A 13-year old girl drowns at swimming practice. A 16 year-old boy is struck and killed by a car while riding his bike home from boy scouts.
A man in his early 50’s is diagnosed with ALS and dies less than two years later. A six-year old girl has one eye removed due to a rare form of cancer, while her father struggles to find a way to pay for $20,000 injections to save her other eye.
Meanwhile, a depressed teenager contemplates driving his car into a bridge to kill himself. And a man whose business is failing seeks a quick fix in online gaming—and falls further into financial despair.
All of this, right here in Southlake, Texas.
Divorce. Depression. Disease. Death. Addiction. Despair.
Sometimes, life can seem cold, hard, and cruel. Which can lead even the most optimistic among us to wonder, “Who is this God, who allows us to struggle so mightily?”
And of course, life’s great questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going after we die?
Fortunately, God has answered all of these questions (and more!) through his holy prophets—both ancient and modern—to guide us through this life; to help us find peace and joy.
It’s called “The Plan of Salvation,” and it’s God’s plan to bring us back into his presence as glorified, perfected beings—like him.
Understanding the nature of God is critical to understanding His plan. God is NOT “abstract, transcendent, unknowable, and without body, parts, or passions.” We believe, as did the ancient prophets and apostles, in an embodied—but certainly glorified—God. That makes sense when you consider the central doctrines and most distinguishing characteristics of Christianity are the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is the literal Father of our spirits, hence, our “Heavenly Father.” (source)
Before this life, we lived with Heavenly Father in a pre-mortal existence. Like any father, his desire was for his children (us!) to learn and grow and become like him—not carbon-copy exact replicas, but like him in ability, knowledge, power, and accomplishment.
To achieve this, he arranged for us to be born into this world so we could face opposition that would allow us to learn and grow. It is important that we be separated from him so we have the ability to choose; for without choice, there is no real growth.
The earthly challenges we face are divinely engineered to test us and to try us. God is always 100% aware of us: every pain and every joy; every setback and every success. He allows us to work and struggle for the same reason earthly parents allow their children to work and struggle—it builds character and fosters growth.
To be tested, we must have the agency to choose between alternatives. To provide alternatives on which to exercise our agency, we must have opposition. According to the scriptures, “It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If so, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11)
We are all born into a fallen world where evil abounds and temptations surround us constantly. We must use our agency to choose the right and draw closer to God. In addition, many difficult things happen to each of us that are completely out of our control (such as those things mentioned at the top of this page). In these cases, we again must use our agency to make good choices that will build a bridge between us and God… instead a gulf.
Even though we are separated from God, He is eager to provide us with direction and guidance to help us grow and to lead us back into his presence.
First and foremost, he has lovingly organized us into families. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Mothers and fathers will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations. (read more)
Second, he has given us His word both in the scriptures and through his living prophets. The scriptures include ancient writings, such as the Bible and the Book of Mormon, as well as modern-day scriptures like the Doctrine and Covenants. They exist to teach us about the nature of God and his plan for us.
Modern prophets and apostles have been on the earth since the 1800’s, when Joseph Smith was called by God and Jesus Christ to become the prophet of the restoration. Since then, prophets have been at the head of His church, including 15 living apostles and prophets today, led by Thomas S. Monson, who also serves as the President of the Church.
Finally—and most importantly—every living person has been given the gift of the Light of Christ (or “the Spirit”). The first manifestations of this gift are what we commonly call our conscience; it tells us right from wrong, warns us, and gives us divine guidance. As we hear and obey this “still small voice,” our ability to recognize it grows, and it blesses our lives. Alternatively, if we neglect and ignore this voice, we lose the ability to recognize it and it ceases to be an influence for good. Hearing and obeying this Spirit is of paramount importance in our journey in life.
If we follow the Spirit, it will lead us to Jesus Christ and His true church. When we encounter truth about Heavenly Father’s plan, doctrines, or church, he will send The Holy Ghost to testify and bear witness that it is indeed true. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead (along with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ), but has no body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit so He can dwell in us. Warm feelings of assurance and peace experienced when reading the scriptures, attending church, listening to the prophets, etc. are all manifestations of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of truth.
Because we all sin, cling (often unknowingly) to false beliefs, and are imperfect in many ways, we are unworthy to live in the presences of our Heavenly Father, who is perfect.
That’s why the keystone of Heavenly Father’s plan is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In pre-mortality, Jesus volunteered to “answer the ends of a law previously transgressed.” By the shedding of his blood, he allows us to overcome spiritual death (separation from God) and physical death (via the resurrection).
A simple way to think of it is like a financially depleted man standing before a bankruptcy judge. The man has far more debts than he can pay, and the judge has the authority to legally discharge those debts if certain conditions are met.
Jesus Christ allows us to overcome physical death through his resurrection; the physical bodies of all mankind will be perfected and reunited with our spirits. This is a free gift from a loving Heavenly Father.
He also allows us to overcome spiritual death by his grace. We can overcome our sins, sorrows, and false beliefs by drawing closer to Him by listening to His Spirit (see above). As we do, we will desire to repent, and He will upgrade our spirits and change us, bit by bit, eventually into a perfected state. This is what is meant by “grace for grace.” The Lord promised that if we humble ourselves and have faith in Him, His grace will help us overcome all our personal weaknesses.
In so doing, we become worthy once again to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father as perfected, glorified beings. To do so is to accomplish his Plan—to become like him in ability, knowledge, power, and accomplishment.
Succeeding in His plan is not easy, but if we learn to listen to and obey His Spirit, it will guide us every step of the way. During times of pain, trial, and heartache, His Spirit will guide us. He will whisper what we should do and what we should not do. He will allow us to become an instrument in His hands to make things better. And in cases where recovery is not His will, he will whisper his reasons and his peace into our hearts. There is no more important ability in this life than learning to hear and obey His guiding Spirit.
Families are the foundational building blocks of God’s society, so he has promised that all families who are faithful to him can live together forever in perfected glory. We can be reunited with lost parents and grandparents; with lost children and grandchildren. We can be reunited with generations of progenitors past, and generations of progeny future.
We truly are God’s work and His glory. His greatest joy is in our immortality and eternal life. His plan for accomplishing this is set. He is on standby to guide us every step of the way. Our job then is to listen… and obey.
32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. Moroni 10:32-33
The Plan of Salvation – L. Tom Perry
Opposition In All Things – Dallin H. Oaks
The Atonement – Russell M. Nelson
The Plan of Salvation: A Flight Plan For Life – Duane B. Gerrard
Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ – Richard G. Scott
The Purifying Power of Gethsemane – Bruce R. McConkie
Our Heavenly Father’s Plan – This video was created in the 1980’s; the hairstyles and clothing are outdated, but the message is as relevant and powerful as ever.