General Authority tells BYU students to ‘see God as He truly is’ and choose happiness

As a senior in high school, Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy, made an important decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then, after a year at the University of Texas, he decided to serve a mission and was called to the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission. 

His girlfriend, Jennie, who he dated through high school and his year at college, was not pleased but continued to write to him and eventually gained her own testimony of the gospel. Elder Martino baptized her the week he came home from his mission. Soon after, the two of them headed to Provo to start classes at Brigham Young University.

They then faced another pivotal choice: to wait a year and be married in the temple or be married civilly immediately. They chose to wait and be married in the temple.

In sharing his experiences with BYU students during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 15, Elder Martino said his point was simple: “The happiness that Jennie and I have found in our lives has come because of our choices to follow Jesus Christ.”

Sister Jennie Martino gained her testimony while Elder James B. Martino was serving his mission. She was baptized as his last convert.
Sister Jennie Martino gained her testimony while Elder James B. Martino was serving his mission. She was baptized as his last convert. Credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News

Elder Martino then shared the story of the Old Testament prophet Joshua who declared: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Joshua had led the Israelites into the promised land after 40 years of trials and afflictions in the wilderness, Elder Martino explained. New challenges now lay ahead, including staying true to the Lord in a land where people worshipped other gods. So Joshua drew a line in the sand. Either they were all in or they were not.

“Joshua realized he needed to put the responsibility on the people. Their choice must be based on their true beliefs, not on obligation. Their success and prosperity in the promised land depended on the choice they made ‘this day’ and in the days to come,” he said.

The ability, or responsibility, to choose is called agency, and it is essential to Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. Why is agency so important? Elder Martino asked. “Because Heavenly Father’s greatest desire is ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). … These high aspirations require not only a change in our behavior but, more than that, a change in our natures. It requires that we do the right thing but also that we do it for the right reasons. We choose the right because we love the right. God does not manipulate us with instant rewards and punishments. No, ultimately, we must desire to choose what is right because it is right, above all other reasons.”

Sometimes individuals confuse God with Santa Claus, who dishes out coal or candy depending on whether someone has been naughty or nice, Elder Martino said. “We need to see God as He truly is — a loving Father who is teaching us and, as we turn to Him, making all things work together for our good.”

Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy, speaks to BYU students during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.
Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy, speaks to BYU students during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Credit: Screenshot

As individuals make choices, Elder Martino said, “we are indicating what we value, what we desire, and ultimately what we are. And what we are — more than how we act — is what prepares us for eternal life.”

The Church leader then shared three suggestions to help ensure choices align with desires for righteousness.

First, keep an eternal perspective.

Elder Martino reminded listeners of the fictional character Albus Dumbledore, the wise wizard from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. When Harry Potter asked Dumbledore why the Sorting Hat put him in his preferred house, Gryffindor, even though he showed some signs of fitting in house Slytherin, Dumbledore explained, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 

Sometimes individuals wish they had a Sorting Hat to make choices for them. “But this would eliminate agency,” Elder Martino said, “the single strongest factor in determining our destiny. It is our choices that make us who we are — not our birth, not our nationality, not even our parental upbringing. We can and must decide.”

Keeping an eternal perspective means not allowing a sorting hat — or chance or luck or circumstances — to set destiny. “The restored gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a high and holy aspiration, planted in us long before we were born, and revealed in our desires for righteousness and godliness. That goal ought to determine who we want to become,” Elder Martino said.

It is easier to make good choices when they are put into an eternal perspective, he said. Individuals can keep an eternal perspective when making decisions by asking: “Will this decision help me and others draw closer to God? Will it help me and others find greater happiness? Will it help me and others become a better son or daughter of God?”

Second, do not underestimate the enemy.

Understand that the enemy is real and should not be underestimated, Elder Martino told listeners. “This is almost as important as knowing that God is real. The difference is that while God wants us to know Him, Satan would rather stay unknown. He disguises himself in so many ways. He is sly and cunning, and he will do all he can to blind us to our eternal goals.”

Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy, speaks to BYU students during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.
Elder James B. Martino, a General Authority Seventy, speaks to BYU students during the campus devotional on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Credit: Screenshot

Elder Martino then reviewed what Nephi taught about how Satan will deceive in these latter days, beginning with 2 Nephi 28:20, “At that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.”

“Do we see this today?” Elder Martino asked. “So much public and private conversation seems to be filled with rage. … Do not be deceived by the sophistry of the devil. When we attempt to correct a wrong, we should not use other wrongs to make that correction. Inappropriate actions by some should not be answered with violence. We must stand for peace and love, as taught by the Savior. We must bring people to Christ, the only true way to change hearts.”

He then quoted vs. 21, “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.”

“Do not let Satan lull you to sleep. This world needs you. We need your example of goodness. We need your active participation to bring souls to Christ,” he said.

Nephi described another tactic of Satan in vs. 22, Elder Martino said. “Others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none.” 

Often, Satan tries to minimize the consequences of sin and suggest justifications for sin. “We might say, ‘I can’t help myself’ or ‘I was just born this way’ or ‘He made me do it.’ In each case, Satan is attempting to deny our agency — which has been his strategy since the beginning” (see Moses 4:3).

Christ and Satan have one thing in common, they both want individuals to become like them. “However, Satan wants to trick us into it. Christ wants it to be our choice,” Elder Martino said.

Third, repent when you make mistakes.

Repentance is not tragic, the Church leader said. “Sin is tragic. Repentance is the way we overcome the tragedy. It is the way we show that we want to return to God, and it is the way we get there. The decision to repent is a commitment to access the Savior’s power to change,” he said.

Elder James B. Martino speaks during a BYU campus devotional in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.
Elder James B. Martino speaks during a BYU campus devotional in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Credit: Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

When individuals sin, they essentially have two choices: “We can repent, or we can rationalize our actions in an attempt to feel better about our behavior.”

While it is true that all face physical or mental challenges, Elder Martino said, “we cannot let those difficulties define us or determine our choices, especially when it comes to our spirituality. We must see things as they really are, but we must also see ourselves as we really are. We are so much more than our mortal experiences and limitations!”

Satan does not want individuals to believe they change; he wants them to think they are victims. “But we can change,” Elder Martino declared. “Do not give up the fight and allow carnal desires to shape our decisions. The mission of Jesus Christ was to make it possible for us to change. He accomplished His mission. Repentance is an act of faith in Him, faith in His power.”

Elder Martino told listeners that as they make mistakes, “Be mature enough to admit them, smart enough to learn from them, strong enough to correct them, and faithful enough to trust in the Savior’s atoning power to overcome them.”