The Millennial Star is pleased to present the following guest post from Chris Heimerdinger. Chris is the author of the well know “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites” adventure series of books. He’s written a total of sixteen adult and young adult novels and has released a film, Passage to Zarahemla in October 2007.
Chris has five children and presently lives in Draper, UT.
I felt I like blogging on on a subject of a more doctrinal/philosophical nature. Maybe I’m overemphasizing the resurgence of this problem, but since some guy brought it up in Sunday School last week, and since I read where someone tried to push this doctrine on an AML blog, and since some might misconstrue that this doctrine is also supported by a new book by Alonzo Gaskill called, Odds Are You’re Going to Be Exhalted, I felt it was worth bringing up.
“Universalism” is the doctrine that eventually, whether it may take billions of years, ALL of our Heavenly Father’s children will be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom. The idea is that even though many on earth will inherit the telestial kingdom, or the lowest of the three degrees of glory, over time they will have the opportunity to progress to higher kingdoms. Usually this doctrine is couched with the emotional philosophy that a loving Heavenly Father could NEVER introduce a plan of salvation wherein only a portion of His children would receive exaltation and be permanently reunited into His presence.
The idea that souls can progress from kingdom to kingdom, over time, was batted around by various Church figures in the late 1800’s and early 20th Century. But the concept was sent to the trash heap with a great deal of dramatic flourish by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in the early 1980’s with a popular talk that he gave entitled, “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” One of these “deadly heresies” was the notion that souls could progress from kingdom to kingdom.
It’s easy to fall into this error. Our mortal understanding of fairness and compassion is lulled and comforted by the idea that God could NEVER condemn ANYONE to a state less than their full potential. Gaskill, in his book, points out the doctrine that many general authorities have espoused that children who die before the age of accountability, the mentally handicapped, and several other prominent categories of souls are assured exaltation because of their station in life. It even references a little known doctrine taught by Joseph Smith and others that celestialized parents who have wayward children in mortality will, through their own faith and determination, have the power to influence a child to change their attitude in the afterlife and eventually rejoin them in an eternally exalted family. Gaskill is not immune from the emotionalism inherent in our mortal understanding as he writes on page 17 of his book, “The thought that God would promote something that would ensure that the vast majority of His children would never again be able to dwell in His presence is incomprehensible. And the assumption that our mother in heaven would idly sit back and allow such a guaranteed flop to eternally strip her of any interaction with her spirit offspring is equally unfathomable. Such could not-and did not-happen!”
Yup. Based on our mortal understanding of the eternities, Gaskill’s argument has a gut reaction that is quite persuasive. Our earthly comprehension of “fairness” seems to scream out to the carnal mind that this MUST be the case. But the fact is, we have no revealed doctrine that supports this. It is a supposition based on the logic of mortals. And we have so little understanding of anything about our Mother in heaven that assuming any state of mind for this sacred figure might actually be inappropriate. Whatever else it may be, the interpretation that Gaskill presents is a doctrinal stretch.
To give Gaskill his due, his book mostly tries to highlight the fact that we are saved by the grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ. This is certainly true, and oft forgotten by Latter-day Saints who are sometimes over-prone to bouts of guilt and (mental) self flagellation. But if one seeks comfort by gaining a full understanding of the overwhelming power of the Atonement, I would much more heartily recommend Robinson’s book, Believing Christ. Gaskill’s book, though seemingly innocent in its motives, and though he tries to support his argument with many scriptural and GA resources, is too easily interpreted to support the notion of “Universalism.” Or in other words, to support the idea that God does not punish anyone. That there are no eternal consequences for choices made in mortality. And that very few will ever be condemned to live in the eternities in any permanent state that would keep them cut off from the presence of God the Father.
As I already mentioned, Bruce R. McConkie specifically condemned such ideas in his talk “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” In this talk, he states that the belief of eternal progression from kingdom to kingdom “… lulls men into a state of carnal security. It causes them to say, “God is so merciful; surely he will save us all eventually; if we do not gain the celestial kingdom now, eventually we will; so why worry?”
He then enlists some powerful scriptures. Of those in the telestial world it is written: “And they shall be servants of the Most High, but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (D&C 76:112).
Of those who had the opportunity to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in this life and who did not do it the revelation says: “Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven; which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. [D&C 132:16-17]
To the mortal mind this just seems unfair, right? If God really loves us, how could it be true?
The answer to this is simple: In the end, as we receive our eternal estate, none will ultimately view themselves as being “punished.” This will be the definition of God’s ultimate eternal mercy. We exist in the eternities because of our choices. In essence, we choose our kingdom of glory. It is not given to us as punishment. I emphasize the word “glory”. These lower kingdoms are never referred to in the scriptures as states of sorrow and anguish. There’s an old axiom that states that if men could see the glory of the telestial kingdom, they might readily commit suicide just to obtain it because of how glorious it really is. But though a popular axiom, I have not found a particular statement from the scriptures, or from a GA, that pinpoints the source.
