Understanding that the fall of Adam and Eve was both fortunate and necessary can have a powerful impact upon the lives of those who are experiencing adversity and affliction. Being able to correctly understand the doctrine of the fortunate fall and apply it personally is an important illustration of the principle taught by President Boyd K. Packer when he stated: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
One of the keys to appropriately using doctrine to change attitudes and behavior is to ensure that our understanding of the doctrine we are studying and teaching is correct. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that one of the keys to being able to exercise faith in God is that we must have “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections, and attributes.” This is especially true in relation to dealing with adversity and affliction. We must correctly understand what God would have us know concerning despair and death as well as hope and healing if we are to exercise faith meaningfully.
Terri Fisher Jensen, the mother of a teenage daughter who was in a life-altering car accident, wrote the following about the importance of teaching our children the true meaning of faith in confronting adversity:
“I worry when we sometimes teach our children that if they have enough faith, God will restore a lost dollar, a lost toy, or a lost school paper to them. What will they think when God does not restore a lost parent or sibling? Do we set them up to fail in their faith? We teach them the belief that faith is enough to get what they most want, when in fact, faith is being willing to trust what God wants, whatever that might be.
“I have spent a lot of time wondering why my faith was not enough to change things. What I have come to understand is that sometimes it takes more faith to accept things as they are than it does to change them. I have also come to understand that true faith is trusting God, even when it hurts desperately, even when we don’t feel equal to what is asked of us, even when we don’t seem to receive what we live for, even when we feel so alone, even when we don’t understand. With the gospel of Jesus Christ, we do not give up, give out, or give in. We endure and we trust with faith that we will someday understand. We strive to love God as Christ did and to trust in His perfect love for us.”
Sister Jensen knows of what she writes. On the morning of April 17, 1999, Emily Anne Jensen, Sister Jensen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, was driving to an early morning drama competition when her car was hit broadside by a fifteen-passenger van. Emily survived the accident but suffered serious brain trauma and other severe injuries. With the help of her family, friends, doctors, and others, and with her continuing faith in God, Emily made miraculous improvements. But even though the Jensens have witnessed many miracles, including Emily’s recent graduation from LDS Business College, it appears she may never (at least in this life) fully regain her former strengths and abilities.
Sister Jensen has observed that oftentimes people speak of “fairy tale endings” when sharing stories of adversity and affliction. But she is quick to add: “But that’s not how it is. . . . There have been so many days when I’ve wondered how we’d ever survive. I think people who struggle with challenges need to know that the battle goes on every day and must be fought with courage and honor and faith. We need to remind ourselves that God is allowing our faith to grow as we reach and stretch for Him.”