Viewpoint: Avoid Distractions by Focusing on Christ
Contributed By the Church News
“Sometimes faithful Latter-day Saints and sincere investigators begin to focus on the ‘appendages’ instead of on the fundamental principles. That is, Satan tempts us to become distracted from the simple and clear message of the restored gospel.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve
After watching a magician perform a trick, our first thought is usually “How did he do that?” The answer is simple: misdirection. A skillful magician leads us to focus our attention on something that seems important while he accomplishes his trick on the side. We miss the thing we really want to see because something else distracts us.
As illustrated in the following parable, sometimes misdirection comes not from trickery but from good things that seem more important than they really are.
“A jeweler … had a precious pearl he wanted to sell. In order to place this pearl in the proper setting, he conceived the idea of building a special box of the finest woods to contain the pearl. He sought these woods and had them brought to him, and they were polished to a high brilliance. He then reinforced the corners of this box with elegant brass hinges and added a red velvet interior. As a final step, he scented that red velvet with perfume, then placed in that setting this precious pearl.
“The pearl was then placed in the store window of the jeweler, and after a short period of time, a rich man came by. He was attracted by what he saw and sat down with the jeweler to negotiate a purchase. The jeweler soon realized that the man was negotiating for the box rather than the pearl. You see, the man was so overcome by the beauty of the exterior that he failed to see the pearl of great price” (J. Thomas Fyans, “The Pearl of Great Price,” Ensign, Nov. 1982).
So, what pearls should we focus on as we study and live the gospel? Joseph Smith answered this question: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 49–50).
Referring to this statement, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed: “Sometimes faithful Latter-day Saints and sincere investigators begin to focus on the ‘appendages’ instead of on the fundamental principles. That is, Satan tempts us to become distracted from the simple and clear message of the restored gospel. Those so distracted often give up partaking of the sacrament because they have become focused, even preoccupied, with less important practices or teachings” (“Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” Oct. 2014 general conference).
A preoccupation with such “appendages” can lead us away from the truths that matter most. For example, in studying the Book of Mormon, some people focus their attention on “appendage” topics, ranging from the method of translating the Book of Mormon to the DNA of its people to attempts of pinpointing the places where those people lived. As interesting as these topics might be, they will distract us from the real pearls of the Book of Mormon if we do not keep them in proper perspective.
Thirty years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement concerning the Book of Mormon: “The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable men may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it came forth by the gift and power of God ‘to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ’ (Book of Mormon title page)” (“The Cornerstones of Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1984).
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob emphasized the importance of keeping our focus on Jesus Christ and His Atonement. He told of a people who “despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14). Jacob followed this observation with a chilling prophecy: “By [their] stumbling … they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation” (Jacob 4:15).
In reference to Jacob’s remarks, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “We are looking beyond the mark today … if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma’s words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark” (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, ed. Cory H. Maxwell , 203).
As prophets have always taught, our “safe foundation” is Jesus Christ—His teachings, His example, His Atonement. May we keep our focus on Him and not be distracted by other influences, no matter how deceptive or beautiful they might appear (see Helaman 5:12).