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A few days ago I watched a documentary, First Contact The Lost Tribe of the Amazon. This film sparked something I have been pondering and debating in my head for some time now. Maybe someone here has been able to reconcile this issue in their own mind. When looking at the earth population as a whole, 7 Billion people, I start to ask myself about the pre-mortal circumstances that placed me to be born in a semi-active, good natured LDS family vs. the circumstances that allowed for one of God's children to be born and live their life in total isolation to not only the gospel, but the entire world as we know it, such as some of the people shown in the documentary. These people have to worry about scavenging food each day and hoping the other tribes don't come and murder their family in the night, while we debate here about the fate of "unrepentant" people in the Telestial world. And not to focus on just extreme poverty or isolation, there are plenty of "civilized" people that go through very similar circumstances today as well. The spectrum is so broad and its difficult to account for the whole group under the Plan of Salvation as I understand it. The first inner conflict is that I just don't feel like I am that lucky. Out of 7 billion people, I just happened to be born into the Gospel, ended up serving a church mission ( I was certainly not prepared at the start, but I was able to gain a real testimony during my service), sealed in the temple and have access to higher temple knowledge, by chance? And that doesn't even take into account the amazing point in time during the earth's history. I don't believe there is any randomness in the Plan of Salvation. I feel that there must be something I did or requested to be where I am, but I can't tell if that makes me feel better or worse. Without a doubt, there are plenty of people I know, outside of the LDS bubble, that are in many ways much closer to Christ that I or my fellow church members. So I don't believe it can't be solely based on merit, however looking at the doctrine of Foreordination it gets messy in my head. A .002% chance to be born in the true Church of Christ on the earth gives me pause. I am never ever that lucky at anything. Take it a step further an look at of those .002% how many will actually truly be saved after receiving higher ordinances and knowledge. Its difficult to imagine or such a small fraction of God's children becoming exalted. How would so many by into a plan they might not ever be exposed to? LDS.org states, under Foreordination, "In the premortal spirit world, God appointed certain spirits to fulfill specific missions during their mortal lives. This is called foreordination. Foreordination does not guarantee that individuals will receive certain callings or responsibilities. Such opportunities come in this life as a result of the righteous exercise of agency, just as foreordination came as a result of righteousness in the premortal existence." So am I really to believe that my foreordination to be born in these relativity abundant circumstances as compared to others is because I was potentially more "righteousness" than others? I suppose the only way for me to accept that perspective is to acknowledge that now I am under a much greater condemnation than those that started with "less," so it wouldn't be viewed as an un-fair advantage. The "what if's" make me really wonder if I would have been able to listen to the spirit of Christ enough to be pulled towards the Gospel and become converted from the outside. Could that be the only reason I had to be born within the Gospel? Because I wouldn't have been strong enough to find or accept it otherwise? That line of thinking just leads to more questions and doesn't feel right. This begs the question of what is fair? At least in the context of everyone's starting mortal condition. It doesn't seem fair that I was placed where I am, given so much without much "temporal" effort on my part, and then I see others that will possibly never even hear the name of Jesus Christ in the right context. I don't buy into the pre-mortal "fence sitter" line of thought so how does everyone else reconcile their situation with that of those on the other extreme of life? Are any "Noble and Great Ones" born into an amazon tribe in the middle of the rain forest? Is that the "mission" some feel they have been assigned in life? Can any of these missions be unrelated to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Great Muslim leaders for example? When we were all sitting their during that great council in the beginning, were we thinking about how this could all be fair to everyone? I can imagine that maybe this topic might have been something that caused some others to choose the other side, complaining "How could that be fair?" Honestly it is hard to imagine a new, excited spirit child of God giving their "buy-in" to a plan in which they will have no part while in their earthly state. A plan that so many will never learn about. Were we able to see what path we would be starting in our earthly existence? Did we all agree to our birth time and surrounding circumstances, or parents even? It just seems too easy to say to ourselves, that they "deserve" their lot in life because that is how they chose to exercise their agency in the pre-mortal existence. Seeing these people make contact with the outside world makes me really wonder about the Garden of Eden setting. How close are these people to that same state of "innocence"? They must have some inkling of the Light of Christ somewhere, but things like taking another person's life don't seem to impact them spiritually in the same way. How different could these people be from the time of Adam and Eve and Cain and Able? Go and watch some of the first time encounters and tell me what thoughts run through your head as you attempt to view life through their perspective. Maybe I am just overthinking all this. I trust in God's plan, but I would really like a way to fit this part in my understanding. Elder Holland's recent talk in GC, "Songs Sung and Unsung", touches on the fact that it can be hard to focus on singing happy hymns in the face of extreme poverty. This talk touches on the topic I am getting at, but its not just the poverty, its the access to the Gospel knowledge. Not only do they not have the basic Gospel teaching or temples, but they don't know who their savior is in any sense of the word. Its impossible for us to decide what constitutes a "Fair Chance" to accept the Gospel of Christ, but at least the majority of people get to hear the watered down story of who Christ was. Long story short, I just don't feel that I am lucky enough or was righteous enough to deserve my life over the life of someone less fortunate, in both a Gospel sense and temporal well being. How am I and that tribal chief different in God's plan? How is it all fair to everyone without thinking you are or at least were better in some way, than someone else?
Like many of you, my life has had lots of ups and downs. We've had illnesses, layoffs, bad decisions, etc. that brought us into trials and unpleasant situations. Several years ago, I was reading about Joseph Smith's early life and something really struck me. Maybe it will be of help to someone who is currently undergoing trials right now. Joseph Smith's father, Joseph Smith, Senior, was a farmer in Vermont. His only ambition was to be a simple farmer and provide for his family. He was a man of meager means. He struggled to pay for land and raise a crop. Two years prior to 1816, Joseph Senior had experienced crop failures. The weather in Vermont wasn't cooperating. Trying to make payments on land was a challenge. Then, 1816 came. That was known in history as the "Year Without a Summer." In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted. The volcano threw so much ash into the atmosphere that it changed weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere. In the summer of 1816, it snowed in Vermont. Father Smith sold the property (or had his land repossessed--it doesn't say which) and went down to Palmyra in New York to look for a place to start fresh. We've all heard the stories about young Joseph's leg surgery, which happened in 1815. Joseph Senior had to leave his family behind and, once he found a property, he sent a hired man to pick them up and bring them to Palmyra. The unpleasant fellow made Joseph Junior hobble along from Vermont to New York on the bad leg. If you've been to the Smiith Farm in Palmyra, which has historical reproductions of the original cabin and the frame home in which the family lived, you'll see evidence of a time of prosperity. The family began to prosper, but we learn that an unscrupulous lender swindled the nice frame house from the Smith family just as the sons finished building it for them. It seems that bad financial luck followed the Smith family. Again, I reiterate that all Father Smith wanted was to be a farmer. That was the extent of his ambitions. We know in hindsight, the Lord had different plans. Would Joseph Senior have moved from Vermont to New York if his farm had been successful? Did God tell him that he needed to move his family there so his youngest son would be near some ancient gold plates buried near the town of Palmyra? The Lord didn't tell him anything. Instead, he let failure and pain be the impetus to get him to move to New York. Likewise, had finances gone well at the Palmyra farm, how would things have gone when it came time to uproot and move to Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo? The Lord used hardships to direct Joseph Smith, Senior to his foreordained role--to become the first patriarch of this dispensation. He was called to be a prophet in his own right, to declare the lineage of the saints and bless them. Would that have ever come to pass if he had been a success at farming? Trials and hardships are never enjoyable. However, we should look at them and ask, "Is the Lord directing me to a new path?" Some trials are meant to be endured well. Others are meant to cause us to act. When we act, the Lord may be directing us onto a new path. In that case, rest assured that he has you in the "palm of his hand." He will not let you fail in any eternally important way. He has placed a frame around you and the limits will not exceed his designs. God has a plan. Trust in him. Remember Joseph Smith, Senior--the aspiring farmer who became the Patriarch of the Church in the latter-days.