He wasn't a professor of philosophy, but he was a very philosophical professor.
He held up an apple seed and asked our class:
"How many apples are inside this seed?"
The students put on their thinking caps.
If you plant the seed, you get a tree that will produce, oh, 200 apples.
But that's for just one year.
In five years it will produce a thousand apples. And if the seeds of any of those apples get planted and turn into trees, how many is that? A million apples? Ten million?
We finally realized, hypothetically, there is an infinite number of apples inside of every seed.
That old question came to mind last Sunday as I watched the priesthood boys pass the sacrament.
The scriptures say Jesus performed a miracle when he took seven loaves of bread and fed 5,000 people.
But last Sunday morning, I realized that miracle with bread paled in comparison to another he performed.
He once took one loaf of bread and used it to feed millions.
Each Sunday in our ward, we use about 10 slices of bread to prepare the sacrament.
Figure that as half-a-loaf.
Over a year our ward goes through 25 loaves of bread.
And that's for just 140 people.
For the whole church, that adds up a quarter of a million sacrament loaves a year.
And over 10 years? Twenty years? One hundred?
That's when I realized what a true miracle looked like.
When Jesus took one loaf of bread at the Last Supper, he multiplied it until, hypothetically, it was enough bread to feed everybody, everywhere, forever.
For in the realm of the spirit, the only number that ever matters is infinity.
The only time that counts is eternity.
The only measurement worth measuring is unmeasurable.
Everything else comes up short.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell used to speak about the "terrible arithmetic of the Atonement."4 comments on this story
Because of the suffering, that arithmetic may indeed be terrible — but the answer to the math problem is simple.
The answer always comes out "infinity." Every time.
Like the number of Abraham's descendants.
Like the number of times we should forgive each other.
In short, everything in life that matters most has the same answer as the answer to the number of apples in a seed.
The answer is "never-ending."
No matter how you slice it.
Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org