I do not know if it is an accident of history, or if there was divine intervention involved, but have you noticed that the words “son” and “sun” are homophones? For Christians that involves a fun word play. We believe that Christ is the Son of God and also that He is our light, much like the sun is our light.
In the New Testament, Jesus makes it very clear that He is more than a carpenter and more than an itinerant Jewish gadfly:
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
In the Book of Mormon, which members of the Mormon Church believe to be scripture, this teaching is amplified. After His resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to the ancient inhabitants of America and taught them His gospel. There He reaffirmed His role as the light of the world:
“Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.” (3 Nephi 15:9)
Teachers repeat things for emphasis. For example, President Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth president of the Mormon Church confirmed Christ’s teachings about being light and being an example.
In 1994, shortly after becoming president of the church, he said:
“Several months ago an invitation was given to members of the Church as we strive to keep the commandments of God and receive the full measure of his blessings. The invitation was for all members of the Church to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, emulating the love and hope and compassion he displayed.”
“We were asked to treat each other with more kindness, more courtesy, more humility and patience and forgiveness. We do have high expectations of one another, and all can improve. Our world cries out for more disciplined living of the commandments of God. But the way we are to encourage that, as the Lord told the Prophet Joseph in the wintry depths of Liberty Jail, is “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; … without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41–42). We may feast at the table laid before us in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. …”
“The great standard! The only sure way! The light and the life of the world! …”
“Let us follow the Son of God in all ways and in all walks of life. Let us make him our exemplar and our guide. We should at every opportunity ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” and then be more courageous to act upon the answer. We must follow Christ, in the best sense of that word. We must be about his work as he was about his Father’s. We should try to be like him, even as the Primary children sing, “Try, try, try.” To the extent that our mortal powers permit, we should make every effort to become like Christ—the one perfect and sinless example this world has ever seen. …”
“We must know Christ better than we know him; we must remember him more often than we remember him; we must serve him more valiantly than we serve him. Then will we drink water springing up unto eternal life and will eat the bread of life.”
“What manner of men and women ought we to be? Even as he is.” (Howard W. Hunter, “He Invites Us to Follow Him,” Ensign, Sep 1994, 2)
A revelation from Joseph Smith, the first president of the Mormon Church, added to our understanding:
“For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.” (D&C 88:40)
I appreciate Joseph Smith’s teachings on light. He takes this small sentence from Jesus Christ, and then expounds it in a way that both clarifies and illuminates the point being made. Light is not an isolated attribute, but part of a constellation of characteristics. Intelligence, wisdom, truth, virtue, light, mercy, justice, judgment—all of these are God’s attributes. Therefore the need to be our attributes, too.
By taking all of these teachings together—from Christ, Joseph Smith, and Howard W. Hunter— we see that light is not merely atomic quantum activity. Light is a way of life. It touches upon all we do.
Christ is the light, or the example for us. Since we are supposed to follow Him, we are also supposed to be lights:
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Once again the Book of Mormon adds to this teaching:
“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.” (3 Nephi 18:24)
This clarifies the question, “If we are to be examples, what are we to exemplify?” The answer is simply “Christ.”
We can read about Christ in the Bible. Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith also established a church that is centered in Christ. I think that is why understanding Joseph Smith as a witness of Christ is so key. If Christ is the center of all we do, then Christ must be the center of what Joseph Smith did, and Christ must be the center of what His church does nowadays.
And I am glad that He is.