There is much joy, pleasure, and fulfillment in life. All of us go through wonderful, happy experiences. We are told in the Book of Mormon we exist so we might have joy. Our entire existence is about being joyful and being filled with joy. While this is the ideal, life is not always joyful. It wasn’t for the Savior, it isn’t for us. Many people also go through difficult and disturbing events in life. Many people suffer severe pain, heartache, depression, oppression, and persecution. Some of you have experienced much of this. All of us experience difficulties to one degree or another. I know some of you plead with your Heavenly Father to take away your suffering. You plead with Him to know why you must endure so much for so long. I don’t have a full answer to that but we know that all things give experience and ultimately all can work out for the good of the faithful. That might be small consolation in the moment of trial but it is eternal truth.
Truman Madsen offered insight from the perspective of the restored gospel into the nature of challenges in life: “If the question…is raised, ‘God, why did You get me into this?’ The Mormon answer is, ‘Why did you get you into this?’ You elected and we are told we shouted for joy at the prospect [of coming to earth even though there would be great trials]. Imagine that! Shouting for joy! But couldn’t God being all powerful have arranged a plan of redemption that would enable us to become what we really have it in us to become without going through such a struggle?…The Mormon answer to that is, ‘No, He couldn’t!’ To achieve the growth and the overcoming that are essential to a condition like unto His, we have to submit to the operation. I repeat, our understanding is: God Himself is powerless to get us to total fulfillment except through the operation we call mortality. And that involves freedom, and much of the evil of the world derives from freedom, but not all of it.” (http://bystudyandfaith.net/2011/02/human-anguish-and-divine-love/)
As we go through our lives we make choices. In 2 Nephi 2 verses 16 and 27 we read of this agency: “the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other…. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
The bold Lamanite prophet Samuel taught of agency: “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.” (Helaman 14:30-31).
While we all experience varying degrees of freedom and captivity, joy and sorrow in this life, our choices have eternal consequences. If we choose God, we choose liberty and ultimately eternal life. Eternal life is a life with and like God.
Knowing our choices have eternal consequences might be daunting. It might be discouraging. We might wish for less responsibility. While such thoughts are natural, we know agency is a wonderful gift. Jacob, the great Book of Mormon teacher and younger brother of Nephi, said, “Therefore, ???cheer up? your hearts, and remember that ye are ???free? to ???act? for yourselves—to ???choose? the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. Wherefore…reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” (2 Nephi 10:23-24). Knowing we have agency is a reason to rejoice! We are co-agents with God. We have the ability to choose what we want to do. A challenge is sorting out all the competing voices offering competing suggestions.
On one hand we have a loving Father who wants us to be free and happy. He wants the best for us. On the other hand we have the devil who wants us to be captive and miserable. He wants the worst for us. We are free to choose for ourselves. Some choices are good, some are bad, and many are somewhere in between.
All along the way those of use who have been confirmed as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and offered the gift of the Holy Ghost offered guidance by the Spirit. Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will understand the gentle promptings from our loving Father. Many choices we make are ours alone – that is the blessing of agency – but some are encouraged by the Spirit of God, which burns like a fire. Others are encouraged by the Spirit of Satan, which offers turmoil, coldness, and darkness. It is up to us to choose who we will follow – Satan, ourselves, or our loving Eternal Father. Who knows you best and wants the best for you? Our Father in Heaven knows what we want. He knows what we need. He wants us to be happy. He loves us. He knows the choices we need to make to return to live with Him. God knows us best and wants the best for us. Great blessings come as we submit our will to His.
All of us sin and fall short of the eventual perfection required to live with God again. We were reminded of this by Elder Holland at the most recent general conference. He said we should be perfect…eventually. He said, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/be-ye-therefore-perfect-eventually?lang=eng)
This is only possible, as Jacob taught, “in and through the grace of God.” Elder Holland also said, “‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … ,’ Moroni pleads. ‘Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.’ Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”
That’s the greatest miracle of all! All our imperfections, our shortcomings, our sins, and our sorrows can be overcome by the great atoning sacrifice of the Savior. He can save us from our sins but will never save us in our sins. This is hope in light of the great responsibility of being agents unto ourselves. There is risk but there is great reward. We can overcome someday. Overcoming doesn’t come through marches or demonstrations, it doesn’t come through somehow mustering up enough internal resolve to perfect ourselves; it comes only through the Atonement of Christ. We can never absolve ourselves of of sins and must rely on Him who is mighty to save.
Abinadi the dedicated Book of Mormon prophet, in lamenting over the wickedness of King Noah and his priests, taught that salvation comes through the Lord God. Abinadi prophesied: “And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies. And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people. And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.” (Mosiah 11:21-23)
Abinadi referred to the Lord as a “jealous God”. This is a concept familiar to the ancient house of Israel (see the list of Old Testament references to God as “jealous”). The Hebrew word translated into English as “jealous” is qinah. When applied to humans, jealous, as used in the Bible, typically refers to envy (e.g., Numbers 5:14) and thus sin. It can also refer to zeal (e.g., Psalm 69:9), which could be both positive or negative, depending on the circumstance and usage.
