Replies to Thomas

Month: September, 2014

The Invisible War

Dear Joseph.

So I had kind of an intense meeting with my missionary friends a few hours ago. I’ve been very deep in thought since they left. I felt like I needed to write you about it because I shared a very personal experience with them, which I would also like to share with you.

After I shared it with the missionaries, they advised me to pray about it, naturally, but that has been sort of a hurdle for me as I’ve mentioned. It’s sort of a catch-twenty-two. I can’t pray sincerely until I’ve felt the connection prayer brings, and I can’t feel the connection prayer brings until I’ve prayed sincerely. So I would like your input.

A good five years ago at least, probably more by now, I had this experience I’m referring to. I told these missionaries about it for two reasons:

  1. The experience has given me certain theological questions that no self-proclaimed Christian has ever been able to adequately help me answer. They’re usually fun questions to throw out because they make people squirm, but these two missionaries had immediate, thorough, and completely relevant answers—things I’d never heard before but which seemed intrinsically true to me and which made perfect sense.
  2. The Mormon faith is established upon the experience of physical beings physically visiting a flesh and blood man. What I mean is this: If you tell a Methodist or a Baptist that God answered you prayer and has healed your cancer, they’ll believe you no problem. If you tell a Methodist or a Baptist that an angel came to you, in your hospital room and told you that God was healing your cancer, they smile politely and figure your morphine drip got a little high; But tell a Mormon that same thing and I feel like they’d have no hesitation whatsoever that such a thing were not only possible but may very well have happened.

So, the story, without getting into too much detail, is basically this:

On a hot summer day, I went into a bedroom to lay down and get cooled off by the air conditioning. I was laying there enjoying the cool air when I got the sudden urge to look at the corner of the room. I had the curtains tightly closed so I could get some shut eye too, so the room was very dark. Despite that, the midday sun made a soft glow illuminate the room pretty evenly. But when I looked into the corner as I was laying down I saw that it was completely black. In the blackness was the silhouette of a body, as though in deep shadow.

Only one thing was not in the shadow: the head.

I won’t go into detail describing the truly horrifying nature of what I saw, but I can safely say that it did not appear human besides having a head atop a vertical torso. Whatever this hideous thing was, it was staring at me with an evil grin.

As I tried to move, I found that I couldn’t—I was invisibly restrained. Though I couldn’t escape, I wasn’t scared; I was filled with some kind of inexplicable anger. After probably a minute of it staring at me and me staring at it, It’s head was lost in the shadow, the shadow was lost in the darkness, and then the darkness cleared away leaving behind the softly lit and empty corner.

As soon as it was gone, I felt like I could sit up if I wanted to and the anger in me left.

The missionaries, seemingly at a complete loss, probably a little shocked, haltingly suggested a possibility. “Perhaps,” they said, “in the same way that we had friends and people we knew and were close to in the pre-life, it might be possible that we also made enemies during the war in which a third of our premortal spirit siblings were cast from heaven when they chose to follow Satan instead of God.” They said sometimes the veil of forgetfulness gets very very thin and perhaps this was an encounter between an old enemy of mine and me.

Could that possibly be the case? I want to know your thoughts.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

“‘Perhaps,’ they said, ‘in the same way that we had friends and people we knew and were close to in the pre-life, it might be possible that we also made enemies during the war in which a third of our premortal spirit siblings were cast from heaven when they chose to follow Satan instead of God.'”

That was actually the thought I had as I read your story. Who would know us better—and would be most apt to tempt us with terrible efficiency—than those who were once close to us? I mean, the devil himself could do it, but we know there’s an army at his disposal undoubtedly made up of some of our friends who did not support Christ in the premortal council (as I wrote to you before).

I knew a blind man in Taiwan who had a similar experience to yours. Perhaps by sharing it with you, you can find some more meaning to your own experience.

This man (I’ll call him Timothy) was also meeting with the missionaries but he was just playing along during their meetings; he felt bad for wasting their time because he wasn’t actually praying or reading from The Book of Mormon like they had asked him to.

Prior to his meeting with the missionaries, Timothy’s house had been possessed to some degree by an evil spirit that his wife sometimes saw (remember, Timothy is blind). She only ever saw it in mirrors and all she would see was a head, the head of a woman in fact.

One day before his scheduled baptismal date that he was not planning on attending, he was buffeted by this spirit as he sat at home alone. He said the air smelled bad and the spirit was taunting him by saying dark things and laughing at him. At this moment of fear he decided to finally take the missionaries up on their invitation to pray. As he knelt down and asked Heavenly Father to remove the evil spirit, he said that he felt a sensation like electricity flow from the crown of his head down to his toes. Then a rushing wind swept through his home and the previous foul odor was replaced with a pleasant fragrance.

