Hope and Faith: A Discussion with Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

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Because of conditions in the world today, it may seem easy to become discouraged. How can we avoid such feelings and maintain hope and optimism?

Elder Wirthlin: There has always been discouragement, negativism, and temptation in the world because of Lucifer. These times in which we are living are not new times. When the Savior Himself was born, there were troubled times. The Prophet Joseph Smith lived in troubled times. It is interesting that during difficult times, the Lord has often intervened.

If willing to pray, every living person may be sustained by the Lord through whatever tragedy or problem might come upon him or her. This sustaining help results from our dependence upon the Lord—which is really our faith in Him, our knowledge of Him, and our testimony—as was so true with the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was impressed to follow the admonition of James the Apostle: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). His simple prayer opened up the heavens and ushered in our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son in the most important revelation that has been given to mankind.

As with the Prophet Joseph Smith, we too can pray for answers to our questions and problems. Prayer is so important to maintaining hope. Even the Savior of the world prayed to Heavenly Father. Prayer is the entrance to heaven. And everybody has that privilege. What a great blessing.

What is it that we should hope for?

Elder Wirthlin: The first thing we should hope for is eternal life—to live eternally with our Father and His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and to live forever with our family.

One of the best scriptures about hope is Ether 12:4: “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.” That’s the best verse I know of about hope.

What is the relationship between having a strong testimony of the gospel and having hope?

Elder Wirthlin: Well, I think that a strong testimony of the gospel comes after hope. In my opinion we hope that we will one day see God, we hope that we will see our loved ones, we hope for eternal life. With membership in the Church, as we partake of the sacrament, attend the temple regularly, and fulfill all the other requirements of gospel living, we develop strong testimonies.

So hope is a requirement for having a strong testimony?

Elder Wirthlin: Yes, I think that hope comes first. It is also necessary for us to hope before we pray. We hope, we ponder, then we pray. I think that in the heart of Joseph Smith as a young boy, he hoped for an answer to his prayer. His experience in the Sacred Grove laid the very foundation of our church. And the beginning of it all was Joseph’s hope and faith.

Would you be willing to share an experience in which your hope and faith have helped you deal with a discouraging situation?

Elder Wirthlin: When I was a missionary in Austria in 1938, Hitler was ravaging Europe and threatened to take over Austria. Rumors had spread out of Germany about how he had treated the Jews and how he was opposed to religion, and this led people to fear. But with all of the turmoil that was going on, I had an inner faith and hope because of the blessing I had received when I was set apart as a missionary by my father. I was told that I would be protected from whatever danger might come my way, so I had an inner peace and hope that despite the dangers that were very evident, everything would be OK.

Two weeks before what they call the “Anschluss”—Hitler’s annexation of Austria—I was transferred to Switzerland, which was neutral. I’ve always looked back on that as a blessing in times of peril.

Then another time, as I was coming home on the ocean, German submarines had just sunk a British passenger vessel called the SS Athenia off the coast of Ireland. Word was given throughout the ship that we were being followed by two giant submarines and that we could possibly be torpedoed. There again, faith came back to me, a feeling of faith, confidence, and hope that we would arrive in New York safely, which we did.

How can Church members develop that same hope that was such a strength to you?

Elder Wirthlin: Always have faith, first of all, in our Heavenly Father and in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. And always have a positive attitude about our prophet, seer, and revelator, about the leaders of the Church, and about one another.

Parents can be instrumental in helping their children develop hope and faith. I was taught by my parents from early childhood about Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. My parents tried to live lives that conformed to what the Savior taught.

I get a lot of my thinking from my parents. My mother was a very positive thinker; she was always active, always doing something good. I never heard her say anything negative about another individual. That was a great example to me.

We refer often to the term “faith of our fathers.” I would say “faith of our fathers and mothers,” because I think that we should never forget our mothers, who are so instrumental in helping us develop faith and hope.

The scriptures speak of “a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20). How do we develop this type of hope?

Elder Wirthlin: What we want is for that perfect brightness of hope to develop into a perfect knowledge, a testimony of the Savior and our Heavenly Father. And to me, that perfect knowledge is that we don’t have a shadow of doubt. You’ve heard testimonies in fast meeting. Some will say, “I believe”; others will say, “I know.” To know is to have an assurance, without a shadow of a doubt, that something is true.

What is it that you hope for?

Elder Wirthlin: My number one hope is that I may live so that I am worthy to someday be in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son with my wife, my children, and my entire posterity, and that we shall not lose one in this respect. That would be my number one hope.

Many young people today are reluctant to start families of their own because of the pressures of the world or because they have seen other marriages fail. What would you say to help them have hope for their future families?

Elder Wirthlin: Just move forward regardless of the world. As they read the scriptures, they will know what they should do. They shouldn’t be dwelling on all of these other things. Keep busy in doing the right things. When I have decisions or advice to give to people, I explain that it is all laid out in the scriptures. As the Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). Peace and hope come from knowing the Lord and our Heavenly Father and following Their way of living.

Our lives should be filled with hope, positive thinking, and great anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ and our literal resurrection to live with our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son, the Savior of the world, forever. That is what we should hope for.

Helps for Home Evening

  1. 1.

    Invite family members to share ways they would finish the following sentence: Hope is like ____. (See Ether 12:4.) Make a room as dark as possible. Shine a source of light such as a flashlight or candle. How is this like hope? What did Elder Wirthlin say we should hope for? How can Elder Wirthlin’s missionary experiences help us find hope? Invite family members to tell how hope has helped them overcome fear and discouragement.

  2. 2.

    Copy the interviewer’s questions onto pieces of paper. Invite family members to respond to the questions. Read Elder Wirthlin’s comments as you discuss each question.

[photos] Photography by Welden C. Andersen, except as noted

[illustrations] Right: Detail from The First Vision, by Dale T. Kilbourn; far right: Christ in Gethsemane, by Harry Anderson

[photo] Photograph by Jed A. Clark

[illustration] Detail from The Second Coming, by Harry Anderson