How often have you thought you wanted something only to find that after having it, it didn’t bring with it the impact or delight you had expected? Yet, somehow, prior to possessing the thing, you were convinced, even certain, that it was going to delight you far beyond the present moment and affect all the threads of your life. Then, it simply fell short. So, you have to ask yourself, why did you think that to begin with? How come you didn’t know that it would fall short; that it would fail you?
How often do people pursue a certain college degree and a specific career, only to find shortly in that they hate what they do and money isn’t a sufficient draw. They’d rather do what they love for a far lesser paycheck than do what they hate for the big bucks. Why did they go into the original degree and career path in the first place? Why did they waste all that time and money in the wrong path? Because they thought that was what they wanted. It took experience for them to realize it wasn’t.
I could make an endless list of scenarios where our expectations about ourselves and life continually throw us for a loop. But, it all boils down to the main point of this blog. And that is this…
There comes a time in our lives when we start to realize, a little at a time, that many of the things we supposed about ourselves aren’t actually true. We thought we loved being the life of the party only to realize now that in all actuality, it has always worn us out. We thought we hated sappy romance novels only to realize after finally buckling down and reading one recommended by a friend, that we like them better than the crime thrillers we have read for years. Or, perhaps we thought our dream life was living in a home on a lake or golf course and sailing around on a yacht, and now that we have those things, they are kind of cool, but they pale in comparison to eating out at the one favorite restaurant with our significant other and playing board games with our kids.
I remember the movie The Runaway Bride where the bride (Julia Roberts) kept running way from the altar. Why? Because when the long-awaited moment arrived she didn’t feel like she thought she should. It failed her expectations and assumptions despite all the glitz and glam. Yet, time after time she’d get proposed to, make it to the wedding day, and then she’d bolt. In the end, it came down to the fact that she was always trying to be the woman these men wanted because she thought that was the woman she was, or the woman she wanted to be. It wasn’t until she took some time to figure herself out that true love became possible.
And, this is the point of this blog. The gospel, the real deep down gospel, only becomes truly possible for us when we know who we really are and what we really want—for eternity.
God knows who we are and what we really want. But, in reality, we don’t. And I have always felt strongly that this life, God’s plan, is actually about us coming to a realization of what God already knows. Why did He send us down here, then, if we already knew? Isn’t that sort of unkind and unfair to put us through this often miserable mortal experience just for us to come to the same conclusion He’s already got?
Well, imagine the premortal world. We were God’s spiritual offspring, but we weren’t exactly as He is. He had godly qualities and attributes that we had not yet attained. And, in fact, we got to a point where we couldn’t progress to become like Him without this mortal existence.
It had to be frustrating, after progressing for eons, to suddenly come to a point where we couldn’t rise higher. So, God says to us, “Do you really want to become like me? It’s tough stuff. Sure, I have powers and capabilities you don’t have, but to be like this requires a lot of hard things.” Without a thought, “Ya, we want that,” we all said. Because we really thought we did. We didn’t have the experience to know ourselves any deeper. And, though most of us were inherently very good, we weren’t yet perfect. And, therefore, we were incapable of knowing ourselves perfectly. That was why we were no longer progressing.
Think about it: God could have said, “Cindy and Mark, you actually don’t want to be like me. I know you don’t realize that yet, but in reality, you both prefer to bowl and drink beer for eternity and would be much happier doing that, rather than to spend it creating worlds and working eternally to exalt your spiritual offspring.” Then, He could have turned to Cain and said, “Cain, you think you want to become like me, but once you’re down there you’re going to murder your younger brother out of jealously and greed and then be damned for all eternity.” Then, He could have turned to all of us and said, “So, as you can see, rather than put you all through this whole testing and proving thing, I’m just going to consign you to your eternal destinations because I know you better than you know yourself.”
No longer sounds loving, does it. And it wouldn’t have been because we would not have had the ability to know if He was being fair to us. To us, it would have sounded unkind and unloving because we would have truly believed we wanted to be like God, and no amount of God telling us otherwise would have solved our lack of knowledge, understanding, and experience.
