Endless word problems

For those who return from the presence of God, a primary prophetic burden is to to bear witness of the final state of the wicked and righteous, which they have seen in vision.   Doing so requires using spoken or written words.  This presents a number of issues:

-Some things they saw and heard were not lawful to utter.

-Some things they saw and heard were so great that man cannot write them.

-Sometimes their own slowness of speech is an issue.

-Some lament the difficulty of expressing things in writing, or having to write in a different language.

-Even once they manage to outline something they are allowed to express, they all face the difficulty of describing a timeless, non-linear, multi-dimensional experience in the flat, linear, time-bound medium of words. Furthermore, they have to describe it to people who have not shared their vision.   This is also a difficulty that confronts the reader attempting vainly to comprehend the experience through the words.

References to an “everlasting punishment”, an “endless punishment”, an “endless hell”, or a “never-ending torment” were clarified by God in 1829 (D&C 19).   Those phrases describe the nature of the punishment, rather than the duration.  Because the state transcends time, the  prophetic references to time are attempts to  capture the timelessness of the state in which the punishments occur.  The Lord expressed a preference for the term “eternal punishment”, because it is “more express than” other phrases, avoiding references to time and duration (D&C 19:7).

Similarly, there are phrases used to describe the happy state of the righteous:  “Everlasting life”, “endless life and happiness,”  etc.   These must be read in the same way: describing the state-of-being of the reward, not the duration.

For example, Revelation 21:4 says

4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Though this scripture promises an end to tears, sorrow, crying, and pain, we know that those things will continue eternally for all those who want to follow the Father’s path (Moses 7:28-41).  Far from ending,  their capacity for sorrow must deepen and expand to encompass all eternity.  The scripture in Revelation 21 is a true description of the redemptive end of this eternal round,  but those who take it at face value will have a false and shallow understanding of the nature of exaltation.  The truth is an expanding cycle of sorrow and consolation that rolls out over the course of multiple eternal rounds of creation. If that is true of the references to sorrow and crying, could it also be true of the reference in the same verse to the end of death?

 

Endless life?

The authors of the scriptures speak of the resurrection from death in temporal terms. For instance:

Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.     -Alma 11:45

and

49 Yea, and blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth, when the Lord shall come, and old things shall pass away, and all things become new, they shall rise from the dead and shall not die after, and shall receive an inheritance before the Lord, in the holy city.   -D&C 63:49

Unlike references to “endless punishment”, these phrases have been taken at face value in the traditional scriptural interpretations which have become mainstream LDS doctrine.  The possibility of previously resurrected, exalted beings condescending to another mortality seems to be precluded.

We are very comfortable looking beyond the surface when confronted with references to “endless punishment”.   If we think deeply, we are also comfortable understanding that “no more…sorrow,”  “endless happiness,” and “eternal reward” at the end of this eternal round does not mean we won’t deal with profound sorrow as we preside over our future spirit children.   However, we are far less comfortable with seeing anything beyond the surface of references to “no more death,” and “they can die no more,” and “never to be divided”.

 

An experiment

What if we experiment with the idea that this surface-level view stems from traditional bias?   What if Joseph Smith was attempting to teach things in Nauvoo about eternal progression that require us to look beyond the surface?  How would we understand Joseph’s teachings differently if we accepted that these references to the resurrection describe the redemptive end of this eternal round, but are not intended to describe any further eternal rounds?  Let’s see:

Abraham chapter 3 & 4  describes the council before this world.   “God” stands among the spirits.  Among them are “noble and great ones”.   Among that group was “one…that was like unto God” who suggested to “those who were with him” that he and they should create a world for the remaining spirits.   For clarity in the passage below, the references to the first group of spirits will be in green, and references to the remaining spirits will be in red.

 22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

….

And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.

