Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Two)

Our Life on Earth

As promised, life is a test. It’s hard, full of horror, pain, sickness, death, sorrow, heartache, and depression. But remember, it was a test we chose to take. Because all of us accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we are here on the Earth. And life is difficult by design.

Thankfully, we don’t have to face the difficulty of life alone. To help us return home to Him, Heavenly Father has called prophets, apostles, and even His Son to teach us what we must do to live with Him some day. They have taught us that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the mission He was sent to do on the Earth. He has paid for our sins, but our ability to receive the benefit of His sacrifice depends on whether we do all He has asked us to do.
First, we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we must repent of our sins. Third, we must be baptized by one who possesses the authority of the Priesthood, which was restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Baptism is a covenant, a two-way promise, in which we promise to keep the commandments and God promises to give us eternal life. Fourth, we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Articles of Faith 1:4). These first principles and ordinances of the gospel place us on the straight and narrow path which leads to our Heavenly Home, but they are not our final destination (2 Nephi 31:19). To make it Home, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ," keeping the commandments of God contained in the scriptures and delivered to us by modern prophets and apostles (2 Nephi 31:20).
None of these works pay for our sins. Jesus did, and it is only by His grace that we are saved. Good works are the means by which we submit our wills to the will of the Father until we are ultimately born again by the grace of Jesus Christ and are worthy to return Home.
Additionally, to become like our Heavenly Father, He has commanded that we make more covenants within Temples. And if we are true and faithful to these covenants, God has promised to give us all He has (Revelation 21:7; D&C 84:36–38).
During our lives on Earth, we are free to choose whether we will follow God’s plan for us or not (2 Nephi 2:27). We are also free to believe what we want to believe. But we will be held accountable for all our actions (Mosiah 4:30). Still, all of us can choose to follow God’s plan and keep His commandments.
And we can choose because God gave us all free will or agency. In fact, we had agency before we came to Earth. During our pre-Earth life, agency was so important to God, that He allowed a third part of the hosts of heaven led by Lucifer to rebel and fight against Him, and because they rebelled, they were cast out of heaven. (Revelation 12:7-11; D&C 29:36). And now, they are here striving to make us miserable by tempting us to choose evil. (2 Ne. 2:27).
Adam and Eve were the first on Earth to exercise their agency when they choice to eat the forbidden fruit or not. Joshua counseled Israel to choose to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15). And the Book of Mormon teaches that we have been instructed to know good from evil and that we are free to choose liberty and eternal life through Jesus Christ or captivity and death through the power of the devil. (2 Nephi 2:5, 27).
But there is a problem with agency: Inevitably someone will choose evil, and we know too well the horrors that mankind has inflicted on others, sometimes in the name of God. Innocent suffer. People starve. Many suffer from diseases.
Mankind is capable of unspeakable atrocity, especially when motivated by the temptations of the devil.
But we can't attribute that evil to God be cause He gave us the right to choose. We can’t say, “Why didn’t God stop this?” The prophet Enoch had a vision that revealed what God thinks about the destruction, evil, and carnage that fills the Earth:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; . . . [And He said to Enoch:] Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; . . .

But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

(Moses 7: 28-37).

It is not God's will that motivates the horrors that mankind afflicts on each other.

It seems strange then that God wants to us love and serve one another and that He weeps when He sees what we do to each other but He won't stop us. But we must remember this life is a test to see if we will choose to serve Him. (Abraham 3:24-25). And there will be a final judgment. (See Revelation 14:7).

How could God judge us if He didn't allow us to act? We would all be spotless because He never allowed us to sin. And if He sent us to Hell, it would be unjust because we never did anything wrong.

But I don't think we recognize the gift that God has given us in our agency. None of us like being forced to do something. And that is exactly what He will not do. He loves us enough to let us do what we will. Yet He longs for us to choose Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and that mean loving and serving our fellow man.

That is what life is about: learning to choose God.
And learning to choose God necessitates opposition and adversity. There must be opposition in all things because if we never tasted bitter, we could not taste sweet. If we never experienced sorrow, how could we recognize joy? If we never felt anxiety, we could never know peace. (See 2 Nephi 2:11-13).
Joseph Smith was imprisoned unjustly for several months in Liberty Jail. At the same time, the Mormons in Missouri were driven out under an extermination order. Joseph's jailers were abusive and at one time even tried to feed him human flesh. But God was with Him:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; . . .

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.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

(D&C 121:7-8; 122:5-8).

Life is hard. And even harder is that usually the only way through a trial is through it! But there is good in our suffering. And I have learned that during and after a trial I am closer to God than before.
My own ancestors were Mormon pioneers who crossed the American plains pulling handcarts. They started late and were caught in an awful snowstorm on the high plains of Wyoming. Many in their handcart company died. Of those who survived, most lost fingers, toes, feet, hands, legs, etc . . . to frostbite. Years later, members of the Church criticized the leaders of the Church for allowing my ancestors and their company to go through such an awful trial. A man who was in that company stood and rebuked them for speaking about things they did not understand. He acknowledged the unwise decision to leave so late in the season and the extreme suffering he experienced. Then he revealed the miracle of adversity:
I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.

I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.

(Quoted in James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).

The price of knowing God is to pass through the trials of life. But know that God is with us. There are unseen forces helping us. And They will continue to help us, if we let them.
Remember also that not even Jesus Christ was exempt from trials. He is the Son of God and the only perfect person to have ever walked the Earth. He went about doing good. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and caused the lame to leap, the blind to see, and the dumb to speak. He forgave sins. And He blessed children.
Yet His own community rejected Him. His brothers and sisters, although they did eventually believe in Him, rejected Him. The ruling classes of the Jews sought to destroy Him. Some tried to stone Him.
In Gethsemane, Jesus' suffering for the sins of the world was so great that He bled from every pore, and one of His best friends, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. He was taken and judged by the rulers of the Jews. They mocked Him, beat Him, spit on Him, and delivered Him to Pilate to be crucified.
Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. Chunks of His flesh were torn away by the whip the Roman soldiers used. Then the soldiers made a crown of thorns and forced it onto His head. They mocked Him and eventually laid a cross on His back. The strain was so great that He could not carry it and a spectator was forced to carry the cross for Him.
The Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross. Passers by continued to mock Him. And in the darkness of Golgotha, God Himself forsook Jesus.
He was alone in His agony.
But He did not suffer in vain. His willing sacrifice saved us. And on the third day, He arose from the tomb, triumphant over suffering, sorrow, death, and hell.
No one was or will be better than Jesus. And no one has or will suffer more than Him. Take comfort in knowing that not even the Best Person who ever lived, even God's own Son, escaped suffering and sorrow.
Yes life is hard, but God has promised that if we endure it well, we will be exalted on high. So endure it well, trusting in God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Better things await us if we will.

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