"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3)
Inherent in this question by the disciples of Christ is the belief that we had an existence prior to our life here on earth. How else could a man be deliberately inflicted with blindness at birth because he had sinned? Notice also, that Jesus didn't challenge this understanding of theirs.
But there's another interesting aspect to this question. The disciples also assumed that when bad things happened to people it was because they had done something wrong to warrant their suffering. This was the same attitude Job's three friends had. They tried to console him by reasoning "Who ever perished being innocent? Or when were the righteous [ever] cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:7,8). In other words, they were telling Job that his problems were a direct result of his own iniquity and wickedness. Furthermore, they reasoned, if he were truly a righteous person, he wouldn't be cut off from God's blessings.
Although these events happened centuries ago, we find the same attitudes being voiced by many people today. Even Christians sometimes wonder why seemingly bad things happen in their lives, and it causes them to question their faith in God.
Consider some examples. One day a young LDS man kissed his mother and father good bye just before driving from Louisville, KY to St. Louis, MO to visit some of his friends. The trip normally takes a little more than four hours and he promised to call his parents when he got to his destination. The call never came. For two painful weeks his parents waited, hoped and prayed yet there was no sign of the young man or his car. Then one day they receive the long awaited answer. The State Police had found the car hidden in a deep ditch off the side of the highway. It was ruled as a one car accident, and they found the young man still sitting behind the steering wheel where he had died in the crash.
Another faithful LDS couple had a child who was born with Downs syndrome and, after struggling for many years helping this young man through his limitations, he developed Leukemia and after six months of painful chemotherapy he died one week before Christmas. Another faithful LDS father proudly sent his son on a mission and shortly thereafter lost his job and couldn't afford to make the needed monthly payments.
There are some who would seriously question why such things happen to people who are earnestly striving to live as God wants them to. After all, doesn't God promise to bless us if we keep His commandments? (D&C 130:20,21) At times like that, it's natural for people to question the goodness and wisdom of God.
Through the miracle of television we have the ability to see graphic pictures of people starving in third-world countries, of refugees living in deplorable conditions, and of mass deaths from terrorist bombings or ethnic cleansing. The weak in faith question why a loving God would allow such human suffering if He truly cared about us. For those who don't have a strong faith in the goodness of God, there is the tendency to become skeptical of believing or trusting in a Divine Being who seems to allow such misery.
Has God turned His back on us? Is He uncaring or unsympathetic to our pain? Does He curse us with misery because of our sinfulness?
This was the crux of the question which the disciples asked Christ concerning the blind man. Although Jesus never disputed the idea of a pre-mortal existence, he did correct them on their basic assertion that the man was born blind as punishment for sin. "Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
That is an amazing statement! According to what Jesus said, this man was deliberately born blind, thereby condemning him to spend his entire life begging in the street for handouts in order to barely remain alive. And why did God do this to him? According to what Jesus said, it happened solely so that Christ could come by one day and restore his sight for the purpose of showing forth or manifesting the works of God!
To some people, that would seem like a cruel and heartless thing to do. But is it? The answer lies in our perspective on life.
In order to see things as God does, we first need to go back to our pre-mortal existence. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that before the earth was created we attended a grand council in heaven where the plan of salvation was presented to us. However, when we talk about that plan we usually refer to it in a general sort of way. That is, to us, the plan of salvation means we were sent to earth to be tested, and, if faithful to God's commandment, we get to return to our Father in heaven because of the atoning sacrifice of a Savior.
Although that is true, it is an extremely simplistic view of our Father's plan. The plan which our Father presented to us in our pre-mortal life was quite complex and highly detailed. In the grand council of heaven, our Father's plan not only called for someone to be chosen as the Savior, but it also called for a specific number of dispensations which required certain things to be accomplished. That means individuals likewise had to be chosen to fulfill certain assignments or missions that were called for in God's plan.
The first man and woman on the earth didn't come here because of a flip of the coin or a show of hands of who wanted to become head of the human race. Adam and Eve were carefully picked and deliberately assigned to perform very specific tasks. The same was true of Noah and all the other prophets.
The scriptures also tells us that "the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law-- Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened" (D&C 88:25,26). Therefore, the plan also called for the earth to be baptized with water and with fire, as well as dying and being resurrected, thereby adhering to the same laws which we must follow to become worthy of a celestial glory.
