When I was in my first year of courses at the University of Alberta, way back in the year 1980, I had a chance to take one particular first year course called 'Organizational Theory'. Because of the unique way this course was designed, it was very popular with the students. Although it required a lot of work and consistent attendance, it was designed to permit every class member to achieve a grade of 100%. In this class, marks were awarded for weekly lecture attendance, for participation in the course labs, for completion of specific assignments and for weekly short quiz format exams, based on the class topic of that week. By simply attending the class lecture each week, marks were awarded. For participating in the corresponding labs, additional marks were given. The weekly quiz was a pass/fail. You had to get 100% correct on that module to get any credit that week, but you were allowed to retake the quiz as many times as you needed or had time for. The weekly assignments were cumulative. For each one you turned in, you earned a certain number of marks. If you needed to catch up in your marks, you could catch up by completing additional assignments. The course was designed to encourage the organization – the class – to act in a specific way – i.e. to learn and put into practice organizational theory. Most students received that 100% grade along with a sound understanding of that subject.
This life is also a time of preparation and learning. It can be thought of much as an earthly school, except that in this earth life, His school, each course is uniquely designed so that everyone who so chooses to can earn a 100% grade.
In order to become an official student and commence our real learning, we must first meet certain requirements. Once we are of an appropriate mature age – in our culture about age 5 or 6 or so, we are expected start our formal public schooling. To attend public school we must be officially registered and pay the required fees and adhere to certain rules. Similarly, in His plan, once we are of an appropriate mature age – currently age 8 or older, we can apply and be officially admitted into His church - His school. We call this process baptism. It is the gate, a doorway through which we must pass, the only official way onto the straight and narrow path that can start us on the course to our desired destination – which is eternal life with our family and with Him. His son, Jesus Christ provided the example and the way that we must go. He organized his church - a type of school, if you will, with authority and leaders to guide and teach and certify us to start on our path of learning. He has set certain entrance requirements, which if we strictly follow, authorize us to commence our classes.
Under His plan, the great Plan of Happiness, everyone has the potential to succeed, to each receive that 100% mark. It seems strange to me, that so many find themselves off course, making choices that prevent them from achieving it, yet that seems to be the current reality.
Regarding baptism .. entrance into his church, Christ taught (in Matt 7:13-14):
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Nephi in the Book of Mormon (one of our primary textbooks) clarifies this commandment in this way (in 2 Ne 31:17-19), saying:
“ .. the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? ”
Once we have been admitted to the school of Christ, his church, then what? All is not yet done. We must learn and progress on. Much like the schools we attend here in the world, the school of Christ, his church, is not an end in and of itself .. we are meant to attend our meetings and complete assignments we are given, take the tests, complete the course, learn and move on to the next class. For Young Men some of the required classes include receiving the Aaronic Priesthood, learning to serve as a Deacon, a Teacher and as a Priest and preparing to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Young Women are also given opportunities to learn and grow by serving in callings within the Young Womens program and later within the Relief Society. When all these required courses have been completed, and we are of an appropriate mature age, we are then eligible to apply and receive a recommend into our next school – the temple of the Lord – the university of life.
And again. Once we have been admitted to this university of Christ, his temple, then what? We learn and progress on. Much like the higher schools of learning we can attend here in the world, entrance into the Temple of the Lord, is not an end in and of itself .. we are meant to complete the assignments we receive there, honor the covenants we make, complete the course, and move on to the next class.
As an endowed member of the church we have the opportunity to apply and to be called to serve as a missionary of the Lord. While completing this kind of assignment we not only serve Him and our fellow man but learn and grow in ways we can only now imagine. We can also return and help our family members who have passed on before to receive these same temple blessings for themselves, but the true end goal of the temple is not just this, but in preparing each of us to be eligible for marriage in the temple and start our own families. It is but a second milestone on the path towards Eternal Life.
Regarding marriage, and specifically temple marriage, through the prophet Joseph Smith in D&C 132:22-25 this commandment, which by now should sound quite familiar, is given, saying:
“For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also. This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law. Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law.”
“Eternal marriage is a principle which was established before the foundation of the world and was instituted on this earth before death came into it. Adam and Eve were given to each other by God [himself] in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The scripture says, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them” (Gen. 5:1–2). 1
This second gate or doorway on the path to happiness, or in other words in the plan of salvation, was and always has been part of His great plan for us. He wants for us all to have the opportunity to become like him, to come to this earth and receive a mortal body like his, to start on the true path by seeking and finding entrance to His church, and then continuing in obedience to His commandments, continuing on that path – seeking and possibly finding a righteous spouse here and being sealed to him or her in His temple. That is what we fought for and rejoiced in obtaining in our premortal life. The chance for all to come here, to experience and learn for ourselves and to eventually become just like Him.
