Truth and Other Treasures

March 13, 2018

Forest Gahn

Geology Faculty Member

Forest Gahn was born in Iowa and was baptized as an 8-year-old convert on the same day as his parents.  He met his wife, Amy, their freshman year at Ricks College and proposed to her in the Romney building over a candle-lit dinner in the observatory after Amy's first look at the heavens through a telescope.  They have been married for 22 years, and are the parents of one son.

Brother Gahn attended Ricks College, BYU, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Michigan, where he earned his PhD.  All of his degrees are in geology with an emphasis in marine invertebrate paleontology. Shortly after coming to be on the faculty at BYU-Idaho in 2003, he took a two year leave of absence to work at the Smithsonian Institute.

Brother Gahn served in the Mexico City North Mission and has served in the primary, and Sunday School, and as a scoutmaster, ward mission leader, and early morning seminary teacher.  He is currently a counselor in the Elder's quorum presidency of his ward.



 

Spiritual Preparation

Pre-devotional Discussion:

During his "Sermon on the Mount", Christ taught the following (Matthew 6: 19-20):

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."

In your opinion, what are "treasures in heaven"? What are your most cherished treasures of heaven, and why are they so important to you? Share your thoughts to these questions on the discussion board.

Treasures of Heaven

In my hand is a folded $100 bill. Over 25 years ago, my father put this in his wallet for emergencies, and there it was when he was killed in an automobile accident on the morning of my missionary farewell. One hundred dollars was a lot of money to me when I was 19, and it still is today. However, in all those years since my mother gave it to me, I’ve never been tempted to spend it.

This currency, folded by my father’s hand, has always been worth more to me as a symbol than anything I could purchase with it. To me, it is a symbol of things that are available to each one of us, regardless of our financial circumstances—things that are worth much more than material riches. This folded $100 bill is a symbol of the treasures of heaven.

During the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.[1]

What are the treasures of heaven? I asked each of you to consider this question on the devotional discussion board. According to you, the treasures of heaven include (1) family and friends, (2) the knowledge and character we develop in this life, and (3) the principles and ordinances of the gospel. For example, Emma Barch said, “People are my most cherished treasures of heaven. Dear friends, family, and even strangers walking down the street are each treasures of heaven. There is nothing on earth more complex or beautiful than God's own children. Without people, I could never study history or art, I couldn't listen to music, enjoy the benefits of technology, or share a meal with a friend.”

Collin Page said, “The most influential ‘treasures in heaven’ for me are the cumulative wisdom and knowledge that we gain as we pass through this mortal experience.”

Generally, treasures of heaven are not only those things we may take with us when we die, but they are also the things that most enrich our lives in mortality.

Oh Say, What Is Truth?

The pursuit of truth has always been among my most cherished treasures. As revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”[2]

The hymn with which we opened this meeting teaches that truth is the “brightest prize / To which mortals or Gods can aspire” and that it is an “aim for the noblest desire.” Moreover, it instructs us to “Go search in the depths where it glittering lies” and to “ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.” But as the title of that hymn ponders, “Oh say, what is truth?”[3]

Truth—absolute truth—defines and governs the cosmos. It exists independently of our perceptions or even our capacity to comprehend reality. Truth is not subject to our thoughts, biases, or desires; it is what it is regardless of how well we may or may not understand it. It is what it is whether we accept, reject, or ignore it.

Joseph Smith learned, “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.”[4] In other words, truth is constant and immutable. It is unchanging. Finally, absolute truth is internally consistent: it cannot contradict or be in conflict with itself.

Where Can We Find Truth?

Given its importance, it’s imperative that we seek truth. But where can we find it? Richard G. Scott, in his October 2007 general conference address, taught there are two ways to find truth: science and revelation. In other words, we may discover truth in the works of God—flowers, fossils, and faraway galaxies—and in His words: scriptures, the words of living prophets, and manifestations of the Spirit.

The world often attempts to pit science and religion against each other, when in reality they share many commonalities in purpose and approach. First, both science and religion share a common purpose, which is the pursuit of truth. For example, when the young Joseph Smith walked into the Sacred Grove, he was seeking truth. Likewise, when the young Charles Darwin sailed to South America, he was seeking truth.

