Is there only one perfect person out there for you? Is there such a thing as soul mates?

Well, when I met my first husband, at the old age of 19, I was certain he was “the one.” After all, he was a return missionary, he was tall, he played sports, he was super fun to be around, he had a killer smile, was charismatic, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard him bear his testimony. I felt strongly that, “this man knows the Lord.” And I know he did. And, I suspect he still does.

In fact, though I nurtured a crush on him, it wasn’t until my first husband bore his testimony that I fell in love with him. After that, I didn’t really worry about it. I felt he was “the one.”

And, even after our 11-year marriage ended, it wasn’t because I had decided he wasn’t the one. It was because he decided that I wasn’t right for him. And, all things considered, perhaps I wasn’t. But, it didn’t mean it couldn’t have worked out. In fact, it could have. He could have remained the right one. But, I didn’t understand that at the time.

So, once that marriage failed I had to ask myself a lot of questions I had never asked before. And, as a Latter-day Saint woman, these were highly significant questions. Questions like:

  1. Why did God let me marry him if it wasn’t going to work out in the long run?
  2. Did I misinterpret the peace, the answer I thought I got to marry him?
  3. If I did, does that mean personal revelation is bogus?
  4. Could I have done something to save the marriage that I hadn’t already done?
  5. Did the marriage fail because I wasn’t good enough? Pretty enough? Etc.
  6. Were my eternal marriage covenants still valid for me? Or did the other party screw it up for me?
  7. Did I want to ever get remarried?
  8. Would I ever get remarried?
  9. Did I need to get remarried to receive all the blessings God had promised me during the covenant ordinance?
  10. Was there only one right person for me, and if so, had I lost all chances for happiness?

The list of questions was a lot longer than this, but these were the general strain of thought I went down.

It’s very easy when at a crossroads like this to question the foundation of our beliefs, especially as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. Mormons). When all that we have bargained on is directly tied to personal revelation we feel that we have received, our first instinct is to question the revelation, God, and in consequence our beliefs.

The Atonement Helps Us Find True Love

Just as it is in every lesson, talk, and scripture, the Atonement of Jesus Christ is always preached as the answer to everything. Sin, use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Hurt, sorrow, emotional pain, use the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Grace, grace, grace…

Well, as I wondered down this path of questioning, it was not my first instinct to curse God for letting me enter a marriage that would fail. I certainly was upset that it had failed. But, it was not my natural inclination to blame Him. Sadly, my natural inclination was to blame ME. I tore myself apart and, of course, was shown quite clearly how I might have been better in some aspects. God didn’t hide truth from me. But, He also taught me two very important truths that I had been unable to consider prior to, and up until this point after the divorce.

First, the divorce wasn’t about me. It was about covenants. God taught me that though I’d been “let go,” that it was actually He who had been divorced from the other party. The covenant we had made with Him together was what mattered. The covenant was what had made the love true.

When the covenant was abandoned by my spouse, God had been abandoned. God had been abandoned before me, and in place of me…in a sense. And when God was abandoned the love ceased to be true.

Second, that because I had been willing to keep my covenant, though extremely imperfect and certainly not faultless, my connection to God had not been severed. The covenant I kept held me to Him. Therefore, only one party had removed themselves from the marriage. It was both God and I who had been divorced.

Third, the thing that allowed me to still hope for true love was the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ’s Atonement and it’s power (grace) can fix anything. But, it would be rendered pointless if there was only one person in life we could find eternal happiness with. Missing out on a relationship that has the potential to be eternal is just like all other aspects of life. We can miss such relationships. We can mess up. We can let people go we should have stuck with. People can let us go when they should have stayed. It’s still a mess up. And, if we could not repent from, heal from, or recover from such an unwise mishap in our lives, then what would be the point of life? What would be the point of grace? There would not be one.

Thus, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the principle of grace that we apply to sin, suffering, sorrow, and so many other things, is also the very thing that preaches to us that there being only one true love in the whole wide world for us is a false doctrine.

We can’t miss out on true love if we understand that it doesn’t reside in a person. True love resides in God and in His covenants. So, when we think about trying to find the right one, what we are really looking for is someone who will remain true to their covenants with God, no matter what. If they will stay true to God then they will stay true to us. If they will stay true to their covenants with God in sickness, health, poorness or wealth, etc. then they will stay true to us.

I’ll say it again, true love resides in the covenant of marriage, not in the person you make it with.

How to Find Your One True Love

Dallin H. Oaks talked about the doctrine of good, better, and best (Ensign, November 2007). President Gordon B. Hinckley also often referred to this principle: that there are many options available to us to choose from but that some are good, some are better, and some are best.

The principle works like this. On any given day there are several things we can choose to do. Most of the activities we engage in are not evil. But, at any given moment there are good things we can do, better things we can do, and best things.

For example, we can get up and eat a donut for breakfast. That’s a good thing. Delicious! But, it’s even better to get a little exercise first and then eat something a little healthier. We’ll feel better. And we’ll have a delicious day by avoiding the guilt and physical after effects of that donut. But, it’s best if we first get down on our knees and offer a meaningful morning prayer, ponder a verse of scripture, then get a little exercise, and then eat a healthy breakfast.

Just like on any given day we can choose any number of good, better, or best choices. I believe strongly that at any given time in our life there are also good, better, and best choices of relationships for us. God can take any choice we make—and IF both parties are willing—lift it up and turn it into a best relationship. But, there is always a best choice for us and we can’t miss it if we own the choice. We have to own the responsibility for making that best choice.

Let me explain.

What is the False Doctrine in Having Only One True Love?

Believing that there is only one person meant for you takes all the responsibility for the relationship and the marriage covenant off of you and places it on the person you think you’re seeking. It places the responsibility on God, or someone else’s advice. When we do this, we ultimately make the decision for true love about getting lucky enough to meet a certain person. Since we can’t control anything in life, not really. This is a stupid way to view love. And a false one.

Albeit, this is a romantic view. But, it’s a temporary, untrustworthy, and unkind view. I have found from experience that it is quite a bit more romantic to trust in God than in people. And with God, true love is about faith, repentance, sacrifice, service, humility, persuasion, long-suffering, and so on. Even the sexual chemistry we feel toward others must transcend the physical and dig deeper into the spiritual and intellectual. It must reach God’s view.

God’s view is the correct view. And, it is hard. It’s nigh upon Abrahamic (meaning as hard as being asked to sacrifice your son). But, it’s also the ONLY view that can bring us—you, me, everyone—the love that their heart truly desires: true love. A love that lasts must bind people together. And the only thing on this earth and in heaven that binds is covenant (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10).

The Answer At Last

So, how do you find your one true love? There are only two steps.

  1. Become a covenant keeper.
  2. Find a covenant keeper.

Christ’s love is true and can’t be severed from us because His love has been bound by sacrifice and covenant (Romans 8:35, 39).

Conclusion

After my first marriage ended and I discovered the doctrine behind “true love” I went looking for a covenant keeper. And, then I stopped looking (actively) though when approached for dates this was my most critical requirement. Then, at the age of 35, God finagled a way to get my current husband into my life.

The man I met is not perfect. But, he is a covenant keeper. He keeps his covenants daily. He tries to make better and best choices, daily. And because he is a covenant keeper he has my adoration, my trust, my love, my long-suffering, my forgiveness, my patience, my honesty, and my heart.

We can all find the best person for us (our true love) or take our current relationship and make it best by loving God first, and by so doing becoming faithful covenant keepers. It begins and ends with our decision to keep covenants and to find another who does the same.

BT

Note: I often feel that Christmas programs are beautiful, and well meant, and certainly full of inspiring music, and powerful scripture. I love Christmas Sundays. But, I also often leave wondering why no one ever gives weight, more weight, and meaning to the actual doctrines of Christmas–the doctrines that make Christ’s birth unique and His atonement actually possible. I’m all for talking about His birth. I’m all for praising His atonement. I just wish there was often more emphasis on how His unique birth made the atonement, and indeed our lives and hopes, actually possible. So, this is my version of a Christmas program–songs alluded to. ~BT

The Doctrines of Christmas

The Plan of Salvation hinges on the atonement of Jesus Christ. That atonement (at-one-ment) of Jesus Christ begins in the pre-mortal life, is incited by His birth, and brought to fruition by His three year ministry, His ultimate suffering in Gethsemane, and His willful offering up of His own life on the cross. This atonement of Christ serves a grand and infinite purpose that began before we came to earth and continues for each of us beyond the grave. It is the sacrifice that enables us, if we so choose, to become like—or one—with God.

In Alma 34:9-10 we read:

For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.

For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.

Christ was that infinite and eternal sacrifice. He was able to pay justice on our behalf, provide mercy for the repentant, and secure some measure of grace for all. And how was He able to be that infinite sacrifice? He was able to be our Savior because of His unique birth.

It Began in the Pre-Mortal Life

It all began in the grand council in heaven during the foundations of the earth when Christ said, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:28). And, “Father, thy will be done and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Christ preached in that semi-innocent, pre-mortal state, to all of us, of His role and mission, and it’s purpose in our lives.

JST, St. John 1:1 (italics are JST):

In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.

We can only begin to imagine the joy we felt and the angelic singing that took place when at last the great plan of our God was prepared and ready—for us. For, indeed, Christ would condescend to come to earth, set an example for us, and to be born in Bethlehem; that each of us might have the opportunity to become like God, our Heavenly Father.

Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plain

And the mountains in reply

Echoing that joyous strain

Come to Bethlehem and see

Him whose birth the angels sing

Come adore on bended knee

Christ the Lord the newborn king

(203, Angels We Have Heard On High, LDS Hymnal, 1st and 3rd verses)

Christmas religious nativity scene, Holy family abstract watercolor illustration Mary Joseph and Jesus

The Unique Nature of Christ’s Birth Was Critical to His Atonement

Bethlehem means “house of bread.” And, indeed Christ would become the “bread of life” (St. John 6:32-33). But, in order to become so, He had to be born of a mortal mother. A mortal mother would enable Him to be subject to (or affected by) mortal struggles including temptation and death. Because of this mortal inheritance, He would be able to feel the struggles we would feel. He would be able to suffer as we would suffer. Indeed, He would “go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11).

Because of His mortal mother, He would also be able to die. For indeed, to be able to die is a power of mortality, not immortality. He had to be able to die in order to die for us.

In the Hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem we are reminded of Christ’s mortal mother, the virgin Mary. “For Christ was born of Mary… O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.” This birth was holy partly because of the importance of Christ’s duality. He needed to be part mortal to fulfill His role as Savior.

After Christ’s birth, many were told by angels to go and worship Him in Bethlehem. Signs in the new world were proclaiming His miraculous birth. A day and a night and a day with no darkness (Helaman 14:3-4). For, indeed, Christ’s birth fulfilled the hope of all of us, that all darkness, sin, death, and suffering would be overcome and ultimately healed.

