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My Declaration of Belief

Explaining why I believe is rather simple and probably not as interesting as what I believe. I think I was born with the gift of faith and all my life I have had a solid belief in God and in life beyond this mortal experience. I had the privilege of being raised in a religious home by devoted parents who were faithful believers in the restored gospel. The seeds of my faith were sown in my earliest days when I was taught to pray and love the scriptures. I have always believed in the Godhead, the great plan of redemption, the latter-day restoration, and the calling of modern-day prophets to lead us. I have always believed that the scriptures are the inspired word of God, as preserved for us by divine intervention. My confidence in these beliefs has been as real and as certain to me as my confidence in other unseen truths, such as the assurance I have always possessed of my parents’ love.

I find it more interesting to discuss what I believe than why I believe. The Savior taught that “by their fruits ye shall know them,” and the results I have witnessed of living gospel principles convince me that God lives. The blessings of living the gospel are so clear and impressive that for me they declare the wisdom of God and the natural order of the world He created. My faith in God has grown with all that I have learned. I would like to illustrate this by describing how one simple doctrine regarding the celestial kingdom has had an enormous impact on my life.

In the fall of 1987, I was asked to teach a family relations class to groups of young married couples. The lesson manual that I used applied the three degrees of glory in the life hereafter, as explained in Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, to customary behaviors in everyday family life. The insights that came from these scriptures had a lasting impact on the quality of my family interactions and I observed noticeable improvements in the marital relationships of many of the couples I taught. Following these simple gospel principles dramatically improved the way couples treated each other and led to greater happiness within their families.

After we die and are resurrected, we will be assigned to one of three degrees of glory—telestial, terrestrial, or celestial—depending on how we lived here. The Apostle Paul equated these three degrees of glory to the glory of the stars, moon, and sun (1 Corinthians 15:40-42).

Telestial behaviors are very selfish behaviors characteristic of “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” (D&C 76:103). At this lowest level of family life, people are motivated by what is fun and pleasurable; they ask such questions as “What’s in it for me?” and “What do I get out of this?”

Terrestrial behaviors are just and fair, consistent with the norm of reciprocity. At this level, people want to be good citizens and they are willing to participate in relationships that are perceived as fair and equal; they are honorable people who want to make and abide by laws that maintain a stable social order. Terrestrial people are described as not being “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79).

President Spencer W. Kimball commented on this verse: “I wish our Latter-day Saints could become more valiant. As I read the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the great vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, I remember that the Lord says to that terrestrial degree of glory may go those who are not valiant in the testimony, which means that many of us who have received baptism by proper authority, many who have received other ordinances, even temple blessings, will not reach the celestial kingdom of glory unless we live the commandments and are valiant” (Conference Reports, April 1951, pp. 104-105).

Celestial behaviors are focused on serving and blessing the lives of others. Rather than focusing on themselves, people who display celestial behaviors esteem others as much as themselves; they treat others as they would like to be treated. These people accept and live the gospel and are true and faithful in all things. “They see as they are seen and know as they are known” (D&C 76:94). Being valiant in the testimony of Jesus requires us to live as He taught us to live. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, love their enemies, avoid angry feelings, and shun lustful thoughts or desires.

Since I planned to teach this lesson to multiple groups, I created a handout that explained the principles on the front side, while the back side described family situations to which the principles could be applied in a class discussion. I thought the episodes I created were quite entertaining and would make an excellent family home evening lesson. One Monday evening as we were finishing our dinner, I told my family we needed to quickly clean the kitchen so we could have a lesson. David, my oldest son, said, “Dad, it has to be really short because I have a lot of homework.” Jennifer said she had so much to do that she didn’t have any time for a lesson.

I told my family that in spite of what my previous record might suggest, tonight I was well prepared. I even pulled my handout off the shelf behind me and said I was prepared to lead them in a stimulating 90-minute discussion.

Jennifer took the handout from me and read the front page aloud in what I thought was a very dramatic tone of voice. Nathan then read the back side in a way that seemed to combine sarcasm and theatrics. I listened to their renditions with growing resentment and finally decided to share my disappointment with them. I explained how I thought these were valuable principles that would greatly bless our family if we learned to apply them. They said they had learned the principles and did not need any more discussion. I decided to quiz them. To my surprise, they answered all my questions correctly, and I felt even more irritated.

I thought my efforts to teach my family had been a colossal failure. However, when the children began to label each other’s behaviors, I realized that my teaching was not all in vain. For instance, one day after school one of my sons ate the remainder of a cake and his sister told him, “That was certainly very telestial of you to eat the rest of the cake all by yourself.” He replied, “Well, it is certainly very terrestrial of you to point it out to the rest of the family.”

We had a dishwashing routine in our home where I did the dishes on Monday nights and the four children were assigned the other four days of the week. This routine seemed to be working quite well, and everyone completed their assignments and accepted it as fair. But one of the children noted that even though it required a certain degree of personal sacrifice and commitment from all of us, it was still only a terrestrial behavior.

