Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who goes to Heaven?

Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject. Joseph Smith Jr.
Virgil, in Dante's Inferno lamented: I’d have you know, before you go ahead,
they did not sin; and yet, though they have merits,
that’s not enough, because they lacked baptism,
the portal of the faith that you embrace.
And if they lived before Christianity,
they did not worship God in fitting ways;
and of such spirits I myself am one.
For these defects, and for no other evil,
we now are lost and punished just with this:
we have no hope and yet we live in longing.6
The greater part of mankind has not had the opportunity to hear any accurate information about Christ or even hear about him at all, let alone accept and follow him, yet without Christ a man cannot be saved. Theologians over the ages have pondered this seeming injustice and come to various conclusions, some believe that God preappoints men to either salvation or damnation, others conclude that the loss of so many souls is somehow just in a way that only God can comprehend.2 There are even many who would exclude faithful followers of Christ from heaven on some technicality: lacked appropriate baptism, wrong concept of God, not really 'saved' to begin with... If all but a few of the millions who have lived on earth are forever lost, can God be considered just or merciful?

LDS Concept of Heaven

I love the LDS concept of Heaven, for it has room for everyone. Nearly all of God's children (by which I mean everyone) will have a place in the Kingdom of God. According to God's justice, we are rewarded according to our compliance to the laws of God and our desires for righteousness. D&C 137:7-9 Because of his mercy, he has provided a way for all who wish to do so to meet his requirements. The dead in the spirit world have the opportunity to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ; and the work done in the temple on their behalf, such as baptism and the sealing of marriages, gives them the opportunity to receive necessary ordinances if they desire them. The only people who will not go to heaven and will dwell with Satan are those who have had the Holy Ghost, known God, and openly defied him. “[This] sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin.” Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 123.

We believe that when you die, you go to the Spirit World, which is a temporary place and is divided into paradise and hell. Latter-Day Saints believe that Heaven, the final dwelling place of man, comes after Christ's second coming and the Resurrection.
Paul states: “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” 1 Cor. 15:40–42.

"Paul understood, as undoubtedly did many of his fellow Saints, these vital truths that have been veiled in parabolic language. Heaven is not a single place or one single condition. It is as diverse as men’s behavior patterns are different, for men will be judged according to their deeds done in the flesh Rom. 2:6–8; Rev. 20:12–13." Spencer W. Kimball
In the LDS perspective, Heaven is divided into three kingdoms of glory, the the Celestial, the Terresterial, and the Telestial. This revelation was received as Joseph Smith pondered the meaning of John 5:29.

Telestial Kingdom The glory of the telestial kingdom "surpasses all understanding" and is compared to the glory of the stars. It is the glory that will be inherited by those who "received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus," who suffer for their own sins in hell (because they rejected Christ's sufferings for them) and who "shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord shall have finished his work." After their suffering and resurrection, they will receive a telestial glory in heaven where they will be ministered to by the Holy Spirit.

Terresterial Kingdom In the Terresterial Kingdom, which surpasses the Telestial in glory, will be those who did not accept Christ and his gospel during their lifetime, but did accept him in the spirit world. "These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men." It also includes those who were "not valiant in the testimony of Jesus." Those who receive a terrestrtial glory will "receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fullness of the Father." D&C 76

Celestial Kingdom "Those who have believed in Christ, who have forsaken the world, who have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide and been willing to lay their all on the altar, those who have kept the commandments of God—they shall go to a celestial kingdom whose glory is as the sun." Kimball

Those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom, which is the most glorious of all, will dwell forever in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. It will include those who have been faithful to Christ during their lives and have received baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, who have diligently tried to live his gospel and keep his commandments and who have become perfect through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It also includes those who would have received the gospel during their lifetimes if they had had the opportunity, as well as children who died before they reached the years of accountability.

