In the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants were are told "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated - and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (130:20,21)
A farmer takes a tiny seed and plants it in the ground. With care and skill, the seed grows and eventually produces a crop. If the farmer plants more seeds, his crop will become even more abundant. This simple fact of life illustrates one of the basic laws of nature, often referred to as the Law of the Harvest. The apostle Paul explained it this way to the Corinthians: "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." (II Corinthians 9:6)
This same law also applies to our physical and spiritual life. The more good we do for others, the more good we receive from others. The more effort we put forth, the more success we obtain. The more wickedness we perform, the more sorrow we endure. The lazier we are, the more we desire to do nothing. It is a universally accepted truth that what goes around, comes around. We receive what we give out, we reap only what we sow, we get what we deserve.
Is it not reasonable and logical to conclude that God operates according to this same law? Does it seem reasonable that He would act contrary to the very laws which all of nature unerringly obeys? The answer is obvious. Of course He wouldn't. Therefore, it follows that whenever God gives blessings to someone, it's because that person has produced the conditions that have brought forth such blessings to them.
The Prophet Moses explained this principle to the ancient Israelites when he said, "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day: and a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
If this is true, then what are the blessings that God gives to those who keep His commandments? Let's look at some scriptural references. The Patriarch Isaac said to his son Jacob, "And God Almighty bless thee and make thee fruitful and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people." (Genesis 28:3) Moses told the Israelites, "He will also bless the fruit of thy womb and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep." (Deuteronomy 7:13) The psalmist, King David, sung, "The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace." (Psalms 29:11) Nephi stated, "The Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish." (I Nephi 16:39) King Benjamin told his people, "If ye do keep his commandments he doth bless and prosper you." (Mosiah 2:22) General Moroni "prayed mightily unto his God for the blessing of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land." (Alma 46:13)
We see from this small list that being able to bear children, having good crops, having health and strength, peace, food to eat, liberty and prosperity are all blessings from God. In addition to these, God blessed Solomon with wisdom and understanding as well as with riches. He blesses people with protection from danger and harm. Healing those who are afflicted with sicknesses and physical aliments are also blessings. In fact, King Benjamin told his people that even the very air we breathe and just being alive is a gift from God. (Mosiah 2:21)
Our Father, who lives in heaven, delights to bless us. But, these blessings don't come without strings. As He himself explained to Joseph Smith, "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated - and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (130:20,21) And what laws are they predicated upon? Moses told the Israelites that blessings come from keeping the commandments of God.
Then what about the wicked? If even breathing and living here on earth is a blessing, then how come they are alive? If being healed of sickness and physical aliments are a blessing, then why do the wicked recover from their afflictions? If having liberty, peace, prosperity, food, shelter and clothing are blessings from God, then why do the wicked also enjoy these gifts?
And what about those who are faithful in keeping the commandments of God? How come they get sick, have physical infirmities, are subject to emotional problems, or suffer heartache and sorrow? What about the righteous who are forced to live in countries where liberty and personal freedom are non-existent? What about the godly people who must live in places where there is constant warfare, such as in Ireland, the Middle East, Bosnia, or forty other areas where war is the norm? What about the good, honest people who live in the rural areas of Central and South American countries where the poverty is infinitely more deplorable than the ghettos and slums of America? In America, even the poorest people have running water, electricity, decent food and shelter. Often times they own televisions, radios and other modern conveniences. Yet the slums of America are rampant with crime and wickedness.
If blessings come as a result of obeying the Law of the Harvest, if God has promised blessings to those who keep His commandments, then why do the wicked seem to enjoy such blessings while the righteous sometimes seem to be denied them?
There is the tendency to say that when problems come upon righteous people, that the Lord is testing their faith and preparing them to receive greater blessings, echoing the words of the Lord, "For after much tribulation come the blessings." (D&C 58:4) Yet, there is also the tendency to say that when similar problems come upon the wicked, this is their reward for failing to keep the commandments. Put another way, we tend to view an unpleasant event as a blessings in work clothes when it happens to righteous people, but consider it a curse from God when the same event happens to the wicked. Is this reasonable?
Because of this seeming contradiction in life, many have felt bewildered or become disillusioned with God's promises. When a righteous person has to endure sorrow and hardships, while their neighbor, who doesn't live the gospel principles, lives a relatively easy life, it tends to make them wonder how this can be. When a person who faithfully pays their tithing is constantly poor, yet sees others who don't pay their tithing but have plenty of money, it tends to make them question why this is so. When the righteous suffer because of the wickedness of others who seem to flaunt the law with impunity, it tends to make them doubt the goodness of God.