But when were these things going to happen? The plan had a time table. Everything had to be done in its proper order. The flood was not only planned, but its timing was likewise designed. The same is true of the earth's baptism by fire which has still yet to occur. The plan called for a Savior, but when was He scheduled to make His atoning sacrifice? Before the earth was even formed, it was determined that the Savior would come in the meridian of time rather than at the beginning or at the end. As such, the plan called for certain things that needed to be done both before the Savior came and after He completed His earthly assignment.
The plan called for an apostasy and a restoration in the last days, but when would the last days begin? The date of 1830 was determined before the foundations of the earth were laid. And when the restoration is fully complete, the plan calls for Jesus to return a second time. Although this date has been establish eons ago, yet only God the Father knows the day and the hour of this event (Matthew 24:36).
Because the plan was so fully prearranged, three years before Adam died, when he called all his righteous posterity together, he "stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation. These things were all written in the book of Enoch," (D&C 107:56,57). How could Adam make such a long range prediction or prophesy unless the Holy Ghost revealed to him the entire plan of God from beginning to end? Furthermore, so sure was he of these predictions that they were written down in a book for future generations to read.
Isaiah saw the life of the Savior in minuet detail. He wrote about where the Savior would be born, how He would be a man of no extraordinary beauty, that He would heal the sick, that He would be despised among men, would be whipped, would be pierced, would died among the ungodly and would lay in the grave of a rich man. How could Isaiah know of all of this 800 years before it happened unless it was all part of the plan?
In 600 B.C. Nephi, the son of Lehi, was shown what would happen to the church after the death of Christ. He saw how some of the writings of the apostles would be taken out and how, through those changes, Satan would have great power over people. Nephi was shown a man being led by the Spirit of God to discover the American continent and then saw Gentiles coming to this continent with a book they called a "Bible." He was further shown how God would raise up someone on this continent to restore the parts that were taken out of the writings of the apostles of the lamb and was even told that person's name. Furthermore, Nephi was shown two nations that would come forth from the loins of his father, Lehi, and how the nation which bore his name would eventually be annihilated a thousand years later by the other nation. But how could he be shown all of this detailed information unless it was all part of a divine plan?
To some, this may sound like predestination, meaning that our destiny and behavior is already determined before we are born and we have no freedom or ability to do anything but live our life according to a prearranged plan. In the strict sense of the term, this is not the way God works. However, God does know everything, and because of that knowledge He can design a foolproof plan that takes into account man's freedom to choose how to live his life.
This isn't so hard to understand because we do the same thing ourselves. For example, if we were going to take a long trip by car and, according to our traveling time schedule, we would be going through a large metropolitan city around 5 p.m., there would be no doubt in our mind that we'd encounter very heavy traffic. Therefore, to avoid that city's five-o'clock rush hour, we would simply amend our travel plans. We could either begin our trip earlier or later, increase our average speed in an effort to get through the city before 5 p.m., find an alternate route, or we might decide to take longer rest stops and get to the city after the rush hour had ended. On the other hand, when preparing the trip, we just might allow for going through heavy traffic and include that delay in our plans.
In the same way, God's knowledge of us allows Him to design His plan around our decisions, even before we make them! (For a more in-depth examination of this subject, please read GOD - OUR TRAINER ). For example, God knows how Satan will react to any given situation. When He placed Adam and Eve in the garden and told them not to eat of a certain kind of fruit, all He had to do was leave them alone for awhile and allow Satan the opportunity to approach them.
Since Satan's stated goal is to destroy God's work, the most logical, predictable thing for Satan to do would be to entice Adam and Eve to disobey God. You don't need to be a theological graduate with a Ph.D. in scriptural analysis to figure that one out. Also, knowing that Adam and Eve were innocent, naive, and therefore gullible, it is a foregone conclusion that Satan -- the master con-artist -- would have very little trouble conning two inexperienced people who didn't even understand the difference between good and evil.
