Chapter 3: Adversity—Part of God’s Plan for Our Eternal Progress

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

Chapter 3: Adversity—Part of God’s Plan for Our Eternal Progress

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

We have every reason to be optimistic and confident even in times of difficulty.

There have always been some difficulties in mortal life, and there always will be. But knowing what we know, and living as we are supposed to live, there really is no place, no excuse, for pessimism and despair.

In my lifetime I have seen two world wars, plus Korea, plus Vietnam and [more]. I have worked my way through the Depression and managed to go to law school while starting a young family at the same time. I have seen stock markets and world economics go crazy, and I have seen a few despots and tyrants go crazy, all of which caused quite a bit of trouble around the world in the process.

So I hope you won’t believe all the world’s difficulties have been wedged into your decade, or that things have never been worse than they are for you personally, or that they will never get better. I reassure you that things have been worse and they will always get better. They always do—especially when we live and love the gospel of Jesus Christ and give it a chance to flourish in our lives. …

Contrary to what some might say, you have every reason in this world to be happy and to be optimistic and to be confident. Every generation since time began has had some things to overcome and some problems to work out.

Everyone who breathes or has bad breath has to deal with some type of adversity. The Bible talks about how God’s love for His people will never depart. A section of Romans 8 reads:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because of this assurance of salvation and the understanding that God will never forsake the believer as described by Paul, it is possible to truly experience what is called “the peace that passes all understanding” in Philippians 4:7.

When we come to the Savior, He will ease our burdens and lighten our loads.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30.) …

… This marvelous offer of assistance extended by the Son of God himself was not restricted to the Galileans of his day. This call to shoulder his easy yoke and accept his light burden is not limited to bygone generations. It was and is a universal appeal to all people, to all cities and nations, to every man, woman, and child everywhere.

Yet I find that this passage seems to contradict the way that Mormonism works. It seems to me that Mormons have so many burdens placed upon their shoulders. The questions such as “Am I doing enough? Am I worthy? Couldn’t I do more?” are more typical than atypical with the Latter-day Saints I have met. See, the Mormon is told that he or she is responsible to do everything they can and more—even “endur(ing) to the end”—if God’s standards are to be attained. But when we read what the Bible requires, we understand that God will give His people rest and make their burdens light. For Christians who understand that salvation (specifically, justification) is based solely on what God has done and not what we can do, this makes perfect sense. In Mormonism, though, how is it possible for a person’s “yoke” to be “easy” and the “burden” to be “light” when there is so much responsibility in qualifying for eternal life and exaltation?

In our own great times of need we must not leave unrecognized this unfailing answer to the cares and worries of our world. Here is the promise of personal peace and protection. Here is the power to remit sin in all periods of time. We, too, must believe that Jesus Christ possesses the power to ease our burdens and lighten our loads. We, too, must come unto him and there receive rest from our labors.

But when will this “rest” come? I think many Mormons are actively looking for the fulfillment of “the promise of personal peace” while realizing that such a pearl cannot be found in the rules and regulations that characterize Mormonism. When will the Mormon ever be able to “rest of (their) labors” when the church is always requiring more, more, and even more.

Of course, obligations go with such promises. “Take my yoke upon you,” he pleads. In biblical times the yoke was a device of great assistance to those who tilled the field. It allowed the strength of a second animal to be linked and coupled with the effort of a single animal, sharing and reducing the heavy labor of the plow or wagon. A burden that was overwhelming or perhaps impossible for one to bear could be equitably and comfortably borne by two bound together with a common yoke. His yoke requires a great and earnest effort, but for those who truly are converted, the yoke is easy and the burden becomes light.

Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and the strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality.

In the Mormon way of thinking, Jesus’s sacrifice is not enough to fully cleanse sins. His work must be coupled with the work of the individual. But to a Christian, the debt has been paid in full.  I’ve heard it said, “I do my best, Jesus pays the rest.” In a talk given by BYU professor Brad Wilcox that is often quoted by Latter-day Saints, he describes his response to a student who was trying to understand grace. At one point in the conversation, she said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

Wilcox responded,

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

The girl later asked,

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”

Then Wilcox makes an interesting point:

“True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”

According to Wilcox, “fulfilling” requirements is akin to paying a mortgage. In essence, the Mormon owes God and so his or her good works are done to help pay off the debt. For the Christian, though, the debt has already been paid in full. There is no “working off” the debt because it has been completely wiped away, which is what we call “forgiven.” A person receives salvation at the moment of belief and not at the end of the life. Left up to an individual, salvation can never be assured in Mormonism because people remain imperfect. This is why John was able to say that we might “know” that we (true Christians) have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Good works are not paying the debt but rather a response of gratitude.

To read a review and hear a podcast series on Wilcox’s talk, visit here.

Latter-day Saints need not fear the tribulations of the last days.

The scriptures … indicate that there will be seasons of time when the whole world will have some difficulty. We know that in our dispensation unrighteousness will, unfortunately, be quite evident, and it will bring its inevitable difficulties and pain and punishment. God will cut short that unrighteousness in his own due time, but our task is to live fully and faithfully and not worry ourselves sick about the woes of the world or when it will end. Our task is to have the gospel in our lives and to be a bright light, a city set on the hill, which reflects the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the joy and happiness that will always come to every people in every age who keep the commandments.

The question I ask my Latter-day Saint friends is, “Are you someone ‘who keep(s) the commandments'”? If you are not doing this, shouldn’t you be concerned?

I promise you in the name of the Lord whose servant I am that God will always protect and care for his people.

So how do you know if you are a part of God’s people? In fact, Jesus spent a lot of time warning people about false prophets. He said in Matthew 7: 15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Later in that chapter, Jesus said that those who are depending on their good works should have fear.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Referring to the “Day of the Lord,” Paul warned against those who promised peace. First Thessalonians 5:3 says,

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

If a religious group (such as the Mormon Church) is teaching in another God, another Jesus, and yes, another Gospel, then there is much to fear! God’s people can be characterized by the forgiveness of sins they have received, as Matthew 1:21 says that Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” If you belong to God’s people, then you know you are a forgiven individual. The Mormons I know don’t have this assurance of salvation.

To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.