My topic today is "Faith and Fairness". Both words start with the same 3 letters but they aren't usually paired together. They do have something in common in that they are both severely lacking in the world at times. Faith, a foundational principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is a very frequently discussed subject for disciples like you and me to talk about. Fairness on the other hand, while generally valued as a concept, isn't something we regularly discuss in meetings like this one. I'm grateful to be able to explore these two topics together with you today.
We human beings don't react favorably to anything we perceive as unfair, especially when we are the victim of the imbalance. Elder Renland, in the last general conference, went as far as to name his talk "Infuriating Unfairness"! I'd like to share 3 short vignettes that each describe a situation that, to us, might seem very unfair. The first is a retelling of what I once saw in a nature documentary. The second is an experience from my own life. The third is from Elder Mark S. Palmer's most recent general conference talk entitled "Our Sorry Shall Be Turned into Joy".
Less than a day after her ducklings hatch, the mother Wood duck leaves her nest in a hollow cavity of a tall tree. She calls to her ducklings from the water. The ducklings instinctively know they need to follow their mother. They climb up to the hole their mother recently went through and see for the first time that they are 50 feet off the ground. They don't have any flight feathers yet but they jump anyway. It's amazing how early in life wood ducks are faced with what seems to be to be a completely unfair situation. But they don't complain or hesitate, they take a literal leap of faith!
Thankfully, they are very light and fluffy so they fall more slowly than you'd think, and there's usually dense brush and leaf piles at the base of their nest tree so they have a softer landing than you might think. They bounce to the ground and make their way to the pond or lake where their mother has been calling and get their first swimming lesson.
We jerked forward with a loud and sickening thud, which was accompanied almost instantaneously by the shattering of glass. We all screamed in surprise and shock. I looked back from the driver's seat and saw my two oldest kids, still toddlers in car seats, sitting wide-eyed on the back row. The rear window is what had shattered. I could clearly see that a pick-up truck had rammed into us from behind but was hurriedly backing up. My jaw dropped as the driver made a reckless U-turn and sped off the other way. We were victems of a hit-and-run collision.
I'm somewhat ashamed to say that in the next moment I became incensed enough that I reached to put the car in gear to give chase. In shock and questioning disbelief my wife called out my obvious course of action, bringing me back to what was most important--the well-being of our family.
A police report was filed, but without any concrete identifying information the search went nowhere. I was infuriated by the unresolved nature of the whole affair. From my vantage point it all seemed so unfair. Questions filled my mind for weeks after the incident. Question like:
- Was that an accident or did that driver hit us on purpose?
- If it was an accident, why did they flee the scene?
- Was anyone in the pickup truck hurt?
- What has happened to them since?
- Might they still be wondering about what happened to us?
The minivan was totaled, but thankfully, none of us was seriously hurt. It's now been several years and we are all fine. In hindsight, we received some amazing blessings as a direct result of that ordeal, but that's another story. In hindsight, everything could have been so much worse!
My father and mother were sheep farmers in New Zealand.8 They enjoyed their life. As a young married couple, they were blessed with three little girls. The youngest of these was named Ann. One day while they were on holiday together at a lake, 17-month-old Ann toddled off. After minutes of desperate searching, she was found lifeless in the water.
This nightmare caused unspeakable sorrow. Dad wrote years later that some of the laughter went out of their lives forever. It also caused a yearning for answers to life’s most important questions: What will become of our precious Ann? Will we ever see her again? How can our family ever be happy again?
Many years later Dad told me that if not for Ann’s tragic death, he would never have been humble enough to accept the restored gospel. Yet the Spirit of the Lord instilled hope that what the missionaries taught was true. My parents’ faith continued to grow until they each burned with the fire of testimony that quietly and humbly guided their every decision in life.
I will always be thankful for my parents’ example to future generations. It is impossible to measure the number of lives forever changed because of their acts of faith in response to profound sorrow.
