The healing power of forgiveness, caution on divorce and the continued opportunity for repentance were among the varied topics addressed during the final day of the 177th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Gordon B. Hinckley provided his closing counsel Sunday afternoon in the Conference Center: "May there be peace and harmony in your homes. Husbands, love and treasure your wives. They are your most precious possessions. Wives, encourage and pray for your husbands. They need all the help they can get. Parents, treat your children with great kindness. They are the coming generation who will bring honor to your name."

President Hinckley said he hoped the conference would "inspire and cause all who heard it to stand a little taller and be a little better."

Sunday morning, he reflected once again on his unusually long life, both in serious and light references.

"In my 49 years as a general authority, I have spoken well over 200 times in general conference," he said. "I am now in my 97th year. The wind is blowing, and I feel like the last leaf on the tree."

He also corrected exaggerations of his declining health.

"Actually my health is quite good, despite all the rumors to the contrary," he reported. "Skillful doctors and nurses keep me on the right track. Some of you may go before I do."

President Hinckley then delivered a sermon on gospel truths that Latter-day Saints embrace.

President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke Sunday morning on "the healing power of forgiveness."

In an emotional address, he recounted stories involving accidents and crimes that ultimately included significant examples of forgiveness. He lauded the rapid forgiveness from the Amish community in Pennsylvania for the gunman who killed five young girls last fall — and their outreach to the gunman's family.

He also recounted the stories of two northern Utah families devastated by sudden tragedy who forgave those who harmed them.

"If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well-being," he said, adding the Lord requires his people "to forgive all men."

"Let us remember that we need to forgive to be forgiven."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke clearly on the subject of divorce. "This is a sensitive subject because it evokes such strong emotions from persons it has touched in different ways."

Elder Oaks stressed, "I speak out of concern, but with hope," noting that divorce touches most families in the church in one way or another.

He said many good members of the church have been divorced — many of whom are innocent victims "whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period." Such members "have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce."

"When a marriage is dead and beyond hope of resuscitation, it is needful to have a means to end it," he said.

Still, he cautioned that those considering divorce must look first at reformation, rather than separation. "Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness," he said, adding those with "serious marriage problems should see their bishop. As the Lord's judge, he will give counsel and perhaps even discipline that will lead toward healing."

However, "Bishops do not counsel members to divorce, but they can help members with the consequences of their decisions," he said.

Elder Oaks said a wise bishop once made three observations of those who eventually divorced: (1) That universally they all believed divorce was not a good thing but insisted their situation was different; (2) That universally the focus was on the fault of their spouse and not their own behavior. Communication had also withered; (3) That universally they looked back, unwilling to leave the baggage of their behavior on the roadside and move on.

"Even those who think their spouse is entirely to blame should not act hastily," Elder Oaks said.

He also spoke briefly to those contemplating marriage.

"The best way to avoid divorce from an unfaithful, abusive or unsupportive spouse is to avoid marriage to such a person. If you wish to marry, inquire well."

Elder Oaks stressed, too, that a good marriage "does not require a perfect man or a perfect woman. It only requires a man and a woman committed to strive together toward perfection."

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve examined what he called the miracle of the Holy Bible and emphasized the church's belief in it.

He said Latter-day Saints believe that "'all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.' We love the Bible and other scriptures. That may be surprising to some who may not be aware of our belief in the Bible as the revealed word of God," Elder Ballard said.

He also had a caution for young church members: "You young people, especially, do not discount or devalue the Holy Bible. It is the sacred, holy record of our Lord's life."

Other Sunday addresses expounded basic Latter-day Saint doctrine and history.

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve detailed some of the faith's early history.

"Our message is unique," he said. " We declare to the world that the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the Earth. ... It is the final time, before the coming of Jesus Christ to rule and reign over the Earth."

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, formerly an airline captain in his native Germany, spoke about an aviation principle known as "the point of safe return," a decisive point in a flight at which the pilot must determine if he has enough fuel to return to the safety of the home field. In some instances, he said, it is referred to as "the point of no return."

No such principle applies in the case of repentance, said Elder Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve. The Lord has "made a perfect atonement for mankind" that includes the blessing of repentance at any time. "If we have taken the wrong course, the atonement ... can give us the assurance that sin is not a point of no return. A safe return is possible if we will follow God's plan for our salvation."

Some believe that their sins have not been forgiven because they can still remember them, Elder Uchtdorf said. Remembering transgressions may help an individual to avoid making the same mistakes. The memories will soften over time as part of the sanctification process. A feeling of peace is the most common evidence that repentance has been accepted by the Lord.

Echoing those sentiments, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve said that repentance has been a part of the gospel plan from the beginning and is one of the oft-recurring themes of scripture.

"To repent fully is to convert completely to the Lord Jesus Christ and his holy work. ... The fruits of repentance are sweet. Repentant converts find that the truths of the restored gospel govern their thoughts and deeds, shape their habits and forge their character. "

Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve also touched on the theme, urging members not to procrastinate — either the need for repentance or the call to do good works. "Complacency is a danger for us all." There is never a time to suppose one has done enough and can now rest, or to be paralyzed into inaction by a feeling that there is so much to do one doesn't know where to start.




Contributing: Twila Van Leer


E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com