No, it is far more loving to bring us down to this life and let us learn by experience to know the good from the evil; to let us learn from experience whether we prefer self-sacrifice or selfishness, whether we prefer keeping the Sabbath Day holy or playing golf, whether we prefer to be perceived as right or actually doing what’s right despite others’ perceptions, etc. Because then, when we stand before God at the judgment we won’t be offended, or even sorry, when He sends us off to play golf for eternity, because we will know that we prefer that over the other options available to us. We learned from our own experience who we are and what we really want for eternity. There won’t be any bartering for a higher glory, because we won’t want it. By experience we will come to know that we don’t want it…or that we do.
Allowing us to learn the truth about ourselves for ourselves—that is true love. And, it’s not easy.
I get a little annoyed at times when I hear people talk about how God is testing them to see if they can get back home to Him. First of all, they forget that it’s not just about getting home to God, it’s about becoming like Him. There is a big difference. Second, saying, “God is testing me to see if I can get back home to Him,” makes God’s character sound untrustworthy—as if He’s up there treating us like white lab rats, sending us through mazes, all just to see, through some morbid curiosity what choices we’ll make and if we’ll make it. No, sorry. I simply dislike that wording and what it implies about God. That’s not the God I know.
So, it’s fairly simple.
God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Why? He knows everything, past, present, and future. (2 Nephi 9:20)
Then, that’s predestination, right? That means He knows who going to make it (to become like Him) and who’s not, right? Yes. He sure does.
Well, then that totally refutes my agency, doesn’t it? I mean, what’s the purpose of life if God already knows what I’m going to choose? Good question. Keep reading.
If this life is about God testing me, doesn’t God’s omniscience cancel out the test? Great question. No.
This life is not about God testing us for His knowledge and benefit. The word “testing” is shallow and insufficient to encompass the purpose of God’s plan. It implies merely ticking off right answers. The real purpose of life is for us to be “proved” (Abraham 3:25 which implies providing evidence or real life data), to learn by experience who we are what it is we are going to choose. God knows, but we don’t. And, because we don’t truly know ourselves this existence is entirely valid, no matter what God knows. It’s also why He doesn’t interfere, because it’s not about having a perfect world. It’s about us “becoming godly” nor choosing to not become godly. The atonement has taken care of all the rest.
So, now you may ask:
But, if God knows what I’m going to do, does that mean He refuses to bless me because He knows in 10 years I’m going to apostatize and fall away from His plan? No.
God is bound to bless us if we keep His commandments irrespective of past or future sin (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10; 130:20-21). If He deviated from that law He would cease to be God. This is why being a god is not for everyone. Not everyone wants to be bound so tightly by law and covenant (see previous blog post, God’s Power is Not Absolute). So, no matter what you have done or what you will do, God will bless you when you keep His commandments. The same applies to the opposite. No matter how righteous you’ve been or how righteous you may be some day, you will still lose blessings and suffer consequences if you sin now. That’s God’s eternal law.
So, when I imagine the premortal life this is what I see.
We knew God was the father of our spirits. We also realized that He was God. And, He was a bit different from us in a few important ways. He had a glorified, celestial body of flesh and bones. We didn’t. He had an eternal family unit (including an eternal marriage with a glorified, celestial woman). We were only children. We did not have spouses and children. And, while we were basically good, God was perfect. He was perfectly kind, loving, merciful, just, etc. We were not. Finally, while we had some power, God’s power to influence not only His environment, but the entire universe was infinitely greater than ours (except perhaps when we acted under His direction—and thereby His power and authority, not so much unlike this present life).
So, it stands to reason that we all wanted to be “like God, our Father,” or we thought we did. So, God presented a plan. That plan was “how to become like God.” But it was also, “how to determine if becoming like God is what you really want.”
Why do we have to go through a plan? Because being 100% like God is super-duper hard. It requires being bound by covenant and law. It requires all the traits God has that we yet do not have. It’s a worthy goal and we can do it IF we follow God’s plan and use this “proving environment” to become; which it is designed to help us do.
