Providential tentacles, sacerdotal perseverance, and punishment for sin

Elder Bednar in the most recent Ensign (PDF) takes up a sensitive topic—the eternal fate of our children who turn away. This isn’t something that is uniquely Mormon. Faithful people the world over struggle with this, and it is at the root of some of the most interesting accommodations in religious history. Think the halfway covenant that bugged Jonathan Edwards so much.

In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith revealed a potent gemische that at once built on the previous work of the restoration and rocked the foundations on which it was built. A key facet of this work involved the initiation of close associates into the new liturgy of the temple. And this liturgy reworked standard conceptions, from ontology to christology.

It is quite clear that Joseph Smith taught that the seals of the temple were real. Heaven wasn’t some sort of reward or place you go if you do what is right. Heaven was something you built, welding-link by welding-link, on the anvil of our altars. Those sealings persevered. How we relate to others in this heavenly network is simply a function of the type of seals that bind us to each other. The problem is that this heaven we construct eventually and inevitably fractures. Heaven breaks by sin, abuse, death, divorce, and apostasy. Sometimes we break the shared walls of our heavenly mansion down, sometimes others. And how we have reacted to this instability has varied with time. Joseph’s revelation in the summer of 1829 indicated that Christ’s atonement was not particular and the torment of hell was not without end. His revelation fourteen years later reaffirmed that, indicating that a consequence of salvaging heaven could be our own destruction, albeit temporary; the sealings persevered.

When faced with the worst of humanity Brigham Young publically lashed out against those wishing secure their place in the heavenly network with him, while privately indicating that his biological children would nevertheless retain their connection despite their current infidelity. Then in 1894 Wilford Woodruff announced a revelation that changed everything. This shift was a great blessing to the Church but it created its own theological problems. After this revelation we accepted the axiom that God would not withhold any blessing from the righteous. The seals of temple, of which the vast majority of the church only get a fraction, will be available to all the righteous. We like this because we don’t like God to be a jerk. We want God to be fair and just. The problem is that this shift makes the seals of the temple into something closer to the Protestant heaven that Joseph Smith rejected—something that you get later, if you qualify. [n1]

Despite Elder Whitney’s popular and comforting divine tentacles of providence (perhaps the parable of the pickle of his day), Church leaders generally haven’t liked the idea of perseverance. The threat of antinomianism [n2] is just too real. We have wanted the possibility of eternal loss to motivate the actions of our people to righteousness. Joseph Fielding Smith, as popularized by Bruce R. McConkie is perhaps the most vivid example of this, teaching that “Salvation is an individual matter,” and that sealing only guaranteed access to the heavenly network, with actual kinship sealings being transferable to others as a function of faithfulness. [n3]

I think that Elder Bednar is in the Smith-McConkie theological camp. I appreciate that Elder Bednar employed some critical tools when approaching his sources. For example, he uses source materials to complicate a statement from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It just so happens that he draws the exact opposite reading that I think Joseph Smith intended. I also find his use of “authoritatively” particularly interesting. I’m not certain how many of the Church’s leaders share this view, but leaders frequently quote Whitney’s statement in situations intended to comfort parents whose children are not currently committed to the current standards of orthopraxy. [n4]

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  1. The temple also appears to have complicated, if not deprecated, the cosmology of section 76, “The Vision,” in important ways. This doesn’t seem to have bothered JS or his immediate contemporaries. With time however, Church members and leaders seemed to have ignored this in favor of canonical consistency.
  2. Antinomianism is generally an epithet signaling heresy in the broader Christian community. It has various meanings but the root idea is the proposition that if one is saved by (typically irresistible) grace, then one’s actions cannot be held to any other standard or laws. The caricature is an idea that there aren’t really any rules you need to live by once you are saved to retain that salvation. The simplified orthodox protestant response is that while that may be technically true, if you have been truly saved then you will live according to moral/divine/scriptural/secular law, because that is what saved people do. Or something. I’m appropriating the term somewhat here, because it isn’t the licentiousness of gracious perseverence in our Mormon discussion, but the possible licentiousness of sacerdotal perseverance (something I think Protestants would fear even more).
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56): 2:91-2.
  4. See, e.g., Henry B. Eyring, “Our Perfect Example,” Ensign, November 2009, 70–73; among dozens. Elder Bednar’s fn1 also has many examples. Search for “tentacles of providence” at lds.org.

