In a recent conversation relating to gays and lesbians in the LDS Church, a dear friend of mine said something that really stuck with me. He said something to the effect that he believed the Plan of Salvation is perfect, but that it doesn't seem so perfect in this instance.Mormonism may actually be the only religion that acknowledges that there are things that God cannot do, not because He does not want to, but because the power to do them does not exist, or that if He attempted to do them, He would actually cease to be God and all would collapse into chaos.
To be honest, I'm not sure I would describe the Plan as perfect, at least not without a very bold asterisk. It reminds me of a quote by Winston Churchill: "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried."
The problem with calling something "perfect" is that it can create certain implicit or subconscious expectations that the thing will be just as we would wish it to be, or that it would be free of negative aspects or terrible trade-offs. But such expectations are almost certain to be disappointed. I don't believe the Plan of Salvation is all that we would hope or wish it to be, but that it is perfectly designed to accomplish the purposes of a perfectly kind, loving, and merciful Father.
Similarly, when we say that God is "perfect," I don't understand that to mean that God is exactly as we would want or hope Him to be. Instead, I think it means that He lives in perfect compliance with eternal principles that govern all things, including Him. Or when we say He is "all-powerful," we don't mean He has the power to do anything, but, rather, that He has all the power there is. Mormonism may actually be the only religion that acknowledges that there are things that God cannot do, not because He does not want to, but because the power to do them does not exist, or that if He attempted to do them, He would actually cease to be God and all would collapse into chaos.
So no, I don't think we can say that the Plan is subjectively "perfect" any more than we can say that God can do anything or even that God Himself is "perfect" by any mortal definition. This may sound like semantics, but choice of language often makes up the greater part of meaning.
In fact, in some ways, the Plan is even worse than we often acknowledge. Just by presenting the Plan, Heavenly Father lost a third of his children. Those were our brothers and sisters, whom we may have spent eons growing close to, and there's no reason to believe we loved them any less than those we grow to love in this life, or that they were somehow inherently evil or inferior to us; in fact, descriptions of Lucifer before his fall suggest just the opposite. They did not even get the option to elect the status quo ante and continue as spirits in Father's presence, but were cast out forever. To any true egalitarian, the "Plan of Happiness" would be judged an abject failure right from the start.
And it doesn't stop there. Those who opted to follow the Plan would suffer greatly in mortality--especially the innocent--and most will never regain the Father's presence, regardless of all their efforts and the Savior's sacrifice. Viewed in that way, it sounds like a terrible plan.
Yet, notwithstanding all of that, we literally shouted for joy when the Plan was adopted. I suppose one could argue that we did so naively, in lacking mortal experience, but we certainly weren't deceived about the realities of what lay ahead. Nor was our joy misplaced, because the Plan is also far more wonderful than we in the Church usually recognize. With very few exceptions (i.e., sons of perdition), everyone born on this earth will inherit a kingdom of glory. That's incredible, if you think about it. It means that any person you may talk to on the street most likely will, regardless of which Kingdom they inherit, become a being of such glory and light, that we in our current state could scarcely stand in their presence. That's not to say they (and we) won't have to go through great difficulties before getting there, but that will be the ultimate outcome.
We seem to have in Western society a cultural bias toward always being in first place, as if anything short of that were failure and that second place is just first loser. Sadly, that attitude seeps into our discussions of the Gospel as well. But if we could get a glimpse today of what the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom is really like, my guess is that we would fervently plead to opt out!
We might not even survive the experience of glimpsing it. Saying that most people will not inherit the Celestial Kingdom almost makes it sound like a popular nightclub with bouncers at the door to keep out the crowds of unworthy souls pressing to get in. But the likely reality is that no one currently living on earth would, in their right mind, want to enter, and most people never will want to, even in the resurrection. The only way we would ever actually want to experience that state of being is if, by then, we have become that type of being.
This is where the Savior's mission, and our role within that mission, come into play. In addition to a universal resurrection, the atonement accomplishes at least two other things:
First, it relieves us of the pain and suffering we experience as the consequence of sin, both our own sins and those of others.
Second, it transforms us into beings with the capacity to receive the glory that comes with inheriting a kingdom of glory.
Christ's ongoing mission is to effect both of these changes for each of us to the greatest extent possible. Our divine privilege as members of His Church, is to be guided by the Holy Ghost to do and say the things that will help those around us receive these changes to the greatest extent possible, even as part of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Ultimately, I really don't understand the purpose of mortal suffering. Anyone who has heard of, for example, child soldiers, has to question the existence of a loving God. Saying that the atonement is infinite is really just an admission that we, with our finite minds, won't be able to fully comprehend it in mortality.
It may turn out, however, that each of us knew and accepted the circumstances of our mortal life before coming here. If so, I like to think we did so with the understanding that those circumstances were individually tailored to optimize our individual progress toward eternal joy. In some cases, certain individuals may have been willing to accept particular conditions only with the assurance that you or I would find them during this life and provide them with the love and encouragement they would need.
Remember the Parable of the Divers, in which a young diving competitor who appeared to be doing badly on each dive actually won after accounting for the high degree of difficulty of the dives he was attempting. We can only perceive performance, but degree of difficulty is just as important. Based on that principle, I believe many of us will be surprised, if not shocked, by who we would meet in the Celestial Kingdom.
The only way through this or any difficulty is to hold onto faith. Faith is such a powerful thing because it opens the door to Hope, which in turn leads to Charity. And that's when everything changes.