1. Everything happens for a reason
Are you sure? This is one of those stock phrases that deeply cuts into the hearts of our friends who are mourning or in shock because something absolutely terrible has just happened. Its sister phrase is “nothing happens by accident.”
Here is a truth from late prophet Thomas Monson:
There is a guiding hand above all things. Often when things happen, it’s not by accident. One day, when we look back at the seeming coincidences of our lives, we will realize that perhaps they weren’t so coincidental after all. —Thomas S. Monson
Note the word “often.” “Sometimes” would also be a good, operative word here. It’s when we get into substituting the word “always” that we wander away from what’s real.
Is God directing everything that happens on the planet? Theological determinism holds that all events that happen are pre-ordained, or predestined to happen, by God, or that because He knows everything, and everything is present to Him, no accidents can occur.
These ideas can’t work in true doctrine, because God closely guards our agency and will never do anything to compromise it. Things happen by accident, and things happen because people use their agency to cause them to happen. In the end, God is willing to consecrate our adverse experiences for our good, if we use them to draw closer to Him.
I remember reading about a Latter-day Saint father in Haiti who was warned by the Spirit to do two things—to rededicate his family to FHE and family prayer and to fix the gate behind their house. He followed the instructions he received, and then the huge 2010 earthquake occurred. Because this dad followed the Spirit, his family was saved, but God did not cause the earthquake, and there were casualties among other Latter-day Saints.
THE TRUTH: God is in charge. He allows nature and the agency of His children to shape events in mortality, but He makes sure the Plan of Salvation will succeed eternally. He will intervene personally according to His perfect wisdom and timing when His children seek Him, as long as His plan is not thwarted.
Here’s a great article on how God can make sure His plan is never thwarted and still give us our agency.
2. If I am righteous, the Holy Ghost will warn me of danger
This one is true, but only sometimes. Someone gets up in testimony meeting and says, “The Holy Ghost spoke to me and said ‘go find the kids,’ and when I did one of them was climbing into the swimming pool….” I often wonder whether somewhere in that congregation, there might be a grieving parent, ever faithful, who was not warned and lost a child.
There is nothing wrong with you if you did not receive a warning when you ran that stop sign, or when your child got out the back door and into mischief. Every instance is different. The truth about the Holy Ghost is…
Some, He warns. Some He comforts.
We don’t get to choose, but if we get closer and closer to the Spirit, we can begin to discern the reasons why. During our lives, we will experience both warnings and comfort according to God’s wisdom and timing. Our job is to fine-tune our ability to hear and respond to spiritual promptings and to discern God’s wisdom in His dealings with us. The most difficult thing is discerning God’s will and loving kindness when it seems like we were neither warned nor protected.
Our daughter-in-law’s sister was in a terrible accident on her way with her new husband to their wedding open house. Newlyweds, temple-married. She was killed and her husband severely injured. This looks like an unmitigated tragedy from our point of view, but a priesthood blessing gave this comfort—that she was so righteous she needed only to come to mortality to gain a body and then go right back to heaven. But she had petitioned the Father in the pre-existence to receive all her own covenants on earth.
Given this eternal perspective, this tragedy doesn’t look so terrible anymore, even though the grief of losing her lingers on.
THE TRUTH: God’s ways are higher than our ways. Through prayer and scripture study, we can discern His actions in our own lives. You might not be warned, but you can find comfort specific to you.
3. God gave me this trial to teach me something
Every trial is a teaching tool for the Lord, but, as we see in number 1, God may not have purposely inflicted this trial upon you to test you. Life is a test simply because of the nature of this telestial world and the agency of others. Trials seem even worse if we become spiritually confused. When that happens, financial, health, job, and relationship trials also become spiritual trials.
The principle is this: when we seek God in the midst of trial, He gifts us with the spiritual strength and abilities we need to go forth in faith and find answers. When the trial is over, we get to keep the gifts. That’s how we grow.
When our first question is “why me?”, we might look at our trials as punishment or as totally unfair. Neither is probably true. Even when we are perfectly faithful, our structured lives can crumble. Mortality is inherently unfair.
I had a friend who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had gone through the denial stage and was very angry with God. He regretted every good thing he had done in faith because God had afflicted him in the end. He angrily said he would use his tithing to pay medical bills. I hope he had time to evolve past the anger stage and call on the comfort heaven freely offers us.
THE TRUTH: By seeking God’s help during the many trials of mortality, we can learn and grow. We may blame God for our trials, but hopefully, we will progress past that stage and in humility, call on Him for help, comfort, and strength.
4. God will not give you more than you can handle
Half-truth. Nature and the world can definitely give you more than you can handle, even things that can absolutely sink you. The promise that you will always be able to overcome is made to those who seek God in times of trial and receive help from Him.
Through Him, we can and will overcome.
Even if we fail in this life, the second estate lasts all the way to the point of resurrection. Many overcome in the Spirit World what they could not overcome here on earth.
Here’s the scripture:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13).
THE TRUTH: It’s actually spiritually valuable to get to the point where we cannot cope with our trials on our own. We are stripped of ego and pride and just able to cry out for help. At that point, we are completely dependent on the Lord. He has promised to help and save us.
5. God made me this way, and God doesn’t make mistakes
It’s true that God doesn’t make mistakes, but God is not the creator of your body, He is the creator of your spirit. You are a spiritual being having an earthly experience. Your body is of the earth. Nature makes millions of “mistakes” every day. Some of these missteps or “errors” are fortunate, some are very much not fortunate.
As soon as the natural creation process begins on earth and a person is conceived, that person is part of the fallen world, a telestial world. Everything here is imperfect and subject to disease, environmental challenges, and problems of mortality.
Heavenly Father’s judgment of us takes into account the packages we arrive with. There are billions of variations that affect the way we see things and judge things, the way we process knowledge, the things that attract and repel us, what we can do physically.
Complicating the effects of nature are the effects of the environment, from chemicals to culture to family life, God is aware of the things that shape us and define us. Our job is to do our best, with God’s help, with what nature and our environment have given us—along with the profound spiritual gifts with which Father has sent us to earth.
As sons and daughters of God, we have inherited divine capacities from Him. But we presently live in a fallen world. The very elements out of which our bodies were created are by nature fallen and ever subject to the pull of sin, corruption, and death. Consequently, the Fall of Adam and its spiritual and temporal consequences affect us most directly through our physical bodies. And yet we are dual beings, for our spirit that is the eternal part of us is tabernacled in a physical body that is subject to the Fall. As Jesus emphasized to the Apostle Peter, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
In many cases, we had an idea in the pre-existence that we would have particular trials during mortality and we accepted the challenge.
THE TRUTH: Mortality both inflicts and gifts us in many ways. God knows intimately the package we receive in mortality and guides us individually through the challenges we face. Rather than become defensive about our particular package, we need to seek Him with our unique concerns.
6. God knows your name
Well, obviously, He does.
He knew your name in the pre-existence and knows what your celestial name will be, too.
One of my pet peeves is hearing this statement in church and thinking some people might find it encouraging. It’s not. It minimizes how God knows and loves us.
The truth is that God does know your name. He also knows the names your parents were considering before you were born. He knows why your parents chose the name they gave you. He knows who you were in pre-mortal life, and who you have the potential to be if you live up to your covenants and foreordination.
He knows how every cell in your body is functioning, why your joints hurt, and why you are having a particularly hard time understanding your 15-year-old son. He knows what you are doing this very instant. He knows everything about you, not just your name. And He cares about all of it.
Kevin W. Pearson of the Seventy said, “He loves each of us perfectly and is full of mercy and understanding. He knows everything about us. He knows what we need, even when we can see only what we want. He has infinite power and capacity to sustain and guide us. He is always willing to forgive us and to help us in all things” (“Improving Your Personal Prayers,” Ensign or Liahona, June 2013, 36–37).
President Thomas S. Monson taught, “Again, my brothers and sisters, our Heavenly Father is aware of our needs and will help us as we call upon Him for assistance. I believe that no concern of ours is too small or insignificant. The Lord is in the details of our lives” (“Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 88).
THE TRUTH: God knows you completely. He loves you completely.
7. Miracles only happen through priesthood authority
This is a misconception that is easy to pick up. Latter-day Saints see miracles often through priesthood blessings and can assume that without the power of priesthood authority, they can’t happen. We are giving short-shrift to the magnanimity of God (He loves ALL of His children) and the power of faith.
I received a personal witness of this through an incident with an irritating neighbor. She was a born-again Christian, and when she found out we were Latter-day Saints, she sought out our associates to warn them against us, and she distributed “anti-Mormon” literature to them. Her son was the same age as our daughter, however, and they took every opportunity to build a friendship between the two seven-year-olds. The purpose was to “save” our little girl, but an odd thing happened.
Our daughter was on an outing with them when she was hit by a car. She was lightly injured but had many cuts and bruises on her face. Our neighbor was mortified that this had happened and enlisted her entire Evangelical congregation to pray for our daughter. Watching our daughter’s facial wounds heal on her face was like watching time-lapse photography. You could watch the process, the healing happened so quickly.
THE TRUTH: The prayers of many are lifted to God all hours of every day. He hears all of them and responds according to His perfect wisdom and love in ways that will bring them closer to Him.
8. Forgiveness means loving your enemy
What does it mean to love your enemy? If it means you want your enemy to find true happiness and goodwill, then good. But if it means to bring your enemy into your close circle as part of forgiving him, then think twice.
If you need to forgive someone very close to you, like your spouse, forgiveness really does mean a return to full fellowship in a relationship of trust. But in some circumstances, your enemy might be dangerous. In that case, you must not embrace your enemy and bring him into your inner circle. That decision does not mean you have failed to forgive.
A new friend once came to me with a serious concern. She wanted to go through the temple but she didn’t feel worthy. She just could not forgive a person enough to invite him back into her home. She felt that true forgiveness meant full trust. When I explained that forgiveness didn’t mean allowing danger into your personal space, she was so relieved and went in for her temple recommend interview.
THE TRUTH: In many cases, it’s best to forgive and maintain distance, even great distance, between you and the person who has injured you. Deciding which choice is best takes prayer and spiritual guidance, but the safe choice will probably be ratified by your Father in Heaven.
What other “truths” do we need to rethink? Share in the comments below.