Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Start,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
This is the second in a three-part sub-series on the Plan of Salvation.
Welcome to the World
“Color is good, and …” the sound of the baby’s first wail echoes through the room, “a good strong cry.” The midwife puts a swaddled bundle on Alice’s chest. “Here she is, Alice. Say hello to your daughter.”
Alice opens her eyes, takes hold of the infant, and looks at the small head poking out of the bundle. She smiles, and speaks in an exhausted voice. “Hello, Jennifer. Welcome to the world.”
We come into this world naked and screaming. Our autonomic reflexes kick in and keep us breathing and our hearts beating. We start learning things almost instantly. We learn that Mom is the source of food and love. We learn that Dad is the transport vehicle to take us to Mom.
By the time we’re two we’ve started to talk, and the word constantly on our lips is “Why.” Why is water wet? Why is the sky blue? Why is Daddy so tall? As we grow older, our questions begin to include the spiritual and philosophical as well as the physical. At some point, “Why am I here?” becomes the question of the day.
Why am I here?
In the previous article[ii], we discussed our pre-mortal development and touched on the plan to take us from spirit children of godly Parents to gods in our own right. Part of that plan sent us down into mortality with no recollection of pre-mortality.
Why did the path lead through forgetful mortality? Because there are some lessons you only learn when you are on your own. We come here to gain a body and learn to control it, learn to exercise our agency by being tempted and making choices, and to be tested. Additionally, there are specific ordinances which are required in order to return to our Heavenly Parents. All of this is designed to give us the instruction we need to be able to realize our divine potential.
Gain a Body
In our pre-mortal life, we were spirits. We saw that our Heavenly Parents had bodies, and wanted to be like them. To obtain a body, we came to earth. Once here, we need to learn to control our bodies. This means not only learning to walk and talk and control our bodily functions, but it also means learning to control the urges our mortal body is prone to in its natural state. This isn’t just referring to biological urges. Our mortal bodies attempt to dominate our spirits, tempting us towards less spiritual destinations than we are aiming for.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the Fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man”[iii]
A god cannot be swept along by passions. He or she must be in control, and make proper choices.
We are here to learn to make those choices. The underpinning of the Plan of Salvation is personal agency. We chose to follow Christ rather than Lucifer in our pre-mortal lives. Once here, we are constantly confronted with the same choice on a regular basis. Not every choice we are confronted with is between good and evil, but many are – if on a smaller scale than the one which triggered the war in heaven. The cumulative effect of these choices, however, is just as important. The choices we make here help determine what will happen after we leave mortality. The goal is to be like the people in this story:
John Taylor, the third President of the Church, reported: “Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’”[iv]
Both God and Satan tempt us. God, through his Holy Spirit, tempts us to do good, and make choices which will enable us to return to him. Satan tempts us to do the opposite. Satan’s goal is to make “all men … miserable like himself.”[v]
So, if Satan’s goal is to frustrate God’s plan, why does God tolerate his interference? There are a couple of reasons. First, if you don’t have multiple options, it’s not a choice. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi knew this when he said: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”[vi] Second, God “give[s] the Devil benefit of the law,”[vii] and the law is that judgement cannot be rendered prematurely. As with all of us, judgement will be rendered on Satan at the final judgement, and he will be sent to his … reward.
Through trial and error, and based on instruction from parents and other respected adults, we learn to distinguish right from wrong and make correct choices. When we sin, and later repent, we learn about the costs of sin, and what forgiveness feels like. All of these things teach us to make correct decisions based on correct principles.
Testing and Obedience
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things the Lord their God shall command them.”[viii]
This life is a test. How will we use our agency? Can we be trusted to control ourselves? When faced with trials will we stick to our beliefs or will we abandon them if it looks like we can get out of our troubles by doing so? This leads us back to my earlier question about why we had to have our memory blocked. If we could remember the ages we lived in the presence of our Heavenly Parents, it would invalidate the test. The Devil’s temptations would be of no effect because we would remember what we had left behind, and would know the way back.
One of the age-old questions is “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” The answer is that He doesn’t interfere. Our Heavenly Parents are not helicopter parents. They allow us to make our choices, and then expect us to deal with the consequences of those choices. This doesn’t mean that when someone finds themselves in unfortunate circumstances they’ve made bad decisions, much less are evil. Sometimes, people get caught up in the consequences of other people’s decisions. For example:
During rush hour, a tractor-trailer driver misjudges the curve on a freeway on-ramp and winds up tipping over on an SUV in the next lane. The on-ramp is completely blocked. The SUV is totaled. The driver of the SUV escapes with minor injuries, and the truck driver walks away unharmed. Traffic in that part the city is snarled for eight hours, until they can get the truck off the on-ramp.
The only bad decision was made by the truck driver. Everyone else simply decided to be on that on-ramp at that time.
Ordinances & Covenants
An ordinance is a religious ceremony in which the participant makes a sacred promise, and God promises blessings in return. This promise is called a covenant. To achieve exaltation, a person must receive certain ordinances and make the covenants which go along with them. The specific ordinances are baptism and confirmation,[ix] the temple endowment,[x] and temple marriage.[xi]
Baptism is the familiar ordinance whereby the participant symbolically dies and is reborn. Baptism cleanses the participant of their sins, and prepares them to start a new life as a follower of Christ. In the Church, baptism is done by immersion, and not until the person being baptized has reached the age of accountability (the age at which they are responsible for their own actions) – defined as eight years old.[xii]
The confirmation is a blessing in which the recipient is confirmed as a member of the Church and has the gift of the Holy Ghost conferred upon them. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the privilege of having the influence of the Holy Ghost with you always, on condition of worthiness.
The temple endowment is a ceremony where members of the Church make a number of covenants with the Lord. “These covenants include obeying God and keeping His commandments, living the gospel of Jesus Christ, keeping yourself morally pure and virtuous, and dedicating your time and talents to the Lord’s service. In return, God promises wonderful blessings in this life and the opportunity to return to live with Him forever.”[xiii]
The temple marriage ceremony is similar to a normal marriage ceremony, but instead of being “till death do you part,” marriages performed in the temple are for “time and all eternity.” This is because the temple marriage ordinance also seals the bride and groom together in the eyes of God.[xiv]
As I mentioned above, these ordinances are required in order to return to live with our Heavenly Parents. That would seem to leave the billions of people who have lived on the earth without the benefit of the gospel out in the cold. This is accounted for in our Parents’ Plan for us as well. You may have noticed that the Church obsesses over genealogy and family history. The genealogical information is used as documentation for the vicarious work members do in the temples.
In the temples, members who have received their own ordinances perform those same ordinances as proxy for the dead[xv]. This does not force the dead into the Church. Force is not part of our Parents’ Plan. The work in the temple gives the dead the opportunity to live with our Parents again. The temple work in this life is paired with an ongoing missionary work in the next.[xvi] Those who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel (or heard it and rejected it), in this life will have the opportunity to hear and accept it in the next. Since they no longer have bodies, however, they cannot receive the required ordinances directly. Because of the proxy work being done in the temples by members of the Church, the dead will be able to accept the ordinances done in their names.
Exit … Stage Left
We enter this world naked and screaming, but we leave it in an infinite number of ways from the sublime to the ridiculous to the horrifying. At the end of the day, however, we all leave our mortal bodies and fortunes behind and enter the next world exactly as we left the pre-mortal world – with just our spirits.
[i] William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality”
[vii] A Man for all Seasons, Act I