Coming Next … the Afterlife

Ever since I was a philosophy/religious studies major in college exploring Christian theologies (don’t worry, I am merely an amateur, and therefore not a terribly deep thinker) and reading Sterling McMurrin’s The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, I have appreciated the clean, simple lines of Mormon theology. Our anthropomorphic, positivistic approach is easy to relate to (by definition) and, well, fun to explore. I find consonance in our doctrines of salvation, eternal progress, the atonement, and the fall (if you can even call the Mormon version of it that). We have a wonderfully progressive view of our human relationship with and access to the divine. We even, at least as the party line, encourage our members to ponder, reach for and believe in God on our own terms. But there is something I don’t relate to and lately have concluded I just don’t believe in.

After 2 1/2 years of working with my boss and never discussing my religion with him except to the extent that he frequently voices his belief that I am a health nut for not drinking beers with the rest of the crew, he launched us into a long conversation on Mormonism during the course of a client dinner this week (don’t ask me why, it must have been the expensive port). We covered some of the basics, but then he really wanted to dig into what motivates Mormons to live the way we do. I assured him that, as in any religion, there are many Mormons motivated by fear, guilt and lack of knowledge and confidence. However, I said to him, and I do believe, that our theology forms a sturdy basis for believing in living the Mormon way for positive reasons. We are immortal beings with free will who are loved by our Creator and look forward to progressing eternally so long as we work at being like God. In fact, we really have very little that is negative in our theology in terms of the afterlife. Isn’t the line supposed to be that even the Telestial Kingdom is better than this life could ever be? So, I hope, we live the commandments and do all the Mormon activities so that we can become better creatures-on-our-way-to-being-godlike-or-gods-and living-with-God-type creatures, not because we fear that we will go to hell for not doing so. Hell, after all, does not exist in our theology, unless you count outer darkness, and frankly, even I don’t think I’m headed for that, despite my ways.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that generally our theology resonates with me on many counts, including – and especially – the ideas of eternal progression and lack of fire and brimstone, I don’t believe this Celestial/Terrestrial/Telestial set up. And I don’t like it, because it presumes to answer all the questions without really answering any at all. Whenever I see the missionaries/Gospel Essentials teacher/Primary President pop up those little icons of sun, moon and star and start to map out our lives for the next billion years, I balk. Do these distinctions mean anything to anyone? What do you believe happens in the Celestial Kingdom? On a more fundamental level, does anyone think that these are representative or analogical in any way, or are they just our human way of trying to impose a structure on something we know nothing about?

Comments

  1. CTK, it seems to me that you’re not rejecting D&C 76 or the notion of bodies celestial, bodies terrestrial, etc., but rather the pop interpretation that we’ve developed about these ideas. To a certain extent I share your views — we really know very little about the afterlife. It’s not necessarily going to be like in Man’s Search for Happiness or like we see in the temple video.

    However, one doctrinal thread runs through these scriptures that I think is important, and that’s regarding society and interpersonal relationships. It’s clear that those continue, that our same interactivity goes forward. That’s important to me because I feel it’s critical to establish strong relationships as much as we can in this life — I view them as valuable. So if we believe that the greatest gift is our sealings, that means to me that a celestial world is one with good, strong relationships between all of us. That’s heaven to me. Accordingly, I view the other “kingdoms” as having lesser degrees of interconnectedness and greater degrees of isolation and loneliness. That’s hell to me.

    It’s fun to kick around our ideas, I guess…

  2. Christina says:

    Steve, you are correct, my objection is not so much to the scriptural rendering as to our Mormon pop culture interpretation of that. I wonder why so many LDS members want to take these grand and complicated concepts and reduce them to little planets and balls of gas.

    Taking your analysis – which I like – a step further, do the demarcations of the kingdoms create a cut off between the respective members of those kingdoms? Is society fluid between them, or is it completely static?

