THE WILL OF THE FATHER
This is the transcript of a talk which I gave recently during the Sacrament meeting of my church. Although I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am not a representative thereof. The words of this talk are my personal reflections and understandings of certain principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the custom in the LDS church for the lay clergy to call upon members of the congregation to speak on given topics during these sacred meetings. There is no designated preacher and the members of the congregation are expected to research the scriptures, words of the prophets, and extant doctrinal writings to formulate their sermons. This is one example of such a “Mormon” talk.
The power of creation has shown itself lately in stark and unstoppable power. We are in the midst of the events of the last days. These events have been prophesied for millennia. We have been warned to prepare ourselves for them, and to take these warnings to all the people of the world. Some would say that it is God’s will that these upheavals occur; earthquakes and tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes, blizzards and ice storms, fires, volcanic eruptions and landslides. We, in this congregation, have largely been spared those cataclysms which alter the environments and social structures in those parts of the world where they have occurred. But few of us have been spared the microcosmic disasters of financial difficulty, personal loss, disease, deaths of loved ones, physical impairments, and extended illnesses. Are these also God’s will? The wicked often prosper and have lives full of sensory pleasures and abundance, while the most righteous saints suffer blow after blow of tragedy and affliction. Does God will these things to be so?
The word “will” is used to express determination, insistence, persistence, or willfulness or it may be used to express inevitability.
One definition of God’s will is “the omnipotence of a divine being.” So we may think of it as the sovereign power of God to make all things come to pass. In this usage the word “Will” carries with it a connotation of force. We believe that things came come to pass as a function of will. We may think that our willpower is sufficient to overcome any personal or temporal obstacle that may hinder us. We deride the lack of willpower in ourselves and others as a weakness that is the root of failure in any endeavor. But does God employ that form of will or willpower in our lives. Does He will that thousands of His children be killed suddenly and terrifyingly while the shakings of the earth and monstrous walls of water grind their world into oblivion? Does He will that those who have not been killed, are left mourning their dead, their lives and homes unrecognizable, with nothing to comfort their hearts or sustain their bodies? Is this the imposed will of God? Or are these ordeals, from the minutia of minor physical complaints, to painful relationship problems, to global cataclysm, better defined in the context of being the inevitable conditions of the fall of Adam, and man’s period of mortal probation upon the earth? Although we have prophecies and warnings to help us prepare for all manner of ill times and occurrences, they are largely an expression of the Earth, in her natural cycles; the planetary forces at work. Matthew 5:45 states, “…for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” The elements which make up creation are under the control of God’s divine Priesthood, and He can direct them to do as He wishes. But the irresistible processes of the natural world and the eternal laws which govern them do not discriminate, nor are they used as a form of punishment.
In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina had devastated parts of Mississippi and Louisiana President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk entitled “If Ye Are Prepared, Ye Shall Not Fear” in which he asserted: “Now, I do not say, and I repeat emphatically that I do not say or infer, that what has happened is the punishment of the Lord. Many good people, including some of our faithful Latter-day Saints, are among those who have suffered. Having said this, I do not hesitate to say that this old world is no stranger to calamities and catastrophes. Those of us who read and believe the scriptures are aware of the warnings of prophets concerning catastrophes that have come to pass and are yet to come to pass.”
These occurrences are not, in themselves, a punishment. Nevertheless, Heavenly Father has allowed them to be so.
I do not believe that it is God’s will that forces me to bear the burdens of my life. Still, I have a powerful testimony that Heavenly Father’s will is very active in my life. And it helps me to think of his will, not in the sense of force, or willpower, but in the context of preference, as in “what will you do?”
This takes into account another meaning of “will,” which is “desire, or wish.” It is certainly the desire of our Father in Heaven for us to learn wisdom and temperance, to be refined and more Christ-like, even sanctified, through adversity. Alma 62:41 in the Book of Mormon states; “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many hearts had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many hearts were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” It seems clear to me that it is not the existing conditions that are of greatest importance to Heavenly Father, but the way we respond to them.