The Celestial Kingdom is divided into three degrees. To enter the highest of these, you must be married and your marriage must be sealed by the Spirit, neither man nor woman can be there alone. There will be an opportunity for marriage for those who did not have it, for "no blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual." Howard W. Hunter Those who receive this glory will be able to have children and will
live with their families in God's presence forever.

I am so grateful for the understanding I have of Heaven. I can conceive of no plan more just than this one which permits each person to choose his eternal destiny by his desires and actions, nor one more merciful than this which provides an opportunity for all to make that choice. I am grateful for Christ's atoning sacrifice which enables us to repent of our mistakes and overcome the world. God loves all of us. Even the most wicked of men are children of God and loved dearly by him. He does not compel us by force, but calls to us with infinite love to come to him and receive all that we will of that which he has prepared for us.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Purpose of Life

Men are that they might have joy. 2 Ne. 2:25

Most of us have at some point wondered about the purpose of our existence. Latter-Day Saints, believe that our life on earth is part of our Heavenly Father's plan for our eternal happiness, the kind of happiness that God has.

Latter-Day Saints believe that we are literal sons and daughters of God and we lived with him before we came to this earth. While there, Heavenly Father presented to us his plan for us to come to earth, gain a body, and experience the lessons of mortality. We knew that we would be separated from God for a time and would be subject to trials and suffering and that some would not choose to obey God, but we also trusted that this experience would be necessary for us to become like our Father in Heaven and live again in his presence.

I think it is in many ways like going away to college where, in addition to the subject matter, you learn profound life lessons that you could not really understand until you were on your own. It is in experiencing life and being truly responsible for your own choices that all those things your parents tried to teach you begin to really make sense.

We believe that our mortal lives are relatively short compared to eternity and we have many things to do and learn while we are here. Just for fun, I'm going to present a brief overview of a few of the purposes of mortality in the form of a 'to do' list.

To Do:
Get a Body. Obtaining a physical body is one of the great purposes of mortality. We'll have this body for the rest of eternity. I've been asked how this is possible, since we believe that we are not resurrected immediately after we die. (see post "Victory over Death") I don't know the exact process, but I do know that I have very few cells remaining of those that I was born with, yet it is still the same body.
Learn to Control our Physical Bodies. This is a hard one. Our physical desires do not always reflect what is truly best for us. Just like learning to walk, we will fall down several times before we master it. We are blessed to have this time given to us where we can learn to choose the good and repent when we make mistakes.
Learn Faith. But without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Heb. 11:6
Be Baptized. We are told repeatedly in scripture that baptism is necessary for entrance into the kingdom of God. (A way has been provided for those who did not have the opportunity for baptism during their lifetimes. See post on Temples)
Receive the Holy Ghost. His companionship and purifying power are necesary for us to be able to navigate the difficulties of this life and return to our Heavenly Father's presence.
Get Married. Our relationships are meant to last forever. Marriage is another ordinance which must be done during this life. "In the resurrection there will be no marrying nor giving in marriage; for all questions of marital status must be settled before that time." James E. Talmadge This does not mean that those who did not have the opportunity for eternal marriage in this life will be forever single. President Howard W. Hunter said that "no blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual."
Learn to Obey God. We all chose God's way before we came to earth. Now that we are no longer in his presence we have the opportunity to practice doing what we learned about while we were with him.
Repent. In our present state, we are separated from God. We must choose to repent of the mistakes that we make to be made clean through the Atonement of Christ. No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.
Develop Christlike Love. Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Moroni 7:47
Die. It's a prerequisite to being resurrected with a perfect, immortal, incorruptible body.

In summary, we are here to prepare for eternity. The more diligent we are in striving to turn our hearts to the things that God wants for us to accomplish here, the more prepared we will be to receive the blessings he has in store for us.