When referring to God as “jealous” the best interpretation for us is: God fiercely protects Truth; He protects covenants and His covenant people. A jealous God is a God Who defends right with zeal. A jealous God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31; Alma 45:16) A jealous God knows wickedness never was happiness.(Alma 41:10) As a jealous God, the Lord requires faithfulness; He commands that we should have no other Gods before Him. (Exodus 34:14) This is a harsh reality but it is a reality that provides safety and countless blessings. It is a harsh reality that leads to eternal life, an inheritance as an heir like Christ. (Romans 8:17)
God’s commands are not forced; all His children are able to express will and act independently, if they desire, from God. There are some who are without mental/emotional capacity to understand choices or fully express moral agency. In some way or another, this is true of all of us because we do not fully understand the consequences of our actions or inactions. God, as a perfectly loving and just God, will weigh all in the balance to bless His children to the extent He is able.
A jealous God is not filled with petty envy but rather with charity. God loves us enough to set firm boundaries. We can wander through life or we can travel the strait road of the jealous God, a road that leads to unimagined heights and countless blessings. God is jealous because He zealously protects His covenant children, particularly as they are faithful unto their covenants. This does not mean they are without suffering but their sufferings will be for their good. (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7)
Great blessings come from keeping the commandments. Our lives will never be free from trials. Trials are important for our growth and progression. What the Lord offers is strength in trials. We are not often strengthened to bear burdens rather than have those burdens taken away. He gives us commandments so we can be happier. I testify your life will always be better when you keep the commandments. When you follow Christ you will always be happier than you otherwise would have been. You will not always be happy but you will be happier.
During the most recent devotional for young single adults, Elder Uchtdorf said, “I urge you to believe that your life will be infinitely better if you rely on God to guide your steps. He knows things you cannot possibly know, and He has a future prepared for you that you cannot possibly imagine. The great Apostle Paul testified, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (Posted on the @ldschurch Instagram account: https://instagram.com/p/BeajqaPFTzi/)
Your life will be better now and tomorrow and much better — infinitely better — in the life to come as you keep the commandments. It will be better in ways you might see and many you won’t see.
Recently on Facebook Elder Renlund posted an experience he had that teaches this lesson: “Recently, as we walked into our condominium, we heard the telltale beeping noise of a low battery in one of our smoke detectors. The offending detector was on a high ceiling on the second floor. It is rather an ordeal to get a ladder up the stairs and situated to replace the battery. As we finished the task, we wondered if we should replace the battery in the smoke detector in another room of the second floor. We concluded that not all batteries run down at the same rate and that it could be months before the other battery needed replacing, and we hauled the ladder back down the stairs to the garage. Way too early the next morning we were rudely awakened by the telltale beeping of a low battery in the other smoke detector. To have hope of finishing what we wanted to be a long winter’s nap, we were forced to get up and haul the heavy and cumbersome ladder up the stairs—again. Throughout this ordeal, it occurred to me that there is a life lesson in that rude awakening. Had we exchanged the battery for a fresh one when we were thinking about it, we would never have known that we prevented being awakened to take care of the problem. In many ways this is like what the gospel teaches us—that as we stay on the path, there are so many problems prevented that our Heavenly Father is trying to help us avoid. That doesn’t mean that all problems relate to some fault of ours, but we certainly are able to prevent many other things from happening—and we don’t have to carry ladders around in the middle of the night!” (https://www.facebook.com/DaleGRenlund/posts/2043414759268696)
We have agency; we can do what we want to do. God allows it because He has to — agency is an eternal principle. There is no other way for us to grow and progress in order to become more like Him. Truman Madsen said: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain.” That doesn’t mean we seek out distress and pain; it means we persevere through the pain and distress, knowing God is good, knowing some day, like a mother in labor, we will be delivered and experience a rebirth into a glorious world of light and peace. Peace amid suffering comes from faith in God and in His purposes. Strength of character comes from resisting the distress and pain – not necessarily fighting it but not letting it take over our lives. Just like lifting weights. The strength comes from the resistance, not from giving in.
Suffering is real but we need not despair. We have agency that can prevent much suffering. We can choose faith and hope in Christ. He is our salvation! He gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. Without the Atonement of Christ, existentialist philosophers would be correct — life would be meaningless. But Christ atoned for our sins and sorrows and sicknesses. We all will overcome death and through repentance and the grace of Christ will overcome Hell. Life is not meaningless. All suffering can have purpose and meaning. If we can find the meaning in suffering, then it has a purpose. Suffering caused by sin is also needless but it happens. It is up to us to make the best situation we can wherever we are. That’s not easy but prayer, righteousness, and faith in Jesus Christ will give us the strength we need to overcome all trials and sorrows. The light will come; it always comes to those with faith and endurance.
Let me repeat what I said earlier. Your life will always be better when you keep the commandments and follow Christ. It will always be better when you repent. We might not know how or why our lives are better but they will be. This is the ultimate test of life — do we go our own way or do we choose to follow Christ? The first way might bring happiness but the second way will bring happiness in this life and more importantly, in the life to come. Exercising our agency to follow the Lord provides rich rewards today, tomorrow, and in eternity.