This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Click here to learn more.
Because of their fallen nature, some children do not arrive at the testimony of Jesus Christ and His redeeming gospel easily. They may struggle with spiritual concepts and more readily adopt portions of the prevailing anti-Christ philosophy:
- To discount prophetic teachings and warnings as foolish, and to embrace vain traditions and false hopes that are enslaving
- To view religion as the effect of a frenzied, deranged, or unenlightened mind
- To embrace the idea that men, independently of God, succeed or fail according to individual management, prosper according to individual initiative and genius, and conquer according to individual strength
The Effects of the Fall
Whereas they were born pure and innocent, “whole . . . even from the foundation of the world,”[ii] sometime early in life, the Fall becomes fully in force in their lives. Gospel scholar Blaine Yorgason suggests that spiritual death can come more quickly than we might expect:
I believe spiritual death is a prolonged process that begins early in our mortal lives, perhaps long before age eight. The Lord said, “Power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (D&C 29:47; italics mine). . . . These [pre-age-eight wrong] choices are not yet accounted to them as sins, of course, for they are not yet wholly accountable. . . . In a broader sense, they . . . have begun the process of submitting [themselves] to temptation. And from that moment, it seems to me, [they] begin the process of separation from God that is called spiritual death. [It amazes that] the hallways of our junior, middle, and high schools seem such . . . unholy places. . . . The thought of such newly spiritually dead children of God, who as yet have neither the experience nor the wisdom to see the damage of intentional, rampant sinning (which obviously seems to many of them as both fun and innocent) is sobering.[iii]
Yorgason explains that the poor choices of youth “quickly develop into habits of disobedience,” and cause or enhance the “veil of forgetfulness.” This veil “thickens and expands until it is impenetrable, at least from [their] side, and [they] are cut off or shut out from the presence of God.”[iv]
Dr. David Dressler, in speaking to Brigham Young University students, offered a similar assessment of how quickly children can achieve spiritual death if not checked:
It is no coincidence that . . . [of] all young people (and of some older people) who were getting into difficulties with the courts, fifty per cent showed marked behavior maladjustments before age eight and an additional forty per cent before age eleven. So ninety per cent were showing behavior maladjustments indicating emotional instability before the age of puberty.[v]
Disbelieving the Effects of the Fall
Those who are spiritually dead or asleep seldom believe it, and that is the ignorant state in which Satan would like to keep them. To be spiritually dead or asleep is to be “encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, [with] an everlasting destruction . . . await[ing] them.” [vi] Only God has the power to awaken them out of that deep sleep and deliver them.[vii] Until they gain a testimony of their situation, they will either wallow in spiritual darkness with absolutely no interest in or interaction with God, or they will fumble about in a kind of spiritual twilight. Speaking of this spiritual twilight and how Satan uses it to assuage our children’s hungers, Catherine Thomas wrote:
This twilight zone is a transition state between having recognized one’s fallenness [and] not yet reaching to the solution. . . . This is a state of hunger and bondage-not total darkness, but hunger for something indefinable. We can recognize it in ourselves when our souls cry out, “Is this all there is to the gospel? Can’t I feel a richer inner experience?” We can get stuck in this twilight because we are . . . going through some motions . . . [or] we seem to be on the path; but still, there’s that nagging hunger in the heart that doesn’t know what it wants. People try lots of things to assuage the hunger. . . . But [these worldly pursuits are] counterproductive where happiness and being born again are concerned. . . .
That half-and-half state is precisely the problem and the source of our hunger. The hunger comes from the need for the most powerful nutrient a fallen human can receive: the Spirit of the Lord. . . . The Fall creates the hunger. Perhaps the most characteristic state of fallen man is the hunger and the feeling of darkness or spiritual twilight. Many people experience only the hunger for their entire lives.[viii]
Many of our children are spiritually asleep, left to be driven by their hungers. Who can awaken them? Who can everlastingly, not temporarily, satisfy their hungers?
Each child had their beginning with God, [ix] and they are on the same continuum that is intended to lead them, like God, to eternal life. Each of them has a salvation timeline, their personal plan of salvation within the Plan of Salvation. Considering that truth, and remembering that our children enjoyed an exalted past, we realize that they are comprised of more assets than they may be presently demonstrating.
