The events of this transitory life can only be correctly understood with a knowledge of what transpired before this world and what will transpire after. This notion has been likened by prophets and scholars alike to a three act play: at birth, each of us enter the play in the second act unaware of what has transpired previous and clueless as to what will happen in the rest of the play—in other words, we are not given a playbill; worse yet, we find that we are not merely confused spectators seated in the audience, but we are the very actors upon the stage. Various stage cues bewilder us; the set props, costumes, and backdrops defy our nature; and the entrance and departure of various actors around us make no sense, leaving us to shrug our shoulders and mourn. Who can explain these things? Who can give us a playbill? Or is life, as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, simply “but a walking shadow, a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage / and then is heard no more:…a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing”?
The play of eternal existence, this three act play, indeed has a playbill. It has been revealed by the prophets as the Plan of Salvation. It was lost to the actors of mortality until Joseph Smith, in the early nineteenth century, found and explained it. But, despite this restoration, there are yet a great many aspects of this second act, in which we now find ourselves, that are not clearly understood. By reassessing the contents of the first act, the premortal realm, events of this middle act may be more clearly understood. The key to this exploration of protology lies in understanding and applying the symbolic attitudes and actions of ancient Israel at Mount Sinai. This understanding will also aid in our own quest to enter the third act in full glory.
Symbols upon Sinai
An account in the Bible is presented that is spread throughout a few chapters of Exodus but is summarized in a pithy epithet twice in the Book of Mormon, namely, “the provocation” of Israel:
“We labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness” (Jacob 1:7, emphasis added).
“Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest. And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation” (Alma 12:34-36, emphasis added).
The Bible too includes references to this same event using the same wording:
“To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalm 95:7 – 11, emphasis added).
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For some, when they had heard, did provoke [by hardening their hearts].… And to whom sware [God] that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that [Israel] could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:12 – 16, 18 – 19, emphasis added).
What is this important event about which the prophets in the Americas, King David, and the Apostles in Israel knew so much that by the simple reference of ‘the provocation’ their hearers could understand exactly what was being taught? Below is an extraction of the most relevant verses that describe this important event as found in the Book of Exodus (reformatted for ease of reading):
And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying:
“Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said: “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord…. And the Lord said unto Moses:
“Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai….”
And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. And he said unto the people: “Be ready against the third day….”
And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly…. And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses: “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
And Moses said unto the people: “Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.” And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And the Lord said unto Moses:
“Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.” (Exodus 19:3-8,10-11,14-18; 20:18-23, emphasis added)
As is well known from the rest of the account, Israel created a golden calf to worship—expressly as the Lord had said not to—while Moses was upon Sinai. The worship of said idol, however, is not what constitutes the provocation alone (the idol worship was but one of several sins the Israelites committed before the Lord, which sins would continue for years and culminate in their attempting to leave Moses and return to Egypt [see Numbers 14:2-23]); the provocation began with Israel’s first rejection of entering into the ‘rest of the Lord’—God’s actual presence.
In summary, the Lord invited Israel to cleanse themselves and—as a token of a new covenant—ascend the mount to ‘meet God.’ But Israel feared the presence of the Lord and stepped away from the trailhead, declining the token. They told Moses, ‘Let not God speak with us, lest we die.’
As the Apostle Paul, quoted above, said, ‘So we see that [Israel] could not enter in[to the Lord’s rest] because of unbelief.’ How was it that Israel could see and hear manifestations of God’s existence and yet be guilty of unbelief? Elder Bednar explained that unbelief can concurrently operate alongside faith:
“Is it possible to exercise faith in [Christ], follow Him, serve Him, but not believe Him? I am acquainted with Church members who accept as true the doctrine and principles contained in the scriptures and proclaimed from this pulpit. And yet they have a hard time believing those gospel truths apply specifically in their lives and to their circumstances. They seem to have faith in the Savior, but they do not believe His promised blessings are available to them or can operate in their lives.”
