399. As the hardships of physical life are atonement for past faults and lessons for the future, can we infer the character of our prior existence from these variations?
“This is done frequently, since the nature of the atonement incurred always corresponds to the fault committed. Nevertheless, this should not be considered an absolute rule. Instinctive predispositions provide a more certain indication, as the trials suffered by a spirit are as much for the future as for the past.”
When a spirit has reached the end of its errant life assigned by God, it chooses the trials that it will suffer to accelerate its progress, meaning the kind of existence that it believes will most likely yield the means of advancing. The trials of this new life always correspond to the faults for which it must make amends. If the spirit succeeds in this new struggle, it rises and if it fails, that spirit must try again.
Spirits always possess free will. This free will allows them to choose the trials they elect to endure in the physical life, and as incarnates, in a human body, it allows them to deliberate whether they will do something or not, ultimately choosing between good and bad. To deny humanity’s free will would be to reduce human beings to the status of mere machines.
Upon returning to the physical life, a spirit temporarily forgets its past existences, as though a veil hid them. Sometimes it manages to grasp a vague perception of them, and they may be revealed under certain circumstances, but this only occurs if decided by higher spirits. They spontaneously make this revelation for some useful end, and never solely for satisfying idle curiosity.
A spirit’s future lives can never be revealed during the physical life, because these future lives are dependent upon the manner in which the spirit lives its present existence and the choices it makes.
Temporary unawareness of the faults it has committed is no obstacle to a spirit’s improvement because the knowledge the spirit had of them when in the errant state and the desire it felt to repair them guide it intuitively, inspiring that spirit to resist evil temptations. This is the voice of its conscience and is supported by the spirits who assist it, if it follows their suggestions.
Although incarnates do not exactly know their former actions, they always know the kind of faults they have been guilty of committing and the dominant aspects of their characters. They only need to study themselves in order to know what they have been, not by what they are now, but by their predispositions.
The trials of physical life are both atonements for past faults and trials designed to make us better for the future. They purify and elevate, provided that we submit to them. The nature of the trials and tribulations that we have to endure may also enlighten us in regard to what we have been and what we have done, just as we deduce the crimes of a convict based on the penalty given to him by law. Thus, those who have sinned by pride are punished by the humiliation of an inferior standing, the self-indulgent and greedy by poverty, the hard-hearted by the cruelties they will suffer, tyrants by slavery, bad sons by the ingratitude of their own children, the idle by subjection to hard and relentless labor, and so on.