Knowing that Heavenly Father had really heard and answered his prayer—knowing that Heavenly Father was real—he immediately threw away the Daoist idols that he had previously been praying to. Needless to say, he attended his baptism the next day. The evil spirit never bothered him again.

The principle I want to bring up is this: when we talk of things of the Lord, a calm serene feeling comes upon us because the Spirit of the Lord comes and, though not visible, its presence affects our emotional state. These feelings of peace are then a spiritual quality at their root. Likewise, when we tell scary ghost stories or talk about evil things, there sometimes comes a different feeling that also is felt by all those present because it is also the presence of a spirit, but it is not the spirit of the Lord.

The negative feeling, or one of hatred, that you described feeling would seem to be that of the attendance of an evil spirit. The fact that for a moment the veil was thin enough for you to see this particular spirit seems to correlate to your heightened state of emotional disruption.

“I won’t go into detail describing the truly horrifying nature of what I saw, but I can safely say that it did not appear human besides having a head atop a vertical torso.”

There are different classes of spiritual beings beyond the veil of our perception but all around us. Those that pertain to a given level have knowledge and awareness of anything at their level and below but do not have a knowledge or awareness of anything above their level. This may explain why those who restrained you were less distinguishable to you while the evil spirit was not; the level you reside in given your life choices would place you above the evil spirit but perhaps below others. Beings who belong to higher levels are privy to those of the lower levels, but typically not vice versa, so perhaps you were being restrained by higher beings. (When I refer to higher and lower levels, I am referring to righteousness; in other words, perhaps good angels were also present.)

All of that said, the spirit world is still typically invisible to us. We are all beset by beings of light and dark, and, regardless of our spiritual level of attainment, we mortals are not normally able to see the things of the spirit world though they can see us.

“Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:2).

When we do see them, spirits can appear deformed or hideous to us if they are evil because their true natures are manifest in their spirit body’s appearance, unlike those who have bodies of flesh and bone and can be hideous on the inside but not so on the outside. When such spirits were good, they would have looked pleasant and beautiful; however, as they began to lose their light and follow darkness, their appearance also became dark and foul (kind of like how orcs were once elves, [not to make light of this topic]).

But then there are evil spirits who can transform themselves into beings of light to try and deceive us. These are very powerful beings, like the devil himself. These beings, however, would not be accompanied by the feelings of serenity and peace that accompany a true angel of light, and this is one way you may detect them in their deception (for example, see Moses’ experience confronting such a being as found in Moses 1:12-15).

It seems as though in your experience, an evil and perhaps familiar spirit appeared to you and filled you with its feelings, as is the power of such a being. Since it was a being of hatred and anger, it filled you with hatred and anger. When it left you, those feelings left with it for they did not originate with you. There is the possibility that you first harbored the anger, which would have acted like a homing beacon for this spirit—seeking to make as many around you as possible miserable together. But I have not come to know you as a person who gets angry, so you will have to ask that question of yourself introspectively.

The key is to not allow such a being to have any influence over you. They will come to us all and tempt us to do that which is not right in the sight of God and drag us down to their level (a real possibility, even though our spirits are embedded in our bodies currently), but we must resist them and keep ourselves pointed towards that which is bright and beautiful. If you do slip down to their level, and you lose your perception and awareness of distinct beings of evil having joined their throng, do you think that when your life is over and you go on to the spirit world that your temptations will cease and everything will become illuminated to your view? It will not be so, and you will go on as you did in this life only more miserable, being as unaware as when you lived of the angels and demons who beckon you left and right.

If you have gotten your spirit to a higher level and died while there, you will find yourself as illuminated and aware of the spirits of good and evil as you were before you died, though enhanced by the fact that you are then exclusively a part of that invisible world. Hence, “…if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:19). This then is another understanding of the differences between those of spirit prison and those of spirit paradise (please reread my previous letter on that subject if you need a refresher on that).

—Joseph

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One Eternal Non-Euclidean Round

Dear Joseph,

So God has been around as long as we have? I think I see what you mean. Might it be analogized like so: God knows he is ahead of us but it’s not something he’s gloating about or lording over us (if you’ll pardon the pun); He’s more like a racer who’s finished the marathon going back to cheer encouragement to, us, the other runners?

I like that idea, but I can’t quite understand how this no-end/no-beginning thing works, which is maybe the point. If God is cheering us on from the finish line, then isn’t he at some kind of end? Or is He not quite there yet and so He is available to cheer us on for the time being? I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but God is an incomprehensible being to start with, so why bother trying to comprehend Him?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Your notion concerning God’s nature (that of being “incomprehensible”) is still very influenced by your sectarian upbringing. God is not incomprehensible; God intends to be comprehended by His children. Though the word mysteries is sometimes applied to His Heavenly ways, what is meant is that we simply do not yet know the details of those ways; it is not that we cannot understand them. It’s also important to distinguish between what is unknowable and what is mysterious: the former applies to nothing; the latter is a consequence of the limitations of mortality. More on this later.

