When Cain was caught in his deception of denying the murder of his brother to get gain, he was cursed. He positioned himself in a mind frame of jealousy, hurt feelings, anger, and greed, which allowed Satan to tempt him and distract him from that which is right. Cain said, "Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid" (Moses 5:39). The Lord blessed him the best that He could by putting a curse on anyone who would slay Cain, but because of his sin, "Cain was shut out from the presence of the Lord" (Moses 5:41). Cain cried unto the Lord, "my punishment is greater than I can bear" (Moses 5:38).
Contrast the story of Cain to an experience of Elder Melvin J. Ballard. He related a dream he once had where he found himself in the temple. "After a season of prayer and rejoicing I was informed that I should have the privilege of entering into one of those rooms, to meet a glorious Personage, and, as I entered the door, I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious Being my eyes have ever beheld or that I ever conceived existed in all the eternal worlds. As I approached to be introduced, he arose and stepped toward me with extended arms, and he smiled as he softly spoke my name. If I shall live to be a million years old, I shall never forget that smile. He took me into his arms and kissed me, pressed me to his bosom, and blessed me, until the marrow of my bones seemed to melt! . . . I knelt at his feet, and, as I bathed them with tears and kisses, I saw the prints of the nails in the feet of the Redeemer of the world. The feeling that I had in the presence of him who hath all things in his hands, to have his love, his affection, and his blessing was such that if I ever can receive that of which I had but a foretaste, I would give all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, to feel what I then felt" (Exceptional Stories From the Lives of Early Apostles, p. 8).
The desire to return and be in the presence of the Savior and our Father in Heaven is a motivating force in the lives of the righteous. Whisperings of the Spirit share with us glimpses of feelings that remind us of who we really are and why we desire to be in the presence of Diety again.
A friend once told me that she felt the overwhelming craving for love in our lives is directly related to the spiritual memory of being in the presence of our Father in Heaven. Satan knows this and uses the physical, natural man to mislead and confuse us in our search for love and peace. However, to the mature and wise, the counterfeit emotions offered by Satan are realized and ignored; they are replaced by the peace and charity found through the voice of His Spirit to our spirit.
At the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus taught the Pharisees and others that if they did not follow him and accept him as their Savior, they would "die in [their] sins: whither I go, ye cannot come" (John 8:21). To those who believed on him, Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). By having a personal relationship with truth, or the Savior, He would free us from the sin that would keep us from returning to His presence and being free.
The Doctrine and Covenants states it this way: "Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am ye cannot come" (Doctrine and Covenants 25:15).
The Lord cannot bless us in our iniquity and unbelief. However, He is as merciful to us as he possibly can be. (Doctrine and Covenants 38:14) He succors us in our weakness and has provided a way for our escape from the effects of sin through His atonement. (1 Corinthians 10:13-16; 2 Nephi 9:10)
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith the Lord has taught us, "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:21).
Nephi taught that because of the fall of man, we "were cut off from the presence of the Lord" (2 Nephi 9:6). We have come to earth to learn and to make choices-and to learn from them. When we are brought to stand before the Lord in judgment at the last day, we will "have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness" (2 Nephi 9:14).
The laws of nature and nature's God have natural consequences. This is a natural punishment that must be enforced. The Lord cannot bless us contrary to the law or He ceases to be God. This natural "punishment," or more correctly, the holding back of the Lord's blessings, is the natural result of our choices. The Lord stands waiting to bless us, but He cannot do so if we do not choose to be blessed by our actions. If we choose to live contrary to the laws of God, the natural result will be denying us the blessings of eternal life in the presence of our Father in Heaven. The punishment of the Lord is nothing more than the denial of the Lord's blessings and receiving what we have earned.
We must choose to live with faith, hope and charity, willingly giving our will over to the Savior. Fear is of Satan. Therefore, obedience out of fear of punishment is also of Satan. As we learn the gospel and feel the love of the Lord through His Spirit, there is no fear of punishment, only sadness for our own lack of ability to fully do as the Lord desires. This sadness is replaced with peace as we strive to live the gospel, do the Savior's will, and increase our understanding of the atonement.
For those who choose to follow the Savior, the "infinite" atonement was provided through the wisdom and goodness of our Father in Heaven to provide a pathway for us to return to His presence. Nephi declares, "O how great the plan of our God!" (2 Nephi 9:13) as he describes the plan and urges us to follow the Savior to obtain the kingdom of God-for on the day of judgement the righteous shall "have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" (2 Nephi 9:14).
The reward of eternal life in the presence of God is nothing more than the natural results of our choices, combined with the fulfillment of the law through the Savior's atonement. No one has so lived that they can walk back into the presence of the Father on their own-it simply cannot be done because of the physical nature of our bodies. All have sinned before God, all are fallen from His presence. Overcoming physical weakness, sin, and death, can only be accomplished through the atonement of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder then that Nephi wrote, "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20).
May each of us "learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23).
Barton M. Golding