Second, scientific and religious approaches to discovering truth both begin by asking questions. The young Joseph Smith asked, “Which of all the religions is true?” The young Charles Darwin asked, “What shapes the history of life?”

Finally, neither science nor religion argues we should blindly accept proposed truths. Instead, we are invited to test those things we believe to be true. For example, in the book of Malachi, the Lord, commanding us to impart tithes and offerings, challenges, “Prove me now herewith, [and see if I do] not open the windows of heaven, and pour ... out a blessing [so great] that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”[5]

Likewise, in the Book of Mormon, Alma challenges us to “experiment upon [his] words,”[6] and Moroni wrote, “When ye shall receive these things”—referring to the Book of Mormon—“I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.”[7]

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of blind faith. It is the duty of every one of us to seek and prove the truths of salvation for ourselves. Although every one of us was born with the Light of Christ, our testimonies of the gospel must be developed throughout our lives. Just as we are unlikely to gain a solid understanding of physics by casually attending one course on the subject, we are unlikely to gain a testimony of gospel truths by simply sitting through a Sunday School class. In both cases, acquiring knowledge requires hard work. Moreover, we retain and cultivate that knowledge only as we consistently apply it.  

To find and test truth using scientific methodology, we first seek and document patterns in the world around us. These may include patterns in stars, rocks, and the bodies of living things. Once we document patterns in such sources, we then propose testable explanations for the processes that generated the observed patterns. Oftentimes there are many equally plausible explanations, or hypotheses, for what generates a pattern in nature. However, in science, our purpose isn’t to prove our favorite explanations true but rather to prove our explanations false. We reject falsified hypotheses in favor of explanations that withstand scrutiny. In this way, scientific methodology allows us to get closer and closer to truth, although it never allows us to be entirely certain we’ve discovered absolute truth.

Nevertheless, as Latter-day Saints, we are just as duty bound to study the works of God as we are His words. We cannot consider ourselves to be wholly honest, truth-seeking individuals if we fail to carefully examine the creations of our Heavenly Father. Indeed, we have been commanded to do so.

In late December 1832 and early January 1833, the Prophet Joseph Smith and others prayed fervently for the Lord to reveal His will concerning the building of Zion. In a revelation Joseph described as an “’olive leaf’ ... plucked from the Tree of Paradise,”[8] the Lord said:

And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.

Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass.[9]

According to Brigham Young, the “doctrine of the kingdom” encompasses much more than what is found in scripture only. He said Mormonism includes all truth. “There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods.”[10] “If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.”[11] “The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church.”[12]

Of course, this does not diminish the critical importance of persistently studying the scriptures, heeding the counsel of living prophets, or seeking revelations for ourselves, but rather it emphasizes the importance of embracing truth wherever we may find it.

In an 1874 discourse by Brigham Young, he stated, referring to the youth of the Church:

When they are old enough, place within their reach the advantages and benefits of a scientific education. Let them study the formation of the earth, the organization of the human system, and other sciences; such a system of mental culture and discipline in early years is of incalculable benefit to its possessor in mature years. Take, for instance, the young ladies now before me, as well as the young men, and form a class in geology, in chemistry or mineralogy; and do not confine their studies to theory only, but let them put in practice what they learn from books, by defining the nature of the soil, the composition or decomposition of a rock, how the earth was formed, its probable age, and so forth. All these are problems which science attempts to solve, although some of the views of our great scholars are undoubtedly very speculative. In the study of the sciences I have named, our young folks will learn how it is that, in traveling in our mountains, we frequently see seashells—shells of oyster, clam, etc. Ask our boys and girls now to explain these things, and they are not able to do so; but establish classes for the study of the sciences, and they will become acquainted with the various facts they furnish in regard to the condition of the earth. It is the duty of the Latter-day Saints, according to the revelations, to give their children the best education that can be procured, both from the books of the world and the revelations of the Lord.[13]

“Conflict of Truth”

I spend much time analyzing and pondering evidence of the history of life preserved in rocks. Last week, Brother Jensen challenged us to remove the “worldly rocks” from our pockets. And although I know he was talking about things that weigh us down, as a geologist, I’m quite fond of my rocks. Studying our planet and its fossils has brought a deep sense of fulfillment, wonder, and joy to my life. Likewise, studying and contemplating the words of God have enlightened and uplifted my soul. The gospel has filled my life with unparalleled joy and meaning. However, there have been a few times when I’ve struggled to reconcile the works of God with His words.