Your analogy of God being like a runner who has completed a race and is now cheering on other racers is a good way to understand our place relative to God in terms of eternal progression. But you’re right that the analogy then implies that there is a beginning and an end to the race. How can we make sense of this with the fact that we as eternal beings have no such thing as an end or a beginning? Allow me to explain:

I think a good place to start is with a relatively famous quote from Joseph Smith:

“I [will] take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end…. God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.”

I like this analogy very much, for it lays down a law concerning all things: if something has a beginning, it will have an end; if it has no beginning, it will have no end. Joseph Smith also identifies the “mind of man” as the immortal component of our being. This means that any other piece of our makeup, like our physical body gained at birth, is not eternal, and we likewise find that it had a beginning and so it will have an end, at death.

But then comes the glorious resurrection from the dead and we conquer death with Christ and receive perfected bodies that are not subject to death. God has already been through that and has obtained a perfected body long, long ago. We are His children and are going through that process that He went through already, and so He cheers us on because He has already run the good race. In other words, we can reconcile our eternal nature with your analogy of a race because within eternity there are many things that are not eternal, our mortal probation being one of them.

You’re next question maybe, “Well, if we receive perfected bodies in the resurrection, isn’t that another beginning, meaning that those bodies will have an end?” Now herein is a true mystery of God (not an incomprehensibility), for though we will all be resurrected to a perfected body that will not be subject to death, if it had a beginning it must have an end. What will that end be if not death? That much has not yet been revealed by God.

Let’s go back to Joseph Smith’s analogy of his ring (I believe it was his wedding ring, in fact). As he said, if it is cut then it has a start and a stop; if not, it goes on forever. How can we reconcile this fact with the fact that God expects us to progress? Isn’t going in circles not exactly progression if we are going over the same points over and over? The scriptures too state that progress and eternity can be two synchronous conditions of existence:

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. […]
“If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after…
“And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they…” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29 and Abraham 3:18-19).

But the question remains: how do we reconcile Joseph Smith’s wedding ring as the symbol of eternity with the concept of ever increasing intelligence? These ideas seem contrary to one another because the ring implies a return to the beginning—that there is no beginning or end is a mere technicality because they are one in the same. With this contradiction in place, it seems as though that when God crosses the finish line, will He actually be crossing the starting line again!

Joseph Smith wisely taught that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” We are about to do just that and discover the missing third truth that completes this puzzle: how can progression be measured in ‘one eternal round’?

The place to begin is with our comprehension of geometry. The geometry most of us are taught for a few months in our teenage years is known as Euclidean geometry, which is composed of parallel lines, circles, and the like. Euclidean geometry is very useful and nearly indispensable when it comes to the practical applications of modern engineering. But there is one very important thing it is not: natural. It is perfectly applicable to man-made contrivance (bearing in mind that mother nature often destroys such things) but no where to be found in nature—plants, animals, planets, galaxies, etc.—anywhere!

Let me give you a simple illustration. Imagine that you set out to draw a straight line in the ground from New York City to Tokyo (as if there was ground all the way around the world). If you were to walk along that line it would appear very straight to you, but if you were to project your course upon a map the line would actually be quite curved. You may have noticed this phenomenon when tracing your airliner’s path whilst flying a very great distance. I was once on a flight to China from Los Angeles and was surprised to find that we skirted along the coast of Alaska.

This is because we do not live in an Euclidean universe. The world is not flat, though on our scale it sometimes appears so. If you follow me so far I’m sure you’re wondering, “Yes, yes, I get it: nature does not produce perfect lines and circles because we don’t live on a flat world. But what does it have to do with an eternal round?” Well, let me ask you this, if we are currently living in the midst of eternity (we are), and reality is non-Euclidean, then what does that make eternity? Non-Euclidean.

Joseph Smith’s wedding ring, then, is in reality an imperfect illustration of the perfect truth he was trying to convey: an eternal round simply has no beginning or end. This can be readily illustrated, however, by non-Euclidean geometry that encompasses the motion of ring while enabling forward progression:

Take any seemingly circular course in nature and you will find that it is actually not quite circular: a planetary orbit, the circumference of the earth, a bird’s egg, etc. What these near-circular (near-Euclidean) shapes have in common is that they are all perfectly comprehended by the three-dimensional shape of a rectangular hyperbola vortex, sometimes called a Pythagorean funnel or horn. It, or a section of it, can be found in every form in nature from music to light. I really want to describe to you more about this phenomenal shape—I would coin it nature’s map—but it would get us far from the core topic at hand, the eternal round. If I am lucky, then perhaps you have already studied this shape and this form of geometry in the past.

