Guest Post: And Re-Introducing: The Flawed Doctrine of Universalism

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.

Chris Heimerdinger

79 thoughts on “Guest Post: And Re-Introducing: The Flawed Doctrine of Universalism

  1. I agree with this, but I also feel many of the examples and arguments made here are of the same speculative nature as universalists. Any time “it might be,” and “I believe,” and “have you ever thought,” and “unsubstantiated” are used to argue against another set of the same, then at best it is complimentary considerations. More concrete scriptural and authoritative evidence should have been used. There is plenty out there. For those things we don’t know, it should have been said “we don’t know” and left it at that.

    Personally, I am surprised that Justice wasn’t mentioned more. The book of Mormon is full of scriptures that argue the famous Mercy does not rob Justice. Universalism, I feel, makes trials and errors in this life and even existance meaningless. If living in mortality is only for gaining a body, then death is inviting for those who suffer for righteousness sake. Eternal growth can be taken care of later.

  2. I just might say I couldn’t agree with your summary. Personally I believe that salvation from hell is found only in the celestial kingdom. As far as progression between kingdoms, not only is it a part of our doctrine, it is the most recent revelation we have on the matter that LDS partake of. The temple endowment ceremony requires progression through the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms in order to be addmitted into the celestial kigdom.

    In the temple, the endowment clarifies what was otherwise a confusing doctrine regarding the three worlds of glory. In the temple, the plan of salvation is presented to us in more of a pure manner. Rather than have three worlds of glory for man to aspire to, god makes clear that there is only one world in the end for man to be saved to. This doctrine is supported heavily in all of canonized scripture. The temple teaches us that the telestial kingdom is our world that we live in right now. It is no wonder then that JS saw the sons of perdition (D&C 76:103-106) in the telestial kingdom.

    Read Revelations- especially the last few chapters. In it John explains as part of his vision that there is only one place in the end for “all” of the saved to go to. Everyone not saved go into the lake of fire and brimstone while the saved all dwell on this earth in its sanctified celestial glory.

    Here is one more thing to think about- God has already decreed that all man must repent and be baptized to escape the eternal damnation of hell. That right there my friend is the first requirement for enetering the celestial kingdom! So, it is either being saved into the celestial kingdom in the end or being cast aside into outer darkness- no other salvation exists!

  3. Rob,

    Umm… then what are the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms for which we are told that some will inherit based on their works on earth? D&C 76

    As for the temple, yes it is an ascension through three kingdoms, but that doesn’t mean that all will make it through to the top. Only those who can bear a celestial law will inherit a celestial glory (D&C 88:22).

    Saying that all men except the sons of perdition will make it to the celestial kingdom could not be more incorrect.

    I believe that those who don’t inherit the celestial kingdom will be in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms, which will be a kind of hell in and of itself. For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: “It might have been!” Those who inherit terrestrial and telestial glories will be damned (stopped short) in their progression in eternity. Only those who are exalted into the highest of the celestial kingdom will have eternal and everlasting lives and progression of posterity.

    The sons of perdition do not receive any glory, not even of the telestial. They will be cast into outer darkness (D&C 76:30-49).

  4. While I generally agree with the general premiss and with this specific point that there is no progression from Kingdom to Kingdom (personal belief only), I would hardly quote the Seven Deadly Heresies as the end all authoritative source for an issue. Many of the corrections to Elder McConkie’s heresies are not supported by current prophets or apostles, but the talk has taken on a nature of authoritativeness.

    His statements on evolution and God’s knowledge are still up in the air where he and JFeS are on one side and Talmage, BY, etc. are on another. BRM may be correct, but no President Hinckley was reluctant to make an authoritative statement on many of these points.

    Otherwise, I still agree with you, but just hesitate to give this particular talk the particular status that LDS culture has.

  5. Relying on ‘The Seven Deadly Heresies’ as ones proof text for deciding once and for all the question of Universalism is pretty unstable ground. This is the Apostle who’s ‘Mormon Doctrine’ isn’t and condemns evolution based on an earlier book (The Origin of Man) which was also quietly removed from church curriculum. If your going to make a case, use the scriptures and official pronouncements. BYU Speeches still are not doctrine. That has to be announced in conference and voted on.

    Ooops! That’s a rhetorical point that only conservative Mormons are allowed to use! Bad Liberal, back in the closet!

  6. ALM: Then, universalism is in the same boat, for it is not found in any authoritative sources you’d like us to use (scriptures and official pronouncements).

    One person I knew, very smart, opined that inheriting the post-Resurrection glory wasn’t spacial as much as it is qualitative: our spirits will be telestial, terrestrial, or celestial, not where we are.

    There’s another element I think we sometimes miss. It’s not only that a person who does not obey celestial laws cannot abide a celestial glory, but also that a person who doesn’t want to obey celestial laws cannot abide a celestial glory. Why are we forcing people into the celestial kingdom who obviously don’t want to be there?

    To say that everyone will end up in the celestial kingdom makes the War in the Pre-existence for naught, and sounds somewhat eerily like Satan’s plan: to force everyone into one place.

  7. angrymormonliberal,

    I don’t recall hearing President Monson splitting the Church up by factions–orthodox, conservative, liberal, etc.–and announcing rhetorical rules for use in discussion.

    If you disagree with someone or something, feel free to point it out.

  8. The same Elder McConkie who consigned inter-kingdom progession to the “trash heap” also told a group of CES instructors “You tell your students that far more of our Father’s children will be exalted than we think.” Quoted in Robert Millet, Are We There Yet at 7. According to Millet (who was at the meeting), Elder McConkie gave some pretty optimistic explanations about God’s future success as a loving Eternal Parent. I have not read Gaskill’s book, only thumbed through it, but it sounded like Elder McConkie’s take (and Brother Millet’s explanations in the rest of his book) are fairly similar to Brother Gaskill’s.

