For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, great emphasis is placed on keeping the commandments. We are constantly being admonished to not only keep the Ten Commandments but there is a long list of others that we are required to keep, such as the Word of Wisdom, tithing, doing genealogy, serving others and serving the Lord in callings, among others. And we are told that it is by keeping these commandments that the Lord blesses us but that when we do not keep these commandments the Lord cannot bless us because He is bound by law.
However, as we look around we see people who violate keeping the Sabbath day holy but who are very successful in business. We see people who smoke and drink who are healthy and strong. We see celebrities who not only dress immodestly but who flagrantly violate the law of chastity yet who enjoy great adoration and success in their career. We see businessmen and politicians who lie, cheat, and engage in unethical practices but who nonetheless are able to gain great prestige and power.
At the same time, there are those who do strive to diligently keep the commandments yet they struggle to pay their bills, or suffer with long term health problems, or endure emotional hardships with members of their family or with coworkers. The Lord has promised that those who keep the Word of Wisdom will have "health in their navel and marrow in their bones" (D&C 89:18) yet Spencer W. Kimball came down with throat cancer despite his faithful adherence to the Word of Wisdom.
The Lord has also said, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10), and yet there are people who faithfully pay their tithing but who still have financial problems.
In the book of Samuel, we read of a man named Elkanah who had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. All three of these people were very righteous but, while Peninnah was able to bear children Hannah remained barren. In that day, being unable to bare children was seen as a curse from God and "she (Hannah) was in bitterness of soul." Finally she cried unto the Lord for a child, saying that if God would grant her a male child that she would give "him unto the Lord all the days of his life" (I Samuel 1:11).
Although God did answer Hannah's prayer, yet when the child was less than a year old, she relinquished him to Eli the priest as she had promised the Lord. Even though Hannah finally was able to bare a son, she was still denied the pleasure of raising him. So, while Peninnah was able to be a mother to many sons and daughters, Hannah remained as though she was childless.
This has led some to wonder what's the use in keeping the commandments when those who violate them seem to enjoy greater blessings than those who faithfully keep them, while others seem cursed even though they keep the commandments?
The answer to this valid and troubling question rests on what is meant by the word "blessing." The Lord clearly stated that there is an irrevocable law that determines the blessings that people receive, but what is not clear is what those blessings are and how they are determined.
There is a saying that money can't buy happiness. Then, is "happiness" a blessing? Most people would think so. There is a proverb that says, "When people are young they risk their health to make money but when they are old they spend their money to get their health." Is "health" a blessing? Is having money a blessing? And which is the greater blessing - happiness, health, or money?
The answer to that question can be different for each person. For example, the scriptures say, "children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward… Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalms 127:3,5) Yet, to Hannah, just being able to bring forth one son, even if she couldn't raise him, was a treasured blessing from God, while there are some parents whose children make their life miserable.
Many people complain about their work, either about their working conditions, their work load, their boss, or the people they work with, but to someone who is out of a job, just having any kind of work that brings in some money is considered a blessing. So the word "blessing" can mean different things to different people at different times in their life.
With this understanding, let's take a look at some different situations.
One of the Ten Commandments is "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all they work but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work" (Exodus 20:8-10). What about those who have a business that is open seven days a week? Clearly they are violating this commandment. In fact, in most cases, Saturday and Sunday are the two busiest days for retailers. Some stores make more money in just those two days alone than they do the rest of the week.
Therefore, for someone to close their doors on Sunday would cause them to lose a significant amount of their business. For this reason, those businesses who stay open seven days a week are going to make more money than those who close on Sunday.
It is said that these people are blessed with making money because they are abiding by the law of economics. However, nothing in life is free, meaning that everything we do comes with a price. There is something we have to exchange for everything we get. The person whose business stays open seven days a week may have to pay the price of working 100 hours a week and/or taking significant amount of time away from being with their family. They are most certainly sacrificing their time away from God.
But for a member of the LDS Church, they have made a covenant - a sacred promise - to God to keep all of his commandments, so those LDS members who own a business have put themselves in a position that the other businessmen are not obligated to follow. And part of that obligation is to come to church each Sunday and offer up their oblations and partake of the sacrament on God's holy day (D&C 59:12). When we keep that promise we are entitled to certain blessings. Then what happens when a person keeps the law of economics but violates their oath to God? What kind of blessings or curses do they incur? Does this person make more money but lose the Spirit of God or does God curse their business activities as well as having them loose the Spirit?