Therefore, armed with that knowledge, God designed the fall of man around Satan's predictable decisions. Thus, rather than thwarting God's plan, Satan was left to use his own free agency to inadvertently help God implement His plan. If Satan had left Adam and Eve alone, or convinced them not to eat of the forbidden fruit, he really would have prevented the plan of salvation from getting started, but apparently he didn't realize that. Thus, using His knowledge of how Satan behaves, God designed His plan in such a way as to lay a trap for the great deceiver and thereby making the plan work quicker and better.
The same thing happened when Jesus lived on the earth. Because of His miracles, Jesus was quickly gaining a large, adoring crowd of followers. Satan knew who Jesus was and why He came to earth. Therefore Satan tried everything he could to stop Jesus, but nothing worked. Predictably, Satan then resorted to a tried and true method of eliminating his enemies -- killing them. After all, that's exactly what he did with all the prophets God had previously sent. So it is no surprise Satan inspired willing men to crucify Jesus.
However, if Satan really wanted to destroy God's plan, all he had to do was make sure Jesus lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes. That way, Jesus wouldn't have had His blood shed and there would have been no atoning sacrifice. And without the atonement, the whole plan of salvation would have been defeated. But such a course of action is totally inconsistent with the way Satan behaves, and God knows this. Therefore, God designed His plan around His knowledge of how Satan thinks and acts and then confidently allowed Satan to make his own choices.
Joseph Smith was chosen to restore the gospel in the last days before the earth was ever created. However, Martin Harris was also chosen and agreed back then to assist Joseph Smith in bringing forth the Book of Mormon. But God not only knew the kind of weak character Martin had, but He also knew the weakness of the woman Martin would some day marry. In other words, God knew that when the gold plates were given to Joseph that Mrs. Harris would be the kind of person susceptible to greed and pride. He also knew that Martin would not be strong enough to withstand her complaints.
Knowing all of this, God set up an alternate route for His plan. He made sure there was a double set of records (the abridged record of the early Nephites and the full account as contained on the "smaller plates."). When, at the insistence of Martin Harris, Joseph pleaded with the Lord to allow some of the gold plates out of his possession, God knew, with absolute certainty, what would happen if He allowed Martin Harris to have them. After saying "no" twice to Joseph's request, God decided to teach the young prophet a lesson. But it was a carefully chosen lesson. God allowed Martin Harris to have only those plates which had a back-up copy, if you will. Thus, when the abridged translation was lost because of Martin's poor decision, God's plan was not frustrated. After withdrawing His Spirit from young Joseph until he had sufficiently repented and learned his lesson, the Lord then instructed the prophet to translate the smaller plates.
One day the disciples asked Jesus when He would come again. "And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:4-8).
How did Jesus know that in the last days there would be "wars and rumours of wars," that "nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom"? How did He know more than 2,000 years in the future there would "be famines and pestilences and earthquakes?" Jesus answered that question by stating "these things must come to pass." In other words, it is necessary and important for these things to happen.
But does that mean God will deliberately cause these calamities to occur? Not at all. Hatred and contentions are of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29) as is pride and the need for power. God knows that in the last days the gospel must fill the whole earth before Jesus returns. God also knows that Satan will do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. Therefore, the more activity there is on God's part, the more activity there will be on Satan's part. That is a foregone conclusion. And since God knows exactly how Satan will react, He can confidently predict when there will be increased wars and rumors of war.
The real question is why does God allow Satan to create all of these wars? Wouldn't a loving God step in to prevent such horrific suffering and misery? In fact, at the second coming of Christ, that's exactly what will happen. Then why doesn't He do it sooner, rather than later? The answer is: Because that's the plan. As we have seen before, God uses the works of Satan to bring about His own purposes. These calamities are allowed to happen because they are a necessary part of what God is attempting to do. Therefore, rather than being a stumbling block to God's plan, wars are used by Him to help further and move forth the plan of salvation in ways we cannot conceive of.
To better understand what God's purpose is, we have to realize that the plan of salvation is more than a universal blueprint. Each of us is a child of God, and our heavenly Father desires to save us as individuals rather than as a nameless mass of people. Therefore, within the overall plan of salvation, there is a plan for each of us, especially while we live in mortality.
