I begin by noting some indicators from the vexing times in which we live. This context is worth pondering, if only briefly, since it is the setting, day in and out, in which you and I labor in this last dispensation.
The many intervening centuries since Jesus’ mortal messiahship seem to have worked against the faith of many in the last days. Peter’s prophecy about the attitude of latter-day scoffers is thus steadily being fulfilled: “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? … all things remain as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). Hence, repetition on the human landscape comes to be viewed by many as the absence of any discernible, divine purpose.
The resulting indifference adds to iniquity, and iniquity brings its inevitable harvest of bitter despair (see JS—M 1:30; Moro. 10:22; D&C 45:27). Moreover, as the love of many waxes cold, a massive failure occurs with regard to keeping both the first and second great commandments (see Matt. 22:36–40; Matt. 24:12).
Unsurprisingly, those in despair question life’s meaning, saying, “Is this all there is to life?” Even their conquests and achievements turn out finally to be empty. Illustratively, MGM’s Louis B. Mayer, once the powerful king of Hollywood’s hill, at the very end of his life said despairingly from his hospital bed, “Nothing matters. Nothing matters.”1
Those who “live without God in the world” anxiously glean their few and fleeting satisfactions, but they are unable to find real happiness (see Mosiah 27:31; Morm. 2:13). Today many are caught up in one form or another of the “club-and-pub” culture. Others focus on the popular and pervasive substitutes for real religion—sports and politics. All this is accompanied by political churning as you and I watch the secular “Princes come, Princes go, An hour of pomp and show they know.”2
As in the days of Noah, many individuals become preoccupied with life’s routine, such as “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38; see also Matt. 24:36–39). Many of those comfortably situated say, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17), while being confused about causality, saying, “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deut. 8:17). It is much today as in ancient Israel when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; Judg. 21:25). In our time, “every man walketh in his own way, and after … the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16), which might be called everyman ethical relativism—and we are swamped by it in our time.
Shorn of spiritual memory, people thus “do their own thing,” resulting in an uninspired, unanchored individualism that rejects the need for spiritual submissiveness, which, after all, is one of the great purposes of life’s trek. Ancient Israel was advised: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deut. 8:2).
Ignorant of the plan of salvation, many simply do not know what the journey of life is all about. Therefore, modern selfishness and skepticism brush aside the significance of the Savior, considering Jesus merely “a man” (Mosiah 3:9) or “a thing of naught” (1 Ne. 19:9).
So positioned intellectually, these people say it is “not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come” (Hel. 16:18; see also Hel. 16:17–20). Should some prophesied things happen, skeptics say the prophets have merely “guessed right” (Hel. 16:16).
Secular people, of whom there are more and more, insist on seeing instead of walking by faith (see 2 Cor. 5:7). In their passion to see, they fall into the trap of “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14), including failing to notice the sprouting leaves on the fig tree signaling that summer is nigh (see JS—M 1:38–39; D&C 45:37).
In such a context, those trying to spread the gospel’s glorious truths often encounter people, as did Ether, whose reactions to his “great and marvelous” prophecies were “they did not believe, because they saw them not” (Ether 12:5).
Farther along the spectrum of the human landscape, the honorable of the earth do so commendably well with less than full gospel light. You and I know many of them; they are wonderful and decent people. These individuals, like some followers of John the Baptist, simply do not yet know. Asked if they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, John’s followers replied, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2; see also Acts 19:1–6). Among the honorable of the earth are so many individuals “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).
The Restoration, of course, provides the resplendent remedy with such high relevancy for our times. When accompanied by the spirit of truth, the Restoration proves not only informing and inspiring but also convincing! (see D&C 50:21–22).
Some, however, must first be chastened by afflictions, death, fear, terror, famine, and pestilence before they will be stirred to remember God (see Hel. 12:3). Only a comparative few are “in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6), but for these, “the word [has] a … more powerful effect … than … anything else” (Alma 31:5). Yet even these comparative few still need a teacher:
“And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
“And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30–31; emphasis added).
Continuing the sampling of the societal spectrum, there are the lukewarm Church members who lack dedication and who are not valiant in their testimony of Jesus (see D&C 76:79). These often fear losing either their place in the secular synagogue or missing out on the praise of men (see John 12:42–43). Some members are like the earlier Amulek, who was called and would not hear; he really “knew,” yet he “would not know” (Alma 10:6). These members, like Amulek, may even have experienced feeling the redeeming, loving power of God, but they do not “feel so now” (Alma 5:26).
Isn’t it marvelous, by the way, that the long-suffering Lord reclaimed, tutored, and later used Amulek to declare especially powerful teachings!
Fortunately, in the midst of all these things, so many Church members are sincerely striving for consecration. They “seek … first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness” (JST, Matt. 6:38). These members, in spite of their individual trials and discouragements, nevertheless, rally again and again and say, “Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” (D&C 128:22).
Soberingly, we are also advised, “Behold, the enemy is combined” (D&C 38:12). Faithful Latter-day Saints will thus surely be encompassed round about (see D&C 76:29), yet we can still develop our communities of Saints who are spiritually “one, the children of Christ” (4 Ne. 1:17).
We should not really be surprised at how some of the foregoing reflect the absence or neglect of the holy scriptures. History tells of those who, without sacred records, soon denied the Creator! (see Omni 1:17). The untaught can, so quickly, become unbelieving. They form a rising generation who do not understand the words of prophets and who do not believe in the Resurrection of Christ, as when there “arose another generation … which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judg. 2:10; see also Mosiah 26:1–4).
