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!

Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined.  We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same.  The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort.  In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything.  Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy.  But easy is not the same as simple.

The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort.  As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple.  Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend.  Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive.  Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.

The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor.  All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition.  They indicate a lack of substance.  The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context.  It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.

Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.

So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.Complicated - Simple signpost with sky background

  • Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
  • Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
  • Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).

This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?

Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.

Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.

  1. Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
  2. Does God care? Yes.
  3. Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
  4. Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
  5. Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)

There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.

Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.

I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.

I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.

And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.

Simplicity concept.
Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a simplicity concept. White background.

Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.

So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.

The UN-MAN

I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.

[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]

Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.

On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.

Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.

Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.

Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…

Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.Keep It Simple

Keep it Simple

So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).

So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).

How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.

BT

Doctrine: Christ had to suffer unfairly to receive His glory and advance the possibility of ours. We must do the same for ourselves and others. Suffering unfairly helps us come to know Christ, not just about Him. Trials faithfully endured increase righteous power, faith, and confidence in our worthiness before God, which can be attained no other way.

I have had my share of trials of all kinds (though I suspect my current ones have yet to play themselves out and that there are many more in store). Some of my trials I may admittedly have brought upon myself. But, most, I feel quite certain came to me based on the natural opposition of life or because of the poor and unkind choices of others.

When we’ve have caused our own suffering—whether to a lesser or greater extent—and are receiving the brunt of consequences we very well could have avoided through wisdom or righteousness; the suffering isn’t necessarily more pleasant, but because we have a cause, we understand it better. And, that understanding gives us purpose in repenting or enduring the consequences. Such suffering is often what leads us to resolve to be more righteous, more repentant, or in general more wise.

However, when those trials and troubles come that we likely have no, or little, fault in, they seem to be particularly distressing. These kinds of trials shake faith, bring about personal crises, and cause a much greater level of agony. This is because we are suffering in what might be considered an UNFAIR manner. Struggles have come to us despite our best efforts to live righteously, be good citizens, and be healthy. So, it feels worse. It feels like a gyp. And therefore, it causes more wretchedness due to a lack of understanding.

I remember, as a youth growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often hearing my church leaders saying things like, “If you keep the commandments and get married in the temple you’ll be happy.” Now, what they said wasn’t necessarily untrue. Yet, it was so general as to leave my young and inexperienced mind open to interpret such a phrase in many incorrect ways.

For example, many incorrect interpretations included:

  • If you do what’s right you’ll never have any major problems

  • If you keep the commandments you’ll always be happy (or never be sad)

  • If you get married in the temple your marriage is guaranteed to last

  • If you keep the commandments God will always save you from troubles

As I have studied the scriptures and experienced many unfair trials (despite my best attempts to be righteous) I have come to laugh at the early ideas I had regarding the meaning of this phrase. Because, if you read the scriptures, they are replete with stories of super righteous (although imperfect people) experiencing trials at every turn. Indeed, by the accounts open for study, it often seems the more righteous a person is, the more UNFAIR trials they receive.

The scriptures illustrate that being righteous has nothing to do with getting out of UNFAIR suffering and trials. The scriptures do, however, provide explicit advice on how to avoid the suffering and trials that come from FAIR suffering—meaning the suffering that sin, wickedness, and unwise choices bring naturally and that we are capable of avoiding to a large extent. As well, the scriptures never promise no troubles, suffering, or sorrow. They do promise blessings, support, guidance, and help. The happiness that the scriptures often promise correlates more powerfully with peaceand not the peace the world gives (which we might equate with the emotion of happiness), the but the peace that Christ gives (St. John 14:27) which is much more likely to be a peace of conscience, an unwavering trust in God, certainty of eternal compensation and restoration, and consequently a lack of undue fear.

However, because God prizes agency above all else, He sometimes, but does not always remove or prevent the UNFAIR suffering that comes to us from the actions of others. Nor will He always remove the disinterested and unfeeling acts of nature. Suffering is necessary, both the FAIR and the UNFAIR, to our eternal progression.

How is it necessary? In Romans 8:16-17 we learn: “The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if it so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.”

What Paul is saying here is effectively the same thing said in Joseph Smith’s Lectures on Faith: “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtain faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him” (Lectures on Faith, p. 58).

So, if we hope to be joint-heirs with Christ, who more than any other suffered UNFAIRLY for our mistakes, issues, weaknesses, and sins, as well as our sicknesses, illnesses, infirmities, and so forth; why should we think it unfair to also suffer UNFAIRLY at times due to the nature of mortality and the agency of others?

Now, I’m not saying that we have to smile through such UNFAIR suffering, or that we can’t struggle through it, that we can’t have bad days where we want to give up, etc. When God says, “endure it well,” I think He means a Job-figure type of endurance. Job whined and complained plenty. He simply never blamed God.

