You can tell a great deal about a community, a nation, or a civilization by noting on whom they shower fame, wealth, and influence. Have you ever thought about that?
In October 1949 President David O. McKay expressed hope for a time “when nobility of character will be recognized as being greater than intellect” (“The Sunday School Looks Forward,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1949, 863). My hope is that nobility of character will also be recognized as being greater than outstanding athletic, musical, or acting ability. Please do not misunderstand. It is admirable to be highly skilled in these and other fields. But I ask you, what of virtue?
Consider this for a moment: Who is it in your heart of hearts that you honor? Who is permitted a place in that sacred sanctuary that is your personal hall of fame?
Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof teaches a marvelous principle. You’ll recall he sings a song titled “If I Were a Rich Man.” He expresses the thought that he would like to be rich so people would come to him for advice. Then he sings, “It won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong. / When you’re rich, they think you really know” (lyrics by Sheldon Harnick ).
It is important to understand that everything said, written, sung, or insinuated by the wealthy or famous is not necessarily so. Samuel the Lamanite asked the Nephites, “Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides?” (Hel. 13:29). I wonder how many of us likewise permit ourselves to be led by such guides, only because they have some talent or ability we value.
The Lord has not left us to wander through mortality alone and unassisted. He has blessed us with righteous guides—living prophets who communicate his will to us. However, as we seek to follow their counsel, many people may make light of our efforts and seek to shame us.
There are ways to protect ourselves against the opposition of the world. Let us review part of Lehi’s dream and see if we cannot find where the Lord has told us how to respond:
“And I … cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
“And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. …
“And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not” (1 Ne. 8:26–27, 33).
There, tucked away as a tiny comment, is the answer—simple, clear, and enormously effective: “but we heeded them not.” Difficult to do? Yes. Clear to understand? Yes!
When the Prophet Joseph Smith simply told the truth about his experience in the Sacred Grove, Lucifer used scorn as a weapon against him. I ask you to consider with me the boy prophet’s response:
“Though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (JS—H 1:25).
Did the reaction of others bring the Prophet pain? Of course it did. What did he do? He “heeded them not” and continued with the work of the Restoration.
Now, I have to point out to you something you know very well. There is fear in each human heart. Satan plays upon our feelings of inadequacy. We are all vulnerable, and when scorn comes, we feel it deeply. Even Moroni shares his concern over this very human malady when he says to the Lord:
“Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
“And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness” (Ether 12:25–26).
The wicked heap scorn when they have no other weapons to use, and too often the righteous run for cover, especially if the mocker can run fast or jump high or sing well or has high-profile degrees or a great deal of money, even if each or all have nothing to do with the subject at hand.
I ask you, what are the rewards of standing fast in your own virtue, even against the scorn of the world? They are far more monumental than one might think. When Nephi, the son of Helaman and the brother of Lehi, was “much cast down” (Hel. 10:3) in the building of the kingdom, the Lord said to him:
“Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I havegiven unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
“And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Hel. 10:4–5; emphasis added).
No blessing that came to Nephi will be denied anyone in this dispensation who will give the same devotion, the same commitment, to the Lord and to His work.
What I have been leading up to is this: Among those honorable enough to be in your private hall of fame, let there be the prophets of God, particularly the living prophets.
On whatever subject the prophets choose to speak, listen. Listen with your ears, with your mind, and with your heart. Do not analyze their mortal preparation to speak upon the subject. That is not where their strength comes from. It is the power of God, coupled with His call to them, that qualifies them to speak—on any subject. The united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will never lead us astray.
What is it that hinders us from absorbing into our very beings the words of the prophets? Is it our fear of what others will think of us? After all, the prophets are not always politically correct.
One day many years ago I was fighting a personal battle in trying to be popular with everybody. In the midst of my distress, a thought came to me: Most people in this world do not care what happens to you. Only you will remember this unhappy experience a few months, weeks, days, or even hours from now. Furthermore, the people you respect are also unpopular with those who raise the finger of scorn at you.
That event marked a turning point for me. I realized that we simply must not be afraid to stand, even quietly, in defense of virtue. We must understand that there really are two forces warring for mankind and that we cannot be in both camps. We cannot be popular with everybody.
I urge you to stand for virtue and to follow the prophets as they lead us in God’s plan of happiness. In the process, expect the scorn of the world, and decide in advance how you are going to handle it. Beware of those whom the world loves and showers with fame and fortune. They are often unreliable guides in your quest for virtue.
It is necessary that each of us obtain a personal witness that God the Father is real and that there is a living Savior. If it takes a little while, be patient—continue to study the scriptures, pray over your desires to know, and be obedient to the commands of God. It will come in the Lord’s time by the power of the Spirit to your spirit; and when it comes, it will come with certainty, confidence, and peace.
We are not without support when we throw ourselves into the battle to establish the great plan of the Eternal God in our personal lives. Let me share a quote from Brigham Young:
“You that have not passed thro’ the trials and persecutions, and drivings with this people from the beginning, but have only read them, or heard some of them related, may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the saints survived them at all.—The thought of it makes your heart sink within you, your brain reel, and your body tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, ‘I could not have endured it.’ I have been in the heat of it, and never felt better in all my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me” (Deseret News Weekly, 24 Aug. 1854, 83).
Are the days of sacrifice over? Certainly not. Any devoted mother who nurtures her little ones knows something of sacrifice. Any father who struggles to support and to teach his children knows something of sacrifice. Anyone who gives diligent effort in Church service or service to his fellowman knows of sacrifice. So often that sacrifice includes experiencing opposition from the world.
Twelve days after Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdom, Willard Richards and John Taylor, who were with them in the jail at Carthage at the time of the attack, wrote a letter to the president of the British Mission. Their words are applicable to us:
“It is in this period of time that we are permitted to live. It is at the dawning of that day of days in which our [H]eavenly Father is about to usher in that glorious period when times and seasons shall be changed and earth renewed, when after rumors and commotions, turmoils, strife, confusion, blood and slaughter, the sword shall be beaten into ploughshares, and peace and truth triumphantly prevail o’er all the footstool of Jehovah. The day of these events has dawned, although to human view a cloud has o’erspread the horizon” (History of the Church, 7:172).
In this time when our values are so often challenged, it is essential that we place sentinels by the entrance to our personal halls of fame. Let us allow no one to be honored there who is not worthy of our highest respect and emulation. I would suggest to you that the highest positions of honor be given to our Father in Heaven; to His Son, our Savior and Redeemer; then to the prophets, particularly the Prophet Joseph Smith and the living prophets.
Learn the great plan of happiness devised by our Heavenly Father. Live it. Testify of it, “heeding not” the scorn of the world, and as you do, you will find the “peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured” out upon you.