The stunning implication is that though a person may posses faith in a principle, their concurrent belief that the principle does not or could not apply to them personally constitutes an operative unbelief in the same thing in which they place general faith. Thus, according to Paul, it was unbelief that kept Israel from God’s presence despite their ability to recognize and believe in the reality of his presence.
This variability of unbelief, then, could be a factor of the first act—our premortal life—that we do not often assume affected those spirits who dwelled in the presence of God as His very children. Were such things as faith and belief extant before the foundation of this world? We can turn to the Book of Alma for an answer to this question:
“And this is the manner after which [God’s 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. And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren. Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—and thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest” (Alma 13:3 – 6).
To apply Elder Bednar’s teaching of unbelief to this subject, it could be shown through the words of Alma that there were those in the premortal realm who had faith and sustained God’s plan for the immortality and eternal life of His children but who did not believe that they themselves could reach exaltation. In effect they looked upon the fiery heights to be climbed toward godhood and thought, ‘Let not God speak with us, lest we die.’
Clearly, those premortal spirits who so unbelieved were not counted among the “noble and great ones” whom God called and ordained to ascend great spiritual heights in mortality, as Abraham saw:
“Among all [the organized intelligences] there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers” (Abraham 3:22 – 23, emphasis added).
If we look closely at ‘the provocation’ account, there is actually a group of individuals who symbolize these foreordained rulers. In the Biblical account we read that although most of the Israelites in general ‘removed’ and ‘stood afar off’ from their privilege of entering the Lord’s presence, there was a small group who dared to ascend:
“Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone.… They saw God, and did eat and drink. And the Lord said unto Moses: Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them” (Exodus 24:9 – 12, emphasis added).
The extent of the symbolism of that which took place before the foundation of the world is made evident when it is realized that Moses’ exclusive role as lawgiver and enabler of the beatific vision for all Israel is in itself an exact image of Christ and his role in the premortal realm. As John the Beloved beheld in vision regarding the premortal Christ, who alone could open a book representing the unfolding of mortal history:
“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne[, God the Father,] a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
“And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
“And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And [Christ] came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
“And [those present (the noble and great ones)] sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:1 – 5, 7, 9 – 10).
With the participants at Sinai now symbolically fleshed out, the three groups they represent in the premortal realm can be easily identified:
- Moses, who represents the one worthy to receive God’s law, the preexistent Christ;
- ‘Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel,’ who as a group represent the foreordained kings and priests among God’s spirit children, the noble and great ones; and
- Most all of the rest of the children of Israel, who thought it better to not risk death treading up Sinai’s peak to the presence of God—they who willingly reject godhood.
But is it scripturally justifiable to say that by and far most of God’s children did not or will not enter into the Lord’s rest? The Lord, through Joseph Smith, enlightens our understanding:
“But behold, and lo, we saw the glory and the inhabitants of the telestial world, that they were as innumerable as the stars in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the seashore; and heard the voice of the Lord saying: These all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever; for they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared; and they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:109 – 112, emphasis added).
Now the question may naturally be asked, are not they of the ‘telestial world’ possibly those who wanted to climb into the presence of God, to go forth to godhood, but failed? How do we know that most spirits in the premortal realm did not desire in the first place the unending glory of the celestial world?
Triumphant and Damned
The answer is had in the mutually applicable principles of triumph and damnation. These principles are inherent aspects of the plan of salvation and as such were likely explained in the premortal life:
Our Father in Heaven gathered his children about him and showed them the plan whereby they could become like himself, embodied and triumphant over death, for which plan “the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). The plan enumerated degrees of salvation for the participants, with the highest degrees reserved for those who would successfully endure all manner of testing—those who would comprehend the darkest abyss and not sink—whether by temptation or affliction, to assess their valor for Christ’s sake. To those who would endure well, exaltation and worlds without end would be given; to those who would take on the test and fail, a greater damnation would be theirs than those who would know not the Lord in mortal life.