So, what I’m saying is, we should not sit around in a puzzlement wondering, “Why me? Why did God let this happen? Why didn’t God step in and fix this? This is God’s fault for not saving me… Why didn’t God make these people act differently? Has God abandoned me? Did I fail to keep some commandment perfectly and that’s why I have to suffer this? Why did God let me marry so-and-so if He knew it would end like this? Why didn’t I get a prompting to leave before this horrible tornado hit? Etc.”

Christ never spent a selfish moment in His life. He never said, “Why me?” He did say, in effect, if there be another way (Matthew 26:39) then that would be nice, but He never complained against the God and Father whose will was His constant and primary focus the entirety of His life. He never said, “I don’t deserve this.” Because, He already knew that He didn’t.

So, why did Christ suffer UNFAIRLY on purpose? Because it was God’s will (St. John 4:34; 6:38). Christ knew what His mission was. That mission was to suffer UNFAIRLY on purpose so that all the UNFAIR and FAIR suffering we would pass through could be overcome—eternally—if not always in the present life. What a gift!

I have also begun to think about Christ’s words in the Doctrine and Covenants (19:16-19), where He says:

For behold, I God have suffered these things for all that they might not suffer if they would repent. But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I;

Which suffering caused myself, even 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.

There was a clear purpose in Christ’s suffering. For those who follow Him and repent and become Christlike, whatever mortal suffering they suffer, they will not have to experience the torment that awaits those who do not repent. Those who do not repent will someday suffer what Christ suffered for them because they refused Him and His offer of salvation. In other words, if they fail to repent, the gift of Christ’s suffering will be retracted.instagramquotes9

As well, Christ suffered more horrifically than any of us will ever suffer for any reason. He says quite clearly, as I’ve already iterated, that it was daunting even to Him and that He asked if there was any other way. But then, what did He say? “Glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” Meaning, He accepted God’s will and partook of the bitter cup that was offered to Him.

So, when trials come to us, it is okay to blanch at the scope of them. It is okay to cry. It is okay to have some depressed days. It is okay to walk through them without a perfect smile on your face during every moment. It is okay to say, “If it be thy will, let this cup pass…” But, if it is not God’s will for the cup to pass, then we must also say, “the Glory be thine, Father, give me the cup and I’ll drink it. I’ll set an example of humility, diligence, patience, and long-suffering for others. I’ll find ways to refine myself to be more like Christ through this trial. I’ll do what you want me to do.”

To me, there is another very critical piece to the purpose of UNFAIR suffering. I remember very clearly the first time I understood what UNFAIR suffering felt like. It was emotional, psychological, and also physical. I felt wretched in a different way than I had ever felt before. Physical injuries and maladies bring horrific pain. But there was no pain killer, no morphine for this UNFAIR injury which seemed to be ripping my soul apart.

It was in that moment that I remembered John 17:3, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”

How can we hope to be like Christ if we don’t understand even a spec of who He was and what He did for us? How can we hope to stand at peace in His presence if we haven’t even come to understand Him? We cannot.

It was during this time that despite all my religious upbringing, I began to comprehend for the first time how deep, powerful, and horrific the Atonement must have been for Christ. I saw His suffering with new eyes. I saw beyond the physical pain He suffered. I saw the whole picture—that He was crushed in spirit, emotional, and mind, just as He was physically. Why? Because He was feeling the weight of the UNFAIRNESS and betrayal of all of us.

So, there are many more reasons why trials are necessary to God’s plan of salvation. But, to me, these two stick out as some of the most important. We have to “suffer with Christ” to gain the faith necessary to inherit such a rich weight of glory as God offers to us. As well, we simply cannot move beyond knowing about Christ to truly knowing Him without understanding, even in the smallest part, what it meant for Him to suffer for us.

Trials are hard. Like I said in the beginning, I’m not without my own. They are ever-present. And yet, I’m learning (very slowly of course) to say as Paul said, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distress for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor. 12:10) because as I rise above each and every trial my faith and confidence in God becomes stronger and stronger and more unshakeable. In fact, trials have never weakened me when I have persevered through them. I can look back and gratefully appreciate them all (even the present ones). Seeing how far I’ve come, all I’ve learned about Them, gives me confidence in myself and in God. It gives me the knowledge that I can continue on and that as Theoden said in Return of the King, “I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.”

I don’t claim to be perfect or extremely Christlike. But, my confidence in my ability to keep trying and make small gains is certain. Trials, even the UNFAIR ones, create in each of us a sense of worthiness before God. They remove shame (if we endure them faithfully) and increase our understanding of ourselves and improve our personal relationship with Christ.

BT

DOCTRINE: This life is about learning and obtaining godly attributes so that in God’s eternal plan (and process) we may become as He is—a god. Therefore, the purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ, which provides forgiveness for sin, the power to change desires and appetites, and a resurrected perfected body (we call it grace), is in place to perfect us (both body and spirit) since it is necessary to become imperfect and mortal in the godly-learning process.