Comments

  1. Stapley, thou art my favorite commentator on Mormonism’s rich and dynamic liturgical past. Demonstrating these type of subtle shifts, and the deeper meaning the reveal, is the true virtue of public historians.

  2. What Ben said.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    That means a lot. Thanks.

  4. I tell people here in the store: “if this essay collection has a Stapley in it, it’s worth the price of admission by itself.”

  5. Ah, theological diversity :)

    I recall Elder Packer talking several times about wayward children being redeemed (my paraphrase) by their faithful parents. Didn’t realize it went back to Orson Whitney.

  6. Mince, caught in the comment queue.

  7. Very interesting, as always. It makes me wonder how much it matters to the institutional church what Joseph Smith meant,

  8. Great stuff, J.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Probably very little, Taysom.

    And thanks again!

  10. This post was illuminating and helpful to me personally. I also had to look up gemische, which then led me to look up farrago. It pays to enrich your word power, FTW.

  11. I’ve frequently heard Whitney’s statement that the covenants to faithful parents will save wayward children repeated in the temple sealing rooms. My guess is this was one of the primary vectors Elder Bednar is attempting to course correct with his article.

  12. Nicely done, sir. JS’s sermons are full of wonderful complexity.

  13. Help an ignoramus out, J. What do you make of the article’s statement that the notes recorded by the Corays are complete and show that Joseph qualified his statement (to make the promised blessings conditional upon the obedience of the children)?

  14. J. Stapley says:

    Hunter, I think that the Corays notes are not complete, though they do have more text. I think that Elder Bednar’s reading is possible, but when faced with other contemporary evidence other readings become far more compelling.

  15. OK, that helps. I will now go back and re-read your post. Very intriguing stuff, thank you!

  16. It is difficult to make a case for Elder Bednar’s reading, which attempts to refute the comforting idea of sacerdotal perseverance (to use J.’s term — by which is meant that the sealing ordinance has real and tangible power in its own right, hence its importance) in favor of a very strict perspective that appears to exalt accountability, by which is meant suffering for one’s own sins, as the foundational teaching of the Gospel (quite possibly at the expense of Christ’s indispensable Grace), in the face of D&C 132:19 & 26:

    19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. . . .

    26 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.

    These verses articulate a doctrine from which, together with contemporary statements by Joseph Smith such as the “divine tentacles” concept, arises the comforting idea of the sealing power’s efficacy to help bind families together — even those with wayward children. Elder Bednar’s reading hinges on the Coray’s addition of “who have not transgressed” to the statement about the children of parents who have been sealed. But here’s the thing: no one, whether the sealed parents, Elder Bednar, Joseph Smith, or the children of sealed parents, can say that they “have not transgressed.” If this phrase is to be the linchpin of the argument, then it simply means that the sealing power isn’t anything particularly special — and it certainly isn’t something so grandiose as taught in D&C 132:26.

  17. J. Stapley says:

    John, section 132 really is an important illustration at some of the dynamics at play.

  18. Having said that, I think that Elder Bednar’s reading might be at least partially (and surely inadvertently) constructed in opposition to a strawman argument. Are there really Mormons today who think that children can go around sinning all they want and then still end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom just because they are sealed to their parents? Though that is actually what D&C 132:26 seems to imply (with the proviso that “they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption,” and also subject to the general caveat that people whose lives are touched by the Atonement of Jesus Christ won’t want to go around sinning like that) my impression is that virtually 100% of Mormons today believe in the strong notion of accountability reiterated by Elder Bednar in this article.

    We all agree that people are accountable for their own sins. What that means (because all of us have sinned and fallen short) is that each of us individually must look to Christ and accept his Atonement, thereby allowing his Grace to become effective in our own lives.

    Thus, my impression is that most or virtually all Mormons agree that the primary benefit that comes from the parents’ sealing and constant discipleship is that spiritual influence can enter into the lives of wayward children (as long as the parents don’t mess that up through treating the children badly based on their choices or through showing them a lack of respect for their own agency and decisions, and not supporting them if not choosing those things that the parents themselves would prefer) and prick their hearts and/or conscience to return their attention to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And this is, in sum, Elder Bednar’s point in the article.