But, how could Christ have the power to live perfectly? How could He be subject to temptation and death and yet overcome it? How could He be the infinite, godly, sacrifice required to satisfy the demands of justice?

While Christ’s mother was a mortal, He was also begotten in the flesh by God, the Father. Well did the angel Gabriel tell Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

In John 10:17-18 we read: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.

Christ was subject to death because of His mother. But, because of His immortal father, He had the power to keep Himself alive–to avoid death. He had to choose to lay His life down. What greater meaning comes from His sacrifice and His suffering because it was willing! “Which suffering caused myself,” Christ said, “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18-19).

In Alma 34:8 Amulek testifies:

And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

Peter, one of Christ’s beloved apostles, was asked by Christ, Himself, “Whom say ye that I am?” and Peter testified: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then, later, on the day of Pentecost he added to that testimony, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

Not only did Christ take upon Himself our sins and afflictions (which required the power to keep Himself from dying as He suffered such), but He overcame death. He allowed Himself to die and had the power to raise Himself up again, whole, perfected, and immortal. Because of Him, we will all be resurrected someday. All psychological, emotional, and physical hurts will be made right. All this He was able to do because of His powerful, important, and unique birth to a mortal mother and a Heavenly Father.

We Are That We Might Have Joy

It is because of Jesus Christ’s unique birth that “we are that we might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Indeed, as we think again upon that grand pre-earthly council, Jesus offered His life that we might be able to learn to become like God without being condemned by the learning process (Hafen, Bruce C., “Eve Heard All These Things,” 1993 Women’s Conference © By Intellectual Reserve, Inc.). That was the purpose of His infinite atonement from the very beginning. His gift was to make all that we pass through in this life turn to joy; as it helps us learn and grow on our journey to become as much like He is as we are willing to try to be. Christ made joy in this life possible, and joy in the world to come.

Rejoice, rejoice, when Jesus reigns

And Saints their songs employ

While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains

Repeat the sounding joy

(201, LDS Hymns, Joy to the World, 2nd verse)

Though day-to-day life can often dampen our spirits and test our souls; though the world is full of division and struggle; today, and always, let us rejoice that Jesus reigns. He lives! He is our advocate with the Father. He is over all. And, He will come again in power and great glory to redeem the earth and finish the Lord’s work. All of this He will do because of one Silent Night.

BT

I’m going out of my normal format on this post. It’s a poem…and a painting.

I have to be honest. I did not come up with this idea on my own. A lady, named Naomi, in a the ward I grew up in, through various circumstances, provided the title and the impetus. It was such a brilliant idea! The moment it was presented to me I felt immediately impressed to write the poem below after studying Lehi’s dream for an entire day. The inspiration and work for the painting followed last night and today. So, here’s a brief thought to preface it.

Lehi recounted a dream/vision he had to his children: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, etc. We get Nephi’s summary of the dream in 1 Nephi 8, and the interpretation thereafter. I’m quite sure there was more to it. But, because Nephi was the mouthpiece, we are resigned to be happy with his particular perspective. Which, is an effective perspective.

However, did Lehi’s dream, in detail, include more information on what it looks like when we begin to feel the pull to come back? Does the original (which we don’t have) talk more about repentance and those who come back from the great and spacious building, or who manage to find their way back after wandering off and being lost?

When those of us who do falter for a while begin to feel the pull to come back, it can be a daunting view when we turn again to find that sweet white fruit. We are living “Lehi’s dream,” and it’s not the part of the dream that’s fun. That tree, which contains the fullness of God’s love (as available through His ordinances and covenants), seems awfully far away. It’s not a matter of simply grabbing back onto the iron rod after having taken a few steps away. It’s a matter of starting a journey full of peril and struggle simply to get back to the iron rod. Then, once we find the rod it’s another journey to get back to the tree.

I wrote this poem for my kids…all of them. My past seminary kids. My present YW. My step kids. My daughter (who is still a toddler).  I also wrote it for my family–all of them. I dedicate this to “those whom I love,” that they may know that when they decide to turn back to that sweet, white fruit, that they can make it. The Man-in-white will be there. Christ’s grace is sufficient.

Below, find the picture I painted and the poem I wrote, both titled, “Back to the Tree.” Any time you see a (…) it indicates a “pause for effect.”

BackToTheTree

Back to the Tree

By the Doctrine Lady

I’m standing on a balcony that’s way up in the sky

I sometimes can’t remember how I got up here so high

I look across a wilderness with shadows long and tall

Then chance a glance down toward the ground, it makes me feel so small

The balcony it trembles underneath my tired feet

Then suddenly I am pelted with dark rains and bitter sleet

I take a step back from the ledge to get out of the rain

And find that even inside there is emptiness and pain

I cast my eyes out to the field as backward I retreat

And see a small light flickering with continual repeat

It wakes a mem’ry in my mind, I know that tiny flare

It’s small white fruit that’s on a tree in the darkness way out there

 

My soul begins to rumble like the building that I’m in

I’m hungry for that fruit, but my head is in a spin

The cement beneath my feet begins to crack a little bit

I turn and run to find some stairs, then fall into a pit

The people all around me, I guess they’ve been there all along,

Take notice of my wretched fall but still won’t heed my song

“We cannot get you out—if we do you’ll run away.”

“You’re better off here, trust us—it has to be this way.”

I cast my eyes up to the sky, but the building blocks my view

I feel no hope, I’m in despair, I don’t know what to do

I bow my head, hand on my heart, yet not sure how to begin

Then the building shakes, the ceiling cracks, and a little light gets in

 

My courage grows, I open my mouth and call out to the Lord

Then the building falls into an abyss, and I’m left hanging by a single cord

I get cradled by a warm south wind and it carries me to the ground

My feet touch down onto the earth, I don’t even hear a sound

My hungering soul leads me forward—into a deep dark night

But my feet trudge through some dreary waste and I lose the small white light

I walk and walk for hours and collapse upon the dirt

And when I wake I find myself in red mud up to my shirt

Determined to press forward now that day at last has dawned

I cast my eyes fast forward where a dirty fountain spawns

I scarce can see a trace, of the white fruit through mist and trees

Unworthiness, it crushes me, and I sink back to my knees

 

And then, before I cast myself back on the filthy ground

I hear a glorious being say, “At last you have been found.”

“I have left the flock to seek you. Please rise and take my hand.”

“For I am here to lead you past the river and the sand.”

Before I can look up, I feel sore tears upon my face

Then the Man-in-white He wipes them with His robes and with His grace

He bids me take His hand, then pulls me up off of the sod

Then strangely now He places my hand on a rusty iron rod

I take the metal in my hand, but I don’t want to cling real tight

And after walking just a bit, the Man-in-white soon leaves my sight

I panic now and stop and look to see where He has gone

And I only see the iron rod, it’s extensive, it is long

 

Yet, it’s dark enough to see among the mists and all the fog

That seem to appear from nowhere, so I break into a jog

But in my haste, my hand breaks free from the solid metal rail

My feet twist up, I trip and fall, and muddy water hides my wail

I’m drowning now in a murky bog, it’s bottom binds my feet

And suddenly, the rain is back, as is the cold, dark sleet

My limbs go numb and I curse myself, for letting go the rod

Why couldn’t I have just slowed down and been satisfied to trod

Impatience was my downfall, and some carelessness, and fight

I was angry that I had been left by the Man I saw in white

Not ready yet to freeze to death I start paddling with my hands

I call for help, … and there He is, … to remove my selfish bands

 

“Hold to the rod, I promise you, it’s strong and bright and true.”

“Look past the rust and hold on tight, it’ll safely guide you through.”

I’m shivering now with cold, and I still feel a bit uptight

But I trembling stomp up to the rod while mumbling about my plight

Yet, casting my eyes forward I see through the mists a hole

And through that hole I see the fruit, it’s flickering warms my soul

Clinging a little tighter, I walk forward next to the rod

It’s sturdy, and it’s iron, and I trod and trod and trod

I’m tempted very often to keep my eyes cast down and back

But as I trip and stumble I notice my hand begins to slack

Remembering the filthy bog, I grab tight to the cold rail

I raise my eyes and find the fruit, I’m determined not to fail

 

The mists are cold, the darts are sharp, it would be so easy to let go

And the building in the air is back, it’s in the sun and all aglow

I see its people laughing, clinking glasses, and poking fun

They are pointing at me and my sodden clothes, and I suddenly want to be done

One hand pulls free from the iron rod, and for a moment I feel the warm

From the sun, and the building up in the sky, seep into that one arm

I start to cast off, to join the group, they beckon with hands to me …

Then I see the building shake a bit and my temptation is wrestled free

I remember how it crumbled and the treatment of its crowd

I remember how the Man-in-white heard my voice when I called out loud

I quickly grab back hold again of the rusty iron rod

But it looks a little more shiny to me, which I find a little bit odd

 

Hand-over-hand, I pull myself, with my eyes fixed upon the tree

The mists, they clear, and at last I see my fam’ly beckoning to me

A fire kindles in my soul and renewed hunger in my heart

I reach for their hands, and the offered fruit, and pull out a final dart

They pull me in, I feel ashamed, how had I forgotten they were here?

But they hold me tight and tend my wounds, and it’s suddenly all so clear

When finally fed and rightly healed, I feel a pounding in my head

It’s a mix of awe and gratitude and just a little dread

I turn my face toward the beautiful tree and see the Man-in-white

With arms outstretched, He calls to me, and I remember again my plight

I bow my head, in a mess of shame, as I think back on my past

Back then I didn’t quite understand what it meant to get off the path

 

Then feeling the pull of His powerful gaze, I slowly raise my eyes

He beckons to me, I swallow hard, wishing I’d prepared my weak replies

“I lost my way but I’ve come back. I never forgot the light.”

“I simply looked away too long, and doubt bedimmed my sight.”

“When mists of darkness hid the way I sought the building in the sky.”

“And then once there, I couldn’t recall, how I’d gotten up so high.”

“It wasn’t until I found the courage to look back the way I’d come.”

“Then, I saw the little light flickering, and I knew it was time to go home.”

… With measured steps, I close the space between His feet and mine

When barely there, … I fall to my knees, … and say, “My will is thine.”

The Man-in-white, He lifts me up, His hand beneath my chin

“Your will was all that I required so that I could cleanse your sin.”

 

BT

 

Doctrine: The Gospel will feel (and be) possible when we 1) think “progress, not perfection,” 2) willingly repent, and 3) get to know God better. That’s all it takes.

A couple of days ago I wrote a rather frank blog about my frustrations with people thinking the Gospel of Jesus Christ is impossible. It was a passionate entry for many good reasons. And, while everything I said I believe to be true, I realized yesterday that I hadn’t given any simple, clear steps to helping make the Gospel FEEL possible.