Thus the analogy of Sinai finds its greatest expression: to all of the children of Israel God extended the invitation to enter his presence, to climb to the top of a precipitous mountain; however, the higher one would climb, the farther one could fall. To the thousands who stayed at the bottom of the mountain, staying safely alive and being called “Israel” was enough; whereas, to the seventy elders who ultimately saw God, the risk of death was worth the attempt.
Let us first look more closely at the principle of triumph, even triumph over one’s enemies:
“‘All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not,’ said the Prophet Joseph Smith. The ‘spirits of the eternal world’ are as diverse from each other in their dispositions as mortals are on the earth. Some of them are aspiring, ambitious, and even desire to bring other spirits into subjection to them. ‘As man is liable to [have] enemies [in the spirit world] as well as [on the earth] it is necessary for him to be placed beyond their power in order to be saved. This is done by our taking bodies ([having kept] 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.’ It might be said, therefore, that ‘the express purpose of God in giving [His spirit children] a tabernacle was to arm [them] against the power of darkness.'”
As the Book of Mormon confirms regarding our fate without resurrection—without bodies:
“O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself” (2 Nephi 9:8 – 9; see also Alma 34:35).
But, as the prophet Jacob continues, “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from…the death of the body” (Alma 34:36). Because of Christ, all those shouts of joy by ‘the sons of God’ ‘in the first place’ were not in vain; all who agreed to come to earth will have power over spirits in eternity, even those who attain even the least degree of glory, the telestial world. Thus the principle of triumph applies to all who elected Christ as king in the first place, including those as ‘numberless as the sands of the seashore’ who chose not to ascend the Sinai of godhood. As it is stated in Abraham regarding these, “they who keep their first estate shall be added upon” (Abraham 3:26).
The principle of damnation must be examined next. It is plain to discern that degrees (or I will use the term “shades”) of damnation exist in inverse proportion to the degree of glory one attains in the next life. What must be fully comprehended is that those who will qualify for the greatest shades of damnation are only those who would have qualified for the greatest degrees of glory. In simpler terms, someone who has the priesthood will qualify for greater damnation if they were to commit the same sins as would a person who does not hold the priesthood. As Professor Hugh Nibley pointedly remarked whilst commenting on the priesthood ban on the blacks:
“Men can confer the powers of the priesthood upon others, it is true (D&C 121:37), but only God can validate that ordination, which in most cases he does not recognize: ‘Hence many are called, but few are chosen’ (D&C 121:40). And he has been kind enough to tell us why: ‘And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men’ (D&C 121:34-35). It so happens that ‘almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority…will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion’ (D&C 121:39), and the exercise of the powers of heaven ‘in any degree of unrighteousness’ invalidates the priesthood—‘Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man’ (D&C 121:37). What supreme irony! The withholding of the priesthood is supposed to be an unkind act because it deprives a fellow man of a thing of social value, a measure of status and dignity in the Church. Yet the moment I even think of my priesthood as a status symbol or a mark of superiority, it becomes a mere hollow pretense. At the slightest hint of gloating or self-congratulation, the priesthood holder is instantly and automatically unfrocked. What is the priesthood on this earth? Brigham Young called it ‘an onerous duty,’ a load to be borne, work to be done and nothing more—the glory comes hereafter…. Again, our scriptures tell us that all little children are pure and innocent by nature, and as such, are saved in the celestial kingdom of God, and declare the contrary teaching of the world to be particularly devilish (Moroni 8:5-22). Now the vast majority of Negroes who have lived on the earth have died as little children; the celestial kingdom will be full of them, while, as we have indicated, there may be very few present-day priesthood holders among them”
Thus, God in his mercy has at times kept the priesthood from among certain of his sons upon the earth, shutting to them the door to everlasting damnation. The Prophet Brigham Young taught the same, showing by this principle that the devils who exist in eternity are only those who were once given the priesthood (though as devils their authority would be mute, perhaps binding only to those unembodied spirits who follow them):
“How much does it take to prepare a man, or woman, or any being to become angels to the Devil, to suffer with him to all eternity? Just as much as it does to prepare a man to go into the Celestial Kingdom, into the presence of the Father and the Son, and to be made an Heir to His kingdom, and all His glory, and be crowned with Crowns of Glory, Immortality, and Eternal Lives. Now who [else] will be damned to all eternity? Will any of the rest of mankind? No; not one of them. If you receive the Priesthood and make an evil use of it, it will make Devils of you…. A perfect trim mounted devil is one who has had the Eternal Priesthood upon him, or else he has not got his proper character.”
