Pre-Resurrection Progression

My dad, may he rest in peace, was not a very good man. He was depressed, balding, severely bipolar, a very poor provider, diabetic, full of self-loathing, lazy, he liked puns, and he didn’t live long enough for me to understand what it even is that makes a person good.

My parents divorced when I was nine, because of his mishandling of his bipolar disorder, his unwillingness to take medication (he felt he needed to use his agency to overcome it), and his inability to help our family survive financially. That, mixed with his Type I diabetes, took him out of the game when he was 45 and I was 13.

I did not like him when he died.

I didn’t understand his disease at all and felt like he’d cursed our family on purpose. I didn’t like him because I felt like he didn’t work hard enough to get to know me, and I was certain that he’d chosen his manic-depression over me.Of course, I felt immensely guilty for not liking him. For not coming to some sort of understanding while he was alive.

And the two days after he died, I heard that Mike and the Mechanics song “In the Living Years” 17 times. What a way to sock it to me.

I moped for a couple of years over having a dead dad, who I didn’t think would make it to heaven, who couldn’t be a part of our eternal family, if we even got to have one. But then there came a desperation to work out things somehow, to apologize, to get him to apologize, to understand what was happening to him.

Luckily, I’m Mormon, and while most doctrines about the afterlife aren’t very explicit, we’ve got a lot of information. Plus, at least we believe that he’s somewhere in the Spirit World, doing something. And that was enough belief for me to start praying for this reconciliation between father and daughter. It took awhile but somewhere near age 16, I had an experience while praying during which I felt a deep love and understanding for my dad, and distinctly felt his desires and will. His begging for forgiveness, his aching for his family. I was entirely certain however from this feeling that he was still messed up. Still working out a lot of his life and what it had meant.

Then periodically I would get a sense of him, like a yearly visit to my mind or heart. I felt like he was growing up as I was growing up. Maybe that he was in some sort of therapy. He liked himself a bit more every time I felt him, more confident in himself. The mania that scared me as a kid and the depression that offended me seemed to be gone. I just couldn’t get a feel for that anymore, though it seemed clear that it didn’t disappear from him completely or immediately.

Then my last year in Provo, 13 years after he died, I went to a Tabernacle Choir concert. If I were the visionary type, it would have been a vision, but I had never sensed my dad so strongly in my whole life. I actually felt a presence, whereas before it was just a feeling. He felt whole. Loving. Well-adjusted. I felt belonging, like he was claiming me as his daughter.

I am certain of it. In the same way that I am certain about our revealed theology about the hereafter and heaven. But it is uncanny isn’t it? That I sensed my dad growing up while I was growing up. That my dad seemed to become more of a well-adjusted adult while I was becoming a, ahem, well-adjusted adult. I might have made this all up. To take care of my heart. To own my dad. To own my own difficult experiences, or to give myself a father for a Mormon afterlife that mandates eternal families. Did I make this all up?

I don’t think I did. I cannot write off those experiences so easily, and I don’t want to. Then the question comes, what’s the harm in the creation of this doctrine, this pre-resurrection progression? We know there’s something that happens in that time, why not, for me and my own personal beliefs, this?

I believe that life experience creates a need for doctrine not yet revealed. I believe in personal revelation and God’s power and willingness to share understanding when it’s asked for. I would never preach it (get your own personal revelation–sheesh!) but I wonder what the risk factor is? Surely most of you don’t question this personal revelation because it’s a feel good kind, from which only good seems to come. But where does one draw the line of personal revelation? And how does one draw that line when revelation comes in answer to such an earnest question from a daughter with a dead, dead-beat dad wanting an eternal family?

Comments

  1. Amri, I enjoyed reading this post. It is perfectly compatible with my beliefs about progression in the Spirit World. In fact, it probably added something to those beliefs. Thank you.

  2. This is a great post. I would not doubt your “revelations” for a minute. My family history is full of similar stories.

  3. D. Fletcher says:

    Wow, how interesting Amri! I feel like your description of your Dad makes him sound like me! Though I don’t have any children, of course, and I am 48, diabetes-free.