    But the issue of sacerdotal perseverance, against which Elder Bednar’s article appears to be arrayed, is also actually doctrinal, found as it is in canonized scripture (D&C 132, not just offhand remarks or sermons by Joseph Smith recorded by the Corays and others). Just because it doesn’t appear to fit in neatly with the accountability paradigm that (rightly) controls in Church teachings today doesn’t mean that a complicated and/or convoluted apologetic needs to be created to make the doctrine of D&C 132:26 “more consistent doctrinally” with teachings about accountability in this paradigm. Truth, as one great whole, might well have any number of internal inconsistencies, particularly when viewed, because of our limited vision in mortality, “through a glass, darkly,” as Paul described (1 Cor. 13:12). That is, our current limited perspective and understanding might prevent us from understanding why the accountability paradigm and the strong sacerdotal perseverance doctrine (from D&C 132:19 & 26), are both correct, right, and true, at the same time. They both “taste good” to me and I feel reluctant to devalue one at the expense of exclusively propounding the other, thus “correlating” away enlightening and saving truths out of the perceived need for systematic consistency.

    As Norbert once said, sometimes in the Church we act as though Paul would never have felt that we see as if “through a glass, darkly,” if he had only had the Gospel Principles manual to hand. Correlation would have saved him from that confusion. Perhaps the impulse behind this article is somewhat influenced by that perceived need of Correlation on this point. But my concern is that this is going to discourage a lot more parents than it is going to encourage individuals to avoid transgressions because of the fear of the strict accountability paradigm reiterated by the article.

  19. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve come to believe in movement between kingdoms. This resolved a lot, for me.

    There are two central questions.

    The first is the question of justice. How do you resolve the idea that any permanent station can be given in balance to whatever has happened in 70 or 80 years? (Let alone the problem of people who die young, or as children or infants.) “Eternal reward” is almost an oxymoron.

    Second is the question of God’s purpose. His purpose is to raise us to the most complete, full or high position possible. To bring to pass the Eternal Life of man. For me, it has become increasingly difficult to imagine that this work ends just because we have a final judgement (final as to this world, but it need not say anything about the next. In just the manner that hell is eternal but not permanent.)

    I can see only a few ways of envisioning a permanent ban on upward mobility. Either God cannot lift someone from one kingdom to another, or will not, or beings no longer have any desire to be lifted. I can’t accept any of these, and so I tentatively resolve this in believing that there is movement, at least upward movement, between kingdoms. And I tentatively think that to think the other way is just one more unfortunate relic of our Protestant roots. And I also think that deep down there is a churlishness and an envy in thinking the other way.

    I’m open to correction on this, but it will take more than Mormon catch words to change my mind. :)

  20. Elder Bednar’s article, interestingly, opens back up the possibility of movement between kingdoms (at least progression in the afterlife, that is).

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    I don’t believe in teaching something based on whether it will effect people one way or another. Withholding information, even about a theory, in order to sway behavior is unrighteous dominion, because it is an attempt to circumnavigate another person’s freedom. It is maybe the biggest reason why we lack the Spirit in the church.

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ll have to read it John. Historically, there is thought to be some room to repent and come out of a Spirit Prison, but this move has not been thought to bring a person into an unearned kingdom. Least that’s the way I’ve heard it.

  23. J. Stapley says:

    John, I think you your comment at 4:08 pm is quite well articulated and it resonates. Thanks.

  24. I think Joseph Smith’s doctrines of ordinance work for the dead and “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” lend to the idea that he saw heaven as a “reward or place you go if you do what is right” (or perhaps more accurately a life/lives you get to live if you are or become what is right through doing.) And because of proxy work, I don’t think this idea contradicts with the necessity of building heaven first on earth in a very literal way.

    Additionally, Joseph taught that “All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.” and “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge” – which I’m guessing is more than knowledge in the brain, but rather the additional spiritual intelligence/light/truth that enlarges the mind/spirit of man considering this quote: “if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”

    The most obvious conclusion to me is that Joseph Smith saw righteousness and obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel as the primary prerequisites to further degrees of salvation/exaltation since they are the means by which man obtains further light and spiritual knowledge.

    (Perhaps then the idea of perseverance can only be fully reconciled and could only be reconciled in Joseph’s mind through principles yet revealed to the church, like some other type or types of probationary state(s) similar to life here where repentance and growth through gospel principles can continue to occur. For if diligence and obedience to righteous principles (which require choice and opposition) are the laws which gaining more knowledge and intelligence are predicated on, then disobedience can never yield a fullness of salvation.)

  25. And in Note 1, what did you mean by “The temple also appears to have complicated, if not deprecated, the cosmology of section 76, “The Vision,” in important ways.” ?