You see, the Gospel IS POSSIBLE whether we feel it is or not. However, Satan wants us to feel that the Gospel is impossible, because as long as we think/feel that, we won’t put forth any effort (which is, according to Satan’s plan, exactly what makes it impossible). So, if we don’t feel the Gospel is possible, it’s hard to change those feelings.

Let’s recap from my previous blog. We tend to feel the law of Christ is impossible based on:

  1. An incomplete or incorrect understanding of grace
  2. A half-hearted, surface, or cursory desire to become like God (i.e. have Eternal Life)
  3. An incomplete knowledge of and relationship with God
  4. A stronger knowledge/relationship, and/or a stronger preference for a false God
  5. An unwillingness to repent fully
  6. A selfish and lazy demand to have Eternal Life on our terms, not God’s

So, if those are many of the common reasons people feel the Gospel is impossible. Then, let me suggest three very simple things a person can do to make the Gospel feel possible—immediately.

Progress Not Perfection

The first thing all of us need to do is to update our understanding of grace as provided to us through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yes, God has commanded us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 27:27). But, He has commanded us to do so “through Christ” by our sincere, imperfect efforts (Moroni 10:32).

This is critical! The command is to “Be perfect through/in Christ” NOT to “Be perfect to be perfect in Christ.”

Grace is what makes us perfect (over time) as we simply try to do God’s will. We don’t have to do God’s will perfectly. We just have to sincere desires behind our efforts (as per #’s 2, 5 & 6 above). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “We get credit for trying even if we don’t always succeed” (Tomorrow the Lord Will do Wonders Among You, April 2016 General Conference). Trying is what turns on the #gracefactor. Grace is like a fiery forge. By simply sincerely trying to do God’s will (imperfectly) we enter the fiery forge of grace. Thus, our pounding, hammering efforts bend us “through the power of grace.” Thus, we become perfect because of our imperfect efforts through grace.

So, if you really, truly and sincerely, want to become like God but you know you’ve got a long way to go. That’s okay! Make your motto, “Progress not Perfection” (@SavedbyGraceCo in IG). Change your expectations for your actions to, “I’m going to always try sincerely, even if my efforts aren’t perfect,” rather than the impossible which is, “I’m going to live perfectly.”

The Gospel will FEEL possible if you understand that you can’t mess up by sincerely trying. You can only mess up by not sincerely trying. And you know for yourself what sincerity (proceeding from genuine feelings) is for you.

Repent

The Gospel is impossible to us as long as we try to live it on our own terms, not God’s. As long as our desires and ways are contrary to His, we will feel the impossibility of it. And, if we are unwilling to submit our will to God’s and continue to try to have things or do things our way, then, the Gospel IS impossible. So, we have to repent and submit to God’s will until the day comes that our will and His will is the same (Mosiah 3:19).

Christ’s atonement (pertaining to salvation) is not for everyone. It is for those who repent and submit to God’s will. Grace doesn’t make our wrongs right. It pays justice for the debt we incur for committing wrongs and make it possible for us to obtain mercy. We can’t just say, “Sorry God, now just let me do things my way and don’t expect me to change.”

The only thing the atonement buys for everyone is a resurrected, immortal body (see references below). But salvation (entrance into the lowest level of God’s Celestial Kingdom) is only received by those who repent, are baptized, receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, TRY to keep God’s commandments, and endure to the end (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; Alma 11:37, 40-44). Mercy cannot rob Justice. Therefore, mercy is only extended unto those who meet the conditions for it (Alma 42:24-25).

Life like God, i.e. Eternal Life, requires that we make more covenants (beyond baptism) and bind our will so closely to God’s that we become like Him by our sincere efforts (Note: I didn’t say “perfect efforts” I merely said “sincere efforts.”). Thus, by TRYING to keep these covenants (however imperfectly) we learn to sacrifice, forgive, change, consecrate, endure, etc., by these additional covenants. And, unless we enter into these covenants and sincerely TRY to keep them, we cannot have Eternal Life.

That’s why we take the sacrament every week. We take it to take inventory of our lives. We make note of what we’ve done pretty well. We make note of what we can do better. We ask God to grant us POWER TO KEEP TRYING. And, by sincerely partaking of this sacrament, God allows us to maintain the Gift and sanctifying, perfecting, comforting, incredible power of the Holy Ghost.

Many people go to the temple because they feel that they walk out with renewed power. The same blessings can come to us as we worthily and sincerely partake of the sacrament. It is an ordinance that when understood can send us out of a church building clothed with power. It is, in a way, a lesser temple experience just as the Aaronic priesthood is the lesser priesthood. The temples, then, provide a full experience because they are governed by the Melchizedek priesthood (the higher priesthood).

So, 1) think progress, not perfection, and 2) repent!

Get to Know God Better

A lot of people find the commandments difficult because they see them in the wrong light. They simply think, “This is something I’m supposed to do,” which in turn creates an incorrect expectation that simply doing it is going to move mountains in your life. If you go to church because you’re supposed to then when it fails to inspire you, change you, uplift you, or even comfort you—immediately—you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.”

God has commanded us to go to church not to check off an item on some trivial spiritual checklist. He does so because there (at church) we have two critical and powerful opportunities. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) By partaking of the sacrament, we have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.

So, yes, church can often be boring. But, if you’ve got a rough/poor teacher or speaker, you can say a silent prayer and ask, “What can I learn about Thee, God, from this experience?” and I guarantee you, with that kind of attitude (if it’s sincere), you will be taught simple, peaceful truths from on high. If you’re tired and feel your mind is fuzzy, you can still be assured that in God’s house you are less fuzzy when it comes to receiving promptings from the Holy Spirit. So, no matter what is going on (in sacrament meeting or your current class), get out your scriptures and read, or say a prayer, and things will be clearer there. Why clearer there? Because that’s where God has commanded you to be! So your conscience before Him is, in that moment, perfect. You could read and pray at home, too, but because you know, fundamentally, that God has asked you to be elsewhere (at church), then subconsciously (or consciously) you will have a less clear path to His throne because you know your life isn’t in even attempted alignment with His will.

If you read your scriptures because you expect to always be enveloped by pillars of light and receive earth-shattering, novel revelations; then when it fails to be all fireworks and singing choirs of angels, you are going to think, “Well, this is a load of crap.” This is because you’ve missed the point.

We have been commanded to read the scriptures for two reasons. 1) We have the chance to learn more about Him (how He works, how He lives, how He loves, how He sacrifices, etc.), and 2) We have the chance to be more open and prepared to receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.

So, it doesn’t matter how much you read. It doesn’t matter where you read. It only matters that you are reading with the sincere desire to learn more about God, about yourself, and to be more open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

For example, if you’re seeking an answer to a prayer, open your scriptures. Either open it up randomly (this works for some people), seek out a specific topic, or read it chronologically. It doesn’t matter. Go read the scriptures with the sincere intent to receive answers to your prayers and I guarantee you, you will be better able to get answers and you will get them faster. We’re talking days to weeks, instead of months to years. Or, if complete answers don’t come, critical guidance, comfort, and peace will—the kind you can’t get anywhere else than from God.

The scriptures also include General Conference addresses. Watch church produced scripture videos and messages from apostles and prophets! Mormon Messages these days are a great beginning step. If you find other scripture more tedious, begin with modern scripture and work your way up to ancient scripture. We need all of it because all of it teaches us about God and how He works, and who He is. We can’t get it all from a video. But, start small.

Experiment upon the word (Alma 32). After every attempt at ingesting some scripture ask yourself, “How do I feel? What does this make me want to do/feel inspired to do? What did I learn about God?” Do this, and you will get out of scripture reading what God intended.

If you pray because you’re supposed to or because you think God needs to hear from you then you are going to have unrealistic expectations about your prayers. Prayer is all about us, not God. And, we don’t do it because we are supposed to (though we are supposed to). We don’t do it to inform God. He’s perfectly informed. So, if it’s all about us, and not for God, why do it?

When you imagine yourself addressing God, what happens to your language? What happens to your thoughts about yourself and your life?

When you think about what you want to say in your prayers, what happens to your thoughts? Your focus? Your gratitude? What things are you reminded of?

When you really want something, and it seems it will take a miracle to get it, who do you turn to? Why is it we/you only turn to God when something seems impossible? Why is it that we think by suddenly praying that there is a chance that it will become possible?

Morning, night, while you’re running, in your car, at school, at work, before an important life event, etc., when we take the time to talk to God it is because by coming before Him we focus our minds (which are powerful beyond our understanding) long enough in the right direction to be re-aligned, to feel something higher than our day-to-day logic and feelings, to submit, to ask for, to plead, to hope, etc. By simply taking that moment or two to do that we learn about us and our relationship with God.

When I get on my knees to pray, I find out what is most important to me by what I take the time to ask for. It teaches me about myself. God already knows these things. But, by commanding me to take this time a few times a day to talk to Him, He is facilitating my ability to learn about myself, understand myself, and make conscious efforts to align my fundamental and underlying desires to His.

So, when it comes to keeping the commandments. Change the reason for why you do them. Don’t do them to “be perfect.” Don’t do them because you’re supposed to. Don’t do them to fulfill some obscure expectation you think God has. Do them because you want to get to know God and yourself better so that you can begin now to close the gap in your relationship with Him and your understanding of Him and how He works.

So, 1) think progress, not perfection, 2) repent, and 3) get to know God better.

Conclusion

That’s it. If you do these three things, then the Gospel will feel possible. It will feel doable. It will increase your hope for your life. It may change the course your life takes. It will increase your love of others. It will increase your ability to withstand your own struggles and the complexities of life. It will give you courage and certitude (especially as you embrace God’s covenants and ordinances) that no matter what life throws at you, if you simply keep trying, keep making progress, keep repenting, and keep getting to know God better, that you cannot fail. And, that is because IF YOU ARE DOING THESE THREE THINGS YOU CANNOT FAIL (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7; 82:10). It would be impossible. 😉

BT

 

 

Doctrine: The Gospel is only impossible to us inasmuch as we refuse to have faith in it, refuse to believe in it, and refuse to try to live it. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on earth.

impossible4

Climbing Mount Everest seems impossible to do. Yet, people have done it. And the people that did it desired to climb it, read about past people who tried to climb it (both those who succeeded and failed), prepared and trained to climb it, and then eventually, in time climbed it.

Running a marathon seems impossible to do. Yet, people do it every day. They desired to run a marathon, they read up on food and training, prepared and trained to run a marathon, and then eventually, they ran one.

Walking seems impossible to someone who has just been through knee surgery. I know. Because I’ve seen people go through it. So, how do they walk again? They desire to walk more than anything else. Thus, they are willing to stretch, ice, elevate, rest, and participate in physical therapy until they can walk again.

C.S. Lewis said:

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Alice in Wonderland believed six impossible things before breakfast, thus, fictionally, she was able to visit other worlds and accomplish great things, especially going against societal norms. The principle is similar. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible.

