Why the ‘literal power’ of the gospel is crucial in a virtual world, according to President Ballard

When a friend and colleague recently asked President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, if he would like to try fishing with a new pair of virtual reality goggles, President Ballard politely declined.

"I knew we would have no fish to fry — you can't fry and eat virtual fish," President Ballard said with a chuckle.

Speaking during the BYU Hawaii winter semester commencement ceremony on Saturday, April 20, in Laie, Hawaii, President Ballard told graduates that, although they are on opposite ends of their mortal journey from him, he understands and is aware of the challenges they face and the digital world in which they live.

"As you begin the next phase of your life, make sure you continue to be anchored in those things that are eternal," he said to some 200 graduates between ages 19 and 55. "You can do that in the virtual world in which you live."

Noting the tremendous advances in technology that have taken place in the 12 years since he last spoke at a commencement ceremony in Hawaii, President Ballard acknowledged that, with nearly everything online — from dating apps to family history work and university courses — the digital and virtual world that students now experience is absolutely unique and unlike anything ever experienced by any other generation.

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks to graduates during the BYU-Hawaii Winter Semester Commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks to graduates during the BYU-Hawaii Winter Semester Commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019. Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Hawaii

"Heavenly Father has blessed us, especially your generation, with tremendous advances in technology," President Ballard said. "However, with this tremendous blessing of a virtual world, we must be ever careful. The adversary will use technology to virtually distort literal realities. He will try to limit our ability to discern 'things as they really are.'"

While most people desire spirituality, peace, happiness and joy in their lives, President Ballard expressed a concern that far too many of the rising generation are seeking to find such things through the instant gratification of social media or virtual reality rather than through the literal reality created for them by a loving Heavenly Father.

"The exaltation that is available to all of us through the atoning grace of Jesus Christ is not virtual. It is literal," he said.

Using temple work as an example of the importance of literally participating in the work of the Lord, President Ballard said, "It is instructive that the Lord requires the literal, physical performance of ordinances. It is in these physical ordinances that the very power of God is manifest."

Heavenly Father, understanding the power of physical experience, "expended a great deal of Divine effort to literally create a physical place, away from Him, where our individual desires could be manifest," he said. But to be true disciples of Christ and to qualify for exaltation, faith must be manifest through action. "It requires repentance and a broken heart and contrite spirit manifested by changes in behavior. It requires that we literally go under water being baptized by real divine authority. It requires that we have priesthood hands upon our head to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It requires that we endure to the end."

Graduates celebrate with family and friends following the BYU-Hawaii Winter Semester Commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019.
Graduates celebrate with family and friends following the BYU-Hawaii Winter Semester Commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019. Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Hawaii

And, when grounded by the literal power of the gospel, the technologies and virtual tools of the world can be used for good, President Ballard said, explaining how new technologies have helped to further missionary, temple and family history work around the world.

Extending a challenge to the graduates, as he did when he spoke at BYU-Hawaii 12 years before, President Ballard asked those who are advancing to a new stage of life to "be a powerful voice for good in your family, in the Church, and in the world." Participate online and in-person in conversations that share, spread, clarify and correct the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, he said.

"We can share our faith, our light and our testimony in natural and normal ways," President Ballard continued, encouraging the graduates to share videos and truthful comments on social media and to not be afraid to correct false comments or defend the Church. By living in accordance with the "true, simple and pure doctrine of Christ," each person will be prepared to "teach others what (they) really know and what they know to be literally true."

All conversations have an impact, President Ballard said, especially on those who participated in them. "Perceptions of the Church are established generally one person, and often, one conversation at a time."

Students at BYU-Hawaii line up outside before the winter commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019.
Students at BYU-Hawaii line up outside before the winter commencement ceremony on April 20, 2019. Credit: Monique Saenz, BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Hawaii

As each individual chooses to follow the words of President Russell M. Nelson and share the gospel by inviting "all of God's children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior," all that is required is a simple conversation, guided by the Spirit, President Ballard said.

President Ballard's words were echoed by Elder Kim B. Clark, General Authority Seventy and commissioner of Church education, who also spoke during the commencement.

Sharing a story from his time working as dean of the Harvard Business School, Elder Clark spoke of the importance of acknowledging and investing in the people in one's life. Quoting a statement he once made to some of his colleagues, Elder Clark said, "If we invest in each other with our time and our ideas, and really help and support one another, even to the point of sacrificing our own work, we will create an environment that is so powerful that we will all be more productive collectively and individually than we would have been if we all had behaved selfishly." And the same is true in the work of the gospel, Elder Clark explained.

Offering a singular piece of advice for the future, Elder Clark concluded by telling students, "My advice to you is simple: take the truth with you and live by it and teach it wherever you go and in whatever you do."

BYU-Hawaii President John S. Tanner conducted the commencement ceremony at which 185 bachelor's degrees and 15 associate's degrees were awarded to graduates from more than 20 countries.