When asked why life is hard, the Sunday school teachers of my youth replied, “Life is a test. It’s supposed to be hard.” The scriptures support the life-as-test perspective — a “probationary state” where we “prove” ourselves.
Of course, if life is a test, then that means it’s designed to prepare us for what comes next. We test medical students on anatomy (as opposed to, say, Russian grammar) because knowing anatomy will help them after they’ve graduated.
So if I can be justified in taking the life-as-test perspective seriously, perhaps I can draw some inferences about the next life by our experiences in this life. What are we being tested on here? In other words, what kinds of hardships do we experience in life, and how can they prepare us for what is to come? Here are the major ones that come to mind for me, and the ways we address them:
- Want — managing limited resources to meet needs effectively
- Contention and Loneliness — building constructive relationships through kindness, patience, wisdom, love, and effective communication
- Pain — learning to avoid suffering through preparation and wise decision making
- Ignorance — planning for the unknown future by extrapolating based on our limited knowledge and experience
- Emptiness and Fruitlessness — finding meaning by coming to know God, engaging in rewarding work, and living in accordance with eternal principles
- Confusion — understanding the world through study, experience, reflection, and analysis
So if want, contention, loneliness, pain, ignorance, emptiness, fruitlessness, and confusion are some of the trials we face in this life, and if this life is a test where God is preparing us for the life to come, then I imagine that the skills we gain in facing these trials will be valuable to us in the next life.
How does that affect our concept of heaven? We teach heaven as a place without want, without pain, without ignorance. Perhaps this vision is true only to the extent that we learn the lessons in the life that God has prepared for us here. If heaven is a place without need for resourcefulness, wisdom, patience, and planning, then why would God design a test that teaches those very things? If God will provide for all my needs in His celestial abode, then why did He have me go to the trouble of learning to provide for myself and for my family?