The point here is this, I’ve heard so many people say that they are leaving the church because God asks too much of them. They say it’s impossible to live the law of Christ. They say trying to become like God is impossible.

However, they fail to note (when they are saying this) that many people have succeeded in living the law of Christ. Many people have lived it, do live it, and are trying to live it every day. So, what makes it impossible? I’ll tell you.

People who think God’s plan is too difficult, that His expectations and commandments are too steep, and that the Gospel is impossible have a few common problems:

  • First, they don’t understand grace properly.
  • Second, their desires for eternal life (life “like” God) are likely surface desires only and not the true desires of their heart. Such an accomplishment seems like Mount Everest and they do not have sufficient desire to put in the hard work to climb it—though it is technically possible.
  • Third, they don’t know God well (because of a lack of faith, prayer, study, and at least attempts at keeping the commandments) and because they don’t know Him they don’t really understand what it is they are being asked to become; therefore, developing a strong desire to be like Him is difficult to do.
  • Fourth, perhaps they used to want eternal life but their current life and desires have superseded that original desire and so they have set it aside as a “nice thing” but no longer find it appealing—again, too much work. They truly believe that they will be happier living life their way and that belief guides their actions. They can’t trust God’s promises because they haven’t come to trust Him and they haven’t tried the experiment to see if He can be trusted.
  • Along with this, most people who think the gospel is impossible find that it is impossible to live when they aren’t willing to repent—and, it is, especially since repentance is the 2nd principle of the Gospel.
  • Finally, the Gospel is impossible to those who want salvation and exaltation on their terms, and not God’s. Since God is bound by law and covenant in order to have the exaltation that He enjoys—because that’s the only way to get it—then He can’t break those laws and covenants to give us exaltation or He would cease to be God (see blog post, God’s Power is Not Absolute).

If You Understand Grace, then the Gospel is Not Impossible

The purpose of Grace is to allow us to learn to become godly, and to give us the power to become godly, without being condemned by the learning and becoming process. God’s commandments, ordinances and covenants are not a list of things to do or to check off perfectly so that then we can become godly. They are things we enter into and do so that as we try to do and become them grace can make actual changes in us. Thus, it’s the trying that matters, not perfection in trying. But, we have to try. If we don’t try, then grace can’t function to make the changes necessary for godhood.

I have had piano students over the years who always got frustrated if they couldn’t play a song perfectly with only a few tries. These students would often quit lessons or at the least struggle with practicing as they should. However, when I could encourage them to practice, it would always surprise them that in time they could master the song. Thus, their parents (who paid for the lessons) didn’t pay for the lessons so that their child would play perfectly the first time every time. The parents paid for the lessons so that the child could learn to play well and love playing. They paid for the lessons so that their kid would learn to love music, appreciate it’s depth and intricacies, enjoy the spirit of the songs, and hopefully be able to serve in the future with the talent they had gained.

This is grace. Christ suffered for everything: sin, injustice, injury, physical infirmity, etc. so that we can take “becoming like God lessons” and learn to love Christ, God and the process of becoming like them. Grace pays for the lessons so that we can get good at aspects of godhood, learn to appreciate the depth and intricacy of what it takes to become like God, enjoy the Gift of the Holy Ghost as He teaches us more and more of God’s truth and light, and eventually learn to serve as a God—bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

If you understand this basic principle about grace, then you can never say the Gospel is impossible or that the law of Christ is too hard. You can only say that you don’t understand it and haven’t taken the time to try.impossible possible

If You Truly Desire to Become Like God, then the Gospel Does Not Seem Impossible

I know a lot of people who say things like, “I wish I could play the piano like that,” or, “I wish I could teach like you,” or, “I wish I could sing like that,” or, “I wish I could become a doctor, lawyer, etc…” And yet, they don’t really wish it. What they like is the idea of it. They like the idea of something but not enough to put in the work for it.

The scriptures have records of people being saved and exalted, even translated. To say that it’s not possible indicates that there is a lack of true desire. It is possible. We have evidence of it. But, we also have evidence that you have to really want it in order to achieve it. Godhood is not something we achieve by a casual desire. And, would you really want a god that received godhood without having to work for it?

In Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, it says:

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Note, God does NOT say “according to their works and the desire of their hearts.” People often read this verse and understand it that way, but that’s not actually what He says. He says, “according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” Meaning, that God judges us by the true desires of our hearts which are evident in our efforts (i.e. sincere actions, attempts at trying, true focus, etc.)

Do you want the salary of a self-made billionaire but you aren’t willing to do what that man/woman did to get it? Then, you don’t really want what they have. You only think you do. But, then, once you learn what they had to do to get it or how many times they failed before achieving it, then you lose the desire to have their enormous sums of money. Why? Because you don’t want that much money bad enough to go through what they went through to get it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is in place to help us become like God, is only impossible to you if you think the end result isn’t worth the work. And, guess what, technically, that’s okay. That’s why there are multiple kingdoms of glory. And, whatever law you consider to be worthwhile and possible; the one you desire to live, that is the one that will govern the ultimate eternal kingdom you receive. But, you are also limited to the blessings of  that kingdom and you can’t choose otherwise once you get there (Doctrine and Covenants 88:36-40; 131:1-4).

So, it’s no use saying the Gospel is impossible simply because it seems hard to you. You only need to admit that you don’t have the desire to actually do the work it takes to live it.

If You Know Your God (and Christ) then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

If you are asked to become like someone, but you don’t know anything about them, then initially, you’re going to consider such a request an impossible task. You may even ask, “Why would I want to become like God?” And, this is a great question.

Those of us who want to become like God want to because we want: 1) eternal family (or family with us forever and not just for this life), 2) a glorified, resurrected, celestial body, that has the ability to procreate and produce eternal offspring, 3) a perfect character (including perfect love, perfect justice, perfect mercy, etc.), 4) a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future, and 5) the power to create worlds with the sole intent of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

But, if you haven’t taken the time to get to know God by talking to Him, trying to emulate Him, and testing out His trustworthiness and promises, then you aren’t going to believe that He is what He says He is. You aren’t going to see the value in becoming like Him. You aren’t going to trust that it’s possible.

The prophet Lorenzo Snow taught:

As man now is, God once was
As God now is, man may become

So, if you think that becoming like God is impossible, it’s not because it isn’t. It is (Moroni 10:32-33) possible. But, you don’t think it is because you don’t know Him. And, unless you get to know Him, it will always be impossible to you (St. John 17:3).

If Becoming Like God is Your Primary Desire in this Life then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

The second commandment is: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Thus, if we put a desire before the desire to become like God, then we have begun desiring or worshipping another God. And, the sad thing about this is that there is no other thing/person/situation that has the power to ultimately give us anything that we want. Everything that has it’s center in this life (and not in Eternal Life, i.e. life like God) is temporary and will end when we die. Only those things that are sanctioned by God, entered into by His guidelines and commandments, etc. will continue after this life (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7).

So, the Gospel is impossible to you if you have put something/someone in your life before your goal/desire to become like God. It is impossible because you have given your agency to a false god. Thus, that false god has no power to give you what you ultimately want. Thus, the Gospel is of no effect in your life, or only to the extent that you allow it.

So, to say the Gospel is impossible because you trust the power and authority of whatever false god you have chosen over Christ and God, the Father; then, of course it is impossible. But only because you are putting your trust in something/someone with “0” power. The moment you begin to put God first in your life again, your life will regain the power to bring you ultimate joy and happiness. The Gospel will then again become possible.

When You are Willing to Repent, the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

Salvation (and differing levels of grace and mercy) are disbursed on the conditions of repentance and faithfulness we give to God and His Gospel. When we aren’t willing to repent, change, and try to become godly, then the Gospel seems impossible. But that’s because as long as we aren’t willing to meet the conditions God has established for His grace and mercy (bought through the blood, example, and Atonement of Jesus Christ), then technically, the Gospel is impossible. God doesn’t forgive us without true repentance. We don’t get to become gods simply by being born into this life. The only thing we get for being born is an immortal, resurrected body.

Grace is spiritual money. God is the spiritual gazillionaire. We can’t demand His spiritual money on our own terms. We have to meet the conditions He has set. And, the conditions He has set are also those that will ultimately bring us more happiness and joy than we could ever imagine. Whatever you think you can imagine, God can do way better. But, of course, because you can’t imagine it, it’s hard to understand the scope of what He offers.

So, don’t say the Gospel is impossible simply because you are unwilling to repent fully. Admit to yourself that you have rendered the Gospel inoperable (and the fullness of the Atonement) by your own pride and unwillingness to submit to the will of God (Mosiah 3:19).

Mia Wasikowska is Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Conclusion

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on the earth. The only things that render it impossible we have complete control over: our desires, our willingness to act on those desires, our love of and desire to learn about and become like God, and our willingness to repent and submit to the conditions God has set upon His abundant and incredibly accessible grace.

Want steps to make the Gospel FEEL possible? Check out my next blog post.

BT

Doctrine: You can’t be removed from God’s love. But, you can be removed from his ultimate blessings and glory. You may never stop hearing the voice of the Spirit, but you can limit the kinds of messages He is able to deliver.

LDS Living puts out some good articles. But, people need to remember that they are a periodical that is NOT church supported. Thus, they get some good stuff from time to time, but they are prone to emotionalism (which all newspapers/magazines) are, and they will turn a title or publish an article just to get readers. They subsist on readers and they will do what it takes to get them.

I don’t follow LDSLiving, though I do often check out the articles shared by others who read them. Most of the time they are alright. Sometimes, they are great. But, I have often noted a strong lack of doctrinal underpinning (which is a major problem leading to doctrinal aberrations), and a quick propensity to publish articles that lead to doubt rather than faith. So, today’s post is to address an article they’ve posted (based on a request from a good friend who found it confusing) that’s lacking a clear, doctrinal foundation.

That article is titled One Dangerous and Untrue Thing About Sin Mormons Need to Stop Believing.

The first issue with this article is the emotionalism the title prompts. This is a journalism tactic. It evokes fear and panic. However, if the panic is well-founded (which it rarely is), then OK. But, this article, by a wonderful lady (@qnoor_templedress) whom I follow on Instagram, has been titled wrong. It should be called, You Can’t Escape God’s Love.

The title is the biggest issue, and that is because it pre-conditions the reader to look for some major issue or sin with how the LDS Church (or its lay members) teaches truth. It breeds doubt before faith…my biggest issue with a lot of LDSLiving articles. Thus, it becomes an accusatory article. However, the article (in near direct opposition to its title) is a personal testimony about how God is always with us.

