“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms (with Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls)

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion in my ward on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants 88. One of the most interesting topics which we delved into was that of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on my blog, Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne.

Before I get into some more specific details regarding how this motif is represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to share another latter-day parallel to this ancient type of thinking.
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Human Evolution and the Children of God

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From the day that Darwin published The Origin of Species followed by The Descent of Man (his The Voyage of the Beagle making less waves), it seemed to clash with Judeo-Christian beliefs. The very names were sure to cause consternation for those having faith in the Bible creation narratives. It was clear that God made animals and man fully formed from the dust. There would be no “intermediary” or physically “primitive” ancestors. A war has waged ever since with few conciliatory moves.

The story as traditionally told, and interpreted by the Bible reading, is that God created the Earth as a Garden of Eden with fruit bearing plants and a wide variety of animals. Man was then created by the dust and sprang fully formed and intelligent. Seeing that the man named Adam was alone, God created woman from his rib as a help meet and named her Eve. They lived in total bliss and ignorance.

Satan in the form of a snake tempted Eve with an unnamed fruit, later symbolized as an apple, that would give her forbidden knowledge. She then gave it to Adam who knew she would be kicked out of the Garden and both be alone. Recognizing they were naked, the man and woman covered themselves with leaves. When God discovered they had mentally awakened to understand good and evil, the two were indeed kicked out with the tree of Eternal Life protected by a flaming sword. Death entered the world for all earthly creations. The man and woman were given coats of skins as clothing and banned from God’s presence with only the Word of God to remind them of who they were and where they came from. For Christians, Jesus Christ was the Savior who died so that Adam and Eve’s mortal children could repent and be resurrected.

According to the theory of Evolution, the formation of animals and humans was far more complicated even if easier to explain. No recognizable Adam and Eve existed as the progenitors of modern mankind, although genetic research has uncovered a man and a women who lived thousands of years apart who could be given those designations. Instead, a species of ape (not monkey) produced a group of bipedal primates that eventually evolved into the Homo family that modern humans remain as the only survivors. We didn’t reach up for fruit in the branches of trees, but came down from them.

At first glance there is nothing in common between these two versions of human formation and history. The Bible has a deliberate and focused viewpoint. Evolution twists and turns over millions of years with many dead ends and what would seem random forces at work with no inevitable conclusions. Desperate as they seem, it isn’t impossible to allow them to exist together if rigid interpretations of both are loosened with some charity. Continue reading

A Possible New Creation Narrative

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My personal blog Straight and Narrow Blog has a quote from Joseph Smith on the masthead that reads, “it is necessary for us to have an understanding of God himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, it is a hard matter to get right.” Nothing demonstrates this more than the Creation and Evolution debate. How a person understands God can determine if these two concepts will conflict or mesh. I believe that Mormonism is especially prepared to confront long standing difficulties that traditional Christianity has developed. The Mormon rejection of ex nihilo and its teachings about the “pre-existance” hold huge potential.

Continuing where I last left off is to start at the beginning. Most orthodox narratives start at a point in time, even if they claim the eternal timelessness of God. The physical existence came from nowhere and there was nothing more than God that came before. This is the reason Creationism has such a huge religious hold on many. Mormonism, by contrast, looks at everything both physical and spiritual as having no start and no end. Its a liberating concept.

I want to first warn that none of what I am about to explain is official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other member. These are my own ideas and speculations only, no matter if shared by others. Long and ponderous thinking and praying has produced a personal belief that can always be amended with more revealed truth and knowledge. With that said, lets move forward by going back. Continue reading

Random Thoughts on Evolution and Creation

When I was a child, like many my age I had a fascination with dinosaurs. The animals existing so many years in the past was hard for my young mind to comprehend. All I knew was that great monsters once roamed the land. What we knew of them came by digging the bones out of deep rock and dirt. Names for beasts were long and complicated, but flowed smoothly from child lips proudly pronouncing each syllable.

The idea these real myths came from a long natural process never crossed my mind until later in life. These creatures at first came fully formed in my imagination. My wonder came from the wide variety of large herbivorous animals forging for plants or carnivores hunting. Again, I loved learning about and pronouncing Saurischia Theropods and Sauropods to the Ornithiscia plated and horned. To date my favorites are not actually dinosaurs, but the more ancient mysterious Theropsida that are said to have given rise to mammals.

Evolution entered my thoughts and vocabulary only when extending interest to what came after the dinosaur extinction. If they lived, why are they no longer here and how do we have life now? This brought me to the study of what scientists call human ancestors. Books told the story of bones that looked like humans and yet were not, at least not completely. There was some discussion of the “missing link” that incidentally hasn’t been missing since the 1950s and 60s discoveries. Knowing the Adam and Eve story since before my interest in dinosaurs, it was all so confusing. I began asking religious questions relating to all these past lifeforms. The answers I got back from others were less than helpful, but I had faith in God from Scriptures and ancient life in fossil remains. Continue reading

Gender Roles Part 1: Marriage and Children, a Commandment of God

The topic continues to come up what is the roles of men and women in the Church. It is a subject that many feel passionately about one way or another. Since the family is the basic unit then discussion should start there. Generally both genders are commanded to get married and have children as shared responsibilities. It is the first role of any Church member to form and participate in a family structure.

Some years ago President Monson talked about the rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood. He listed concerns he had that men were not living up to the full stewardship of their callings. Among the problems he saw was a reluctance to do the most important duty of our mortality; to get married. He acknowledged marriage wasn’t always an easy choice, but they still needed to seek a companion:

“Now, I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage . . .

Perhaps you are having a little too much fun being single, taking extravagant vacations, buying expensive cars and toys, and just generally enjoying the carefree life with your friends. I’ve encountered groups of you running around together, and I admit that I’ve wondered why you aren’t out with the young ladies.

Brethren, there is a point at which it’s time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity. If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness.”

The institution of marriage is more than finding a friend or gratifying physical desires that are natural to life. It is a commandment of God. Salvation to the highest degree of Glory depends on two committed people coming together and forming a bond. This is not just any bond, but a relationship between a man and a woman greater than mere acquaintance. It is of eternal significance and therefore must be carefully sought and cultivated. Continue reading