5 Quotes Plus Discussion-Promoting Questions
See also Teaching Helps
Elder Renlund tackles one of the oldest, yet most common questions of mankind. If there is a God, how could such terrible things happen? We’ve all heard variations of that question and maybe have asked it ourselves. Elder Renlund walks us through the answer and the principles he outlines make a great lesson.
If there are any problems with gossip or ill will in your ward or branch – I would make sure you save time for quote #4.
His complete talk can be found here. Unless you opt to spend a lot of time on a particular quote, try to pick around 2 questions per quote. Choose the questions which resonate the most with you and which you feel will make a meaningful discussion for your group of personalities. These highlights and questions fit right in with Lesson Template 1 or Template 2. You can also check out several other General Conference Talks with 5 Highlights.
All quotes by Dale G. Renlund and in blue (unless otherwise noted).
Quote #1 (Rwanda)
This story is a perfect intro to the topic. However, if you feel you have a lot of material to cover, it’s also a quote that could be skipped. All of these quotes are made to mix and match however you feel works best for you and your group.
In 1994, a genocide took place in the East African country of Rwanda that was partly due to deep-seated tribal tensions. Estimates are that more than half a million people were killed. Remarkably, the Rwandan people have in large part reconciled, but these events continue to reverberate.
A decade ago, while visiting Rwanda, my wife and I struck up a conversation with another passenger at the Kigali airport. He lamented the unfairness of the genocide and poignantly asked, “If there were a God, wouldn’t He have done something about it?” For this man—and for many of us—suffering and brutal unfairness can seem incompatible with the reality of a kind, loving Heavenly Father. Yet He is real, He is kind, and He loves each of His children perfectly. This dichotomy is as old as mankind and cannot be explained in a simple sound bite or on a bumper sticker.
Possible questions: Has anyone ever asked you a similar question? Why is there suffering in this world? Can righteous people have traumatic experiences?
Quote #2 (unfairness)
Elder Renlund uses real-life analogies to illustrate the different types of unfairness we may encounter. This one is self-imposed unfairness and reminds me a lot of Elder Christofferson’s tennis analogy from the same General Conference. I’ll include that awesome quote at the end for reference.
Consider a family in which each child received a weekly monetary allowance for doing common household chores. One son, John, purchased candy; one daughter, Anna, saved her money. Eventually, Anna bought herself a bicycle. John thought it was totally unfair that Anna got a bike when he did not. But John’s choices created the inequality, not parental actions. Anna’s decision to forgo the immediate gratification of eating candy did not impose any unfairness on John, because he had the same opportunity as his sister.
Our decisions can likewise yield long-term advantages or disadvantages. As the Lord revealed, “If a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” When others receive benefits because of their diligent choices, we cannot rightly conclude that we have been treated unfairly when we have had the same opportunity.
If after reading this quote, you have the impulse to send it to a few personalities – great minds think alike! Too often, I see the end results of self-imposed poor choices passed off as unfairness or victimhood. Consider Elder Christofferson’s quote:
Following the principles and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ day by day is the happiest and most satisfying course in life. For one thing, a person avoids a great many problems and regrets. Let me use a sports analogy. In tennis, there is something called unforced errors. These are things such as hitting a playable ball into the net or double-faulting when serving. Unforced errors are considered the result of a player’s blunder rather than being caused by the opponent’s skill.
Too often our problems or challenges are self-inflicted, the result of poor choices, or, we could say, the result of “unforced errors.” When we are diligently pursuing the covenant path, we quite naturally avoid many “unforced errors.” We sidestep the various forms of addiction. We do not fall into the ditch of dishonest conduct. We cross over the abyss of immorality and infidelity. We bypass the people and things that, even if popular, would jeopardize our physical and spiritual well-being. We avoid the choices that harm or disadvantage others and instead acquire the habits of self-discipline and service.
Possible questions: Have you ever witnessed someone blaming the outcome of their own choices as some kind of unfairness or victimhood? Do we sometimes do that to ourselves without realizing it? Does anyone have a personal example from their own life to share? How can we avoid feeling like victims or enabling others to be victims? (Neal A. Maxwell once said, “the question is not, ‘why me, Lord?’ but ‘what now, Lord?’ – one shuts the soul down and the other opens up the mind and soul to the inspiration and power of many possibilities). What unforced error could you stop doing and what could you start doing?
Quote #3 (different needs & different tender mercies)
This example of unfairness is simple and yet profound.
Another example of unfairness stems from a situation my wife, Ruth, encountered as a child. One day Ruth learned that her mother was taking a younger sister, Merla, to buy new shoes. Ruth complained, “Mom, it’s so unfair! Merla got the last new pair of shoes.”
Ruth’s mother asked, “Ruth, do your shoes fit?”
Ruth replied, “Well, yes.”
Ruth’s mother then said, “Merla’s shoes no longer fit.”
Ruth agreed that every child in the family should have shoes that fit. Although Ruth would have liked new shoes, her perception of being treated unfairly dissipated when she saw the circumstances through her mother’s eyes.