The fact that the author of the article refers to her own uncertainties about how lay leaders and members understand and teach how the Spirit works is not unprecedented. Keeping the doctrine of the church pure is a primary function of The Church (i.e., the organization of prophets, apostles, etc.); and it gets more and more difficult the larger the church gets, and that’s because people play the game telephone by generalizing church doctrines into phrases that lead to open interpretation and misunderstanding by those who didn’t coin the phrase (I’ve blogged about this issue before). And, so when it gets regurgitated it comes out as an aberration which is nearly always turned into a false doctrine.

Each person who teaches the gospel is required to pass on to others, in pure and undistorted form, the truths for which such great sacrifices have been made.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 620).

What we have in this article by LDSLiving is a small aberration. An aberration is a precursor to false doctrine NOT because the individual always intends to teach false doctrine but because the way they state something leaves it open to interpretations that spread false doctrine. This is easy to do because none of us understands everything. This is why it’s so important for us to study, prepare, and to be careful what we teach and how we teach it. If we are unsure of something, we should not BS or makeup stuff, or generalize hoping that the Spirit cleans it up for us. We must obtain the word before we preach it (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21).

So, if you have issues trying to figure out how the Holy Ghost works, then I refer you to a previous blog and from there a host of scriptures, hard work, pondering, and study. From here onward, I’m going to talk about grace, the Spirit, AND the things about sin people need to keep believing.

This article, with its aberration, prompts the idea that there are no consequences to sin. Note, the author doesn’t say there are no consequences to sin AT ALL. And, I would bet if you asked her that teaching such an idea was not her purpose. But, her frustrations and the accompanying generalities in her testimony leave the reader open to the idea (if they choose to entertain it) that there are no consequences to sin as regards the Holy Ghost. But, there clearly are, so, let’s refer to some scriptures which can clarify the doctrines we need to understand about sin, the Holy Ghost, and God’s mercy and grace.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:31, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”

Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

1 Nephi 17:45, “…he hath spoken to you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore he has spoken unto you like the voice of thunder…”

1 Nephi 15:9, “And they said unto me: we have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Doctrine and Covenants 88:34, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.”

Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, “For I the Lord God will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

Now, I could keep going with scriptural references, but now let’s get to the point.

Does God ever abandon us? Ever? No (Luke 15:4; Romans 8:29). But, the type of relationship we can have with Him (now, and eternally), and the type of communication we can receive from Him (now, and eternally) does change based upon our actions, whether sinful or righteous.

God gives truth and light (and salvation) to us line upon line and precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12); and I would add, covenant upon kept covenant.

Truth Torn Paper

What people misunderstand and thereby teach with aberrations is how the Holy Ghost works. The Gift of the Holy Ghost works very much like the Liahona, according to the faith and heed and diligence we give unto Him (1 Nephi 16:28; Alma 12:9). If we listen to Him and follow, we will get more and more personal revelations, knowledge, and light which is intended to sanctify us over time and make us godly. If we only listen to Him when we feel like it, the messages and information we get will reflect our faith, heed, and diligence.

For example:

Note that Nephi tried to keep the commandments of God. I’m sure he was far from perfect (even annoying as a person), but he was in a state of forward progression, living the commandments, repenting, and following the Spirit. Thus, his own actions and diligence in seeking God’s will, guidance, and mysteries led him in a path of revelation and personal sanctification. He got to see visions and receive doctrinal truths and interpretations of scripture and dreams. His mind was opened up to amazing things. And, whatever his personality or disposition, he was faithful, diligent, humble, and quick to forgive.

In contrast, Laman and Lemuel were fair weather friends with God. They only followed God’s commandments if it suited their own, personally designated plans for happiness. They were often rude, vulgar, impatient, mocking, bullying, degrading, prone to anger and violence, pride, and grudge-holding. Lehi communicated God’s love to them through priesthood blessings and fatherly council, but he couldn’t promise them the same blessings as Nephi, Sam, and Zoram—because of their sinfulness.

Thus, when Nephi asked Laman and Lemuel why they hadn’t asked God about their questions regarding Lehi’s dream, they said, “…the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us,” and they were right. God never had communicated such things to them because they had never sought it nor been worthy of it. Because of their mindset about God, God’s commandments, and His plan and will for them, they were not abandoned by the Spirit, but the types of communications they could receive from Him were limited to their limited faith, heed, and diligence.

The author of the LDSLiving article likely understands this principle. Yet, her frustrations were with an apparent lack of correct doctrinal teaching in her youth. She was led to believe, based on generalizations and aberrations, that God, and the Holy Ghost, would completely forsake her if she sinned. What she found in her own straying times did not agree with what she felt she had been taught. Thus, her frustration that these girls she speaks to might be getting the same soup of aberrated thoughts and false doctrines. Her desire was pure. She wanted them to know that even if they messed up, God loved them. And, she wanted them to know that so that they would have the courage to repent and seek His face again…with hope—as she did.

Can God communicate His love to us even if He can’t allow us into the temple? Yes. Can God comfort us even if He can’t teach us deeper truths and reveal to us things that will make us more like Him? Certainly.

As the author of the LDSLiving article indicated, God is always with us. However, it’s the status of the relationship and our ability to progress that is affected by our sins. If we persist in sin we can’t expect God to answer all our questions about Him and His plan…because we aren’t capable of understanding, accepting, and acting on such revelation. Therefore, we are limited in our progress in becoming like Him in many areas of truth we become “past feeling” until we sincerely repent and open ourselves up again to those other messages.

Also, it is important to note that since all sin and righteousness are accompanied by consequences (both mortal and eternal), that any sin does result in a loss of access to upward progress toward God, and often as well in a loss of mortal protection and guidance (because we are “past feeling”). Well did Lehi quote God when he said, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to land of promise…(1 Nephi 2:20).Portrait of a liar

God’s whole plan is to lead us to become like Him. Thus, any other path leads us to not become like Him and is thereby a lesser path with lesser messages, blessings, and progress. It does not lead us to the same knowledge, protection, blessings, and ultimate glory UNLESS we repent and change course. Which, of course, we can always do—if we are sincere. Then, our sinful experiences are changed to glorified ones BECAUSE WE REPENTED. Sin cannot lead us upward if it is not accompanied by repentance.

Now, the worst aberration that I see members and leaders of the Church spreading is, “Our goal is to get home to God.” WRONG. Our goal is to BECOME LIKE GOD. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE. And this aberration, I have found, leads to most others, including misconceptions about grace and the atonement. But, I’ve blogged about those repeatedly and will likely continue so I won’t go into those today.

So, does sin affect our access to the Holy Ghost? Yes, it affects the types of messages He can deliver. Does sin affect our progress in becoming like God? Yes, if we do not learn from it, truly desire righteousness, and meet the conditions for repentance. Does God ever abandon us? No, but He cannot change the law for us or deny His word, and so consequences for sin stand.

If you are a youth and you are living in sin, you will still feel God’s love. He will still seek after you. He will still offer as much to you as you are willing to receive by your actions and sincere desires. But, you will lose out on blessings IF you do not repent. You will lose out on spiritual (and sometimes other mortal) opportunities during those times you persist in sin. IF you repent sooner, rather than later, much can be maintained (or restored to you). But, IF you persist in sin and procrastinate repentance you will begin to become the actions you espouse, and therefore repentance becomes more difficult as the years pass, though it is ALWAYS possible.

You can’t be removed from God’s love (Roman’s 8:29). But you can be removed from His ultimate blessings and glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-23).

BT

Doctrine: Our primary identity is that we are Children of God. If we are true to God, then we are being true to ourselves. Christ faced and experienced ALL temptation and He overcame all of it to be “true to Himself,” and His role in God’s plan of salvation.

Today’s post is a guest post. I came across Tristan on Instagram (@the_gay_r.m) and was so impressed with his posts, and eventually his story, that I asked him to write this post. And, it’s power has already sent my mind to pondering… There is some powerful doctrine here. It is simple, but not easy. It’s clear, but daunting. And, it applies to all of us, whether we experience this particular mortal struggle, weakness, or others.

Tristan FosterYou can also follow Tristan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thegayrm/ or the direct link to his blog is http://thegayrm.blogspot.com/

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As a member of the Church who experiences same-sex attraction, I often find myself in the crossfire between well-intentioned churchgoers and the LGBT community. I am often asked by members of both of these parties why I choose to stay in the Church. The short answer is that I have a testimony of the Gospel forged in the trials of my faith. However, a complex situation such as mine warrants a more detailed explanation.

From a young age I was taught the Gospel of Christ in its purity, as most children who actively attend church are. In primary we are drilled with the song “I am a Child of God,” which quickly grows old for many people. It took many years for the importance of this hymn to pierce my heart. I often thought that being a child of God wasn’t all that special, since literally everyone is a child of God (even Satan, for crying out loud, and look what happened to him!). My patriarchal blessing advices me to always remember that I have Heavenly Parents who know me better than I know myself.

A common phrase in the world today is “Be true to yourself.” This is especially true in the LGBT community. I know many people who have left their spouses to pursue same-sex relationships in an effort to be “authentic.” And, ironically, active members of the Church who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria are continuously ridiculed by the world for “living a lie.” This attempt to invalidate the choices of temple-worthy saints has long-lost its novelty in my book.

Everyone on the planet chose to come here by accepting Christ’s Plan of Salvation. We are all children of the Supreme creator of the universe, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. The God who parted the Red Sea and whose power broke the bonds of death and hell. We are children of deity. Now, if I were to live a lifestyle contrary to the commandments and framework of God’s plan, am I living true to myself as a son of God? Absolutely not. Neither am I being true to Him. I often tag my posts with #TrueToHim to illustrate what it means to be truly authentic as a child of God. If we are being true to Him, we are most certainly being true to ourselves.

The second gospel doctrine that my testimony is rooted in is the infinite atonement. It’s something that we have right in front of us all the time yet we too often fail to comprehend its power. My favorite verses of scripture are Alma 7:11-13 because they so beautifully elaborate upon this subject. Because the Lord chose to endure all that we have gone through, not only our sin and guilt but even our pain and temptations, He was enabled to best succor us. Many people teach that to “succor” means “to run to.” However, it actually means “to nourish or help.” His bowels are full of mercy toward us because of the empathy granted Him by His sacrifice. Because of this, He above any other force knows us. He weeps with us because He understands the difficult choices we have to make daily and the opposition that seems to crush us.

Did the Savior experience same-sex attraction? Maybe. We aren’t entirely sure how He took upon Himself our temptations, but in any case I know that He understands something that so many in the Church do not. Knowing that I am not alone in my struggle means the world to me. We can never say that we aren’t understood by anyone because of the atonement. I am strongly attracted to other men. This isn’t just a fetish or an addiction as I’ve overheard at church. I’m drawn to men physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know that this must be nearly impossible for “straight” people to wrap their minds around, but we don’t have to literally experience or atone for such a trial in order to empathize. We are all connected by common denominators, such as pain and suffering. While the Savior is the ultimate source of comfort, we are commanded to take His yoke upon us and mourn with those who mourn.

