Summary: If the gospel of Jesus Christ has been called the plan of happiness, then why are we faced with so many troubles, problems, sorrows, and pain so frequently? It almost seems as though when we follow the gospel of Jesus Christ all we get for our efforts is suffering. Then how does this help us to find the true and lasting happiness that the gospel offers? This article provides the answer to this perplexing question.
When speaking to his son Corianton, Alma explained that “it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8).
If the gospel of Jesus Christ has been called the plan of happiness, then why are we faced with so many troubles, problems, sorrows, and pain so frequently? It almost seems as though when we follow the gospel of Jesus Christ all we get for our efforts is suffering. Then how does this help us to find the true and lasting happiness that the gospel offers?
We know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is called the plan of happiness, but what does that plan call for? Is it not to come to earth to learn about evil? However, evil doesn’t bring happiness. Instead, it brings misery.
The plan of happiness also states that we left our home in heaven and came to earth to experience pain, fear, heartache, disappointment, discouragement, physical and emotional fatigue, cold, thirst, and hunger, among many other unpleasant experiences. For most people, none of these things brings joy or happiness, then, why do we have to suffer so much, and why is all of this misery call the plan of “happiness”?
The answer we’re given is that this is how we can become more like our Father in heaven, but how does any of these things help us to do that?
For example, God lives in heaven, therefore, in order for us so to be like him then we too must live in heaven. But heaven is a place where there is no sorrow or pain. It is also a place of peace and rest. Then why do we have to learn how to be miserable in order to live in a place where misery doesn’t exist?
We say that God knows what pain and suffering is like, but if heaven is the perfect place to live, then doesn’t that mean God never feels any physical pain such as backaches, arthritis, kidney stones, and other similar ailments? Then why do we have to learn about something that will never do us any good? This is like high school students asking why they have to learn a foreign language or geometry and trigonometry with all of its complicated algebraic equations, when they’ll never need to know that stuff once they get out of school?
Yet, if the gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of happiness then it seems that such questions are a result of us missing or not understanding some important information. Therefore, it might help to look at this question from a different perspective.
If something is perfect, then that means nothing can be added to nor taken away from it. In other words, something that is perfect is complete, or whole. That means it can’t have anything missing nor does it have anything that’s not necessary. Therefore, if God is perfect and he knows about suffering in all of its many forms, then it must be necessary for him to possess that knowledge in order for him to be complete and whole. So, the question then becomes, why is such knowledge necessary in order for God to be perfect?
To illustrate the answer to this question, have you ever noticed that when you were young, you probably watched your father do something and thought to yourself, “That looks easy. I can do that,.” but when you went to do it, you quickly discovered that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed?
Take for example, driving a car. As a young child, you no doubt watched your dad get in a car and drive it. Back then, your dad made driving a car look simple and easy, but do you remember what it was like the first time you tried to drive? Before automatic transmissions were invented it was very common for a new driver to stall the engine of the car many times as they struggled to learn how to properly let out the clutch.
But driving involves more than knowing how to operate the mechanical parts of a car. It’s been said that ninety percent of driving involves knowing how to make good and wise decisions, such as, how close to follow someone when traveling at different speeds and under different driving conditions. And those kinds of decisions are not the same for everyone because it also depends on a person’s driving skill as well as the kind of vehicle they’re driving. For example, a larger, heavier truck will take much more distance to stop than a smaller, lighter car.
No doubt we’ve been behind a car on a single lane road who’s waiting to enter into a multi-lane highway where there is no traffic light. There are times we might become frustrated with the car in front of us because they don’t move out as quickly as we would have, but that’s because their driving skills aren’t the same as ours.
What this illustrates is that driving a car takes a lot more than merely knowing how to press on the gas pedal and turn the steering wheel. It’s a skill that we have to learn, and all skills come from repeated practice.
This same principle applies to our Father in heaven and us. We look at what he does and he makes it looks so easy, but at our level of ability, if we tried to do what he does, that would be like a five-year old trying to drive a 70 foot-long semi-trailer. To better understand this concept, let’s take a closer look at what it takes for our Father in heaven to be God.
We talk about the precious gift of agency, which is that we are free to choose for ourselves whether we want to do that which is righteous or to do that which is unrighteous. However, the principle of agency is an eternal one, which means it doesn’t go away once we inherit the celestial kingdom. Even as exalted beings we will always have the ability to choose to do good or choose to do evil.
We weren’t sent to earth merely to learn about evil, but rather to learn how “to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isaiah 7:15), and be able to do that under the most trying of circumstances. If we can learn to do that while living in an imperfect world, the chances of us choosing to do evil while living in a perfect world becomes dramatically reduced.
Right now, if we choose to do evil, we have the opportunity to repent and have our wrong choices forgiven, but once we are resurrected and then deliberately choose to do evil, there is no more possibility of forgiveness for sins (see Hebrews 10:26). This is what happened to Lucifer and his followers.
Because our Father in heaven loves us so much, he is doing everything in his power to teach us to always choose good over evil, no matter what kind of condition we find ourselves in. Therefore, mortality is where we learn to do that. However, if there was no suffering or temptation to do wrong then it would be easy to always choose the right, but that would leave us unprepared to make righteous decisions when faced with a difficult challenge, and as an exalted being, we will face challenges far beyond anything we will ever face in this life.
