It was one of those scriptures that stops me from time to time: not so much because it says something overtly pleasant or instantly impactful, but more because it is like an itch that I suddenly can't scratch.
I have grown to recognize this as the Spirit's way of telling me to stop moving, slow down, and think on what has just passed before my eyes.
Accordingly, I re-read it:
In this scripture, the Savior is speaking to John and Peter. To John, he has just finished saying that he (John) will be granted his desire of tarrying until the Savior's return in power and grace. John would thereby become "as flaming fire and a ministering angel," to minister to the "heirs of salvation" until Christ's Second Coming.
And to Peter? The Lord had said that he, too, would be granted his desire: to live out his life, then return to Christ in Heaven.
It might be noted that at this point, I having paused, my wife immediately spoke up and said how much she would prefer John's blessing and wouldn't I love that, too. I responded "No way, I want to get to Heaven asap." "But," she responded, "think of how amazing it would be to live as John lives, to have that power and do that kind of work!" "Nope," I said. "Heaven. Now. Me."
I suppose this says a lot about her level of dedication to the Lord versus mine.
At any rate, while we were having this mini-discussion, I continued reading the verse in question over and over, and at last it struck me. The thing that had captured my attention on a spiritual level was the fact that Christ said that both men would have what they desired, and then gave a very specific reason for it, to wit:
So they got what they wanted... because they liked it?
But no, not merely that, for we know that joy is beyond merely "liking" something. One of the definitions of the Oxford English Dictionary for joy is as follows:
And bliss in that same tome is defined thus:
So joy becomes much more than a mere liking of something: it becomes an actual state of being, of blessedness, of perfection. But this then, raises an issue: if we must have joy to receive a blessing, and a blessing requires joy, which is some state of perfection, then how can we hope to have any blessings at all?
The answer comes in Romans 5:11:
Joy comes through God through Jesus Christ. So let us now wrap back around to our original scripture, D&C 7:8:
Peter and John were promised that they would have the things they most craved; most sought after, because they had joy in those things. They had pleasure, they had blessing, they received a measure of atonement in pursuit of those things. Atonement, the process by which one is brought closer to God the Father, the means by which the gap between ourselves as doomed souls and the Lord as Perfect Man is bridged. We receive that which will bring us joy, which will bring us atonement, which will bring us closest to God.
This last has amazing ramifications. Many of us are aware of them peripherally, but when I really think about them, I am awestruck. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is credited with the philosophy that "Everything happens for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds" (or at least with its precedent concepts; for a more thorough description of this philosopher's works, click here). Modern philosophers and scholars have serious problems with this, the easiest and most wide-spread being that this cannot possibly be the case: if this is the best possible world, then a) God is constrained somehow, and b) we have the small problem of the evil clearly rampant in our world... how to explain it?
But those explanations are easily supplied when one considers that only those things are given to us which will provide to us the opportunity of atonement. For some this may mean an angelic visitation while on the road to sin or at least serious misunderstanding in the name of righteousness, as was the case with Alma the younger and Paul/Saul of Tarsus, respectively. Both of them were struck down by their heavenly visitor. Both of them underwent change that brought them closer to Christ. Both of them thereby received a measure of atonement.
Others, however, would not react so well to such visitors; they might require the humbling experience of a congenital disease, of a loss in income, of a tragedy caused by the "evil" actions of others. That there is evil is not denied, nor is it contradicted by the axiom that everything does happen for the best, if one interprets that not as meaning that we will be granted our every whim (I have yet to be covered in gold and discover a recipe for no-calorie chocolate), but as meaning that at every single moment of our lives the Lord stands ready to accept us and willing to aid us in our walk to him, then surely there could be no better world. For a world where the infinite joy - and there it is again - of eternal life at our Father's side is always a possibility that we may take advantage of - is indeed the best of all possible worlds. For what better world could there be, than one which leads to Paradise for anyone who wishes to go there?
And as for the rest, for those who do not make the requisite choices to achieve atonement - not only in this life, but in the life hereafter, for as we know there shall be at least some post-mortal activity and corresponding judgment for many - then it can be argued that this is still the best possible world for them. For in choosing not to be close to the Lord, they are demonstrating that they have not joy in His presence. Indeed, Joseph Smith made quite clear in his writings that to the wicked the glory of Heaven would be as destroying fire. So the level of atonement - that is to say, the relative closeness of that person to the bliss of the Lord - is what they are most comfortable with, and where they will find the greatest measure of joy.
How, then, may we find our desires fulfilled?
Simply? By making sure our desires are those of the Lord. And this does not mean that we must restrict our desires to hoping that the orphans are cared for and the widows given shelter (though this should be part of what we want). We can also desire our own personal spiritual, physical, financial, social, and emotional well-being. And this is not selfishness: the Lord desires to give us all things in the end; to make us co-heirs with Christ and recipients of all he possesses. Will He begrudge us a desire to get a raise of a few dollars at work (or to have work at all in these trying times), when in the end He intends to impart to us all the riches of the universe? Such a concept makes no sense.
The caveat is always that the desire must line up with the righteousness of the Lord. May I desire to be a millionaire and sincerely do so with the hope that I may help others and provide that money to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior? Yes. And will that righteous desire be given? Absolutely. Either that or the Lord will communicate that such a desire will in fact have unforeseen side effects (He sees farther than we do, after all), and that we should shift our focus elsewhere. Either way, we will receive what we desire, because we have joy - a measure of atonement - in that desire.
May we reasonably expect the millions to flow from God's grace and bounty so that we may provide ourselves with a big-screen TV and a house upon a hill? The converse answer to the above: no. Unless this will be the best course that God sees to bring us as close as possible (i.e., as close as we will permit) to Him.
We must find joy in our desires. We must desire atonement from our wishes. And when our wishes align with the avenue that will lead us closest to God, then, like Peter and like Paul, our desires will - must - be fulfilled.