Life is messy, and it was orchestrated to be so.
Many people hope that religion or belief will make life easier, less complicated, and less ambiguous. Though I do believe religion can help make life less convoluted by giving certain boundaries and principles of morality, I don’t believe the intention of religion is to simply delineate a path to follow. Faith is all about wrestling the angel—or rather, continually searching the depths of your soul for the truths with which you resonate and then searching again. True religion, as I see it, is organic, fluid, ever reaching, and ever growing. And growth does not come without questions, uncertainty, or opposition.
The world, which has continually grown materialistic as a side effect of increasing prosperity, has begun to promote the idea that most blessings within religion are associated with materialistic things as well. We often believe that blessings come in the form of a pay raise, a fancy car, popularity, or a nice house with a white picket fence. If that’s the case, sign me up! But I don’t think that’s how God defines blessings. And it seems, at times, that we have turned religion into a vending machine.
Good Deeds Aren’t Payments for Material Blessings
To be clear, I do not believe everyone falls into the category I am about to describe, nor do I believe it is the intention of Church leaders to insinuate that righteous living and good deeds will always result in temporal blessing. However, often we are told that though the blessings will not be immediate or perhaps not even in this life, they will be given. Sadly, I think that most of us interpret the blessings that will come in this life to be that of material value.
Going back to my analogy, I can’t help but feel as if this materialistic mindset has caused many of us to turn religion and God into a vending machine. We hear that if we pay tithing we shall be blessed, if we do our ministering, we shall be blessed, if we do a good deed, we shall be blessed, if we go on a mission, we shall be blessed, etc. I am sure many of you have heard similar statements or variations thereof. With this mindset, we try to go to God’s vending machine, select desired blessings, and as payment insert one of the aforementioned actions. We assume that these blessing we are promised will be immediate, the ones we desire, and more often than not, tangible. We may find ourselves living gospel principles while hoping for a pay raise, to meet a cute boy/girl, to ace our final, or any number of other things.
But what if the blessing we get from living gospel principles is learning charity? What if the blessing is learning empathy? What if the blessing is learning about sacrifice? What if the blessing isn’t at all about what we receive but what we are becoming?
Living a “Better” Life
Too often I see people who think that if they live their life the best they can according to the tenets and principles of the gospel, their life will be nice, pretty, and comfortable. Of course bad things happen to good people now and then, but overall, life should be better, right?
Well, that depends on how you define a better life. If you see a better life as one with fewer complications, fewer duties, fewer trials, less sacrifice, less heartache, and less ambiguity, then I would be inclined to say no, living gospel principles does not guarantee a better life.
However, if you define a better life as a life where your relationships carry a lot more meaning due to their eternal nature, or a life where you are able to discover eternal truths that can expand your soul and your mind, or a life where you are able to better be at peace with yourself despite the trials around you, then yes, I would say the gospel leads to a much better—and blessed—life.
To me, living the gospel comes down to another analogy I once heard about a horse, a stick, and a carrot. Some say that we, like a horse being urged forward by being beaten with a stick, need a little fear in our lives to incentivize us to live the gospel—hence damnation, fire, brimstone, and all that fun imagery. But of course, anyone gets tired of being hit with a stick day after day. Instead, like a horse being enticed forward by a carrot, I might pay my tithing this time not so that I avoid being burned at the last day but so that blessings that will rain down on me instead. Both of these methods accomplish the same thing—motivation to do the right thing. But what if neither was needed? What if we could view life, instead, as an apprenticeship? What if we could see Christ as the Master and all the principles and commandments of the gospel as ways to become as He is? Or, if we look once more at the horse analogy, what if the destination of the path we are on ends with Christ, and principles and commandments of the gospel could be viewed as a knowledgeable rider gently spurring us along? What if we didn’t need promises of blessings to do our best to become more like Him? What if the blessing was becoming like Him?
I think the choice to live the gospel is laden with even more meaning and beauty when we choose to live it despite a harder life. Often, I am reminded of the apostles who followed Christ during His mortal ministry and continued to follow Him after His death and resurrection. Christ had asked that they give up everything to follow Him, and I am hard pressed to think of any earthly blessings which befell them. However, it is easier to see how much more difficult their lives had become and the great persecution which they suffered. Despite the difficulties they faced—perhaps because of the difficulties they faced—we can see the amazing transformations they underwent and how close they came unto Christ, both literally and spiritually. It is as we read in 1 Peter, “[T]he trial of [our] faith, [is] more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire.” Perhaps I dream of too idealistic a way of belief—perhaps we are not yet there. I know I am most definitely not there. But the first step, I believe, is realizing the reality of living the gospel because we love it, not because of what it will get us, even if we aren’t yet capable of living that reality, yet.
Andrew Givens is currently attending BYU pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Statistics with an emphasis on Data Science.