  3. Christina, that’s a particularly challenging question to answer. Forgive me if I indulge in a brief mission story:

    I had a companion once whose brother had left the Church. This companion insisted nevertheless that his brother would end up in the Celestial kingdom, however, because for his parents and for him, it would be hell to be without this brother. What are we to make of such feelings? Is heaven a place with physical demarcations amongst the residents? That’s unanswerable, in my opinion.

    So, I don’t know. But I do know this: God will make good on his promises and covenants, so there needs to be a way for both people to receive blessings and punishments at his hand. Whether that requires physically different kingdoms is uncertain IMO. That is, with one exception: no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. Whatever that means, exactly….

  4. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote This companion insisted nevertheless that his brother would end up in the Celestial kingdom, however, because for his parents and for him, it would be hell to be without this brother. What are we to make of such feelings?

    I would just say we don’t really know how we will feel then about things. Your companion might be right (the CK would be like hell for him and his family without his brother)–or at that time he may look back at when he said that to you back on earth and just chuckle at how little insight he had into the nature of eternal existence.

    I have also pondered the doctrine of the three degrees of glory, although I haven’t rejected it, like Christina (“I don’t believe this Celestial/Terrestrial/Telestial set up”). The telestial kingdom is easier for me to understand on the basis of the star analogy than the sun and moon analogies for the two higher kingdoms. It seems to me that the analogy implies that those who go to the “telestial kingdom” will each inherit their own different degree of glory (whatever amount of glory they are ready to bear/inherit) just like there are billions of different stars. By contrast the analogy implies that the celestial and terrestrial kingdoms are each a cohesive place of their own, like the sun and the moon are separate coherent entities. Based on the analogy, it seems therefore that people who go to the “terrestrial kingdom” all go to one place together. Either that or they all inherit a certain type of terrestrial resurrected body or glory that is to celestial resurrected bodies as is the moon to the sun.

  5. John, CTK hasn’t rejected the three degrees of glory, as she made clear in the comments. I’d be careful about attributing a complete doctrinal rejection if I were you.

    Your reading of the analogy is interesting, and has some great images, but again I think Christina’s point holds up — we just have no real idea. When it comes to the afterlife, we reason by analogies, with the exception of the description of human interaction as I mentioned.

  6. john fowles says:

    Christina wrote Steve, you are correct, my objection is not so much to the scriptural rendering as to our Mormon pop culture interpretation of that.

    Good call Steve. I was basing my comment on what she wrote in the post, so I wasn’t attributing a total rejection to her, I was merely quoting her.

  7. If the glory of God is intelligence, maybe the celestial bodies metaphor works to describe not necessarily our quality of life or how much light we “give off” but rather how much understanding we have of God’s nature, life, the universe, and everything. That is, how much we have learned to see, rather than how brightly our mansion glows.

    This model might work in an afterlife where everyone lives together in a world very similar in that respect to our own here–I, for instance, am surrounded by those who “get it” better (or who see by a clearer light) than I.

  8. Very nice post, Christina. Count me on board with you and Steve. We Mormons rejoice in revelation (as we should) and D&C 76 has long been one of my favorites. But it’s impossible to not immediately impose human limitations and understandings on insight from God. So our culture has created these neat little locales where we think everyone is headed, based on their worthiness.

    To give us an idea of how little we know, Wilford Woodruff once said he though most people on this planet who didn’t have the chance to hear the gospel in this life, would hear it and believe it in the next. By using simple math, that would mean most people would accept the gospel in the next life and be, at the very least, Terrestrial bound (according to the pop view). But Bruce R. McConkie, in Mormon Doctrine insists the vast, vast majority of people who have lived on this earth will end up in the telestial kingdom.

    As for the Kingdom-hopping – those two leaders were divided on that issue too. Despite those who have read Bruce R. and his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith, there are plenty of leaders who have said progression between degrees of glory is possible. Our own Mormon leaders seem to know very, very little about the next life, and are unable to agree on much. I suspect that’s why we hear so few details about it, particularly today.

  9. Christina says:

    John Fowles, fair enough to quote me, although as I clarified in a comment, my objection is to the all-too-human focus on categorizing and naming more than to the general idea that we may in the next life be divided into three broad classes of existence.

