Friday, July 17, 2015

Following the Liahona to the Promised Land

The prophet Alma taught:

For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land (Alma 37:44).

What would Lehi's journey have been like without the Liahona? Much like our lives would be without the words of Christ: purposeless, aimless, wandering. Certainly in our meanderings we could find interesting things to quell the boredom. We can even establish empires of our own - even ones with good and enlightened principles, but not without forgetting that God's intent is to lead us to the "promised land."

The "promised land" is an interesting thing to contemplate. I doubt there has ever been a paradise on earth where "troubles melt like lemondrops," and people were free from all toil and care. After reaching the promised land, Lehi's family still had to face the continued labor and losses of life.

One of the potential pitfalls of religious faith is the expectation or notion that if we are only devoted and obedient and faithful enough, God will spare us pain, difficulty, and trauma. (Do we not recite, "The Lord is my shepherd... He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters" [Psalms 23]?) But God promises redemption, not exemption. A prophet has said, "before we can comprehend the Atonement of Christ... we must first understand the Fall of Adam." I interpret this to mean: before God can save us, there must be something to save us from. That is the purpose of the Fall. Before we can appreciate the help, grace, and salvation of God, we must first have experiences that cause us to cry out for help and saving.

It is so difficult to teach this truth. In religious philosophy, it's called the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Pain. Basically, it's the question of "if there is a loving and all-powerful God, how could He allow such evil and suffering in the world?" Or, more personally, "If God really loves me, why did (or didn't) this happen to me?" Is it really God's will for pain, fear, despair, tragedy, and even terror to come into our lives? and if so, for what purpose? There is no better answer to this question than the one given by President Spencer W. Kimball in chapter 8 of his book, Faith Precedes the Miracle. Most of it is quoted here.

God is not mean. He does not toss His children into deep water just so He jump in and save them right before they drown. But I think He is a little like the mother bird pushing her young out of the nest when the time is right. A parent knows what its child is capable of, and they also know that, left to itself, a child would never reach its full potential. In some ways perhaps God is like a fitness trainer who meets us at the gym to lift weights and exercise. We were born on earth to grow and become stronger and wiser - not necessarily physically but spiritually. The spiritual is a different dimension that we do not fully comprehend.

We go to school to learn what we do not know. We exercise and push ourselves to become stronger and healthier than we were. I believe that our spirits can grow by facing life challenges - both small and large: unfulfilled hopes, loneliness, the loss of a loved one, prolonged physical or mental illness, bad habits and addictions, forgiving someone who has wronged us (and continues to do so), providing special - perhaps unappreciated - care for a loved one with special needs, discouragement at repeated self-defeating behavior despite numerous resolutions to live otherwise. These are but a small sampling of what life has brought and can bring to us. If we will believe it and receive it, these experiences are what God gives us to develop patience, fortitude, humility, compassion, and love. This is often a prolonged wrestle for us. But hopefully we come to have faith and trust in God - that He is there and does not leave us alone, but strengthens us and helps us as we develop our divine potential

As trite as it sounds, this is what I conclude the "promised land" to be: pressing forward amidst all that life brings - both "good" and "bad" - with faith that God loves us, feels our pains Himself, and is shaping us and bringing out in us our divine potential as His children; helping us to come to know Him and become more like Him. I'm not convinced that this is "easy," but maybe by "easy" Alma meant that it's not complex or difficult to understand, not for the believing heart, anyway.

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