Sunday, February 1, 2009

Premortal life and our decision to come to earth

I have the privilege of knowing and interacting with a wonderful lady named Sister Brown. At 72, she has so many fantastic stories and never hesitates in giving advice that she thinks will help us “kids” in our journey through life. Indeed, she is wise and visiting her is the highlight of my week. Just yesterday she was telling us a story about one of her neighbors and the reaction the neighbor had to Sister Brown’s diagnosis of a very serious type of cancer from which she was not expected to recover. The neighbor, referencing our premortal life and the grand council in heaven, challenged the teaching that the decision to come to this earth was ours and that we knew how hard life would be. She said, “Irene, you really believe that you chose to come down here knowing that you would experience this very painful sickness and probably die from it?” The neighbor was skeptical that one of the key parts to the plan of our Father in Heaven involved trials and suffering here in this life.

Today, I will not directly answer the question, “if God loves us, why do we suffer and experience so much pain?” Although the answer to that question is at least partially found in this post, I imagine it will merit its own post at a later time. Today I will discuss the reality of our premortal life, the choices and agency we had there, and answer this neighbor and all those who wonder “how does it make sense that we would willingly choose to go through these hardships?”

The answer is not a short one, but it is simple. I echo the answer that Sister Brown gave her neighbor, a resounding “Yes!” We did willingly choose to come to this earth and experience all manner of trials and our suffering does not prove the lack of love and sympathy that our Father in Heaven has for us.

Some people believe in life after death, or wish to believe in such a glorious concept. Life after death is not a vain hope or superstition, it is a reality and our spirits live on long after our bodies pass away. Is this not wonderful? Does the sting of death lessen with this grand knowledge? Absolutely! Alma taught that “the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). Death is not the end, nor is birth the beginning.

Just as our spirits live on after death, we lived as spirit children with our Father in Heaven before we came to this earth. We were not like God, however, and could not ever become like Him without the experience of living on earth in a physical, mortal body. God desires our success and happiness and created a plan for us that we may gain the experience necessary to attain the happiness that He enjoys.

In our premortal life, God told us of His plan, referred to in the scriptures as the great plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, a merciful plan, and the plan of redemption. He explained what life on earth would be like, we learned of the trials and hardships, and the blessings and joyous occasions. We learned that we would pass through a veil and would be tested, gain experience, be given the opportunity to progress, and learn to live by faith rather than sight (see 1 Nephi 17:36; 2 Corinthians 5:6-7). We learned that we would be able to have families and that our families and relationships could extend beyond mortality and into the eternities. We learned of other rewards if we lived faithfully and kept the commandments in this mortal life, that is, we would be able to return to live with our Father in Heaven as exalted beings, even as He is, and thus enjoy all the blessings and privileges that He enjoys.

Just as we have agency in this life, or the ability to choose for ourselves, we had agency in the life before. God let us choose whether to accept the plan; and all those who have lived or will live upon the earth chose to accept the plan. As you know, we do not remember our premortal existence, nor do we remember living with God, being given a choice, weighing the options, knowing how wonderful the rewards of this life will be, or coming to the conclusion that striving to remain faithful during the trials and miseries of this life would be worth the experience.

Were we to remember all that happened before we were born, this life would not be a challenge; we would know the greatness of life eternal and we would never make mistakes or sacrifice the blessings of eternity for the pleasures and desires of the world. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, allows us to strain, to struggle, and learn to exercise faith in Him.

To Sister Brown’s neighbor and to all those who wonder about the trials and purpose of this life, yes, you and I made the choice to come here and experience all the world has to offer. We chose to be tried, to experience the pain of losing a loved one and the joy of bringing a child into this world, we chose have the opportunity to cry, to laugh, to doubt God and His wisdom, and to feel the ever-present and ever-patient love of our Heavenly Father as He guides us through this life and back to Him.

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee and the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The trials in this life would not seem fair if life ended at death, but it does not. Life continues on and blessings not seen but gained in this life are able to be enjoyed in the life to come. Remember, without tasting the bitter, we cannot know to prize the good.

The Lord loves us and desires our happiness. He gives us commandments not to hinder us or weigh us down, but to guide us and set us free. His is the great plan of happiness, ours is the choice to do the things necessary to return to live with Him and with our families for eternity. I know this to be true.


For further reading see:

L. Tom Perry, “The Plan of Salvation,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 69–72
Earl C. Tingey, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, May 2006, 72–74
Dallin H. Oaks, “‘The Great Plan of Happiness’,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 72

Susan W. Tanner, former young women general president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said this of our premortal decision to come to earth:

Why were we so excited? We understood eternal truths about our bodies. We knew that our bodies would be in the image of God. We knew that our bodies would house our spirits. We also understood that our bodies would be subject to pain, illness, disabilities, and temptation. But we were willing, even eager, to accept these challenges because we knew that only with spirit and element inseparably connected could we progress to become like our Heavenly Father (see D&C 130:22) and “receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33). “The Sanctity of the Body,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 13