    Steve raises a good point in pulling in the sealing power. This is also a doctrine I have a difficult time getting my head around, just for the very reason that there are countless implications of it. I do think that there is much we do not understand about the nature of it and its consequences. In my (much-beleaguered) studies of polygamy I remember reading that Joseph Smith once responded to a query about polygamy that if we truly understood the sealing power, we would all choose celestial marriage and polygamy. Right or wrong factually he may have been, but I wonder what his understanding of the sealing power was, and how it related to how we are all connected as a human family together (horizontally) and to God (vertically).

  10. CTK asked “Do these distinctions mean anything to anyone? What do you believe happens in the Celestial Kingdom?”

    D&C 132: 19 has a bit of the answer but I also remember other sections talking about the ministering of each kingdom. In one we are in the presence of angels, in the other Christ, in the highest Heavenly Father himself. That seems to me to be a big distinction between the kingdoms. I would imagine, but I’m not sure, that this would also impact the message we each heard and the work we will be called to do.

  11. David King Landrith says:

    There is a Kingdom of God on Earth that we all (more or less) participate in, and it is neither attached to any given location nor physically demarcated from any other location. And during the millenium, resurrected beings will coexist with mortals. Nothing I know of requires the Kingdoms of Glory (which, in all probability, exist now in some sense) to be physically separate.

    (On a side note, I have often wondered how it will work during the Millennium when resurrected beings do live and work alongside mere mortals. For example, mortals would be hard pressed to compete with resurrected being for employment, since the resurrected wouldn’t need health insurance, sick days, or workman’s comp.)

  12. I see at a function of relationship and experience:

    Celestial: Sealed together with Christ at its head as Father. They are resurrected by Christ and Christ paid for their sins

    Ter: They are resurrected by Christ and Christ paid for their sins. But not sealed together and to Christ.

    Tel: They are resurrected by Christ and they paid for their own sins.

    How sins are expiated relates to the relationships involved and the sealing of the celestial kingdom together defines the society that is enjoyed.

  13. Hell, after all, does not exist in our theology, unless you count outer darkness

    Before section the restoration the afterlife was thought to be divided in 2 parts — heaven and hell. After Joseph Smith we had more detail: There is a spirit world that that is divided in to paradise and hell (sometimes called prison). Then there is a progressive resurrection of the righteous starting with the most righteous (Celestial Church of Enoch and the Firstborn) and concluding with the “just” of the earth (Terrestrial). After spending 1000 years in hell paying for there own sins (because Christ couldn’t do it for them due to their lack of repentance — see section 19) the Telestial folks are redeemed to a glorious body and assigned the next phase of their existence. Some will have earned outer darkness.

    I only outline this to point out a couple of things:

    1. We do believe in hell in our theology. We just see it as temporary – just long enough for the wicked to pay for their own sins themselves. And lest we think this won’t be too bad, consider these verses in section 19. (Perhaps it will take spreading it out over a full thousand years to accomplish that?)

    2. The heaven and hell model was least detailed, the current model in the church is more detailed, but I think Christina is very justified in assuming that it isn’t the whole story. I suspect we are only two iterations into a picture of an afterlife that my actually be a continuum from top to bottom with a perfectly graded reward/punishment for every human that ever lived. We may find that there are as many “kingdoms” as there are people… Of course this would mean we need to not think of places/kingdoms so much in the afterlife as we do character and glory…

    Last, I have to say that while teaching that there is no progression between kingdoms probably is useful to keep people from procrastinating the day of their repentance, it doesn’t work for me as an eternal doctrine. If we have lived forever already and have progressed this far, then assigning a soul permanently to a kingdom where there is no chance for continued progression is, by very definition, a form of eternal damnation. Since the worth of souls is great, I can’t believe God would go for such prodigal waste…

  14. Aaron Brown says:

    When I teach about or discuss the three degrees of glory in my Gospel Essentials class, I tend to stay away from long-winded, speculative discussions about how the three three degrees technically differ from each other, and try to use the doctrine as a platform to make the larger point that salvation is not a Pass-Fail test; rather, there are any number of degrees of glory we can inherit in the next life, depending in large part on how we comport ourselves in this one. I think the doctrine, if appropriately understood, best serves as a motivator for constant self-betterment and a means to disabuse us of the notion that we’ve “made it” once we reach some threshold of righteousness, compliance, or what have you.

