In the obscure 1991 movie Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep, Brooksâ€™ character dies and finds himself in the afterlife where he is judged for the things he learned (or didnâ€™t learn) during his earthly sojourn. He is told that those who progress past a certain level of knowledge and achievement in their Earth life are able to move on afterwards to other (better) realms of existence. Those that do not are doomed to be reincarnated on Earth and try again…and again…and again until they get it right.
He also discovers that in this new universe, Earth is fairly low on the totem pole in spiritual progression. It is an early stop on everyoneâ€™s spiritual journey, one that the good spirits will quickly pass through on their way to better things, while the â€˜not-so-greatâ€™ spirits get stuck there for a while–sort of like the spiritual equivalent of a dead-end cashier job in a fast foot joint.
While the movie is not doctrinally accurate from an LDS standpoint by any stretch of the imagination, it does bring to mind some important doctrines…and some important questions.
Much is made in the scriptures of the importance of Earth life within the plan of salvation. We need to be born and live on Earth so we can obtain a physical body, make covenants, perform ordinances, and learn the important spiritual principles we need to continue on our journey to perfection into the celestial kingdom and beyond. The scriptures and modern day prophets have often stressed that those of us who are living on this earth here and now are special chosen ones of God–the â€˜noble and great onesâ€™ who were saved to be sent down to Earth during these last days. It makes it sound like that among all of Godâ€™s children from the pre-existence, those of us alive today–especially those with high callings and responsibilities in the Church–are among the â€˜eliteâ€™–the best of the best.
And yet…we have to reconcile this idea with other doctrines in the Church. For example, this section in Doctrine & Covenants 137:
And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven. (137:10)
Now think about this–ALL children who die before the age of accountability are celestial-worthy. Throughout all human history, thatâ€™s got to be millions upon millions of children. Many modern day prophets have expanded upon this idea, saying simply that some of Heavenly Fatherâ€™s children need only to come down to Earth for a short period of time to obtain their physical body before being called back to heaven. For those within this substantially large group, it appears there is no need to prove that they are ‘celestial quality’ in this life, thus do not need to stay long. If this is true, this leads to a few significant questions:
(1) Does this mean those spirits were so valiant in the preexistence that there was nothing left for them to prove in this life? If so, what does that imply about those of us who are here for longer periods of time?
(2) If celestial worthiness was not determined in the pre-existence for us or them, when do those spirits obtain the experience, trials and testing necessary to develop celestial attributes–as we are doing today?
(3) If there is no need for these spirits to obtain these types of experience and knowledge in this mortal life, then is there any benefit at all to living past the age of eight in this life?
The implications behind these questions are significant. If children who die are those who are already heirs of the celestial kingdom while the rest of us have to work for it, doesnâ€™t that in fact demonstrate that we (here on Earth now) are not really the â€˜noble and great onesâ€™–weâ€™re in fact more like those students who didnâ€™t pass the class the first time and have to take a remedial make-up session during the summer (mortality) while the first group is free to go outside and play. This seems to divide the children of Heavenly Father into distinct upper- and lower-class spirits–and weâ€™re not in the higher class!
The problem with mortality is that while many of us can and will keep our covenants and become celestial worthy in the end, many of us will not. That means this Earth life represents a very real danger to those who become accountable. Weâ€™re subject to the temptations of Satan, and many will never make it (back) to the celestial level. If thatâ€™s true, it seems there is much greater benefit to being one of those spirits with a â€˜free passâ€™ than those of us who were chosen to live in the last days–we have nothing more to gain, but everything to lose. Compare it to soldiers who risk their lives on the front lines of a war, while others are waiting safely back at home in a â€˜reserveâ€™ role. After the war is over, the rewards of both groups for ‘serving’ are the same, but many in the first group wonâ€™t survive to get home in the first place.
I donâ€™t have an answer for this… My gut feeling says surviving Earth life–learning about the role of the Spirit and how to progress and avoid temptation in this life–does present invaluable experience and benefits that help us become truly celestial people. (In other words, our earth life really matters…) If so, when/how do those â€˜unaccountableâ€™ spirits make up that missing experience? If they donâ€™t need this experience (or already have it) based on what happened in the pre-existence, doesnâ€™t that indicate that the preexistence does, in fact, have a fairly large role in determining the situation in which we find ourselves born into in this life?
This may be another example of a simple answer to a complex question, but the doctrines as constituted seem to divide Godâ€™s spirit children into â€˜protectedâ€™ and â€˜unprotectedâ€™ groups, where the second group has to risk much in mortal life to gain the same(?) rewards. Iâ€™m still ready and willing to fight on the front lines (since, you know…I’m here already), but Iâ€™m just wondering in the end if Iâ€™m going to find out later that I was really one of the ‘lower-middle class’ of spirits before being born, and God just didnâ€™t want to hurt my self-esteem…