Have you ever wondered why people become cynical, bitter, or resentful? It happens quite frequently, and I think understanding its cause (whether in others or ourselves) will help us know how to best approach it.
Here’s my best estimation:
As I covered in a previous video, we can overlay each spiritual journey in 2 or 3 major phases, mirroring the “three pillars of eternity”: Creation, Fall, and Atonement.
The first phase is akin to the Garden of Eden, or childhood. We exist inside the circle, where everything we’re aware of makes sense (as we understand it). We feel safe inside our bubble, not generally aware of all the evil and complexity of the outside world. This is Simba as a cub at Pride Rock, or Luke Skywalker living a casual life on Tatooine. It’s care free, and perhaps a bit naïve.
This first phase does not last forever, and at some point (sooner or later), every person is forced out of the Garden. Within Adam and Eve’s context, they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were “opened.” Increased knowledge opened their eyes, or made them aware, to the fact that their world is not all they thought it was. Mufassa is killed in a conspiracy more complex than Simba could even comprehend, and Luke similarly finds himself in the middle of something he wasn’t prepared for. Because their eyes have been opened, they can no longer remain in Eden; their world is spinning, everything seems like chaos.
The journey is essentially complete when the hero conquers the new chaos. Simba defeats Scar and reclaims Pride Rock; Luke defeats the Emperor and frees the galaxy, etc. Greater peace and prosperity is enjoyed by all as the hero connects with his true identity.
Whether or not people directly involve God, this process is always spiritual at its core. Peace of mind, security, order, chaos, and reconciliation are all spiritual concerns. We enjoy movies and books for the same reason the ancients were enthralled by myths – something about them resonates with the deep truths of our soul.
This three-act pattern can be found on many different levels. On perhaps the most general scale, these three states represent our pre-mortality, morality, and resurrection. Our imperfect, mortal, bodies separate us from God. As we submit the flesh to the Spirit, we are reconciled to Him and will come forth triumphant in the first resurrection.
On a smaller scale, this can happen when a child enters adolescence and becomes “self-conscious” about how they look to their peers, or when someone encounters the pain of a personal trial, like betrayal, or losing a loved one. It can happen when someone encounters information that causes them to question their faith, or even when receiving a commandment they don’t want to keep. Whatever it is, the result is the same: we become aware of something that we didn’t know, and it temporarily separates us from God.
There are, in reality, only two states of being: harmony with God, and disharmony with God. In a “Fall” stage we’re in disharmony, cut off from His presence (spiritually and physically), and in a state of death. When we are reconciled to His light, we are in a state of life. The end of one cycle is the beginning of another (note the similarity between “Creation” and “Re-Creation”).
Bitterness, Arrogance, and Resentment
The reason anyone becomes bitter or resentful is because they learn something that they don’t know how to reconcile. In other words, they get stuck in a fall state, which causes them to gradually lose greater and greater light.
Sometimes this happens because someone is exposed to too much chaos at a young age. Before they can even get their bearings in the world, their parents get divorced, a family member dies, or they suffer abuse from the very people they’re counting on for security.
Sometimes it happens because, even later in life, they don’t know how to reconcile severe trials. Sometimes they discover cracks in the foundations of their values and beliefs. Their eyes are opened. In some sense, they learn that Eden isn’t everything they thought it was; there are snakes in the garden.
Our response to greater knowledge and awareness is crucial. We must not allow the chaos to make us bitter or arrogant. Many people who do become cynical grow in hatred for those who seem happy and full of faith. They see them as naïve, and believe that the only reason they’re not miserable is because they’re ignorant of reality. They want to pop everyone’s “bubble,” and sometimes make it their life mission to do so. Like Satan, they seek that “all men might be miserable like unto [themselves]” (2 Nephi 2:27). This hatred for life and faith is the spirit of the Devil.
If you find that new knowledge (or awareness) has made you resentful to people who don’t have it in any way, you are being influenced by an evil spirit. If you allow that knowledge to lift you up in pride, or to cause you to think you are better than others, you are under an influence contrary to life. In short, if you use that knowledge for anything other than increasing your faith in Christ, it will work against you.
To those who increase in learning, Jacob warns: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish” (2 Nephi 9:28).
We must at all times maintain a spirit of humility and love. It is often our tendency to judge or criticize ourselves or others when we learn we have erred in something. This can be good if our criticism drives us to repentance, but we must guard against the temptation to use our new knowledge as sledgehammer to condemn those who have not learned what we have; to play the role of accuser is to play the part of Satan.
It is often the case that until we repent and reconcile our hearts back to light, love, and the Spirit, that we cannot even properly understand what we have been made aware of. As is depicted in the “Fall” diagram above, just because our awareness expands does not mean that we have made sense of it all. Only when we surrender to the light will everything be put in order.
The Savior descended below it all so that He could stand as a witness and comforter for every single person, no matter how severe their pain. He experienced all of these things in the flesh so that we could have faith in His ability to heal us. He has overcome the world.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12; cf. D&C 88:6).
We can have perfect faith in Him knowing that He knows the depth of our pain and alienation, and can bring us back into a state of reconciliation.
As time passes in a “Fall” state, our alienation from life and love grows from a smaller degree to a greater one. Time can make many people bitter and resentful: we get set in our ways, become hardened, and lose the joy and inspiration of childhood. The Savior’s injunction to become as a little child becomes especially meaningful in this context (Mosiah 3:19; 3 Nephi 9:22). He invites us to return to that place of childlike trust, assuring us that He has all of the light and truth pertinent to our reality. There is nothing He has not experienced and conquered. He has put all things under His feet, emanating love and life still. He is worthy and deserving of all of our faith.
The only real remedial course in these situations is to come unto Him with our whole heart and soul, in light of the things we’ve learned/experienced. He is the one that puts us into these situations, precisely so that we may learn to align ourselves with Him, and from Him become empowered to overcome the world. As we surrender all things to His will, His greater light will heal that which is broken in us, be it heartache, confusion, fear, doubt, cynicism, anger, or pride. He will order our chaos.
As we repeat this cycle with intentionality, we will find that the interval between each “Fall” and subsequent “Re-Creation” phase gets shorter and shorter, until at we arrive at the point where there is nothing God can reveal that would cause our faith to waiver; we will be immediately reconciled to His light. When we arrive at this point, our faith is perfect, and we are prepared to inherit the kingdom of God (or, all that He has) (2 Nephi 9:23; cf. D&C 84:38).
Nephi so testified: “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).