It is a truism in parenting and teaching that “where there is good and fair discipline there is rarely a need for punishment.” So we may think of the conditions of mortality as a natural framework for our “discipline.” Thus, the harsh circumstances and commotions of the world have great value to God for His children. He has warned us of the terrible events and challenges of the last days. Through listening to and heeding His warnings, which he sends both through His servants and directly to our hearts, and by preparing ourselves wisely we learn the universal principles of obedience, faith, and responsible action. Those who suffer through terrible difficulties may in those extreme moments, turn to God, seek His comforting presence, become humble and meek, forgetting the old life, and desiring to become renewed and redeemed. This is one way we allow the will, or desire, of our Father in Heaven to work through us.
Jesus Christ Himself said, when He appeared to the Nephites after his resurrection, in 3 Nephi 11:11 in the Book of Mormon, “And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”
The Savior suffered the will of the Father. Does that mean that Christ was bound inextricably to the force of Heavenly Father’s will power and that such a Divine imposition was suffering itself? One of the definitions of “suffer” is to allow, or to support, some thing or an occurrence. I believe the Lord is telling us that instead of succumbing to the irresistible will of the Father, that he allowed God’s desire to work through him, every whit, unto perfection, in a perfect life and a perfectly executed infinite and eternal sacrifice.
It is helpful to me to think of a three tiered approach to knowing and doing the will of The Father.
The top tier is the overarching principles which Heavenly Father always prefers, or desires, for his children. This is the universal will of the Father; those things that He desires each of us to do so we may join Him in the eternities. These overarching eternal requirements are: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, trust in His true servants, obedience to His laws and ordinances, the precepts of good and active citizenship, the principles that make up the golden rule, self-denial, sacrifice, and the sustaining of these attitudes and activities throughout one’s probation until the Lord, Himself, deems our efforts sufficient to His ends.
The next tier is the process we use in making key decisions in our life, where we wisely seek The Lord’s counsel to ensure the best outcome for the current situation. We search our hearts, weigh the pros and cons, research and discuss, and pray about those big decisions which relate to employment, church service, relationships, family, and other pivotal life changes. What would Heavenly Father prefer us to do? This is not a foolproof path to our idea of success and there is no magic formula for squeezing the blessings out of Heaven that we think we need and merit. There are many who go through this process and having received a confirmation to take a certain path, nevertheless must wade through all kinds of difficulties, and deprivations, feeling sometimes that they made a mistake following the directions of the Spirit, or misinterpreted a certain prompting, or that somehow their blessings have been withdrawn, or put on hold until they are more worthy of the things they desire. However, not knowing the “mind” of God regarding a very specific request on our part does not mean that we cannot fulfill His will for us.
Because…The bottom, and most basic tier, compasses our day to day, moment to moment, decisions and attitudes. In these we don’t have the time to go through a lengthy decision-making process. We may depend on the companionship of the Holy Ghost and our ability to feel His promptings, great and small. This is where the refinement of self-regulation and discipline are most crucial. It is in our little interactions with our families, children, neighbors, and especially strangers, that we must allow Heavenly Father’s will, or desire to work through us. An example of this may be in a moment of stress or anger. The natural responses to injustice, rejection, or hurt rise quickly. We may even have a sense of righteous indignation. But God’s will, or desire, for us in such moments is to do as He would do, which is to make the loving choice, even at the cost of our power or pride.
From a very personal perspective I do not, and cannot fully know the mind of God regarding my life’s mission, especially when it comes to the long-term; this life and beyond. I have learned that life will never be what I projected as a young person. There are holes and worn out parts in the fabric of my life which I lack the power to mend or correct on my own. How Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ may go about making me complete, I do not know. My deficiencies of character are burdensome, and to some degree, shared by many. I am powerless over anything except my own choices. So that leaves me with the opportunity to know and do the universal will of the Father in the simplest, most fundamental ways; that is trying with all my might, mind and soul, to live His commandments, each action being governed by the overarching principle of love. The words from the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light,” sum it up for me quite well: “Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough for me.” Knowing and doing my best to live the gospel of Jesus Christ is to know and do God’s will, and that knowledge is sufficient for my peace and happiness if I persevere one day at a time.
Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychotherapist, and survivor of several concentration camps including Auschwitz, whose parents and wife did not survive, said this after his release: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.”
I say these things in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.