Or what if someone violates the law of economics yet keeps the law of the Sabbath? What kind of blessings or curses does that create? Do they make less money but enjoy the companionship of the Spirit more, or does God bless their business to the point where they make just as much money in six days as they do in seven? There is no way to tell without exactly knowing what blessings or curses are associated with living or violating which law. But in this scenario the choice is clear. A person has to decide for themselves whether they value the things of the world more than the things of God or whether their promises to God are more important to them than worldly wealth? Is money more important than the Spirit of God or is our relationship with God more important?
righteous As we look at television, movies, sporting events, and watch music videos we see talented beautiful people who are famous, adored, and celebrated wherever they go. Yet, the vast majority of these celebrities are anything but the example of moral decency and virtue. For many female celebrities, the more daring or outlandish their outfits are the more they attract people to watch their performance. For both male and female celebrities, the tabloids are full of their escapades. Full or partial nudity in the movies and on television is becoming more the norm than the exception, and when we see the extravagant lifestyle of some of our more famous performers and athletes it's easy to wonder why they seem to be so blessed with so much talent, wealth, fame, and beauty while violating so many of God's commandments ?
But what we are seeing on TV or in the movies or on stage or on the sports field is am false persona. All of these people are very talented and they have worked very hard to get where they are but, even so, what we see in public is not the real person but someone who is acting their part for the public's enjoyment. There are far too many stories of famous performers who have explosive tempers, who have unhappy marriages, who are alcoholics or have become addicted to drugs. But, instead of seeing that side of them, all we are shown is their glamorous side.
But while fame and fortune may seem like a great blessing, it has ruined more than a few good, decent people who have become corrupted by the money and the people they've become associated with. When you add to that the adulation from wildly cheering fans, a person can easily become seduced into thinking that they are so popular and rich that they can do anything they want without having to suffer any negative consequences only to learn how wrong they were.
Fortunately, there are some celebrities who have been able to overcome their bad habits and have gone on to make something decent out of themselves but, in most cases, only after having gone through a life so miserable that no one would deliberately want to experience it. For people such as these, fame and fortune hasn't been a blessing but a curse.
Furthermore, fame if fickle. Some who are famous today may be a nobody ten years later. They rise like a streak of lightening and then quickly fade. Some of yesterday's popular singers are today traveling from town to town, playing their one or two hit songs any place they can find somewhere to perform. Movie stars who have lost their beauty or whose movies are no longer drawing large crowds find themselves unemployed despite their acting skills, and many star athletes who have past their athletic prime fade from the spotlight and spend their life living ordinary lives.
When we look behind the public curtain of celebrity life, what we often find is something that is anything but glamorous and happy. In many cases, ordinary people who live quiet, unexciting lives are much happier and find life more fulfilling than do many of the big name stars.
Then there are those who have become wealthy in the business world. As we look at their lives, we find that the great majority of them have become successful by following the Christian principles of honesty and hard work. The goal of most businesses is to provide a quality product or service, at a reasonable price, and to provide excellent customer service after the sale. When following this formula, it is no surprise that such people have been blessed financially.
But what about those who have become successful or wealthy by cheating and lying to their customers, or engaging in unethical, if not illegal activities? We see large corporations scheming to drive smaller companies out of business, and we see businesses taking advantage of disasters in order to gouge their customers. There are companies who overwork and underpay their employees in order to generate more profits for themselves, and there are salesmen who will sell shoddy merchandise and not stand by their products. And then there are the scam artists and con men who make large sums of money deceiving people out of their savings. An honest Christian may ask them self: "How come they are successful in their wicked practices?"
There are two answers to this question. The first is that that in most cases their success is short lived. Those who engage in illegal or unethical practices are discovered sooner or later and many of these people end up going to jail. Even if that doesn't happen, those who are dishonest with their customers or employees eventually begin to lose business. But, just like celebrities, what most people see is just the current successes of these people but never hear about or see the future consequences of their unrighteous actions.
However, the second and more important answer is that the blessing of happiness doesn't come from having money. Despite all of their ill-gained money, people who don't follow Christian principles in their business practices don't follow them in their personal life either and, as a result, their lives are not really happy. As the prophet Alma taught, "Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10). Just like celebrities who, on the surface, may seem to be enjoying the good life, when you get below the surface you'll find that their lives are empty and without meaning. Instead of being blessed financially, their money actually helps make them more miserable.
And what about those who smoke and drink alcohol, or those who drink coffee or tea? From all outward appearance, they seem to be healthy and strong, but if they are violating the Word of Wisdom, why do they seem to be in as good of health as those who keep the Word of Wisdom?
The answer is often the same as in the other situations. We see people as they are now and assume that's the way they will always be, instead of looking at what their lives will be like twenty to forty years from now. We can illustrate this with another similar situation. Every child likes to eat sweets but every parent knows that a steady diet of sugary food will eventually lead to tooth decay, obesity, and a host of other health problems. But these disorders don't come upon people suddenly. Instead, the buildup to them is often years in the making.
Smoking is an excellent example of this. People who begin smoking in their teens see no side effects for decades, but the tar buildup in their lungs is still happening, howbeit gradually and unseen. It isn't until a smoker is in their forties or fifties that they find themselves being short of breath or coughing a lot. Since they don't see what has been happening in their lungs, they don't attribute these health problems to smoking, and so they continue to smoke, thereby worsening the condition of their lungs.