It seems that in times past the atonement was portrayed as the solution to sin (which it is), but more recently we’ve been better educated on another aspect of the atonement: enabling grace. I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ has granted me power to bridle my passions. We learn in Ether that the Lord will convert our weaknesses into strengths if we humble ourselves and have faith in Him. For a long time I thought that this meant that He would take away this struggle that I didn’t choose and certainly didn’t want, but I’ve found that, at least for the time being, this scripture has a slightly different meaning.

I am heavily involved with a group of active Church members who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. I was considered for a video profile on the Church’s new MormonAndGay.org. I’ve been interviewed by the Salt Lake Tribune and a BYU reporter, and I’ve published articles, videos, and other interviews to be the person I needed when I was younger. I hate to say it, but my parents don’t understand the depth of what I go through, and I imagine that many LGBT members face comparable difficulties. It is because I am in the trenches with them, similarly struggling to master the natural man and grow to be the being that God intends, that I am able to reach them. It is through the enabling power of the atonement that I am able to use my weakness to bless and uplift other children of God. I don’t say this to brag, but rather to illustrate that strength doesn’t come from an absence of temptation, but courage in the face of it.

People ask me why I’ve chosen to step forward and share my story. They fear that I’m putting myself in a vulnerable position, which is absolutely true. However, if the Savior stood beside me, would I be willing to testify of Him from the unique perspective of a same-sex attracted member? My answer is yes.

The third doctrine of the Gospel that keeps me grounded is the resurrection. I have a firm testimony that Christ our Savior lives, that His death on the cross was conquered through His priesthood power, thus paving the way for us and our kindred dead to rise in the glorious resurrection of the millennium. The Messiah breathes and walks beside us in our afflictions, carrying our load without us recognizing it. He is a god who weeps. I have felt His arms around me as He sat with me in the darkness of my deepest despair. His is the ultimate power in the universe, and He employs it to lift us up. Because I know that I will live again in the life to come, I know why I’m here. So while the struggle to avoid romantic relationship with other men is excruciating, the thought of not being with my family in the next life is far more haunting.

Through the doctrines of divine identity, the infinite atonement, and the resurrection, I can see beyond the vision of my eyes. Only a step at a time is illuminated in the path before me, and the Lord sometimes asks me to take a leap of faith into the darkness. However, I have faith that the enabling grace of His atonement can reach even a sinner such as I. I hope that by sharing my story I can help others remember that there is room for all of us at the table of Christ, that there are unsung songs that need to be heard in our journey to sainthood. The Lord understands what it is to be Tristan, and He knows what is to be you.woman drawing a picture, sketch of herself

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I only have one thought to add, spurred by this powerful post.

While reading this post, it hit me hard, that Christ doesn’t ask any of us to do what He hasn’t already done. Christ was God’s Only Begotten Son (in the flesh). That was His true identity. And, as such, He had the potential and power to be the Savior (if He chose…which He did). And, He experienced all temptation and suffering (whether “in the flesh” as He lived a mortal life, or through the literal, vicarious ordinance of the atonement). Yet, He overcame all to be “true to Himself.” And, He asks us to do the same (with His help). He asks us to overcome our weaknesses and struggles and overcome temptation to be true to ourselves…to become who we were born to be…not just God’s offspring with the potential to be gods; but to become like God (Romans 8:16-17).

It brings to my mind a quote by C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 11, Faith, Paragraph 7).

I’d like to preface this quote by first noting that we are all a combination of bad and good and that is that which we choose to act upon that defines us (thanks Sirius Black, HP movie 5); and that C.S. Lewis’s use of the word “bad” in this quote should not be taken too personally, as some people resent the “label” because they think it means I am trying to blanket judge their entire lives as bad (which, I’m not). However, interestingly, if we labeled them “good,” I think they wouldn’t put up a fight and complain about us blanket-judging them to be perfect. If it is easier to chew on, consider replacing “bad” with “sinful” and “good” with “sinless.”

…No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.  A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of the [an] army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of the wind by trying to talk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only  man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

No matter what our weaknesses, sins, or struggles are, may we choose to be “true to ourselves” as Children of God, and not identify ourselves by our weakness, our sins, our struggles, or any other lesser term…for certainly this “label” is of all the most powerful, the most important, and the most empowering.

BT

Doctrine: Free will has one specific goal and purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. It allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. To enable its purpose, free will (agency) has set conditions; which if we try to obscure or alter (superficially) results only in misery and suffering. Moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Agency, i.e. free will, is one of those doctrines that many people believe they understand. And yet, I find that they understand it very little. Some think free will means no law, no guidelines, no rules, no restrictions and no consequences. Others believe laws, commands, rules, and consequences are necessary but then they use unrighteous dominion and fear to enforce them.

These are extremes, but many of us struggle to find the middle ground and thereby fail to understand our own moral agency and how to treat others as moral agents. Because we don’t grasp the doctrines behind agency we end up frequently misapplying it. We adopt false doctrines that guide our behaviors and impact our relationships. But, there is a correct place to sit along the spectrum of communication and treatment of others. And, it all comes down to understanding Moral Agency.

Moral Agency is the product of one specific goal or purpose: God’s desire to help us become like Him and to have all that He has. Our agency is a gift from Him. Moral Agency is what allows us to decide, and ultimately prove to ourselves (through experience), if we desire what God desires for us. That’s its purpose.

In order to preserve the purpose of God’s gift or Moral Agency, we need several conditions in place These conditions allow us to have free will and exercise to figure out if we want to become like God:

  1. Law defining right and wrong choices that will lead us toward godhood or away from it; and the blessings and consequences that accompany those right and wrong choices
  2. Knowledge of good and evil (established by the law) communicated to us and taught to us
  3. Enticements to do good and enticements to do evil (marketing from God and Satan)
  4. Ability for our actions to have tangible impact, or in other words, the mortal conditions (of pain and joy) that make our choices matter (this is not a simulation or a video game)
  5. Sufficient autonomy to act without interference (this includes the environment/world and even God, Himself out of our immediate presence)
  6. Ability to learn from mistakes and sins without being condemned by those mistakes and sins when we learn to do otherwise

I don’t have the luxury of going into great detail on these items without writing a book. But, suffice it to say, if God removed one of the above items, our agency would become null and void; of which the final consequence would be that our choices wouldn’t matter. And, if our choices don’t matter this life becomes pointless. If our choices don’t matter, they lose power to damn us or exalt us. No agency = an eternal limbo without sorrow but also without joy. No agency = the state of constant suspense with no hope of any fulfillment. Yuck.

God has established a world where we have true agency (Abraham 3:24-28). And, He never changes the above conditions. Agency has the power to help us become like God. Preserving agency is the truest form of love God can give us. And, it is the primary reason there was a need for an infinite atonement. The atonement allows us to exercise our agency in the godly learning process without being condemned by that process. Thus, moral agency may be the highest law of heaven because it has sponsored the greatest applications of God’s love: His plan for us to gain access to His life and power, and the atonement performed by Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

So, here we are. And, purposefully, life isn’t ever fair or idyllic. We have marriages suffering. We have parent-child relationships suffering. We have sibling relationships suffering. We have friendships suffering. We even have cultural and societal relationships suffering. And, they are all suffering because of the lack of understanding of God’s plan and the conditions of Moral Agency.

Neal A. Maxwell said (The Great Plan of the Eternal God, 1984):

So vital is this framework [of God’s plan] that if one stays or strays outside it, he risks provinciality and misery. In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it [the plan]. Hence, the Lord, who has freely shared this vital knowledge with us, has urged us to teach the fundamentals of this plan “freely.” (Moses 6:58)

So, let’s look at the issues that happen when we fail to teach the fundamentals of Moral Agency and its critical purpose in God’s plan. If we superficially change even one of the conditions, all sorts of extra misery and suffering results.volunteers with hands up

First, society keeps trying to change the law defining what is right and wrong in order to remove guilt and the idea of moral consequences. But, all removing such law does is prevent people from taking the time out to see if they want to become godly or not. Changing the societal law doesn’t actually change God’s law or the very real and inescapable moral consequences (both immediate and eternal). It only keeps people from understanding why they are here on earth and deciding if they want to be like their Heavenly Father or not.

Second, a lot of religious people do more than enough instructing and informing their children on godly laws and yet fail to also inform and instruct their children about the “other side,” accurately. They apply blind generalities that canvass the real experiences of sin thinking it will prevent their children from experimenting with evil. And, they do so because they are worried their children will be more curious if they are more informed. Yet, what they accomplish is removing the power their children need to make an educated and accurate choice.  It’s difficult to make a honest choice without honest information. They are too worried (and afraid) about what their children will do rather than trusting them with all the information so they can determine the true desires of their own hearts.

These parents give the knowledge of good (in detail) and then only the knowledge of bad (in generalities and statements/threats using fear) and believe that this will keep their children from choosing the evil. However, what this well-intentioned plan does is leave children blind to their own hearts and desires until they are truly confronted with the sin. Then, when actually confronted with sin’s enticements and realities they are unprepared to fight it properly. They don’t know their own hearts and so they are more likely to succumb to such sin. If not in their youth (while at home) then possibly later when out of their parents’ purviews.

Knowledge increases the power of agency. And, relationships that are managed by the withholding of knowledge are those in which one party does not have a true testimony of the atonement, its accompanying grace, or God’s actual plan. In Alma 12:32 we read:

Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil, the penalty thereof being a second death, which was an everlasting death as to things pertaining unto righteousness; for on such the plan of redemption could have no power, for the works of justice could not be destroyed, according to the supreme goodness of God.

In this verse we can see that God didn’t give rules, guidelines, or commandments until AFTER expounding to Adam and Eve the fullness of the plan. I’m pretty sure God was thorough with His information. Yet, so often we give rules and commands without helping our children to understand the purpose of the rule and the full, detailed information of why breaking said rules will hinder their progress in God’s plan.

Third, Some of us are afraid of being too religiously pushy. Thus we err by eliminating proper and godly enticements and invitations to do good in order to not “impose” upon another’s free will. All the while Satan’s side has no qualms about imposing and inundating all of us with enticements and invitations to do evil. Thereby, our reluctance to invite and entice leaves our beloved ones overwhelmed by all the wrong propaganda. Now, granted, if we entice or invite in ways that stifle moral agency, such as: using fear tactics, coercion, manipulation, guilt trips, etc., then obviously we need to learn to entice and invite as God does. But then we should do it! By eliminating enticements to do good we decrease the power of an another’s agency because they have little chance of choosing the right because they are unaware of it or have forgotten it.

Fourth, some people, albeit understandably, would like to remove all the pain and suffering from the world. And, I don’t blame them. But, unfortunately (and fortunately) pain and suffering (all of it) is what makes this life and our choices matter.

