'Seeing beyond the leaf' -- The pursuit, discovery and application of truth

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gives keynote address at Church History Symposium

Speaking to the annual Church History Symposium, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared, “The pursuit, discovery and application of truth are what we are on this earth to discover.”

President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, gave a keynote address in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 7, the second day of the two-day symposium.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gives keynote address in Conference Center Theater on the second day of
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gives keynote address in Conference Center Theater on the second day of annual Church History Symposium sponsored by BYU and Church History Department. | R. Scott Lloyd,

He drew his theme from a quoted remark by novelist Michael Crichton: “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

“History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence,” President Uchtdorf commented. “It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks and roots of life. And these lessons are important.”

He said the gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses all truth “but it specializes in the knowledge that will be of greatest worth to us in this life and throughout the eternities to come.”

God warns His children repeatedly not to place their trust in the world’s wisdom, observed President Uchtdorf, “yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know.”

He spoke of his childhood living in a small branch of the Church in Zwickau, East Germany, where he sometimes had the assignment to work the bellows that supplied air to the pump organ in the branch meetinghouse.

“I loved our little meetinghouse with its stained glass windows that showed Joseph Smith kneeling in the Sacred Grove,” he said. “When I was young, I supposed that this was what the Church looked like — that what I was seeing in Zwickau was what every other member of the Church saw during their Sunday experience throughout the world.”

Now, almost 70 years later, he said he has seen that the Church outwardly appears different in the various areas of the world. “I can affirm that it is of the same spirit and the same essence wherever you go. It rests upon the foundation of the blessed Redeemer and it is guided by the rock of revelation.”

President Uchtdorf said God is able to make great things come out of small beginnings. “In fact, this is often His preferred strategy.”

He gave as examples the small Galilean town of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, and the small town of Palmyra, N.Y., where Joseph Smith experienced the First Vision.

“From these two unlikely and disregarded places — Nazareth and Palmyra — emerged two figures who would change the world,” he remarked.

Heavenly Father repeatedly teaches His children not to place their trust in the wisdom of the world, President Uchtdorf said. “And yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know.”

He warned, “We must not abandon God’s revealed truth — which comes from the roots and source of all righteousness and truth. For what we see, in contrast, is the truth of our leaf.”

He related an incident of Frederick the Great, the 18th century King of Prussia. After a military defeat, many of Frederick’s soldiers scattered in confusion. A soldier brought before the king was asked why he had run away.

“Because things were going badly for your majesty,” was the reply.

“Frederick reflected for a moment, then said mildly, ‘I suggest that you wait a week. Then, if things are still going badly, we will quit together,’?” President Uchtdorf recounted.

“There will be times when it may appear that things are going badly for the truth of God — that the evidence of the world contradicts God’s utterances. For my part, I have learned to be patient, knowing that in the end things will work out. God’s Kingdom will continue to grow. The truth will continue to flourish and spread throughout the earth. Sometimes all it takes is a little faith and a little patience. Things which may appear impossible now may become matter-of-fact in years to come.”

As an illustration, he related the incident told by President Thomas S. Monson who, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaking to a Church congregation in East Germany in 1968, was inspired to promise that if they remained faithful, temple blessings would be theirs.

This seemed impossible under the communist regime that controlled the country at the time.

President Uchtdorf said that almost a decade later, he and his wife had all but forgotten the prophetic promise. At the temple in Switzerland, they overheard a conversation between two visiting Church members from East Germany about a rumor that a temple was to be built in the German Democratic Republic.

“We felt sorry for these sisters but also a little amused at the same time when we shared the episode with our friends,” he said. “There wasn’t even a temple in West Germany. How could the Church build one in the DDR?”

A few days later, the Freiberg Germany Temple was announced, and it was dedicated in 1985.

“God is good and faithful, and He performs His work in ways that sometimes are not comprehensible to our mortal minds.” President Uchtdorf asked “that we have a little faith, a little patience, that we believe. [God] asks us to seek after Him and believe in His word.”

President Uchtdorf spoke of the importance of keeping records, citing the urging of Joseph Smith that the members of the Twelve keep records of important events and decisions. “He said if they would do this, even with items that may seem to have little or no worth, that later they would ‘find [them] of infinite worth, not only to your brethren but [they] will be a feast to your own souls.’?”

He commended those who keep a history of the Church and who encourage others to keep a record of their lives and families. “You understand the worth of journals that may have seemed trivial and mundane to the people who wrote them at the time but are cherished and treasured years later,” he said.

He added, “I am grateful for the marvelous work that is being done to prepare and publish the Joseph Smith Papers. Learning about the real struggles and real successes of early Church leaders and members is a very faith-promoting process for me. We always need to remember that transparency and openness keep us clear of the negative side effects of secrecy or the cliché of faith-promoting rumors. Jesus taught the Jews, ‘Then, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Truth and transparency complement each other. ‘The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth’ (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36).”

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