Suffice it to say that it mimics the ever-changing forms of nature, including eternity, and one of these instructive forms is that of a spiral, like a conch shell. When viewed from above, the Pythagorean funnel can be seen to be mathematically composed of a line that circles about with ever increasing curvature (unlike an Euclidean circle of constant curvature). It is a visual display of the principle that no matter how many times you divide the number one in half, you will never come to zero. One direction of the line comes from infinity—Alpha, mathematically infinity—and the other continues to infinity in the other direction, or Omega. No segment of the line is the same as any other segment due to the constant change of curvature (see facsimile 1).

Facsimile 1: Rectangular Hyperbolic Vortex Spiral

In other words, ‘there are two [segments], one being more [curved] than the other; there shall be another more [curved] than they.’ As with intelligences, or the minds of men, there are no two segments that are the same, just those at different places along the spiral. From Alpha to Omega, the line makes an infinite number of ’rounds,’ but each continues to increase in curvature moreso than the last.

This then is the key that unlocks Joseph Smith’s symbol of eternity to our minds. It is not unknowable just previously unknown, and so it is a mystery to those who yet do not know. By mapping the patterns of nature, or reality, we can find the pattern to eternity. It has no beginning and no end and revolves in infinite ’rounds.’ This means that God has crossed the finished line of your analogy, and awaits expectantly our arrival there. By the time we get there, though, He will have progressed along the spiral of eternity and still be our God in eternity. As Joseph Smith said:

“Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? […]
“What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? ‘Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.’ So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before….”

I hope this very basic introduction to the geometry of nature can help you understand a mystery of Heaven, since ‘that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly.’ Intelligence, that immortal part of our being, is as old as God Himself because none of us ever had a beginning. God therefore esteems that the spark of divinity that is within His heart, and yours and mine, is of equal worth to that of any other person that ever was or ever will be. The difference is that God is more advanced in His intelligence than we are, and He has shown us, His children, where the starting line for the race is. Again as Joseph Smith said:

“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.”

And that is where the ordinances and the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ come into play. If we are to advance in intelligence with God, we cannot do it on our own in this life. Without the atonement of Jesus Christ we would be forced to retrogress in the rounds of eternity. It is not merely a quest of learning about God and His mysteries, but showing forth our obedience to the principles God has outlined that inherently enable progress.

What sometimes dismays the mind hungry for the mysteries is the necessity to act like God, who acts in a completely selfless manner, to advance one’s own ‘knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence.’ This is because to do so is in opposition to what the natural man would desire, what “the spirit is willing” to do though “the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). This is why knowledge of even the deepest mystery means nothing “if ye have not charity” and if you cannot abide this command: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Moroni 7:46 and Mark 9:35).

—Joseph

Is There No Other Way?

Dear Joseph,

In between this last visit and the one, the missionaries stopped by while I was upstairs and gave my boy (who was in fact Batman at the time and as such they addressed him much to his delight) a printed out copy of an essay by John Sutton Welch entitled Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity Among the Problems of Evil. I read through it once to take it in as a whole and then went through it again highlighting interesting bits and making my own comments in the margins.

I don’t know what the chances are that you’ve read this yourself, but the general impression I got, by way of summary, was this: I should be content to allow others to suffer and die just so that I can be aware of how glad I am that it’s not happening to me.

At one point, Mr. Welch writes, “Slowly but surely I have seen, in case after case, how evil, suffering, and injustice serve as essential creative conditions that allow us to develop nearly every Christian virtue, creating opportunities for goodness and the grace of the Atonement to cure us.”

I pointed out to myself that these are virtues and an Atonement that we would not need to employ or receive if there was no evil in the first place. What point is there in a cure if there’s no disease to begin with?

Welch goes directly on to say, “The development of such interpersonal virtues as forgiveness, mercy, generosity, compassion, and charity logically requires the prior existence of some form of evil, suffering, or injustice.”

Well, sure. But again, who needs forgiveness when there’s nothing to forgive? Who needs charity or compassion when there’s no suffering? Who needs generosity when you want for nothing? God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.

—Thomas

P.S.

I got home about half an hour ago from a Mormon church service. Three hours, they said it’d be. I thought that sounded like a long-winded service, but they included what amounted to a Sunday school class and another gender specific service in there, so we got to stretch our legs in between.

It was a lot less formal than I thought it’d be, for all that they wear ties, button-ups, and slacks when they go knocking door-to-door.


Dear Thomas,

I have never read John Sutton Welch’s essay. From what you are saying, it sounds like he’s trying to explain the existence of evil by saying that it is a necessary element of creation in order to furnish a world where we can develop attributes of the opposite nature. That’s an interesting way of looking at it and, if that is his total explanation, I would say that it serves better as a description of our current circumstances than it does an explanation of the origins of evil.

Before I give my full explanation of the matter, I must give you a little aside. By giving you this essay from a dubious source (I’m actually surprised they didn’t provide you something written by a prophet or an apostle, as this topic has been covered before by higher authorities) it’s apparent that the missionaries are trying to think of anything they can to help answer your profoundly deep questions. I know they’re hoping that something they give you may strike a chord with your understanding at some point. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to ask such questions; remember, the restoration of the Gospel began with a question! But I do think the Lord allows us to be backed up to the wall of faith at times where we must make our stand or otherwise falter.