The ancient prophet, Alma, explains beautifully why what we choose in this life is so important:
31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
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 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.Alma 34:31-34

Boyd K. Packer (an apostle) drew an analogy that I think will be helpful in understanding the LDS perspective on life.
"Happily Ever After"

The plan of redemption, with its three divisions, might be likened to a grand three-act play. Act I is entitled “Premortal Life.” The scriptures describe it as our First Estate. (See Jude 1:6; Abr. 3:26-28) Act II, from birth to the time of resurrection, the “Second Estate.” And Act III, “Life After Death or Eternal Life.”

In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and sub-plots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!

As part of the eternal plan, the memory of our premortal life, Act I, is covered with a veil. Since you enter mortality at the beginning of Act II with no recollection of Act I, it is little wonder that it is difficult to understand what is going on.

That loss of memory gives us a clean start. It is ideal for the test; it secures our individual agency, and leaves us free to make choices. Many of them must be made on faith alone. Even so, we carry with us some whispered knowledge of our premortal life and our status as offspring of immortal parents.

You were born in innocence, for “every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning” (D&C 93:33). And you have an inborn sense of right and wrong, for the scriptures tell us in the Book of Mormon, we “are instructed sufficiently that [we] know good from evil.” (2 Nephi 2:5)

We progress or we are held back in life within the limits imposed by spiritual and natural law which govern all the universe. We sometimes wonder, if the plan really is the great plan of happiness, why must we struggle to find fulness of it in mortal life?

If you expect to find only ease and peace and bliss during Act II, you surely will be frustrated. You will understand little of what is going on and why it is permitted to be as they are.

Remember this! The line “And they all lived happily ever after” is never written into the second act. That Line belongs in the third act when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. The Apostle was right when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19.)

Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of this great drama, you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much, some in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering, premature death even of innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We’ve seen a lot of that recently.

Do not suppose that God willfully causes that, which for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.

I know that with God's help we can accomplish the purposes that we were sent here to accomplish. I am grateful for the opportunities and the many blessings that I enjoy in this life and I trust in God's promises after this life is over. I know that God loves us and that he understands the struggles we face in this life. Our view here is limited, but God's is not. He knows what is best for us. I take great comfort in the words of the Lord to a suffering prophet, "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." D&C 122:7

Monday, May 18, 2009

Plural Marriage

Plural marriage is not really a big issue for me, though I understand why it is for so many. I don't understand it entirely, or why God at times commissions the practice, but I do trust him and am confident that I will, at some point, understand those things that I do not yet fully comprehend.

The church does not now practice or in any way condone the current practice of polygamy. The church practiced polygamy during the mid- to late 1800's because they were directed by God to do so. Elder Oaks, apostle and prior state supreme court justice, said,"As to those people who are still practicing polygamy, I have immense sympathy for them. But I don’t see any common ground of doctrine between them and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because revelation is the bedrock of our faith, we follow the prophet, and sexual morality is very important to us. They don’t follow the prophet, and they engage in relationships that we deem today [to be immoral as] the Lord has defined the law, and as the law has defined criminal conduct."

Augustine said,"Again, Jacob the son of Isaac is charged with having committed a great crime because he had four wives. But here there is no ground for a criminal accusation: for a plurality of wives was no crime when it was the custom; and it is a crime now, because it is no longer the custom. There are sins against nature, and sins against custom, and sins against the laws. In which, then, of these senses did Jacob sin in having a plurality of wives? As regards nature, he used the women not for sensual gratification, but for the procreation of children. For custom, this was the common practice at that time in those countries. And for the laws, no prohibition existed. The only reason of its being a crime now to do this, is because custom and the [secular] laws forbid it."

