“From Whence Do These Seeds Come…?”

Update: edited the grammatical error in the title…

The parable of the sower (and Christ’s own explanation of it) presents an analysis of gospel discipleship that remains relevant both to today’s Church as well as the early time in which it was presented. One can look around the ranks of the active and inactive of any ward and spot the member archetypes presented by the parable: strong, solid members, members who have taken themselves away because of misunderstandings, members who come to church for the sociality who have no real gospel roots, and members who have been (or are starting to be) overcome by worldly ‘thorns’ which slowly suffocate their spiritual activity away.

Taken at face value, the parable implies that the seeds themselves have no control over where they land–they are subject to the random whims of the unseen hands that happened to throw them towards the ground, either to land in the thorns, or ‘on the wayside’, or in the good soil, with the volume of seeds in each group defined by random statistical distribution…and fate.

The Savior’s own explanation of the sower and the seeds, however–barring some extreme form of predestination–takes away this random element of the parable, seeming to state that the ultimate destiny of one’s gospel ‘roots’ depends on our own choices, rather than chance. Those that are overwhelmed by thorns, for example, are because they chose to be that way, rather than involuntarily finding a landing place according to some random die roll of fate. The implication–clearly supported by other doctrines and scriptures–is that every seed has the potential to ‘move’ themselves into good soil and put down roots. The parable indicates (correctly) that many seeds won’t grow roots, but not that they can’t–the same way that in most college classes everyone could get an A if they do the work (although it is almost certain that they all will not…)

Can the same general principle behind the parable of the sower be applied to a much broader scope–not gospel activity in this case, but rather birth circumstance? It’s obvious that there are a wide range of family environments that children are born into today–situations rife with war, abject poverty and/or oppression in Africa (or China, or India, or the Middle East, or anywhere around the globe), while others are raised in peaceful and comfortable middle-class, gospel-centered families in the Mountain West. While the principle of redemption of the dead provides hope and justice for all mankind regardless of their birth environment, it is obvious that some spirit children seem to have a leg up on others in terms of exposure to gospel teachings and habits. The distribution of God’s spirit children landing in areas where gospel activity and/or happiness is “likely” versus “very, very remote” is a lot like those seeds in the parable, where many land by the wayside or in the stony soil, and others in the ‘good’ soil, seemingly through a process outside of their control.

But since the true meaning of the sower parable implies that the lack of control is an illusion–that we actually do (or did at one time) have control over our fate in terms of gospel growth–what happens if we apply this idea to birth circumstance?

Basically, there are two explanations for how spirit children are ‘assigned’ to parents here on Earth:
(1) It’s random
(2) It’s not random.

I would hazard a guess that most people naturally assume #1–assignment to a well-off LDS family in Utah versus a poor mother in Bangladesh is just random chance–like drawing a winning or a losing lottery ticket in the pre-existence–despite the fact that there’s really nothing about the gospel that implies that ‘randomness’ plays a part in *any* aspect of God’s plan. As above, even the supposed randomness of doctrine found in parables can be shown to be subject to individual agency in the end when analyzed…

Saying birth circumstance is NOT random, however, leads directly into the question of: if it’s not determined by chance, how IS it determined, then? The very notion of a ‘pre-existence’ where our intelligent spirits existed for an innumerably long period of time, in fact, opens up many avenues of possibility as to how circumstances on Earth could have been determined without resorting to some sort of divine lottery.

Now, of course, it is very bad form (and un-P.C.) to suggest that any characteristic of our mortal existence was influenced by happenings in the pre-existence, especially in terms of race or socioeconomic class. Yet, the fact remains that outside of large-scale events (the war in heaven) we know *absolutely nothing* about what happened before we were born. We have no idea what ‘life’ was like for anyone. We have no idea whether we were all identical spirit clones with all characteristics in common (like something out of a Star Wars movie), or if there we were in a spirit society with fundamental divisions and differences–distinct social classes, even–between spirit children, beyond those who followed Lucifer and those that didn’t.

It is correct that there is no evidence to support the notion that skin color or birth nationality is influenced by pre-birth righteousness…but there’s no evidence that it is NOT influenced by it either–this is the point. (The whole idea of ‘noble and great’ spirits–from Abraham 3:23–implies at its heart some sort of social division between spirits–that even if all spirits have equal potential, not all spirits at any one point in time are equal in status to each other.)

