Cookies In Heaven
December 15, 1998
People have been asking this question since the beginning of time. If God is so good, why is the world so bad?
I love to bake, especially, cookies. I'm actually slightly famous for my chocolate chip cookies and am asked to bring them to parties, family occasions, or for no reason at all. It is amazing to me that you can take various ingredients, like bitter salt, or sweet sugar, combine them together, add some heat, and get something so delicious and wonderful.
This is the Christmas season. I's a time when we focus on the good in the world, so I'm writing this article about happiness. More specifically, I'm asking the question, "Does God really want us to be happy?" I'm going to answer this question by breaking it down into three parts: 1. Why is there so much sadness in the world, is God trying to punish us? 2. Does God really want us to be happy? And 3. What do we have to be happy about?
People have been asking this question since the beginning of time. If God is so good, why is the world so bad? He must be trying to punish us. The truth is that pain, sadness, sorrow, regret, and tribulation are all necessary parts of God's plan for us. We learn and grow from our experiences. If we didn't have trials in our lives, we would not know how to think about or solve problems. If we were happy constantly, we wouldn't know it. We recognize that we are happy, joyful, and at peace because we compare it to the times when we were not. I have often said, after enduring bad days, that God gives us good days to reward us for making it through. Elder Melvin J. Ballard has said:
"Why does the Lord permit us to suffer while in the body? Does that have any part in the divine plan? We never know joy until we have tasted sorrow. Things are only understood by their opposites. To appreciate good we must know what evil is. To have a siege of sickness makes one appreciate health. To live in a mortal body full of pain, of sorrow, decrepitude, and ultimately death, is all a preparation to make one understand what it means when the day shall come that death is swallowed up, that the grave will be no longer a part of man's experiences, but that he is in an immortal body that knows no death, no disease and no decay, a body that is also perfect, without the handicaps that we have experienced in mortality." (Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 181)
Trials and tribulations are also how God tests our faith and dedication to Him. This life is a probationary period. We are preparing, through learning and experience to enter back into the Kingdom of God, and inherit Eternal Life. Such blessings cannot be given or be treated lightly. Justice dictates that only those that are prepared and deserving of these blessings can receive them. If we didn't have obstacles to overcome we would never have the sense of satisfaction that comes from succeeding or overcoming barriers. If there were nobody suffering, or in need of aid around us, we would never learn the Godlike attributes of charity, caring, or the peace that can only come from making a difference in someone's life. I can't remember who said this, but the quote goes something like this, "A man said to God, "if you are so good, why is there so much suffering? Why don't you send help?" And God responded, "I did, I sent you". God sent us to this world not to fend for ourselves, but to help everyone around us. The recent hurricanes and tragedies that took the lives of so many in Central America are heart wrenching. At the same time, it warms a persons soul to see how many people responded to help those affected. People act in behalf of God either physically, donating time and talents to help them rebuild their town and lives, or they helped by donating the necessities and resources needed. God instilled in each of us the potential, through the gift of moral agency, to either fill with world with happiness or sorrow.
"And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 5:10-11)
This brings me to my next point, God really does want us to be happy. Happiness and peace are our goals here during our probation on Earth, and that can only come through following the guidelines and path that God set forth for us.
"Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." (2Nephi 2:25)
This is why we are here, so that we might have joy. Some people complain that happiness in this world is impossible because God has placed to many restrictions on what we can or can't do. Sin just seems more fun. It appears that keeping the commandments, obeying the law of chastity, and keeping the word of wisdom, is just too difficult. They are half right. Sin does seem fun while you are in it. TV and movies show how much fun people are having while they are having sex and getting drunk. We see how cool smoking or doing drugs can be. Basically, everything we believe in is stomped down, or is portrayed as an unnecessary sacrifice on our part. We should eat, drink, and be merry. But for those of us that have gone through the repentance process, for whatever reason, know that the glamour and fun of sin can be as fake as the movies that portray them. President Spencer W. Kimball stated that,
"Sin has great attraction. Whoever said that sin was not fun? Whoever claimed that Lucifer was not handsome, persuasive, easy, friendly? Whoever said that sin was unattractive, undesirable, or nauseating in its acceptance? Transgression wears elegant gowns and sparkling apparel. It is highly perfumed, has attractive features, a soft voice. It is found in educated circles and sophisticated groups. It provides sweet and comfortable luxuries. Sin is easy and has a big company of bedfellows. It promises immunity from restrictions, temporary freedoms. It can momentarily satisfy hunger, thirst, desire, urges, passions, wants, without immediately paying the price. But, it begins tiny and grows to monumental proportions. It grows drop by drop, inch by inch" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.15)
And, of course, Alma taught that sin never was happiness. The fact is that God's laws do not limit us at all. The more we adhere to His commandments and live our lives by the guidelines He has set, the more free we are. How much freedom does an alcoholic have while he is constantly being controlled by his urges for alcohol? How much freedom does a woman have who got pregnant before she was married, and is now solely responsible for a child? How much freedom does a man have who contracts a sexually transmitted disease? How many health problems, deaths, social ills, and other stresses could be avoided if we just wouldn't be so darn stupid? Life is stressful on its own, we don't need add on more. God's laws do not limit us. They give us a direction, a meaning, and a purpose in this life. That in itself is a great reward.
The biggest benefits that come from keeping the commandments are the blessings that we are promised by God. We are promised that we will receive these for our faithfulness and sacrifices. I firmly testify to this truth, that God does and will reward us when we trust in him and keep his commandments. It may not be the blessing we were hoping for, but God knows what is best for us. The Prophet, Joseph Smith taught:
"But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness - and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has - He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842-43, p.256)
The Doctrine and Covenants go further and teach in Section 130:20-21 that we will receive specific blessings for all we do in accordance with God's laws and ordinances.
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-- And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."
With this knowledge, it appears that there really is no such thing as sacrificing for God. Whichever vice we give up, we will receive something else to replace it. When we sacrifice drugs and alcohol, we receive the blessings of a healthy body and a sound mind. When we sacrifice our Sundays to go to church, we feel the spirit and have our knowledge increased. When we sacrifice our personal time to spend it with our families, we receive the blessings of a closer relationship with them. When we sacrifice our money to tithes and fast offerings, we bless other people who may be in need. We will always be in God's debt, and will never be able to repay Him. Trying to repay God is like trying to stop a leaking dam with you finger. The more you try, the more it overflows. The only repayment God wants is for us to be faithful and obedient so we may receive the fullness of the blessings He has for us. I'm sure He would appreciate a big hug too, after we return to Him. When we are happy, God is happy. When we mourn, God mourns with us. Who could expect less from a righteous Father?. President Joseph F. Smith, wrote:
"In answer to the question, "What is to become of such as I?" let it be said that every person will receive his just reward for the good he may do and for his every act. But let it be remembered that all blessings which we shall receive, either here or hereafter, must come to us as a result of our obedience to the laws of God upon which these blessings are predicated. Our friend will not be forgotten for the kindness he has extended to the work and the servants of the Lord, but will be remembered of him and rewarded for his faith and for every good deed and word." (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.125p)
The reality is that God and Jesus are happy, and this life is preparing us to be like Them. When we "take up His cross and follow" we are taking our steps closer and closer to returning to Him. There is nothing that can happen to us that Jesus, Himself, didn't experience. No matter how dreadful, no matter how horrible, Jesus experienced it all as part of the atonement. He is offering to bless us by not only relieving our burdens, but to give us a small taste in this life of what it is like to be Him. This is not blasphemous since it was Jesus who taught us to become perfect like Him and the Father. This is how we are being perfected. Diamonds start out as ugly lumps of coal. Over years and years of pressure and force, they are shaped and molded into beautiful and priceless gems. This is exactly what we are to God. Priceless gems being molded and refined. The Prophet Joseph used to compare himself to a rolling stone being shaved and polished by every nick and force that struck against him, until it finally becomes smooth and polished. God allows us to have trials so that we may reach our potential and become the people He knows we can be.