The Lord said, "David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me." D&C 132:38

Many have attempted to present the early saints who practiced polygamy in every sort of unfavorable light, but they are unjustified in doing so (in light of the large amount of historical documentation available). It was actually extremely difficult for the members of the church to accept plural marriage at the time it was introduced . They were good Christians and Victorian in background and moral character. "When instructed to practice plural marriage by Joseph, Brigham [Young] recalled that it “was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave." But the faithful men and women of the church did embrace the practice, not because they blindly followed their leaders, but because each of them took their concerns to God and asked in faith whether it was truly He who required if of them. read their stories

The plural marriage practiced by the saints was done with respect and propriety. Women and men were equally committed to the practice. It was available only to those who were living uprightly and the men took seriously the responsibility of providing for their families. "Contrary to popular nineteenth-century notions about polygamy, the Mormon harem, dominated by lascivious males with hyperactive libidos, did not exist. The image of unlimited lust was largely the creation of travelers to Salt Lake City more interested in titillating audiences back home than in accurately portraying plural marriage. Newspaper representatives and public figures visited the city in droves seeking headlines for their eastern audiences. Mormon plural marriage, dedicated to propagating the species righteously and dispassionately, proved to be a rather drab lifestyle compared to the imaginative tales of polygamy, dripping with sensationalism, demanded by a scandal-hungry eastern media market." VanWagoner

Public sentiment was, unsurprisingly, against the practice of plural marriage. Politics happened and laws were passed prohibiting polygamy. God leads men by persuasion, not control, and respects man's right to govern himself. Though the church contested the new laws on the grounds that they interfered with their free practice of religion, eventually these laws were upheld and the church was forced to abandon one or the other of these two important beliefs: They would either have to give up the practice of polygamy, or give up their policy of, "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law," as the law, now more clearly defined, outlawed polygamy. President Wilford Woodruff, in consulting with the Lord regarding these troubles was shown in vision the great tragedy that would befall the saints if they persisted in the practice. The saints had suffered much but were willing to continue doing whatever God asked them to do. In these extreme circumstances, the Lord permitted the discontinuation of the practice of plural marriage. Had God's purposes for plural marriage not been accomplished, he would have provided a way for it's continuation. God is not controlled by man, but he does wait on us to come to him. Just as plural marriage was revealed in response to a Prophet's questions regarding polygamy in the Old Testament, it was ended by revelation when a Prophet counseled with the Lord regarding what the saints should do.

An excerpt from the Manifesto issued by the church reads: Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

Though the church officially abandoned the practice, enforcement of the new laws was cruel and often illegal. Though new plural marriages were not authorized by the church, plural families which already existed (before the new laws clearly forbade polygamy) were literally torn apart. Men were imprisoned for attempting to provide for their existing wives and children or were forced to abandon them. Many had to live in hiding. Women were left with no means of support and were at times unnecessarily imprisoned, often with their infant children, for refusing to testify against their husbands.

I have read some journals and memoirs from this period in the church's history. Polygamy is in the background, but is only occasionally the focus of the stories. For the most part, they are like the stories of any other woman from that period. What makes them special is their extraordinary strength, integrity, and courage. I feel so much respect and admiration for them.

Excerpts from the memoirs of Florence Snow Woolley:

"Many very funny as well as tragic events grew out of the "Polygamy Raid" the nature of the event depending largely upon the temperament of the men and women who experienced them... I recall that at one time when my husband had had a particularly narrow escape from arrest, he was standing on the street corner talking with a group of friends when he picked up his little daughter Bessie and placing her on the palm of his hand asked: "Look at that, fellows, isn't that worth going to the 'pen' for?" What could the Law do against a spirit of that kind? Men all over the state proved that they were wiling to go to the pen and pay fins for their little ones. [My husband] was caught once...but as the deputies who had been commissioned to arrest me had failed to do so, Mr. Dee Woolley was set free without so much as a trial. When he was at liberty he invited his captors to dine with him at the restaurant, which they all did and had a most friendly afternoon."

"My husband was the first man I ever allowed to kiss me goodnight before we were married. Spooning or necking simply was not done in my day. Modesty was considered one of the feminine virtues or charms, and every girl cultivated it religiously."

