by Brad Nelson
In response to a high school student looking for answers about the “Mormon Church” (as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is frequently misnamed), a member of the Church gave the following answers:
Mormons believe that the origin of the universe and man is God. The cycles of seasons, the regeneration of life, planets moving in their orbits; all these things denote an Author of order and intelligence. The over-arching attribute of God is love; love typified by the ability and tendency to sacrifice self for the well-being of another. God is a corporeal being; that is, He has a physical body. He lives in the family unit. If we could see Him, He would seem familiar to us as a father naturally would to a child. We are literally His spirit offspring, His children.
In this sphere of existence, we are all familiar with the phenomenon of a man and a woman falling in love, marrying and raising a family. In the ideal, both parents are devoted to each other and, united, devoted to their children. They work, they sacrifice, organize, and build to provide an environment wherein their children can learn and grow. Their supreme satisfaction is to see their children mature and perpetuate the labor of love that is family. This is the basic model of God’s purpose and activity. His love is the driving cause of His creative enterprises.
What is the purpose of mankind?
Mormon doctrine teaches that the basic purpose of mankind is to have a fullness of joy. If God has such fullness, is it not because He possesses the attributes of perfection in their fullness? Thus it is that the purpose He has ordained for us is simply to be like Him and thus enjoy what He enjoys. He is love, and if we choose also to become love with the means He has provided, He can perfect us sufficiently to enable us to work as He works and have a fullness of joy therein. Take the joys you see in the best family you have ever known and multiply them by a factor beyond comprehension. That is God—and the purpose of mankind. What loving father of such capability would want less for his children?
What is satisfaction and how do I obtain it? How can I be happy?
It is almost universally noted that, at some point in a long life, the human body ceases to be the instrument of satisfaction it was in youth. Its appetites have faded, and the soul is fed and warmed only by the love it has chosen over the appetites of the body. I speak of the choice of love typified in remaining faithful to a spouse in the face of temptation, or of sacrificing pleasure or worldly honor to attend to the needs and wants of a spouse and children. No doubt the appetites of the physical body are powerful and the opportunities for indulgence rich and compelling. In our youth, we are easily deluded into believing indulgence without restraint will always be satisfying. It won’t. Nevertheless, our mortal bodies are not the enemy of satisfaction and joy, but are a requirement thereof. Satisfaction comes in using them vigorously within the bounds God has set.
The satisfaction you query is really joy. It is to be found neither in a monastic nor a hedonistic environment but in a family environment. The path of this satisfaction is one and the same as a commitment to follow Jesus Christ in a life spent in service of others, including family, and particularly God. The manner of Jesus’ birth gave him unique capacity to receive a fullness of his Father’s glory while on the earth. Thus he said to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was and is in the express likeness and image of His Father, having the same attributes, the chief of those attributes being love. Again, if there is any good model of satisfaction it is God. God is love. Our lasting satisfaction is the sum of the love that fills us as we follow Jesus Christ by keeping his commandments, by serving others, and by living in the family covenant.
What has gone wrong with the world? Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?
What has gone wrong with the world is the sum of all the selfish choices members of the human race have made. Agency—or real freedom of choice—is a fundamental constant in God’s purpose that His children have joy. What becomes of a child who never faces opposition, who never learns restraint or work? He remains a child, never knowing joy, because for him joy has no context, no reference to an opposite. If a parent wants a child to mature to strength and capability, sooner or later that child must face opposition.
The basic facts of the story of the Garden of Eden answer your question. How could an omniscient God place two people in a defined circumference with a forbidden element right in the middle of it, allow an opposing agent to persuade them to partake of that element, and then be surprised at the outcome? Or how can we say of an omniscient God that He fully intended that they should remain forever as they were in the Garden; that His basic intent was completely thwarted?
God intended that His children learn, in the laboratory of mortality, where real choice exists in a sphere of moral opposites. He did not force the Fall; that would have destroyed the crucial principle of agency inherent in His purpose of creation: to provide a space in which His children could learn and grow by experience. But He provided a way. God did not create, nor does He cause, evil. If He did not allow evil to exist in the same sphere with the force of good, we could not really choose for ourselves; we could never grow as God intended, could never learn to really love. The evidence that we really are free to choose good over evil is that many choose selfish evil ranging from shoplifting to genocide. We are just as free to choose the horrible as we are the sublime.
Choices have consequences. The sum of selfish choice ripples through the world in an awful way. Bad people are free to choose to do bad things to good people. But good people often unite to fight the forces of evil by their own free will and choice. That is the other side of the equation. Hard things like illness and accident happen to good people and bad alike. We will all taste of the loss of death. None of these things are evidence of a God who does not love or one who simply does not exist. They are evidence of a God who provided a way for His children to face opposition and to choose for themselves. As we suffer, we gain empathy for others and know better how to lift and serve others.
At the other pole, the cause of the availability of good as a choice is God’s provision of a Savior, His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ bore the weight of all the horror and suffering in this world in Gethsemane and on the cross. He rose with a resurrected body in complete triumph over death and sorrow. Those who suffer unjustly in this life go home to meet Him and prepare for the day of their own resurrection. They are free from pain and fear and remember their suffering no more. Their state is the polar opposite of tragedy.
What is the solution to the problems we face? What happens when I fail and how do I make things right?
The solution is to repent and follow Jesus Christ: In the name of Christ, offer to God a humble and remorseful heart; seek to make a restoration for any wrong we have committed; promise to abandon the error completely; ask for forgiveness. He is generous and quick to forgive a sincere heart. Following that, Mormons believe we must abandon a life of selfishness and live to lift and bless others.
What is right and wrong? Is moral truth absolute or relative?
Truth doesn’t change, because God doesn’t change. No modifications to the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. Wrong is as the Savior defined it; Right is as He taught and lived.
Is there a universal moral law? Does everyone know the difference between right and wrong?
There is; and everyone of all nations, faiths, and traditions is born with the light of that law. We refer to that light as the light of Christ. Others sometimes refer to it as conscience. Good Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike are born with this light. We know instinctively that it is wrong to harm another. But prevailing traditions and, again, the ability to choose selfish satisfaction, can dim the light to the point that an entire society is capable of horror.
What happens at death? Where are we going when we die? How do we know and what does it look like, and if it is heaven, then how do we get there?
Mormons teach that if we have been righteous, we go home to the God who gave us life, and we rest from all our earthly cares and sorrow. We enjoy a reunion with family and friends who have preceded us. We await the day of our resurrection. In the resurrection our spirits are united with our bodies in the same manner as Jesus’ resurrection. It is in the resurrection that we gain the capacity to receive the fullness of Joy and satisfaction—in an eternal family unit—that God and Christ have prepared for us. We don’t need to worry about travel arrangements. We get there by patterning ourselves after the Savior in all that we do.
What does it look like? I had a glimmer once. I have been to some beautiful places on the Earth: the mountains near my home, the lush garden of Kauai (scented with plumeria) that meets a blue ocean teeming with fish in a variety of shape and color that defy description. I have thought that these places are heavenly, but my glimmer was the sense that they are only pale shadows of what the Savior has prepared for those who love Him.
My faith encompasses a witness that Jesus is as He ministered in the flesh, both before and after His resurrection. He is, literally, the Son of God. Although they are physically separate, they are One. As an end note, for me there can be no ultimate “satisfaction” without being one with Jesus as He is One with the Father – as he prayed in John 17. My faith orients me toward obsession with His person, character, and attributes. It is an obsession that can only be quenched with the Holy Ghost as He taught and prayed in John 14–17.