This is why they want you to read the Book of Mormon and gain a witness of whether or not it is true. If it is, then—though you may not know the exact reasons behind the forces of good and evil—you can acknowledge their existence with an assurance that the truth of it may be learned when the Lord sees fit to reveal it. I don’t mean to make a witness of the Book of Mormon seem like an excuse for not being able to explain something, but it is the keystone of our religion and if it is true, then all that is claimed by it and the religion it supports is also true; If YOU find out that it is true, then your holdup in logic would transform from a brick high on a wall to a step high on a staircase: at some point, you will be given to understand it step after step.

Nonetheless, I don’t mind trying to help answer your questions where I am able. As you said, it is ‘enlightening and entertaining.’

Let me begin with a scripture:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
“Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

What Lehi here is teaching is that some things never had a beginning and will never have an end. This includes good and evil, light and dark, gods and devils, and you and I. Our doctrine teaches that all of us are eternal, meaning that our intelligence (what we might consider as our minds) never had a beginning and will never have an end. The interesting thing is that the implication here is that we are all as old as God Himself.

Accordingly, God doesn’t and cannot see Himself as better than any of us but—within the spectrum of eternal progression (for He is more progressed than us)—He knows that He is greater than us. The words I emphasized in the last sentence carry very different connotations. This is important. What I am trying to say is that to be better than another implies a differing degree of intrinsic worth, whereas to be greater than another implies a differing degree of development or attained attributes.

This is part of the reason God will not take our agency away from us, for if we cannot choose between opposing forces as He does, we lose our ability to act for ourselves, which thing defines existence (I wrote quite a bit to you about this before). Therefore if we are eternal, and if we exist due to the ability to choose, and the ability to choose requires things to choose between, then those options to us are also eternal. Those options are good and evil, or light and darkness, etc.

“God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.”

The thing to understand is that God did not create the evil and the darkness of the universe—like the matter with which He organized this world, it was already there when He came to it (remember that Hebrew bara means “to organize” and not “to create”). I agree that it would be bad parenting to throw your kids into a fire pit under any circumstances, but this analogy simply betrays your limited understanding of what this life really is (which limitation is completely acceptable at this point). This life certainly manifests evil—your ‘fire pit’—in its varied forms, but it is not a unique aspect to existence on this earth; evil is an aspect of all existence.

The difference is that in the holy company of Heaven, evil appears as it truly is: a detestable sludge that you wouldn’t touch with a 40 foot pole (or maybe it’s 40 lightyears); on earth, this same evil appears as a finely dressed gentleman to whom the world gives praise and power. In both places evil is a constant, but from the higher plane its mask is removed.

(It is possible to attain to that higher plane while living down here because perspective is an individual matter. To get there requires obedience to the principles of righteousness so that you may become righteous and more easily distinguish between good and evil. This is provided by obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

“…They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).

But the question that begs to be asked is why, why must we come to a place where evil is so disguised? The answer brings us back to the fact that many things are as old as God Himself. When God was not yet a god, what was He? Recall my previous letter about the head of the gods, or the family of the gods, wherein I wrote that He was once a mortal, like you and I. The process, then, by which He became God—by which you and I are to become gods—is the way it has always been done on any other world that has ever been.

Combine this knowledge with these two facts:

  1. Our bodies have been created in a fallen world and so the flesh is prone to weakness (sin and evil).
  2. The veil of forgetfulness placed over our minds, which causes us to choose goodness by faith, also causes us to choose the opposite by faith.

Perhaps you can begin to see that this mortal probation is a place where evil can be presented to us in an appealing way because of where we are—a fallen world. We are left relatively alone to pick between good and evil for that is part of the test of this life, but it’s not because God created the evil or that He created a fallen world. The world became fallen when Adam and Eve fell, and they fell “that man might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added; also read my letter to you on the necessity of the fall).

The analogy you must consider should not be ‘[would I] throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll’? But rather this: would I subject my child to the shocking and undoubtedly unpleasant experience of being torn from the warmth of the womb to breathe cold air and lose all feeling of previous security just so they could learn to walk, talk, and grow?

The answer is a deliberate and ultimately merciful yes because whether cesarian or natural birth there is no other way to further your child’s development.

Think about that. I know that you would not go back and change a thing if it meant not having those precious ones in your life. Likewise is God a good parent to us, and we are born into a fallen world simply because of this same reason: there is no other way. There is only one way by which a body of flesh and bone can be created, and “it is sown in corruption[, and] raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

And when we learned we could come to this world in that premortal council that you and I attended, all of us “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

—Joseph

P.S.