"I have always said that I had the best father and the best husband, whether in polygamy or monogamy. They were kind and honorable men and earnestly tried to be just and true to all. A long life together proved that it was a right and happy choice. He was a very just man in his family relations and always treated me with the love and consideration that was due any wife...sincerity and truthfulness were the keystone of his character. My mother often said she had never known a juster man than was Dee. It was a surprise to everyone, even the polygamists them selves of the community that I should have consented to be a plural wife, when I could have had my choice of practically all the eligible young men of the town. I do not know just why or how I made up my mind to accept that position, for I could not have been in love with Dee when he asked me to marry him, even the second time (she refused him the first time and he asked again three years later), as there had been no ardent courting or even special attention paid to me. It was just fate---I suppose, that I should marry the handsome Dee Woolley. Although he already had a wife and five children and no particular worldly prospects except his strong hands and brave heart. It took more courage on the mans part to enter that relationship than on the part of the woman, but many of them did enter it. I have never regretted the step I took that 12th day of may 1877."

Monday, May 11, 2009


I took the day off to spend with with my family so, instead of my own thoughts, I have posted some thoughts on motherhood from prophets, apostles, and other church leaders. Hope you enjoy!

"To be a righteous woman is a glorious thing in any age. To be a righteous woman during the winding up scenes on this earth, before the second coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. The righteous woman’s strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife." N. EldonTanner

“She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the plaudits and admiration of mankind. But she who would willingly and anxiously rear successfully a family of beautiful healthy sons and daughters whose lives reflect the teachings of the gospel, deserves the highest honors that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God. In fact, in her high duty and service to humanity, endowing with mortality eternal spirits, she is a co-partner with the Great Creator himself.” David O. McKay

"In my experience I have seen that some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who will not rear their own children in this life, but they know that “all things must come to pass in their time” and that they “are laying the foundation of a great work” Julie B. Beck The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude." Joseph B. Wirthlin

"The whole purpose of the creation of the earth was to provide a dwelling place where the spirit children of God might come and be clothed in mortal bodies and, by keeping their second estate, prepare themselves for salvation and exaltation. The whole purpose of the mission of Jesus Christ was to make possible the immortality and eternal life of man. The whole purpose of mothers and fathers should be to live worthy of this blessing and to assist God the Father and his son Jesus Christ in their work. No greater honor could be given to woman than to assist in this divine plan, and I wish to say without equivocation that a woman will find greater satisfaction and joy and make a greater contribution to mankind by being a wise and worthy mother raising good children than she could make in any other vocation. " Tanner

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 3 John 1:4

Why do Latter-Day Saints place such a high value on children and families?

We are each literally children of God and we lived with him before we were born on this earth. As spirit sons and daughters of God, we progressed as far as we could without a body and the experiences that we would have in mortality. We needed to leave God's presence for a time and come to earth. Mortality is required of each of God's children who wish to obtain the blessings that he has in store for them.

As part of our Heavenly Father's Plan, he has placed us in
families where we can be loved and nurtured and he has promised us that those precious family relationships can continue forever.

The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve was to multiply replenish the earth. We believe that that commandment is still in force. In bearing children we provide the opportunity for our Heavenly Father's children to gain a body and experience mortality.

"The expression of our procreative powers is pleasing to God, but he has commanded that this be confined within the relationship of marriage. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that “in the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love.” Oaks

Latter-Day Saints are counseled to have children and to counsel with the Lord in making their decisions. An official statement from the church reads: "Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife." That is it. There are no quotas or requirements, or prohibitions on birth control. As with most direction we receive in the church, we are taught what God expects of us and why, then are left to govern ourselves.

Each of my children is a beloved child of God. There were his first. He has given me the opportunity to raise them and to experience the love and joy that they bring. I love to look into their eyes and think about how recently they were in their Heavenly Father's presence. I learn so much from my children and feel blessed and privileged to have them in my home. It is not easy. Nothing worth doing is. It takes work and sacrifice, humility, faith, and patience to teach and care for children, but I can think of no greater joy.