently. I told them I did not think that would happen. When they asked why, I told them that I believed the Lord controls through life and death who will be his prophet and that President Joseph Fielding Smith had been preserved for that season of prophetic service. I also indicated that a prophet had many associates to help him in his leadership of the Church. Several shook their heads in wonder, and the subject shifted.
A year and some months later, as a relatively new bishop, I had the privilege of attending a general conference in Salt Lake City. I was seated near the back of the Tabernacle. The audience suddenly arose as President Smith walked across the stand. As I looked at this white-haired prophet, I had a powerful feeling run from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes. Tears came to my eyes, and I knew without a doubt that we were in the presence of God’s prophet. I know that President Gordon B. Hinckley has been similarly preserved for his service today. Through this experience and others, I have been impressed by the truth of a statement by a member of the Council of the Twelve, as quoted by President Harold B. Lee: “That person is not truly converted until he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church, and it goes down into his heart like fire.”2
I do not wish to imply that I have arrived spiritually. Far from it! I firmly believe that spiritual growth must be a daily quest throughout our lives. This is the pattern to follow. I have learned that while we may be blessed to learn from wonderful minds while pursuing our formal or informal education, it is important that we keep our eyes focused on our prophets. They see farther than any of us—no matter how brilliant we may be as teachers or students. They are the Savior’s chosen mouthpieces. How can we ignore them if we hope to follow the Savior who speaks through them?
Missionary Work is Matchless
Missionary experiences loom large in the development of my testimony and outlook on life. During my mission to Scotland in 1961 through 1963, I had the privilege of serving with an inspired mission president, Bernard P. Brockbank, in an era when the Church expanded the number of missions in Great Britain from one (which had been the case for 123 years) to about eight within two or three years. In this period, many missionaries had the opportunity to serve as branch presidents as we expanded from four or five branches in Scotland to thirty-two in a matter of months.
President Brockbank was a pioneer. He inspired us to serve with faith, to set goals, and to work hard. Every missionary meeting was positive and focused on the basic fundamentals of faith, repentance, love, service, and work. I do not remember attending a meeting with President Brockbank without being inspired or finding an answer to some question that had been on my mind. In particular, I remember a meeting about a week after I was first assigned as a senior companion. The mission was young, and I was young in the mission. I badly wanted my new junior companion to have a positive experience. The only week of my mission in which we did not receive an invitation into a home during our tracting was that first week I served as a senior companion. I was blaming myself for the numerous rejections we had received.
At the next missionary meeting, President Brockbank spoke at length about free agency. As missionaries we are called to present the message, but it is the choice of others to accept or reject what we present. A great burden was lifted from my shoulders that day. I realized we had been working hard but that people still must choose whether or not to listen to us and accept our message. Many similar messages came through this wise, practical, loving, and inspired leader. More than thirty years later, I find myself referring to marvelous memories and lessons of those days in Scotland.
These, then, are but a few of the fundamental experiences of my life, learning, and faith. How grateful I am for them! I am excited about the opportunity to learn and to grow both in mind and spirit. For more than a dozen years I have had the opportunity to serve at the rural, residential colleges of Ricks and Snow and to work with freshmen and sophomores. I have witnessed the synergy that comes into the lives of these young students who are at crossroads in their lives. I have watched countless students grow spiritually apace with their mental and academic growth. There is a confidence and joy that radiates from those who pursue this balanced growth. It is clear and evident, but perhaps not measurable in the same way educators measure intellectual progress.
The German poet Goethe said, “Human life divided by reason leaves a remainder.”3 Faith deals with the large remainder. I believe that reason, common sense, and the development of the mind are vital to our success and happiness. We enjoy so many blessings from the worlds of medicine, science, technology, agriculture, and business because of such developments. But there is much more to life. The world hungers for it and even looks for it in its leaders—people whose character and spiritual and moral depth warrant our trust. Theodore Roosevelt reflected this need for balanced growth when he said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”4 Reason alone does not provide all the answers, even though we need a solid foundation of reason and common sense.
Faith in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in his gospel adds a beautiful framework for learning. I will be eternally grateful not only for the opportunity to learn, but also the opportunity to learn through the framework and perspective of a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It makes a vital difference. And because of it, I can echo the words of an unknown author, which perhaps best express my feelings: “I believe in Christ as I believe in the rising sun. Not only because I can see it, but because of it, I can see everything else more clearly.”
1. Lowell L. Bennion, in Conference Report, April 1968, 97; or “Seek Ye Wisdom,” Improvement Era, June 1968, 92–93.
2. Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 63.
3. Bennion, Religion and the Pursuit of Truth (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1959), 123.
4. Richard L. Evans, Richard Evans’ Quote Book (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971), 69.