Aligning with the symbolic ascent of Sinai, the risk run by those who seek the blessing of “all that the Father hath” is a tumble down the cliffs that would leave them worse off than had they remained at the base and ‘stood afar off.’ To borrow the Lord’s heavy caution for such as fail in this ascent, “Good were it for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21):
“Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—they are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; for they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come—having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—and the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power; yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath. For all the rest shall be brought forth by the resurrection of the dead, through the triumph and the glory of the Lamb, who was slain, who was in the bosom of the Father before the worlds were made” (D&C 76:32 – 39, emphasis added).
As can be clearly illustrated in the above passages, to those who gained the prize of the climb and then rejected it even the principle of eternal triumph is removed, “for what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33). So it is that the Father extends his glory to all those who would partake though few chose to endure the challenge, for surely, “many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:34).
The graph at left describes the correlation between potential glory and potential damnation. For those who would have qualified only for Telestial glory, there really is no test to fail, no knowledge to sin against, and therefore no penalty beyond the inherent limiting of glory imposed upon them; those who would have qualified for Celestial glory, however, could sin against greater light and therefore justly receive greater condemnation (see D&C 82:3, also my blog post Do You Sell Your Tokens for Money?). This makes candidates for celestial glory the only candidates for sons of perdition.
Just as Israel almost entirely chose to dwell in a limited state of glory at the foot of Sinai, many premortal spirits, at the risk of being lost to the kingdom forever, accepted the minimum required of them to obtain bodies and pass through mortality, and though their end will ultimately be a shade of damnation, it will not be that deepest shade that awaits those who ‘deny the truth and defy [God’s] power.’
This view of the attitudes and choices that existed before this world was created presents a different tone to the council in heaven and the ensuing war. Typically it is recognized that Lucifer’s proposition in the council was for an alternate plan that obfuscated the need for free agency, and that upon this head the scales of conflict tilted. But if the Father’s original plan already included a provision of salvation, even in limited glory, for those who used their agency even to not ‘ascend Sinai’ in mortality, upon what argument could Satan have launched an ideological attack? Joseph Smith gives the answer:
“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him”
Jesus Christ said there would be those he would not save, and the council (the gods—the noble and great ones—the elders on Sinai) agreed that it was wise and the best course. Whom would Christ not save? Again Joseph Smith explains:
“Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition.… [They] deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto [them], and…deny the plan of salvation with [their] eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time [he or she] begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints….
“You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence.”
The robbing of man’s agency was still an important policy issue in Lucifer’s campaign, but the fact yet remains that the contention was not that Lucifer would save everyone in the same degree of glory or from the many shades of damnation, but that Jesus maintained that a select group—the sons of perdition—would not be saved at all.
Returning to the allegorical experience of the Provocation at Sinai, it seems strange that God would refuse to save those who would try to climb Sinai and fail. What appears to us second-act mortals to be unfair decrees of punishment against zealous trailblazers can be reconciled, however, when it is understood that the climber’s failure is symbolic of sin. Knowing that “no unclean thing” can remain upon Sinai and hence must be “cast off forever” (1 Nephi 10:21), the devil attempts all within his power to destroy each and every hiker with each and every step. As Heber C. Kimball wrote: “Joseph…said the nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power would be manifest by the Devil to prevent the accomplishment of the purposes of God.”