  4. rob Osborn says:

    Very good post I might add. We are living in a society now where I think we are going to see a change in the way we view the eternal perspective of “all” God’s children. Even wicked people will have the chance to repent and do good even if it isn’t in this life. I believe also that we are in a transitional phase in the church with our doctrine where we are going view heaven and the eternal family different. No longer will we say that the family only exists for the celestial beings. There is no joy outside of the family relationship and God will not destroy that relationship as long as people are willing to change and accept the gospel regardless of what kingdom of glory they get assigned to in the resurrection.

    The old notion of how one leaves the world will be how they are in the resurrection is quickly fading and in it’s place we are seeing life continue beyond the grave and repentance granted in the world of spirits- changes in spirits and their individual wills.

  5. Also,

    I do not doubt that thru Jesus the afflication of Mental illness can be overcome in the resurection. I am pretty sure that many of us that have family members who have so suffered will see a new person re-united with a now perfect body and will be forgiven of their sins that were in part caused by mental illness. This should give us all hope.

  6. Amri,
    I really, really love your posts.

  7. A beautiful post. I have had a similar start with a lost soul parent, and hope — eventually — to have a similar ending. For now, I just hope and pray and work so that I am not the kind of husband/father I had growing up. Here’s for blogging as group therapy.

    Your question about personal revelation, I think, is a perennial one. Hiram Page had his seer stone, Bruce McConkie his Mormon Doctrine. Sometimes the Church canonizes personal revelation, sometimes the Church excoriates it. There doesn’t always seem to be a rule as to which person’s revelation gets the official nod, and at what times.

    My approach in discerning revelation — both for that which I feel comes from God to me, and that which others have claimed comes from God to them — is simple. With revelation qua innocuous insight, I say bring it on ’til the cows come home. If you had a thought that feels good, or “tastes good” as Joseph Smith used to say, and you feel that it comes from God, more power to you. I start to lose that commitment when revelation becomes dogma. The idea that you learned, directly from God, something about the next life, or the unknown, or whatever else is great, but as soon as that doctrine becomes His only word on the subject, or the only possible scenario, I get worried. I recall one brother saying that he had had a revelation that missionary work occurred on the other side of the veil via temple-reinforced family connections, hence the need for active temple work here. That could very well be true, but I find myself both a) unconvinced, and b) a little scared of the direction that that sort of experience heads. This brother knew his revelation to be true, and so any other statement to a different effect would be clearly false. And thus, the person making the opposing comment, clearly uninspired. Sound familiar? Pretty soon, you get sectarian Mormonism, with some groups yelling about one trivial detail of doctrinal exposition, and another group yelling about the other version of the same doctrine. History is all too clear that yelling can quickly become fighting on issues just like this.

    No, thanks. I’ll keep my feel good personal revelation, reflect even on the doctrinal stuff that comes my way (I’ve got all kinds of thoughts, questions, and — I’ll even say it — revelations about how the world works, from creation to exaltation), but trust that even these are incomplete enough to keep an open mind. If one of my revelations about how God does His work gets contradicted by another brother or sister, or a General Authority, or even someone of a different faith, I trust enough in the comfort of a Heavenly Father who, even in this fulness of times, has kept the lights a little dim, so as to leave any anger and dispute alone. In the meantime, I’ll trust that the Lord has revealed enough for my happiness so that I can do well by mortality, and have mortality do well by me.

  8. Amri,
    Thank you for a beautiful post. In so many ways, I think the hell of the spirit world is that pain and Godly sorrow that changes what we are to something better. You shared a wonderful and amazing personal experience.

    Thank You

  9. What a beautiful post! Thank you.

  10. Strong work, hermana. Well put and touching. I was lucky that my reconciliation happened right before he died. To your point, my sense of his progress hasn’t been as urgent or as present, perhaps because we were reconciled and I had learned to love him before he died. I have tender feelings for him but no clear personal theology of his fate in judgment (though I hope for my sake that the poor man will qualify because if he’s a long shot, then so am I).

    Your question is one reason that I tend to be more relational than factual in my theology. From a relational perspective, you are reporting the revelation of your reconciliation with him, which shines brightly with eternal truth, regardless of how we officially work out the contours of the fate of the soul after death.