You made it through all three hours of church! That can be a feat for someone used to shorter stints. In our ward this past week, my wife and I gave the sermons during the sacrament meeting (that first and longest meeting). My wife spoke about Joseph Smith’s first vision and I spoke on the nature of the Godhead.

What did you think of the services? Anything strike you as peculiar?

A House Better Left Desolate

Dear Joseph,

The missionaries who have visited shared an analogy which I had no trouble accepting, and which I thought was actually pretty accurate all things considered. They said:

“Imagine a string that stretches from one end of this town to the other. Now draw the smallest dot you possibly can in the middle of that string. That dot represents your time here on Earth. The string before that dot is your pre-existence and the string after that dot is your time after your life on Earth.”

They brought it up to demonstrate how relatively insignificant all of our strife and struggles in this life ultimately are, but your mention of mansions gives me a thought. Here is what you said:

“For those who have seen a glimpse of their mansion prepared above, any sacrifice would be worth it just to spend some time there again. For some, their mansion contains their family.”

If our families are fostered during our time on Earth, just how significant, really, will they be once that veil of forgetfulness is lifted? Once you and your wife return to the full awareness of your individual existences, isn’t it possible that you could find yourselves as little more than blips on each other’s screens? I mean, Soul Mates 4-Eva is something I truly wish for the both of you, so let’s say it’s two hypothetical people. Might they not give two figs whether they spend eternity together once they recall all they once knew?

Also, I asked what the Mormon perspective on reincarnation is and they said nope. Not a thing. Absolutely not. It only now occurred to me to wonder… why not? What if it takes a fellow more than one trip to Earth to get all the experience he wants/needs before making a suitable candidate for ascension to God’s state of being?

—Thomas

P.S.

I want to say that your style of writing is so great that I went through and reread everything out loud just to hear it. Your sentence structure is especially appealing to my particular tastes.


Dear Thomas,

I want to begin this missive by addressing the analogy the missionaries shared with you about the string, and your resultant questions, particularly this one:

“Once you and your wife return to the full awareness of your individual existences, isn’t it possible that you could find yourselves as little more than blips on each other’s screens?”

I must admit that I have never thought about the hypothetical issue of what effect having temporary amnesia lifted might have on an eternal being. However, this is my take on it: much of our training before this life was to lead up to our eternal union with another of God’s children. Being sealed together for time and eternity is very much a crowning ordinance of this life.

Now, before I go on, and in case you haven’t been taught what the sealing ordinance is yet, let me sum it up for you:

Being a married couple, man and woman, is key to exaltation—and what we call a sealing (like the term hermetic sealing we find in mystical traditions throughout history [appendages of the true way, you see]) is a couple that has been joined together for eternity. It is to be married by God’s true and authorized servants (those who hold the keys of the kingdom) so that it may have binding power beyond the grave. In other words:

“…Shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be [bound as] one flesh;”
“[And by] the keys of the kingdom of heaven:… whatsoever [is bound] on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Genesis 2:24Matthew 16:19).

Again, Adam and Eve serve as great archetypes for this truth. They were sealed together in the Garden of Eden by one holding the keys and authority to do so (God Himself), as the scripture I quoted above from Genesis refers to. As also this verse: “And Adam said, This[, Eve,] is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Adam is here using covenant language to describe how He has become sealed to his wife, as we are also to do (remember that the rib is not literal, but sacred symbolism of deeper truths).

As a professor from China once shared with me, a sublime symbol of the sanctity of the family unit is that of a home. In a home with, let’s say, five beds in it, four of the beds are singly occupied by persons who all share the same blood (the children), but in one bed—the most important bed—sleeps two persons of differing blood. Why should this be? Because the union of man and woman is the sacred bond without which the house would become desolate. Hence, when these two are sealed together—when they become ‘bone of [their] bones, and flesh of [their] flesh’—the work of creation is allowed to continue, or in other words, the house can be built (and thence the town, which turns into a citadel, which turns into a whole kingdom, etc., ad infinitum). Is it no wonder, then, that we sometimes call this earth a home? (It may be of interest for you to know that this earth will become the Celestial Kingdom, truly the eternal home of the righteous who inherit it.)

Before this life, we looked forward to this moment with raptured attention because we knew that although a blip, a short time of suffering, this life was also to be the staging ground of the most important decisions we would make in eternity (including the decision to be sealed by authority). The missionaries’ analogy, I believe, was meant to emphasize how truly brief our trials would seem on the eternal scale; it was not, however, meant to imply any insignificance of the decisions made in this life. I would add to their analogy that at the blip the string bends or pivots upward in differing degrees depending on the choices made at the blip. Thus, in the eternal scale, the greater the angle with which one’s string is pivoted at this point, the greater the heights that string will ever attain to compared to the others.