The question that many people ask is, "If there is a law upon which all blessings are predicated, why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to the wicked?"
Before we can fully understand the reason for this, we need to understand who we are and why we are here on earth. The Lord told Abraham, "And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate, and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." (Abraham 3:26)
All of us who live on this earth are the literal sons and daughters of God, our heavenly Father. We are His children and He loves each of us more than we can now possibly imagine. Before the world was created, we existed with Him in heaven; that was our first estate. There were those who rebelled against Him back then and were cast out of heaven; they were the ones who did not keep their first estate. Those who did not rebel, were added upon by being allowed to inhabit a physical, temporal, mortal world. This earth is the second estate of those who were righteous enough to keep their first estate.
But unfortunately, once out of sight of their heavenly Father, some of these righteous children became enticed by the temptations of the flesh. Some became intoxicated by the ability to do as they desired, and not what they should do. Still others became confused as to what is right and what is wrong, what is truth and what is error. Without sight, and only faith to guide them, some of our Father's children choose the wrong path. Yet, despite all of this, two truths remain constant. One is that each of us are still children of a God who continues to love us and seeks to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all His children. The second truth is that, no matter how we keep our second estate, all of us who are worthy of mortality did keep our first estate. By virtue of that fact alone, we were all once righteous enough to be entitled to certain blessings here on earth.
When we talk about God blessing the righteous, we tend to think of people as being in one of two camps: either we are righteous, or we are wicked - period. If we are listed among the righteous, we get blessings, if we are listed among the wicked, we receive curses. The fact is, there is no one that is perfectly righteous, but God, and there is no one who is totally wicked, except Satan and his angels. Therefore, all of us are a mixture of good and evil. The difference between us is in the mix. To some degree, all of us are more wicked than others, and each of us are more righteous than others. And to make matters more complicated, the mixture of good and evil within every person is not constant, but often fluctuates under different circumstances.
Since all of us are righteous to some degree, we are all entitled to the blessings of the righteous for which we qualify. The more righteous we become, the more blessings we qualify for. That is the Law of the Harvest.
However, there are many types of laws that have nothing to do with spiritual righteousness, but which produce blessings if obeyed and curses if disobeyed. Consider a law of physics known as gravity. Obey this law and reap the blessings associated with it. But, even the most righteous person is not immune to the consequences of disobeying it. In business, those who succeed and prosper do so by obeying the laws of finance and commerce. In matters of health, anyone who follows the law of personal fitness, which includes eating, working and resting, will be blessed with well-being. Regardless of one's spiritual development, if they fail to properly obey this law, they will reap sickness and physical aliments.
If all this is true, then what does the Lord mean when he says He will bless the righteous and curse the wicked? How are the righteous blessed with health, happiness, peace, prosperity, and wisdom? How are the unrighteous cursed, if blessings come only as a direct result of obeying certain principles and laws?
The answer is that there are two distinct categories of blessings. One category can be called "General Blessings" to which everyone is entitled. These work for anyone who obeys them, righteous or wicked. Then there is another category that can be labeled, "Helpful Blessings". These are blessings which the Lord grants to people as a gift. They are given, not because the recipient has met the requirements of an impartial, unyielding law, but because it pleases a merciful and loving Father to give them. These blessings come about through His wisdom rather than the result of some prescribed reward.
Let me illustrate what I mean. A righteous man decides to go into business. Every morning he kneels in prayer and asks for divine guidance, and every evening he kneels in prayer to thank his heavenly Father for the help received. As a result, the man sees the hand of God moving in his business and notices opportunities opening, special deals coming his way, and beneficial coincidences occurring at just the right time. As a result, his business prospers.
Down the street from him, his neighbor, who doesn't rely on God for help, has also started a business. Soon, the neighbor's business becomes more successful than that of the righteous man. When we see this sort of thing happen, we tend to ask how can this be? The reason is the difference between General Blessings and Helpful Blessings.
To succeed in business often requires putting in long, hard hours of work, which often means neglecting the family. That's the price many people must pay for success. Let's say our righteous man doesn't want to neglect his family and therefore puts in only 60 hours of work a week so he still will have time to be with them. His neighbor puts in 90 hours of work a week and has no time for his family. According to the General Blessings, the righteous man will reap success sparingly because he sowed sparingly. However, the Lord then steps in and gives him a Helpful Blessing. In sixty hours, this righteous man is able to accomplish what his neighbor would take eighty hours of work to do, plus he has the added benefit of enjoying his family.