    Aaron B

  15. Last_lemming says:

    This seems like a good opportunity for me to promote my effort to replace the common “geographic” model of the degrees of glory with my own “geometric” model. My model does not preclude geographic separateness, but it is best to purge your mind of that notion when contemplating my analogy or your are likely to misunderstand it.

    Imagine our post-judgement existance as a three-dimensional geometric space in which each dimension represents a different modality of progression. I choose not to identify those modalities although one could impose such things as knowledge, justness, and procreation on those axes if it helps one grasp the concept. But don’t take them very seriously.

    Anyway, somebody consigned to outer darkness would find themselves stuck on a single point in that space. They could not progress along any axis. (Note, however, that it need not imply that they are assigned to the origin; that is point [0,0,0]. It could even be a very advanced point.)

    To continue the analogy, somebody assigned to the telestial kingdom would be able to progress along a line; somebody assigned to the terrestrial kingdom would be able to progress on a single plane, and somebody assigned to the celestial kingdom would be able to progress to any point in space.

    This construct allows me to reconcile a number of dilemmas. Progression between kingdoms? Unnecessary, as everybody with any degree of glory can continue to progress indefinitely within their own kingdom. Those who die before becoming accountable? They have the opportunity to progress indefinitely in any direction, but we can make no presumption about how far they will choose to do so. I tend to think that a rotten kid who dies the night before his scheduled baptism will probably not use the opportunity to progress nearly as much as the basically good person who only paid 9.9% tithing.

    My analogy also has some interesting implications for eternal marriage. Presumably a couple pursuing an eternal marriage would want to progress together. Both being in the celestial kingdom would place no constraints on their ability to do so and is thus the ideal environment. If both are in the telestial kingdom, then the best they can hope for is that their lines intersect at some point, and they could stagnate together at that point. The intersections of lines, planes, and space involved in spouses landing in different kingdoms makes for some interesting thought experiments.

    Let me hasten to point out that the correlation of three degrees of glory with three spatial dimensions is just a fortunate coincidence. Like others here, I am inclined to believe that there is far more to it than that, which is one reason I think it is futile to label the three axes.

  16. all i know is that i want to go to the one where i get multiple wives.

  17. I am enjoying everyone’s feedback and differing theories on progression. I will venture an aspect of my own theory on the afterlife: progression is an eternal principle, at least to some extent available to all beings (excepting perhaps the sons (and daughters?) of perdition) by virtue of the fact that we also possess free will. The atonement is available to us at least in this life, and perhaps in later existence, but it has greater power in this life than at any other time, thus expanding the consequences of our actions. That is, atonement works to broaden the range of outcomes from the actions we take of our free will. We still have agency after this life, but without the expanded consequences of this life. This then may explain how our progress is more circumscribed (in geometric or linear directions) after this life than now and why this life is crucial to the plan.

  18. Alas, mike, comments like that are sure to land you with no wives at all.

  19. Last_lemming — Nice post. I’m glad Im not the only one who formulates models of the eternities in my spare time.

    Here are a few questions about your proposed model:
    - How do you account for our eternal pre-earth existence using the same model — were we all able to move in all three “directions” before this life? If not, how do we all end up here together? Also, if we are in fact currently living in a telestial spehere now, the single line theory seems even less workable…
    - How is the lateral “progress” you describe in your model actually progress at all? — particularly if a fullness of joy, knowledge, etc. (read: godhood) is to be found in a corner of the cube that requires 3-D movement?

    I guess I’m assuming you’ve thought of these sort of things and have ready answers for them… if not just ignore me.