And finally, once we have been married in His temple, then what? All is not yet done. We learn and progress on. Your marriage in the Temple of the Lord, is not an end in and of itself .. we are meant to continue on, to build our own homes and start our own families and prepare to teach them the proper and true path to success in life.
D&C 131:1-4 “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man [along with his faithful spouse] must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if [they do] not, [they] cannot obtain it. [They] may enter into the other, but that is the end of [their] kingdom; [they] cannot have an increase.”2 (with modification for emphasis).
We need not fail
In our Heavenly Father's master plan, we need not fail. If we choose to follow him, to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, and continue on the path, we are promised Eternal Life. If we live worthy to attend and marry in His temple, and continue on the path, we are promised Celestial Glory. His plan is uniquely designed to permit us all, if we so choose, to earn that 100% grade.
2 Nephi 31:20-21 “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way [..]”
Renewing our Covenants
Partaking of the sacrament is a witness to God that the remembrance of His Son will extend beyond the short time of participating in this sacred ordinance and throughout the following week. Within the Sacrament Prayer is a promise to 'remember Him always' and a witness of individual willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and to keep His commandments. In partaking of the sacrament and making these commitments, we renew the covenant we made at baptism (see Mosiah 18:8-10; D&C 20:37).
In return, the Lord renews the promised remission of sin and enables us as church members to “always have his Spirit to be with them” (D&C 20:77). The Spirit's constant companionship is one of the greatest gifts of mortality.
In preparation for the sacrament each week, we take time to examine our lives and repent of sins. We do not need to be perfect in order to partake of the sacrament, but we must have a spirit of humility and repentance in our hearts. Every week we should strive to prepare for this sacred ordinance with a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20).
Church leaders have taught that when we take the sacrament, we renew not just our baptismal covenants but “all covenants entered into with the Lord.” on our pathway back to him. This would include the covenants we make in the Temple and at Marriage.3 I personally find it interesting that, just as we are commanded to regularly renew our own covenants of baptism each week by partaking of the sacrament, we have a similar opportunity to renew our own temple covenants by worthily holding a current temple recommend and regularly attending the temple as proxy for others. In the chapel each week and as we attend the temple, the Lord can guide us in what we should be doing to continue on His path.
Through regular temple attendance we are providing a way for others, including our own ancestors, to make and accept these covenants for themselves and, in a sense, renew our own temple covenants. In the temple we find peace and comfort and direction for our own lives that cannot be found in any other place or manner. We do not need to be perfect in order to hold a temple recommend, but we must meet the proscribed requirements and have a spirit of humility and repentance in our hearts and 'put our shoulders to the wheel' and go and do the work that needs to be done.
It is no coincidence that the plan includes Baptism as a witness that we are ready to embark on His path in his way, with the Sacrament on a weekly basis to help us continue on that path, leading to the blessing of our own endowment in the Temple, to be able to have our families sealed to us for all time, and to return and continue the work for our loved ones. Baptism, Sacrament and Temple all being points on the path back to Him and our loved ones with Him there.
Marriage and Family are Central to God's Plan
The familiar phrase by President David O. McKay: "No other success can compensate for failure in the home" is true. While no family meets the ideal in every way, we can still be happy and successful as we follow the guidance from His spirit, and learn and work and grow together in a family situation.
“It's no stretch to say that a person has a serious advantage in life if they come from a loving, supportive home. Many people still succeed though they come from less-than-ideal family situations, but having our basic needs met, knowing that our parents love us and learning life lessons at home make all the challenges of day-to-day living that much easier to face. Likely, as an adult you want a happy home for your family. This is no coincidence. God organizes us into families so that we can grow up in happiness and safety, and so that we can learn to love others selflessly—the key to true joy. Within the family is the best place to learn to love others the way Heavenly Father loves each one of us. God's Church exists to help families gain eternal blessings. We believe the greatest blessing He gives us is the ability to return to live with Him in heaven with our families. We follow our Heavenly Father's will because that is how we earn this blessing.”4
The Family Proclamation teaches, that: “THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners ..” (excerpt from 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World' lds.org/topics/family-proclamation read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.)
