Often, when we talk about the Celestial Kingdom, we discuss it as if it is a very exclusive club. We all aspire to it, but many of us assume that we aren’t good enough to get in. That’s not a helpful or joyous approach, I think. Instead, I’m going to argue for the democratization of God’s realm.
Christ is our perfect exemplar. We are meant to follow His example in all things. But we are not physically or emotionally capable of doing that right now. Likely we won’t be before we die. Mortality is defined by caring about the wrong things too much. We have limited vision and misguided cares.
Even if we were capable of exactly following Christ’s example, we don’t have the divine qualities necessary to enact an atonement. It’s a significant difference. We can’t do all the things that Christ did. But we are meant to be joint-heirs, partakers of the same divine nature. Is it fair or just for us to receive the same reward or become the same sort of divine being, if we aren’t able to make the same sacrifice?
Some people get around this by positing multiple mortal probations (arguing that each attempt gets us closer to being able to do what Christ did). Others argue that Christ and God are just different from the rest of us, so when we become kings and priests, queens and priestesses, in our own right, it means something different. We’ll never be a God like God is a God; we’ll be gods and goddesses. I don’t like either explanation, in part because I think neither is necessary and both inadequate.
When you consider how Christ discussed himself, one of the traits He emphasizes is His submission to His Father’s will. Even in saying that He only did what He saw His Father do before Him, He is admitting to primarily working His Father’s will. Christ’s life, as I tried to say, is defined by this submission, even though He was presumably perfect in his own right. Nonetheless, coming to earth and suffering the will of the Father was necessary for him to consider himself perfect.
How does this relate to us? Well, if we can’t do what Christ did, we may be able to submit as Christ did. Only in this do our little efforts approximate Christ’s great deed. Consider this quote, by Elder Maxwell:
“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24)
In addition to being the only way in which we can truly be like Christ, it is also the only way in which we can become like Christ. What is the means? Repentance.
Yesterday, I argued that repentance is the process by which we become more like Christ. This is how I envision it happening. We sin. We realize we sin, because we encounter God. We fall, because there is a huge gap between us and God. We pray and plead for God to close that gap. In this moment, we are willing to let God impose on our agency, so he can make us better. Then once we are better, we do restoration and so forth out of genuine desire.
Messing with agency is not something God does willy-nilly. Messing with agency was the reason that Lucifer got the boot. Many people feel that personal agency is such an important principle that no-one should ever be forced to do anything. Certainly, God doesn’t impose His will. Except that He will, if we ask Him. When we ask Him to change our hearts, to give us a second-birth, to make us desire what He desires, we are asking Him to interfere in our agency. Our agency is, essentially, our desire.
In order to get into the Celestial Kingdom, we must repent during our period of mortal probation. However, our period of mortal probation clearly extends after our death. If those who die without hearing the gospel, but who accept it after they die, will be allowed entry, then the period after death but before judgment is still a period of probation. You can’t even argue that those who had a chance in life are barred entry, because Peter tells us that those who died in Noah’s flood were visited by Christ in spirit prison. We generally take that to indicate the beginning of the post-mortal ministry, influenced by D&C 138. So, if the folks who ignored Noah get a second chance, I tend to think that the dude who slams a door on the missionaries will get another opportunity.
In fact, I think that God has designed this whole experience to put pressure on us to repent so that we can get back to him ASAP. Sin results in pain; pain turns us to God. Mortality results in pain; pain turns us to God. Life results in mistakes, regret, guilt; all turn us to God. If, for whatever reason, we make it to the end of life and haven’t turned out will over to God, then we’ll work on that in the afterlife. I have a feeling that God can delay the judgement as long as necessary.
I’m not sure he really has to, though. There is a fruitful way of approaching death that argues that our death is, potentially, our calling and election made sure. Or, as Elder McConkie put it:
I’m saying you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this: You get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life – though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do – you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to do what Jacob said, “Go beyond the mark.” You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church – keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes – because this is the time and the day appointed, this is the probationary estate – you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure. (link)
If you are on that path, in spite of your faults, you will be made divine. And since being on that path is a matter of personal will combined with biological and historical happenstance, I think that this promise is extended to those who get on the path in the afterlife. And I think everyone will. Well, almost everyone…
The last one tomorrow.