This guest post comes from frequent BCC reader Erich (comments under “Observer fka Eric S.”).
We took up Ephesians 1 and “predestination” last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine. After performing the requisite semantic dance with various terms, we got to discussing the concept of being “chosen” and “foreordained” for this or that. What struck me most was the way LDS culture perceives these concepts. The lesson dialogue focuses on prophets, leaders, and esteemed historical figures in the gospel and restoration period (e.g., Jeremiah, Abraham, Paul, Joseph Smith, etc.). It is reiterated that these individuals were foreordained and then chose their stations. Invariably, the discussion resorts to how grateful so-and-so is to be born in America, post-restoration, into a Mormon family, and on and on . . . . This seems to be the consensus of thinking around the topic.
Then, whether by express statement, omission, or by implication, the idea is presented that those who are not so privileged to live in Post-Restoration Mormon America were not valiant in a pre-mortal existence. Again, this is the consensus of thinking around the topic.
This led to a GA quote about pre-mortal valiance (and lack thereof), at which point I almost threw up. This rhetoric, and doctrine, raises at least two issues. First, does it entrench a communal perception and self-estimation of being of greater eternal worth than “the less fortunate?” Does the valiant Gospel Doctrine teacher subconsiously go through life viewing himself/herself as more eternally valiant than the kid who *chose* to be born addicted to heroin in India, or the Thai girl who leaves the village to sell her body in the city to visiting European men? Both of these kids are *good* kids who are doing what they can to survive. And most Saints would say these kids exclaimed in the pre-mortal existence, “Yeah, I’ll take that role in mortality! At least I get a body.” The perception of *gratitude* gets even more specific; for example, I’ve heard many a BYU student say how grateful they were to be at that school. None of these individuals know any better or worse what it would be like to be differently situated.
Second, our foreordination and choice doctrines raise an interesting theological paradox for Latter-day Saints: Would you choose a greater level of knowledge and accountability during mortality (which ostensibly leads to greater happiness during mortality and Gospel Doctrine class) or would you prefer a lesser level (which ostensibly could lead to greater happiness in post-mortality)? For example, the Thai girl has no clue about Christ in this life. Most Latter-day Saints would say these individuals have little, if any, accountability–other than maybe the knowledge placed on them by what we describe as the “light of Christ” (which they likely make no connection with). Moreover, most Latter-day Saints would also say that they must be given an opportunity in the post-mortal existence to learn and accept the Savior. On the flip side, those born into the Gospel will be held accountable to their level of knowledge (which is, ostensibly, very *high*) during this life. And most Latter-day Saints would probably say that if one does not abide that level of accountability, there will be some sort of suffering in the post-mortal existence. So which do we prefer?
In the end, my mind reverts back to the Savior’s response to those inquiring about whose sin caused the boy to be born blind: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” With his explanation, Christ shares the perception that we should probably aim to cultivate: that every single human being is placed in mortal existence because they have a divinely appointed purpose with respect to others. But in order for this to work, the observers must be able to perceive the inherent Godliness and value in each individual person that they encounter in life, and not only those who the community esteems.