Think about it. A tornado strikes. You can get mad at God for letting the tornado strike and deprive people of their homes (and possibly their lives), or you can gain peace in the fact that it generates an opportunity for Christlike service, gratitude, perseverance, sacrifice, long-suffering, etc…(all godly attributes). Take away the calamity and you take away the refining conditions it provides. As well, Christ has overcome death. Death is tragic, but it is not permanent. Such an event should arouse our relief and gratitude that God has already, in a past sense, reversed the calamity.

Or, a woman has an abusive husband. After years of verbal and physical abuse she finally gets out. Was the whole experience a total loss? No. First, because the atonement will eventually completely heal all of her mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds. Second, it’s not a loss because she will understand Christ’s suffering better than most—innocent suffering. And by understanding Christ she will feel greater love for Him and have a chance to draw closer to Him and become like Him. Third, she will be able to entice others to get out of their abusive situations sooner than she did. She will be able to counsel them, comfort them, and understand their struggles. Her own experience has granted her power to become a Savior of others.

There is deep doctrine attached to all suffering. Suffering makes wrong choices wrong and also means that justice has to be paid. And, though Christ paid for all wrong choices, for those who don’t repent, they will eventually have to suffer, even as Christ did, because the ability to be hurt and to hurt others makes the hurt they caused matter; and it’s what makes it necessary for them to pay for it if they do not repent. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19)

Fifth, and finally, people want God to step in and stop all suffering. They want Him to interfere and remove our necessary autonomy…especially in major crimes and catastrophic suffering. Little do they realize that removing the impact of choice removes the reality of choice. God can’t condemn those who sin if He stops them from sinning and removes the impact of their choices. And, if He steps in to stop a murder then He must also step in and stop you from gossiping, committing adultery, and other sins. There is no middle ground. Either we are allowed to condemn ourselves by our actions (and access grace by our actions) or we are not. And, if we are not allowed to choose and be impacted then there is no need for an atonement. (Alma 14:10-11; Alma 60:13; Helaman 14:29; 1 Nephi 18:11; Doctrine and Covenants 136:39)

Additionally, removing the negative also removes the positive. If the impact of choice is removed or preempted, then the good we do won’t matter either. If only the good matters and not the evil then there is no true free will (because we only have one choice) and there is zero power to become godly—which, do not forget, is the whole purpose of being here on this earth under these conditions and circumstances in the first place.

The atonement of Christ did not take place to remove all suffering. It took place to pay justice for the suffering we would all experience for all the various variables (conditions of morality) that cause suffering. It took place to bring us back into the presence of God, so that we don’t have to remain out of His presence forever—if we repent. It took place to resurrect us and get us out of these fragile and corrupted mortal bodies after using them to learn to become godly, or not. The atonement took place to give us the chance to learn to become godly (which requires agency) while also ultimately allowing us to change, repent, and improve. Without the atonement there is no agency and there is no plan and this life would never have happened.

As a last note, I have to mention that many Latter-day Saints take to heart the command found in Doctrine and Covenants 68:25-29. And yet, they subconsciously and inadvertently change the word “teach” to “coerce, threaten, manipulate, guilt, shame, or force.” God commands us to “teach” not to exercise unrighteous dominion. He commands us to “persuade,” not to threaten (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-46).

People who struggle with this tendency to change the meaning of the word “teach” to “coerce…” need to ask themselves, “What does a teacher do? How do they help their class master a topic? How does a teacher encourage application? How does a teacher determine the level of understanding students have and their ability to apply that information and understanding?” As parents, are we teachers or taskmasters? Just food for thought, here.

So, as we consider how to treat people with love, and as moral agents, we need to be certain we maintain the conditions of agency (i.e. God’s love) (as listed above). As well, a study of Christ’s ministry and His treatment of people in the scriptures will reveal many principles and applications for “how” to apply our knowledge of true Moral Agency. If we are prayerful about our scripture study and want to know how to treat others as moral agents and invite and entice them to come unto Christ, then we will find guidance in abundance.

BT

Doctrine: Because Christ suffered, our suffering matters and gains the power to make us godly. Because Christ died and was resurrected, our deaths have power to help us progress in God’s plan. Because Christ suffered, as we suffer we will come to understand Him and know Him better and thus gain eternal life (John 17:3). Our suffering “according to the flesh” enables us to know how to succor others.

In the beloved movie, the Princess Bride, Wesley (disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts) says to the Princess Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” And, the interesting thing is that Wesley is right. Life is pain.

In this life, pain hits us from all sides. There’s physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, psychological and pain. There’s pain we cause ourselves. There’s pain that happens to us on accident. There’s pain that’s a default of Mother Nature and Father Time. There’s pain others cause us. And it seems to just go on and on.

girl sits in a depression on the floor near the wall

Recently I heard the question more, or less, asked:

“If Christ suffered for everything, sins and other kinds of suffering too, on our behalf, why then do we still suffer? Since we still suffer, then why did Christ have to suffer if it doesn’t keep us from suffering [referring specifically to physical pain]?”

The answer given to this question was:

“Christ had to suffer for our physical pains—even though we still suffer them too—so that He could understand how to succor us.”

This answer was based on the scripture Alma 7:11-13. And, though it’s not incorrect, I felt that it was insufficient in response to the question asked. Or, at least to me, it didn’t provide much comfort. And when the question was asked, I perceived that the person asking was looking for comfort and more understanding.

Sure, it helps me to know that Christ understands all of my suffering, personally. It helps me to know that everything I go through He comprehends perfectly so that even when I struggle to explain it in my prayers that He knows. But, I think that there is so much more that could be offered in response to this question.

So, let’s look at Alma 7:11-13:

And he [Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

Verse 11 refers specifically to the life of Christ. His life was full of pain, affliction, and temptation. And, as He went through it all He also set a perfect example of how to respond to such struggles. So, for me, the first reason Christ suffered things that we still have to suffer (to a lesser extent, I might point out), was so that He could show us how to respond to suffering in a godly manner.

Verse 12 refers to His ability to take on the ultimate physical pain/problem—death. Yes, we die. But, we don’t have any control over whether or not we die. Christ did. As part of the great vicarious ordinance of the Atonement, Christ had to choose to lay down His life (John 10:18). For those familiar with vicarious ordinance work, Christ basically chose to die for, and in behalf of, each of us. Then, He loosed the bands of death by choosing to take His life up again, in the resurrection, for, and in behalf of, each of us. Because He did this we will all be resurrected as well.

So, why do we still die if Christ already died for us? Because death and resurrection are both ordinances which we must pass through to receive our immortal glories. Ordinances, which would have no power or effect if not for Christ granting them power through the grace of His Atonement. If Christ had not died, He could not have raised Himself up again so that we could also rise again: perfected and immortal. Meaning, that our deaths would be ordinances that had no authority/power to advance us forward in God’s plan. As Latter-day Saints with access to true priesthood authority and power, we often cannot comprehend what it is to partake of ordinances that “avail us nothing” because they are “dead works” (Doctrine and Covenants 22:2-3). But our deaths, without Christ’s death, would be “dead works” and avail us nothing.

Verse 12 also refers to the primary source of the original answer. However,  when quoted out of context from verse 13, it loses a bit of meaning. So, let’s look at them together.

…and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

The phrase “according to the flesh” is used three times. This seems rather significant to me. Especially in light of the fact that precursor to the final use of it we see the phrase, “Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless…”

From His birth we know that Christ was a perfect vessel that absorbed pure information—through the Holy Spirit—as He grew “grace by grace” until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:12-13). We know that Christ was instructed entirely by the Spirit because “he needed not that any man should teach him” (JST Matthew 3:25). If this was the case, then we could say that He already knew according to the Spirit how to succor us according to our infirmities. Yet, He chose to also suffer for our infirmities “according to the flesh” that He might know “according to the flesh” how to succor us. Then, He suffered “according to the flesh” that He might take upon Him the sins of His people.

Just as Christ’s death and resurrection grants power and progression to our deaths, and makes possible our resurrection. We might also say that Christ’s suffering “according to the flesh” grants power to our suffering “according to the flesh,” and makes possible our sanctification. Let me explain.

gethsemanefinal

I think sometimes we forget that the Atonement of Christ, though deeply individual and personal, is also much more all-encompassing and grand—on a universal scale—than we mortals can ever comprehend. But, for those of us who understand vicarious ordinance work, it seems quite clear that all eternal, saving ordinances must be performed “in the flesh” or “according to the flesh.” From this, we might postulate that while Christ knew enough according to the Spirit to succor us in our infirmities, that as part of His great vicarious ordinance on our behalf, He also had to pass through it all physically as well in order to grant the ordinance power and validity. But, by default it also grants power and validity to our individual sufferings, which, without the Atonement would be powerless to improve, refine, or sanctify us.

So, we have established why Christ had to suffer even though often we still suffer. But let’s now consider the question, “Why do we still suffer if Christ already took all the suffering upon Himself?”

All the answers to this question come from the very same doctrines we’ve already canvassed.

If we are to become like Christ, then even though we do not have to (nor could we) perform the Atonement, it seems clear that in order to become godly we still have to suffer “according to the flesh” that we might be able to learn to succor others. Certainly the Holy Spirit can reveal certain things to us according to the Spirit , and yet I think we can all grasp the fact that our compassion is deeper and our capacity to comfort and succor is greater when we have passed through something “according to the flesh.” This includes emotional, mental, and spiritual anguish because they all manifest themselves in amplified forms through our physical bodies’ reactions.

As well, as mentioned above, because Christ suffered our suffering now matters. Because of Christ’s suffering, our suffering now has the power the help us progress in God’s plan of salvation. Because of Christ’s suffering, our suffering grants us power to actually become godly, and to help others in ways we could not otherwise do. Have you ever considered that without Christ none of our suffering would have any purpose? We would be doomed to misery (Mosiah 16:4). But, because of Christ’s life and Atonement, all of our suffering becomes important, meaningful, powerful and necessary. We cannot become godly without it.

Most importantly, we know that Christ said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). We also know we can’t become like Christ if He is far from the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Mosiah 5:13). As well, the five foolish virgins were kept from the wedding feast, not because they were late, but because they didn’t really know Christ (Matthew 25:12). They were strangers to Him. They didn’t know Him because they hadn’t become like Him (1 John 3:2).

If for no other reason, we suffer in this life, continually, that we might not only become godly, but that we might come to know God.  I still remember the first time I truly suffered anguish and deep emotional injury because of the deliberate actions of another person. It was so entirely unfair and hurtful. And I remember realizing for the first time this was the only type of pain Christ suffered. All of His suffering was the result of others’ deliberate actions and was unfair. He warranted none of it. I remember this moment so clearly because my love for the Savior grew exponentially as I began to (in a small way) comprehend what He really did for me and for you. I thought I had understood before. But in that moment I realized how little I had ever understood anything. Because of my suffering, I came to know Him better.