Realizing that she was right, I decided to offer to help. After dinner each night I would announce to the child responsible for cleaning the kitchen “I’m willing to help you if you’d like. It’s your job, but I’m willing to do whatever you ask me to do.” I was almost always asked to wash the pots and pans and for a long time I thought I would spend the rest of my life with my hands in dishwater. I think all of my family would agree that for a period of time I did an enormous amount of dishwashing. But I also think my helping contributed to a tremendous improvement in our family. We treated each other better and there was much more happiness and harmony in our home.

As I analyzed my conduct I decided that in my better days my behaviors typically reached only a terrestrial level; I frequently fell short in my goal to act celestially. But, as I tried to show more celestial behaviors, I saw a noticeable improvement in our home.

One memorable Thursday night when we were in the middle of dinner, Jennifer stood up and began bustling about in the kitchen. Jill, who was only 13 years old at the time, sensed Jen’s anxiety and knew that Jen was anxious to leave to play a volleyball game. Jill turned to Jen and said, “Jen, I know you don’t want to be late for your volleyball game. So, why don’t I do your dishes tonight and you can do mine tomorrow night?” Jennifer turned to Jill and said in a rather dramatic voice, “Thank you, thank you, Jill. That is so celestial of you.”

After Jen left, there was a brief, quiet pause and then Jill said, “That wasn’t really celestial of me after all.” My wife, Marilyn, asked Jill to explain her comment and Jill said, “If I was really celestial, I would have offered to do her dishes tonight without asking her to do mine tomorrow.” I was impressed that a 13 year-old would have the sensitivity to understand these principles and apply them. The quality of family life in our home has been a living testimony to the truths of these simple doctrines from Section 76: telestial behaviors create unhappiness and misery, while celestial behaviors create joy, peace, and happy family interactions.

The attributes of celestial, terrestrial, and telestial people are suggested in Section 76 and amplified elsewhere in the scriptures. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus explains the principles of celestial living and commands us to live them rather than the terrestrial-level Law of Moses. Jesus probably taught these central doctrines week after week as He visited the various synagogues in Galilee as well as when He visited the people in America after his resurrection (3 Nephi 12-14). Clearly, this life is the time for us to develop celestial behaviors (Alma 34:34). Other scriptures (e.g., D&C 88:28-32) explain that the degree of glory to which we will eventually be resurrected will depend on the kind of character we acquire here; if we desire a celestial glory in the next life, we need to acquire celestial habits in this life.

The principles of celestial living are not limited to just family interactions. It is interesting to examine the differences between celestial, terrestrial, and telestial behaviors and apply them to other aspects of living, such as leadership, communication, group dynamics, and sexual intimacy. These great insights have produced valuable consequences – delicious fruit – in both organizational and family settings.

I have witnessed great blessings that have come from living other commandments also. I know that the “windows of heaven” (Malachi 3:10) have been opened to my family as a result of paying tithing. I know that living the word of wisdom has helped me “run and not be weary and walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20). As I have counseled youth, I have seen how living a chaste and virtuous life creates happiness, self-confidence, and trust. I know why we are told to “stand in holy places” (D&C 87:8) and “shake at the very appearance of sin” (2 Nephi 4:31).

I have a testimony from my own experience about the importance of knowing and obeying God’s commandments. Long before we stand before the judgment bar of God, we will experience the consequences of living God’s commandments. Righteousness brings joy and happiness, while the “bondage of sin” produces pain and misery.

When asked why I believe in God, I often say it is because I choose to believe; it is a conscious choice. What I see, what I learn, and what I feel all convince me that what I believe is true; and my confidence grows as I continue to observe, discover, and feel. Although my training has taught me to be skeptical, and although I have had many conversations that have challenged my beliefs, and although I have had puzzling questions that were not immediately answered, at the end of the day I choose to believe because believing is the most reasonable and sensible choice. For me, believing has been both a rational decision and a spiritual confirmation that has been very real albeit difficult to describe.

I believe God communicates with us in a variety of ways and we need to recognize and be grateful for inspired messages. When Joseph Smith prayed in the sacred grove, he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that this marvelous experience actually occurred and from it we learn much about the attributes and reality of God. Some messages from God have been communicated by heavenly messengers, such as Moroni, Gabriel, Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist. These marvelous visitations, which must have been very powerful and persuasive, were reserved for special purposes. Other spiritual experiences are much more subtle, but no less real.

Some people have heard the voice of God telling them what to do. On three occasions during the last few months of my father’s life, he told me about his experience of hearing the voice of God. This event is recorded in his life history; but I think he wanted me to remember it. It occurred in 1938 while he was serving as a missionary in the Central States Mission. As a district president, he was travelling on a bus to visit the missionaries in Bellville, Illinois, when he had a strong impression to visit the elders in Hannibal, Missouri. He read the weekly letters of the Hannibal missionaries and concluded that there was no reason to change his travel plans.

