So many people struggle to figure out the purpose of life. They are here for a very long time—longer than many need to learn about Jesus and accept Him as their Savior. They wonder what else they ought to be doing and why they have been given so much time on Earth.
Mormons—the nickname sometimes used for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—believe that every moment of our lives have a purpose. The Mormon view of life is a bit longer than the average view of life, since we believe life is lived in three parts, not just two. We lived before we were born, during mortality, and eternally after we die. With so much time, there must be a pretty big to-do list, and there is.
The Bible says we started our lives with God, not here on Earth as many believe. Let’s look at a few of the scriptures in the Bible that remind us of what God’s people once knew and have forgotten. We’ll start with Job. During his conversation with God, God asked him an interesting question:
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38)
People often skim right past that question asked in verse four, but it’s an important question. It’s an even more important question when you notice God didn’t bother to answer it. He didn’t need to because Job, like the rest of God’s followers then, knew the answer. When the Earth was being created, we were living with God as spirits. We’ll learn more about the shout for joy in a few minutes. Let’s move on to the prophet Jeremiah.
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations ((Jeremiah 1:5).
From this verse, we learn that Jeremiah was ordained a prophet even before his birth. Now, how did God know Jeremiah was the sort of person who would make a great prophet—so valiant that he would, even after coming to earth, would stay valiant despite life’s trials? God knew because Jeremiah had been living for a long time in God’s presence, getting to know God, making choices about the sort of person he wanted to be, and becoming who he would be on Earth. Now, some, hearing this, say, “Well, God knows everything so He knew what kind of person He was creating.” The trouble with that argument is that it suggests an unfair God, one who created some people to be more righteous than others. You may have already noticed Mormons believe God is entirely just. We all started out with an equal chance at being a good follower of God. If this is the case, Jeremiah had to have lived with God before so that God could monitor his development.
There are several verses that tell us directly that we started out with God, not on earth:
“The spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7).
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. (John 3:13.)
No question, then—we started with God before we came here. This is what happened:
God organized the intelligences that had always existed into spirits. As spirits, we did not have a physical body, but we did have agency. Agency is the right to choose for ourselves. We used that agency to become the person we wanted to be. We developed our personalities, our talents, our character. We lived with God so we knew for certain what was true and what wasn’t. However, since we had agency, some of us cared more about truth than others. Some of us loved God more than others. Some used their agency to resist truth even then.
During that time, we learned God’s plan for us. We learned every child eventually needs to leave home. It’s when we leave home that we find out who we really are and how we will live when our parents aren’t watching. This was true in our pre-mortal life also. God called us together in a council meeting and reviewed the plan with us. This plan is called by Mormons the Plan of Salvation or the Great Plan of Happiness.
The Plan of Salvation called for us to come to Earth to live. We would come into a family (even though some of us would change families) and would gain a physical body made in the image of God. We would no longer remember our lives before birth, but from time to time, God would give us a little glimpse of it if we chose to become the sort of person who wanted to know the truth about God. The Holy Ghost would then remind us about small portions of it. Many people, learning the teachings of God, say, “It seems like I’ve always known this. It sounds so familiar.”
Our lives here would have several purposes. Gaining a body and a family was only the beginning. We were also going to be tested. We would still have our agency and we would retain the person we had become. We would, of course, also be influenced by the events occurring around us and by the choices we made. Our job was to find out who God was and to again learn to love and follow Him. We were to find His church, if it was currently on Earth, and to live as much as the truth as was available to us. As the Bible says, we would be judged by our obedience.
There was a challenge though. The laws of justice required that we live a sinless life in order to return home. However, no fully mortal person could possibly do that. God, being merciful and loving us, said He would send a Savior to help us. This Savior would take on Himself our sins, die for us, and be resurrected, breaking the bonds of death. He asked who He should send.
Jesus immediately asked to be sent as our Savior. He wanted nothing at all in return—just the opportunity to serve those He loved. He asked that all glory and honor and worship remain with God.
Lucifer asked to be sent instead. However, there were conditions on his offer. He didn’t like the plan God had made. He tried to get it changed to one that had no risks at all. How would we get a risk-free life, guaranteed to send us home to God? He would remove agency from our lives. We would have no choice over how we lived. Lucifer would control every action or movement so we couldn’t possibly sin. This would, of course, render the entire experience pointless, but that didn’t worry Lucifer. He knew many people would accept safety—even imaginary safety—no matter what the cost. And, naturally, there were conditions placed on Lucifer’s offer—we would have to promise to worship only him. In other words, he intended to take over God’s role. You’ll note that his plan did not require him to suffer as Jesus would suffer. He might have been willing to work hard, but he was not willing to suffer for us, because his offer had nothing to do with love and everything to do with power and glory.
God rejected Lucifier’s offer and selected Jesus. Needless to say, Lucifer didn’t take kindly to this decision. He convinced a third of those in Heaven to follow him. He and his followers were cast out of heaven and denied the right to come to earth. They also lost access to the atonement they had rejected. Lucifer became Satan, a fallen angel (Isaiah 14:12).
The rest of us, after shouting for joy over the Plan of Salvation, as God reminded Jeremiah, started preparing for our second stage of life. In the first stage we had to decide if we were willing to follow God when He was right there and we knew what was true. Now the challenges increased and we had to do the same thing, but without His presence to reassure us we’d made the right choices. Of course, God didn’t send us done without tools. He wants us to succeed. The Spirit of Christ was planted inside us all and the Holy Ghost would also help those who asked for help. People who found the truth would promise to help others find it. And prayer was always there, ready to give us the answers we needed. In James 1:5 we learn that God promised to give us wisdom any time we asked, as long as we asked in faith.
Once our lives were over, the final stage of our life would begin. There we would live the life we chose while we were on the earth. Our decisions on Earth will determine our eternity, just as they determine our day-to-day lives.
There will be more on what happens after we die in other articles on this website. For now, what we should keep in mind is that our lives were carefully planned by God out of love—what we do with that life is the gift we give to Him.