  26. Just to add…have you read Elder Faust’s “Dear are the sheep that have wandered”? (April 2003).

    This from the talk (he’s referring to Elder Whitney’s statement).

    “A principle in this statement that is often overlooked is that they must fully repent and “suffer for their sins” and “pay their debt to justice.” I recognize that now is the time “to prepare to meet God.” If the repentance of the wayward children does not happen in this life, is it still possible for the cords of the sealing to be strong enough for them yet to work out their repentance? In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told, “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God,

    “And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.”

    “We remember that the prodigal son wasted his inheritance, and when it was all gone he came back to his father’s house. There he was welcomed back into the family, but his inheritance was spent. Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.”

  27. J. Stapley says:

    SCW, Elder Bednar quotes heavily from that talk.

    SteveF, the temple liturgy present the various kingdoms of heaven, and those who enter them, in a (at the time it was revealed) novel way.

  28. So what I’m understanding from Elders Faust and Bednar is that the sealing power will only guarantee salvation, not exaltation. But as I understand it, salvation is for everyone. Everyone inherits a degree of glory (except the presumably very few sons of perdition), so everyone is saved, regardless of whether they were sealed to anyone or not. So then what is the point of the sealing? Just to bind those who attain exaltation? But then you also could have people who attain exaltation without being sealed. For example, a woman who never has the chance to marry in this life and whose family aren’t members would be sealed to no one but–as I’ve been taught–would still be eligible for exaltation. I guess I’m just not seeing much power in the sealing ceremony if that’s all it does. To be honest, none of this makes sense or feels right to me.

    And regarding children who go astray, well, I think the perspective in The God Who Weeps makes sense–that basically our accountability in this life is never 100% because there are too many other factors and circumstances involved. Here’s the thing: over its history (and I think likely even now), the church has taught a lot of things that are untrue–I think it’d be fair to say false doctrine. Now, the leaders may have been doing the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time. But I think that’s what a lot of people who “go astray” are doing as well. If they dont feel they’re being taught the truth, and it doesn’t feel right to them, then leaving the church and trying to gind truth and seek God on their own seems reasonable. I guess I just don’t think God will deny those individuals exaltation because the church’s mistakes or incorrect teachings were not reconcilable to them with the “one true church” concept.

  29. ^find truth

  30. My take on it has been not that the sealing necessarily provides automatic salvation for wayward children, but that those children/future generations will be given more opportunities to “return to the path” as it were, so that the family, as a whole, over dozens of generations, will be saved.

  31. I am not (yet) convinced that the Coray quote is a qualification on the famous Whitney “divine tentacles” statement. Both the Coray quote and the Whitey statement can be true at the same time. Imagine the sermon structured like this:

    1. Coray quote.
    2. Transition, such as, “But what about children who *do* transgress?”
    3. Whitney “divine tentacles” statement.

    In that structure, the Coray quote does not qualify what comes later. So without seeing where the Coray quote fits in the sermon as a whole, I don’t see how Elder Bednar can say that it qualified the “divine tentacles.”

    Does anyone have the material Elder Bednar cites in the footnote? If so, please post and let me know the context for the Coray quote. Thanks!

  32. Thanks for writing this up Jonathan. Though I entirely agree with your take it makes me appreciate the thought and work Elder Bednar is putting into his calling. I also especially appreciated john f’s comments.

  33. Wow, excellent post! I love this phrase : ” Heaven was something you built….”
    I’m restoring a Pioneer house built in 1851 that many people would say to tear down, other people say it’s irreplaceable. I obviously have an opinion as I repair adobe walls, instead of giving up on them. As I think of my love for my brother, I will always be willing to help strengthen, anytime, regardless of his gospel foundation.

    I also find this scripture informative: “For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own” (Alma 42:24).

    It would be informative to have a husband speak in church on justice exercising “his demands” followed by a speech from his wife talking on mercy “claiming all that is her own”.

  34. J. Stapley says:

    Absolutely, Matthew.

  35. J. Stapley 6:50 pm. Do you mean 1) The temple liturgy at the time it was revealed by Joseph Smith, but not today’s temple liturgy, presented those who enter the various kingdoms of heaven differently than Section 76; or 2) The temple liturgy revealed by Joseph Smith including what we have today presents those who enter the various kingdoms of heaven differently than in Section 76 (and thus was novel when it was first revealed).