From outward appearances, the non-righteous man is more successful in business, but in reality, the righteous man has received more blessings.
Does that mean only the righteous are entitled to Helpful Blessings? The answer is a definite "no". There are many stories told of people who led lives of wickedness and riotous living, only to one day have something happen that turned their life around for the positive. Is that not a blessing? Did they earn such a blessing by obedience to some law of nature? Obviously not. How many people have become converted to the Church, even though they weren't looking for it, simply because a couple of missionaries were led to them through inspiration? Would that not be a Helpful Blessing from God?
We need to constantly remember that God is the Father of all people and He loves and watches over each of us. As such, His concern and help is not confined only to those who obey His commandments.
If that is true, then why should we strive to keep God's commandments?
There are two reasons. The second, and lest important one is that the more righteous we become the more Helpful Blessings we receive. Although God does help those who are not righteous, His help comes rather infrequently, and often only in extreme circumstances. On the other hand, the righteous receive divine help more frequently and in many different, ordinary situations.
But there is a more, fundamental reason why we need to keep the commandments of God. The Lord explained it this way, "Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal;... neither Adam, your father, whom I created... no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual." (D&C 29: 34,35)
It is essential to recognize that our life does not begin nor end in this physical world. We are, first and foremost, spiritual beings, and we will always be so. As such, our Father in Heaven is primarily concerned with our spiritual welfare. Even this temporal existence is designed to further our spiritual development. All that happens to us is for the express purpose of helping us to progress spiritually.
With that in mind, what role do blessings play in our lives? To understand this role, let's look at blessings from another perspective. In both the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon, there are many examples where the Lord told people that if they would obey His commandments they would prosper and have peace. The people obeyed and they received the promised reward. We would say that they were blessed by God. But was it really a blessing? Consider what often happened. Too frequently, when the people became wealthy and prosperous, they forgot about God and became puffed up in pride. Then they began to depart from their righteous ways and slid into unrighteous behavior. Therefore, in the end, their so called "blessing" actually became a curse to them. They would have been better off not to have become prosperous.
The apostle Peter taught this very concept to the early Christians when he said, "For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than after they have known it to turn from the holy commandments delivered unto them." (II Peter 2:21)
What a blessing it is to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ in our life! Yet, for some, it becomes a curse to have this knowledge. In the end, they would have been better off never to have heard it.
Like so many things in life, the blessings of God can be used for our good or to our detriment. They can be a stepping stone for us to advance in our spiritual progression or they can become a stumbling block to impede our development. Whether these gifts from God ultimately become a blessing or a curse depends on how we use them.
When we die, there are only two things we can take with us -- the knowledge we have gained and ourselves. Whatever kind of person we have become, we're stuck with it. If we were blessed with material possessions in this life, they will be left behind. If we were blessed with health and vitality, it won't matter when our body is in the grave. If we were blessed to live in a land of freedom and enjoyed the fruits of peace, it won't make any difference when we enter the next world. What will be important is the kind of a person we will have become.
Here, in this life, we are subject to temporal conditions; in the next life, we will once again be in a spiritual environment. Will we be a spirit being, living in a spiritual environment but thinking and behaving in temporal, non-spiritual ways? Will we have set our hearts and our minds so much on the things of this world that we will not be prepared to move forward in the next?
The "blessings" which come from God are for the purpose of helping us to become more like He is. If we use them to that purpose, then they are blessings indeed. If they don't help us toward that end, they are not true blessings. They will only be temporary and fleeting enjoyments, but in the end may prove to be a curse.
Then how do we use the blessings of God to become more spiritual? The apostle James gave us the key when he said, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience, but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:2-4)
Does God bless you with children, health, prosperity, peace and liberty? Take joy in these things and use them to your spiritual advantage. Are you in poor health, poverty, war or bondage? Use these as you would blessings to help you develop spiritual strength, knowing this, that through the trying of your faith, if you work at being patient, you may become perfect and complete, lacking nothing in your spirituality.
With such an outlook, no matter what happens in life, and regardless of our circumstances, we can turn any situation into a blessing to help develop our faith, to gain spiritual strength, to help serve others or to grow in understanding, tolerance, patience and love. Is it any wonder that the apostle James said that we should take joy even in our temptations?
The true blessings of the righteous are to understand and use the gifts of God in such a way that we progress spiritually from them. That is the most important law upon which real blessings are predicated.
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