Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.
Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined. We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same. The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort. In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything. Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy. But easy is not the same as simple.
The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort. As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple. Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend. Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive. Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.
The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor. All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition. They indicate a lack of substance. The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context. It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.
Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.
So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.
- Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
- Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
- Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
- Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
- Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).
This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?
Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.
Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.
- Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
- Does God care? Yes.
- Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
- Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
- Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)
There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.
Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.
I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.
I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.
And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.
Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.
So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.
I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.
[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]
Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.
On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.
Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.
Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.
Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.
Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…
Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.
Keep it Simple
So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).
So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).
How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.