The time and place of our birth was not determined by happenstance and each of us has an appointed time to die. When we are born into mortality we arrive with a mission to accomplish, a task that we are required to perform and a purpose that we must fulfill. That assignment may be no more complicated than to marry and raise children. For those in the church, there are future callings that we agreed to accept before leaving our former life in the spirit world and there are people on both sides of the veil waiting for us to accomplish those specifically designated duties. And, in addition to all of this, we have our own individual development that is included in a plan for our own personal salvation.
When we talk about free agency, so often we talk about it as though it began with our birth into mortality. The fact is, before coming to earth, we had the freedom to choose assignments and missions for this life. This no doubt also extends to experiences in mortality that we desired or agreed to while still in the spirit world. In other words, many things that happen to us in this life that seem beyond our control may be a result of decisions we consciously made before being born.
Take the case of the blind man whom Jesus healed. It is inconsistent with a loving God to arbitrarily assign someone to be born blind just so God's work could be manifested. However, it is reasonable to say that in the pre-mortal state this man may have accepted such an earthly condition as being part of his assignment to help further the work of God. Thus, the man was born blind, not because he had sinned, or because of any capriciousness on God's part but because, using his own free agency, he willing agreed to it while living in his pre-mortal estate.
However, the problem with making pre-mortal decisions is that when we are born, a veil of forgetfulness is laid over us, and we can't remember what we had once agreed to do. Therefore, of necessity, God must plan for things in our personal life that will allow us to accomplish a mission we once accepted by our own free will but can no longer remember. As such, at times we may feel as though our life is controlled more by the whims of "fate" than by us. We might encounter situations that seem hard, unfair, or painful to endure but which may, in reality, be necessary in order for us to accomplish our assigned task or are meant to help us develop spiritual strengths as we seek to achieve unremembered heavenly goals.
Does that mean everything that happens to us is part of our personal plan of spiritual development? Does that also mean whatever we do or whatever happens to us has already been prearranged? Not at all. Just like in this life, people make agreements and then break them, we too often break the agreements we made before coming here. God will do His part in helping us fulfill our mission and help us to grow spiritually, however, even though we may have previously consented to perform certain tasks while in mortality, we can still choose to reject God's effort of help and stubbornly resist following the plan formerly designed for our life. Furthermore, when we make bad decisions the consequences that follow may lead us away from our mission rather than help us achieve it. Therefore, even though God's universal plan of salvation can't be frustrated, we can thwart our own individual plan.
Then how do we know if what we're doing is right or if we're straying from our individual mission? The beautiful part of God's plan is that we don't have to know what we're suppose to do, when we're suppose to do it, or where we're suppose to be. God will see to all of that if we let Him. When bad things happen to good people who put their trust in the Lord, things always eventually work out. When love ones die, when hardships come upon us, when pain and sorrow afflict us, when unfair things happen to us, or when things seem to be going wrong in our life, we need to remember that God is in control, that there is an individual plan meant specifically just for us, and that there is a wise purpose for everything. As the Lord told Joseph Smith, "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (D&C 122:7).
When most people read a fictional novel, often times they try to figure out what's going to happen later on in the story. In a good novel there are unexpected twists and turns in the plot that takes the story-line in a completely different direction than what the reader was anticipating. When these plot twists occur, the reader doesn't become angry at the author for not writing the story the way the reader was expecting. Instead, the reader becomes even more intrigued and therefore continues reading with greater interest to see what happens next. And the more plot twists there are, the more delighted the reader becomes that the story line is not going as anticipated. In fact, one of the greatest faults of a fictional novel is when the story is too predictable.
The same situation applies to our life. We often think we know where we're going, or we tend to plan our own life according to our limited understanding. However, God is the real author of our life, especially if we will let Him. But when God puts an unexpected twist into our life's story, rather than being excited to see what God has in store for us, people have a tendency to become angry with Him for not allowing them to live a predictable existence.
The disciples of Christ wanted to know why a certain man was born blind at birth. Jesus answered that it was for the purpose of manifesting the works of God. Our Father in heaven has not turned His back on us, nor is He uncaring or unsympathetic to our pain, nor does He angrily curse us because of our sinfulness. From our limited perspective we see and understand so little of what God is trying to do for us, and in our ignorance we question whether He knows what He's doing. God not only knows what He's doing, both generally and individually, but He's developed a plan before the foundation of the earth that will manifest the works of God in our lives and will be for our good and our glory. All we have to do is trust in the plan.
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