  20. Last_lemming says:

    I can give you a consistent interpretation of the pre-existence or of the “telestial” nature of our current existance, but not both at the same time. (Incidentally, the pre-existence doesn’t seem to fit into any model that (1) orders the degrees from “outer darkness” at the bottom to “celestial” at the top,” (2) identifies our current sphere as “telestial,” and (3) considers earth life to be more advanced then the pre-existence. The logical conclusion is that the pre-existence is analogous to outer darkness, which doesn’t work at all.)

    Anyway, the pre-existence interpretation. Say the point [0,0,0] represent our existence as intelligences. During the pre-existence, we could progress along spiritual axes, but not physical axes. On earth, we can progress along both spiritual and physical axes. One could even imagine that in both spheres, the possible progress is not indefinite, but that moving on to a higher sphere pushes the constraints further out. (Of course, this represents a disconnect from my earlier association of the telestial kingdom with only one axis. That’s mostly a function of having only three physical dimensions to work with. If I had an n-dimensional model, I could make it fit, but nobody would be able to follow what I am talking about.)

    As for associating the telestial kingdom with one dimension, perhaps it is fitting that people (telestial beings, that is) tend to view eternal progress as one dimensional. You make progress along that dimension, and get assigned to a kingdom depending on where you are on judgment day, like in this diagram.

    |–|—|–>
    O telestial….terrestrial….celestial
    D

    Only those in the celestial kingdom get to keep making eternal progress, which is what bugs those who advocate kingdom jumping. I just don’t think we have to view it that way.

    Turning to your second question, consider the principle that the level of intelligence that we obtain in this life will rise with us in the next life. That principle applies to everybody, not just those who eventually land in the celestial kingdom and achieve godhood. Does the intelligence obtained by the non-celestial bound not represent real progress? I think not. I think it will be of great value to them in achieving whatever level of joy is available to them.

    Your question also assumes that godhood is represented by a single point at the corner of a closed cube. The geometric space I envision is not closed–godhood would be represented not by a point but by an infinite region beyond a three-dimensional frontier.

  21. We’re getting somewhere now, LL (though I’m not sure where…)

    I can’t claim that I really understand what you are saying… Maybe I had better ask more questions… Plus I’ll try to figure out some of your assumptions.

    Warning: Total guessing and possible heresy to follow.

    First, you mentioned that the general OD-Celestial model doesn’t work before this life because since if we are in a telestial sphere now it implies we had to start at O.D. That we originally came from some form of “darkness” actually might make sense — especially if we are looking back to the “beginning” (which of course is not really a beginning if we are eternal). But if we are at essence intelligences, then aren’t we made up of intelligence, and isn’t intelligence also described as light, so isn’t it possible that a form of darkness is exactly where “we” started before that intelligence/light began cleaving unto itself? (This, of course, leans more toward the “sea of intelligence” camp that McConkie and others are in as opposed to the camp of those who believe we have always spiritually been in our current form.) So the upshot is that the OD-Celestial model could still work depending on assumptions.

    Also, it should be noted that this doesn’t assume we were in any form of darkness recently. If this life is some sort of telestial one we have no idea of what tests we have passed over the eons to get here in our current circumstances now.

    Since I view the concept of eternal progression as a process of light cleaving unto light and intelligence to intelligence – sort of a like a snowball growing larger as it rolls – I am having a hard time understanding your model. I guess it is because using the snowball analogy intelligences adds and grows in all directions. It sort of sounds like in your analogy being assigned to the Telestial kingdom forever allows you to progress in the sense that you can gain certain kinds of intelligence but not others?

    In any case, if lesser kingdoms are both limiting to the knowledge we can gain and permanent, aren’t they still an eternal dam to our progress to be like God? This is a notion I find difficult to accept (as I describe it at least). It seems to me that such a doctrine assumes external barriers to progress when the only barriers to our progress throughout eternity, as I understand it, ought to be our decisions (as agents).

  22. Tom Manney says:

    All I know is that Alma said we will be the same people on the other side that we are here. We can progress here; we can progress there. But we can also regress here, so can we regress there?