    Thanks for remembering him. I suspect he’s quite touched by the, ahem, mature adult you’ve become. He loved you desperately, the only way he knew how.

  11. Peter, you make a good point about the Church’s relationship with personal revelation.

    I wonder about how to deal with it too because this one just happens to be acceptable. What if I also got revelation (just for myself, no one else) to start up some polyandry since in Mormon heaven I need a husband and can’t seem to find a Mormon man I really like? Everyone would hate that idea because it’s weird and wrong etc. But personal revelation about polygamy back in the day were more common, acceptable etc.

    Because I recognize that my grief has made the need for a doctrine like this in my life, I am open to this being different. If I get to the other side and it works out differently I won’t curse God for it. Though, for now, and for myself, I am utterly convinced that my dad, though dead, is still growing and changing with some good therapy, somewhere in the afterlife.

    He’s probably not over his baldness yet though. Or his puns. Darn it.

  12. You make me cry, smb.

    You’re a goodie. Thanks.

  13. E. Oaks visited our stake, and said that he had recently learned that we can and will continue to repent after we die — he quoted D&C 135, towards the end, where it says that the elders will continue to preach, and people will repent. What’s the point of preaching, if we cannot repent?

    Great post.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautiful post, Amri.

    I think the theological counterpoint would probably be that if we can continue to repent after we die, people will put off repenting, so this earth is the time to repent.

    This kind of argument has always annoyed me, because it seems to me that doctrine is not, or at least should not be, determined by mere practical realities. Doctrine should be a reflection of eternal realities; whether they’re convenient or practical in the here and now is besides the point. I think your idea of post mortem repentance fits well with our notions of eternal progression, and if some people want to use that as an excuse to limit or hinder their progression in this life, that’s their problem.

  15. Kevin,
    I agree with you first off. But in fairness to those who don’t like the post mortal repentance model, there is the letter from Alma to Coriantumr that must be taken into this account. There does appear to be some difference. What that is I couldn’t rightly say.

  16. J. Daniel Crawford says:

    Doc,

    It is evident that there wasn’t a Book of Mormon belief in the redemption of the dead. If you like, I’ll put up a post about it. In any case, we shouldn’t read what the Book of Mormon has to say about the afterlife as being the whole truth (as D&C 76 indicates)

  17. Yes, what JDC said.

    E. Oaks is coming to see my views. Finally. In no time we’ll also all be allowed to drink tea!

    Just kidding. Calm down. No tea. Gays at church maybe?

    I wonder about human nature in regards to repentance. Would we put it off if we knew we had more time? My dad was a good procrastinator but I don’t view his changing as entirely repentance. I mean, how do repent of mental illness?

  18. Eric Russell says:

    I’m inclined to believe in PRP, but there is a problem in that there is an inverse relationship between the degree of possibility of progression in the next life and our understanding of the purpose of our current mortality. How do we explain the purpose of life in light of the notion of progression in the next?

  19. The answer would be to consider this life and the next (pre-resurrection, at least) one big life and assume that we will all have a lot to work on when we go.

  20. When I used to feel a lot of pressure at Church to perform (you know, play the piano, serve, bake, sew, sing, be smart, be skinny) that was the only way I could make myself feel better about my inability to be anything be mediocre.

    I surely would have a lot of time later to get good at stuff and be skinny. Right now, I focus on blogging and TV, well, and eating.

  21. PS we do believe in post-resurrection progression right? that’s why I made the distinction. It’s just not the repenting, growing up kind of progression.

  22. Amri,
    Yes you are in the clear with the orthodox thought police on the title. Now, about that tea…jk ;)

  23. Jothegrill says:

    Amri, I had a similar experience with a grandfather. I agree with so much of what you said. One of my thoughts about it is that there is a difference between putting off repentance just because you want to, and not being able to repent of certain things because of specific conditions of your own mortality. There were things my grandpa ( I can finally call him that) was dealing with on earth that he doesn’t have to deal with in the afterlife. Those things did not all come because of his choices and as soon as he was freed from them I could feel that he was progressing. My experience was a little different from yours in that I was aware of the man he could have been before he passed from mortality. But he couldn’t be that man while he was alive, so I had to keep my distance to protect myself. Thank you for this post. Thank you for your life…(and for letting us peek into it sometimes.)

