In the apologetic mud-sling about authority and whatnot, one common topic that comes up is whether or not the modern lds apostles are actually apostles. A common concern is whether or not they have seen Christ, as it seems was a requirement in the New Testament church. Elder Oaks recently denied this standard applies to the lds apostles in the “Boise Rescue.”
One example or evidence of their collective divine calling is to use Elder Orson F. Whitney, who claimed to have a dream where he saw Christ. The church has recently (in 2003) reprinted the original 1926 article by him here. It’s a good read and I recommend it. I believe it was a true dream and from God.
But when you read the article, you realize that Elder Whitney was not an apostle at the time of the dream but a 21 year old missionary. So his “special witness” was obtained as a lay member rather than a paid apostle. So the story actually serves as an example of Christ manifesting himself to those without the cloak of authority (albeit in a dream).
Also, he petitioned Christ for a guarantee of his salvation and was denied the request. So at that point, young Orson F. Whitney’s calling and election had not been made sure. I don’t know if he later claimed to have received that blessing at a later time.
I want to propose an alternate interpretation of “the plan of salvation”, using the scriptures of the restoration and quotes from Joseph Smith. There are scriptures which seem to contradict this or that point. I am not ignorant of that. I believe that a lot of our journey for truth consists of wrestling with paradoxes and contradictions. This will not be the traditional, linear LDS presentation (tracking from a pre-existence to mortality to 1 of 3 (or 4) permanent after-life destinations).
There is no “pre-existence“. “Pre-mortal existence” may be a more accurate title for the start of our journey, but it too is limited and carriers the baggage of decades of Primary conditioning which I believe should be discarded.
As Joseph Smith taught in the King Follet funeral discourse: “The first principles of man are self existent with God” (from Times and Seasons, August 15, 1844). Rather than man being a created spirit-child of God the Father, Joseph Smith taught in the same discourse that “God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself: intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.”
But then how or where or when did man come to be? If we are self-existent with God, then the former question is actually the same as asking how or where or when did God come to be? Apparently the answer to both questions is the same. I apologize for discarding the commonly held celestial-coitus-spiritual-conception-theory. To my knowledge these questions are not answered in either the scriptures of the restoration or quotes from Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith instead chose in the King Follet funeral discourse to give us this image to meditate upon: “I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning.” Cutting the ring in two would destroy its eternal nature. Giving it a beginning, also gives it an end. [An aside: you can actually buy reproductions of Joseph Smith’s ring, here and other places]
Apparently, you can’t map your existence on a piece of paper, with a neat start and end (not unless you tape the ends together).
Abraham 3:21 records how “[the Lord] came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.” God was required to “come down” to visit us before our probationary state. Implicit in this statement is that there was a separation between us and God, which required him to condescend to dwell in our midst. This provides a different image than being nurtured by the side of our heavenly parents. I apologize to fans of Eliza R. Snow’s poetry.
These “intelligences” or spirits “were organized before the world was.” We think about a judgment as an organizing event after we have been tested in this life, but we find ourselves already organized before we come here. How did we find ourselves so situated? The Lord reminds us: “remember that all my judgments are not given unto men” (D&C 29:30).
Additionally, Joseph Smith taught that “before foundation of the earth in the grand counsel that the spirits of all men were subject to oppression and the express purpose of God in giving it a tabernacle was to arm it against the power of darkness” (19 January 1841 – McIntire Minute Book, spelling corrected). Not only were we separated from God, but we were also subject to oppression from the power of darkness.
In a meeting on 21 May 1842, Joseph Smith taught about our previous condition:
As man is liable to enemies there, as well as here, it is necessary for him to be placed beyond their power in order to be saved. This is done by our taking bodies (keeping our first estate) and having the Power of the Resurrection pass upon us whereby we are enabled to gain the ascendancy over the disembodied spirits. (recorded by Franklin D. Richards, spelling corrected)
This same lecture was recorded by others as such:
The design of God before the foundation of the world was that we should take tabernacles that through faithfulness we should overcome and thereby obtain a resurrection from the dead – in this wise obtain glory, honor, power, and dominion. For this thing is needful, inasmuch as the spirits in the eternal world glory in bringing other spirits in subjection unto them, striving continually for the mastery. (Howard and Martha Coray Notebook, spelling corrected)
We, as spirits before this life, found ourselves subject to other spirits who had ascended above us and made themselves our masters. God “came down” (as Abraham records) to place us “beyond their power in order to be saved.” In the King Follet funeral discourse, Joseph Smith taught that God “saw proper to institute laws, whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like Himself, that they might have one glory upon another, in all that knowledge, power, and glory, etc., in order to save the world of spirits.”