There’s a reason we have a ‘veil’ drawn across us to separate pre-existence memories–and this principle may be a part. Any deterministic ‘inequalities’ drawn from before we were born (1) can’t be changed now, (2) can’t be proven to exist one way or another, and (3) would only accentuate ‘classism’ (and a bunch of other ‘-isms’) on Earth, which (presumably) we’re here in part to overcome. If God really did make a deterministic distinction between who was sent to the slums of Calcutta and who was sent to Happy Valley, that’s His business and we needn’t (shouldn’t) concern ourselves with it.

So, ‘from whence do these seeds come?’–no one knows, although we might find out one day the answer is less random than we might have thought…

(Gratuitous link: a related article on spiritual social class from 2005)

17 thoughts on ““From Whence Do These Seeds Come…?”

  1. You should fix the grammar in the title. The KJV authors would never have committed such a grievous grammatical offense. “Seeds” is plural; therefore, the verb “to do” must agree with it. “From whence do these seeds come?” is correct. You could also say, “Whence come these seeds?” or “From whence come these seeds?”.

    People often try to sound lofty and old-school by using archaic forms like this and completely blow it because they don’t know their grammar. Shakespearian English is usually not as ornate as people think, though the vocabulary has changed, and when conjugated properly, often loses much of the intended complexity that moderns anachronistically try to grant it.

  2. My only thought is that if we do not act accordingly; being born into a goodly family with all of the blessings associated may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing, eternally speaking. Also, those who haven’t been given what we have may develop a Christ-like humility that is very difficult to develop among all of our prosperity. It seems presumptuous to even specualte on what is a blessing or a curse, let alone about why we are blessed over others. The only thing that is certain is that we are to share that which we’ve been given, both temprally and spiritually.

  3. People often try to sound lofty and old-school by using archaic forms like this and completely blow it because they don’t know their grammar

    Sounds like me…

    I thought this was a direct quote from somewhere when it came to mind…but I tried searching for it and couldn’t find it. Obviously it came from ‘nowhere’ and I just made it up. I’ll change it so we don’t offend the grammatical purists…

  4. My only thought is that if we do not act accordingly; being born into a goodly family with all of the blessings associated may prove to be a curse rather than a blessing, eternally speaking. Also, those who haven’t been given what we have may develop a Christ-like humility that is very difficult to develop among all of our prosperity. It seems presumptuous to even specualte on what is a blessing or a curse, let alone about why we are blessed over others.

    It’s not a given that with deterministic births, someone born into good circumstances was given that blessing due to being ‘better’ than others in some way before birth. It might very well be the opposite, that ‘good’ spirits were given more challenging circumstances and needy spirits better circumstances to achieve better ends.

    However, while the humility that comes from poverty and suffering is an important element of discipleship, it’d be hard to argue that difficult circumstances are really a ‘blessing’ from a gospel standpoint, since many cultures are so far removed from gospel contact, or positive gospel habits, that you’d have to think they would have a lot of ‘catching up’ to do in the spirit world compared to those who live in member families and who live even a C+ level gospel life. The doctrine of spirit world conversion and missionary work does much to alleviate any perceived inequality in the world–but not all of it, as there still seem to be still tremendous differences in birth circumstance when it comes to eternal progression…

  5. Because the Savior was not referring to birth circumstance when He gave the parable of the sower, I do not believe it is beneficial to connect the parable with birth circumstance. It’s futile.

    These questions are good and can stand on their own merit without a forced comparison.

    It’s fun to explore these questions, knowing that an answer probably wont come in this mortal life. I do not believe that our births are random, and there are reasons connected to the situation we are born into. But I do not believe that just because someone is not born into the Gospel or ideal conditions that this points to wrong or negative actions in the pre-existence. Quite the contrary, some may be born into more difficult situations because the Lord knew they would prevail. And some might be born into ideal conditions because the Lord knew they would not prevail if they were given harder trials.

  6. Wow, I am confused. I thought everyone agreed that the seeds are the preaching of the Gospel, and the different grounds represents the different hearts of men after having heard the preaching.

    Not that this makes your question about “From whence do these seeds come?” any less important. I think using the parable of the sower is a stretch.

  7. Kevin, I have a very strong feeling, which is completely unscientific and impossible to prove, that I knew my wife and children in the pre-existence. Especially with my wife, there is a connection that seems to be hundreds if not thousands of years long. So, my personal feeling is that earthly assignments are random sometimes and not so random other times.

