W.V. Smith is a Professor of Mathematics at the BYU, and coordinates the Book of Abraham Project (BOAP.org), which among other projects is currently focusing on the funeral sermons of Joseph Smith. Current events at BOAP can be found at the BOAP blog. We’re delighted to have Dr. Smith as our guest for a while.
All Latter-day Saints in the know understand about the “war in heaven.” (Revelation 12:7) To the rest of the world, Rev. 12:7 is all about the devil and his cohorts. The precise theological explanations vary, but almost no one considers the idea that they are our relatives. That’s a little bombshell that Mike Huckabee likes to spring on those ignorant media people at just the right moment.
Naturally this is based on the singular Mormon doctrine of human preexistence. Protestants and Catholics, who seem to like killing lots of trees over the problem of evil, discarded this doctrine for more important reasons.
Joseph talked with some frequency of the idea of a “grand council” in heaven at which earthlings were present to engage in discussion over where we were going from there. Staying was apparently not one of the choices presented. We either come to earth and inhabit a physical body, or get out and stay out.
God laid out the details for us. We’re going to a mortal probation, to see what we are made of. No memories of heaven, but there will be revelation, prophets from time to time, and whether then or after death, there will be a fair chance to see if we will do everything God asks of us. There is a staffing need and two volunteers. Someone has to attend to being a savior, make repentance/resurrection an option. One volunteer attaches a condition but sweetens the offer. Lucifer. He says that if he is appointed he’ll be savior by denying the possibility of sin. We don’t know how exactly. But it’s inferred that we just won’t be given the choice. Commandments in place, no choice to disobey. Oh yeah. And in return, Lucifer gets to take God’s place, or at least be first among equals.
The other volunteer, the eventual Jesus, says, no, I don’t want position, I’ll do the saving thing by the original plan, and everybody can choose to obey those commandments, or not.
There are of course, variations on this theme. But the basis for war is essentially both bullet points Lucifer has in his presentation. No one sins, so everybody comes home. And he gets the credit. This is the story many Latter-day Saints accept, perhaps in a slightly different form, but these are the main elements. And you can find scripture to back up at least parts of it.
There are factions in heaven. Some want Lucifer’s plan and vote with their feet. In the end, God’s champion, Michael and his forces (us), remove the rebels from the heavenly premises. Of all places, they get sent to the original proposed landing place anyway. But with no body. A bit of irony. War happens because Lucifer wanted to violate a guarantee of God: No moral coercion from him. (The book of Moses makes something of the greed aspect too.)
Now Joseph Smith tells this story a little differently. It’s not the correlated version, but it is interesting and worth considering I think. The correlated version might come through Talmage. (I have not carefully investigated the various tellings from Joseph on. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find the Pratt’s mudding up the waters.)
First, in Joseph’s theology, there is a very important class of persons who get significant space in modern scripture. In the long revelation on the structure of heaven, D&C 76, this class gets more ink that most everyone else. They show up again in D&C 88. Who are they? Yes, they are the sons of Satan (Perdition). In Nauvoo, they get yet more air time. Lots of Joseph’s sermons are devoted at least in part to this class of individuals. This class of people have gradually become more and more mysterious lately. They have become unmentionable it seems. Just like the satanic influence at the First Vision, they have disappeared. ;) I think Joseph suggests the reason they are important: This group is the real cause of war in heaven. Why?
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; the grand council gave in for Jesus Christ: so the devil rebelled against God and fell, and all who put up their heads for him. [Bullock fusion text of King Follett Sermon.]
The sermon makes clear that the certain souls who would not be saved, who would actually choose non-salvation, were the sons of Perdition. They are the crux of the war. Everybody else gets saved, to some degree. Apparently the prospect of no salvation at all was a trip wire. And it was a trip wire for the best and the brightest. Not crud-balls like me who don’t have that prophet-like spiritual blue blood. We don’t seem to qualify for SOP status. So there is danger there for the influential. It’s the best and the brightest that Lucifer is offering on his platter to God. Want these back for sure? Tempting God. Never a good idea.
Also we should note that in Joseph’s theology, there are more than just two factions in heaven. There are plenty of high rollers who have gathered followers. Politics and preexistence mixed. We should have guessed that. It’s only the Lucifer party (they’re called Democrats now) and his converted influentials and their factions that won’t tow the line. That group won’t take the chance. The irony is even more pronounced in this version. Lucifer’s rebels get exactly what they were trying to avoid. But worse. No body in the bargain. How does Satan eliminate the sin against the Holy Ghost? Either he removes the choice as a possible one, or he devalues the sin against the Holy Ghost. The latter delivers more irony since it makes Lucifer and company guilty of the same sin they hoped to avoid on earth. War is hell.
 I’m only guessing here. Maybe you could stay on. Maybe not. But it does seem to be only two choices. Either choice requires and exit. One should understand that this is an event which perhaps had been and will be repeated on other occasions. This is only a story about *our* cohort of God’s family. The ancient justification for earth-bound souls was either disobedience or boredom in preexistence. If asked, Joseph might have said the most preexistence sins are covered by atonement. We’re big on retroactive. What couldn’t be forgiven? You guessed it. Read on.
 Not exactly sure what the up side is here. Why choose Satan? Either there is more to this story or the story deserves a retelling. Read on.
 Talmage wrote in his Jesus the Christ, “all would be safely conducted through the career of mortality, bereft of freedom to act and agency to choose, so circumscribed that they would be compelled to do right – that not one soul would be lost.” Joseph’s view of being lost was more narrow than Talmage’s. Joseph remarked several times that at least his system saved the honorable unbeliever in some sense. Whereas most Protestants sent them to hell with no release date (along with all the rest of the unevangelized dead).
 In Nauvoo, SOP status is used as a kind of threat to insiders who might go rogue.
 SOP status can be conferred on women. That’s just my opinion, but I think they are quite as capable of achieving great spiritual status, and just as capable of discarding it for stupid ambitions.