    Also, Alma’s doctrine of restoration implies that heaven and hell are of our own making, regardless of whether we’re alive or dead–heaven and hell are states of being that we choose. I know when everyone in my family is tired and cranky and the kids start fighting and the parents start yelling it sure feels like hell to me. I view the mortal probation as a time to learn how to be happy with these awkward, passionate bodies so driven by appetites that must be kept in check, because the skills of forgiving, loving, finding joy despite adversity, doing things in moderation and being peackemakers do more than earn us a place in heaven — they ARE heaven, in this life and the next.

    I used to pride myself in my faith in the Mormon view of the afterlife — I was so sure it was a rest from the cares of this world that I felt no fear of death. Believe me, I would love to be rid of my bills and this uncomfortable man-suit that my spirit has been saddled with. But recently I had an experience that changed my mind completely. I thought I was having a heart attack (I should warn you that I suffer from acute hypochondria), and I thought it was my own fault for not being healthier. I knew that if I died, I would leave too early, with many responsibilities unfinished in this life, my young wife and children not the least of them. I knew that the afterlife would be hell indeed, worrying about my family and feeling like a helpless failure.

    On a different subject, one aspect of the Mormon afterlife that I do not understand well is temple work for those who could have accepted the truth in this life and did not. Doesn’t that automatically disqualify them for the Celestial Kingdom? Isn’t that what D&C 76:71-79 says? Those who did not have testimonies of Jesus in this life, who were blinded by the craftiness of men, but then received a testimony of Jesus in the spirit world — they’re terrestrial material, right?

    I ask because I dearly love my now-deceased paternal grandparents, and they wanted nothing to do with organized religion and especially Mormonism in this life. We have done their temple work and have had some special experiences that give us hope that we will indeed be sealed to them, but that would seem to pretty much fly in the face of Section 76, would it not? Were the sealing ordinances we performed on their behalf in vain? I just don’t know. I think my dad struggles with this question even worse than I do.

  23. I liked Hyrum Smith’s sermon on the moon waxing and waning and the kingdom it represented filling up and emptying out as people progressed through it.

    Interesting stuff as we think about it all.

  24. Stephen,

    That sounds like a very interesting read… Any details on the dates/place of that sermon? I’d like to track a copy down. (Maybe Gospel Link is my answer…)

  25. Last_lemming says:

    Geoff J

    If you want to go all the way back to point [0,0,0], I would agree that it is the equivalent of outer darkness. But we moved off of that point prior to our birth, which is inconsistent with my concept of OD. Also, we were in the presence of the Father in the pre-existence.

    One thing I probably did not make clear is that I do not assume that the axes represent concepts we can even comprehend. You note that there seem to be many directions in which we can progress even now. True enough, but for purposes of my model, I would be inclined to group them together on a single axis. (Intelligence may be an appropriate label for it.) The modalities of progress available to terrestrial and celestial beings may simply be beyond our comprehension (and may remain so for telestial beings in the afterlife). The one exception is spiritual procreation, which we know is a modality of progression available only to celestial beings. We are aware of it as telestial beings and even pretend to comprehend it to some degree, but I suspect we do not.

    I don’t detect in your comments any fundamental misunderstanding of my model. You seem mostly to object to the idea of external constraints. I don’t particulaly like the idea of external constraints myself, but my understanding of Church doctrine is that in the resurrection, telestial bodies will be qualitatively different than terrestrial bodies which, in turn, will be different from celestial bodies. That in itself, represents an external constraint. (Just like the lack of a body represents an external constraint on those not yet–or never to be–born.) I formulated my model allow for some form of eternal progression for all except the sons of perdition. My own belief is that we will be quite satisfied with the opportunities for progress that we are presented with, as they will reflect the desires of our heart as manifested here on earth.

    Tom M.

    Your question raises all sorts of issues that I don’t have time to explore right now. Suffice it to say that in my view, there is room for some form of sealing between celestial beings and those in other kingdoms. Statements by general authorities (Newell K Whitney being the most well-known) that faithful parents who keep their covenants will not loose their children in the afterlife seem to support this. To believe that those children automatically inherit the celestial kingdom denies them their agency.

