Sunday Sermon: The War in Heaven and Human Agency

My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine), and I both delivered  sermons today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo. I spoke first, on the War in Heaven, and then she spoke on the Creation. I’m posting my sermon now, with Kristine’s to follow shortly, as I believe that it will also resonate with readers of BCC.

For the vital part that the war in heaven plays in LDS theology, much about it remains unclear. The phrase itself derives from Revelation chapter 12, which depicts “a great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (vv. 3-4, NRSV). Then, we read, “war broke out in heaven.” This seems to have been instigated by Michael and his angels, as the text mentions their aggression first, going on to say that “the dragon and his angels fought back, but were defeated” (vv. 7-8, NRSV). The effect of this defeat is that Satan “was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (v. 9, NRSV).

[Read more…]

A different take on the War in Heaven from Nephi Anderson’s “Added Upon”

Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon has been called “the most popular and enduring nineteenth-century work to emerge” from Mormonism’s “home literature” movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.1 Anderson’s goal, according to the superscript in Added Upon, was to “assert eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men,” though he would one-up Milton through the unique Mormon perspective. It was the original Saturday’s Warrior: two lovers meet during pre-mortality, find each other on earth, and return to a heavenly kingdom for a happily ever after. Givens identifies the book’s main flaws: “The dialogue is often wooden…and Anderson expounds, rather than depicts, his theology through blatant authorial intervention.” Still, by wedding sentimental romance with the plan of salvation, Anderson’s 1898 book lived through thirty-five editions and you can get it for free on Kindle.2

Anderson’s chief literary sin was his privileging of dogma over experience—it was as much a work of theology as a story in its own right. Anderson acknowledges at the outset that his story “is suggestive only” in areas “where little of a definite character is revealed.”3 Examining the theology reveals a different perspective on the War in Heaven than current Mormons generally hold.4 Rather than depicting Lucifer as offering to save everyone by force, thus depriving God’s children of their agency (a la evil contemporary government programs and socialism and evil communism), Anderson took a different approach:

The hosts of heaven—sons and daughters of God—were assembled. The many voices mingling, rose and fell in one great murmur like the rising and falling of waves about to sink to rest. Then all tumult ceased, and a perfect silence reigned.

“Listen,” said one to another by his side, “Father’s will is heard” (7). [Read more…]