Oftentimes we have a negative view of such trials, but try as we might to avoid them, they will come as we honestly and aggressively pursue truth. Rather than allowing such challenges to fester and nibble at the margins of our confidence, we should take them head-on. The Apostle Peter taught (1 Peter 1:7), “Though [we] be tried with fire,” the trials of our faith are “more precious than ... gold that perisheth.”[14] The trials of our faith are treasures in heaven.

I am grateful for such challenges in my life because they have led me to ask questions—they have led me to seek truth. In fact, I rejoice in the trials of faith I have experienced, because they have always resulted in greater conviction that God exists, that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and was resurrected, and that the fulness of the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

In the pursuit of truth, I have wrestled with some of the classic conflicts between science and religion. For example, geologists argue the earth is over 4.5 billion years old, whereas some Christians believe in a much younger earth that was created in only 6 days. Biologists argue that all life on Earth evolved from a single population of microbes that lived over 3.5 billion years ago and that humans share a common ancestor with lower primates, whereas some Christians vehemently reject organic evolution and believe that God created every species individually and that one species cannot give rise to another. Paleontologists argue that millions upon millions of species originated and went extinct on this planet before humans first walked upon it, whereas some Christians argue there was no death of any kind on this earth before the Fall of Adam.

Given that absolute truth cannot conflict with itself, not all of these views can represent truth. The earth was either created in six days or it wasn’t. However, these areas of disagreement need not represent points of contention among the Latter-day Saints or generate personal trials of faith.

Although the arguments of science are very compelling, scientists do not claim a perfect knowledge of truth; and for Latter-day Saints, some things we consider to be doctrine are not, including most personal beliefs pertaining to Earth’s age, the duration of the Creation and how it was effectuated, the origination of our bodies—both physical and spiritual—and whether species evolved and went extinct on this earth before the Fall of Adam. From the foundation of this church, its members, including some General Authorities, have expressed disparate but strongly held views on these and other topics. However, I would like to propose an important principle in evaluating such conflicts in perceived truth.

In 1931, the First Presidency stated, “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed.”[15] I repeat, “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church [the General Authorities] are all agreed.” Thus, whenever we discover statements that reflect disagreement among the leaders of the Church, we can be assured that topic is not a fundamental doctrine but rather an expression of personal opinion. Through the application of this principle, it’s clear that the Church is neutral with respect to most aspects of Earth’s age, organic evolution, and death before the Fall.

Scientists are also entitled to their opinions, some of which are not supported by empirical evidence. Some of the disagreements among Latter-day Saints may result from improperly interpreting the speculation of scientists as proven facts or taking the personal opinions of Church leaders as revealed doctrine. In addition, disagreements may result from a general misunderstanding of science or the scriptures. However, if we humbly embrace the limits of our knowledge, these disagreements need not generate contention, which should be entirely avoided. Just as scientists, in their imperfection, may misinterpret patterns in the observable universe, we as Latter-day Saints, in our imperfection, may misinterpret patterns in the words of scripture.

As James E. Talmage, geologist, Apostle, and author of Jesus the Christ, wrote, “We cannot sweep aside all the accumulated knowledge in geology, archeology, or any other branch of science simply because our interpretation of some isolated passage of scripture may seem to be opposed thereto.”[16]

Remember: We believe the scriptures to be true as long as they are translated and interpreted correctly. Also recall what Brother Baron taught a few weeks ago: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not based on the Bible—or any of the scriptures, for that matter. Our religion is based on what the scriptures are based on, and that is revelation through prophets.