If we cannot learn to choose to do good under somewhat difficult situations, then a loving Father in heaven will not put us in a position where we could make a sinful decision under even more trying circumstances, and should that happen, we could very possibly find ourselves living with Satan for the rest of eternity. Once we inherit eternal life and then choose to do an unrighteous act, that bad choice would have eternal and catastrophic repercussions. Therefore, our suffering is part of the test to see if we can be trusted to always choose the right.
But there’s another reason for us learning about pain.
God loves all of his children with the kind of absolute love that we can’t even begin to comprehend in our current condition. Now imagine how much pain and suffering our Father in heaven must feel to lose one-third of his children? If he loves us with an absolute love, then the pain he must feel at losing those he loves must also be absolute.
We get some idea of this in what Alma the younger experienced. After an angel appeared and chastised him, he laid for three days as if he were dead. Later in life he explained to his son, Helaman what happened to him during that time. He told him how “I was racked with torment while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins. and was in the gall of bitterness.” Then he remembered what his father had taught him about Jesus Christ and when he cried unto God, he said, “I could remember my pains no more… yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as way my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:17-21).
When many of our Father in heaven’s children became irredeemably lost to him, that pain must have been just as exquisite as the joy he has in loving those who remained faithful to him. But that’s not the only pain he’ll feel.
God is working hard to help all of his children gain eternal life, which is only available to those who have prepared themselves to be worthy of it. However, the scriptures tell us that those who go to the telestial kingdom won’t want to accept the Father’s presence for the rest of eternity (D&C 76). What that means is that after loving all of his children with all of his heart, and working as hard as he can to give every one of them the greatest gift of all, a great number of his children will end up in the telestial kingdom where they won’t want to have anything more to do with their heavenly Father for the rest of eternity. I don’t think we are capable of understanding the kind of pain that will bring God.
And yet, he needs to be able to endure that hurt with perfect righteousness, because if he should ever allow himself to act in an unrighteous manner, no matter how sorely he might be tempted to do so, it would be amen to his priesthood, and should that ever happen he would lose all of his authority (D&C 121:37), which means he would cease to be God.
What we suffer in this life is just a small taste of what God has to endure. This is why our suffering is a necessary step in preparing us to become like our Father in heaven, but by comparison such suffering is still on an elementary level.
Then why is the gospel of Jesus Christ called the plan of happiness if even God is capable of suffering great pain? Because he has learned to find joy even in the face of a devastating loss. And so, we too must learn to do the same, but the only way we can learn such a lesson is by enduring great sufferings ourselves.
This is what the apostle Paul was talking about when he said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). He also wrote, “for I have learned [that] in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
It’s easy to complain and find fault because that’s the most natural thing in the world for us to do, and of course when we engage in that kind of behavior it causes us to be miserable and unhappy. It takes effort to see the good that’s all around us, so life in mortality gives us the opportunity to learn how to do that by proving us with many opportunities to complain. Fear brings unhappiness, while faith brings happiness, therefore God gives us the capacity to experience fear so we can learn to develop our faith. And as we concentrate on the good and as our faith grows, so does our capacity to be happy no matter what is happening in our life.
But there is yet one more reason why we must suffer in this life.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’ve been repeatedly told that we were held in reserve to come forth in the last days, and the scriptures tell us that in the last days there will be more evil on the earth than at any other time in our history. It’s been said that the war that started in heaven is still going on today here on earth, and Christians all over the world are right now in the thick of that battle
As Jesus prepares the earth to receive him as their king, Satan will do everything he can to turn people against Christ. What that means is that the closer the time comes for Jesus to return to the earth in power and glory, the battle between good and evil will increasingly intensify
Those who have been baptized into Christ’s restored church in these latter days have accepted the invitation to help build up the kingdom of God on the earth in preparation for the Savor’s return, but this won’t be an easy task because we must fulfill our baptismal promise in the face of Satan’s full fury. And so, part of the suffering we experience while here on earth will come as a result of fighting against God’s adversary.
Since Satan is absolutely determined and committed to doing everything in his considerable power to thwart the work of God. He will seek to instill fear into the heart and mind of anyone who seeks to stand with God, and he will use whatever tactic he feels is necessary to do that. He will raise up armies of people who are willing to heed his commands in order to destroy those who defend their belief in God. In the past, as well as in the present, Christian have been intimidated, bullied, punished, imprisoned, tortured, and violently put to death for not being willing to renounce their belief in Jesus Christ.
.However, if we prove ourselves faithful, and are valiant, diligent, and steadfast.in the cause of Christ, no matter what pains we much bear, we will be rewarded with the riches of eternity. As we have so often sung, “Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?” (Come, Come Ye Saints hymn #30).
When the scriptures refer to us inheriting eternal life it is often described as receiving a fulness of joy because the greatest joy we can possibly experience is to possess all that our Father in heaven has. The reason why the gospel of Jesus Christ is called the plan of happiness is because it teaches us how to obtain a fulness of joy. But it’s also called the plan of happiness because it teaches us how to be happy no matter what we are called to go through.
But, when we are able to obtain eternal life, that doesn’t mean we will never have any problems or difficulties. Although we will be able to experience a fullness of joy, it may also be the source of experiencing a fulness of pain and sorrow. If the principle of “there must needs be opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) is an eternal one, then it surely must be true even for those who have become as perfect as our Father in heaven.
Since trials and tribulations are essential to us achieving the full stature of Christ, rather than praying that we be saved from all problems and difficulties, we should pray that we remain “true to the truth for which martyrs have perished,” and that “faithful and true we will ever stand” (True To The Faith, hymn #254).
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation