This was a talk I gave at the Idaho State Prison in July, 2017.
Good morning, it’s great to be with you today. I’d like to discuss a few things with you today as it relates to our time here on earth. I want to discuss the plan of salvation or plan of happiness, our own moral agency, and recognizing the influence of the adversary.
First of all, we are not here by accident. There was a plan put in place long before we were born that we would be here.
Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee”
Modern-day prophets have declared that “In the Pre-mortal Realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
How we enter this life is important, and before we were born, God knew us and we knew him.
The first people here on earth were Adam and Eve. All of us are descendants from them. I can’t pretend to know how that works in with established science, but it doesn’t worry me or keep me up at night.
This life is for learning and growing and understanding new things, but pretending that we already know everything or that we even have the capacity to fathom the mysteries of the universe is a fool’s errand. We do our best and once in awhile Heavenly Father blesses us with additional understanding and wisdom.
So Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, and right off the bat we see the gift of agency, or the ability to choose right and wrong. The adversary, or the devil, was allowed to tempt them, so that they could learn that there was good and evil in the world, so they could see consequences for their actions, and to grow stronger in their foundation of light and truth.
They made a decision to eat the fruit and as a result they were kicked out of the garden- the first real consequence they saw for their actions. They had children, for which we can all be grateful, and taught them to see right and wrong. We’ve all heard the story of Cain and Abel, which is another lesson in how making a series of wrong choices can lead to disastrous effects.
The Lord has always called prophets on the earth to teach this to the people of the earth. Sometimes they listen, like in the case of the city of Enoch. Sometimes they didn’t – like with Moses and the children of Israel, who wandered in the desert for 40 years, saw signs and wonders from the heavens, but were too hardhearted to humbly believe and live the gospel.
The greatest prophet who ever came was in fact the son of God, Jesus Christ. He was born of a virgin mother and grew up as most children do. However, He grew in stature, in intelligence, and in spirit in a way that most children don’t.
He was a perfect man who spent all his time doing good, who performed miracles, and who was a master teacher. He always knew what people needed to hear and exactly HOW they needed to hear it.
He often used parables, or metaphorical stories to illustrate certain principles. Those who were in tune would get a great deal of knowledge and spiritual growth from these, others may have just thought they were nice stories.
The crowning moment of his life though and throughout all of human history was the atonement, the acts following up to his death like his suffering in the garden of gethsemane, his suffering on his cross and his death, and finally the act of coming forth out of the grave – being resurrected.
One of our deepest fears as humans is death. It scares us because of all the uncertainty- is it the end? Or does life go on? There are literally hundreds of movies that have the main character, the hero, seemingly die and come back to life. From kids movies like Homeward Bound to Batman to Star Trek to Lord of the Rings, there’s something deep within us that loves this theme.
Because of what Jesus Christ did for us, we all have that opportunity, free of charge no matter what we did in this life. It’s a great blessing of the gospel.
So that leaves us here, born but not quite ready to pass into the next life. We have trials and temptations from that same deceiver that was present in the Garden of Eden.
I’m going to borrow from Rulon G. Craven, who helps us understand a bit better how this fits in with our earthly lives.
Temptation is a necessary part of our earthly experience. The Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith explains the reason why we are tempted: “It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39).
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi explains the consequences of yielding to temptation: “The temptations of the devil … blinded the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost” (1 Ne. 12:17).
To blind the eyes is not to see or acknowledge the consequences of our actions. To harden the heart is to ignore or not be willing to accept counsel. To be led into the broad roads is to give in to worldly enticements and lose the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Brigham Young stated: “Many think that the Devil has rule and power over both body and spirit. Now, I want to tell you that he does not hold any power over man, only so far as the body overcomes the spirit that is in a man, through yielding to the spirit of evil. … The spirit is influenced by the body, and the body by the spirit” (Discourses of Brigham Young,sel. John A. Widtsoe , 69–70).
Temptation is like a magnetic force which holds a metal object in its power. It loses its magnetic force and power when you turn away from it. So we must turn away from temptation; then it will lose its power.
Our mind, throughout the day, is continually active. We choose the avenues of thought that our mind travels. Allowing worldly thoughts to enter your mind can lead to unrighteous acts. As we travel the highways of life, our physical senses are continually bombarded with [MEDIA] that entice and tempt the mind and, if allowed, create mental pictures that are not becoming to a follower of Christ.
When evil thoughts arise—Stop! Think! Control your mind! Visualize a large EXIT sign in your mind’s eye. Immediately change your thoughts. Get off of that avenue of thinking.
When unrighteous feelings and desires well up inside of you, the Holy Ghost will prompt NO.
Listen to the Holy Spirit.
Stop! Think! Visualize a WRONG WAY sign in your mind. Immediately change or erase those thoughts leading to wrong unrighteous feelings and evil fantasies that can become addictive to mind and body.
When tempted to choose an unrighteous act, or entertain unrighteous thoughts, look down the road ahead and contemplate the inevitable consequences of that act. Stop! Think! Visualize a STOP sign in your mind. Put on your mental brakes. Immediately change your thinking to something different and something uplifting.
To overcome temptation you and I must control our thoughts. Exitfrom your mind bad thoughts. Avoid the wrong way of unrighteous thoughts. Stop thoughts that lead to behavior unbecoming to followers of Christ. You do not have to yield to temptation! Discipline what you allow your eyes to see, your ears to hear, your mouth to speak, and your hands to touch.
Yielding to temptation can lead to the addiction of both body and spirit. Addiction can be overpowering and lead to enslavement, and enslavement leads to loss of freedom and inner peace.
When persons allow themselves to succumb to temptation, they are acting against counsel: the counsel of the Holy Ghost, the counsel of our prophet leaders, the counsel of sound doctrine, the counsel of covenants, and often the counsel of those who love them most. They then separate themselves from the friendship and love of others and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Temptation can be a compassionate way of warning us of possible dangers. It acts like a caution sign. It warns us of possible danger ahead. Temptation can alert the mind to turn away from an improper thought or act.
As eternal beings living this earthly experience, we will not be free from temptation. Temptation implies an inner struggle to do that which is right. The person who thinks continually in a sensual and carnal manner cannot undergo inner spiritual development.
“Temptation is like a magnetic force which holds a metal object in its power. It loses its magnetic force and power when you turn away from it. So we must turn away from temptation; then it will lose its power.”
We’re taught that in the gospel we need to make certain promises to Heavenly Father through acts like baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Once those are completed, our journey isn’t over. In fact, many are still children or adolescents when these ordinances are performed, and they still have their whole lives ahead of them to continue keeping the commandments and enduring to the end.
This enduring doesn’t just mean waiting. Have you ever been in the car with little kids, and they keep fighting with each other and asking “are we there yet?” a thousand times? That’s not enduring properly in a spiritual sense. Sometimes we as adults get caught up like that too.
Enduring means continually serving to the very end. It means waiting with patience and humility. It means keeping up with the small things that in the end, are large things – praying each day, looking after our families, reading the word of God as recorded in the scriptures.
Here’s a short poem that illustrates the point:
The test of this life isn’t written, it isn’t in a school
But it shows who is wise and who is a fool
It doesn’t end with a finish line, or a prize for the “cool”,
Hard times come to all, no matter the time,
The race, color, language or clime.
To those worth a million or only a dime.
Ailments to the healthy and the strong,
Death of a loved one, too early they’re gone,
The night is dark, but we’re promised a dawn
It comes down to a decision, where our thoughts dwell,
We choose our destination daily, heaven or hell,
To just simply endure, or to endure it well.