Holy scriptures testify powerfully, but they also familiarize us with the history of what God has done for His people. This spiritual memory is so essential. Consider this relevant verse, often neglected in favor of the special verse it precedes: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moro. 10:3).
Holy scriptures, when searched and believed, help us to “remember,” as it were, from the sacred records. These are part of the institutional memory of the kingdom of God. Hence, Alma observed to his son, Helaman, how sacred records, in effect, “have enlarged the memory of this people” (Alma 37:8).
The Restoration brought back such sweeping spiritual substance, including the reality of the Resurrection, but it also brought back a vital revelatory process. Please note the blend: “And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood” (Moses 7:62).
“God … saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them;
“Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, …
“And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world” (Alma 12:28–30).
The Restoration, for instance, provides so much more truth concerning both the character of the Father and the nature of His plan! President George Q. Cannon said, “There is in the plan of salvation, which God our heavenly Father has revealed, perfect love, mercy and justice, and every other attribute which pertains to the character of Deity are perfectly illustrated in the plan of salvation which he has revealed for man’s guidance.”3 However, President Cannon lamented, “The difficulty today is, that the people do not believe that God is a being of this character.”4
It is so in our time too. No wonder King Benjamin pled: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9).
There are a few among us who believe in God but do not want to let Him be God; they would limit Him in terms of character and attributes. Reassuringly, in two adjoining verses, the Lord said tersely, “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Ne. 27:20–21). Brothers and sisters, that is about as nice a way as God could say to us that He can handle it!
The richness of the Restoration dispels doubt and despair with regard to the meaning of life, mitigating misery and giving us assurance concerning immortality and God’s “great plan of happiness”! (see Alma 42:8). The Lord’s ways are higher and more effective ways (see Isa. 55:9).
Not a day passes in the television news or in the press without our seeing some secular solutions being sincerely advanced to solve vexing human problems. These solutions usually involve lower ways, however sincerely offered they are, and they resemble trying to play shuffleboard on a slippery hillside, using a twisted stick for a cue, with a misshapen lump for a puck.
The Restoration, to mix metaphors, is like a harvest basket, which is a “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). This abundant harvest spares us from hungering because of doctrinal deprivation. Without this fulness, however, some who are malnourished struggle with adversity while trying to believe in a God of loving purpose. Each of the Restoration’s key doctrines, by itself, would help us greatly. However, when “shaken together,” these doctrines can produce much stronger faith through their vital nourishment. The harvest is not only abundant and “running over,” but it also brings back the most vital “plain and precious things” (1 Ne. 13:40)—the balanced essentials.
Consider one example of a consequence of deprivation. Some, doctrinally perplexed, lament, “If God is good and all powerful, why does He permit so much human suffering? Why does He allow so much evil to be in the world He created?” A very prominent religious leader in England several decades ago spoke of this with unusual candor: “All of my life I have struggled to find the purpose of living. I have tried to answer three questions which always seemed to be fundamental: the problem of eternity; the problem of human personality; and the problem of evil. I have failed. I have solved none of them. … And I believe no one will ever solve them.”5
Without Restoration fulness, this problem is understandably poignant and persistent! Without the Restoration’s light on the plan of salvation, trying to comprehend this life is like trying to understand a three-act play while seeing only the second act. Without knowing beginnings and endings, the middle becomes muddled. What is really going on? Is there a director who will make sense of it all? Does the plot have purpose? Such questions are answered only by revelation.
Evil and suffering do take a terrible toll in the world, and we certainly cannot give glib answers to cover every wrenching human situation. But, through the blessings of the Restoration, we can see things as they really were, are, and will be (see D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). We can then better walk the straight and narrow way, inspired and informed by “faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). However, these added understandings provided by the Restoration clearly do not exempt us from either temptation or from suffering. There are no immunities, only variations.
Latter-day Saints also know that God did not create man ex nihilo, out of nothing. The concept of an “out of nothing” creation confronts its adherents with a severe dilemma. One commentator wrote of human suffering and an “out of nothing” creation: “We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God [who creates all things absolutely—i.e., out of nothing] must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.”6
Of course, God is not “responsible” for our human misdeeds! How vital, therefore, the “plain and precious” truths of the Restoration are in order to see things as they really are instead of being puzzled.
Restoration correctives provide emancipating perspectives! The revelations, when “pressed down, and shaken together,” emphasize that man is, at once, an intelligence or spirit coeternal—but certainly not coequal—with God (see Abr. 3:18). Thus, doctrinally, we are positioned very differently, because “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil.”7 God is thus the organizer of eternal intelligences, which can neither be created nor destroyed (see D&C 93:29). Furthermore, God will not coerce men since all intelligence is free to act for itself “in that sphere in which God has placed it. … Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man” (D&C 93:30–31).
In the Restoration, we further learn that, built into the existing structure of mortal life, there is “an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). This doctrine is more than just a minor clue to life. It is a major divine disclosure! As Brigham Young University professor David Paulsen has thoughtfully written: “Without moral righteousness, there is no happiness; without significant moral freedom, there is no moral righteousness; without an opposition (opposing possibilities to choose between), there is no significant moral freedom. Thus, happiness and opposition are essentially related.”8
When Restoration truths are thus “shaken together,” powerful understandings vital to daily life emerge.
It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day it will even become more apparent than it now is that our loving Father is doing all even He possibly can do to help us!
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is evidence of His help. As beneficiaries of Restoration blessings, we are recipients of “so much light and so much knowledge” (Alma 9:19) about the meaning and purpose of life, the character of the Father and the Son, and the work and glory of the plan of salvation (see Moses 1:39).
May God bless us with a willingness to share the harvest basket of the Restoration, that as we have been spiritually nourished so may we nourish our neighbor.