Brothers and sisters, aloha! Today, I hope to convey to you some sense of eternity and your place in it.
Most of you that are here today were raised in the LDS Church. Many of you are converts, and some of you have other religious beliefs outside of the LDS Faith. Regardless of your background, your culture, your race, your politics, your favorite hobby, or your grades, you are all children of God. As such, you have the potential to become like Him – with all that that entails. Our ultimate goal, even if we don’t always or rarely take time to think about it, should be to become like our Heavenly Parents.
During the great Intercessory Prayer, our Savior prayed, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”1 In that one sentence is a powerful lesson about the purpose and nature of our existence – or YOUR existence.
The prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God.”2
He also said, “There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. The great majority of mankind do not comprehend anything, either that which is past, or that which is to come, as it respects their relationship to God. They do not know, neither do they understand the nature of that relationship. … If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. … I want to ask this congregation, every man, woman and child, to answer the question in their own hearts, what kind of a being God is?”3
Joseph then answered his own question:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.”4
In 1973, the Council of the Twelve Apostles issued a statement in which they said, “The Lord’s plan of salvation requires that you pass through trials in this mortal life. Those trials seem to be greatest when you reach fatherhood [and I would add motherhood], but be assured—fatherhood [and motherhood], in a sense, is an apprenticeship to godhood.”5
So, in other words, what does it mean to be a Heavenly Parent – a God, with a capital “G?” Well, being a “God,” with a capital “G,” means being a “Father,” with a capital “F,” or a “Mother,” with a capital “M.”
As a boy, I remember my father having a large key ring with dozens of keys on it. All of the keys looked exactly alike to me. I was amazed at how my dad knew which key went to which door or cabinet. But even more amazing to me than how he knew which key went where was my dad’s seemingly amazing ability to find the right road when we travelled.
I grew up in a small, rural community in Utah. Occasionally, we would take family trips to Salt Lake City. We would enter the Salt Lake Valley from the east, exiting what is known as Parley’s Canyon. As we would leave the canyon and enter the valley, the highway seemed to split into countless off-ramps, on-ramps, side-roads, multi-lane freeways, and intersections surrounded by buildings of all shapes and sizes with thousands of other cars all around us, each coming and going on their own errands. There were no smart phones with built in navigation, no GPS, and he didn’t use any maps, yet my dad always, without hesitation, found his way to wherever we were going. I could not understand how he knew his way in such a complex situation, yet I had complete trust that my dad could get us to our destination. Now, as an adult, I do what he did and find my way on complex road systems – although today it is nice to have GPS.
Now, think on how that situation relates to our Heavenly Father.
I want you to think for a moment of the clearest sky, on the darkest night, you have ever seen. Think about the stars you could see. How many were there?
The clearest night I have ever experienced was at Ras al Hadd, Oman on the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula. I was there with my family to watch sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. For a time, as we waited for our guide, we stood beneath a sky full of stars. There was no moon. There were so many stars that the starlight literally illuminated the ground. It seemed to me that there must have been millions of stars. However, it turns out, that in reality, even on the darkest night in the darkest place, the greatest number of stars that can be seen from any point on Earth is less than 10,000.6 How do we know? Well, that’s what graduate students are for – to count stars so that their professors don’t have to.
All of the stars that we can see are part of the Milky Way galaxy, where our sun and its solar system reside. However, by using telescopes to see beyond our normal eyesight, astronomers estimate that, at a minimum, there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Some estimates indicate that there may be three to four times that number – up to 400 billion stars7. If we are overawed at the 10,000 stars we can actually see, how much more in awe would we be if we could see 100 billion?
But the Milky Way is only one galaxy in a universe full of them. In 2003, a group of astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to look at what was considered one of the emptiest spots in the sky. In order to gather as much light as possible, the telescope was left open to collect light for four months. The image that resulted is now one of the most famous in astronomy. Named the “Hubble Ultra-Deep Field,” it is an image that contains over 10,000 galaxies8. This image consists of an area of the sky the size of a dime held up 75 feet or 25 meters away from the viewer.
Except for six stars, all of the features in the image are galaxies. This is what the emptiest parts of the universe look like!
