Episode 53. March 5, 2017. Today I want to talk about how understanding the plan of salvation changes our lives.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell often referred to the Plan of Salvation as the “great pavilion of perspective.” I can think of no better description.
I can remember the very time that the plan of salvation became of interest to me. I was sitting in Mr. Carson’s 9th grade science class in Blackfoot, Idaho. There were 4 of us at each of the big science tables and Curt Matthews was sitting across from me. I was Catholic at the time and Curt was always talking to me about what he believed as a Mormon. I will never forget his question, well really more of a statement, that day: “You do believe that we lived in a premortal existence before we came to earth don’t you?” While I had never considered that concept, nor had I heard it, that day it resonated deep within my soul and I knew it was true.
Later as I learned more about the church, I found that this concept of a premortal existence could be found throughout the scriptures. Here are four examples.
- JEREMIAH 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
- Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it
- EPH 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
- 2 TIM 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,
I could already begin to see the implications of knowing that I lived as a spirit before coming to earth. For me it meant several things:
- I made the decision to come to the earth
- I may have made promises and commitments there that I need to fulfill here
- And the most important, if there was a life before this one, there certainly would be one after this one.
A few years back I read a book titled “Trailing Clouds of Glory by Harold A. Widdison. Widdison is an LDS Psychologist who spent 7 years researching near death experiences. His thesis however, was not to prove that there is life after death, but rather, he set out to prove that there is a premortal existence.
One of the more interesting aspects of his research was a consistent theme that we had a hand in selecting the challenges that we would face here in mortality. This would serve two purposes. First we wanted to show our Heavenly Father how much we loved him. Second, we were very aware of our own development needs. We knew that mortality would be an opportunity to become like Heavenly Father and so we willingly accepted the challenges we would face in this life so that we make the progress we so desperately wanted to make.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell hints at this same concept from an April 1984 General Conference address:. “The plan places a striking emphasis on present human freedom to choose. (See 2 Ne. 2:27.) Yet some of our present circumstances may reflect previous agreements, now forgotten, but once freely made.”
Can you see how this changes our perspective? Perhaps we might complain a little less, be a bit more grateful for our challenges and struggles and be willing to be more reliant on the help promised us by a loving Father in heaven through ministering angels up to and including the great sacrifice of His only begotten son.
This is the power of understanding that we lived before we came. In referencing the plan of salvation, Elder Maxwell also said this: “In fact, most human misery represents ignorance of or noncompliance with the plan. A cessation of such mortal suffering will not come without compliance to it.”
Today my hope is that we might all reflect more on what it was that we may have agreed to when in the premortal existence we decided to follow the Father’s plan.
I want to say a few things about the fall of Adam and Eve, and the impact it has on us. I think the most important aspect of the Fall is that because of Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the plan of salvation was put in motion. Had they remained immortal in the Garden of Eden, they would have lived forever, but they would have had no posterity and the plan of salvation would have been frustrated. It was because Adam and Eve received what we often think of as two conflicting commandments (multiply and replenish the earth AND not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) that forced the plan into motion. Eve desired to have children and knew that without partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil she would be stuck in an immortal state – childless. Once she partook the punishment she faced would force her out of the garden and this alone was sufficient reason for Adam to follow suit….all in the desire to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.. And thus, this well known scripture becomes extremely descriptive of the result of that decision. Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.
You see, mortality is actually an opportunity for us to have joy. And that is only possible because we know sadness and misery and discouragement and hard times. Who among us has not felt the joy of holding a new born baby?. Or the joy at the success of someone we love, a spouse, a child, a sibling or a parent. Or the joy of serving another in need. Or the joy of a beautiful sunset or sunrise, a mountain landscape or the beauty of the sea incessantly washing over the sand of a seashore?. Or of most importance, the joy of repenting and feeling the blessing of being free from the guilt and anxiety that sin brought into our life. Without the blessing of mortality, we wouldn’t experience any of this.. And we certainly could not progress to become more like God.
Elder Richard G. Scott in an April 1996 conference address titled Finding Joy in Life said this:. “Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy. Pondering their doctrine will let you enjoy the beauties of this earth and enrich your relationships with others.”
Today my hope is that we might all understand better that we should seek for the greater joy that is available to us while in this mortal probation.
I want to wrap up by saying just a few words in regards to the depth and breadth of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is the centerpiece of the Plan of Salvation and opens the door to all great blessings.
In 2001, Elder D. Todd Christopherson, a member of the presidency of the seventy at the time presided at a stake conference for the Cypress Stake. This was 2 years prior to the formation of the Klein Stake. In the priesthood leadership meeting of that stake conference, Elder Christopherson challenged all of us to read, study, ponder and pray about four chapters in the Book of Mormon pertaining to the Plan of Salvation and then asked us to write a one page summary of what we learned. The four chapters were: 2 Nephi 2, 2 Nephi 9, Alma 12, Alma 42. I learned many things from that assignment but today I will mention only one. I will quote from the document I wrote 16 years ago.
“Through the opposition we face in adversity and Satan’s temptations, we are forced to choose between righteousness or sin. If we break the law and then elect to choose mercy, we grow spiritually. (2 Ne 2:11). This requires faith on our part. Just as the children of Israel needed faith to look upon the brazen serpent, so must we have sufficient faith to believe that asking for mercy will result in a tangible change in us. And here is the one point I want to make: If we do not exercise faith, then the law of justice claims us and it is as though there was no atonement made. (Alma 34:16).”
When we understand the plan of salvation, we seek to improve ourselves every day. In fact, as Elder Christopherson explained in his April 2011 conference address we should actually seek chastisement and correction from the Lord. Here is what he said:
“I would like to speak of one particular attitude and practice we need to adopt if we are to meet our Heavenly Father’s high expectations. It is this: willingly to accept and even seek correction. Correction is vital if we would conform our lives “unto a perfect man, [that is,] unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Paul said of divine correction or chastening, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6). Though it is often difficult to endure, truly we ought to rejoice that God considers us worth the time and trouble to correct.”
He then quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks who said this: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.
Fully understanding the Plan of Salvation will change us. We will complain less about our lot in life. We will seek for greater joy through our service to others and by enjoying all of the beauty that we have around us. We will seek divine correction so that we can fulfill the measure of our creation and become more like our Father in Heaven.
In closing I want to share 4 quotes from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“Life turns out, however, to be just what one would expect of a deliberately constructed proving and tutoring experience which features opportunities, choices, and deprivations. Furthermore, there is no way around—the only way to go is through!”
“Christ’s doctrines pertaining to the plan of salvation stand like sentinel scriptures to mark and light the way. His gospel guardrails line the strait and narrow path to steady us, nudge us, and even jar us for the sake of our spiritual safety!”
“So much more than a matter of abstract theology, this great plan can focus daily life. Its truths are crucial to how we see ourselves, others, life, the Lord, and even the universe. Or how we view a baby. Or death. Or the praise and honors of the world. This plan constitutes the mother lode of meaning and can cradle us, conceptually, amid any concern.”
“Its truths and perspectives permit us to distinguish between a great book and mere want ads, between vengeance and justice, rage and righteous indignation, and pleasure and happiness.”
“With an understanding of God’s plan of salvation, we know that the rejoicing, the striving, the suffering, the tutoring, and the enduring experiences of life all play their part in an intelligible process of helping us, if we will, to become, as the Savior beckoningly invited, “even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)”
When we fully and completely understand the plan of salvation our lives our better. We understand who we are, why we are here and where we are going. May we all reflect more on this great plan and its impact in our lives.