A friend and I were recently discussing our different views about life. He does not consider himself to be religious. His family and upbringing were not religious at all, although he was raised in a loving home and taught good values. I, on the other hand, was raised in a devoutly religious environment and have adhered to my faith for my entire life.
My friend sees some things that he likes about the lives of members of my church. Specifically, he admires the importance placed on families and on strengthening marriages and families. He is not interested in what he perceives as all the rules and restrictions that our faith places upon us.
In our most recent conversation on the subject, he expressed that since I had never had the kind of life that he does, free from such restrictions, I don't know what I'm missing. I, of course, responeded that he doesn't know what he's missing! He is content with his life and sees no need for more than what he has.
I have been thinking a lot about our discussion since, and came up with my own analogy to explain to him the difference as I see it. We'll call it the parable of the candy bar. Most of you will find this to work for you, although McArthur, Nicolette, and Erika (who don't like chocolate,) will have to adjust the analogy a bit!
It is possible to have a good life without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly if you espouse principles in common with Christianity such as helping others, honesty, kindness, loyalty, etc. People all over the world can testify of that. I will liken these lives to the insides of a candy bar. In the Snickers bar pictured above, the nougat, nuts, and caramel might represent a very good life without the Gospel. But there is something missing; in the candy bar, that something is chocolate. Chocolate adds richness, greater flavor, depth, and dimension to the candy bar. It elevates the candy experience beyond that of nougat, nuts, and caramel alone.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the chocolate on the candy bar of my life. It enriches my life, it gives me an understanding of the purpose of life, it helps me to have perspective beyond the here and now, and gives me the opportunity to experience true, lasting happiness. This happiness is greater than that which can be attained without the Gospel because of the peace that comes through the atonement of Christ.
The "restrictions," or commandments, are given for our benefit and our happiness. If we keep the law of chastity, we can avoid the pain and anguish of out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and infidelity. In addition, our monogamous relationships within marriage are enhanced by the fact that intimacy is something that we share exclusively with our spouses. If we keep the Word of Wisdom (the law of health, which calls for us to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, coffee, and tea,) we can be free of addiction and can avoid being driven by the substances that would enslave us and compromise our judgment. If we pay tithing, we are blessed both temporally and spiritually, and we learn to be unselfish and less materialistic. I could go on, but the point is that the chocolate couldn't be without the commandments. The joy would not be complete without the blessings that come from obedience to God's will.
The scriptures are full of counsel to be happy and guidance for how this can be achieved:
"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God." (Mos. 2:41)
"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Prov. 29:18)
"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." (John 13:17)
“[God] never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of His law and ordinances. "--Joseph Smith, Jr. ( History of the Church, 5:135. )
"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God"--Joseph Smith, Jr. (HC 5:13435).
The long and the short of it is that God intends for us to be happy in this life as well as the next. True and lasting happiness is found in coming unto Christ and in obedience to His commandments. If you're only eating the nougat, caramel, and nuts, you're not getting the whole Snickers Bar!