It is currently estimated that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. If we conservatively assume that they all have about 100 billion stars in each of them, then we can estimate that there are, at least, 10 HEXTILLION stars in the universe. That is a 1 with 22 zeros behind it. That is, literally, more stars than sand grains on all the beaches and in all of the dunes in all of the deserts on Earth.
So when the Lord says, “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten,”9 He is not exaggerating.
But it isn’t just space that is expansive. Light travels, and it moves very quickly. It moves at 300 million meters per second. To give you a concept of what that means, it took the Apollo astronauts, moving faster than a bullet fired from a gun, three days to reach the moon10. Light travels that same distance in only one second.
Our sun is 93 million miles away. It takes light from the sun about eight minutes to reach us. Which, by the way, means that when we look at the sun, we don’t see it as it is right now; we see it as it was eight minutes ago. The next nearest star to us, Alpha Centauri, is four light-years away. That means it takes four years for light to travel from Alpha Centauri to Earth. Again, when we look through our telescopes at Alpha Centauri, we do not see it as it is right now but rather how it was four years ago.
It takes light 250 thousand years to travel from one side of the Milky Way Galaxy to the other. The next nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is 2 MILLION light-years away, which means that, once again, when we look through our telescopes at the Andromeda Galaxy, we don’t see as it is now, but instead, we see it as it was 2 million years ago. The most distant galaxies that we see – those in the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field – are over 13 BILLION light years away, which means that the light that Hubble collected had been traveling for billions of years. That means that our universe, created under the direction of our Heavenly Father, is inconceivably old.
Alma, in answering questions of his returned, prodigal son Corianton, said, “Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise [that is, be resurrected] it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not;” Why doesn’t it matter when people are resurrected? Because, as Alma continues to say, “All is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.”11
In other words, things work differently for God, BECAUSE He IS God. Both space AND time are His creations.
The Lord Himself said, “And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come.”12 President J. Reuben Clark Jr. once said, “Our Lord is not a novice, he is not an amateur; he has been over this course time and time and time again.”13
So what does this have to do with my discussion of God being our heavenly parent?
In trying to understand the vastness of space and time, it is easy to feel a bit lost – to wonder how God can find and know each of us when the universe is so big. With Moses, we feel to say, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing.”14
First of all, I want you to understand that God IS God. He isn’t some Hollywood version of a Greek or Pagan god. He isn’t a character who is mostly powerful or mostly perfect or mostly knows everything. He IS all-powerful. He IS all-knowing. He IS perfect. Most importantly, He IS all-loving. He IS the ultimate FATHER who loves His children above all else and is not only capable of, but is focused on, loving each individual one of us.
Just as my father was able to know and identify the right key to use or the right path to follow, which was so complex to my childhood mind, our Heavenly Father, who is the ultimate Father, knows the paths that we, as individuals, are following.
Not only was my dad able to navigate the complexities of the Salt Lake City road system, which I could not, he was also able to help me in other ways that I was incapable of helping myself.
At the age of twelve, I attended the wedding reception of my older brother James and his wife Janet just after they were sealed in the Washington, DC Temple. The reception was held in the cultural hall of an LDS church building. As part of the festivities and decorations, they had a large, multi-tiered wedding cake that was placed in a prominent place in front of the stage, with its curtains closed, at one end of the cultural hall. For most of the reception, I was free to wander and eat the provided snacks – my favorite part of any wedding reception. At some point, I noticed that one of my older sisters, Faithann, who is closest to me in age, was sitting on the stage with her back to the curtain. I have always been a bit of a tease, so I got it into my mind that it would be fun to startle my sister by sneaking up to her from behind the curtain. Carefully, I went back stage and then crept up to the curtain until I found the opening between the two sides. With a cry of “Boo!” I threw the curtains open.
My shout did, in fact, startle my sister as I planned. However, it caught everyone else’s attention as well. They all turned to look toward me just as one side of the curtains that I had thrown open hit the beautiful wedding cake, knocking it over…
The good thing is that my newly-married brother was standing, in his white tuxedo, next to the cake and managed to catch it. The bad thing is that, sitting on top of the cake, was a beautiful, miniature, crystal model of a temple. It had been borrowed from a ward member as a cake topping. Even now, I can see in my mind’s eye with clarity, and in slow motion, the fall of that crystal temple as a voice in my mind screamed “Nooo!” and it hit the ground and shattered into a thousand pieces.