    For what it is worth, for me, the hereafter is so far distant that concerns about it have very little impact on my decisions. Whether or not there is progression from kingdom to kingdom has essentially no effect on my decisions whether and when to go home teaching or whether to treat some one else in a kind way. I try to follow Jesus’ teachings not to avoid being “stuck” in a lower kingdom–I try to follow them because I feel more at peace with myself, with God, and with others, when I do so. In all honesty, I have enough confidence in a loving God that I do not concern myself whether or what type of “reward” there might be in the next life.

  9. A scripture comes to mind:

    “I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord.” (Hel. 12:25)

  10. Bryce,

    It really makes no sense to save gods children into three separate places in the end, especially if all are baptized having one heart and one mind (born again). Read the end of Revelations and see how the kingdom of heaven is set up in the end- no three separate worlds, just one world.

  11. Chris,
    Thank you for a very intriguing post. Q. Do you think that some of the Philosophical assumptions about life (e.i., belief in an enforced equality of outcome rather than responsibility before God) has anything to do with those willing to invent a new form of Universalism? That is, maybe this viewpoint arises solely because NOM’s worship a God incapable of not enforcing an equality of outcome? When the requirement is that God must provide equality of outcome (which seems to be the liberal mantra, in terms of education, health care, etc.) wouldn’t God have to enforce equality of outcome to still be good?

    While I agree that BRM’s talk is, and has been to this point in time, non-canonical, placing it on the same level as MD is just slightly unfair, and would be similar to placing AML’s current writing next to his 5th grade writing. BRM learned quite a bit when he progressed from Elder (when he wrote MD as a member of the seventy) to an Apostle (when he gave the seven deadly heresies talk).

    In general.
    We would all do well to remember that both the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms are kingdoms of glory, not damnation. They are parts of the kingdom of heaven. In the telestial glory, inhabitants relish the presence of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead. In the terrestrial glory, inhabitiants love and are loved by God the Son, Jesus Christ, our (and their redeemer). While the highest heaven is the celestial kingdom, both the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms are part of heaven. No unclean thing can enter into a kingdom of heaven without the grace of the Son. But not all who are saved from hell (Sheol, death, and sin) are exalted. I think it unfair to the Savior’s mission when we say that those who enter the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms enter on either their own merits or as sinnsers. While those who have shed innocent blood are murderers on this earth, and are bound for a telestial glory if they repent, reception into the telestial glory is dependent upon their repentance and acceptance of the Savior. While this is not explictly spelled out in the scriptures, IMO, this is the only way to reconcile “No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” With the fact that the HG is too God. I think those who murdered in this life must repent and eventually be pardoned before they enter into a telestial glory, and hence will no more be murderers. Insights on how you (or I) can clarify this viewpoint are welcome.

  12. NOYDMB,

    BRM learned quite a bit when he progressed from Elder (when he wrote MD as a member of the seventy) to an Apostle (when he gave the seven deadly heresies talk).

    Are you sure about this? At least when it comes to Heresies and other similar talks I don’t see it at all – the line between his opinions and doctrine becomes even murkier. I have to agree with the previous comments – there are plenty of agreed upon authoritative ways to disprove Universalism; Elder BRM’s Heresies talk is not one of them.

  13. Cool essay, though, BTW; very thought-provoking. As few minor quibbles with phrases, but the whole thesis is spot-on – the danger of Universalism is complacency. I really want to take a look at this book now, “Odds Are You’re Going to Be Exhalted”.

  14. NOYDMB,

    One of the basic flaws in our “plan of salvation” is that we leave it very unclear on what is required to recieve a salvation from hell. This has led to countless debates on the requirements to be saved. From our gospel doctrine manuals it teaches that no real obedience is required to enter at least the telestial kingdom because according to the manual the gospel and obedience to it is only required for entrance into the celestial kingdom.

    Now, what is wrong with that picture,especially in light of the plan of salvation as is taught quite thoroughly in the Book of Mormon? Christ our savior taught us that all men must repent and be born again (through baptism)in order to be saved eternally from the damnation of hell. Now do you start getting the drift of where I am coming from? The only laws that save mankind are based on celestial principle. When Christ saves mankind he will do it by saving them as “the kingdom” (one group) having cleansed them and presenting that kingdom spotless to the Father.

    We are all well aware of the parable of the wheat and the tares. There are two groups of people in the world- the wheat (the children of god) and the tares (the children of the devil). There is no other group. What is interesting about this parable is the end state- the harvest. In the end (after the millennium when Christ has finished the work Father gave him to do)the wheat will be gathered and stored in the garners while the tares will be burned. There are still only two groups here, we will either be wheat or we will be tares. Revelation given to JS tells us what happens with the wheat- they all go on to recieve crowns of celestial glory in the fathers kingdom-

    65 Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be;
    66 While the tares shall be bound in bundles, and their bands made strong, that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 101:65 – 66)

    In the end all of the saved recieve celestial glory. And rightly so- they have all been cleansed through the atonement and are once again worthy to dwell with god in purity. The scriptures state that all sins will be forgiven except for the unpardonable ones. If all of the saved recieve a full remission of their sins, wouldn’t this mean that there sins are remebered no more and thus are not judged off of them? Isn’t it true that only one thing stands in our way from dwelling with god in the celestial kingdom- that being our sins? And if they are all erased through obedience to gospel law what then would stand in their way from entering into the celestial kingdom? Have they all not become the sons and daughters of god and are thus entitled to all that the Father has in store for them?

    Maybe my clarification is just more confusing but it really shouldn’t be. I think too often we let the three world salvation model rule and run our theological mindset and miss the entire point of the gospel. We are so confused about who goes where and why and we miss the point altogether. The temple has tried to clear up this issue with a more plain and pure understanding of what the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms stand for, but I am afraid that generally speaking we have once again missed the point of it. Given, it is somewhat hard to discern because preconceived ideas cloud our minds but the truth is there and it is plain as day.

    Once we can get back to understanding that Christ only saves the kingdom as one unified body of people, we will have a much more clearer view of the plan of salvation as Christ intended us to have. It is up to us though as a church to finally look at the contradictions, sort them out and get back to teaching the plan as it was intended.

