In 1993, Pres. Boyd K. Packer gave a talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council. Because it wasn’t delivered to a general audience you can’t find it on churchofjesuschrist.org, but you can find transcriptions of it other places online (like here or here).
He began by saying this:
“The twelfth chapter of Alma is like a field of precious stones lying about on the surface. I have picked one very small one, very precious one, only fifteen words, to use as my text. ‘God gave unto them commandments, after [first] having made known unto them the plan of redemption.'”
Pres. Packer’s point – and Alma’s, originally – is that this order is purposeful; God provides us with commandments, yes, but he does so only after making known the plan. The reason is simple – once we understand the plan, we’re willing to follow those commandments.
Think of the example of King Lamoni’s father. In Alma 22, Aaron begins at the creation, and teaches about the fall of man (v 12), the plan of redemption and the role of the Savior (v 13), and the atonement of Christ that we may access through faith and repentance unto eventual resurrection and eternal life (v 14).
And what does the king say when he begins to understand Aaron’s words?
“What shall I do that I may have this eternal life…? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God…? Behold, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.”
He later prays,
“If thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.”
Lamoni’s father was ready to obey all of God’s commandments because he understood the plan of redemption.
Leaf Questions, Root Answers
Some years ago, Pres. Nelson shared a principle during a general authority training. Pres. Nelson is the father of 10 children (almost all daughters!), meaning at any one time he could have had six or so teenage girls in the home.
(Can you imagine!)
He described how he was constantly getting questions from his teenagers that could be difficult to answer, but added that he learned he needed not to answer leaf questions with leaf answers, but to answer leaf questions with root answers.
As an example, he said that he once faced a daughter who asked if she could go to a school dance even though she was not yet 16. “It’s going to be a group of us,” she offered. How many are going to be in this group? “Oh, well, there’s will be eight of us.” I see. And will there be even numbers of boys and girls? “Yes.” Mmhmm. And that makes me wonder – will the boys and girls be paired up? “Well… yes.”
It turned out that this was, in fact, going to be a “date,” and young men and women of the Church are counseled not to date before turning 16, so of course we know the answer – no, you may not go to the dance; we don’t date before we’re 16 years old. We have a leaf answer to a leaf question.
He added that he later faced a daughter who asked if she could go to a movie on a Sunday afternoon since the employees in the theater were going to be working regardless; their attendance wouldn’t have an impact one way or the other. But again, the answer was simple – no, you may not go to the movie; we keep the Sabbath day holy. We have a leaf answer to a leaf question.
There were other leaf questions, of course (“Just draw a line on my leg where the skirt needs to go to!”), and as long as you focus on leaf answers, you’ll never see the end of them. They will drive you crazy! We must, instead, get down to the root structure of the gospel, to answers that draw others in and build their testimonies.
And so the next time a leaf question arose in Pres. Nelson’s family, he answered instead like this:
“Before I answer that, let me ask you – tell me, do you have a testimony that there is a living prophet? And after that, after we discuss living prophets, we can talk about your question.”
And then the next time:
“That’s a wonderful question. Can we talk first about the scriptures, and how we believe them to be the word of God?”
And then the next time:
“Might you tell me first, how do you feel about the atonement of Christ?”
The general authority telling me this story added one of his own. It was a beautiful winter Sunday, and he heard one of his teenage boys awake and moving around earlier than he might have expected for a Sunday morning. Before too long, the boy comes to his father and asks, “Can we go skiing?”
“And I am so ready to unload this leaf answer!” he says. “But I remember Pres. Nelson’s council, so I ask him, ‘We can talk about that. But we’ll talk about something else first. Do you think the scriptures are the word of God, and that through them we can understand Heavenly Father’s will?’ And my son says, ‘What?’ And I say, ‘Stay with me. What do you think?’ After we talk for some time, he withdrew his request.”
Leaf question, root answer.
Remember Pres. Packer’s council:
“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.“
Think of the temple recommend interview – what do you believe about the Godhead? What do you believe about the Savior and his atonement? What do you believe about the Restoration of the gospel? What do you believe about living prophets and sustaining them and local leaders? Only after that foundation do we have additional questions about Sabbath day observance, the Law of Chastity, and the Word of Wisdom.
When we see others who are uncomfortable with specific commandments, I think that it says less about their opinion on that specific commandment and more about their gospel roots.
And we have far too many people today, young and old, who don’t have strong gospel roots.
They remind me of the young people spoken of in Mosiah 26:
“There were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ. And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God. And now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.”
They did not believe in those gospel roots, and when it came time to live the commandments – be baptized, join the church – they chose to separate themselves.
How do we develop gospel roots? Look no further than the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
I love the Bible. I love the New Testament. But those books cannot do what the Book of Mormon can do.
The Introduction tells us that we will gain a testimony of the book if we follow the pattern of sincere study and prayer, and further promises that we will gain a divine witness “that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.”
Those are gospel roots.
Do all you can to get rooted in the gospel. Commandments will come, and I promise that there will be a day when this commandment or that commandment will conflict with your ideals or priorities. You’ll have a moment – probably several times over the course of your life – where, as He says to the rich young ruler, the Savior tells you, “One thing you lack.”
Ground yourself in the roots of the gospel so that, when that day comes, you don’t go away sorrowful, but rather can respond joyfully, “Lord, I will follow thee.”
“The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected” – President Boyd K. Packer, October 2003
“Gospel Teaching” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 1999
“Little Children” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, October 1986
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