Like Alma the Younger, I know what it is like to wish “that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body.”15
I did not have the money to purchase a replacement for that temple, but my dad did. He did purchase a replacement, but it was not a free replacement. When we got home, I was given a long list of chores to do to pay my dad back for doing what I could not.
My father replaced the temple AND required me to put in effort to complete the chores because he loved me and wanted me to learn a valuable lesson.
Our Heavenly Father does the same.
Joseph Smith said, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God.”16
Andrew C. Skinner, while speaking at a BYU Devotional in April of 2006, said, “Our Father in Heaven loves me, and He loves you. His love is not a zero-sum exercise. He does not love me less and you more because there is only so much love to go around. His love is infinite. He loves me when I think or act a little like the prodigal son, and He is patient with me when I think or act a little like the jealous older son. In truth, during our years of mortality, are we not all, even just a little bit, like both the prodigal son and the steady but jealous older brother? Does our Father in Heaven cease to be interested in our welfare when we are sinful and we need to come to ourselves? Does He turn off His care and concern for us when we are bad and turn it on again when we are good? I do not think so. The Father’s love is as broad, deep, and lasting as eternity. It encompasses all.”17
I will repeat again, God IS God. God IS our Father. God loves us.
Our Heavenly Father gave His Son Jesus Christ to die for us so that we could recover from our mistakes and sins, be forgiven, and return to live with Him. Just as my dad replaced the crystal temple that I could not, and then required me to do chores, Christ paid the debt of our sins and requires us to emulate His life and repent of our sins.
There is another way, though, that God has shown His love for us and His knowledge of us as our Father.
One of the most famous sculptures in the world is the Pietà, a carving in marble of the Savior, just after being taken from the cross, in the lap of His mother Mary.
I’m a geologist, so let me tell you a little about the rock that the statue is carved from. It is called Carrera marble and is a rock of very high quality that has been used in art and buildings since at least the time of the Roman Empire. Its beauty comes from its purity. Now, normal marble is one of the most common rocks on Earth. Marble is a metamorphic rock, which means that it used to be another kind of rock that over time has been changed, due to heat and/or pressure, into another kind of rock. In the case of marble, it originally came from a rock called limestone, which is also very common.
Limestone is a sedimentary rock that usually forms from sediments in warm, tropical water. The sand and coral that makes up most of the beaches and reefs of Oahu is future limestone.
Thus, the process of forming marble first requires sediments being deposited in a warm, shallow ocean environment. These sediments must then be compressed and cemented into rock – that is, into limestone. In order for that limestone to then become marble, like Carrera marble, it has to be buried deep within the Earth until it is cooked under high enough heat and pressure that it is chemically and mechanically altered into a new type of rock. Each of these processes takes millions of years.
Carrera marble, though, wasn’t originally formed from just any sediment. It was not formed from normal beach sand like we find here on Oahu. The thing that makes Carrera marble special is that the original sediments that produced it were exceptionally consistent and pure18. This original uniformity and purity of the sediment created a consistency that was preserved in the structure of the rock from sand to limestone and then from limestone to marble. It is this that makes Carrera marble such great rock for carving.
So what? Why is understanding the process of how Carrera marble formed important?
Well, where was Michelangelo born? Was he just born anywhere? Or was he born in a location where, as he grew and developed his talents, he had access to some of the world’s greatest sculpture material? I suggest to you that it was not by accident that one of the world’s greatest sculptors was born near some of the world’s greatest marble.
As Michelangelo’s Heavenly Father, God knew exactly what resources Michelangelo would need in order to develop his talents and progress through life. The planning and preparation for those resources began millions of years before the birth of Michelangelo. They began in a warm, shallow ocean where exceptionally pure sediment was formed.
Remember, God IS God. Under His direction, “the worlds were created,” not just in space but also in time.
Do you think that God only planned for Michelangelo? This universe, in all its vastness, was created for one purpose. God, Himself, has said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”19
God knows you individually and PLANNED for you individually. He knew exactly what you would need in this life. All of the resources that you use on a daily basis – whether that is the copper in the wiring that allows you to read under an electric light or receive a text message, or the oil that is burned to produce the electricity in the light, or the soil that feeds the plants that produce the food that you eat, or the pigments in the paint that you use to paint your house, or the wood that is made into a violin. All of those things, and countless others, were planned, prepared, and made in order that you, individually, would be provided for in this life to develop your talents.