  15. Questions on this topic have been asked of Presidents of the Church. So far as I have seen (I have copies of a number replies) the consistent answer has not been an endorsement of McConkie’s opinion, but rather a statement that there has been a difference of opinion among the Brethren and the Church has no official opinion one way or the other.

    The question of whether Satan and his angels will ever be redeemed is even left open.

  16. Exactly. Both are *folk doctrines*, and being such we would be wise to not try to teach either with any great certainty.

    Rob, statements in scripture are neither precise nor universal enough to use as axioms in a logical framework. Trying to use them as such will cause you to reject at least half of them for leading to contradictions. Loosen your rigid interpretations – we see through a glass darkly, and our theology is not math.

  17. Rob,

    If you remember, hell is the waiting place for the disobedient prior to the resurrection. Thus, the disobedient will experience hell until the resurrection, where they are redeemed to a Kingdom of Glory (telestial kingdom). Only the sons of perdition will not experience this redemption.

    In other words, the Savior is right that those who are disobedient will find themselves in hell.

    As far as everybody making it to the telestialn kingdom, I feel as though you’ve misunderstood the teachings of the temple. The scriptures teach: “He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot babide a celestial glory.” The teachings of the temple are an invitation and promise to live that law, not a guarantee that we will all get there.

  18. I haven’t read Gaskill’s book, but I think there are stronger arguments for the possibility of universalism than what you’re calling “emotionalism” – the argument that surely God wouldn’t behave in such-and-such a way, because it offends human sensibilities. (Nonetheless, I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss such objections out of hand. Though it’s true that God’s way aren’t our ways, I think it’s legitimate to at least raise serious questions about claims that God is behaving in ways that—even in our limited understanding—strike us as immoral or unjust.)

    However, the theological argument for universalism usually appeals to scriptural statements about God’s desire to save all, such as 1 Timothy 2:4 (“who will have all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth.”) Latter-day Saints, of course, could add Moses 1:39, about God’s work and glory being to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. One question, then, is how good God is at accomplishing what he sets out to do. What does it mean to take God’s salvific will seriously?

    This isn’t to deny the reality of human agency. Will there be human beings who ultimately choose to reject God, to reject salvation/exaltation? Based on scriptural warnings, I think it’s clear that such a thing is a real possibility. But I also don’t see that we have definitive knowledge as to how things will end up, or what possibilities will or will not be available to people in the world to come. As others have already pointed out, Bruce R. McConkie clearly had his personal views on progression between kingdoms, but other church leaders have seen things differently.

    I also have some reservations about the universalism leads to complacency argument. For one thing, I’m uneasy with a morality in which people are only good if they have the incentive of an eternal reward. Is it truly charity if the reason that you’re serving your neighbor is in hopes that God will give you a prize someday? But even setting that aside, the same argument could be made about the doctrine of repentance. By preaching the possibility of repentance, aren’t we simply encouraging people to “play today and repent tomorrow?” Yet the fact that some do in fact take it that way doesn’t stop us from continuing to assert that repentance is always available. And, as with repentance, to suggest the possibility of universalism isn’t at all to say that there won’t be consequences for behavior. One might hold out the hope of universalism and at the same time believe that some choices might take a very long time to return from, and cause much difficulty and heartache along the way.

    I’m not a universalist in the sense that I definitely believe that it will happen. But I do think it’s at least possible. And I see a couple of LDS teachings have potentially interesting implications for this—the reinterpretation of “eternal punishment” in D&C 19 (which I think should at least give us pause before assuming that we know what scriptures about eternal conditions mean), the notion that change continues to be possible in the next life, and the fact that we emphasize sealing families, indicating that exaltation is more than an individual affair. I certainly don’t think anyone will be forced into salvation or exaltation. But in eternity, who is to say what people will end up choosing? Given how much we don’t know, I think it’s as problematic to confidently assert that some people won’t make it as it is to glibly assume that everyone will. I like the position taken by many contemporary Catholic theologians, which avoids definitive pronouncements, but calls us to hope for the salvation of all.

  19. I think there’s a good chance that all this speculation and trying to second-guess God qualifies as “looking beyond the mark”.

    There’s even a better chance that we’re trying to figure these things out in order to judge oursselves and others.

    Are the answers to these questions going to help us do a better job in our personal progression and enduring to the end?

  20. I second what Lynnette said.

    In general I see no reason why we should privilege Elder McConkie’s speculations over the speculations of others. Until God settles this issue it is all guessing. But when we consider Elder McConkie’s well-documented habit of speaking his opinions as if they were facts I think we need to be especially wary of using his stuff as proof-texts.

    Chris made a few mistakes in the post that should be called out I think. For instance he defines univeralism in a Mormon context pretty well in the second paragraph but then later he says universalism is “the idea that God does not punish anyone”. This latter claim is simply wrong. The argument a Mormon universalist would make is simply that wickedness is punished but that punishment is not eternal. Rather a Mormon universalist would claim that free will is eternal therefore the possibility for repentance and progression is never completely obliterated.

    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?

    Yep. But this is not really argument against universalism at all. For instance if Heber C, Kimball and others were right this is not our first mortal probation. Or if others were right we haven’t always existed but were born into existence of heavenly parents. The fact is that we have no idea so you are trying to base an argument on a speculation about the eternities here rather than on a solid foundation.

    These lower kingdoms are never referred to in the scriptures as states of sorrow and anguish.

    Ironically, you are disagreeing with Bruce R. McConkie with this argument. He taught that lower kingdoms will be in some ways hellish for those who end up there and realize what they missed out on.

    “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.”

    What you should trach is the straw man version of universalism you are attacking here. Lynnette is right that the very notion of repentance could be attacked as encouragement to sin now but I doubt you are willing to throw repentance in the trash heap in favor of the “get it right the first time” approach.

    Lastly Lynnette is right that D&C 19 is the silver bullet in the arsenal of anyone pushing universalism in Mormonism.

