As Alma prepared to preach the gospel to the Zoramites, a group of people who “were perverting the ways of the Lord” and who had separated themselves from Alma’s people (Alma 31:1-2), he began by praying that he and his missionary companions would have success:
Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.Alma 31:35
As concerned as he was about their current behavior, he began with a recognition of their inherent value as sons and daughters of God.
When the Lord called on Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, two of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon to preach the gospel, He began with the same reminder:
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him….
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!Doctrine and Covenants 18:10-11, 13
As I’ve thought about these two scriptures this week, I’ve been struck by a thought: the worth of a soul is linked with the principles of repentance. In other words, we are valuable, not so much because of who we are right now, but because of who we can become.
On one occasion, President Thomas S. Monson visited a group of church members with Paul C. Child, a member of the Priesthood Welfare Committee. Brother Child quoted the passage above about the worth of souls and then asked someone in the congregation, “What is the worth of a soul?” The individual hesitated and pondered for a moment before replying, “The worth of a soul is its capacity to become as God.” Brother Child turned to President Monson and said, “A most profound reply” (“Our Sacred Priesthood Trust,” General Conference, April 2006).
Clinton T. Duffy served as warden of San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco, California from 1940 through 1952. During his tenure, he introduced numerous reforms to improve prison life, including eliminating corporal punishment, hiring a dietitian to improve the quality of cafeteria food, implementing a vocational training program, and establishing the first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous at the prison. Unlike prior wardens, he was known for walking around the prison yard without a guard or even a weapon to interact with the inmates. (See “Clinton Duffy” at crimemuseum.org and “Clinton T. Duffy, Ex-Warden of San Quentin, Is Dead at 84,” New York Times, 14 October 1982.)
On one occasion, someone criticized Warden Duffy for his efforts, saying, “You should know that leopards don’t change their spots.” The warden replied, “You should know that I don’t work with leopards. I work with men, and men change every day.” (Bill Sands, The Seventh Step (1967), page 9, quoted in Thomas S. Monson, “See Others as They May Become,” General Conference, October 2012).
Today I will remember that my worth—and the worth of all of God’s children—is not a function of my current level of development. I will see myself as a person who can change, who can grow, and who can improve. I will remember that we are all of infinite worth because, with God’s help, we all have infinite potential.