I am staggered just trying to envision the complexity of such planning – billions of years’ worth of processes so that YOU (and everyone else who has ever lived) could have everything needed to grow and progress in this life.
That is what it means to be a God – to be a loving Father, who knows and provides for the needs of His children – without any limitation in time or space. He knows you. When He and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, the first thing He did was call Joseph by his first name.
I think that too often we think of being a Heavenly Father as just one of many characteristics that make God God. My suggestion to you is that it is His fatherhood that is His most important characteristic.
Despite the vastness of space and time, God IS God, and not only is He capable of knowing you, He has been and is focusing on you as an individual.
Let me close with two quotes, one by Elder Neal A. Maxwell and the other by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
Elder Maxwell has said, “We know the Creator of the universe is also the Author of the plan of happiness. We can trust Him. He knows perfectly what brings happiness to His children. Meanwhile, as some experience daily life situations in which they are or feel unloved and unappreciated, they can nevertheless know that God loves them! His creations so witness. Therefore, we can confess His hand in our individual lives just as we can confess His hand in the astonishing universe.”20
President Uchtdorf, in the 2011, October General Conference, said the following:
“My dear brothers and sisters, it may be true that man is nothing in comparison to the greatness of the universe. At times we may even feel insignificant, invisible, alone, or forgotten. But always remember—you matter to Him! ... Please understand that what you see and experience now is not what forever will be. You will not feel loneliness, sorrow, pain, or discouragement forever. We have the faithful promise of God that He will neither forget nor forsake those who incline their hearts to Him.
“Have hope and faith in that promise. Learn to love your Heavenly Father and become His disciple in word and in deed. Be assured that if you but hold on, believe in Him, and remain faithful in keeping the commandments, one day you will experience for yourselves the promises revealed to the Apostle Paul: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
“Brothers and sisters, the most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love. God sees you not only as a mortal being on a small planet who lives for a brief season—He sees you as His child. He sees you as the being you are capable and designed to become. He wants you to know that you matter to Him.”21
I add my own personal witness and testimony to President Uchtdorf’s. I know that God lives. I know that He is our Father. I know that He is a glorified man and that each of us, His sons and daughters, can one day be like Him. Just as I now am a father of my own children, someday I can be like my Father in Heaven who loves us all. When He tells us, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not,”22 it is because He really does have a perfect knowledge of us and our needs. May you all be blessed with the true knowledge that you are a son or daughter of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. John 17:3.
2. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.
3. History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 302-317
5. "Father, Consider Your Ways," Ensign, Jun. 2002 (emphasis added).
6. King, Bob, "9,069 Stars in the Sky - Is That All?" Sky & Telescope, 17 Sep. 2014. (last accessed Jan. 2015).
7. Temming, Maria, "How Many Stars Are There in the Universe?" Sky & Telescope, 15 Jul. 2014. (last accessed Jan. 2015).
8. NASA Information Sheet: STScI L-08-01 LG-2008-1-103-GSFC
9. Moses 1:33.
10. Sharp, Tim, "How Far Is the Moon?" Space.com, 21 Jun. 2013. (last accessed Jan. 2015).
11. Alma 40:8.
12. Moses 1:38.
13. Clark Jr., J. Reuben. Behold the Lamb of God ,Deseret Book Co., p. 17.
14. Moses 1:10.
15. Alma 36:15.
16. History of the Church, Vol. 4, p. 227.
17. Skinner, Andrew C. "The Nature and Character of God," BYU Devotional, 11 Apr. 2006.
18. Williams, David B. "The Trouble with Michelangelo's Marble - Chapter 8," GeologyWriter.com, 24 Jul. 2009. (last accessed Jan. 2015).
19. Moses 1:39.
20. Maxwell, Neal A., "Our Creator’s Cosmos," CES Religious Educators Conference, BYU, 13 Aug. 2002.
21. Uchtdorf, Dieter F., "You Matter to Him," General Conference, Oct. 2011.
22. D&C 6:36.