For example, as we are taught to believe, they already proved valiant in the cause of truth (although presently they may be demonstrating weakness), and during premortality they developed a strong testimony (although it may be temporarily buried).
Speaking to this point, Neal A. Maxwell, quoting Joseph F. Smith, said, “When . . . we catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul,’ let us be quietly grateful. When of great truths we can say I know,’ that powerful spiritual witness may also carry with it the sense of our having known before. With rediscovery, we are really saying I know-again!'”[x]
Jeffrey R. Holland calls these spiritual recollections “echoes of other earlier testimonies.”[xi] When properly stimulated, premortal testimonies like premortal talents will emerge and flourish. It simply remains for the Awakener to do the work of awakening.
So why must our innocent children be thrust into this harsh environment that seems to be programmed in every way to oppose them and to ensure that they will sin? A young father asked the same question:
As I look at my boy, just learning to walk, curious about everything, three words to his vocabulary and determined to learn more, I wonder if life could get any better than this.
But I also realize that life is hard and my boy will face his share of trials. I realize that someday he will sin. How inconceivable that seems to me right now. I don’t mean to sound fatalistic, but it causes me to mourn. I wish I could shelter him from life and sin, but I cannot. I commit myself to partnering with the Lord and relying on His redemptive power to navigate my son through the pitfalls of life, deliver him, and successfully shepherd him home.
The Test of Life
Life is a test, and the test will expose our children’s weaknesses, force them to deal with those weaknesses, and thus qualify them for exaltation. President George Q. Cannon said,
If any man or woman expects to enter into the celestial kingdom of our God without being tested to the very uttermost, they have not understood the Gospel. If there is a weak spot in our nature, or if there is a fibre that can be made to quiver or to shrink, we may rest assured that it will be tested. Our own weaknesses will be brought fully to light, and in seeking for help, the strength of our God will also be made manifest to us.[xii]
Our Education to Become Redeemers
As we know, the central work of God is redemption. Should we be surprised, then, that all aspects of this existence have redemption as their common denominator? This is not a sideline or hobby with God; neither should it be for us parents. If we will allow Him, God will actively teach and qualify us-we who once loved the work of redemption and wanted to be included in the redemptive order of Christ-to develop the power of redemption and become as He is-a Redeemer.
We cannot gain the power to redeem others without first having been redeemed. Likewise, our children are now given the opportunity to experience redemption. During their lives, they will sin and face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and each time they do, if they will come to Christ, they will experience deliverance and redemption, which will increase their capacity and desire to save others. Once we grasp this concept, we begin to understand why substantially every encounter that we have with God has to do with redemption.
Learning to Trust God
Trust in God is the ongoing theme of mortality. We never can escape it, although we may try to place our trust in someone or something we can see. Futilely, we sidle up to the influential and powerful, or we attempt to gather about us enough stuff to shelter us from life’s risks. Our wayward children often buy into this falsehood. But trust in Him, not in stuff, is what Heavenly Father wants them to develop.
Trust in God is redemptive trust-trust in His goodness; trust in His power; trust in His knowledge; trust in His love. To develop trust, which is essential to redemption, He will give them weakness[xiv] as a gift. Weakness will eventually humble them and draw them to Christ, whom they can trust to strengthen, deliver, and redeem them.
Perhaps then, beyond every other reason, God places our wayward children in a situation where only He can deliver them.[xv] They must learn to come to Him and trust Him. This is an important part of their earthly tutorial that is best learned in the blindness and harshness of mortality. Therefore, when we see our children bow under the weight of sin and ache with the agony of weakness, we are really observing the motions of redemption at work and the initiation of our children’s personal plan of salvation.
At such times, when we plead for divine intervention and do not perceive immediate response, we must not interpret the silence to mean that we have not been heard or that the plan is not working. Adam and Eve also prayed and waited; they trusted in God’s promise that He would hear their prayer; He had set in motion a process to answer it, but they did not know the details. They had no idea that their prayer had caused God to dispatch undetectable angels to assess the situation; they had no idea that these angels would become the agents of deliverance.[xvi] The implications of this revelation are sobering. Why else would the Lord explain this process to us in such detail if it were not a divine pattern that we could trust?
