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“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

One of my goals is to study things carefully and find the truth. Many times what is perceived as true is influenced more by popular opinion rather than by factual information. To illustrate, many years ago people believed that the earth was flat. Their belief did not alter the truth about the shape of the earth but hindered progress. Another example is when I was growing up in North Dakota. Smoking cigarettes was common and many believed that smoking was not harmful. Their lack of knowledge did not alter the deadly consequences faced by those who smoked.

It takes much effort, observation, time, and study to learn the truth. Ignorance limits our ability to make good decisions and to be truly free, whether studying criminology, marriage, or spiritual principles. However ugly or painful the truth may be, we will only be free as we learn and apply the truth.

I am a sociologist who studies crime, drug use, and family relationships. My goal is to understand human behavior as it actually exists—why people become involved in drug use and crime, how it impacts their lives, and how some people desist from crime while others do not. Throughout the years I have spent much time thinking about and studying human behavior. I have interviewed many prisoners to understand better their perspectives and situations. It has been sobering to see the consequences of crime and drug abuse for individuals and families. I have also studied behavioral change—how some people learn to desist from criminal behavior and drug use while others do not. Recent research indicates the importance of support from others and of hope and spirituality in learning to desist from drug use and crime.

I ache as I think of the difficult and wretched situations some people experience such as theft, hunger, assault, rape, and the death of a loved one. In spite of the pain and suffering in the world, I know there is hope. I think of a story I heard about a boy who was walking along the seashore and saw hundreds of starfish that had been left on the beach as the tide receded. Any starfish that was not able to get back into the ocean would dry up and die. The boy was walking along the beach picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. A man came walking along the beach and watched the boy throwing the starfish back into the ocean. Seeing the vast number of starfish and the small number that the boy would be able to save, he told the boy that the task was hopeless and that he might as well give up. The boy picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and said, “It is not hopeless for that one.”

Because of agency, many face difficult situations and some are the victims of horrible crimes. Someday all who commit crimes against others will stand accountable before God, while God and Christ will comfort and heal the innocent victims.

There are things we all can do to help alleviate the suffering around us. I think of a poem I read long ago:

I am only one
but I am one.
I can’t do everything
but I can do something.

Through my own experience, I have discovered that the principles of Jesus Christ are true and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church. It was organized to support us, to help us learn correct principles, and to enable us to become free, competent, and happy. Much hurt, pain, and evil exists because people do not live the principles given by Jesus Christ.

I know that achieving peace and happiness in this world will require people to live the principles espoused by Jesus Christ. As we live His principles, we can learn how to face and learn much from our trials. His commandments do not limit us but help us become free. God has given us a living prophet to provide guidance, advice, hope, and inspiration. We have our agency to accept or reject His counsel but we must accept the consequences of our choices.

I have had a personal witness from God that these principles are true. My spiritual experiences are as real as anything I have experienced in my life. My studies of sociology have confirmed my belief in our Savior, Jesus Christ. As I have learned to live these principles, I have gained increased freedom.

I believe that God loves every person on this earth and that He will answer the prayers of every person who sincerely seeks Him. It may take years, the answers may come in ways that are unexpected, and the answers may not be what one expects or desires, but I testify that God does answer prayers.

When Christ visited the Americas, he said: “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens and ye would not” (3 Nephi 10:5). Christ gives us our agency and will force no one to come to Him. However, His arms are open and, if we truly seek Him, He will help us.

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Stephen J. Bahr is Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. from Washington State University. He previously taught at the University of Texas at Austin and was a professional fellow at the Bush Institute for Child and Family Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has served as Chair of the Department of Sociology at BYU and as an associate dean in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. Recent research and teaching have focused on prisoner reentry, adolescent drinking and drug use, and the evaluation of programs to help juvenile and adult offenders desist from drug use and crime.

Posted August 2010