Earlier I used Charles Darwin as an example of a scientist who pursued truth. In part, I did so in rejection of the view that Darwin was an instrument of the devil or that his ideas were in any way evil. On the contrary, Darwin was honestly and purposefully seeking truth in the same manner that led Marie Curie to discover radioactivity and allowed Jonas Salk to create a vaccine for polio. Moreover, Darwin withheld his theory of natural selection for over 20 years, in part out of concern for how his ideas would impact religious belief—ideas that conflicted Darwin himself.

In an 1860 letter to the botanist Asa Gray, Darwin wrote: “I cannot ... be contented to view this wonderful universe [and] especially the nature of man, [and] to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws ... [and] that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event [and] consequence.”[17]

In his later years, Darwin became admittedly agnostic. However, nearly 20 years after writing the aforementioned letter to Asa Gray, he maintained, “The strongest argument for the existence of God, as it seems to me, is the instinct or intuition which we all ... feel that there must have been an intelligent beginner of the Universe.”[18]

Another reason I use Darwin as an example of discovering truth is that his ideas played a critical role in the development of my own testimony of the gospel. In fact, and ironic as it may seem to some, Charles Darwin is one reason I am standing here now.

A Personal Witness of Truth  

I was born into a Catholic family, but at the age of eight I was baptized and confirmed a member of this church with my mother and father. It was a wonderful experience. I still remember the missionaries visiting our home and the bright enthusiasm they brought with them. From my eight-year-old perspective, their visits were fun, but for my father especially, they were also powerful and spiritually transformative. Although I did not fully grasp the plain and precious truths of the gospel at that time, I will never forget the feelings I had on the day of my baptism, especially as the missionaries placed their hands upon my head and granted the gift of the Holy Ghost with power and authority. It was a remarkably peculiar sensation that passed through my body as a wave of pure energy, from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes.

We regularly attended church and actively participated in church activities. A year later, Dad baptized my twin sisters, and all was fresh and new. However, a few years later, our activity in the Church waned, and while I was in middle school, my family stopped attending church altogether. I continued to participate in an LDS Scout troop and attended a few youth activities, but by the time I reached high school, religion wasn’t a significant part of my life.  

From an early age, I have always had a keen interest in nature, so when high school began, I took as many science classes as possible, including honors biology, chemistry and physics, full-year courses in geology and astronomy, and full-semester courses in organic chemistry and general relativity. Immersed in science education, and largely isolated from religious experience, I began to question the existence of God.

Struggling with paradigms of science and religion, I remember asking an older coworker what he thought about God as we were cleaning carpets late one night.

I’ll never forget what he said: “I don’t know if God exists, but I try to live my life like He does, because if I live a bad life and God exists, I’ll be in trouble, but if He doesn’t exist, and there isn’t anything after this life, I won’t know what I missed.”

That seemed like a very reasonable answer, but it wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I needed to know whether God existed for myself. Knowing that I was unlikely to find the answer to my question in science textbooks, I decided to dust off my scriptures and start reading them during my senior year. Moreover, I started praying regularly again and even did some fasting. After several months of this, I returned home very late one Saturday night, and I really needed to know if God existed.

So I got on my knees and said—in one of the most earnest, if not desperate, prayers of my life—something like this: “Heavenly Father, if you are even listening—I don’t know if you even exist—please answer this prayer.” And at that moment I pleaded with God for a simple but very specific witness of His existence. In addition, I made this promise: “If you answer this prayer, I will attend church tomorrow, go on a mission, and serve you for the rest of my life.”

To my amazement, my prayer was answered as I awoke, but not only did God answer the prayer precisely as requested, but He also answered the prayer in His own way—a way that would make it very difficult for me to ever question the existence of God again.

It was a tender mercy.

A few hours later, I was sitting on the back row of the LDS chapel in Burlington, Iowa. Sacrament meeting that day was a transcendent experience. I felt the Spirit so strongly. Every word seemed to be directed at me, personally and forcefully. The final scheduled speaker ended early, so to fill the remaining time, the bishop called a few students to the stand to bear their testimonies—students who had just returned from a semester at Ricks College.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Ricks College, but I knew I had to go there. Before leaving church that day, I made an appointment with the bishop and committed to a new path.

