“Why do we come to earth?” The question was part of the old missionary discussions. And we had a stock answer.
“To get bodies and to learn obedience.”
It is a great blessing to get bodies—though that flesh often burdens or torments us.
But learn obedience? That feels like saying that we go to a restaurant to learn good manners. That’s not why I go to restaurants! I go to enjoy a good meal, revel in sweet company, and maybe even get some nutrition for my body.
The stock reasons for coming to earth feel too provincial and limited to me. There must be more! What would Heavenly Father give as reasons for our trip to mortality?
To give us lots of practice using agency.
To help us learn by our own experience that obeying God’s laws leads us to happiness and growth.
To give us the opportunity to partner with God in loving and serving His children.
To help us mature in preparation for an eternal career with God.
To help us discover that minor satisfactions come from many sources, but true joy comes from friendship with God.
God is preparing us for the eternal career that is perfect for us. And He knows how to teach and mentor us.
My dear dad used to reason: What happens when you get earnest students with a good teacher? Students learn lots! They fill the measure of their creation, and they have joy in their discoveries. And who is the best teacher in the universe?
The conclusion was inescapable.
Sometimes we missionaries also suggested that mortality was an opportunity to prove ourselves. This is not a great perspective for anyone who suffers from test anxiety! So many of our religious discussions increase pressure on us and, for any of us who wish we made fewer mistakes, they magnify the feelings of failure.
Among the Saints there are various perspectives on our chances of making it back to God’s presence. Many of us fear that we have to develop a good enough resume to prove ourselves to God. We may dread the tests we must pass to be deemed sufficiently worthy. Many worry that God requires more to qualify for exaltation than we can deliver.
We may be missing the key. God has declared that, since we will inevitably yield to temptation, He will provide His beloved Son for us. Jesus will pay the price to win our souls from debtor’s prison. He descended into hell that He might claim us and bring us to Father. He intends that we partake of the joys of eternity with Them.
It is natural that we will object when He comes to redeem us from our fallenness and foolishness. Stephen Robinson described the dialogue between us and Jesus:
I think we can tell when people have finally understood the Divine Intent. They talk of Christ. They rejoice in Christ. They preach of Christ. And they talk of His coming to their lives. (See 2 Nephi 25:26)
So, if I were teaching about our purpose in coming to earth today, I might compare mortality to going to a college with an amazing curriculum and a great cafeteria and a perfect Headmaster who wants each of us to experience all the learning and growth available and then successfully graduate. We come to learn, to enjoy, to prepare, and to feast all the while knowing that He will patiently provide the experiences that prepare us for an eternity that is perfectly suited for us and will fill us with joy beyond comprehension.
I adore the Father and the Son who have made this education, this feast possible.
I recommend that every Latter-day Saint read Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ.
If you are interested in applying both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and good research to the challenges of living happily, marrying joyously, and parenting effectively, I recommend my new book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships.
If you are interested in applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to finding greater happiness, a better marriage, or more effective parenting, I recommend my new book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. See Deseret Book or Amazon to purchase a copy for yourself or someone you love.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful additions to this article.