“Will the Lord compensate for the great inequality among people?” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 32–33
Robert J. Matthews, Chairman of the Department of Ancient Scriptures, Brigham Young University People in this world differ widely in circumstances, often apparently by chance—some have intellectual talents, pleasing personalities, wealth, education, or physical attractiveness, while others are born into extremes of poverty, bodily frailty, low I.Q., or other “handicaps.”
The specific cause affecting each person’s birth into his particular circumstances, or giving more “breaks” to one person than another, cannot be explained. We simply do not know enough about all the variables. But we can benefit from some basic, eternal principles that pertain to everyone.
First, we are extremely fortunate, as members of the Church, in being able to have equal access to a “pearl of great price”—the gospel. The Apostle Paul counted “all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord” (Philip. 3:8). The important factor is whether or not a person has the gospel of Jesus Christ. The difference between being rich or poor in earthly things is quite negligible as compared to the difference between having the blessings of the gospel or not having them.
Second, the gospel teaches us that mortality is not the beginning of our existence. Every one of us is a literal, intelligent spirit child of heavenly parents; we were all unique, thinking, learning, acting, reacting individuals before coming into this mortal world.
Our previous experience definitely had something to do with some of our personal traits, and for some, it had something to do with some of the religious opportunities given (see Alma 13:2–11; Abr. 3:22–23).
Third, apparently we come into life at the time and to those conditions that God directs (see Acts 17:24–27; Deut. 32:7–8). Concerning his purpose in this, Nephi observed, “the Lord loveth the world and doeth nothing save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Ne. 26:24). All of God’s judgments are not given unto man (D&C 29:30), but we can be sure that his judgments are made in holiness, righteousness, justice, and mercy. A major truth to remember centers in the response Joseph Smith received from the Lord when he prayed about circumstances in Liberty Jail: “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7). In the ultimate perspective, our earthly conditions probably mean very little other than their central purposes of obtaining a physical body, broadening our souls, and enabling us to eventually compare the conditions of mortality, away from the presence of God, with the conditions of former and subsequent states wherein God’s patterns are more closely followed.
A fourth basic principle to remember is that we should not envy others’ seemingly easier lot in life. What may seem to be advantages—such as worldly riches, fame, influence, or ease of living—may actually be severe trials. If not properly managed, such things can be the cause of one’s spiritual downfall. On the other hand, poverty, trials, and the rigors of life may actually be blessings to those who have them but wish they didn’t. Right now it is primarily a matter of faith and trust with us—and that situation isn’t necessarily a bad one. An attitude of suspended judgment, living by faith, and postponing definite conclusions about some of life’s problems can help to develop humility, spiritual maturity, and patience. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that all that he did know about God led him to trust God for all those things that he did not know.
Fifth, the gospel teaches us that mortality is a test—a probationary period. Difficulties are the normal way of life in such a testing period. Progress is made by overcoming these difficulties. The Lord gives men weaknesses that they may be humble (see Ether 12:27), and also that all things may work together for good to those who love the Lord and keep his commandments (see Rom. 8:28). Our situation in life can simply be part of the test of life.
Some have mistakenly held that all misfortunes and/or pleasures come directly from God and that God is therefore solely responsible for every man’s condition. Along with this follows the belief that all difficulties are the direct and immediate consequence of sin. Sadly, some members of the Church even tend to believe this. How often do we hear someone say, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Savior taught, however, that affliction or suffering was not necessarily God’s punishment for sin (see Luke 13:1–5; John 9:2–3, 34). And the Prophet Joseph Smith stated that it was an “unhallowed principle” to assume that a person is unrighteous because he is preyed upon by death or illness (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, p. 162).
The story of Job shows that the Lord permits trials which might include loss of friends and property. But this is not necessarily a punishment for sin, for, as in the case of Job, it was to give him experience. Joseph in Egypt also overcame great obstacles, rose above them, and was a better person because of the experience. The human soul can mature through trial and suffering if the person views the experience properly. Such things can have a refining influence, and that refinement or experience is a type of compensation for the problems encountered in mortality. The rewards of such spiritual maturity are not only beneficial in this life, but also in eternity.
Finally, let us look at the words of Malachi as he observed the problems that existed among the people in his day:
“Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
“And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Mal. 3:14–18).
Malachi thus makes it clear that the apparent injustices of this life will ultimately be reconciled by God.
One thing is clear—the most important consideration is not so much what our circumstances are (who is rich, who is poor, who is popular, who is not) but rather how we respond to those circumstances. What we feel toward them and what we do about them is more significant than the circumstances themselves. As a result of mortal existence through which we gain a physical body, we encounter difficulties and we gain experience—all of which can help us progress toward eternal life. As Paul said, the problems of this mortal life are not comparable to the glory that is hereafter to be revealed (see Rom. 8:16–18). To be spiritually mature enough to be able to participate in that joy will no doubt be compensation enough.