A few days later, I hesitantly told Dad I was considering attending Ricks College instead of a regional university. Expecting objections, I was dumbfounded by his response. He said, “That sounds like the best decision you’ve ever made in your life.” Despite his long absence from the Church, he had a strong testimony of the gospel, and he knew I would receive teachings more important than geology at Ricks College.

A few months later, he dropped me off in Idaho with a mountain bike, some fossils, and the desire to learn. Not only did I receive a stellar secular education from an amazing and caring faculty, but I was also blessed and prepared spiritually. I made lifelong friendships, met my future wife, and prepared to serve a mission, which I did at the end of that school year, but not before the greatest trial of my life.

Oh, My Father

I began today’s discourse with this $100 bill in hand. How often have I wished it had never come to me. The days immediately following my father’s untimely death were the darkest of my life. In the prayers before my mission, I pleaded with the Lord for primarily one thing: that my missionary service would be the instrument through which my father would return to the Church. And then, in an instant, on a morning in which he was not only going to attend church for the first time in many years but also send me on the Lord’s errand, he was gone. I miss him dearly. However, I am grateful for this trial of faith. In darkness, I found light. I witness that my earthly father lives and is continuing his eternal progression.

My father is a treasure in heaven.

Children of God

As exhilarating as it may be to study the works of God, Christ did not come to Earth to share parables of plate tectonics but rather parables of people and principles of salvation. He came to Earth to atone for our sins, to lay down His body and take it up again. The children of God and our families, you and I, in all our glorious diversity, in all our strength and weakness, are the greatest treasures of Heaven.

I would now like to invite an old friend to the stand. Glen, please join me. This is Glen Arnell, one of the missionaries that introduced my family to the gospel and baptized us. I want you to know him. He is a great man.

ARNELL: You can imagine the emotion that I’m feeling today. I’m grateful for the privilege to represent your dad today. I’ve thought about this day. I’ve been married for 31 years to a beautiful wife, Renée, have five children, two grandchildren, and I’m not sure if this isn’t the greatest day of my life. Forest, I want to thank you for that. You are a treasure to me.

GAHN: Thank you. This guy is a treasure of heaven, and I will forever be in his debt.

Let us rejoice in all of God’s creations, but let us especially rejoice in one another. Be a friend to all those around you. Love one another. Be kind. Dedicate some time each day to serving others. Remove those earbuds and look up from your phones when you’re walking around campus. In fact, just put them in your pockets, say hello to someone you don’t know, and offer them a friendly smile. At the close of this meeting, I personally invite each one of you to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Invite them to lunch. Don’t wait until tomorrow; do it today. You will not regret it. There are so many people longing for a true friend. Find them. Hug them. There is so much wonder to celebrate in this life. Please don’t waste it.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

 



[1] Matthew 6:19–20.

[2] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.

[3] “Oh Say, What Is Truth?” Hymns, 331.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 93:24.

[5] Malachi 3:10.

[6] Alma 32:27.

[7] Moroni 10:4.

[8] Doctrine and Covenants 88, section introduction.

[9] Doctrine and Covenants 88:77–79.

[10] Brigham Young, from Journal of Discourses, 11:375.

[11] Young, from Journal of Discourses, 13:335.

[12] Young, from Journal of Discourses, 11:375.

[13] Young, from Journal of Discourses, 17:45.

[14] 1 Peter 1:7.

[15] First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931, in Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections, Brigham Young University; lib.byu.edu.

[16] James E. Talmage, letter to F. C. Williamson, Apr. 22, 1933. Signature Books Library; signaturebookslibrary.org.

[17] Charles Darwin, letter to Asa Gray, May 22, 1860, Darwin Correspondence Project, University of Cambridge; darwinproject.ac.uk.

[18] Darwin, letter to James Grant, Mar. 11, 1878, Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion & Science; inters.org.

Truth and Other Treasures

Audio of Forest Gahn's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Winter 2018


Interview with BYU-Idaho Radio

Audio of Forest Gahn's interview with BYU-Idaho Radio about his Winter 2018 devotional address.