    In either case it seems I’m being a little dense here, because I’m not getting what you are referring to. Perhaps you are referring to those ordinances of the temple that are now understood as necessary to qualify for Celestial glory (and/or the highest degree of Celestial glory) that are not explicitly mentioned in Section 76? Or maybe those who die without law, due to proxy work of the temple, are now in the status of it’s more complicated than what Section 76 says?

  36. @John F
    “Are there really Mormons today who think that children can go around sinning all they want and then still end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom just because they are sealed to their parents? ”

    Yes – a tremendous amount of them IMO that believe they can ‘save’ their children through their perfectness, enough temple roll submissions, and on and on.

  37. Here’s hoping my Mom doesn’t read that article. It will just cause her pain and worry.

    I much prefer the more universalistic takes on Mormon doctrine. That one can be redeemed after paying the full measures of one’s sins him/herself still leaves plenty of incentive to avoid sin in my view. I tend to define sin as actions that will cost you more in pain then they will give you in benefits (in the long, cosmological view). God calls these sins to help us avoid making bad choices that hurt us in the full eternal long run. Why must we threaten people with eternal damnation and parents with fear of losing their children in the eternities when we have beautiful doctrine that can satisfy both mercy and justice. I am especially uncomfortable with the extra effort Bednar goes through to try and play the “authoritative” card when I bet that at least some of the 12 don’t even agree with his interpretation. I for one choose to believe in Joseph, Whitney’s and other theologian’s view of God and heaven.

  38. @ bcwagne: I’ve heard that theory as well and I’m sure it’s comforting to some people, but the injustice of it actually bothers me even more than the idea that the sealing has very little binding power. Because basically it would mean that you could have two people who make identically bad choices in life but because one happened to be BIC, he would get more chances than the other for exaltation, which just doesn’t seem fair, or at all merciful to the person whose family weren’t members and were never sealed. I guess deep down I just think we (up to and including the prophet and apostles) have no idea how any of this works. And the theories advanced seem designed to either comfort people or frighten them into obedience, but one theory is always at the cost of the other.

    I think rah’s take makes the most sense. But I think any punishment in the next life will probably just be the natural consequence/struggle of trying to overcome sin/bad habits and become a better person. But we all make so many mistakes that I kind of think that will apply to everyone regardless of any sealing (as even sealed people probably don’t leave this life sin-free). Which may be what you meant, rah, by universalist. I just don’t see sealed individuals getting a free pass for their un-overcome sins because they did that one ordinance. Just one of a hundred things the church could use a clarifying revelation on, I guess.

  39. Now that I know it is possible to read Ensign even before it is published, I might read it more often. Somehow, it feels more exciting this way.

  40. Jack Hughes says:

    What about wayward children who were born in the covenant, but later formally resign their church membership, as some members of my family have? Is the eternal power of sealing no match for earthly bureaucracy?

  41. Last Lemming says:

    As jeffc has affirmed in response to john f’s question, there are plenty of Mormons (all women, in my experience) who believe they can save their children in the celestial kingdom by keeping their temple covenants. That belief goes beyond what Elder Whitney actually said–the phrase “save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity” makes no reference to the celestial kingdom. Their posterity will be saved from the second death (that is, they will eventually get out of hell), but they explicitly will not be saved from the consequences of their sins and there is no promise made of celestial glory. As MOQT points out, however, that form of salvation is almost universal, so it is not clear how it qualifies as a particularly “comforting” doctrine. Perhaps it is the notion that sealing ordinances transcend kingdoms. I actually have more to say about that, but I will post it in a separate comment in hopes that I don’t scare people off with excessive length.

  42. From Elder Bednar quoting President Faust: “but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned.” Is it any wonder that evangelicals accuse LDS of believing that we are exalted based on our own works, not on God’s grace? Or that God’s grace is not a gift, but something we earn?

  43. Last Lemming says:

    This seems like an opportune time to once again trot out my theory of the three degrees of glory. I have done so multiple times on this, and other, blogs but it has been either ignored or misunderstood. I developed the model to explain the automatic salvation of little children, but it has applications to other doctrines, including the “divine tentacles” image.

    To begin with, banish from your mind all notions of geographic kingdoms in heaven. I understand kingdoms in terms of opportunity space. The higher your kingdom, the more areas in which you have the opportunity to progress. To illustrate, I fall back on Euclidean geometry. In those terms, outer darkness is a point in opportunity space. That point may fall anywhere on the X, Y, and Z axes, but it is fixed–somebody banished to outer darkness has no opportunity to progress along any dimension.

