Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in a 12-part Tuesday/Thursday Meridian Series that explores some of the most remarkable and exciting doctrines of the Restoration. Read the two-part introduction to this series here, and here, and read article 1 here, and article 2 here, and article 3 here, and article 4 here, and article 5 here.
This series poses fundamental and intentionally provocative questions about the doctrines of the Restoration, and in many cases includes the author’s own interpretation of certain Gospel beliefs and principles that do not pretend to be official doctrine of the Church and that are necessarily endorsed by Meridian Magazine. The intent is to stimulate thought and questions that will lead each of us to our own conclusions.
Is Mortality about a Test or about Joy?
One of the main themes arising out of our recent General Conference was the tests and trials of mortality. And little wonder! 2020 has been, for most of us, a frightening, frustrating, uncertain, and difficult year.
And we need reminders that this is what we chose—this is part of the deal.
When we say “Well, I didn’t ask for this!” we are essentially wrong. I believe we voted for mortality as it is, we asked for it, we chose a plan of Agency that by necessity contained trials and difficult times and hard choices—and that didn’t contain any guarantees of our successful return to our Heavenly Parents home.
But what was the primary thing we were voting for? Were we voting for a test, or for joy? Were we voting for the chance to show we could handle hard times or for the agency-requiring mortality that would allow us to become more like God? Or were we voting for both?
As was pointed out in Elder Bednar’s Conference talk, the word “test” does not appear in scripture. “Prove” on the other hand, does. Are we here to prove ourselves to God, to prove some kind of worthiness that will constitute “passing the test”? Or is it ourselves we need to prove ourselves to?
One friend-reviewer liked this take on the word: “‘Prove’ is often used in a British sense to refer to the process essential for ‘a lovely bake.’ For example, bread that has been ‘well proven’ by a combination of yeast, heat, and time becomes a ‘lovely bake.’ The application of that variety of ‘proving’ for us as we exercise our agency and patiently tolerate some heat is obvious.”
So, is the goal of mortality to pass a test? Or to prove ourselves? Or is there a whole different paradigm, a whole different kind of objective that could incorporate this but that is bigger and more in keeping with God, our loving Parents, who want to give to us all They have; and is part of that gift a wild-ride mortality that will allow the maximum chance for the kind of Joy that They feel and want us to feel.
The closest two scriptures we have to a direct statement of God’s goal for us are “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” and “Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy.”
Is joy just another name for happiness? Or is it, at least as Lehi used the word in speaking to his son Jacob, something much bigger, something that can encompass both happiness and sorrow and something that implies the Godly interpretation of the whole of mortality, well and faithfully lived? Remember in that same chapter, Lehi points out the necessity of opposites, suggesting the importance of opposition.
There is an anonymous poem that goes like this “Happiness is a thing of here and now, the bright leaf in the hand, the moment’s sun, the fight accomplished or the summit won. When things go well, happiness may start; but joy is secret smiling of the heart.”
Storm Jameson said “Happiness? It is an illusion to think that more comfort means more happiness. True happiness (joy?) comes of the capacity to feel deeply, to enjoy simply, to think freely, to risk life, to be needed.”
Shakespeare said “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head; and so our lives, free from public haunt, find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stone, and good (joy?) in every thing.”
And Teddy Roosevelt praised the one “who is actually in the arena…who errs and comes short again and again…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who…if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
We know that mortal joy, as the vast thing that Adam and Eve fell that we might have, encompasses all these beauties, opposites, and choices, and perhaps it is, like electricity in a home, always there, and we need only to plug into it. And perhaps it is this “plugging in” that is the purpose of mortality.
In place of the term “God’s Plan of Happiness,” I prefer the term “God’s Plan of Joy.”
Is Mortality Supposed to be Hard, or Easy?
Linda and I have had this good natured “argument” for years. One of Linda’s mother’s favorite phrases, intended to get people up and doing rather than moaning, was “Life is Hard.” And we have certainly not been above using the same tough-love motivation on our own children.
But I like to make the counter point that Christ himself said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Of course, life is all of these things—it is unbearably hard at times, and wonderfully light and faithful and easy at other points. The real question is, which paradigm—hard or easy—works best in your own perspective and your own life.