The sealing ordinance is key to attaining the highest trajectory, for we cannot inherit God’s creative powers, which He seeks to bestow upon us, without it—we would not be able to create functional worlds as He does. Allow me to briefly touch upon a sacred doctrine: it would be folly for a man, who grows up to become a God, to create a world singly, for “the house would become desolate.” As the prophet wrote:

“Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it” (1 Nephi 17:36).

When my wife and I come out of our “deep sleep” as it were, and awaken to the reality of our eternal preexistence, I believe that we will be more in love than ever before, partly because we will realize just how lasting and meaningful the things we did on this earth really were, and just how profound an impact our choice to be sealed together will have had in our eternal trajectory. And we will have the eternities to allow this love to continue to blossom.

“So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them” (Abraham 4:27).

Now, on to your other question:

“Why not [have reincarnation]? What if it takes a fellow more than one trip to Earth to get all the experience he wants/needs before making a suitable candidate for ascension to God’s state of being?”

I will say that according to the principles of the plan of salvation, a person is supposed to gain their body as an eternal piece of their identity, not something that gets swapped around or reinvented in another womb. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42), meaning, our bodies are ‘sown’ or planted or birthed in a fallen state, but in the ‘resurrection of the dead,’ they will finally be ‘raised’ or reaped or finalized in perfection. So your body is organized once in the womb and then again in the resurrection, though the second time it is merely a perfected form of that which you before received. Reincarnation then seems to run against that grain.

With that said, I’m sure that you are aware of some historical or news-worthy instances of what appear to be reincarnation in the sense of someone being reborn into mortality. I am also aware of such cases, but they have always been superficial, meaning that there’s been room enough for someone to have been pulling an elaborate ruse. There may have even been cases of mild possession by a spirit. Given said superficiality, I would not hold such cases as proof of something that runs against revelation: your spirit inhabits one unique mortal frame and then goes on to the spirit world until the resurrection reunites your spirit with your body, no more to be separated.

Reincarnation also cannot be a true principle because it flies in the face of the sanctity of the family unit. When a mother in the sealing covenant begets a child, that child belongs to that mother for ever. The opportunity for a family to be sealed is offered to all through missionary work in this world and proxy ordinance work in the temples for those who have died without a chance to hear the Gospel who are now in the spirit world (have the missionaries taught you this yet?). As I wrote before, ALL will have the opportunity to accept or reject the message in faith.

If all may be sealed—parents to children and children to parents—all the way back to Adam and Eve, then to what family would a spirit who inhabited two mortal tabernacles be sealed? It is an indivisible division and it leads to disorganization. The kingdom of heaven is not messy but perfectly orderly, and you will not find such a headache arise in its arrangement. Your body is an eternal part of your identity when you come into it at birth, and the atonement of Jesus Christ was wrought that you might keep it so.

And if you are wondering about the millions of children who have died as infants who did not get to experience the full test of mortality, I have somewhat to write about that (so much so that we may need to keep it to another letter). Suffice it for now to say that we must also consider their millions of mothers, who have wept millions of tears at not being able to raise their children. If the child was reincarnated into another family, would that not be injustice to the mother who suffered the loss? Alas, the plan of salvation is perfect in its preparation and completeness thanks to Jesus Christ.

Let me write for you a couple quotes to put your mind at ease concerning the issue:

“…Little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
“But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!…
“For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
“Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.
“And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption” (Moroni 8:11-12, 15, 19-20)

“This world is a very wicked world; and it … grows more wicked and corrupt. … The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again….
“A question may be asked—‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?’ Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid….
“Children… must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory.”

Joseph Smith

Can you not see, Thomas, that God’s house is ordered, fair, and just? Without those principles, which God Himself embodies, this world would be a house better left desolate.

—Joseph

P.S.

“…Your style of writing is so great….”

Thank you for the compliment! I value good use of language and see it as a mark of intelligence in others. So if you think my language is pleasing to the eye or ear, then I am humbled indeed.

Trailing Clouds of Glory Do We Come

Dear Joseph,

The missionaries have explained that in the preexistence we chose to come here so that we could learn and choose to become more like God. I think I understand that point. So what happens now that I’m here and I’m perfectly content NOT to become like God?

Is it possible that even in the preexistence my intention was to come here but not take it any further than that? It doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t know the finer points there. By “intention” I mean to come here and gain a body, to be a generally pleasant sort of fellow, but then leave it at that.

Rereading this, I worry I might be coming across as rather flippant and I want to make sure you know that I’m being very sincere here. I’m trying to correlate this new information about the meaning of life with my general feelings about it; I’ve never felt that God’s ever been up there for me, and I don’t feel like I’m down here for Him. Does that make sense?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I do love and appreciate your sincerity, and your words do come across so, and you do make sense.