    The telestial kingdom is represented by a line. People in this kingdom have the opportunity to progress along that line in opportunity space, but only along that line. Those lines will intersect with other lines, but there is no guarantee that any one person’s line will intersect with any other person’s. I view those intersections as points at which one can experience a form of communion with others at the same point–a big part of what sealing is about. (Incidentally, because people in this kingdom have the opportunity to progress along their line indefinitely, I see no reason allow for kingdom jumping. I suspect telestial beings will be entirely satisfied progressing along their line and may not even be aware that other dimensions exist.)

    The terrestrial kingdom is represented by a plane. People in this kingdom can progress along two dimensions. Among the advantages of this kingdom is that your plane will entirely contain an infinite number of telestial lines and will intersect with most of the remaining lines and planes (excepting only those parallel to it). So their ability to commune with others will greatly exceed that of telestial beings, but will still be limited.

    Finally, the celestial kingdom is represented by three dimensional space. Celestial beings will be able to progress in any direction they desire. And best of all, their opportunity space intersects literally every telestial line and every terrestrial plane. They will be able to experience communion with everybody they choose to. That’s as far as I need to go with the model to cover the “divine tentacles” image.

    Even this, however, does not constitute exaltation. I imagine a point on the X, Y, and Z axes that defines exaltation. None of the lines or planes of the lower kingdoms contain that point. Thus, an unaccountable child who dies and is saved in the celestial kingdom must still progress to that point to achieve exaltation. Some may choose not to. In fact, some people in lower kingdoms may approach it more closely.

  44. Hamlet's Fool says:

    I’ve thought quite a bit about these issues but, being a new commenter here – and not being much of a theological scholar in any sense — I’ll spare everyone a long dissertation, just some brief comments.

    @Last Lemmings: interesting thoughts that I’ll need to ponder.

    @Thomas Parkin: I have thought about “movement between kingdoms as well” and can see many reasons (some supported in scripture) to support it. I wonder how far back it goes. Can Satan and his followers, who kept not their “first estate” be able to progress to a kingdom of glory? If not why would the principle then apply to those who kept their “first estate” but not the “second?” I’m over simplifying for the purpose of brevity, but hopefully I made my point. I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other, just food for thought.

  45. As always, excellent things to think on, J. These types of discussions, while utterly fascinating, always leave my heart aching. As beautiful as our cosmology is, it’s all theory and missing pieces if I move away from an intellectual exercise into personal application. As a member of the church in good standing, I remain a convert sealed to no one, and I can find no place for myself (or my children) is this cosmology. What does one do with that?

  46. J. Stapley says:

    Tracy, that is really the question that haunts every aspect of this, I think. I do believe that WW’s 1894 revelation about how everything will be made right eventually is key, but it too is terribly messy. I also think that with time things start to connect (though I realize this is in perhaps ways that don’t satisfy in the moment, but only for your children’s children). E.g., I count Fowles as kin and have a deep connection with him. This is how we are related: my wifes’ first cousin once removed (who is also a prominent blogger) is married to a man who is the brother of Fowles’ wife. Now some would say that such a relationship is meaningless. In some ways to me, it means everything. Still, I agree that such things don’t lesson the pain in the now. It is our burden to do what we can to assuage it as much as we can, something at which I am particularly miserable.

  47. Both me and my husband would be seen as wayward children by our parents after being faithful card holding Mormons then resigning our membership for a whole range of reasons. We think it is cruel for our parents to read these articles. We respect the LDS but it makes us both feel physically sick at the thought of being Mormons again. We love our Anglican village church, feel peace like never before and love the ‘Jesus in the heart’ message we receive there. We don’t want any religion with a Prophet – but respect those that do. This message will just cause greater pain to our families when they see their efforts bare no fruit. Mormonism simply made use both miserable. Mainstream Christianity brings us joy. This will never change. We feel we have the right to find our own root to God – being born into the church that choice was taken away from us. We are so grateful that we have found a faith tradition that is right for us. Respectfully we don’t want Joseph Smith’s theology. Elder Bednar – please don’t give our families false hope. We are never going back. It is just cruel

  48. J. Stapley says:

    Karen, I can understand that you have moved on from Mormonism, and take your word that you are happy and settled. But I’d rather have any faith hold out hope for those who either leave or don’t join than resign them to hell or something.