And perhaps the problem comes in positioning ourselves too far on either extreme end of that spectrum. If our attitude and framework is that everything is hard, that it is supposed to be hard, and if we dwell on that belief, we may be in danger of negative or martyr-like approaches to everything. Pessimism may get a toehold, and life may appear more and more as a constant struggle.
But if our paradigm moves too far to the “easy” end of the spectrum, and we go around thinking that the ideal is for everything to go smoothly and to fall into place, we will be constantly disappointed and regularly unhappy.
And perhaps our place the hard-easy mental spectrum is not that predetermined or set, and can be adjusted.
If you are prone to the “hard” end of the belief, maybe you can adopt Linda’s modification of her mother’s motto and say “Hard is Good,” faithfully accepting challenges and relishing the whole notion of this up-and-down, “all this shall be for thy good” mortality. Maybe we just acknowledge that, as someone once said, “If everything is coming your way, then you’re in the wrong lane.”
And if you are prone to the “easy” end of the line, maybe you can remember that Christ was talking about His yoke, and that when we are in His service, and striving to live a life that follows His, then our faith, and His power actually can make hard things easy, and all the glory and the credit goes to Him, none to us. Could this have to do with the “enabling power” of the atonement?
President Eyring helps us to answer both the test/joy question and the hard/easy question in his most recent conference talk when he spoke of God’s purpose being “…to give His children the opportunity to prove themselves able and willing to choose the right when it is hard. In so doing, their natures become changed and they become more like Him.”
Are Mortality’s Physical Appetites a Blessing or a Curse?
Again, the easy answer to this question is “both.” We know that appetites are a part of our “physicalness”—part of mortality, and that they are God-given and play a key role in our growth, our agency, and our joy, yet they seem to so many of us to be the pathways to sin.
One of the best metaphors for understanding appetites (one that was used by James in the New Testament) is a horse and a bridle.
I used this symbolism as the core of my book The Half Diet Diet where I said, “When a horse is ridden well, with the correct use of the bridle, it becomes more and more joyful to ride. The joy is progressive, it gets better and better. Once the horse knows the feel of the bridle, it stops trying to work against us. And when well-trained, when a bridle has been used long enough and effectively enough, we get to a point where we can give the horse its head, knowing that it will not hurt us, only thrill us!
“That is the principle of the Half Diet Diet. Bridle your appetite by eating only half at three meals a day. Once the appetite knows that that is all it is going to get, it stops trying to work against us and actually starts craving better, more nourishing food since its job is to get enough nutrients, and since it can’t have more quantity, it starts wanting more quality. And when we get it well-trained, when the bridle has been used long enough and effectively enough, we get to a point where we know that all of our appetites will work for us rather than against us, that they will not hurt us, only thrill us!
“Think of this not as a diet at all, but as a way of maximizing the joy you can get from your bridled appetites and from your God-given body. The joy comes not from satisfying your appetite but from bridling it and working with it and training it. There is joy in this kind of mastery, and there are results that are lasting and that keep getting better and better.”
And what works (and increases joy) with our appetite for food works equally well with all of our other physical, mortal appetites
Could joy be defined as appetite control? Is self-mastery ultimately the source, or at least the trigger, of some of our highest happiness?
In this larger perspective, might appetites be perceived as the passions and potential joys that come with this mortal opportunity, and could “diet” be viewed as how we choose to think and to live while we are here on earth?
Then there is one more upward shift—as we try to apply a higher Spiritual law. With Physical or Mental diets, the challenge is to control our urges and our appetites. In a more “Spiritual diet,” the challenge is to give control to God. As Elder Maxwell often implied, in the ultimate spiritual reality, since God owns all, the only thing we have to give to Him is our agency. (Another way to say it, that some will prefer, is that we use our agency to do His will; we give to God our will, but never our agency)
And when we truly and fully do that, when we have relinquished all control, giving our will to Him—we no longer need the bridle, because we have climbed on a very different kind of horse which, unbridled, carries us away in His directions.
Please comment with thoughts or questions, and join me here on Thursday for Article 7 which is called “True or False? 5 Popular doctrines which may deserve further evaluation”
Richard Eyre is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author who served as Mission President in London. He and his wife Linda are frequent Meridian contributors.