And with each elevated step, the ascender leaves “the neutral ground,” as Joseph Smith said, elaborating:
“When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.”
Satan’s tactics are manifold to trip up the would-be elders atop Sinai, and his snares seldom fail, for:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world…. When [they] undertake to cover…sins, or to gratify…pride,…vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves…. [They are] left…to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (D&C 121:34 – 35, 37 – 38).
What do we see then when we come across a casualty, a moldering corpse, upon the hike to Sinai’s hallowed peak? Saints who have grown weary in their minds, those who break their covenants with glee, and the loud voices within and without the church steadying the ark, clamoring for the church to become friends with the world (see James 4:4). Though we are not to exercise final judgement while in mortality, such examples manifest the symptoms of death upon Sinai, and every attempt ought to be made to save such. But, if refusing to change course, they may solidify into Christ’s enemies, deny his power, and put themselves beyond the hope of his salvation.
Children upon Thrones
There is another doctrinal aspect not clearly understood outside of the shadow of the allegorical Sinai of the premortal realm. It is regarding the fate of children who pass away before reaching adulthood—those whose opportunity to make higher covenants was cut short in death. A few puzzling comments on the matter remain from the Prophet Joseph whose foundation can be traced to the following verse in the Bible: “In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be” (Ecclesiastes 11:3), meaning that as death finds a person, so shall the resurrection. Of particular note is this quote from Joseph’s funeral sermon for his friend, King Follett:
“A question: will mothers have their children in eternity? Yes, yes, you will have the children; but as it falls, so it will rise—it will never grow—it will be in its precise form as it fell in its mothers arms. Eternity is full of thrones upon which dwell thousands of children reigning on thrones of glory not one cubit added to their stature.”
Such a doctrine stuns the mind conditioned to regard the actions of this second act to be wholly independent of those of the first act. Joseph Smith’s personal secretary during the final years of his life, William Clayton, recorded the same teaching:
“I asked the President whether children who die in infancy will grow…. He answered, ‘No, we shall receive them precisely in the same state as they died in, no larger. They will have as much intelligence as we shall but shall always remain separate and single. They will have no increase.’”
A key item of controversy herein is that children who die will forever remain single. With the knowledge that the fullest degree of exaltation is had in the power to generate lives eternally (see D&C 131:1 – 4; 132:20)—in fact, the scriptures state that those who remain single forever are termed angels as opposed to gods (see D&C 132:16 – 17, 20)—the situation seems jilting from a limited perspective wherein it is believed that all who chose to come to this earth came expressly desiring to ascend Sinai’s heights. However, if the allegorical symbolism is applied, angels in eternity will not feel robbed of anything. As the Prophet Brigham Young taught:
“To explain my views with regard to little children losing anything by dying in infancy I will ask a simple question. I will simplify it as much as I can, therefore I will direct my question to the little boys in the congregation. Did you ever own that knife? ‘No sir, I never saw it before.’ Why did you lose it then? ‘I never did lose it, for I never possessed it.’ The boy’s answers are an answer to…[the] question whether little children lose anything by dying in infancy. It is impossible for a person to lose a thing they never possessed. If a person never possessed a farm or a good house in his lifetime, he could not say he had lost a house or a farm. So is it with children who die young. They do not meet with any loss in the next world by an early death in this. They meet with death, if that can be considered a loss…. Could you converse with a child who has died when five years of age, and ask him if he has lost anything by his death, he would say ‘no.’ ‘But, little child, are you not sorry you did not live on earth longer to gain blessings you have not obtained through your early death?’ ‘I am not sorry,’ would be the reply, ‘because the Lord Jesus Christ has provided that for me which I could have obtained if I had lived on the earth to the full age of man….’ You will see the child of three, four, and five years old, possessing all the intelligence of the angels of God. Could you not enjoy the society of such interesting beings? It is the intelligence in them that makes them capable of enjoyment and duration. Resurrected bodies will be as diversified as the bodies are of mortal flesh, for variety, beauty, and extension, and to supply that [which] will please the eye, the ear, and the other senses of the body throughout all the eternities we may live in.”