    I am not ready to endorse univeralism but I do think it is important to see the actual strengths of arguments in favor of it rather than attacking a straw man version.

  21. The right trousers,
    What then do you make of the scriptures if they can’t be used precisely to define the gospel? The parable of the wheat and the tares is one of the most talked of parables in the scriptures
    and is used as an analogy of precisely what will happen. Just because it doesn’t precisely fit what we expect or want does not make it valid. The parables Christ gave are about as universal as it can get- it is thus plain and simple to understand.

  22. A quote from Joseph Smith in chapter 17 of the current priesthood/relief society manual seems to apply to this discussion:

    The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he would save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him. (History of the Church, 6:314)

    Clearly, universalism is not of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but comes from a different source.

  23. No, Bryce Haymond, it is not clear at all that in the end some form of universalism is not true. (If it is the truth then it is encompassed in the gospel).

    That quote simply shows that there are very real consequences for our sins on this planet. It does not give an answer to the question on whether a soul retains free will/agency and over the course of trillions of years comes around and begins to long for God again, nor does it tell us God would shun those Johnny-come-lately spirits after that change of heart.

    I will help opponents of universalism out a bit though: If you want to discredit the notion of universalism, prove that people do not retain free will. If you can prove that it will be pretty easy to show that the possibility for spiritual progress and repentance completely ceases at some point.

  24. Those who do not obey God will at some point lose their free will as it pertains to eternal progression.

    And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. (2 Nephi 2:26)

    Those who kept not their first estate have already lost their free will. They will never be able to repent of what they did, worlds without end. They will never be redeemed either.

    We are now in the probation of our second estate.

    And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever. (Abr. 3:26)

    The status of those who keep not their second estate will be the same as those who kept not their first. They will be damned (stopped short in eternal progression).

    And there are many in this second estate who will not keep this estate and therefore cannot expect to have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever, because they have not kept the commandments which the Lord their God has given them. (Elder Joseph Anderson, “Eternal Joy is Eternal Growth,” June Ensign 1971, 75.)

  25. That’s a lovely assertion and all Bryce but I believe you are wrong. I don’t think free will can be lost. The verse you provided is certainly not persuasive evidence otherwise. It doesn’t say what you hope it will say.

    If a human had no free will he or she would simply be an automaton — no different than some robot or toaster or tumbleweed. I don’t think that is a viable option for humans based on the evidence I have seen. Why would a resurrection even be useful if most people became nothing more than robots? Why would God choose to basically lobotomize the majority of his children?

  26. Rob, we believe that God speaks to people in their own languages and in ways that they’ll understand. Since people understand imperfectly, it follows that everything they are given are approximations to what’s really on God’s mind.

    If God gave us precise axioms of religion, there would be no need for revelation because we could derive all of religion from them. Indeed, traditional Cristianity approaches the Bible this way (as perfect, precise, universal, complete, and inerrant). They also toss in their creeds, which are nothing more than an attempt to axiomatize God. And what did Jesus tell Joseph? Those creeds are all abominations. They turn man away from revelation.

    You’ve been regarding the parable of the wheat and the tares in exactly the same way. But there are a thousand ways in which it can be incomplete or imprecise. You’ve also determined that your interpretation of it is precisely, universally correct. I can’t understand why you would think so.

    This whole discussion reeks of propositionalism. Our theology is NOT propositional logic. Propositional logic requires axioms that are precise and universal, and you can’t claim that about any scripture, any sermon, any book, any instruction manual, or any other source we Saints get quotes from to hurl at each other.

    It’s not bad to apply logic to religion. What’s bad is applying logic to religion, believing you’ve found The Absolute Truth, teaching it as such to others, and closing your heart and mind to further light and knowledge.

    In other words, we’d all be a lot better off if we said “I don’t believe that, but you could be right” more often.

  27. Wow! This article has unleashed many posts, which tells me this is fertile ground and that it was more timely than I thought. Many indeed do having leanings toward Universalism. I consider this a serious and an unfortunate thing. But in the realm of internet blogging, where everyone in their anonymity may fearlessly flex their rhetorical muscles knowing that no one will give them odd looks in Sacrament Meeting (assuming Church activity—which is often a huge assumption), there is always bound to be those who dismiss any such concerns out of hand.

    I don’t have the luxury of anonymity. Most in the Church have heard of me, or one or another of my books, though most of those still would not recognize me in public. So with that important distinction in mind, I’ll attempt to respond to some of the posts with counter-thoughts or common-thoughts, whatever the case may be. I’ll try not to belittle anyone, though ultimately many are prone to umbrage no matter how a disagreement is couched. For a host of us this is an imbedded weakness, or “gene,” succored since toddler-hood, and the internet is assuredly no place to try and cure it.

    I admit a degree of amusement whenever someone tries to dismiss all discussion by saying it’s looking beyond the mark or improper speculation or impossible to resolve, and so why even discuss it? No fair sitting on the ball and saying, “I just don’t think anyone should play.” This is why we’re here, right? Though it may sometimes seem that few of us come to these forums with open minds, we can at least allow intellectual exercise, right? We all know ahead of time that none of us are prophets. (Though I was often alarmed at the arrogance–sorry. That’s a harsh word, but I couldn’t think of another–of those who so readily dismiss someone who DOES hold that title like Bruce R. McConkie. No, he is not the only resource for dismantling the concept of progression from kingdom to kingdom, but he’s certainly more qualified than any of us here. Arrogance to some is simply the effrontery of putting our ideas “out there” for public scrutiny. But what it really is is the inability to be taught. Or to learn. So many GA’s would (and did) proclaim that Elder McConkie was never in that category. For anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed his parting testimony at General Conference in the mid-80’s, just a few days prior to his death, how could they possibly misjudge such a giant of a character?)