The first topic I’m going to blog about is Grace. However, this topic is going to be broken into multiple parts because Grace is not something any one person can sum up in a few paragraphs.

Grace means many things to many people. From covering sins to helping us live a good life, grace is ultimately the power that most of us feel gets us back to God’s presence. But, I have to ask, why do we even need grace in the first place? Why did God place us here on earth in such a manner, or with a plan, that required grace at all? Isn’t that a bit unfair?

So, there has to be a purpose to grace. It can only be this generic, in-explainable, thing that we accept on blind faith for so long. At some point our faith has to be fed by understanding. By doctrine.

In Romans 8:15-17 we learn that God’s intention for us is to be led by His Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we can—through grace—become joint heirs with Christ and partake of the same glory IF we “suffer with Him”. It teaches us that we are the spirit-children of God. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that as children of God each of us has the potential to become as God is, or indeed, joint-heirs, at some future point IF we learn to be like Christ.

However, this is often all people hear about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they write it off thinking we are nuts. I mean, after all, who can truly become a God? That’s for mythology and movies, right? Didn’t we see Bruce Almighty? Doesn’t absolute power corrupt absolutely? Has our religion paid attention to world history, even a current look at humanity? Sure, there are some good people. Sure, there have been some “saints.” But, are we really crazy enough to believe that all of us could really become a god?

Yet, I repeat, what’s the purpose of grace? Why put us here on a planet in the middle of an infinite universe, out of His presence, and then tell us to be good if being good has no purpose but to simply bring us back home again. I mean, what then was the purpose of leaving His presence to begin with? For example, this is what the current accepted purpose of grace is across the world and across many religions, “Hey kids, go outside and play in this big ol’ universe and if you are mean to each other I can’t let you come back inside the house. You’ll have to live forever in the basement. Oh, but if you are really sorry, then in order to get back in I’ll have to send my Only Begotten to suffer horrifically for your mistakes and then, if you believe in Him I’ll let you back in the house.”

Why not just keep us inside the house to begin with? Why would God send us outside at all if He knew one step onto the porch would make it so we couldn’t come back inside? Why purposefully create a need for something like the atonement, where His son would have to undergo some incomprehensible suffering to get us all fixed back up and back in the house?

This scenario only becomes more silly when we consider the vast, incalculable amount of human suffering that comes from being “set loose outside God’s house.” Injustice practically rules human life. And to what point? Depending on where you’re born and into what situation, you are either forever in bondage to poverty, starvation, political injustice, etc. or you are born into a situation where you can attain great wealth and power and use your free will to your own whim, damn the consequences to others. The rest fit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes enjoying some peace and happiness, but at best still spend most of their lives in difficult situations. Even the best people ever born on this earth made mistakes, offended others, and caused suffering in some shape or form.

Grace covers injustices, we may answer, but why should it have to? That’s the question.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 122 verse 7 we read:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

I didn’t include the list of things in the verses prior. But, how can so much pain and suffering be for “our good?” As well, any of us could plug any number of less poetic injustices and horrific circumstances into this verse and by doing so the statement “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” almost sounds ridiculous and totally unfeeling and un-godlike. Why would God say something like that?

So many times in our lives we ponder the question, “Why does God let happen?” In fact, it is often the reason people choose to no longer believe in God, or any kind of deity. They choose to abandon the idea of a higher being because this life and all its issues and problems seems to have little purpose especially when we get phrases from God like, “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

I have pondered this question for years based in part on the horrific scenes I have heard about in the news or witnessed and also in part from my own suffering. Why have the atonement of Christ at all? Why allow all this pain and suffering to happen? Why do we need grace?

But, when you place all this “experience” within the doctrine of Latter-day Saint belief, that we are in training to become like God, suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense in all of this. For example, consider this thought. Who wants a God that doesn’t know what it’s like to have trials, pain, and suffering? To be all-knowing mustn’t one suffer—at least to a certain extent?

Now, I can say that I haven’t suffered all the things the people around me in life have suffered—yet—the things I have suffered have granted me insight into all kinds of terrible suffering: physical and emotional/psychological. I’m not saying I know it all, but I certainly know that having gone through some of the things I’ve gone through has taught me to have a lot more compassion on others who are going through similar, related, and sometimes unrelated issues. Because I know how hard it was to pass through my own trials, I can look at others and be impressed that they are getting out of bed when I believe they have every right to stay in bed and curse the world.

