"What is Man, That Thou Art Mindful of Him?"
(Psalms 8:4)

Elder David A. Bednar
of the Quorum of the Seventy
(Ricks College Campus Education Week Devotional, 7 June 2001)

Brothers and sisters, welcome to Education Week. I am delighted to be here with you this morning. I especially appreciate and am thankful for Sister Bednar's insightful instruction and powerful testimony. I pray for and invite the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you this morning as together we learn about eternal and essential truths.

The Greatest Questions of Life

Elder John A. Widtsoe stated that

"The second greatest question of life was asked by the ancient Psalmist: 'What is man, that thou art mindful of him?' In importance, this query is next only to that concerning the nature of God. Inability to answer this question has often defeated fervent faith. The correct answer has enabled men and nations to build their futures securely. Faith has been most effective when accompanied by an understanding of man's relationship to Deity. The way out of the world's tragic chaos, the terror of poverty, sickness and war must be illuminated by a comprehension of man's nature and destiny." (Conference Report, October 1936, p. 97)

The major theme of my message this morning is really quite straightforward and simple; namely, that understanding who and what we are as children of God has never been more important and more needed than it is today. Since the adversary always directs his most potent attacks at the doctrines, covenants, and ordinances that are of the greatest eternal worth, we should not be surprised to find one of Lucifer's prime targets is the truth about the nature and destiny of man. As President Boyd K. Packer has emphasized,

"No greater ideal has been revealed than the supernal truth that we are the children of God, and we differ, by virtue of our creation, from all other living things. No idea has been more destructive of happiness; no philosophy has produced more sorrow, more heartbreak and mischief; no idea has done more to destroy the family than the idea that we are not the offspring of God, only advanced animals, compelled to yield to every carnal urge." ("The Moral Environment," General Conference Report, April 4-5 1992, p. 92)

God is the supreme governor of the universe and the father of mankind. When we speak of God, it is generally the Father to whom we refer, and all mankind are His children. Mankind has a special relationship to God that differentiates men and women from all other created things; we are literally God's offspring, made in his image, whereas all other things are the work of His hands. (See Bible Dictionary, pp. 681-682)

The nature of this relationship between God and his children is highlighted in the Pearl of Great Price in the first chapter of the Book of Moses. In this chapter God reveals Himself to and converses with Moses. In verse 3 we read:

And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

Thus, in verse 3 Moses begins to learn the answers to the greatest question of life–the question about the identity and nature of God. And in the first line of verse 4, he begins to learn the answer to the second greatest question of life, the question of, "What is man?" (Psalms 8:4): "And, behold, thou art my son; . . . ." The identity of Moses as a son of God is reiterated again powerfully in verses 6 and 7 and, significantly, serves as the primary source of protection as the adversary tempts Moses, as described in verses 12-22. Moses was blessed and protected precisely because he knew who he was.

In our day, the assault on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood and sisterhood of His children has grown more relentless, more bold, more direct, and more sophisticated. For example, we live at a time and in societies wherein the procreative powers bestowed upon us by a loving Father increasingly are viewed as a selfish and animalistic appetite to be satisfied "here and now" rather than as a sacred privilege and responsibility with eternal consequences. We live at a time wherein the family unit of a father and a mother and children, one of the central features of the Father's eternal plan of happiness, is viewed by many as antiquated and obsolete. We live at a time wherein individual rights frequently are emphasized above covenant responsibilities and the collective good. We live at a time wherein speaking the name of God the Eternal Father is ever more controversial in schools and other public settings–unless, that is, His name is taken in vain. And we live in a time wherein even those who should know better become too busy, too preoccupied, and too distracted to consistently worship the Father through meaningful family prayer and family scripture study. Perhaps the words of Nephi to his brothers Laman and Lemuel are equally applicable to our world today:

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. . . . yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; . . . . (1 Nephi 17:45, emphasis added)

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Earlier I suggested that understanding who and what we are as children of God has never been more needed than it is today. May I also suggest that the same God who spoke with Moses face-to-face and declared, "And, behold, thou art my son; . . ." (Moses 1: 4,6,7), has recently spoken again to reaffirm and reinforce that same message to us through living apostles and prophets. As we learn in section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, ". . . whether by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (D&C 1:38). Brothers and sisters, The Family: A Proclamation to the World is a timely gift from a loving Father delivered through His living apostles and prophets. He has never left us to guess about what matters most in life, and He helps us to know who we are as His children and what we may become. Please listen carefully to these significant statements from the Proclamation and notice the connection between the Father's plan and our identity as His sons and daughters.

We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

All human beings–male and female–are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

It is interesting to me that the first three paragraphs of the Proclamation provide answers to the greatest questions of life, as those questions were defined by Elder Widtsoe. Clearly, studying and pondering over the doctrines contained in the Proclamation will help each of us better understand the answer to the question, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalms 8:4) and provide an "anchor to our souls" (Ether 12:4) in the midst of troubling and perplexing times.

Several years ago I participated in a training session at which President Boyd K. Packer presided. In his teaching President Packer emphasized the importance of the Proclamation and invited those of us in attendance to complete a seemingly simple assignment. That assignment has had a profound impact upon my life. Let me now briefly share the assignment with you.

Step #1: Get an ordinary sheet of paper.

Step #2: Draw a straight line down the middle of your paper.

Step #3: At the top of the left-hand column on your paper write "The Lord's Way."

Step # 4: At the top of the right-hand column on your paper, write "The World's Way."