    I’ve learned many new things from these posts. I already knew some of the catalogue of quotes from the past that presented the idea of progression from kingdom to kingdom, but I wasn’t aware that there was a link that would handily display such on the internet. I appreciated seeing that. When seen together in this fashion it seems to highlight the rarity of it, but most importantly it confirms that most made this leap of logic without solid foundation, sometimes plainly confessing that it is a speculation. Listing those authorities’ quotes as they taught/teach otherwise would likely be too numerous to compile so handily, just as a compilation of the scriptures that teach otherwise is also too long to compile. But it is nevertheless a truism that for some it is a subject that will require further revelation before they will dismiss it, or before it can be pried from their cold, dead . . . Sorry, Mr. Heston got the best of me there.

    I was most intrigued by the opposing argument wherein a party suggested that Universalism might not promote complacency. The example they used was to suggest that the mere doctrine of repentance might well do the same, so what’s the diff? I had to think about this one a moment. I’ve certainly heard some in our Church—particularly certain youth—suggest that they ought to “sow their oats” now and repent later. But I think even the purveyor of this argument would readily admit its weakness as they consider that any misunderstanding of repentance that promotes complacency does not compare to the potential breadth of complacency promoted by Universalism (despite bemoaning the reality that some of us poor children do appreciate the sentiment of punishments and rewards as a natural first incentive for obedience). Those who fall into the trap of letting repentence inspire complacency are still well aware that “this life is the time to meet God.” Universalism suggests a much wider chasm that extends complacency to the grave and beyond. That, I believe, is a marked difference that undermines the comparison. Universalism contemplates a far more serious and lasting error.

    Are there really some adult saints who misunderstand the concept of “hell?” I joined this Church when I was eighteen and found the LDS definition of this incredibly enlightening from the moment it was explained to me. I’m disappointed that some have missed that opportunity. It reminds me of kids in my Sunday School class who wish they could be rebaptized to become fully clean again, entirely missing the point of the Sacrament. Since I joined this Church I always clearly understood, and embraced, the concept that hell was synonymous with Spirit Prison—a state of anguish and remourse that exists only until the sorting of the Final Judgment. Hell is not Outer Darkness (though I would assume such a state is “hellish”) and it certainly is NOT a lower kingdom of glory. With that understanding can D&C 19 still be wrested into oblivion? Eternal punishment is simply God’s punishment. What God does is always eternal. Leave it to the Protestants and Catholics to confuse the semantics of a word like “eternal” in this context as a “unit of time.”

    There are so many other points made here in these replies. Just so little time to respond to all. But I do believe “free will” doesn’t help the argument of Universalism in the least. Our Father in Heaven has “free will,” and yet if He sins He would cease to be God. Does that diminish His free agency? I may have the free will to leap into a columbine, but I would most assuredly “cease” to be intelligent. 🙂

  28. Chris: But I do believe “free will” doesn’t help the argument of Universalism in the least.

    Hehe. Well then clearly you don’t understand the argument.

    The fact that God retains his free will and can thus cease to be God is in fact a key to the whole thing. If we all retain free will then we are all free to spiritually progress or retrogress. As long as a soul retains free will that soul can progress. Therefore if we retain free will there is progression (and logically retrogression) between kingdoms.

    Now this could logically lead to an amended version on universalism. That is, one could logically eternally choose to spurn God and eternally choose misery over happiness even if we all retain free will. In any case I won’t even venture a guess on the likelihood of that actually happening for now. But it is clear to me that if we retain the free will we presumably have now and have always had then we will always be able to choose a relationship with God. In the parable of the prodigal son I don’t recall the father’s desire for his son to “come to himself” and return having an expiration date.

    So the free will thing really does damage to yours and anyone else’s speculations about no progression between kingdoms. (And remember — if it isn’t revelation it is just speculation no matter how lofty the title a person holds.)

  29. “Why would God choose to basically lobotomize the majority of his children?”

    Note that it is not God who does it. It’s man’s own free will that does. We are free agents here, having kept our first estate, we were given that. Putting the blame of free will on God gets man nowhere. At some point man’s disobedience to eternal law damns those who do it, by their own free will and choice. The more light and knowledge we possess, the more we are damned for disobeying it (D&C 82:3).

    Do you disagree, Geoff J., that those who kept not their first estate have lost a large portion of their free will? They will no longer be able to choose to have a body. They will no longer be able to choose to experience mortality. They will no longer be able to choose to have a family. They will no longer be able to choose to be married. They will no longer be able to choose to receive the ordinances of the gospel. They will no longer be able to choose to accept Christ. They will no longer be able to choose to receive the priesthood. They will no longer be able to choose to become like God. Never! They have lost their free will through disobedience to God. And so it is with those who keep not their second estate as well.

    The truth shall make you free (John 8:32). Those who do not obey truth lose that freedom.

  30. Hehe. Well then clearly you don’t understand the argument.

    You are a fiesty one, Geoff. Would it rankle you if I contended that I did understand your argument and simply rejected it? It’s not a complex argument. You simply believe if one “progresses” in the afterlife it presupposes free will. I don’t support that A necessarily equals B. It is not a foregone logic. I don’t believe the two phenomenon necessarily relate. With the benefit of our former memory returned to us in the afterlife, the concept of free will doesn’t seem to apply. Agency is a principle for mortality. In the setting of the eternities, I the principle might require many presently incomprehensible amendments.

    But I will contend, Geoff, that it’s okay to disagree without concluding that others do not understand you. And beware the ineffectiveness of calling others flat wrong. We’re all just flexing ideas here. And honey attracts more flies than vinegar. Just a friendly thought with regard to your future efforts at persuasion.

    And no, I am not immune to an occasional reminder that sometimes I ought to heed my own advice. 🙂

  31. Bryce: It’s man’s own free will that does.

    Then you aren’t really talking about free will. Free will is not something a person can voluntarily give up. It is the inherent ability to control (and thus be held responsible for) one’s own thoughts, words and deeds.

    If a person has no free will that person also has no moral responsibility.

    Do you disagree, Geoff J., that those who kept not their first estate have lost a large portion of their free will?


    What they lost was certain number of opportunities (like the opportunity to get a body on this particular planet). That is different than losing the overall ability to choose.