Everyone’s combination of blessings and tender mercies from the Lord is unique. In the same way a mother knew which child needed shoes, God is keenly interested in our lives and bestows what is needed most for our eternal good. Perhaps, sometimes, we are quick to notice the blessings of others, and forget to count our own.
Possible activity: Hand out paper and pens to each group member. Play music or simply have silence for 2 minutes. Instruct them to write down at least 3 personal blessings or tender mercies they have noticed recently. Ask for volunteers to share something they wrote. Ask if anyone realized a blessing during the lesson today that they might not have thought much about or stopped to give thanks for? (this morning, I realized how much my husband blesses my life almost every day and I took time to thank him – do we do that enough?)
Possible questions: How might we apply this story to our own lives? Have you ever thought someone was better off than you and then found out their challenges were greater? Do we trust God to be balanced and fair and “no respecter of persons” (all are alike and equal unto God)? Is there a blessing in your life that took you a while to recognize? There are tender mercies bestowed on our lives every day – can you name one (or use “possible activity” above)?
Quote #4 (stonecatchers)
Elder Dale G. Renlund shares a story about a civil rights lawyer – and the conclusion is an essential ingredient for any Zion-worthy ward or branch. There’s a lot we can do to reverse unfairness:
Some years ago, Mr. Stevenson defended a man who had been falsely accused of murder and was condemned to die. Mr. Stevenson asked the man’s local Christian church for support, even though the man was not active in his church and was disparaged in the community due to a widely known extramarital affair.
To focus the congregation on what really mattered, Mr. Stevenson spoke to them about the woman accused of adultery who was brought to Jesus. The accusers wanted to stone her to death, but Jesus said, “He that is without sin … , let him first cast a stone at her.” The woman’s accusers withdrew. Jesus did not condemn the woman but charged her to sin no more.
After recounting this episode, Mr. Stevenson observed that self-righteousness, fear, and anger have caused even Christians to hurl stones at people who stumble. He then said, “We can’t simply watch that happen,” and he encouraged the congregants to become “stonecatchers.” Brothers and sisters, not throwing stones is the first step in treating others with compassion. The second step is to try to catch stones thrown by others.
Those last two sentences are ones a lot of us need to hear. Every ward or branch has stone-throwers. It is as common of a character trait as a particular color of eyes like brown or blue. While stone-throwers are probably here to stay until the millennium – we do not have to be one, entertain one, or let one dominate our ward/branch culture. A social survival technique is to go along with the stone-throwing or perhaps look the other way so you don’t become the next target. Yet, one cannot get close to the Savior without becoming a stone catcher. That’s closely related to the art of being a peacemaker.
Possible questions: By a show of hands, have you ever been in a situation where someone was throwing stones and it made you uncomfortable? (yes or no question only – don’t let it become a gripe session) What are some things we can do when we find ourselves in that situation? Does it take courage to be a stone catcher? Has anyone ever caught a stone for you? How did you feel?
Quote #5 (powerful promise)
One of the Universe’s biggest and most wonderful mysteries is how unfairness is a means to an upgraded, more empowered version of yourself. Elder Renlund’s quote, “rather than becoming bitter, let Him help you become better.” is a true and eternal principle
Do not let unfairness harden you or corrode your faith in God. Instead, ask God for help. Increase your appreciation for and reliance on the Savior. Rather than becoming bitter, let Him help you become better. Allow Him to help you persevere, to let your afflictions be “swallowed up in the joy of Christ.” Join Him in His mission “to heal the brokenhearted,” strive to mitigate unfairness, and become a stonecatcher.
I testify that the Savior lives. He understands unfairness. The marks in the palms of His hands continually remind Him of you and your circumstances. He ministers to you in all your distress. For those who come unto Him, a crown of beauty will replace the ashes of mourning; joy and gladness will replace grief and sorrow; appreciation and celebration will replace discouragement and despair. Your faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will be rewarded more than you can imagine. All unfairness—especially infuriating unfairness—will be consecrated for your gain. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Huge amen to this one sentence: “All unfairness—especially infuriating unfairness—will be consecrated for your gain.” I have a personal, powerful testimony that when doors are closed to me, especially manmade doors – if I bear with patience and faith, the Lord opens windows far bigger and greater than the shut doors. It’s taken me a lifetime to get that patient, faithful response down – but it works wonders. Now I pray for a larger heart and greater understanding when faced with disappointing behavior by others.
Possible closing statement: Share your personal feelings about this quote and thank everyone for their wonderful participation and insights. Be sure to express some sentiments about the Savior and this apostle’s powerful advice.
Thank you for prepping yourself for this lesson! It’s a wonderful message and you were asked to lead this discussion for a reason. Trust that the Spirit wants to connect with you and fave faith in what you feel drawn to teach. Life is unfair, and the world is in angry chaos. We all need the calming and strengthening Elder Renlund gifted us this last General Conference.