Trust in His Timing
To trust God is to trust God’s timing. Because He is perfect, His timing is perfect, and for us to urge Him to change His timing is to ask Him to cease to be perfect. Moreover, God’s timing is an act of mercy: God might determine to snatch a wayward child from further harm because He knows that the child will now respond favorably; or God might wait while He patiently works with a wayward child because He knows that the child is not yet ready. Premature snatching, after all, carries with it the obligation of repentance and a full change of heart. Because “fullness of knowledge brings the fullness of accountability,”[xvii] a wayward child could rebel against God, if he were not ready, and that would bring upon him condemnation-the last thing we would want to have happen.
“But our children are still rebelling and sinning!” we exclaim. “Are they lost?”
“Even if they are rebelling and sinning grossly?”
Even then, they are not lost.
Do Not Pass Premature Judgment
Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “I know of no sins connected with the moral standard for which we cannot be forgiven. I do not exempt abortion. The formula is stated in forty words: Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins-behold, he will confess them and forsake them'(D&C 58:42-43).
Clearly, except in the cases of shedding innocent blood (with full knowledge of light and truth) and sinning against the Holy Ghost, even the worst of wayward children are within the redeeming reach of a skilled and motivated Redeemer. We must refrain from passing judgment that God has not yet passed. We must not imagine our children’s eternal fate from our poor vantage point, imposing limitations on the Lord’s saving ability, and believing that all is lost. As Mormon instructed Moroni, our obligation is to continue reaching out no matter how hopeless the situation may seem[xix] and to leave all other issues, including timing, in God’s hands.
We must remember that our children’s waywardness was foreseen and planned for by the Father, and it was completely paid for and overcome by the Son. Therefore, there is divine opportunity waiting. From the scriptural accounts of Paul, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, Lamoni and his father, and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, we should know that God can and will reach out to every wayward soul when the time is right, and if they respond when He offers to redeem them, they will become powerful in working redemption in others. Until then, we are told that the “eye of the Shepherd is upon them,”[xx] and where there is much sin, the Lord offers, proportionately, much grace.
Nevertheless, once the Lord invites them out they must come out, stay out, and ascend. Catherine Thomas explains:
Paul wrote: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20-21). That is, the divine design made sin possible so that grace could abound . . . to deliver man from sin. But in Paul’s words, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Once the Lord comes for us in the midst of our descent, we are accountable for the knowledge that he imparts. We must ascend. As Joseph Smith taught, “When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned.” [Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 322][xxi]
Triumphing Over Our Enemies
Redemption comes down to this one truth that we hope we can someday convey to our children: the Holy Spirit is the key to happiness, and to lack the Holy Spirit is the source of misery. The devil will attempt to keep our children in ignorance about this truth. When the Lord reaches out and blesses them with this knowledge, salvation is at hand. Joseph Smith defined salvation this way: “Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. And when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world, and a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come, then we are saved.”[xxii]
Imagine the day when our children turn to Jesus Christ as Alma did. Then they will likewise experience the Lord’s grace as He helps them triumph over all their enemies and “put them under their feet,” never again to be afflicted by those evil spirits in this world or in the world to come. Then they will know as the Gods know good and evil,[xxiii] for engaging in a mortal experience and being redeemed was how the Gods also became Gods. First they experienced a Fall wherein they encountered evil and sinned, whereby they were redeemed, whereby they gained the desire and power to redeem others, whereby they were exalted. It is a process that none of us can escape. It is the process of true happiness.
Like Paul and Alma, our children are experiencing an important part of the process of salvation, and, like Paul and Alma, once they have completed it, they will be presented with a merciful option-to forsake their sinful ways, experience redemption, ascend from their fallen state, and bring others up with them. This is the pattern, and this, we have good cause to hope, will be their destiny.
This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Click here to learn more. Receive a free PDF copy of Portrait of a Zion Person: www.pillarsofzion.com. Follow our Internet missionary project: www.gospelideals.org. And LIKE us at www.Facebook.com/gospelideals
[xvi] See James E. Faust, “A Royal Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2006; Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 252, quoting John A. Widstoe, “Genealogical Activities in Europe,” 104; Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, 435.