Who wants a God who hasn’t needed mercy and forgiveness and so consequently doesn’t understand the terrific need for mercy and forgiveness? Who wants a God who can’t control himself or herself physically or mentally? Who wants a God who can’t prioritize or who has an incorrect view of justice? Who wants a God who doesn’t have the wisdom to see beyond momentary pleasures into the life principles that bring consistent peace and happiness. I mean, I could make a list that could span thousands of pages. A whole lot of things, commandments especially, begin to make a lot more sense if we place them in the context of learning to become like God. Even LDS food storage is no longer about saving for a rainy day or some natural disaster that hasn’t happened yet. It becomes about learning to wisely manage earthly resources so that we have enough for ourselves, enough to share, enough to bless, and enough to fix problems–that’s what God does.

If the whole point of this life is to learn the traits and characteristics that will allow each of us the opportunity to—over a course of eons—become godly (if we choose to try), then suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense to the statement, “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good [as you learn to become like Me].”

So, if God put us on this earth to suffer and make mistakes in a long, eternal process that helps us develop godly attributes; (a process which really sucks at times) then it makes sense, at least to me, that grace now has a purpose.

What is that purpose? Well, if we have to become imperfect to learn to be perfect and godly, like God, then we have to have a spiritual and physical restoration to perfection after we’ve gained the experience we need to be, and remain, perfect.

The purpose of grace is not as cursory as we might all have often believed. It’s not just so we can come back inside God’s house and strum harps and flap around with white, fluffy wings. Grace, bought by the blood, death, and resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son, was necessary and put in place so that we could learn to be like God (to eventually have our own eternal houses with spirit kids to raise and help become godly) without being condemned by the godly-learning process.

Grace = learn to become like God without being condemned by the godly learning process.

Christ’s atonement overcomes the weaknesses of those who bend their will to God’s will (Alma 5:21; Alma 11:37; 3 Nephi 27:19). It allows people to change, over time, a characteristic or personality trait that must be honed to a godly level (See quote by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 4, paragraph 8). It allows people to learn about themselves and what they need to improve upon. It allows the wicked to improve, repent, and become holy; and it allows the righteous to become sanctified and godly. It provides a million+ do-overs as we wander around figuring out what this life is all about and if we want to use it to become like God—because it takes all of us differing amounts of time to encounter this decision and decide what we will do.

So, grace helps us become like God. It allows us to aspire to a level of power that can only be offered to those who have learned to become selfless enough to use it (and to be bound by the righteous laws of self-control and goodness that protect such power). I mean godhood, not everyone wants it. However, it is offered to all and everyone can choose it, if they want. Certainly, a heavenly father wants us to come back inside the house and grow up to become like Him. But, if we really don’t want to, we don’t have to. But, all His efforts are going to be to encourage us to try. And, why wouldn’t He?

This sort of makes me laugh because people think Mormonism is rigid and bigoted and behind the times. People think we lack mercy and grace. Yet, they want mercy and grace—indeed godly attributes—without law. To be a God, does there not have to be an ability developed, indeed a willingness, to follow law with perfection and to delight in that which perpetuates the proper use of godly power? Mercy and grace are nice, but what about other aspects of God’s power, like the ability to create worlds and manage universal forces? What about His justice, honor, and love?

It doesn’t so much matter what God commands but that we learn to do it with exactness and honor, partaking of grace when we need to improve, and granting grace to others without reserve as they also learn to be godly. But grace, as Christ showed in His mortal ministry, was never about condoning sin or tolerance, as we might label it today. Christ’s grace was about not condemning, or casting final judgment, on those who had sinned…until they had been given the opportunity to repent. He always recognized the sin but because of His love and mercy for the sinner He encouraged them to “go and sin no more.” He encouraged righteous, godly behavior with love and mercy and discouraged unrighteous behavior with strict teachings and promises of the consequences of sin.

I think I’ve made my point, but, if you’re still reading, then let me give an example of grace and how it applies to everyday LDS living. Or, how it should apply.

First, I’m convinced that whether or not I drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes matters little to God in the short-term. However, I believe that He commands such restrictions that I may learn to stand apart from “the norm”, that I learn to understand the importance of keeping my mind clear in the long-term. I mean, who wants a God ruling the universe while he’s drunk or hyped up on caffeine, nicotine, or any other drug? Or, even worse, who wants a God whose rule of the universe is put in jeopardy when he’s run out of his latest fix, or who places hot-fudge pudding cake or hard liquor over answering our prayers? Is it really that hard to understand why Latter-day Saints adhere to such restrictions? Health, yes, but far more important is the ability to control our physical appetites and keep our mind clear.

Yet, none of us is born with perfect control over our physical appetites. We need grace as we learn to control ourselves. Some of us Christians smoke, drink, take drugs, struggle with obesity, and all other issues. Yet, little-by-little, because we are commanded and we keep trying, we learn to gain control and understand the importance of the principles behind the commandments. Grace allows us to mess up and yet still change, or improve, and work toward godly attributes.

The purpose of grace isn’t just about being basically good. The purpose of grace is to help us become like God.

BT