We live in a world where everyone wants rewards: rebates, prizes, freebies, handouts, and so on. More and more, people want rewards for less effort. We don't want to work for our income. We don't want to buy something before winning a prize. We want excuses to get us out of punishment. Consequence is a dirty word. Some reading I've done of late, and a realization I had some time back have finally come together into the understanding that we're getting rewarded all the time. We just don't realize it (and a lot of us aren't going to like it when we finally do realize it–which is inevitable).
In mortality, the things we think of as rewards are distinct from the acts which earn them. And therein lies the problem. We go to work, we come home with money. We go to the store and hand over our money in exchange for something yummy or fun. We then trade our time for the experience of consuming the yummy or fun thing. But the money doesn’t last. The yummy is soon gone. The fun is soon boring. That’s the nature of mortality–things don’t last. This leads us to want more (if it doesn’t last, the only option is to get something else and use it up too). But since earning requires effort (and generally isn’t perceived as fun), we tend to want more for less. Thus the deceptive cycle traps us (if we let it) into seeking temporary rewards (all the while, earning rewards we’re going to regret later).
But I want infinite rewards (we all do). To get the good ones, though, requires considering eternity, which seems a long ways away (and which most of us hope is even farther away than it is). The first thing to realize in our quest for infinite rewards is that we’re already in eternity. That we can’t remember eternity past or imagine eternity future doesn’t change the fact that now is part of eternity. Realizing this should make us aware of the fact that mortality is both short and unique. The uniqueness can be summed up with this catchphrase: You can’t take it with you (where “it” is a mortal object). In other words, forget the rewards of mortality; they won’t last.
Which brings us to the rewards of eternity. To understand the difference, you have to turn your brain rightside up (thinking the world’s way turns your brain upside down). Few things will turn your brain around faster or more completely than reading the writings of Hugh Nibley:
“If every choice I make expresses a preference, if the world I build up is the world I really love and want, then with every choice I am judging myself, proclaiming all the day long to God, angels, and my fellowmen where my real values lie, where my treasure is, the things to which I give supreme importance. Hence, in this life every moment provides a perfect and foolproof test of your real character, making this life a time of testing and probation.”
--Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 9: Approaching Zion
The rewards of eternity are not physical objects:
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
Doctrine and Covenants 81:6 And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.
There won’t be a Rolls Royce parked in the driveway of that mansion (there won’t even be a driveway).
2 Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
You won’t find gold, jewels or velvet in any of those crowns. (And I don’t want to list the other sort of reward (a. k. a. punishment).)
If you’re still thinking of a mansion or a crown (even figurative) separate and distinct from the actions which justify the grace which gives them (and they will be gifts), then your brain isn’t quite rightside up yet. Allow Alma to help you put it right (he's teaching his son about the resurrection, which restores):
Alma 41:13-14 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
“..if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward..” If your brain isn’t rightside up, you might read that and think “doing these things” is part one, “your reward” is part two. But as soon as your brain is correctly oriented, you will discover that there’s only one part. Let’s lay them out side by side to see the truth:
|if ye do all these things||then shall ye receive your reward|
|see that you are merciful unto your brethren||ye shall have mercy restored unto you|
|deal justly||ye shall have justice restored unto you|
|judge righteously||ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you|
|do good continually||ye shall have good rewarded unto you again|
As Nibley says, "Hence, in this life every moment provides a perfect and foolproof test of your real character..." The act is the reward. Be merciful and you will become the sort of being who is merciful. Do good and you will become the sort of being who is good. That is the secret to infinite rewards. In the eternities, where all things are eternal and infinite, thought, feeling, action, and desire are their own reward:
Doctrine and Covenants 88:40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.
Of course, the opposites are also true: greed cleaveth unto greed; ignorance cleaveth unto ignorance; lies embrace lies; cruelty is cruel to its own; and so on. As soon as we understand this (have our brains rightside up), the truth stated in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, takes on its true meaning. We can spend eternity longing for things which don’t exist there (TV, movies, books, games, toys, money, boats, cars, ATVs, fame, influence, power, etc.) and feeling things that really aren't pleasant (this is known as hell); or we can spend it filled with the things which do exist there without limits (intelligence, wisdom, truth, virtue, light, mercy, justice, judgement). That is commonly referred to as heaven.
As Nibley explains, we’re making our choice right now.