Smokers are also taking in the addictive drug, nicotine. When a person first starts smoking it is fairly easy to quit but the longer they smoke the harder it becomes to break the habit. Thus, even when they realize how damaging smoking is to their health, they can't stop, and the longer they smoke the more their health begins to deteriorate.
The same thing happens with drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, not only to the mind but to the other organs of the body. But, like smoking, the physical damage from drinking alcohol happens gradually and it isn't until years have gone by that the degenerative symptoms begin to be noticed. But in the meantime, both the drinker and those around them think they are in good health. And like smoking, drinking alcohol can become addictive.
To a lesser degree, the same can be said for drinking coffee and tea. But even if there doesn't seem to be any noticeable effects from drinking these hot beverages, doesn't meant they aren't doing harm to our body. There have been a number of studies done, comparing the health and longevity of smokers and/or alcohol drinkers to those who don't smoke and/or drink, and the findings have been consistent. On average, those who don't smoke or drink are healthier and live longer than those who do smoke and/or drink. What this tells us is that, even if there doesn't seem to be any apparent difference between those who follow the Word of Wisdom and those that don't, there are definitely unseen differences.
But what about those who keep the commandments but still experience problems in their life? There are LDS parents who hold regular family prayer, Family Home Evening, family scripture reading, and who teach their children the principles of the gospel by both word and deed yet still have children who go wayward or who leave the Church. There are those who faithfully pay their tithing but who encounter severe financial difficulties. There are those who are kind to everyone they know and who share what they have with others who are taken advantage of. There are those who strive to eat healthy but who come down with sicknesses and diseases of all kinds such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lymphoma, etc, or have children born with Downs syndrome or other physical and/or mental limitations. If people obey the laws of God as best they can, then why don't they receive the promised blessings that others receive?
The answer is that life in mortality is meant to try us and stretch us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually because that's how we grow. No one is immune from the trials of life. Their situations may be different but at some point everyoe will experience hardships, heartaches, challenges, disappointments, failure, frustration, and regret.
It is only human nature for people to take a very short-sighted view of life, looking at it from a purely temporal perspective. Although worldly attainments are laudable and desirable, and ease and comfort are sought after, they are not the reasons why we came to earth. The purpose of mortality is to help prepare us to live in immortality and often times, the more spiritual a person is, the more difficulties they have as their faith is tested and are being spiritually strengthened.
As Latter-day Saints, we revere Joseph Smith as one God's greatest prophets, yet the troubles, hardships, and heartaches he experienced in his short life were more than most people will ever have to go through. Financially, he was always poor. Often times he didn't even own a house to live in but had to depend on others to provide him a place to live. His name was held in derision by his detractors, his reputation was constantly being called into question by both his enemies and friends alike, and his life was continually in danger.
But even this pales in comparison to what Jesus had to endure. As we read the story of the life of our Savior and see how effortlessly he handled each challenge, we tend to think that his life was easy, but it wasn't. After fasting for forty days, and being in a physically weakened condition, Satan himself tempted Jesus with three very cleverly designed questions. After that Jesus endured people mocking him, lying about him, calling him names, trying to entrap him, preventing him from carrying on his work and even wanting to kill him. He had to deal with settling arguments among his own followers, dealing with their lack of faith, experiencing the death of one of his closest friends, and having a member of his inner circle betray him.
Yet these weren't his greatest challenge. In the garden of Gethsemane, as he took upon himself the sins of all mankind, the pain he endured was so intense that even he wanted to shrink from doing what His Father had asked of him. Then, weakened both emotionally and spiritually, he was scourged almost to the point of death, then had to endure the humiliation of dragging his cross through the streets of Jerusalem before throngs of jeering people, and then hanging from nails that had been driven through his hands and feet.
Even though Jesus was the Son of God, the great Jehovah, the creator of heaven and earth, it was because of the things he suffered that perfected him and he was able to become the author of eternal salvation unto all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9). It was because he humbled himself and became obedient even unto death, and overcame all things, even the death of the cross, that God highly exalted him and gave him a name which is above every name, and that every knee will bow before (Philippians 2:7-10).
The question can be asked: If Jesus was sinless and perfectly kept every law, then why was his life so filled with pain and suffering?
The answer is that, if blessings come as a result of us living certain laws, then the greater the law we keep, the greater the blessings we will receive. Therefore, sometimes God temporarily withholds blessings we are entitled to in order to give us challenges that, if overcome, will result in us receiving even greater blessings. Although it may appear that there are people who are not being as blessed as others, because of their faithfulness they are building up their treasures in heaven where rust and moth can corrupt where, upon death, they will receive greater blessings than they otherwise might have received.
As King Benjamin told his people: "I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness" (Mosiah 2:41). This is the greatest blessing of all.