Step #5: Now, in the left-hand column of your paper, write down every discrete statement of doctrine and principle you can identify in the Proclamation. For example, you might write this statement as your first entry in the left column: "Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God." Continue in this manner and write down as many individual statements as you possibly can.

Step #6: For each statement of doctrine and principle in the Proclamation that you identify, write a contrasting statement describing "The World's Way." For example, the world's description of marriage might read like this: "Marriage between 'consenting adults' is both traditional and optional. Gender is not germane in marriage. Marriage is a contractual agreement between two individuals; God has nothing to do with it."

Let me provide just a few more examples of the contrast between "The Lord's Way" and "The World's Way." Please notice, brothers and sisters, the starkness of the comparisons.

The Lord's Way

The World's Way

Compare: The family–father, mother, and children–is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

with: The family–a group of people living together–may be socially convenient, but it can also be supplanted.

Compare: All human beings–male and female–are created in the image of God.

with: All human beings are mammals evolved by natural selection from simpler life forms and are formulated by chemically based genetic codes.

Compare: Each human being is a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and destiny.

with: Each human being is a physical organism, the sole product of genetic and environmental histories.

Compare: Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

with: Gender is an arbitrary characteristic derived from biological and sociological influences.

Compare: In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their eternal Father and accepted His plan of progress and fulfillment.

with: Empirical evidence is insufficient to support the premortal existence of human life. Science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces.

Compare: Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.

with: Cohabitation without legal ceremony, responsibility, or the encumbrance of children is valid and useful; it is an expression of personal rights that may foster optimum satisfaction.

Compare: The family is ordained of God.

with: Families are a temporary social convenience.

Compare: Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.

with: Matrimony is a social tradition, and children may be conceived and given birth with or without this tradition–depending upon individual choice.

Brothers and sisters, please keep in mind that this assignment has no "right" or "wrong" answers. What truly matters is engaging in an intensive process of studying and pondering the Proclamation; that is the right answer about which we should all be concerned. And the ultimate value of this exercise comes only when we do it ourselves--not when we simply read the answers generated or provided by someone else. Few experiences in my life have clarified and confirmed the answers to life's greatest questions in such a penetrating way. And I testify and promise that such a process produces a spiritual self-worth, a sense of direction and purpose, and a correct confidence that strengthens us to stand for truth in confused and complicated times.

Please turn with me in the New Testament to the fourth chapter of Matthew. In this chapter we learn about the Savior's preparation for his ministry and about Satan's strategies. As we read these verses, I will insert the corrections contained in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. We will begin reading in verse 2.

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights (and had communed with God), he was afterward an hungered, (and left to be tempted of the devil.)

And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Then (Jesus was taken up into the holy city, and the Spirit setteth him on the pinnacle of the temple),

(Then the devil came unto him and said,) If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

(And again, Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh) him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

(And the devil came unto him again, and said,) All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Brothers and sisters, we have all learned in our Sunday School classes that the bread in verse 3 can represent the temptations of physical desires and appetites, that "casting thyself down" in verse 6 can symbolize the temptation of gaining worldly recognition and prominence, and that the kingdoms and glory of the world in verse 8 can stand for the temptations of wealth, power, position, and prestige. May I suggest, however, that the three temptations to which we frequently refer in this episode are secondary in nature; they are not primary. The overarching and fundamental challenge to the Savior in each of these three confrontations is contained in the taunting statement, "If thou be the Son of God." Satan's strategy, in essence, was to dare the Son of God to inappropriately demonstrate His God-given powers and, thereby, forget who He was. The adversary attempted to attack the Master's understanding of who He was and of His relationship with His Father. Thus, as the Savior prepared for and commenced His mortal ministry, the adversary assaulted His understanding of the answers to life's two greatest questions.

Now please turn with me to the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. In this chapter Jesus is accused and condemned before Pilate, mocked, and crucified. Consider, brothers and sisters, as we read selected verses from this chapter that the Savior of the world is close to finishing His atoning sacrifice. The Lord has been betrayed, physically battered, and has ". . . trodden the wine-press alone" (D&C 76:107). Given His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and His torture on the cross, there had been, perhaps, no time in His earthly ministry when He was more physically exhausted, spiritually spent, and emotionally drained. Obviously, the adversary knew that he had only one last chance to thwart the plan of the Father and interrupt the atonement. Given the Savior's condition and Satan's ultimate desperation, what temptation and strategy would the arch deceiver employ? We will begin reading in verse 38.

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,

He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

The last and most potent of the fiery darts Lucifer could direct at the Savior, just as he had attempted at the beginning of the Master's mortal ministry, was aimed at the answers to life's two greatest questions. With all of his diabolical designs hanging in the balance, Satan again hurled the sneering challenges of "If thou be the Son of God," "If he be the King of Israel," and "if he will have him." Interestingly, in this final scene the tempting taunts came through other people and not directly from the adversary.

May I suggest that the adversary will use his primary strategy on each of us, especially as we live in troubled and troubling times. He would have us conclude that God is not our Eternal Father and, therefore, He cannot possibly be mindful of us. However, the scriptures and living apostles and prophets teach and testify that indeed we are children of God, that "he has sent [us] here, has given [us] an earthly home with parents kind and dear" (Hymn 301). Just as the Savior was strengthened through a correct understanding of who He was and His relationship with the Eternal Father, so we likewise can be blessed and protected by and through this eternal truth.

"What is man, that thou are mindful of him?" (Psalms 8:4). We are sons and daughters of God. "Rich blessings are in store; if [we] but learn to do his will, [we'll] live with him once more" (Hymn 301). I so testify and witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.