"The Bible tells us that 'God is love' (1 John 4:8). He is the perfect embodiment of love, and we rely heavily on the constancy and universal reach of that love," Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during the Saturday afternoon session of the 186th Semiannual General Conference.
"There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love," Elder Christofferson said. "One of the terms we hear often today is that God's love is 'unconditional.' While in one sense that is true, the descriptor 'unconditional' appears nowhere in scripture." This word can create mistaken impressions about God's love. He said, "God's love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love."
"To 'continue in' or 'abide in' the Savior's love means to receive His grace and be perfected by it," Elder Christofferson taught. "To receive His grace, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, including repenting of our sins, being baptized for the remission of sins, receiving the Holy Ghost, and continuing in the path of obedience."
Some argue that God will unconditionally save everyone in His Heavenly Kingdom. "God will always love us, but He cannot save us in our sins," Elder Christofferson said. Because no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, Christ atoned for the sins of the world. "From the Book of Mormon we learn that the intent of Christ's suffering — the ultimate manifestation of His love — was 'to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance,'" he said (Alma 34:15-16). "Repentance, then, is His gift to us, purchased at a very dear price."
Some argue that God's love means He blesses everyone without distinction. "Indeed, God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can — all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit," Elder Christofferson said. "Nevertheless, God's greater blessings are conditioned on obedience."
Another aspect to abiding in God's love is that it "will enable us to realize our full potential, to become even as He is," Elder Christofferson said. In this sense, it means to fully submit to His will by accepting His correction when needed, loving and serving one another, and learning to obey the law of a celestial kingdom, he taught.
Elder Christofferson shared the story of Helen Keller, which "is something of a parable suggesting how divine love can transform a willing soul." After suffering an undiagnosed illness at 19 months old, Helen was left deaf and blind. Frustrated and with no means to communicate, young Helen would fly in to fits of rage. Her parents sought a teacher who could help her learn to communicate and behave, and soon hired Anne Sullivan from the Perkins School for the blind and vision impaired.
Helen was not an easy student to work with at first. But with patient, firm consistency, Anne Sullivan eventually won Helen's heart and trust. "Similarly, as we come to trust rather than resist our divine Teacher, He can work with us to enlighten and lift us to a new reality," Elder Christofferson said.
Sullivan would spell out the letters of common words on Helen's palm. While this 'finger play' was fun, she didn't understand what it meant until her teacher pumped water over her hand while spelling out 'w-a-t-e-r,' finally bringing words to life.
"Each of us can experience the ecstasy of divine potential unfolding within us much like the joy Helen Keller felt when the words came to life, giving light to her soul and setting it free," Elder Christofferson said. "Each of us can love and serve God and be empowered to bless our fellow man."
In closing, he said, "What a precious gift is divine love! ... Will you not love Him who first loved you? Then keep His commandments. Will you not be a friend to Him who laid down His life for His friends? Then keep His commandments. Will you not abide in His love and receive all that He graciously offers you? Then keep His commandments."