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)