When he was waiting to board another bus in St. Louis, however, he heard a voice tell him, “Elder Cherrington, go to Hannibal.” He told me that the voice he heard was just as audible and clear to him as was my voice as we were visiting. Consequently, he exchanged his bus ticket for a train ticket to Hannibal, and during the three-hour train ride he wondered why he was being sent to Hannibal and what he would do when he arrived.

When he interviewed the Hannibal missionaries, he learned about a serious problem with one of the missionaries. By intervening in this problem, my father protected the reputation of the missionary program in a state where many people still harbored ill-will toward the church and where an earlier extermination order had not been rescinded.

I believe in inspired dreams. Most of my dreams would be described as fleeting thoughts or brief fantasies, but on one occasion I had what I believe was an inspired dream that protected me from harm. I dreamed that I was approaching an intersection in our neighborhood in Champaign, Illinois, and my brakes failed to stop my car. I was awakened at the point of impact when I was struck by another car. The dream was so vivid that it took me a while to go back to sleep. In my dream, the intersection looked somewhat familiar, but a little unusual; and there was a light snow falling.

Later that afternoon, I had to do an errand on my way home from work which caused me to take a different route into our neighborhood. As I entered our neighborhood there was a brief snow storm, which I thought was unusual for that early in the fall. The falling snow reminded me of my dream and as I looked ahead, I recognized the intersection I had seen in my dream. Immediately, I decided to check my brakes and was surprised to discover that I had no brakes even though they worked well two minutes before. By shifting into lower gears and using the curb to slow my progress I was able to avoid a string of cars that passed through the intersection. I offered a prayer of thanks for what I have always believed was an inspired warning.

I believe that my life has been blessed by inspired thoughts and feelings that have helped me in my responsibilities as a father in the home, in church assignments, and also in my professional work. I am grateful for the inspiration that helped me know that my son was becoming a diabetic even though he had not yet manifested any symptoms. For a couple of days I was troubled by a dark feeling that something was wrong but I didn’t know what. Finally, I asked my wife to take our oldest son to be checked and learned that he was in the early stages of diabetes. I am grateful for the inspiration I received while counseling ward members as a bishop. I remember times when I was totally unsure what to say; I pleaded for help and received divine inspiration.

I believe I could have received much more inspiration in my life if I would have only asked for it and done more to prepare for it. Too often in my arrogance and pride I failed to recognize the true source of insights and ideas. In hindsight, I realize that I have been the recipient of divine inspiration much more frequently than I appreciated at the time.

I am grateful for inspired feelings and answers to prayers. These experiences are not easy to describe, but they are no less real to me. As I study the Book of Mormon, I am firmly convinced that it is the word of God. My testimony of the Book of Mormon comes not only from studying what it says but equally from knowing how it came to be. As I study early church history, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.

As I read the scriptures, I know that God lives and that I am a son of a loving Father in Heaven. I am grateful for the scriptures that teach us about God’s dealings with men and about the life and atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Reading the scriptures gives me feelings of peace and joy, which I believe are manifestations of the Holy Ghost. I am confident that one day we will all stand before God to account for what we have done in this life. To the nonbelievers I suspect God will say much like I say to my failing students, “Did you read the text?” With Moroni, I promise that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon with a sincere heart and real intent will know that it is the word of God.

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David Jack Cherrington is a Professor of Organizational Leadership and Strategy in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University.

He graduated from Preston High School in Preston, Idaho, and served a two-year LDS mission to New York and New Jersey. He attended Utah State University and Brigham Young University, where he received a bachelor of science in 1966 with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics. He also attended Indiana University where he received an MBA and a doctoral degree in business administration (DBA) in 1970.

He taught at the University of Illinois in Champaign for four years before transferring to BYU in 1973. He also taught at the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1977 and BYU-Hawaii Campus in 1980. He is a member of the Society of Human Resource Management and the Academy of Management. He has served as President of the Personnel Association of Central Utah and as the National Director of Codification and Research for the Human Resource Certification Institute. He is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and served from 1989 to 1995 as a member of the national HRCI board of directors.

Professor Cherrington has written three textbooks with study guides and instructors’ manuals accompanying them, including The Management of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior. He is also the author of two other books (Rearing Responsible Children and The Work Ethic: Working Values and Values that Work), and the coauthor of Moral Leadership and Ethical Decision Making and three reference books, including the Human Resource Certification Self-Study Program (6 Units), two computerized training courses on ethics, and three independent study courses available on the Internet (Human Resource Management, Organizational Behavior, and Business Ethics). He has also authored or coauthored about fifty articles in professional journals and magazines.

He was a member of an inter-disciplinary research team studying the causes of fraud and white-collar crime from 1978 to 1980 and has been active since then in studying problems of dishonesty. His research has included extensive data analysis from questionnaires, qualitative research from interviews of convicts, and seminars with students and executives. In 1986 he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. Professor Cherrington is married to Marilyn Daines Cherrington and they are the parents of four children, all married, and fifteen grandchildren.

Posted June 2011