Why would a child be taken early in death only to become Celestial and single? (see Moroni 8:12; D&C 137:10). In the shadow of Sinai it is because they qualified for Celestial glory before birth, and yet opted to not live through the vicissitudes of Satan’s deceptive kingdom, and they thus will feel it no robbery to not become a god. Joseph Smith taught:
“The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again.”
Therefore it may be adduced that the ‘thrones’ with which ‘the eternities are full’ whereon sit children—‘interesting beings’—were established before the commencement of this second act. These eternally-cherubic souls were chosen for just such a glory before they were born (see Abraham 3:23), and it was what they desired, just as those who chose to remain at Sinai’s foot desired ‘not [that] God speak with us, lest we die.’
The Need for Charity
A fuller knowledge of the first act of this three-act eternal round can be heady stuff—without checking ourselves we may take such knowledge and actually turn it to our own damnation. This is because the implication and inevitable realization of those who find themselves embracing higher and higher covenants with God is that they were righteous before this life, “in the first place…having chosen good” (Alma 13:4). As Paul taught regarding this fact:
“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew…. There is a remnant according to the election of grace…. Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear) unto this day…. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Romans 11:2, 7, 22, emphasis added).
Surely, unto many in the world God has given ‘eyes that would not see, and ears that they should not hear’—but not so unto those of ‘the election of grace’ who have received the fulness of the Gospel! Such knowledge, however, places “even the very elect” in harms way for deception by the adversary, especially when coupled with unrestrained zeal (see Matthew 24:24). Hence the Celestial are marked by a special humility, coupled with faith and hope, called charity. The Book of Mormon teaches that “if [a person] have not charity he is nothing…. [But] whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” and that charity “is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever” (Moroni 7:44, 47, 46). Peter, Christ’s chief apostle confirmed this preeminence of Charity in the eternal world, saying, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Surely, charity is the antidote to Satan’s poison that he prepares for the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:2; see Alma 13:7) lest they consider themselves to be better than another. As Joseph Smith warned:
“[Do] not think yourselves more righteous than others; you must enlarge your souls towards each other, if you would do like Jesus, and carry your fellow-creatures to Abraham’s bosom.… We must bear with each other’s failings, as an indulgent parent bears with the foibles of his children…. Though a man should become mighty, do great things, overturn mountains, perform mighty works, and should then turn from his high station to do evil, to eat and drink with the drunken, all his former deeds would not save him, but he would go to destruction! As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand, let them be enlarged towards others; you must be long-suffering, and bear with the faults and errors of mankind.”
The Savior himself, the literal embodiment of charity, exemplified this humbling function of charity when he said, responding to a man who addressed him as “good master” (Christ, of all people, being the worthiest to be called such): “Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19).
It is frequently conceived that charity and selflessness go hand in hand. Yet the desire for justice by the faithful disciples—by those who consider themselves to have done no wrong—is, for such, the greatest hinderance to admission to the Kingdom of God. Those who in the first act were faithful and received of the Father’s mercy often look upon the prodigal sons of this second act with self-righteous disdain, as if to say, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29). Thus the greatest manifestation of charity in the world is to have charity for the sins of one another. Joseph Smith summarized this point clearly:
“All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs…. If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”
Again, Christ exemplified this aspect of charity, which “suffereth long, and is kind… [and] beareth all things” (Moroni 7:45), who, though being actually without sin, extended no judgement to those who were with sin (instructively, his sole criticisms were reserved precisely for those who thought themselves superior through self-perceived sinlessness). In the scriptural account of the woman taken in adultery who was brought before Christ by the self-proclaimed righteous pharisees, the Savior actually teaches by example that the ultimate Celestial-enabling, Sinai-summiting characteristic is charity for one another’s sins. When asked whether the woman ought to be stoned, as the law of Moses prescribed, Christ found opportunity to teach that there is no one who will not themselves require the charity of another to enter Heaven:
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.… And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:7 – 11, emphasis added).