"If we desire a continuation of the blessings of the Lord, we must do his will and obey the laws on which his blessings are predicated. There is no other way to obtain his blessings." (Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era. Vol. 21, p. 99, December, 1917.)
This brings me to my final point; what do we have to be happy about anyway? Many good people, after going through so many hard times, find themselves asking this question. Things seem so tough and hopeless, you really start to wonder if there is anything worth being happy about. I think sometimes we take for granted some of the things we should be rejoicing in, because they are around us constantly. Sometimes it helps if we just take a breath, take a step back, and write down all that we have to be thankful for. We should be happy that we have places to live, since some people don't. We should be happy that we have food to eat, since many are without even that basic necessity.
I believe we should be happy, and should thank God in our prayers every night, because we know that God is there. We know that He does love us. We know that He knows each one of us, that He does have a plan for us, and that He does want us to be happy. We should take great joy in knowing that in the vastness of the universe, there is a purpose for each one of us as individuals. God, the creator of heaven, earth, and all its inhabitants, has a personal relationship with each of us.
"For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."(Moses 1:39)
We need to appreciate this because it is a divine gift and blessing to those of us who believe. We are the children of a Heavenly Father, who loves each one of us. He never gave up His parental rights to us. We may be grown adults, but we are still his children. Parents with children of all ages understand that you never give away your kids. There are so many people that don't have any idea of these things. They don't know that at every moment in their life, both good and bad, there is a loving Father above looking down at them, reaching towards them, hoping that they will look up, and accept His embrace. They don't know that there is more to this life than just waking up, going to work, and coming home. They despair because death is the end to them. There is nothing. They will cease to exist. Do we who believe really comprehend just how wonderful a blessing it is to know that we will go on? Some of us even worry about that, when we should be shouting for joy. Like I said before, God is happy. God knows everything, including fun, happiness, joy, and peace. He will gladly share this knowledge with us if we will open the door and let him in. We find peace in knowing that we really are NEVER alone.
We can find fun and temporary peace in our earthly belongings, but those are lost almost easier than they are acquired. People take pride in their cars, but those cars could be gone the next day. We need to be grateful for every worldly comfort and treasure we have, but we must keep in perspective that all those material goods will be gone someday. When things are at their worst, we can be assured that at the end of that dark tunnel, after we have been pummelled, beaten, and scarred, that our Father is still there holding on to us. He picks us up after we fall. He is waiting to pour out so many blessings that we can't store them all, just for enduring and remaining faithful. Even repentance brings blessings. The sin caused you to miss out on blessings, but what a blessing it is to know that God still loves you, and that you can be clean again.
The genuineness and reality is that things can be rough, but God does indeed want us to be happy. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
"The Lord wants us to be happy. He will do His part if we will do our part. The Christlike life is the life that brings true happiness. There is no true happiness without God. Sin brings sorrow, disappointment, and heartaches. Only the good life brings a happy new year. It pays to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. It pays to accept the teachings of the Master, to apply them in our lives, to be true to the standards of the Church, to be true to our covenants-to live the gospel. And if we do this we will be bigger and can be bigger than anything that can possibly happen to us. I am sure that is the desire of all of us because those who have this faith, and have a testimony of the divinity of this work, can endure anything and keep their spirits sweet." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.339)
And Elder Bruce R. McConkie Concludes:
"In the eternal perspective there is no such thing as sacrifice for the gospel cause. Men may forsake what seemingly is of great worldly worth here, but they will be rewarded with eternal riches hereafter. They forsake friends, families, and possessions for the gospel's sake, but they gain these same things again in far greater measure in the mansions on high." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.1, p.557)
I would like to bear my testimony that I know that God does not want to punish us, He wants us to find happiness. He has shown us the way. Sometimes that way is met with trouble and heartache. Yet, just like the cookies I make; if you mix some bitter salt, (like the bitterness of pain), with some sweet sugar, (like the sweetness of success), and add some heat, (like the heat of adversity), you will end up with a wonderful treat--cookies in Heaven. And, I write these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.