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Question

 

Dear Gramps,

Does God already know what we will choose, and who will go to the Celestial Kingdom? It seems to me he does; he knows our thoughts (that’s why we can pray silently), and knows us perfectly, and thus already knows what we will choose. Elder Talmage seems to suggest such in his book, Jesus the Christ, in the chapter on agency.

Thanks,

Elder Anonymous

 

Answer

 

Dear Elder Anonymous,

Perhaps you are referring to this passage:

“Our Heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of His children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. By reason of that surpassing knowledge, God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 29.)

Yes, I would agree with you that Heavenly Father knows what we will do.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a great talk on this subject as well.  He said:

“Another helpful analogy for students is the reality that universities can and do predict with a high degree of accuracy the grades entering students will receive in their college careers based upon certain tests and past performances. If mortals can do this with reasonable accuracy (even with our short span of familiarity and with finite data), God the Father, who knows us perfectly, surely can foresee how we will respond to various challenges.”  A More Determined Discipleship

Elder Maxwell points out that this foreknowledge is a sign of God’s love for us:

“The combined doctrine of God’s foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads “least traveled by.” Yet it clearly underlines how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities.”

This foreknowledge helps Heavenly Father in his work of our salvation.  Elder Maxwell explains it this way:

“Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously—even though we do not understand how—then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly. For instance, it was necessary for God to know how the economic difficulties and crop failures of the Joseph Smith, Sr. family in New England would move this special family to the Cumorah vicinity where the Book of Mormon plates were buried. God’s plans could scarcely have so unfolded if—willy-nilly—the Smiths had been born Manchurians and if, meanwhile, the plates had been buried in Belgium!”

It is important to understand that while God knows what will happen, He does not cause it.  We have our agency to choose. The fact that our choices do not surprise Heavenly Father doesn’t change that.  Elder Maxwell explains it this way:

“There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas. God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.

 

“God foresaw, but did not cause, Martin Harris’s loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; God made plans to cope with failure over 1,500 years before it was to occur! (See preface to D&C 10 and W of M)

 

“Thus, foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism, or arrogance, or the abuse of agency. It is not, however, a doctrine that can be ignored simply because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price.”

 

Some may ask, if God knows what we will do, why do we have to go through this life at all?  There is more than one possible answer to that question.  The first Elder Maxwell explains simply: “While we often do not rise to our opportunities, God is neither pleased nor surprised. But we cannot say to him later on that we could have achieved had we just been given the chance! This is all part of the justice of God.”

Another reason we need to come to earth and have these experiences is for our growth.  Depending on how long you have been serving your mission, you may already have noticed the growth that comes from this experience (if you haven’t yet, you will if you serve faithfully).  There are lessons that we learn by having these earthly experiences that we could not learn in any other way.  I’ll close by encouraging you to read the entire talk by Elder Maxwell.  There is far more information to be gleaned there than I have been able to share here.  I’ll end with this:

“When, in situations of stress, we wonder if there is any more in us to give, we can be comforted to know that God, who knows our capacities perfectly, placed us here to succeed. No one was foreordained to fail or to be wicked. When we have been weighed and found wanting, let us remember that we were measured before and were found equal to our tasks; and therefore, let us continue but with a more determined discipleship. When we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the assurance that God will not overprogram us; he will not press upon us more than we can bear (see D&C 50:40).”

 

Gramps

 

 

 

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