This is the core of charity. This is why it is necessary—why without it we will be nothing. The ultimate sacrifice of self, of ego, is needed to attain this requirement, and though many are called to possess it, few—by their own actions—qualify, or are chosen. Satan’s greatest exploit against those who have elected to climb to godhood is to cause them to believe that Sinai’s peak is one’s own exclusive club and others who claim membership must be justly accused of their disqualifying defects. Joseph Smith perfectly taught the saints:
“I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said, ‘If you do not accuse each other, God will not accuse you. If you have no accuser you will enter heaven, and if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins.’”
If you are reading this document and have made covenants with God to do what is necessary to enter into Heaven, then you are indeed one of those who chose to ‘see God, and [to] eat and drink’ with him in the first act. Are all they who have not done as you have then those who chose not to ascend Sinai? The important answer is this: you will never know the premortal identity of others while in mortality. To assume that a stranger was among that crowd that ‘stood afar off’ before this life (a tempting assumption since their numbers are, after all, ‘more than the sands of the seashore’) is an error of grave proportions. Let us name but a few individuals who clearly were valiant in the first act yet were initially unidentifiable in the second but who successfully ascended through Sinai’s paths:
- Saul (Paul) who was “chief” of sinners and persecuted the very first Christians, but who became a fierce and loyal servant of the Lord (1 Timothy 1:15);
- Alma the Younger who “murdered many” souls spiritually and who was nearly destroyed himself, but who became a great prophet of God in the Americas (Alma 36:14);
- Alma the Senior who did “many things which were abominable” as the priest of a wicked king, but who converted to Christ and led a following back to Zarahemla and his pure religion (Mosiah 23:9);
- Joseph Smith Jr. who as a young man exhibited flaws “not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God,” but who gave ear to holy counsel and obtained a sacred record from an angel (Joseph Smith—History 1:29).
Clearly, to judge a mortal by their current state without regard to their potential has a damning effect upon both he who judges and he who is judged; the judge failing in the holy responsibility to spread the Gospel to every creature, and they who are judged losing an opportunity to receive greater light and truth. It is therefore imperative that we rather view each stranger as someone who, in the first place, chose to ascend Sinai and see God, a wandering sheep whom we should seek (Matthew 18:12 – 14).
No matter what sins those around us—or we ourselves—may have committed, “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and…the Lord…[will] remember them no more” (D&C 58:42); no matter when the ascent towards a glorious third act begins in this life, the reward is the same for the victorious who serve God:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
“And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them: ‘Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you.’ And they went their way.
“Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, ‘Why stand ye here all the day idle?’
“They say unto him, ‘Because no man hath hired us.’
“He saith unto them, ‘Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.’
“So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, ‘Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.’
“And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
“And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, ‘These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, and said, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’
“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:1-16).
Those who have eyes to see, let them see.