    So you will either have to show that they never had the ability to choose to love God to begin with or somehow their very nature was changed and they cannot love God now. But if they never had the ability to love God then it makes no sense to hold them morally accountable for not doing what was never possible for them to do. If they still have the ability to choose to love God but actively and consistently choose to hate God then their continued separation from God is just. But it seems to me that the sons of perdition could repent and turn to God if they retain free will. Are you saying God would shun them if they did?

  32. “Free will is not something a person can voluntarily give up.”

    I disagree. By disobedience to eternal laws, one does give up free will. Lessened opportunities = less free will. If I can no longer choose something, then I no longer have free will with regard to that thing. That is a “deed” I can no longer choose or control. My disobedience has limited what my free will is allowed to do in that regard.

    Sons of perdition can never be forgiven for their sin of denying the Holy Ghost. That is the unpardonable sin. It can never be forgiven. Even God Himself cannot forgive that sin (Matt. 12:31-32). Those that have so sinned have lost their second estate.

    How much free will do prisoners have? Not much.

  33. Chris,

    I don’t mind someone disagreeing with me at all — in fact I love it when I learn something new as a result. The problem is that none of your responses so far lead me to believe you really do understand the argument at hand despite your insistence otherwise. Like Bryce, you seem to not understand what is entailed by the term free will in my comments. For example I believe you are simple wrong when you assert that free will is not a necessary prerequisite for spiritual progression. Do you have any support for that claim whatsoever? Spiritual progression in Mormonism is the result of freely made moral choices over time. It is sometimes (and I think accurately) described as freely choosing a loving personal relationship with God. “Men are free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death” and all that. We can justly be held morally accountable only because we have this freedom to choose our own thoughts words and deeds. People who do not have this kind of freedom, like little children and mentally disabled people, are not held morally accountable here on earth because they lack this robust kind of freedom.

    So your argument that premortal people did not have free will fails from the start. They were clearly held morally responsible for choices there just like we are held morally responsible for choices here. That is why a “third part” of them could justly be punished. If we were the equivalent of mentally disabled persons there it would not be just to punish people for choices they could not have avoided would it?

  34. Elder Robert D. Hales:

    Because of that divine decision which determined your eternal progression, you received a physical body, gained the agency to choose good over evil, and are now growing and preparing to take upon yourselves the attributes of our Savior. The only way we lose those blessings is to give them up through disobedience. (May 2007 Ensign, 48-51)

  35. Bryce: Lessened opportunities = less free will.

    Again, we are taking about two different things here. I am using the term free will in the technical/philosophical sense of the word. Most Mormons believe in a form of free will that most closely matches libertarian free will (though they probably wouldn’t love all the theological consequences that accepting LFW entails).

    In a colloquial sense of the word I do not disagree that fewer choices available means is a reduction in our freedom to choose.

    The free will I am talking about is the freedom to choose our own character; the freedom to choose our reaction to the action of others; the freedom to choose who we are at our core (even if our other liberties are restricted). It is the freedom that Viktor Frankl retained while he was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. No amount of restriction on liberties could take away his free will. That is the kind of free will that is eternal in us all and is essential to who we are. Take that away and you obliterate the very personal identity of a person I believe.

  36. Such free will cannot overcome the judgments of God, Geoff. A person might have all the freedom of conscience in the world while sitting in outer darkness, but that will never get him to the celestial kingdom. They have forgone that opportunity. Believing otherwise makes the final judgment meaningless.

  37. Right Bryce, the final judgment would only be “final” in the sense of it being the last judgment for this planet. If the ability to choose who we are and who we will love is eternal (as I believe) then there is nothing final. The fact that our scriptures say God can cease to be God proves that there is no ultimately “final” judgment.

  38. Geoff, if that is the case, then why not eat, drink, and be merry? Who cares what we do here if we can always repent later? What is the test of this probation?

    32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
    33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
    34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
    35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:32-35)

    Yes, there is a final judgment. The sealings of the devil are just as eternal, final, and unbroken as those of God.

  39. Geoff, if that is the case, then why not eat, drink, and be merry?

    Because going to hell reportedly really sucks — even if it is not an eternal hell. Plus not being sealed to one’s family is normally not desirable.

    The possibility of going to prison is a deterrent to crime here on earth even when people know they will eventually get out.

  40. And by the way, I already addressed the use of the word “final” in scriptures. It likely means final for this planet. So using more quotes and highlighting the word final is not productive for you here. Our scriptures make it clear that even God has the possibility of being thrust from the Celestial sphere through his free choices so kingdoms are not unchangeably final even for him or for the devil. As long as one can choose who they are and who they will love then progress or retrogression is possible.

  41. I’m sorry, but I completely disagree with your take on the gospel. Draining words of their meaning doesn’t help anything.

    The scriptures which say that God can cease to be God are hypothetical to teach a lesson, as it would not happen in reality (note that we are told “but God ceaseth not to be God”). We don’t have to fear our God ceasing to be God, or the devil suddenly becoming virtuous.

  42. Draining words of their meaning doesn’t help anything.

    Amen brother. People often drain words of their meaning by taking clear statements and calling them hypothetical.

    So the question is, in the battle between “final” and “God cease to be God” which should give? I think it is much easier and wiser to put the word final in perspective (since we are eternal beings) than to totally disregard the idea that God could indeed use his free will incorrectly and thus cease to be God. (If God was powerless to choose evil why would we consider him morally commendable to begin with?) Just because it is not likely does not mean it is not an telling and real possibility.

  43. God ceasing to be God is hypothetical. You’ll note that in each case we are told “But God ceaseth not to be God.” We aren’t to believe that it would actually be possible. It is a point used to teach us what will happen if we choose evil over good. God has already passed that test, and chose good.

    What kind of faith could we have in a God that could suddenly be damned? We could have none, for we would always be fearful of His fall.

    God has become God because he has overcome evil once and for all. He has become perfect. He will never choose evil again, ever. If it were possible for Him to choose evil, He would not have become God in the first place. Gods do not cease to be Gods when they reach that station. They have defeated evil permanently.

