One of the purposes of mortal life is to prove to God that we will keep His commandments when that takes courage (Henry B. Eyring, “Moral Courage,” Liahona, Mar 2010, 4–7).
An important aspect of Mormon beliefs is that one purpose of our life on earth is to be tested. Passing the test requires moral courage, because if it were easy, the test would be meaningless.
Before we were born, we lived as spirits with God. We didn’t have bodies, limiting our experiences and temptations, but we had our personalities. We were shaped by our experiences, our learning, and our choices, just as we are here. However, because God was there, in our presence, for many of us, the choices seemed easier.
Even with that reassurance, the ability to know exactly what God wanted from us, some people were not willing to trust Him or themselves. When He told us we were going to be sent away from home for a while to continue our eternal progression, some were not excited by the prospect. We were told we might fail and, if we rejected God and His teachings, we would not be allowed to return to His presence, although we would be saved by grace, meaning we would be resurrected and live forever. For most people, everlasting life, even if we could not be with God, would still be a happy experience.
Knowing some people were unwilling to take that risk, Lucifer tried to convince the people to reject God’s plan. He told them if they chose him to be their savior, he would guarantee they’d all make it back home. Of course, the only way to do this was to control their every action and thought, ensuring they’d never have an opportunity to sin. There was no other way, because God’s laws could not be altered. One third of all the spirits chose him as their leader. The remainder chose Jesus Christ as their Savior, who volunteered Himself as our Savior, but He committed Himself to follow God’s plan exactly. Unlike Satan, He was willing to suffer and die for us, so we would have the ability to repent of our sins and break the bonds of death. The third that followed Satan were cast out of Heaven and were denied the right to come to earth and to partake of the Atonement. They’ve since devoted their lives to trying to make us as miserable as they are.
The rest of us began taking our turns on Earth, gaining families, bodies, trials, and blessings. Every day, most of us face choices that have eternal consequences. We hear teachings about God and have to decide which ones are correct and which are false. We face ridicule for trying to live the commandments or for encouraging others to do so. If we obey the commandments we’re considered foolish.
For those who put the teachings of Jesus Christ first, however, it is worth the sacrifice, worth the mocking, the judgment, and the inability of others to understand.
There is a story in the Book of Mormon about a prophet named Lehi. He had a vision in which he viewed a tree that represented God’s love. Those who partook of the fruit experienced great joy. Some who followed the path to that tree ate the fruit, but then looked around to see how others viewed their choice. In the air, nearby, was a spacious building filled with elegant, well-dressed people who were busy making fun of those who were working so hard to reach the tree. Those who insisted on monitoring the reactions of others to their choice were humiliated to be the subject of this mockery from people who seemed important, and they rushed away, forfeiting the blessings of their choice. Some even joined the mockers, thinking it made them more important or glamorous.
This story is about moral courage. Those who fled from God because of the mockery lacked moral courage. They were unwilling to do the hard work of being a Christian.
The most effectual way to establish the religion of Heaven is to live it, rather than to die for it: I think I am safe in saying that there are many of the Latter-day Saints who are more willing to die for their religion than to live it faithfully (Brigham Young, quoted in Chapter 11: Choosing to Walk in Obedience,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 71).
Brigham Young understood that dying for your religion takes a moment of courage and no requirement to live on earth with the results of your sacrifices. Instead, you’re immediately in Heaven. But living on earth, day in and day out facing the large and small temptations and trials, sorting through the many voices taunting you to sin or encouraging you to make wise choices, and facing the world everyday with a different lifestyle than others takes far more courage. It’s not the courage of a moment, but the courage of a lifetime.
In his message on moral courage, Henry B. Eyring reminded us we have a great help in getting through our lives with moral courage: the atonement. Through Jesus Christ, we can find the courage to face the moral challenges of mortality. President Eyring reminded us of the following scripture, which contains revelation given to Joseph Smith from God:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7–8).
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.