Simply by being delivered from these oppressors, God was bringing salvation to us. God came down to “save the world of spirits” (we are unaccustomed to speaking of the “pre-mortal life” in these terms). Why would we need to be saved before we came here?
Beyond just saving the world of spirits, God provided an additional opportunity whereby we could advance like Himself. Because we are self-existent and co-eternal with God, we apparently possessed the ability to advance to the same state.
When God descended among the spirits, he found an order of souls that He saw were “good” and chose to make them His rulers (Abraham 3:23). These were the “noble and great ones” or (as Abraham chapter 4 will call them) “the Gods”.
Alma 13:3 describes them with this language: “And this is the manner after which [priests] were ordained–being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.”
Note that not all of the spirits were “good”, only these souls. God didn’t send us here because we advanced to the point where we couldn’t learn anything else. We were sent here because God desired to save us from oppression and grant us the “privilege to advance.”
The good souls, or Gods, have a different mission: they made the earth (a place for our salvation) and they “prove” (or test) whether we will obey God’s commands (Abraham 3:24-25). Those who claim to be one of these noble and great ones (or teach you that you are one of them) rarely comprehend the magnitude of that claim. Making such an assertion is ill advised, unless explicitly told by the Lord like Abraham was.
As just discussed, birth is a form of salvation, in which God has delivered (note the pun) us from the eternal world where we were oppressed. D&C 29:46 teaches “that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten.” Note that we needed to be redeemed from the foundation of the world; it apparently wasn’t such a wonderful existence before we got here.
We often talk about redemption and salvation as aspirations we hope to obtain in this life, but in this and other quotes previously discussed we learn that every little child born has received redemption. And that redemption is universal; no infant perishes in sin because of the Only Begotten.
Mosiah 3:16 teaches us “even if it were possible that little children could sin, they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” Christ atones for little children’s sins, yet in the same verse we learn that it is impossible for little children to sin. We are faced with a paradox.
In Moses 6:55, the Lord tells Adam that “thy children are conceived in sin.” The Second Article of Faith Joseph Smith gave was: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Therefore, if Adam’s children were conceived in sin, but Adam’s transgression was not transmitted to them, the sin must be their own (an interesting twist on the idea of “Original Sin”). Again, as King Benjamin teaches “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” Whatever sins we committed before this world are atoned for. Whatever error and hardness of heart merited subjection to the power of darkness, we are redeemed from at birth.
Alma opens this possibility by discussing individuals who repented and worked righteousness before the foundation of the world. Such individuals were redeemed before the foundation of the world, preparatory to this estate (Alma 13:3,10). We have seen that redemption is not only offered after/during this life, but also at birth. Here Alma indicates that redemption was also offered before this world as well. We are informed that such previously-redeemed individuals were on the “same standing” as us before the foundation of the world. This means that we, like they, had opportunities to repent and work righteousness before we came here (Alma 13:5). God, it seems, is providing us with another opportunity to choose between good and evil in this estate.
When we are redeemed, Christ set us “free forever” (2 Nephi 2:26), indicating we were not free before this life, but rather confined and captive. Christ allows us a choice in this life: we can continue in our liberty and obtain eternal life or we can choose to return to a state of captivity, subject to the devil (2 Nephi 2:27). The wicked “shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will . . . they shall be as though there had been no redemption made” (Alma 12:17-18). If we are brought under the captivity and power of the Satan, it will be as though there had been no redemption made. We will return to a captive and unredeemed state, as we found ourselves situated before this world was.
Rethinking the War
With the understanding that our spirits are universally redeemed at birth, we must reevaluate Satan’s plan before this world. He said this: “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). We hear all sorts of fanciful notions contrasting Satan’s plan with Jesus’ plan. But when we consider that Jesus truly did redeem us all at birth, what is the controversy or difference? It is not in universal redemption, but in the potential of losing the souls after redemption.