This group of spirits is referred to as “souls”.  There were those among them who had qualified to be called “gods.”   Revelation to Joseph Smith years before this translation had established that the “soul” of man included both a spirit and a physical body (D&C 88:15).   D&C 76:58 gives the qualifications required to be called a “god”:

 51 They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—

52 That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who isordained and sealed unto this power;

53 And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.

54 They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.

55 They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—

56 They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;

57 And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.

58 Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—

The word “wherefore,” though easily overlooked, conveys vital meaning.  It means “as a result of which”.   So verse 58 could be paraphrased “as a result of the experiences described in vs. 51-57, they are gods, even the sons of God.”   Without those experiences, they could not be called gods.

The group of spirits in Abraham 3 included some “souls” or embodied spirits, who were “good”, and “noble and great.”  They had, by the experiences defined in D&C 76:51-57, been named “gods.”

This group included Abraham, Michael/Adam, and surely their wives Sarah and Eve.  It included all those who were “high priests” from the foundation of the world (Alma 13:3-7).   This group went down and created a world where a second group would dwell and be tested.   They then condescended to live beside this tested group to teach, lead, bless, serve, uplift, and sanctify.  Being in a telestial world, the noble and great ones would be subject to pains, sickness, temptation, and death, and would have to walk the same path to exaltation as those who were being tested.  They would rely on Christ for redemption, and they would teach the path to exaltation by pointing to Him.

Since, in this experiment, we are laying aside our traditional view of  a 1-time resurrection, we do not have to twist the definitions of “soul” and “gods” to mean something other than they are defined to mean in the scriptures.   We do not have to believe that “soul” here only means “unembodied spirits”, and “gods” actually means “potential future gods”.   Becoming more consistent in how we read the language describing our eternal reward (reading all temporal terms as symbolic of eternal concepts) allows us to become more consistent in how we read words like “souls” and “gods”.

 

More experimenting

What if we extend this experiment to other scriptures, or to the words of Joseph Smith? Could it shed light on what he was trying to teach at the end of his life?

From Lecture on Faith 7:9

Let us ask, where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimulated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain, without much difficulty, what all others must be, in order to be saved—they must be like that individual or they cannot be saved: we think, that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings, who are unlike each other, cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one, will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved: and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved.

We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being. And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him.

-What experiences did Christ have to endure to become “precisely as he is and nothing else?”

-How did he obtain “the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion” that constitutes his current state?

-Do you expect to gain such “glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion” without similar experiences?

-When do you expect to gain those experiences?

 

From TPJS pg 346, April 7, 1844:

I wish I was in a suitable place to tell it, and that I had the trump of an archangel, so that I could tell the story in such a manner that persecution would cease for ever. What did Jesus say? (Mark it, Elder Rigdon!) The Scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself, even so hath the Son power–to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious–in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. Do we believe it? I you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. The Scriptures say it, and I defy all the learning and wisdom and all the combined powers of earth and hell together to refute it.

Here, then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me.

These are the first principles of consolation. How consoling to the mourners when they are called to part with a husband, wife, father, mother, child, or dear relative, to know that, although the earthly tabernacle is laid down and dissolved, they shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more; but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. [I saw my Father work] out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children. It is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the Gospel, about which so much hath been said.

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel–you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.

-Is being resurrected by the grace of Christ at the end of this eternal round the same thing as “attaining to the resurrection from the dead”?

-If the father worked out his kingdom and “hath power in himself”, and the son worked out his kingdom and “hath power in himself”, do you have “power in yourself?

-Have you worked out your kingdom, or are you currently trying become part of the kingdom that Christ worked out and will present to the Father?

-Can you lay your body down knowing you have power to take it up again, or will you be relying on Christ’s power to resurrect you at the end of this eternal round?

-If Christ is following the Father, who are you following?

-If Christ, before this life, grew “grace for grace” before being called “the son of God” and being given “all power” (John 17:5, D&C 93:11-17) whose child do you become when you grow grace for grace? (Mosiah 5:7, D&C 93:20-22)

-Christ says he did what he “saw” the Father do. Do those who come to know Christ personally as their father have to see the things he did, so that they can follow him? (Ether 3:18)

-Is this what Jesus meant when he said : “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” ?(John 6:57)

-Is this experiment we’re doing simply idle speculation into distracting mysteries, or are these actually the  “first principles of the Gospel”, as Joseph says?