  44. Bryce,

    First, if God can’t choose evil then he is not moral. There is nothing commendable about not doing something it is impossible to do. What kind of faith could we have in some amoral being? Further, what kind of personal relationship could we have with the amoral being you are describing?

    Second, I agree that God has not ceased to be God. But our scriptures make it clear that it is possible for him to make choices (presumably about who he will be and who he will love or not) that would result in him ceasing to be God. That is ample evidence to support my point about the progression and retrogression being tied to free will.

    It is contra-scriptural to say God could not actually cease to be God even if we all agree that it is highly unlikely he ever would.

  45. Geoff, I don’t think that the scriptures are clear on that point. The scriptures where it is mentioned seem more to be a reductio ad absurdum than an assertion God could cease to be God. (Which is not to say he couldn’t, just that those scriptures shouldn’t be used as proof-texts for the idea)

  46. Clark,

    The assumption powering that reductio ad absurdum is that God has free will and that it is logically possible for him to use it to behave unGodly. It may be absurd to say he ever actually would choose evil but that is beside the point here.

  47. Geoff,

    “First, if God can’t choose evil then he is not moral.” Wrong. He has already made the choice between good and evil, and chosen good. He has become perfectly moral.

    “Second, I agree that God has not ceased to be God.” Right, and neither would He ever cease to be God. He has become perfect.

    “It may be absurd to say he ever actually would choose evil but that is beside the point here.” Actually, that seems to be the very point. Would He ever actually choose evil? No.

  48. Bryce,

    You are describing a God who used be moral. Since the God you describe does not have free will now it is not currently moral.

    Also it is an error to equate could and would as you are doing. Just because we agree it is highly unlikely that God ever would cease to be God does not mean he never could cease to be God. “Could” describes the possibility and power to do so whereas “would” only describes the likelihood of it all.

  49. Geoff,

    Just because someone has become perfectly moral does not mean they are now amoral. Very righteous people, such as the prophets, I do not normally think of as not moral, or who used to be moral. Rather, they are reaching much closer to perfect morality than I am. They have “no more disposition to do evil.” God not only doesn’t have the disposition to, but He will never do evil evermore.

    I think the argument of could versus would is mute since God will never cease to be God. Could He? Well, what is the possibility? Zero. Would He? What is the likelihood? Zero. Well, doesn’t He have the power to do evil? No, I don’t think so. He gave that up when He became God. He is no longer free to choose evil, but “to do good continually.”

    Perfection is another word which suddenly has no meaning if you propose that God could or would ever do evil. If there is even the slightest probability of the case, then God would not be perfect.

  50. Bryce,

    First, let me point out that I am not saying a being with no free will is immoral, rather I am saying if the being has no free will it cannot be held morally responsible or commendable for actions.  (If the being cannot choose otherwise what is there to blame or commend for?)

    The prophet example you gave is a fine example of what I am talking about.  A very good man is considered very good not because he can’t choose evil; rather he is considered good because he can do evil but actively chooses not to do so. 

    By claiming God does not even have the power to choose evil you not only underestimate his power, you inadvertently shift him from a perfectly moral being to an a-moral or morally-neutral being (as if he were some force of nature rather than a person).

  51. Geoff,

    On the contrary, One who has completely overcome evil so as not to ever choose evil again I believe is the most commendable One of all.  Do you know of many who have done such a thing?  I don’t.  Such a One should be highly applauded and honored.  I would even venture that such a One should be worshiped for what they have done.  I know I would hold One like that in extremely high regard, indeed, above all my earthly mortal fallible associates, friends, siblings, and even the prophets and apostles.

  52. Bryce,

    I completely agree with you about God the Father and Christ being commendable for overcoming evil.  I simply disagree with your assertion that it is beyond their power to choose otherwise from moment to moment.  I don’t believe God has no free will as you are asserting.  The unfree God you are describing sounds much more like the God described in the creeds than the God revealed by the restoration to me.

  53. The assumption powering that reductio ad absurdum is that God has free will and that it is logically possible for him to use it to behave unGodly.

    I don’t think you can say that.  At least not as an exegesis of Alma 42.  

  54. Bryce that’s an interesting question.  If I am able to and choose to be unable to choose evil aren’t I still free?

    Let’s put it an other way, aren’t I morally free in that for any choice I make in the future I make it freely? Since any limits on choice are self-imposed. It seems that God would fit the requirement of moral freedom. (We’re ignoring other kinds of freedom here obviously like the freedom between a blue or red toothbrush which are probably morally neutral.)

  55. I disagree Clark.  The idea is that if God chose to let mercy rob justice he would cease to be God.  That is based on the assumption that God has the power to make such a choice to begin with.

  56. But such a choice needn’t be a libertarian free choice.

    More particularly though I think we’re presented with a logic conundrum of what would happen if mercy could rob justice. You are assuming it’s a live choice but the text simply doesn’t present it as such. All that’s required by the text is a counterfactual argument leading to a contradiction.

  57. I am not entirely sure what the fundamental dispute here is.  If the question is, Can all of God’s children be exalted?  I think the answer is "yes", it is up to each individual.  If the question is, Can all God’s children be damned forever, without end?  I think the answer is also yes, it is up to each individual.

    If the question is, How many of God’s children will make choices that lead to exaltation (including repentance after bad choices)? I do not think we know the answer to that question.  The scriptures indicate that at least some will make choices eventually leading to exaltation, and at least some will not make the choices that eventually lead to exaltation.  Some passages lean towards only a small number becoming exalted (leading Calvin and others to have a very negative view of human nature), some lean towards a more optimistic view.

    In Mormon religious culture, many  believe and teach that only a small portion of humanity have and will make choices that lead to exaltation.  In fact, I think many Mormons believe that only a small portion of Mormons have and will make choices that lead to exaltation.  And the rest of us will be consigned to "hell" forever because we have not made the choices leading to exaltation. 

