The origin of individuals, as perceived by Mormons, is radically different from any other religion. I realized this anew this past week, when searching for the term that would correspond to eschatology (from the Greek for “last study”). Eschatology is the study of the end of life, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world and our entrance into the Kingdom of God.
I wanted to use a recognizable religious term for the study of man’s beginnings.
I could not find such a term.
The term should be protatology (from the Greek for “first study”). The word protatology doesn’t exist. [Turns out the term is protology – Thanks gundek! You have to be careful though, because auto spell functions will always turn protology into proctology. So it’s obviously still an obscure word.] The closest common term for the study of origins is cosmology, which discusses the origin of the universe for different belief systems.
Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding our existence before birth are truly radical. And I mean this in the best possible way. The Bible contains verses that point in the direction of a pre-existence.
John the Revelator gives us the most complete version of what Mormons refer to as the War in Heaven:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
And the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 1
Isaiah would also touch on this heavenly conflict:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart,
“I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. 2
Jeremiah would clarify that humans were known to God before they were conceived:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 3
Joseph, however, was the one who taught that we are eternal, un-created beings. Though God brought us into spiritual life, He did not make us. When it comes to mortal life, we chose Christ. In so choosing, we chose to come to this life.
As discussed in Revelation 12:11, we overcame Satan in that great conflict between God and the serpent by the blood of Christ, and by the word of our testimony. We loved not our lives unto that death which is rejection of God and His Christ, the rejection that the serpent tried to teach us.
Yet we live in a world that remains fundamentally uninformed of this uniquely Mormon protology. The various philosophies of the world think each individual life begins no earlier than conception and as late as birth. They act in accordance with the view that they are finite beings, with no history before this mortal life. Far too many accept that life ends as they believe it began, when the living soul traverses the portal between mortal life on the one side and nothingness on the other.
Is it any wonder that God told the boy Joseph that the philosophies of the world “were all wrong…that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt… [that] ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'”
God and Christ had promised us salvation and eternal life. Each of us entered life with the hope of return. This was the great promise to which Elijah was given the keys, keys that were conferred on Joseph Smith in this last dispensation.
We are to find all those who, like us, resisted the great serpent, who trusted in the promised Atonement of Christ, who had faith enough to be born into mortality, into the family of Man.
In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the fictional Marley had ignored the poor who surrounded him in life in his pursuit of money. Dickens shows us the ghostly Jacob Marley crying out in anguish “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.”
Joseph Smith expanded our scope beyond that imagined by Dickens. Mankind throughout all ages is our business. The common welfare of all mankind and the future generations of mankind are our business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence to all nations, all kindreds, and all tongues is our business.
There are times when the mercy of God seems harsh. It is like the “mercy” of a parent who refuses to let a child eat themselves sick on Halloween candy, or requires a child learn to drive before they are given the keys to the car.
I believe Jeremiah. I believe John the Revelator and Isaiah. Most of all, I believe God and Christ, who promised to save all mankind.
I believe Joseph Smith. I am an uncreated, eternal being. I am a child of God. And you are my glorious and beloved fellows in this grand eternal journey.