by Kathy Penrod
It seems that each new day brings an onslaught of heartbreaking news from around the world. Families torn apart by political regimes. People tortured and executed for seeking an education, believing differently than others or trying to escape from the dark life of captivity. Street corners are inhabited by wisps of human beings who long for nothing more than a warm bed and roof over their head. Children have their innocence lost - stolen by the selfishness of those with malicious intent. Addictions, in many forms, are claiming the hearts and minds of our friends and family. Safety is threatened in normal everyday places.
Sometimes this world is scary. No, not sometimes. Always.
Some people live horrible, destitute, hopeless lives. And, frankly, it doesn’t seem fair.
Why are some people comfortable sleeping late Saturday morning - safe, warm and contented - while others are scavenging for their existence? Why are some privileged to have a golden education handed to them while others are being murdered for trying? Why do some never know heart-wrenching tragedy while some, on precarious rafts, hope for a tidal wave of good fortune to guide them to a place without so much tragedy as they have seen in their short lives?
In this fallen world of heartache and confusion, why do we even exist? Why are we even here?
The answer to this age-old question began long before earthly time ever started counting down. It began before humankind ever showed their presence on the blue planet. The answer began in what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call the Premortal Existence. We also refer to it as our pre-earth life.
Before our life here on earth, we lived in Heaven. We lived with God, in His family. All of His children gathered together as He told us what He wanted to accomplish.
At the time, none of us had bodies, we were spirits. Happy, but not complete. Our loving Heavenly Father wanted to give us the opportunity to gain physical bodies and participate in life – He knew that this would be the best way to gain the experience that would shape us into our best selves.
He told us of this plan but there was a very important issue to resolve. He wanted us to come to earth, gain a body and return home. How could our Father make sure the path was paved back to His presence? How would we all be able to return to His open, loving arms?
Two of our older brothers stepped forward with an idea, a plan. One, Lucifer, the son of the morning and the other, the Great Jehovah, the very Jesus Christ. Lucifer contended that he could remove choice, or agency, from all of God’s children. Ensuring they marched to the beat of the correct drum. Promising that not one of God’s children would be lost. By taking away the choices of the children of God, he would be ensuring that no one would ever make an incorrect choice. And, for all his efforts, Lucifer wanted to ensure he was aptly rewarded with glory and praise. He would offer a perfect plan and the result would be perfect people. He was persuasive and one third of God’s spirit children believed that Lucifer had a pretty good point.
Jehovah stepped forward. He echoed the plan that the Father had already formulated. Send God’s children to earth with the greatest gift He could give his children. Agency. The right to choose. With this ability to choose, we would learn from our mistakes. We would struggle through decisions and, if we were faithful, grow into a better person because of it.
There was, of course, the huge risk that not everyone would make the correct choices. In fact, ALL of us would mess up and make mistakes. Some would make horrible mistakes. But again, Jehovah, perfectly brave and infinitely humble, stepped forward and offered Himself as an offering. He would atone for the mistakes, sorrows and infirmities of mankind. His sacrifice alone would be the bridge over troubled waters that led the way back into the presence of God, the Eternal Father. Even with this unfathomable sacrifice, He was NOT concerned with any praise or glory. Meekly, He insisted that ALL glory should be given to the Father of us all.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we call this the Plan of Salvation. It is also sometimes referred to as the Plan of Happiness or the Plan of Redemption.
Jehovah was more persuasive than the Lucifer and two thirds of God’s children supported Him. Mormons often refer to this event – two brothers with two different plans, each trying to succeed in persuading others to follow them – as the War in Heaven. I have heard several explanations of what this war would have looked like but the details are not entirely important. What is important is that after a time, Lucifer and his followers, unwilling to submit to the Father’s will, were cast out of heaven for their rebellion, having forsaken the opportunity to obtain a body and sentenced to forever being a spirit. The rest of us, the two thirds who followed Jehovah, were promised a body and the opportunity to learn and grow here on earth – in mortality.
God sent us to earth with two beautiful, priceless gifts. Agency, the right to choose our own path and the promise that Jehovah, Jesus Christ, would atone for any and all mistakes – paving a way back to Heaven.
So, here we are on earth. Billions and billions of people having traversed this planet. Every single one of us making mistakes, subject to the weaknesses of mortality. That leaves us with a fallen - and sometimes hopeless - world to live in.
But, you ask, why must this be so? Why must this be the case? Why do we have to face such horrible things – just to learn to rely on God? If He really loves us so much, why can’t He make it a little easier?
I don’t claim to even begin to understand all the reasons why. There are probably some answers we will never know until we are face to face with God again and can ask Him ourselves. But, drawing on my experiences as a parent, here is what I DO know…
There was a time one of my sweet boys was experiencing a debilitating depression. His existence was only a shadow of what it should – what it could – be. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t going to school. The only time he left his bed was for brief moments to use the bathroom. Friends, neighbors, clergy and family – we all tried to physically and emotionally pull him from the darkness that seemed to claim him. As parents, we were desperate for his revival; for his return to us. As a last resort, we turned to a rather extreme solution – enrolling him in an outdoor wilderness survival program. With heavy hearts, we left our boy, broken, in the hands of strangers – who we hoped we were right to trust. Driving home that day, without him with us, both my husband and I tearfully discussed what had happened. I remember telling him that this was our son’s ONLY hope to return to us. I knew it would break his heart, break any resolve he may have had left inside of him. But I also knew that unless this breaking could happen he would never be able to heal, to rebuild and to return to us. Without the experiences of the program ahead of him, he could never learn what he needed to in order to survive life and find happiness. Of course we sent constant letters of encouragement and love. He had workbooks and counselors watching over him to help him through the journey… he was not alone. Thankfully, our story had a happy ending.
It is similar with God’s children. The experiences we gain here, in this difficult world, are what will build us into our best selves. I imagine at times it is difficult for God to look on us, knowing that we are suffering and having a difficult time. But, He has offered so much to help us make this journey. He has given us scriptures and modern prophets. He has offered His holy spirit to guide us. And most importantly, He has offered His Son, with His continuous atonement, to help us back to His presence.
I admit, as I sit here in my comfy sweats, secure in the safety of my warm house with my belly full of food, it is really easy to say God has not forgotten us. It is easy to say that He helps us overcome and the trials we face are for our own good. I know if I were on the street with my children – health dangerously wavering, searching for someway to put a roof over our heads for one more night and hopefully finding enough food so the little ones don’t cry as they fall asleep – it might be more difficult to say with assurance that God has not forgotten me.
But the fact is, He hasn’t. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, cannot forget us any more than a mother can forget her child. He has graven us on the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Our presence here on earth is proof that we have already chosen to follow Him once. We were faithful in staying near to Him before. I do know that our all-knowing Father will make it right somehow. Maybe not immediately, maybe not until the next life, but He will make it right. And that rightness will be possible because of a perfect Son of the Father, who gave up all for us. He knows what it is like to be homeless, abused, tormented and mocked. He knows what it is like to feel broken and downtrodden. His heart has already born our griefs – all of our griefs. (Isaiah 53:4) Not just for the people in big homes, but for the people with no home. Not just for the people who are safe but for the people who will never know safety. Not just for those who can eat every meal, but for those with no meals to eat. And because He knows those griefs, He knows how to make it right. Our Father knows how to make it right.
So, why are we here? To gain bodies, experience mortality, practice our agency, remember who we really are and to become like Him. And, should we fall short of realizing all these goals, which we all will, the Savior of the world will make up the difference. He will make it right. One day, we will have the chance to face Him and return to His arms, to return to Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father.