Portrait of sad woman.

Certainly we suffer pain from the consequences of sin so that we might be led to repent. But, I find that the majority of the pain in life that we suffer is outside of our own sinfulness. Pain, both fortunately and unfortunately, is what makes everything in this life matter. For, if we can’t be hurt then we also can’t be healed, helped, or blessed.  Pain is what makes it possible for us to come to know God. It makes it possible for us to understand, and purely comprehend, the joy of life without pain (when we are privileged to experience it for a time). Pain is the crux of opposition which is critical to agency (2 Nephi 2:11). This list just goes on and on.

So, as Wesley so wisely said, “Life is pain.” It has to be. It’s a problem, sure. And C.S. Lewis undressed this problem in a literary fashion so much better than I ever could in his book The Problem of Pain. But I congratulate myself that the one thing he doesn’t point out is its most critical function in helping us come to know Christ. But, if he were alive at present he might beg to differ. Who knows.

But it all boils down to this. Christ had to suffer. We have to suffer. I think the sooner we understand this the tiniest bit easier it is to accept pain, rise above it, use it to progress toward godliness, and to help others through it.

BT

I’ve been given a lengthy question/comment to “respond to” with doctrine. Below is not the whole question, but it is the major portion.

Why would a loving God want any of His spirit children to go to a family that doesn’t want them? Why force a child to be born to a single mom, or a rape victim, or even force a family into adoption? If the spirit has always been around there should be nothing that can change God’s plan.

There is more than this question/comment to respond to. But, this blog will focus on the doctrine of agency as it pertains to the pre-earth life (scripturally referred to as “the foundations of the earth”).

Doctrine: There is no doctrine more paramount in God’s own eternal laws and plan than the doctrine of agency (i.e. free will). In the pre-earth life we CHOSE to enter God’s plan, to receive a body, and to come to earth. We are not forced to be born against our own will. Those who rejected God’s plan did not receive a body and were cast out (e.g. Satan and his followers).  To not get a body means an eternal spirit cannot progress. Therefore, a body, however it comes is far better than not ever receiving a body. By getting body, the possibilities for how a spirit may spend their eternity are expanded.

mastermind, chakra power, inspiration abstract thought together, watercolor painting

Though we often use the terms interchangeably (and in certain contexts it may work), a spirit and a soul are not the same thing. A spirit is a spirit. A body is a body. A soul is a spirit and a body—together. Spirits are eternal, but one cannot become an eternal soul without receiving a body. So, while God is the Father of our spirits, He is an eternal, perfected, and resurrected soul. Therefore, part of His plan for our eternal progression in becoming like Him is for us to also receive a body. Yet, once we receive our mortal body it eventually dies. So, why get a body? Well, mortal birth appears to be as much of an ordinance as baptism, the sacrament, and marriage, if not more so (I could say the same of death). Christ, Himself, had to be born physically and to die physically before being resurrected. So, even a God was subject to the same eternal law/terms when it came to getting a body.

So, even though the mortal body will die, the ordinance of birth has been accomplished and God, through the atonement and resurrection can bring the eternal spirit and the body (the soul) back together in a glorified, perfected, and resurrected form.

In Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-16 we read:

And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.

Note here that a soul is defined before it is also made clear that resurrection from the dead is for “the soul.” Not just the spirit.

Being born is not only getting a body that one has been waiting around for eons to get. It is taking part in an eternal ordinance that creates a soul! As well, a body is not what makes a spirit eternal. But, a body is what makes a spirit more than spirit. Giving an eternal spirit a body makes a soul with a particular purpose and grand potential which the spirit by itself could not attain. The potential to become like God and live in His presence.

Here is where we start talking about “the foundations of the earth.” A lot of people don’t ever think about who we were before being born because they can’t strictly remember it. Religions usually stay away from the concept and leave the speculation to poets. What a lot of pastors teach is their own opinion about what little the scriptures say.

All this is quite sad, because modern prophets and revelation have given quite a clear picture of the pre-earth life. We can’t ever know everything. That is not God’s way (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33). But, whether people want to believe it or not, there is a lot of logical, correct information to be had.

Details about “the Foundations of the Earth”

plan1We are the literal spirit-children of God (Romans 8:16). We were spiritually conceived and organized from the matter and intelligence already eternally (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) existing within the universe (Abraham 3:22-28).

As God’s spirit-children (like all children) we had the capability to become like God (Romans 8:17).

God had a glorified, perfected, and resurrected body/soul (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23). He had perfected godly attributes and characteristics. He was omniscient and omnipotent. He had eternal family, including an eternal wife…who is undoubtedly the mother of our spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4).

God, because He loves us so much, wanted to give each of His children (us) the opportunity to become as He is: a glorified, perfected, and resurrected soul with perfected godly attributes, with omniscience and omnipotence (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). He wants us to not only live in His presence forever, but like Him forever, meaning with eternal family and the capability to produce spirit children of our own.

However, to become God means to be bound by covenant and law (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20-22), by justice and truth. It means eternal and universal self-sacrifice and love. It means receiving all power but only being able to use that power to save and exalt others. So, each of us had to have the opportunity to “try out” these godly conditions for ourselves to see if ultimately, being like our Heavenly Father was what we really wanted. We had to have the opportunity to “prove ourselves” to ourselves that the level of godliness God had was the level we wanted too. Minimally, we would all at least want a body. This “try out” time is called mortality and was the whole purpose of the creation of the earth (Abraham 3:22-28).

Satan didn’t fall because He wanted to become like God (which many Christian religions teach). Satan, or Lucifer as he was called before he fell, was cast out of heaven for wanting to get God’s power and glory without all the red-tape, mortal hoopla, and eternal restrictions (Isaiah 14:12-14; D&C 29:36-39; Abraham 3:27-28; Moses 4:1-4). Satan wanted absolute power. He wanted power not tempered or controlled by pure love. He wanted to remove our agency/free will—which clearly existed in heaven or he wouldn’t have wanted to get rid of it—so that he could rule absolutely. He was not about sharing power. The wicked never are.

So, while this mortal life was being set up for us (which includes the creation and designating a Redeemer and Savior), Christ volunteered to be our Redeemer. Why the need for a Redeemer? Well, part of the plan of learning to become godly is to experience the entire spectrum of good and evil and learning to desire and to choose the good over the evil. Part of the plan is experiencing this spectrum out of the immediate presence of God so that we can have a full use of our agency. It even required a veil to be drawn over our memories so that we could “start fresh.” No heavenly conditioning or overt godly influence. Just the Holy Spirit and the seeds of who we were and what we chose before we came to earth that could be awakened and re-ignited, through faith, if we so desired.

But, this absence of memory and this massive spectrum of good and evil would leave us all vulnerable to making poor decisions, sinning, hurting others, and experiencing a great deal of misery and pain. Even if we learned to gain the godly attributes and characteristics needed for eventual godhood, all of the mess we made while learning to be such would keep us from ever arriving at our goal. Not to mention that our physical body would also eventually die and leave us as just spirits again. What could be done? Well, God established that we would need a Redeemer and Savior to pay justice on our behalf so that we could learn to become godly without being condemned by the godly learning process. We would also need someone to overcome the death that would be brought about by a necessary fall into mortality.

Then, God asked for a volunteer. God did not force Christ to be the Redeemer. Christ volunteered. Lucifer tried to volunteer, too, but then asked if he could alter God’s plan, force us all to be good (remove agency/free will), and avoid actually have to do anything remotely close to redeeming us…and for his brilliance he wanted God to give him His power and glory without all the godly righteousness required to wield it. This plan sounded nice, but it was not loving and we would only get a body. We would not be able to progress, get better, etc., because such improvement requires free will. In other words…it wouldn’t work. It never could have.

So, then God’s plan was presented to all of God’s spirit children. Christ, Himself, was the gospel and the word that was preached (JST, John 1:1). Then, we had the choice. Come to earth and get a body and see if we want to become like God, ultimately. Or, do not come to earth and never get a body and never progress and never figure out if this whole “godly-thing” is for us.

Satan chose to not take part in the true plan. A lot of spirits followed him (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-39). These spirits were cast out and will never receive a body or progress any further. Sure, they are eternal, but they are eternal spirits, NOT eternal souls. They cannot inherit any more glory than that which they had prior to being cast out (Abraham 3:26). They will never have eternal families. They will be separate, single, bodiless, and unperfected for all time (Isaiah 14:15-20).

So, does God force us to get bodies to make us eternal souls? No. He gave us the choice to choose to get bodies to grant us the opportunity to change the nature of our eternal existence. For, even if we don’t want to actually become like God, for even having tried we will still receive kingdoms of glory equivalent to the level of goodness and righteousness we were willing to receive and act upon (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-24, 28-39).

Now, as to what conditions we are born into in this mortal life, it is not my place to indicate just how much say we got in the pre-earth life. But the scriptures are replete with references to foreordination, predestination, and the like. Some foreordinations are called elect-ions. However, as God was willing to part with a third of His spirit children rather than sacrifice our agency/free will, it is my belief that foreordination and/or predestination has more in common with chosen occupations, volunteer positions, and accepted assignments—all which require personal ambition, volition, or acceptance based on the use of agency—than with any type of force or coercion.

We can ask a person to run for public office, but ultimately they must accept the request and put forth the effort to run. We can choose an occupation, but ultimately we still have to go and get the skills, then apply and get hired. God clearly asked some of His spirit children to serve as prophets and leaders before they were born (Job 38:4, 7; Jeremiah 1:5; Abraham 3:22-23). But, once they were born they would have forgotten and would still have to be reminded, called, and to still accept. That is fairly obvious.

There is no scriptural proof on what the rest of us did, and even current prophets and apostles do not speculate on this. I claim no authority to state what the rest of us did during “the foundations of the earth.” But, I do know that if you’re here you chose to be born. I do know that some people are born into this world into the worst of situations and yet somehow they rise above it. I know that some people are born into privilege and turn out the worst sort of people. I also know people who are born simply knowing from a young age what they want to be and they change their community, state, country, or the world with their talents. Some are born prodigies.

It seems unlikely to me that these are rare, genetic coincidences. To me, they are evidence that each of us, to some extent, whether great or small, chose, volunteered, or accepted assignments to be born under certain circumstances and to perform certain roles or missions. It seems apparent that some of us even came to this earth bursting with talents that simply could not be submerged.

So, I don’t think anyone can try to assume that God forced any person to be born under any unfavorable circumstances. As well, it seems quite clear that due to the atonement’s power to right all wrongs, heal all suffering, and provide salvation and exaltation to the repentant and faithful (at many degrees), that getting a body at all is quite an accomplishment and never a mere formality or tactic for coercion.

Agency was as paramount in the pre-earth life as it is now.

BT

Stay-tuned. There is more to this question/comment that was given to me. Doctrine on its way!