  24. What a nice post!

    I think it’s obvious that one can repent after death–otherwise baptism for the dead wouldn’t make much since, since baptism follows repentence.

    I expect that repentence is more difficult in the spirit world FOR SOME SINS, however. Why? Well, if full repentence involves confession/apology to one we’ve wronged, this may be more difficult to accomplish if that particular person is still alive.

    But then I guess it follows that it’s easier to repent of some sins in the spirit world if the person you need to speak with is also dead.

    Mike and the Mechanics … LOL!

  25. I had a similar experience, Amri. I totally believe in the progression you speak of and I also believe we underestimate ourselves all the time. Most of us are good people. The contact I’ve had with those who have passed on tells me that, and I’m assuming because of the atonement, those who endure and do the best they can, are exalted to an extraordinary measure long before the resurrection.

    I’ve had a similar experience with my dad. It took almost 40 years, but still. Wonderful post.

  26. “My dad, may he rest in peace, was not a very good man. He was depressed, balding, severely bipolar, a very poor provider, diabetic, full of self-loathing, lazy, he liked puns, and he didn’t live long enough for me to understand what it even is that makes a person good.”

    Some of these things are not like the others. . .

  27. Mark Butler says:

    Some of them?

  28. Clark! Balding is clearly the most egregious sin on the list! And puns. Please, don’t even get me started.

    The thing that I have felt most potently with my dad was less repentance per se but more a growing up, a learning a kinder of view of himself (like you said annegb people kinda hate themselves and that limits their actions). He came to accept his life experience, his manic depression, his faults and that life is just hard and it sucks most of the time. That’s what it felt like to me.

    I also believe that we’ll get to work out our relationship as father and daughter after I die. That it won’t just be instantaneous, but that we’ll work things out too.

    Thanks for sharing y’all’s stories too.

  29. Antonio Parr says:

    Must I now worry that my balding is yet another sign of my faulty character?

  30. Beautiful post and wonderful comments- I don’t really have anything to add. The post and the comments have touched on things I’ve thought about a lot, and to which I have very few conclusions.
    Well, except of course for my conclusion that no matter how deplorable a sin my loss of hair may be it is much worse to engage in vain attempts to cover said sin. (I suppose I’ve also concluded that Elder Carter my bald mission companion was right. Making fun of the balding rarely actually ends in death by bear mauling- it leads to being cursed with baldness.)

  31. Amri,

    I think you make an important point in the end of comment #17. It seems to me that part of why your father has been able to progress as well as he has is that he no longer has the burden of his mental illness. Freed from the distortions that mental illness so often brings, your father is now able to see and think more clearly, and is also now able to make decisions that he simply couldn’t before. Maybe in his case it isn’t as much a repentance process as it is a healing process.

  32. Adam Greenwood says:

    Beautiful post.

  33. Thanks, Adam.

    CS Eric, you’re right. I don’t think my dad has to deal with the mental illness now and that’s changed his whole vision. It was a slower process than I thought. When I was young I had this idea that once people knew “Truth”, then they would change immediately. Whether that was my dad re-orienting to his life or people joining the Church or something. Now I think that it’s a long process. Maybe sometime near when he died the mental illness was taken away but the things he believed about life as a result were deeply rooted and took a long time to uproot. Maybe. That’s how it feels to me but it’s obviously so nebulous.

    And of course I’m kidding about the balding. I’m head over heels for a balding man right now, so I’ll have none of you repenting of that balding. It’s the best way really.

    Bald is beautiful. There, that makes you feel better right?

  34. Amri, a balding man and his hair are soon parted.

    Did you hear about the guy who got hair implants and then went to Hawaii to celebrate? He said “Hair today, gone to Maui!”

    /slaps knee, ducks and runs for the door/

  35. he liked puns — no wonder you thought he was evil.

    I believe that life experience creates a need for doctrine not yet revealed — Nicely said.

    I still wonder about reconcilliation and my grandparents, as they wander the next life.

  36. I’m coming to this post late, but what a wonderful one it is.

    I have family members who’ve passed on who did not live exemplary lives—to put it mildly. I think I really needed this post.

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