  26. LL,

    Thanks for the clarification. It sounds like there aren’t too many differences between your axis model and the ever-growing (or shrinking, as Tom points out) snowball of light and intelligence I envision. The main difference in our views has to do with the eternal permanency (or not) of our post-judgment condition.

    The permanent kingdom model seems to be the prevailing school in the church, and as I mentioned earlier, believing in permanent assignment to kingdoms has lots of practical benefits. There are plenty of scriptures that imply it too, possibly he strongest of which is the statement by Amulek: “their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided”. Since Paul makes it clear that each kingdom has its own type of resurrected body this seems to be a pretty good case for permanent assignment to kingdoms.

    The problem is that such a course seems to fly in the face of other statements in scriptures. Just two examples are God telling Joseph that the worth of souls is great in His sight (D&C 18) and Moses that His work and glory includes bringing to pass both the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1). If the scriptures are accurate that strait is the gate and there truly are very few that find it, then it would appear that God was quite a failure in his work and glory and that he doesn’t mind a plan that basically damns the vast majority of those extremely valuable souls after all.

    I have heard attempts to reconcile this problem by asserting that those in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms will be as happy as clams in their kingdoms for all eternity. I just don’t buy that. If we have progressed from all eternity to arrive here, why should we assume we’d be happy through all eternity without much more progress and without the possibility of ultimate progress? It sounds more like the protestant view of the eternities to me.

    I sincerely hope this isn’t heresy, but I prefer to resolve the apparent conflict (at least as of today – I could be convinced otherwise with proper evidence) by appealing to the Lord’s disclosure at the beginning of D&C 19. There he explains that Endless and Eternal are not necessarily descriptions of time, but sometimes they are descriptions of quality. This could be an out for eternally permanent telestial or terrestrial resurrected bodies. And lest we think that perfected bodies cannot be separated from spirits – don’t forget that Adam could have lived forever in his perfected pre-fall body, but that was transformed into a separable form…

    I lean toward this approach for all sorts of reasons, but one of them is that it opens a way for resolution of problems like the one Tom brought up concerning sealings.

  27. As far I can tell, section 76 doesn’t talk about kingdoms, only glory (literally degrees of glory – as in they’re only meaningful in comparison to each other). Trouble is, it doesn’t define what glory is! It appears to be less to do with locations, than with states of being, with the only descriptors for those states being the recipient’s relationship with God (and the aforementioned analogy with the glory of heavenly bodies).

    With regards to how long this ‘assignment’ lasts, the biggest clue to me is in phrases like ‘forever and ever’ and ‘worlds without end’. Call me a literalist, but…well….actually I’d probably just agree! :)

    That’s why this life has all these warning labels – “Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance” – “this life [is] a probationary state, a time to prepare to meet God, a time to prepare for that endless state…after the resurrection of the dead” – The parable of the wise/foolish virgins – “the night cometh, when no man can work” etc.

    In the Lectures on Faith – Joseph Smith explains that to him, knowing that you could have done better, but you didn’t, would be torment to the mind of man. I am slightly more optimistic than this, as I think that will be offset by gratitude to God that you’ve gotten as far as you have (as stated previously, any degree of glory is an improvement).

    I for one don’t consider the plan a failure at all – in fact, considering the overarching design requirement (that we at all times retain our agency) makes it miraculous that anyone gets saved at all. Yes, maybe those of us who do not use our agency wisely may not be as happy as we otherwise would have been, but we will have chosen that for ourselves. You have to remember that the alternative was for Satan to do everything for us, and we chose to reject that. I for one stand by that decision.

    Tom, my advice to you regarding your grandparents is this – don’t apply scriptures dealing in general principles of judgement to individuals. Doing that requires total knowledge of all the pertinent facts and none of us have that. If your temple experiences hand you hope, run with them, who knows how much benefit you can still be to them?

  28. Tom Manney says:

    Geoff, your post was going astoundingly well until I suddenly realized that you had reconciled Mormonism with reincarnation. Shocking theory.