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 5 scene 5. [Go back]
- David A. Bednar, “If Ye Had Known Me”, Conference Report, October 2016.[Go back]
- Moroni also talks about unbelief as the ultimate spiritual limitation: “Have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men?… If these things have ceased, wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain…. [Spiritual gifts] never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, [except] according to the unbelief of the children of men” (Moroni 7:36-37; 10:19).[Go back]
- “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light” (D&C 93:31).[Go back]
- “A man may be saved, after the judgment, in the terrestrial kingdom, or in the telestial kingdom, but he can never see the celestial kingdom of God, without being born of the water and the Spirit. He may receive a glory like unto the moon, [i.e., of which the light of the moon is typical], or a star, [i.e., of which the light of the stars is typical], but he can never come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, unless he becomes as a little child, and is taught by the Spirit of God. Wherefore, we again say, search the revelations of God; study the prophecies, and rejoice that God grants unto the world Seers and Prophets” (Joseph Smith as quoted in, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], p. 12, emphasis added).[Go back]
- “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity” (Joseph Smith, Ibid., p. 137).[Go back]
- “What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it” (Joseph Smith, Ibid., p. 358).[Go back]
- Brown, Matthew B. The Plan of Salvation: Doctrinal Notes and Commentary. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2002, p. 33.[Go back]
- All those who followed Christ, and not Lucifer, before this life will be born and receive a body, and even the least of them will be saved (see footnote 5): “And heard the voice of the Lord saying: [The telestial] all shall bow the knee, and every tongue shall confess to him who sits upon the throne forever and ever” (D&C 76:110).[Go back]
- “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation. Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors” (D&C 82:3-4).[Go back]
- Hugh Nibley, “The Best Possible Test”[Go back]
- “For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more and our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils…. Wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end” (2 Nephi 9:8-9,16).[Go back]
- Fred C. Collier quoting Brigham Young, President Brigham Young’s Doctrine on Deity, vol. 1, Collier’s Publishing: Utah (1998), p. 98.
“‘What will you do with all those who have sought to kill you?’ Make them soap boilers and kitchen flunkeys [in the coming kingdom]. We are not going to send them into hell fire, for it takes a good Latter-day Saint apostatized to get down into that deep (did I say bottomless?) pit. A person, to become an angel of the Devil, has first to be a good Saint, and then deny the Lord who bought him. Do you query why we give endowments to A., B., and C.? It is to make devils of those who will deny the faith, for that is also necessary, as a host of devils will be needed. We also want Saints, angels, holy ones, and those that are exalted to the highest glory” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses [JOD] 8:178-79).[Go back]
- “And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received” (D&C 88:32). “[The wicked] are dead, to live no more, spirits who will not rise up” (Isaiah 26:14, Isaiah Institute Translation).[Go back]
- See my blog post, The Second Death[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, STPJS, p. 357.[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, Ibid., p. 358.[Go back]
- “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him…I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3).[Go back]
- “[Satan] maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about. And we saw a vision of the sufferings of those with whom he made war and overcame…. They are they who are the sons of perdition” (D&C 76:29-30,32, emphasis added).[Go back]
- Heber C. Kimball, Journal Excerpts and Letters, Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Life Incidents,” Woman’s Exponent, 9-10 (1880-1881).[Go back]
- Daniel Tyler, in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, Aug. 15, 1892, pp. 491–92; punctuation and grammar modernized, emphasis added.[Go back]
- Wilford Woodruff Journal, compiled by W. V. Smith, “Sermon delivered at the funeral of King Follett held at the General Conference of the Church at Nauvoo, Ill. on Sunday Afternoon April 7, 1844,” The Book of Abraham Project (website), grammar modernized.[Go back]
- William Clayton, “18 May 1843, Thursday” entry, Diary for 27 April 1843 through 24 September 1844, Robert C. Fillerup, compiler, William Clayton’s Nauvoo Diaries and Personal Writings, grammar modernized.[Go back]
- Watson, Elden J. ed. Brigham Young Addresses Volume 2, 19 Feb. 1853, emphasis added.[Go back]
- “It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 6:8); see footnote 19.[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, STPJS, p.196-97, emphasis added.[Go back]
- God and others of the premortal council are greater (i.e. in intelligence, or light and truth [see D&C 93:36]) than others (see Abraham 3:18-19), but that is different than better (the age and worth of our intelligence is the same as God’s: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” [D&C 93:29, emphasis added; see D&C 18:10]).[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, STPJS, p. 228.[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, Ibid., p. 241, emphasis added.[Go back]
- Joseph Smith, Ibid., p. 193.[Go back]