However, IF, while we’re down here in this proving environment, we learn for ourselves that while being exactly like God sounds great, it isn’t actually what we want (something we didn’t know previously); then, His plan provides for some alternative glories. Which, is actually pretty cool!
Before we came to this life, becoming like God sounded great. We knew it would be hard. But, we believed we wanted it. However, now that we are here, we—by our own jaunt through God’s godly proving environment—learn for ourselves if being like God is truly what we do want. So, again, the testing and proving isn’t really for God. It’s for us. Or, at least, that’s my opinion.
And, if this life is about getting to know ourselves. Then, it means it’s entire framework is meant to help us conquer our false assumptions and get to the crux of what really rules our hearts and minds. It means learning through trial and suffering to peel back our outer shells and take a gander at who we really are, what we really want, what we are really willing to do, what we are really willing to sacrifice, and IF that matches up with what it requires to become like God.
I feel that when we think about life this way, it makes so much more sense. It stops looking like some masochistic game on God’s part and all of the sudden looks like a sifting sieve. That sieve has three main tiers (scripturally). Some people are ultimately too “coarse” to fall through the telestial sieve onto the terrestrial sieve. And, though refined enough to get to the terrestrial sieve, many more are too coarse to make it down to the celestial sieve. Even fewer will be refined enough to make it to the actual “like God” tray at the bottom of the mortality sifting machine.
It still means we teach the ideal—to become like God. But, it also means we have more respect for individual agency. It means we allow people the same privilege to worship how, where, or what they may (11th Article of Faith). It means we don’t condemn others when they seem to be choosing another path than the one God would want them to choose. Because, that is the point of this life. If the path they are on doesn’t lead them to godhood, then we should certainly encourage them to reconsider, but ultimately, they may learn more quickly that they want godhood if they first experience a different eternal option. Mortal experience is the most beautiful and powerful teacher in the universe. That’s why we’re here.
If we see life (and God’s plan) in the context of coming to know ourselves, it answers a lot of currently difficult or unanswered questions. For example:
Human pain and suffering seems too cold and indifferent as a test for God to figure out what we’re made of. But, if we look at it as a test for us to see what we’re made of—for ourselves—and whether or not we’re up for godliness, it makes a ton of sense.
Why does God allow any human suffering? Because even if we suffer unfairly, it refines us and helps us have Godly sympathy. I mean, after all, who wants a God who doesn’t understand pain and suffering? He or she would make a very poor deity.
Why does God allow imperfect people to be His prophets, apostles, and other leaders? Because their service is as much about helping them to come to know themselves as it is about us coming to know ourselves. You see, it isn’t about perfection, it’s about grace.
Why does God not answer every question or fix every seeming contradiction in life, the scriptures, etc.? Because having all the answers is not what matters. It’s whether or not we are willing to exercise faith—the faith necessary unto eternal salvation—and trust in what we do know. Consequently, when the answers are made clear our own knowledge of our own power, capability, and righteousness is strengthened and solidified! Thus, we learn the truth of principles by experience prior to being told them. It works best that way!
Think of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac! That was a psychotic request IF it was for God’s benefit. But, if it was for Abraham’s knowledge of himself (and Isaac’s knowledge of himself), then it makes perfect sense. God said to Abraham, “Now I know that thou fearest God…” and yet what He meant is, “Now Thou knowest that thou fearest God…” Hugh B. Brown said: “Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham” (Five Scriptures that will Get You Through Anything).
Consider for yourself: what do you know about yourself but keep pretending you don’t know? What did you learn about yourself in your last trial or struggle? Or, what are you learning currently in a trial or struggle? What weaknesses and struggles have you overcome to date that have changed your for the better as a person? Have you given yourself that chance to try to live up to God’s covenants and laws? Do you yet know if you want to become like Him? Or, are you still in suspense about your own ability to be faithful and godly because you’re afraid to try? Do you know, as Abraham came to know, “That thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld thy <fill in the blank>”
For more on this line of pondering, see previous blog post The Solution to Utopia.