Personally, I’ve reconciled all of our understandings about the fairness and mercy of God without, I believe, changing basic LDS doctrine. In essence, we must assume that our lack of understanding regarding “fairness” (such as when contemplating the “luck” of children born with certain physical limitations or who die as infants and getting automatic exaltation, when compared to our own seeming lack of “luck” that we did NOT die as infants and must endure all the pangs and pains of multiple decades on earth) might be resolved with a great “Oh, duh!” if we could simply remember our pre-mortality. We would then fully comprehend the whys and wherefores of things that occur in mortality and utterly eliminate any thoughts of unfairness regarding opportunities and consequences that occur while residing on planet earth in its mortal probation.
Once again, what if telestial glory is actually total and complete bliss for those who inherit it? I believe we receive our kingdoms by choice as a result of our actions. It is a consequence based more on principles of math and physics than on any kind of punishments. Imperfection simply does not desire to dwell with perfection. Those who obtain lower kingdoms of glory would simply be uncomfortable and miserable in the midst of a higher kingdom. Such preserves the basic doctrine of the Church without introducing “universalism.”
And as far as the ultimate question, and the one that plays most effectively upon emotionalism—the question of returning to dwell eternally with our Father and Mother in heaven…Have we ever considered that maybe there are those who don’t WANT to return to God’s presence? That it’s not necessarily high on everybody’s priority list? Getting back to the presence of the Father and Mother of our spirits sounds very attractive in principle, but the reality may not be nearly as attractive as the abstraction. If the analogy of earthly relationships must be enlisted to gain this understanding, consider that many mortal parents have children who ultimately feel ambivalent about them. Or even resentful. And maybe those who obtain lower kingdoms that lack the interaction of our Father and Mother in heaven are just happier in that state of existence. No doubt this may be heartbreaking for the parents, but heartbreak and sorrow for the “world” as well as sorrow for decisions made by offspring is plainly defined as a condition experienced by God. For all we know, inheritance of the Celestial Kingdom assumes an incredible amount of responsibility and action from the inheritors that many souls simply do not want to undertake. Creating worlds? Let’s face it, some folks in mortality choose to not even hold down a job.
So what about “billions and gazillions of years” that make up the fabric of eternity? Just what are those who inherit telestial glory going to be doing ten gazillion years from now if not attempting to progress to a higher kingdom? Well, again, this logic, assumes way too much based upon our mortal understanding of time. The same flawed argument could be placed upon the past as well as the future. If we have “always” existed, why did it take so doggone long to even get to the point of coming into mortality? See the problem? Again, we are trapped by our lack of eternal understanding. The “veil” is hindering our comprehension. As the scriptures often indicate, “God’s time is not our time.” And it may be that time itself is a “thing,” a “dimension,” created strictly for mortality. Deep stuff, and totally beyond our comprehension. But that’s the whole point. “Universalism” is a doctrine born of that lack of understanding. It’s a doctrine born of a lack of faith and the feeling that WE can come up with a better plan if the one God presents doesn’t suit us. And it is a doctrine born of grave human impatience.
Here’s the clincher: “Universalism” really DOES tempt me want to go out and do any darn thing I please. It makes me feel okay about sin. What the halibut! The scriptures say there are consequences??? So what??? “Universalism” makes me say “No big deal!” As a carnal, self-serving human being I am prone to respond, “I’ll worry about consequences later and seek out all my self-gratifications now.” Or to paraphrase the scriptures, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” This notion really is reenergized in my psyche if I were to accept “universalism” or any doctrine like unto it.
So I feel to resolve this argument we must go back to the Book of Mormon (paraphrasing Mor. 7: 16-17) : “That which invites men to do good and believe in Christ is of God. That which invites NOT to do good is NOT of God.” Such puts universalism squarely in the trash heap of the “doctrines of men.” Though I am sorely tempted by the carnal comfort I receive from the concept of “universalism,” I cannot ignore that such comfort is essentially driven by laziness and does not contribute to our Spirit-driven desire to repent and do better day by day.
And lest there are some who believe that this rejection could only be born of a universal power struggle, a desire to stomp upon one’s fellow man and declare a certain select few to be superior to others, or who might argue that the Plan of Salvation as outlined the scriptures is born of an essential lack of compassion for humankind, I declare that this is not an accurate representation. The Plan of Salvation—the same plan which allows us to choose our own destinies for time and eternity—is the very essence of compassion and justice. For we see now through the veil darkly. And human logic will never replace the eternal light of revelation. So until the Lord reveals more (or finds us humble enough to receive more) I think it’s much safer ground to remain rooted to the understanding about repentance and living the commandments that we have been taught by our Church leaders since our days in Primary.