When the teenaged Nephi, the first Book of Mormon writer whose work we still have, received his first vision, it was in response to his desire to gain a testimony of the vision his father had just seen. While pondering and praying, an angel came to instruct him.
The angel asked young Nephi if he knew the meaning of the tree in his father’s vision. Nephi responded that it represented God’s love, “which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” (1 Nephi 11:22) The angel agreed and added, “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.”
There are millions of articles in magazines and on the Internet, thousands of books, hundreds of television programs devoted to the theme of how to get someone to love you. Do you ever long to have someone who will love you even on the days you’re less than perfect? You already have two such people—God the Father and Jesus Christ.
We are all children of a Heavenly Father and He loves us. He is able to love us because we lived with Him as spirits before we came here—when people talk poetically of babies coming from Heaven, we can know this is literally true. While there, we enjoyed His presence and His teachings, and we learned to make choices. He watched us, learned about us and interacted with us—and loved us as we grew in our ability to choose.
One choice we made was to follow the Savior when we came to earth. Not everyone made this choice. One third of those in Heaven preferred to follow Satan, and those were denied the opportunity to come to earth. Just by being here, we know we made the critical decision at a critical moment in eternity. We chose wisely, and so we came to earth, bringing God’s love with us.
Because memory of that time is largely erased, except for small flashes of remembrance, we operate here on faith. We have to rediscover God’s love for us, and learn to feel it even though He is far away, just as we remember our earthly parents’ love for us when we live across the country or across the world.
We can’t intentionally ignore God and His teachings and expect to feel His love with us all the time. While God certainly does not expect that we’ll be perfect here on earth, He does expect us to give it our very best effort. The Savior, representing God, said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Further down the page, in verse 23, Jesus added, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
So we can see that although God sent us here in love, we who know of Him have a responsibility. If we’re not doing what He asks of us, when we know what He asks, then perhaps we don’t love Him enough. Jesus put a gentle condition on one’s ability to experience the fulness of God’s blessings and the capacity to feel His love: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him.” Again, this isn’t to say we must be perfect or that if we make mistakes, we don’t love God—but we must always be working on becoming better and, ultimately, toward perfection.
Our current prophet, Russell M. Nelson—then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—helped us to understand this concept:
“Does this mean the Lord does not love the sinner? Of course not. Divine love is infinite and universal. The Savior loves both saints and sinners. The Apostle John affirmed, “We love him, because he first loved us.” And Nephi, upon seeing in vision the Lord’s mortal ministry, declared: “The world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.” We know the expansiveness of the Redeemer’s love because He died that all who die might live again.” Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, Feb 2003, 20
Although he speaks of the Savior, we know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are exactly united in their teachings. President Nelson carries this further, to help us understand the eternal consequences of this teaching:
“God declared that His work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Thanks to the Atonement, the gift of immortality is unconditional. The greater gift of eternal life, however, is conditional. In order to qualify, one must deny oneself of ungodliness and honor the ordinances and covenants of the temple. The resplendent bouquet of God’s love—including eternal life—includes blessings for which we must qualify, not entitlements to be expected unworthily. Sinners cannot bend His will to theirs and require Him to bless them in sin. If they desire to enjoy every bloom in His beautiful bouquet, they must repent.”Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, Feb 2003, 20
And so, we can depend on God to love us and to help us through this mortal challenge He has offered us. In return, we must do our part and demonstrate the depth of our love through the depth of our commitment to live His teachings.
This post was originally published in June 2008. Minor changes have been made.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.