I’ve been following Bob’s recent exaltation thread from afar. More interesting to me than the different positions being taken on either side is that there is a discussion at all.
I first wondered what difference it would make whether or not exaltation were a gift. Would the answer change my testimony or how I live my life? How? I was about to write a post asking what would happen if it came down from President Hinckley himself (or we had whatever we might consider an authoritative answer) that, say, exaltation could not properly be thought of as a gift. (In fact, I might still ask that question.)
As I considered the question myself, I decided that thinking of exaltation as a gift might make me value humility and submission to God more than I might otherwise, while thinking of it as something else — what has the other side settled on at this point, a piano? — might encourage me to focus on things I can do personally to better myself and become more like Christ. At that point I was about to write a post about how the answer to everyone’s problems is to understand it as both, and that we really just need to get along. For that matter, your home teaching better be done before you spend any more time debating such trifles, buster! (Just kidding. Don’t worry. I was never really going to make that argument. Except for the home teaching thing — I’m the EQ president in my branch and my District President reads this.)
Now we get to the interesting part. It occurred to me that it’s more likely that those of us who already more greatly value humility and recognition of our own nothingness before God will be the ones more likely to think of exaltation as a gift, while those who already put more emphasis on accomplishing things through our own efforts will be the ones more likely focus on our own role in achieving our exalted state. The way we envision eternal progression probably says more about our current worldview than anything else. (If I were a real glutton for punishment, I might propose this as a liahona/iron rod substitute. Are you gift Mormon or a piano Mormon?)
I have a feeling most doctrine is this way. I’m convinced that the eternities will be wildly different from what any of us visualize in our meager attempts at describing them. That, even if somehow "correct," our doctrines will seem so vastly incomplete as to be almost meaningless. Instead of an accurate road map of the afterlife, I wonder if one purpose of the doctrines we’re taught is to help us, incomplete as our paradigms are, get a tiny glimpse of what it will be like. If our concept of what’s important is working constantly to improve ourselves, exaltation means the most to us if it confirms that value. Likewise for submission to and reliance on our Savior.
I guess this sounds a bit wishy washy, something of a cop out. The answer is whatever you want it to be!, I seem to be saying. What I really mean, though, is that as much as anything else we are simply projecting ourselves into our different understandings of doctrine. But that’s okay. There’s a saying of the Buddha’s that I like to whip out every few months whether I need to or not, and this seems like a good time. "My teachings," he said, "are like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon." When we get there, we’ll all be surprised at how much we didn’t know about post-Earth life. We all use different fingers to help us see the moon; the trick is to choose a finger that’s pointing at the right moon.
Oh yeah, and you can still answer my question about what would happen if Prez H settled the matter one way or the other if you want to.