    I do not share this belief–I am more optimistic about the fundamental goodness of the vast majority of God’s children.  Does that make me a universalist because I believe that the vast majority of God’s children are good enough in their hearts that they will make choices leading to their exaltation?

  58. Geoff,

    God has all the free will in the world to do good, which is what He has chosen for the rest of eternity.  He will never again commit any evil whatsoever.  That is not even a choice anymore.

  59. Bryce, if you are saying "that is not even a choice anymore" in a figurative sense (because it is so unlikely God would ever make that choice) then I agree with you.

  60. Geoff,

    I’m not saying that it is highly unlikely.  I’m saying that it will never happen.  God’s perfection outrules even the chance of its occurrence, in all of eternity.  God has become perfect in that regard.

    If there was even the slightest chance that God could choose evil, then what would happen in a centillion years from now when we are working our way toward perfection and then, uh oh, God committed a sin, and we all evaporate into intelligences again.  Nope, it’s not going to happen.  If there was even the smallest chance that it could happen, statistically it would have to happen at some point in eternity.  But it won’t.

  61. Bryce, I’ll switch sides here.  I don’t think this is something revealed in the least.  We don’t know what kind of freedom God has and we don’t know if he always choses the good of necessity now or if evil is a real option.

    It’s just not revealed and we just don’t know.   
  62. Bryce: uh oh, God committed a sin, and we all evaporate into intelligences again

    Hehe.  Wow!  You are sounding more like a creedal Christan all of the  time in this thread.  (Sort of a reverse creatio ex nihilo thing going on with that last head scratcher of a comment.) 

    With that, I am throwing in the towel on this one with you mate.   If you insist on believing God doesn’t have full free will then you are free to believe that all you want.

  63. Clark,

    If God could ever sin, then we have cause to be very afraid for the rest of eternity, for at any moment God could fall and take us all with Him.  It’s just not the case.


    God gave up his free will in committing sin eons ago.  And it should be something that we too aspire.

  64. Bryce, that would be true only if there were but one individual God in the Godhead.I think you are just taking speculation as if it were more than that.  I tend to largely agree with your view but recognize it’s pretty speculative.  So it’s not like I’m particularly committed to the view.

  65. Chris, this was a great post.  I have been intrigued reading all the comments.  However, I really haven’t seen anyone point out one obvious (to me) fact.  The risks of adhering to a doctrine of universalism and being wrong in the end are much greater than adhering to the doctrine that there will be eternal consequences for the choices we make here in this life and aspiring to live our lives such that we can attain a celestial glory. 

  66. Prh, isn’t that just a version of Pascal’s wager? Also I’m not sure that the multiple probation theory (also termed transmigration of souls by Joseph Smith due to encountering at least one preacher familiar with Kabbalah) really is universalism proper.  At least as I understand the term.  Protestants actually sometimes call us universalists since to us nearly everyone (save the sons of perdition) make it to some degree of glory.  So one has to be careful.

  67. Did I ever say I was a universalist? Nope.

    Y’all are falling into the black and white thinking camp again.

    I was pointing out a specific, and I think fatal, weakness in Mr. Heimerdinger’s argument. He can give it the old college try again with different sources. But Seven Deadly Heresies as the center point of his argument? Nope. Rewrite.

  68. I find it intriguing, almost like naturalist observing human nature, to see how many people have no viewpoint or opinion on a matter whatsoever, and yet dive into an argument with both fists, realizing that no one can really undermine them because, well, they don’t necessarily believe the argument one way or the other. This is just rhetorical gymnastics, or anm argumentative hunting ground to them, and the targets are those who have the courage to actually believe something. Sure, sure. Such a comment will undoubtedly lead those in question to highlight the merits of being "open minded" and willing to drink in all knowledge without closing one off to new information. But I think of the adage, "Always learning and never coming to a knowlege of the truth." Are there folks here who really believe that the Spirit can answer any and all questions? In some cases the key may be that the Lord would have to trust you to keep your mouth shut if He gave you the answer. Not many can garner that kind of trust.

    Personally, I have far more respect for those who have the courage to take a firm position, bearing all the fiery darts of those who come after him/her for doing so, even if I fundamentally disagree with their position. At least we know where someone stands. The silliness of those who say, "I don’t necessarily disagree or agree, I just think the argument is weakened or strengthened by such and such…" tells me someone just enjoys the game and will likely not contribute much in the way of teeth-sinking substance.

    I’m not much for hunting. I’d rather eat.

    Chris H. 

  69. But Chris, you presented an opinion on a thing that many of us feel is "unrevealed" doctrine! How can you sit there and criticize those of us who are not blessed with the intelligence and lofty opinions that you obviously hold? Oh, please forgive those of us who are not as elevated in doctrinal understanding as you, but who must grovel in forums like this to try and eek out some bit of knowledge that might bless our inferior lives! Why don’t you go back to fiction writing. You’re certainly much better at it.

    Wow. That’s quite a castigation. I guess I really let myself have it. Thanks a lot, Chris, for embarrassing and emasculating me. That is, for me to have embarrassed and emasculated myself. You did it so well, jerk. I will attempt to be more humble from now on, in the hopes that my alternate personality will not be so cruel and nasty.

  70. …realizing that no one can really undermine them because, well, they don’t necessarily believe the argument one way or the other.

    I think understanding where we do not know is important. Carefully examining arguments when you feel neither side really has sufficient reason to arrive at a firm conclusion is rather wise. Knowing when you do not know is one of the most important things to learn. (IMO)

    For more on this view check out my comments here.

    And of course you’re incorrect to say no one could undermine such a position. A strong argument will immediately undermine such a position if the person is fair and inquiring.

  71. Clark,
    Yes, it is. I personally don’t believe in the doctrine of universalism or that we get a second chance after this life to correct the things we did wrong (having full knowledge that it was wrong and not repenting). In the absence of concrete evidence or a statement by the church as to what the correct doctrine is, I simply point out that there is safety in living as if I don’t get a second chance.

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