I invite all who feel sorrow, all who wrestle with doubt, all who wonder what happens after we die, to place your faith in Christ. I promise that if you desire to believe, then act in faith and follow the whisperings of the Spirit, you will find joy in this life and in the world to come.
The poor among the apostate Zoramites were treated very unfairly, but Alma was able to help them see that it was all for the best:
12 I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.
13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
15 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed--yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
It's the 2nd act. The director isn't here yet but the show goes on. I know I attended rehearsals, I just can't remember them. But I do have a sense of when things are going according to the script--which I seem to have lost or misplaced, so I have to improvise all my dialog and choreography and I'm a little concerned that we always end up having to do our own stunts!
Oh, and nobody seems to remember what happened in the 1st act. Off-stage I read about what happened in a critic's review. Apparently the reaction was split 33/66 but that my troupe was applauded as part of the winning majority.
They say the director won't get here until the very end of the second act. I wonder if I get to be on stage for the climax or if I'll be waiting in the wings, ready for the curtain call?
Uh-oh, looks like they're signaling--that's my cue to go back on stage. I wonder if this next scene is a dance number, a fight scene, or maybe a touching ballad?
Our journey through our Heavenly Father's plan can, in simplified terms, be thought of as something like a 3-act play. We find ourselves in the middle of the second act with no memory of the 1st act and no reheased experience regarding what will happen in the 3rd act.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people? Basically, we don't know. But we don't have all the facts so there's no sense worrying or thinking things are unfair.
On my mission we were encouraged to share a faith-promoting scripture with our companions each night before going to bed. Missionary work is hard, and this simple practice provided the opportunity to end the day on a positive note. I recommend the practice to you and those you are closest to. I'd like to share a few of my favorite faith-promoting scriptures with you now that I think are related to fairness (or the lack thereof):
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
4 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, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
5 ...weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Joseph Smith - History, final paragraph of Oliver Cowdery's account regarding the translation of the plates and the restoration of the gospel
...Man may deceive his fellow-men, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till naught but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind...
Everything will (eventually) be made right because of the Savior and his atoning sacrifice on our behalf.
15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.
51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given--
52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods...
59 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
60 And they shall overcome all things.
2 And as for the perils which I am called to pass through, they seem but a small thing to me, as the envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life; and for what cause it seems mysterious, unless I was ordained from before the foundation of the world for some good end, or bad, as you may choose to call it. Judge ye for yourselves. God knoweth all these things, whether it be good or bad. But nevertheless, deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth; for behold, and lo, I shall triumph over all my enemies, for the Lord God hath spoken it.
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
The blessing was delivered by mail to my barracks at an air force base where I was stationed. I did not know then, as I know now, that a patriarch has prophetic insight, that his blessing would be more than a guide to me. It has been a shield and a protection.
"The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character", BYU Speeches
Now, the last thing I want to talk to you about: a broken bird.
Over the years, as a diversion, I have carved wooden birds. Sometimes it would take a year to complete one. I would get specimens and measure the feathers and study the colors and then carve them. I would carve a setting for them. It was very restful. Sometimes when I would get unsettled, my wife would say, “Why don’t you go carve a bird!” It was a very calming thing in my life.
Elder A. Theodore Tuttle and I were going into town one day. I had one of the carvings. I was taking it in to show someone. We had put it on the backseat. At an intersection, he slammed on the brakes, and the carving tipped upside down on the floor and broke to pieces. He pulled over to the side and looked at it. He was devastated. I was not.
Without thinking, I said, “Forget it. I made it. I can fix it.” And I did. I made it stronger than it was. I improved it a bit.
Now, who made you? Who is your Creator? There is not anything about your life that gets bent or broken that He cannot fix and will fix. You have to decide. If some of you have made mistakes and you think you are broken and cannot be put together, you do not know the doctrine of the Church. You do not know what the [Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ] was about and who the Lord is and what a power He is in your life.