  49. When my sister asked my mother about attending another church, my mother said, “I never worry about my children’s desiring or attending another church or faith. Truth is truth, and I believe God will help them on their own path to find it.” My personal view is that Karen’s Anglican village church (or most any other faith or nonfaith tradition) is part of the true church, and so is mine. All we can do is to do the best we can to find truth and good, seeking God’s inspiration in our hearts and minds and follow it as we understand it, and who am I to criticize God for leading one person to one church and keeping me in another one. For those friends or family who are led outside my tradition, I just keep in mind, “Verily I say, [humans] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as [humans] do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” D&C 58: 27-28. And I agree with the LDS church’s statement that we should “not view fellow believers [or other traditions] around the world as adversaries or competitors, but as partners in the many causes for good in the world.” http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/respect-for-diversity-of-faiths And if, in fact, God wants everyone to become LDS (or some other faith tradition), I think God will inspire future changes to address problems and structural or other issues that currently drive good people away or lead them elsewhere. In the meantime, I do not view myself on a better or worse faith path than anyone else.

  50. [comment cont'd]. It is the path on which God has led me, and I construe may faith as a universalistic one in which virtually all humans (of whatever faith or nonfaith, including former Mormons) will most likely attain the highest blessings in the hereafter. And I respect and support others whose paths are different.

  51. Thank you for all your comments. It is a rare thing for me to be shown respect like this from an LDS community. It means a great deal. What I’d say is that in the UK Mormonism is much more orthodox than in the US. We experienced the following from family and friends when leaving the LDS.

    1) My father told me I was on the road to destruction, you know what God does to wicked people then added in – don’t I believe in insurance?
    2) When I brought up the issues of church history my mother told me I was lying. All are now in the essays.
    3) My mother in law compared my husband to Korihor and said she wasn’t willing to lose any of her children and wanted to come and sort him out! She told me I was deceived by the devil.
    4) I am a music teacher, all my LDS pupils left or took their children away.
    5) We received abusive text messages and e-mails saying that we were destroying our children ‘s lives.
    6) my LDS counsellor who I’d seen to help me through a childhood trauma after having not contacted me for years sent a letter baring his testimony and saying that I’d left because of the people not the church. My doctor said he should be struck off for such an act – I did not take action.
    7) We never see the cousins from one side of the family now. We suspect this is because one of their children has testimony issues and we are seen as potentially not faith promoting.
    8) We see little of our families compared to when we were LDS. My mother in law said things would never be the same again. They are not.

    I am not bitter, I appreciate everyone is doing the best they can from their understanding. It’s just so hard to have all your family in a religion thats doctrine is for everyone to believe the same thing. We are both children of stake presidents – all our family are LDS. Not one family member would come to my confirmation as an Anglican but they expect us to attend all their baptisms – which we have. Can you see how from my perspective these articles don’t help our families respect our personal autonomy and our faith tradition? I am working at healing from all of this and have gratitude for what I do have. I still have faith, an amazing husband, three beautiful children, health and a job I love. In time I will heal.

  52. J. Stapley says:

    Karen, such transitions are very difficult. For everyone involved, I think. I don’t think many Mormons have the tools to process them (both those leaving, and those who are left). I don’t think Mormons are alone in this (in fact, I think we have a lot of company), but we certainly need to do better.

  53. I think 2 Nephi 28:7-8 is pertinent to the discussion:

    “7 Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.
    8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.”

    I don’t believe the sealing doctrine does anything to change that these are still doctrines of the devil. On the surface this may appear to conflict with saying D&C 132:26 is of God:

    “26 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if…they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.”

    However, I believe it is possible to accept and fully reconcile these verses–that the Book of Mormon is describing doctrines of the devil (regardless of sealing ordinances received), while D&C 132 describes a truth of God.

  54. …I believe the key to reconciling these verses lies in understanding the truth of the interplay between grace and works (explained so well in a simple and straightforward way by Brad Wilcox in his talk “His Grace is Sufficient” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLXr9it_pbY )

    All the punishment the universe has to offer will never save a man/woman. The best it can do is aid in bringing a person to full repentance, or back to ground zero. And I just can’t believe the purpose of life is to sin and then repent; what is exalting, progressive, or saving in that process? Surely there must be more to the plan of God than returning to ground zero spiritually. And I don’t think adding an outward sealing ordinance changes that, or does anything in and of itself change the substance of a person–you might as well seal up a bag of sand to eternal life and call it exalted, as a wicked man/woman.

  55. btw… I meant I felt these verses were pertinent to the discussion as a whole. I did not read Karen’s comments until now, and I wanted to clarify that what I said was not related to or meant as a response to that discussion.