-Do we have time and eternal rounds to gain the experiences we need to have to become just like Christ during the “great while after we pass through the veil”?

-If we secure our exaltation by making our calling and election sure, what would it mean to go “from exaltation to exaltation”?

 

From TPJS pg 374, June 16, 1844:

Go and read the vision in the Book of Covenants. There is clearly illustrated glory upon glory–one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and a glory of the stars; and as one star differeth from another star in glory, even so do they of the telestial world differ in glory, and every man who reigns in celestial glory is a God to his dominions. By the apostates admitting the testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants they damn themselves. Paul, what do you say? They impeached Paul and all went and left him. Paul had seven churches, and they drove him off from among them; and yet they cannot do it by me. I rejoice in that. My testimony is good.

Paul says, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” They who obtain a glorious resurrection from the dead, are exalted far above principalities, powers, thrones, dominions and angels, and are expressly declared to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, all having eternal power.

These Scriptures are a mixture of very strange doctrines to the Christian world, who are blindly led by the blind. I will refer to another Scripture. “Now,” says God, when He visited Moses in the bush, (Moses was a stammering sort of a boy like me) God said, “Thou shalt be a God unto the children of Israel.” God said, “Thou shalt be a God unto Aaron, and he shall be thy spokesman.” I believe those Gods that God reveals as Gods to be sons of God, and all can cry, “Abba, Father!” Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods, even from before the foundation of the world, and are the only Gods I have a reverence for.

 

-If a god is a “man (and woman) who  reigns in celestial glory,”  then what does it mean that there were “Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods, even from before the foundation of the world”?

 

Experimenting like this can be difficult.  As Joseph Smith observed:

There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand.

I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen. TPJS pg. 331, (Jan. 20, 1844.) DHC 6:183-185.

 

Abraham 3, a window into eternity

Whether we continue our experiment or not, the council in Abraham 3 describes both an end and a beginning condition.  These spirits had undergone experiences which determined their standing before God, and they stood at the end of that path, reflecting on their final state.  They also stood at the beginning of a new creation, contemplating a plan by which souls could be “added upon”.  Some were made rulers by their Father, and those “gods” covenanted to offer glory to other spirits by creating a world on which they could be tested. Satan was loosed for a little season to cause terrible conflict, before a new heaven and a new earth were created after the pattern of the old one, where they used to live.

Those who were of a telestial glory came here and lived out there lives in a telestial state.  Those who were of a terrestrial glory quickly outgrew this world and obtained fellowship with Christ at a young age (perhaps like Samuel).   Those who were of the celestial glory needed only to reach out from the depths to obtain fellowship with the Father and the Son (perhaps like Joseph Smith).    However, all who would climb the ladder back to God had to begin at the bottom, just as Joseph Smith said.  Even Christ had to begin in a manger, knowing nothing. Whatever glory one brings into this world, we are all born at the bottom rung, and we may all be added upon by the same principles.

We now look forward to an end condition that is also a beginning: when the spirits will be arrayed before God according to the light they obtained, reflecting on their final state; when some will be made rulers, or “gods” by Christ, their father, and will covenant to offer glory to other spirits by creating a world on which they can be tested; when Satan shall be loosed for a little season to cause terrible conflict; and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, after the pattern of the old one, where we used to live.   We will then go forth to inherit a telestial kingdom where we may fellowship with angels, a terrestrial kingdom where we may enjoy the presence of the Son, or a celestial kingdom where we may commune with our Father, depending on the spirit that quickens us.  As in the beginning, so in the end.  One eternal round. Worlds without end.

The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself. I know that my testimony is true; hence, when I talk to these mourners, what have they lost? Their relatives and friends are only separated from their bodies for a short season: their spirits which existed with God have left the tabernacle of clay only for a little moment, as it were; and they now exist in a place where they converse together the same as we do on the earth.

I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.

I want to reason more on the spirit of man; for I am dwelling on the body and spirit of man–on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man–the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.

Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.

The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.

This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to my by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given my by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more.

(TPJS pg. 354-355, April 7, 1844)

 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.

But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.

This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.

Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law.

(D&C 132)

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