A friend who had been raised as a Latter-day Saint once asked me why she felt so totally alive when she was involved in illicit sex. She apparently wondered why she didn’t feel miserable in the midst of sin as she thought she should. It is an intriguing question. The larger question might be, “Why is sin so often energizing while goodness often feels like struggling at piano lessons under the austere eye of Ms. Dour?”The promise of a great reward in some distant life is scant comfort. Many of us feel a gloomy dread at the prospect of meeting Father at the judgment bar. How can the perfect master be any more lenient than our mortal taskmasters? The best that can be hoped for in mortality is an uncomfortable resignation. The most we can hope for in eternity is a limited suffering and a modest reward.
Isn’t it only sensible to grab some pleasure along the way?
Satan uses bluster and lies to deceive us. Consider first the lessons of experience. Each of us can list pleasures that tug at us. Suppose we abandoned all restraint and indulged all those pleasures with absolute concentration (“total abandon” is the common and telling phrase). Imagine that, for the balance of mortality, we ate everything that looked appetizing, seized all sexual opportunities, and snatched all resources that came to hand, would our lives be better? Would we be happier? What does your experience say?
Not only have most of us had our experiments with spiritual irresponsibility, all of us know someone who has turned the experiment into a way of life. The oft-replicated result of those experiments is surprisingly consistent. No matter how skilled the experimenter, the result is thick darkness, soul-deep loneliness, and gnawing despair. Admittedly, for those who pursue the experiment half-heartedly, the result may be only partial misery but that misery is magnified by meaninglessness.
As Alma the younger, an early-in-life experimenter himself, wisely observed: “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). It never was. It never will be. It never can be. It is contrary to the nature of happiness (see Alma 41:11).
Overeating brings acid reflux and soddenness. Immorality always brings gloom, loneliness, and relational fuzziness. Coveting brings shriveled focus and restless hunger. Wickedness may stimulate but it never satisfies. That is the answer to the friend’s question. “For ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal head” (Helaman 13:38).
Sin is always a fool’s bargain. Just as cocaine energizes our pleasure circuits, it also destroys them. So also all forms of sin. Satan offers thrills but delivers addiction and desolation.
Sometimes we make the mistake of seeing God’s prescriptions as arbitrary dig-a-hole-here-and-fill-it-in-to-kill-time-and-to- make-me-feel-powerful exercises. That misjudges the Creator. It is His work, His glory, His joy, His only purpose to bless us. His great plan of happiness is designed to redeem us—not so we can be factory workers in heaven but so we can be filled with joy, partners in an eternal adventure with Him. Our wildest imaginations cannot comprehend what God has in store for those who love and trust Him. “Ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you” (D&C 78:17).
His “commandments” are simply the course to greatest joy. He charts the most direct path from where we are to the place of greatest growth, peace, usefulness, and satisfaction.
When one’s growth is presided over by One who is perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and perfectly committed to our well being, we may be fully confident. We may enjoy the peace of knowing that our limitations do not (cannot) put us beyond the reach of His saving power.
That Jesus who “is able to do his work,” testifies that “he doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 27:21, 26:24).
It won’t do to say we believe in Him while chafing and fidgeting against His purposes. To know Him is to trust Him.
Sometimes the journey seems too hard. Brigham Young compared the “sacrifices” we make to giving up an old, battered coat.
I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times … to a man wearing an old, worn‑out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering… I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348).
A new coat. Warmth. Comfort. A fitting metaphor for wholly putting on our covenants. We do not have to carry the burdens of sin or the boredom of unrelenting emptiness. When we turn our lives over to God, we are encircled and comforted in the arms of His love (see 2 Nephi 1:15).
Maybe the fundamental lie in all of eternity is that Satan is a fun-loving, decent sort of fellow. While he may get us in some minor mischief, he will show us a good time and we will be dusted off when we get home. Satan does not want us to know that he is not only a liar and a cheat but also cruel and heartless. He is totally indifferent to our well-being. In fact, he has a strong preference for seeing us suffer, even those who are his “loyal” subjects. “Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom” (Moses 7:37).
The fundamental truth in all eternity is that Father wants nothing for us but our greatest happiness. His whole purpose is to bless all of us to the very limit of our capacity. “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255).
Satan wants very much to keep us from the reassuring truth of God’s good will. That evil one knows that if we discover God’s desire to bless us, evil will lose its allure.
All of us who have felt the heartache of sin and the joy of goodness know that it is better (more meaningful, satisfying, purposeful, and rewarding) to wash dishes in God’s house than to party in Satan’s. The next time that lust, anger, and coveting call to us, we may recognize Satan’s lie. We may choose life over death, joy over stimulation.
Whatever the reputed “rewards of sin,” they are fool’s gold. They cannot compare with the blessings of discipleship. May we find joy in being led through mortality and on to Eternity by our Perfect Friend.