A talk given by Daniel Theobald of the Cambridge 1st Ward. Daniel is a roboticist and entrepreneur.
The purpose of existence is joy. We exist, “that we might have joy,” We are taught this in 2 Ne 2:25 which reads “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” According to Elder Oaks in his talk on Joy and Misery this is one of the greatest of all of God’s revelations ever given to his children here on earth. Notice that this scripture didn’t say, Men are that they might be right. Joy is the purpose, not rightness. (October 1991 General Conference)
When might we have joy? We are that we might have it, but when? Some may believe that real joy is something to be granted to us in the after life as a reward from our benevolent maker. An externally bestowed trophy for learning truth, and then suffering through the consequences of living by it. That we are to sacrifice our lives as martyrs in a negative “do what is right let the consequence follow” sort of way. We have to realize that the battle spoken of in this song is with ourselves, our vanity and our pride, not with others, and that when we do right, the consequences, or fruits of doing right will be good.
The potential to misinterpret the gospel reminds me of an elder’s quorum lesson I heard while visiting my sister’s ward a few months ago. The lesson was on honesty. The the teacher’s thesis was that we are required to be 100% honest. He gave two examples: First, “If your wife asks you if she looks fat in that dress, you need to be honest and tell her yes, and it is up to her how she will respond to that.” I have a pretty good idea how she might respond, and there will likely be substantial misery involved for both. His second example was that “we need to just tell our non-Mormon friends that our church is true and theirs is wrong, because that is what it means to be 100% honest, and it is up to them how they decide to respond.” My guess is that they will almost certainly respond by no longer being your friend. I pray that we will not be so foolish as to put our rightness or our self-righteous honesty about our rightness above our joy, and more importantly, the joy of others, or it will be a stumbling block for many.
The prophet Gordon B. Hinkley corrects this type of folly by teaching us: “In all of living have much of fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” We are to have joy, real joy, now, not just after death. (“Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign, May 1996, 91.)
I want you to notice two things about what he says. First, notice that this isn’t a casual invitation to have some fun, rather he is expressing a commandment from God for us to have joy. Second, he doesn’t say “If you are lucky you might be able to enjoy life,” and he doesn’t say “Every now and then you might be able to enjoy life,” He says we are to do it “in all of living.” He is saying we should have joy in all we do.
Of course there is no denying that a significant part of life is suffering and there are times that simply require that we endure. My wife just lost her brother last week, as did her close friend Anna. (By the way, thank you all for the help while Debbie has been away, it is very much appreciated.)
We all lost Wilbur who was a dear friend to many of us here. There is no doubt that these recently passed suffered much discomfort, pain, and uncertainty, and their loved ones suffered with them. But even in these times of sorrow we are commanded to have joy.
In a recent talk in this ward, a profound person made a profound statement that in our Heavenly Father joy and sorrow can coexist simultaneously. That like him, we can feel sorrow for the pain in the world, and yet at that very moment also have joy. But how do we do it? How are we to have joy?
Joy will not come from wealth, power, fame, academic achievement, career growth, peer acceptance, nor recognition from those in power. Joy will not come from achieving the next level in a video game, nor spending hours watching that tv series, movie, or sports.
Joy will not come from reading that entertaining novel, surfing the web, nor satisfying our lusts. Joy will not come from expensive cars nor large, fancy houses.
Joy will not come from a cleaned house, achievement of fitness or weight goals, a bountiful vegetable garden nor a prolific beehive.
Joy does not come from daily scripture study, and not even from church attendance. Such things help us learn to have joy, but can’t inherently cause joy themselves if we don’t act on them. If we read scriptures and go to church but stop there, it is like reading the recipe again and again but never making the bread. We must do something.
Joy does not come from from being right. Joy comes from doing right. It is far more important to do right than to be right; and what does it mean to do right? The right that matters is doing right by others. This is what Jesus taught by his words and deeds. The Pharisees were very worried about being right, but had little interest in doing right. To what extent am I being like a Pharisee is an important question we should all ask ourselves? Worrying about being right can be a huge obstacle to doing right. It can be a beam in our eye, that is keeping us from seeing the right thing to do.
If we would honestly listen to the spirit, we would feel the prompting that the vast majority of things that we worry about simply don’t matter at best, and at worst are extremely destructive to our joy and the joy of others. We need to learn to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and let go of the pride that leads us to be judgmental of our brothers and sisters. Unrighteous judgment comes from focusing on being right, while selfless service is doing right. Doing right is usually simple, we almost always inherently know how we should treat others, yet many times justify ourselves or confuse the issue as we focus on being right.
It is far more important to do right than to be right. As we do right by others, with no expectation of reward, or even like treatment in return, we will have joy. We will learn that we can have joy despite all the sorrow and challenges on this earth, and that we can do it in “all of living” as we are commanded.
We will find that our joy in life, and in the eternities will be directly determined by the good we do to others. This is what Jesus taught, and we should have fun and laughter while doing it as revealed by the prophet. Taking ourselves or this life too seriously can hinder our progress towards becoming joyful beings.
I had a vision the other day. I was sitting on the side of a playground watching the numerous kids run around. They were running, and laughing, singing, and sliding, hitting, pulling hair, stealing toys, kicking sand at each other, helping each other and hurting each other, getting injured, and crying with all the anguish a little person can muster. There were parents calling their children home.
We are these children. We are on the playground of life. We think we are mature and understand things, but our understanding is nascent at best. These toys, the playground equipment, our lives, our families, our homes, our friends, our enemies, our careers, our nations, our wars, all part of a playground. All designed for the sole purpose of letting us play and giving us experience. None of it really matters, except for the one thing that does. We need to learn the one simple lesson. Hopefully we will learn it despite all of the distractions. Hopefully we will learn it before our parents call us home. It is that joy– the very purpose of our existence-comes from doing right.
It is far better to do right than to be right, and it is a good thing because our chances of being right are very small. We literally don’t know anything when measured on the eternal scale, we are all babbling infants. However, we do feel, and know deep in our souls that treating others– all others–with the same love and compassion that Christ showed us is how we do right, its how we build Zion. Our joy in this life and in the eternities will be determined by the right we do, and we only do right when we do good.