    That being said, I know it was popular in my mission to recall something Elder Hartman Rector Jr. of the Seventy said while on a mission tour shortly before I arrived there. It was his opinion that “eternity” was just an expression, and that in so many million years it would all start over again — I wasn’t clear on whether he said it would all start over only for those who were not top-tier Celestial Kingdom subjects or whether it was true for everyone. Sort of an integration with Mormonism of the cyclical Big Bang-Big Crunch cosmology.

    I think it makes sense that the sealing ties can span multiple kingdoms.

    Fraggle, that sounds so heartless to think that this mortal life is the one and only shot we ever get at eternity and wherever we end up at death or the judgement is the best we can ever hope for. The scary thing is that I am afraid you are probably right.

  29. I have to say that I was always a fan of the theory that people wind up in a kingdom much like a bubble rises or sinks to its level of equilibrium — gods like a very high ratio in the intensity of their miseries and their joys. Think idealized Mormon mothers — they put up with a lot of “muck” but they also raised great, if human, families. Terrestrial people like a very low-intensity ratio in the intensity of their miseries and joys. (Protestants will find the Terrestrial Kingdom to be much as they anticipated it — a kingdom of asexuals in the presence of Jesus.) People in the Telestial Kingdom screwed up but God loves ‘em anyway. This kingdom of glory is his way of thanking them for trying to back up their choice in the War in Heaven. Come again when you’re more intelligent and we’ll test you again. Buh bye now.

    Also, I have heard competing theories and quotes on whether there will be numerous sons of perdition — people who betrayed their testimonies in average ways and maybe people who had no testimonies but were spectacularly evil, like Hitler and Stalin and Ted Bundy and so on — or whether perdition will be a very small group of people — people who betrayed their testimonies in profoundly contemptuous ways, Cain and Judas highlighting a very short list. I have no opinion, but I worry about it a little. Cause I’m a born worryer. That’s what my wife tells me, and she’s usually spot on. So what do you think? Is perdition a big place or a single cell in a prison block?

  30. Hehe. Well far be it from me to shock people with vain speculations Tom! (Although I don’t think the “r” word is really an accurate description of my speculations…) At least I am not the first to wonder similar things, as your note about Elder Rector points out.

    Concerning outer darkness (from dots guy) — I am interested in Alma’s comments on the “destruction of the soul”. My “snowball of light and intelligence” theory plays into that pretty well. The possibility of eternal progression must necessarily allow for eternal regression as well…

    For fear of lightning bolts I should probably put down the laptop and slowly back away from these topics for now.

  31. Last_lemming says:

    If you’re interested in integrating Big Crunch cosmology with religion (not necessarily Mormonism), I recommend “The Physics of Immortality” by Frank Tipler. The science is obsolete and the theology is seriously flawed, but it is an exercise in speculation like no other that I have encountered and reading it stopped my slide toward pure empiricism.

    As for outer darkness, I vote for the single prison cell.

  32. Tom, I understand what you mean. It seems a rather final result from so confusing and fluid a formula (even if you take temple work/spirit world into consideration). My acceptance of it requires my faith:

    1) that Heavenly Father put forward the best plan there is.
    2) that He’s gonna be ‘marking the scripts’ in a perfect manner.
    3) that this is what *I* wanted.

    I often wonder how my pre-mortal and mortal selves differ, and in what ways are ‘we’ alike (and what were my catchphrases before the Simpsons?!). In fact, I’ve been known to resolve on a course of action, so that I “don’t let the old me down” (a sort of self-peer pressure if you will).

    Outer Darkness is always tricky. I assume the whole bigplace/single cell question is about embodied inhabitants, as there’s always the 1/3 to keep them company. On another note, that number continues to stagger me – 1/3!!! Sometimes that just makes me want to cry.

  33. I love it when people pontificate their knowledge.

    Bottom line:

    Form loving relationships with family members
    Obey Gods commandments
    Perform saving ordnances
    Follow Jesus Christ

    Results:

    You will get(inherit) what you get(inherit)
    You will like what you get(inherit)

    So simple my teenagers even get it (I love the word GET)

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