    Karen, I applaud your efforts in finding belief and faith that helps you to progress and find peace and joy.

  56. Karen, fwiw, I believe passionately in the concept of eternal sealing – but I believe it is much more expansive than a narrow focus on earthly ritual sealings, and I believe our temple theology teaches that, if we only will see it. Thus, I believe the goal is to become sealed (inseparably connected) to our spouses, family members, community members and, eventually, the family of God – not simply to go through a symbolic ceremony in a temple. I’m not disparaging the temple in any way by saying that, since I believe strongly that the concept needs to be taught and personalized in some way for most people to get it deeply enough to believe it, but I believe non-Mormons can be sealed just as strongly as Mormons can be sealed – and, again, I see that belief actualized in vicarious work for the dead.

    We mortals screw up that beautiful concept all the time, just like we do to pretty much everything, but I do believe you and your husband (and your religious community and more) can “be sealed” just as much as my wife and I (and our religious community) can be – that God will honor anyone’s attempt to become inseparable.

    However, I loathe what lots of people do when the see loved ones rejecting what is vital to them, inside and outside the LDS Church – and I’ve seen it in lots of places and with regard to lots of situations (including when people have joined the LDS Church, not just when they leave it). Unfortunately, it’s a central part of the “natural (wo)man”.

    If you are interested, the following is from my personal blog, written almost exactly one year ago:

    “Temple Sealing as a Shadow of Practical Sealing” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2013/02/temple-sealing-as-shadow-of-practical.html)

  57. Thank you for everyone’s comments. Ray, I have just read your blog. It is beautifully written. One of the hardest things for us was that when we resigned – we felt we had to as even holding so called ‘apostate’ views had lead to our stake president excommunicating people. We got a letter saying our baptism, sealing had been canceled and that the priesthood had been withdrawn. On official LDS paper. I think this for me was the ultimate nail in the coffin. How can God ‘s ordinances be destroyed by a piece of paper? Perhaps people in this forum would say that they can’t be. But that doesn’t take away the actions and policies of the institutional church. I suppose in reality if we had been provided a safe place in the LDS and we hadn’t of observed continual emotional and spiritual abuse of the membership things could of been very different. We simply did not see Christianity there. We wanted a simply, non fearful, non guilt inducing message about the teachings of Jesus. Our stake president admitted to a friend that I was one of the most Christian people he’d ever met. Yet there was no place for me there. As someone who is aware of British law and the details of the upcoming court case I think the LDS institutional church can learn much from the theology and behaviour of this forum. It is essential in the UK that first of all they realise the British legal system is completely different to the US. Secondly, rather than behaving like a protective institution they show courage and provide the ‘big tent’ Mormonism that is often discussed. This situation is far more serious than many believe. For me, everything should be done to protect your LDS faith tradition whilst working within British law. In order to do that a ‘reformation’ type change is required. In the US many of you were aware of the history, in the UK we were not. We were told we were not allowed to use any materials outside the correlated manuals. Hence the shock to many of the history facts. And our tithing amounts to around £80,000 – a small house in the UK. Sealing concepts are beautiful but perhaps the thinking of the institutional church needs to be broader, more aware that a loving God would do everything to have all at the feast. At the end of the day mystery seems to be one permanent feature when discussing these matters. These are all matters of faith. Must go, I’m going to a Cathedral today to take the Eucharist. The choir is heavenly. I hope you have a wonderful time at your wards today too. I do miss the LDS community, perhaps in time I may feel safe to pop in and say hello. God bless all.

  58. Steve Smtih says:

    Elder Bednar’s position is logically consistent with previous LDS doctrinal standpoints and LDS scriptures. But why concern ourselves so much with the afterlife when no one can prove exactly what does or doesn’t happen after we die. The here and now and foreseeable future are infinitely more important than the unforeseeable future. Parents should be concerned about their kids’ behavior only because it will harm their lives in the here and now and foreseeable future. To become overly preoccupied with kids’ behavior simply because of the possibility that they may not be saved in the afterlife doesn’t make any sense.

  59. Steve,

    I agree with you that it doesn’t make any earthly sense to be overly concerned about the afterlife, but the ultimate goal for the faithful, believing Mormon is to attain a decidedly eternal perspective. In fact, in the Mormon mind, having an eternal perspective is a characteristic of, if not a prerequisite to, salvation and exaltation.

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