    I would like to point out that just because somebody gets assigned to a wealthy family in California and somebody else gets assigned to a poor neighborhood in Lagos, Nigeria does not necessarily mean that the person assigned to California is necessarily better off in terms of the eternal perspective, which is really what matters in the end. I saw a survey once indicating that 99 percent of Nigerians are happy (and if you’ve ever met any Nigerians, they certainly seem happy), whereas wealthy Americans barely top 50 percent in terms of self-described happiness. Every circumstance has its own challenges and its own rewards, otherwise Jesus would have spent his life driving a convertible around Los Angeles. :)

  8. I didn’t mean to argue that the actual scriptural parable is trying to say anything about birth circumstance–it is meant to be just about preaching the gospel as noted.

    Comparing the ‘scattering’ of spirits to the tens of thousands of mothers giving birth each day around the world to the same ‘scattering of seeds’ mentioned in the parable is just my random train of thought upon hearing the parable discussed in Sunday School this last week. I don’t believe there is meant to be any such doctrinal assumptions on the subject of birth circumstance from the parable of the sower–everything behind the first couple of paragraphs is just my speculation…

  9. Regarding the idea that it is not random,

    I think many people like the idea that God chose. It makes us feel comfortable. In my mind this has huge agency issues.

    When an omniscient person makes a decision, it can be argued the omniscient person is then completely responsible for whatever happens. An omniscient person deciding where someone is born can/must base their decision on how things turn out for the person.

    Random seems the best way to me.

  10. Kevin,
    Regarding #4
    I typed a long winded response but my network ate it and I have to get back to work, so I’ll give the twenty five cent version. God deals with us justly, therefore, the opportunity for knowlege and ordinances is universally equal, eventually. Therfore, who we become while here is the most important result of out time on earth. A rich person can either become proud, selfish or truly generous. A poor person can become resentful or humble. The development of Christ like characteristics, I believe, is independent of our station in life, as all have the light of Christ. Therfore, we should all do our best and forget about it :).

  11. I heard once that McConkie was of the opinion that it was typically random but sometimes it wasn’t (regarding the assignment to families.) An obvious example of not random would be Jesus to Mary and Joseph.

  12. A good blessing can be a curse. The rich young man ask Jesus what he needed to do. Sell all that you have and follow me. Good luck with your blessings I hope you endure them well.

  13. Regardless of how the choice was made if think that we as adult spirits saw out entire live laid out and made an agreement with God to endure it. We agreed that He would only I interferer if there was going to be some major shift in our agreement such as our death before our time. I would think that all the laws of mercy, free agency, and accountability would need to be satisfied. From the scriptures about the third of the host and the rebellion and God preordaining some people prophets then I can concluded that what we did before determined where we would be here. But I think our life was made in detail for each of us. If you have it good inline it still does not assure you will develop the necessary skills that you need to return to God. The young rich man went away grieved because he was unable to give up his life to follow Jesus.

  14. Now, of course, it is very bad form (and un-P.C.) to suggest that any characteristic of our mortal existence was influenced by happenings in the pre-existence, especially in terms of race or socioeconomic class.

    I disagree unless you are stating that one race is greater than another race in God’s eyes or one socioeconomic class is greater than another. It’s my understanding that many of the challenges we face in life were essentially crafted for us to help us to grow. This suggests non-random birth circumstances. It does not however suggest that one is born rich and white because they were “better” in the pre-existence. Instead it suggests that one was born a certain way because that is the life that would present them the best opportunity for growth. Keep in mind that the point in life is not to be comfortable, it is to progress.

    Either way I don’t think the rationale behind why we were born the way we were really matters anyway. We are who we are, the important thing to focus on is that we make good use of the talents that God gave us so that we are not proven unworthy servants in the end.

  15. There was a sister who helped the missionaries so much with the poor areas of my city and spelt as special personal mission to help the Asians who would share a Scripture in the Book of Mormon of God bringing people with his purpose in mind.

    I also heard bear testimony of people being willing to be born in horrible circumstances in this world because they knew how important it was to have a body to progress.

    A friend of mine said her mom when alive would say how the savages of another continent have a better chance of getting into heaven then we do as LDS because we know so much and our thereby more accountabile.

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