So, now, what if? What if our life has already headed off in another direction? What if a child dies before baptism or before learning about the gospel or before being able to be endowed or married? He has made provision for that. What if I never find the right person to marry? What if we can't have children? What if we have bad children? What if we don't have a happy, perfect family? What if we can see the path but feel far from it right now? He has also made provision for this .. but we must first do all that we can for ourselves .. What if we just do our best to repent and leave the rest of that up to the Lord? What if we work on keeping the commandments we have now? He will send help and guidance. He has already thought this through. What if he inspires you in the decisions you need to make? What if he puts you in the proximity of someone you need to meet? What if it takes a long time to get back to where we need to be? What if we trust in him? He knows the intent of our hearts and just how we are truly are trying to live the commandments we have been given. He knows we desire to be faithful members of the church. He knows we desire to attend the temple and to receive all the blessings we can therefrom. He knows where He wants our lives to lead and what we need to learn. We know that Christ, our Redeemer has already provided for those who die without the law and for little children who die before being able to be baptized. “ For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that [cannot repent] is not condemned .. (Moroni 8:22)” He knows and loves us and will provide all the blessings we merit and more, if not here and now, then eventually .. up there and then. What if we ask him? His spirit will guide you and I in what we can do in our own individual learning plan while here at school. He will counsel us individually and as a couple in how we can prepare to receive the blessings he has in store for us.
Your situation may be unique, but so is the direction and the course our Father has set for you on your way back to him. Regardless of where we find ourselves now, the path of safety and happiness is set. He will be there for us and send help as we need it, and that help will guide us back toward the safety of His planned path. As noted in the Proclamation on the Family: “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.” Our wise Heavenly Father has a plan for us. He sends missionaries and inspires members to help others know of and find the first gate of Baptism. He has restored all we need, to prepare for and find the next gate of Marriage in His temple. His Spirit can guide us in all we should do for ourselves and in how to help others along the way.
That 'What if?' question was likely one of Satan's prime propaganda slogans during the premortal War in Heaven. I don't claim to know all the answers, but this thing I do know. There is a set path of safety and happiness, prepared for us from the beginning that everyone can find and follow if they but listen and obey and choose to do so. We fought for the right to come here to learn and show what we could do. This path is called the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation. There are no short cuts, no compromise, no back doors. If or when we stray, we must repent and return back to that path, but a way back to the path always remains available to us. Straight are the gates – the first we must find and enter therein, Baptism in the correct manner and place by authorized priesthood holders and the next we must prepare ourselves for, Temple Marriage in the right place and at the right time and, I suppose, to the right person, and from there on to starting our own families, leading eventually back to Him, to Eternal Life as a part of His and our own extended family.
Christ came into the world to conquer death and to fulfill the plan of salvation, the path to true happiness. Just as through his atonement, each of us will live again .. through obeying and following His plan, marriage in His temple can be forever, individuals can be saved and families can be happily sealed to each other forever. We can return and live with Him, not alone, but with our spouse in family units with all our loved ones linked to us as well. Any other arrangement would not really be Heaven.
Trust in Him
So .. what if we trust in Him? D&C 78:17-18 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.”
“When our eyes are fixed on God’s glory, we feel the majesty of His creations and the grand scope of His work on this earth. We feel humble to be participants in His latter-day kingdom. If we pause and quietly reflect on our role in all of this, we will come to know that placing our egos and our vain ambitions on the sacrificial altar is one of the most important offerings we can ever make. Well might we acknowledge, as did Moses after beholding in vision God’s glory: “Now, for this cause I know that man [alone] is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10.)
“To those faithful Latter-day Saints whose view of their own importance in God’s plan is in perspective, the Lord has promised: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.
With our eye single to his glory, our family working together as one, we have potential to become as He is.
“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (D&C 88:67–68.)
This life is our time to prepare and learn. Our course is uniquely designed so that if we so choose, we can each be awarded that 100% grade. The length of our prescribed course may vary.
There is a path of safety. He will guide us back to it if we choose to listen and obey. The path starts with baptism and continues on through the temple to eternal marriage and eventually back to Him.
Baptism, Marriage and Family are an essential part of the plan of happiness.
If ye are not one, ye are not mine .. “strive together toward perfection” (Oaks ibid).
Worthily renewing our baptismal covenants with the sacrament and in the temple is key to our happiness both here and hereafter.