In God’s plan, all mankind is redeemed, but is then set free to follow after their own will again. Many (perhaps most) redeemed souls will be lost again. Satan would destroy agency. He would deliver us from the power of darkness which had subjected us, only to subject us himself. A gentler and kinder hand administering compulsion is still compulsion. The “best” devil may just be the worst oppressor.
Additionally, Satan would have subverted our potential to advance to the state of God the Father. Even if Satan was a truly benevolent master, we would be limited by whatever state of glory, honor, power, and dominion Satan had obtained. But we could never advance to the Father.
Adam and Our Fallen State
2 Nephi 2:25 is often used but horribly misinterpreted: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” We learn that Adam (presumably one of the Gods in Abraham 3 and 4) fell so you could exist in the probationary state. Mormons correctly understand that the fall was a part of God’s plan, but incorrectly assume that our righteousness in the pre-existence qualified us to come here. We should be reminded that this world is the telestial kingdom (check showtimes at your local temple for ‘The Endowment‘). According to Alma 13, we are here because we didn’t repent and work righteousness before the foundation of the world; the exception being some few noble and great ones (to use Abraham’s language) or priests (to use Alma’s language).
We also learn from this verse that we were in a state without joy before Adam fell. His fall opened the potential of joy for us. The reason Adam fell, however, is not the same reason you are fallen. Adam’s fall opened the potential for joy to mankind and Christ condescended so that that joy could be permanent.
As Mosiah 3:16 teaches, we are fallen “by nature.” Wickedness is our natural state. Mosiah 3:19 says, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”
It is only through the atonement of Christ the Lord that we can transform from an enemy of God to become a saint. This is accomplished by yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.
This Holy Spirit was defined by Joseph Smith as the mind of God and the means of becoming one with God in the Fifth Lecture on Faith. Additionally in the same lecture, he wrote: “All those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all: being filled with the fulness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.”
The Restoration and Second Death
Alma asks a rhetorical question in Alma 41:12. “Is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?” Restoration and resurrection are intertwined concepts. At the resurrection we are restored to our natural state – either a carnal state or godly state (see Alma 41:11).
Earlier, Alma clarifies that God is not our judge in a traditional sense: “[we] are [our] own judges, whether to do good or do evil” (Alma 41:7). You judge yourself by who you become, by whether you are still a “natural man.” God simply restores you to your natural state. Truly you are have been set free.
The Lord describes the natural state to which the wicked are restored to: “an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup” (Alma 40:26).
Notice that the wicked “are cast out, and . . . partake of the fruits of their labours.” This is significant and very reminiscent of language used when Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden. Read the words in D&C 29:40-41 again with new eyes:
“Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation. Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of his transgression, wherein he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed.”
Adam being cast out of the garden is equated with the judgement on the wicked when they are cast out and suffer “the second death.” In Alma 40:5, we read: “whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things.”
Conclusion: The Beginning as Judgement
In conclusion, I return to Joseph Smith’s analogy of our existence as a ring. As we end, we must start again. Allow me to imitate the Lord (who knows the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:10) by retelling the end with the beginning.
At the end of this world, the Lord will “come down” again. He will few have possession of their souls (D&C 101:38); these few are noble and great and will be made leaders and Gods to the rest. The rest will be held captive by spirits which have ascended over them. The Lord will liberate / redeem them with physical bodies, but since their “natural state” is “contrary to the nature of God” they will be unable to dwell in the kingdom of God. They will be “cast out, and . . . partake of the fruits of their labours.” This is the second death.
I will not go as far as to say they receive a second chance. I may be mistaken about many things in this essay, but I have attempted to not go beyond the scriptures. This is what the Lord has said in regard to these individuals: “it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory” (D&C 19:6-7). I, personally, wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with my soul.
You don’t need to accept anything I’ve written, but as you read the scripture, let them “work upon [your heart]” and seek the “record of heaven . . . which knoweth all things” (Moses 6:61). This short essay merely exists as a challenge to read the scriptures with new eyes, as children.