Most of us have at some point wondered about the purpose of our existence. Latter-Day Saints, believe that our life on earth is part of our Heavenly Father's plan for our eternal happiness, the kind of happiness that God has.
Latter-Day Saints believe that we are literal sons and daughters of God and we lived with him before we came to this earth. While there, Heavenly Father presented to us his plan for us to come to earth, gain a body, and experience the lessons of mortality. We knew that we would be separated from God for a time and would be subject to trials and suffering and that some would not choose to obey God, but we also trusted that this experience would be necessary for us to become like our Father in Heaven and live again in his presence.
I think it is in many ways like going away to college where, in addition to the subject matter, you learn profound life lessons that you could not really understand until you were on your own. It is in experiencing life and being truly responsible for your own choices that all those things your parents tried to teach you begin to really make sense.
We believe that our mortal lives are relatively short compared to eternity and we have many things to do and learn while we are here. Just for fun, I'm going to present a brief overview of a few of the purposes of mortality in the form of a 'to do' list.
Learn to Control our Physical Bodies. This is a hard one. Our physical desires do not always reflect what is truly best for us. Just like learning to walk, we will fall down several times before we master it. We are blessed to have this time given to us where we can learn to choose the good and repent when we make mistakes.
Learn Faith. But without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Heb. 11:6
Be Baptized. We are told repeatedly in scripture that baptism is necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. (A way has been provided for those who did not have the opportunity for baptism during their lifetimes. See post on Temples)
Receive the Holy Ghost. His companionship and purifying power are necesary for us to be able to navigate the difficulties of this life and return to our Heavenly Father's presence.
Get Married. Our relationships are meant to last forever. Marriage is another ordinance which must be done during this life. "In the resurrection there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage; for all questions of marital status must be settled before that time." James E. Talmadge This does not mean that those who did not have the opportunity for eternal marriage in this life will be forever single. President Howard W. Hunter said that "no blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual."
Learn to Obey God. We all chose God's way before we came to earth. Now that we are no longer in his presence we have the opportunity to practice doing what we learned about while we were with him.
Repent. In our present state, we are separated from God. We must choose to repent of the mistakes that we make to be made clean through the Atonement of Christ. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.
Develop Christlike Love. Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Moroni 7:47
Die. It's a prerequisite to being resurrected with a perfect, immortal, incorruptible body.
In summary, we are here to prepare for eternity. The more diligent we are in striving to turn our hearts to the things that God wants for us to accomplish here, the more prepared we will be to receive the blessings he has in store for us.
The ancient prophet, Alma, explains beautifully why what we choose in this life is so important:
31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
Boyd K. Packer (an apostle) drew an analogy that I think will be helpful in understanding the LDS perspective on life.
The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled “Premortal Life.” The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26-28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, the “Second Estate.” And Act III, “Life After Death or Eternal Life.”
In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and sub-plots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!
As part of the eternal plan, the memory of our premortal life, Act I, is covered with a veil. Since you enter mortality at the beginning of Act II with no recollection of Act I, it is little wonder that it is difficult to understand what is going on.
That loss of memory gives us a clean start. It is ideal for the test; it secures our individual agency, and leaves us free to make choices. Many of them must be made on faith alone. Even so, we carry with us some whispered knowledge of our premortal life and our status as offspring of immortal parents.
You were born in innocence, for “every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning” (D&C 93:33). And you have an inborn sense of right and wrong, for the scriptures tell us in the Book of Mormon, we “are instructed sufficiently that [we] know good from evil.” (2 Nephi 2:5)
We progress or we are held back in life within the limits imposed by spiritual and natural law which govern all the universe. We sometimes wonder, if the plan really is the great plan of happiness, why must we struggle to find fulness of it in mortal life?
If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during Act II, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why it is permitted to be as they are.
Remember this! The line “And they all lived happily ever after” is never written into the second act. That Line belongs in the third act when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. The Apostle was right when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19.)
Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama, you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much, some in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering, premature death even of innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We’ve seen a lot of that recently.Do not suppose that God willfully causes that, which for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.
I know that with God's help we can accomplish the purposes that we were sent here to accomplish. I am grateful for the opportunities and the many blessings that I enjoy in this life and I trust in God's promises after this life is over. I know that God loves us and that he understands the struggles we face in this life. Our view here is limited, but God's is not. He knows what is best for us. I take great comfort in the words of the Lord to a suffering prophet, "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." D&C 122:7