You know, there’s a reason none of us are permitted to remember our pre-earth life, for we then wouldn’t require faith to follow God—and this life is the testing ground of our faith. But there are a couple things we do know about the preexistence:

For one, we know that we did not come to earth unprepared; an eternity or eons of preparation preceded this life. It may not seem like it, but we are far limited in our capacities and faculties as intelligent beings than we once were. This isn’t to limit us, it is to narrow the test parameters. Such limitations as we experience in mortality could be seen as a roadblock to becoming like our Father in Heaven if this life was about mastering the powers of God so we can be like Him, but that’s not what this life is about; it’s about mastering our faith and obedience to God so that He can trust us with all that is needed to become like Him. Nevertheless, we know that we all come here having undergone great preparation to do so—including you.

For another, we know that our choices in the preexistence have an influence on our circumstances here. The fact that you are on earth shows that you made the decision to support Christ as savior and king in the council in Heaven (as I said in my last letter to you). The fact that missionaries have come to share the higher truths of your eternal potential with you may be a sign that you once did desire to become more than just a “generally pleasant sort of fellow” and become like God. I don’t know that for sure, but you have accepted to be taught by His servants at a pivotal time in your life. If there is a sense within you that is responding to the missionaries’ presence and words, it is a principle of intelligence that you developed before this life—the ability to recognize truth.

Other talents and certain predispositions are features of your eternal identity—they are part of who you were even before this life. The type of characteristics that we would define as having their beginning before this life can typically be identified by their nature and tendency towards good and truth, such as the ability to recognize truth, the desire to keep one’s body pure, and the love of music. Other predispositions that tend towards the negative are what we would define as an iniquity—an inherited dysfunction whose root is the sins of previous generations.

(We are all composite beings of spirit and flesh, or in other words, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience [which is quite a bit different than saying we are physical beings having a spiritual experience]. The part that comes from our Father in Heaven is perfect in its creation and, well, heavenly; the part that comes from our earthly parentage is imperfect [due to the fall] and predisposed towards sinfulness as a result of being conceived by other imperfect bodies that are also predisposed towards sinfulness.)

“The intelligences… were organized before the world was” (Abraham 3:22).

Scripturally, Paul taught about the fact that our choices before this life have an influence on our circumstance here in his letter to the Romans. Referencing the birth of Esau and Isaac (who were born as fraternal twins), Paul wrote:

“…When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
“…[And] the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand…
“It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger….
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Romans 9:10-12,14).

Here Paul is assuming that the reader is aware that, though not the natural inheritor of the birthright, Isaac would go on to receive the birthright and have authority to rule over his elder brother, Esau. If God told this to their mother Rebecca before the birth, was God just being random and playing favorites? ‘God forbid’! If we rule that out as a possibility, seeing that God is perfectly just, then to what can we owe this foreknowledge of God? The answer was poetically penned by William Wordsworth:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
“The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
“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….”

William Wordsworth
“Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Isaac made certain choices before his birth, which is ‘but a sleep and a forgetting,’ that God did not forget, choices that put him in a position to rule over his brother who apparently did not make the same choices. We really won’t know, however, what those choices were, or my or your full motivation for choosing what we did, until the test of this life is over and the veil is lifted from our minds and our former recollection and friends come to our remembrance. Nonetheless, I agree with Wordsworth: I feel as though sometimes I am not left to ‘entire forgetfulness’ and the veil is gently parted by a cool breeze from our eternal home and to my mind is given the slightest shimmering of a feeling of remembrance. By faith and authority, that veil can be fully parted for each of us to gaze through (a topic for another time, perhaps).

“Is it possible that even in the preexistence my intention was to come here but not take it any further than that?”

It is possible to not want to be like God, for, after all, we have free agency and we will go to that place eternally where we will be most comfortable. For many mainstream Christians, they want to be good people so they can go to Heaven and sing praises to God above with the angels. If you look at the definition of the Terrestrial Kingdom in the plan of salvation (as I once wrote to you in detail), these kinds of good people will get just that: God will be above them and they will be as the angels in eternity, serving God and living in peace and a degree of eternal happiness!

BUT what God wants for all of His children is to reach higher than that: to be where He is.

The motivation to do what is required to reach our highest heavenly home is different for each person, partly due to their choices and desires they brought with them from the preexistence. For those who have seen a glimpse of their mansion prepared above, any sacrifice would be worth it just to spend some time there again. For some, their mansion contains their family. I know that was great motivation for my wife when she was faced with the invitation to be baptized: she wanted to be with her family forever—husband, kids, etc., and in the plan of salvation, we know that eternal families can only exist in the Celestial Kingdom. She knew what she had to do—even with the prospect of great personal sacrifice—to get to that degree of glory. She knew that in the two lower kingdoms people will live as individuals—unmarried and without the defining relationships of parents and children—”it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). For Abby, this was part of the mansion she knew she must have, and so, even without the motivation of her own future glory, she desired to exalt her family, and we define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of Heaven.

Who knows what your preexistent motivation was, but surely it was inspired of an eternal perspective. At the very least, you chose Christ as redeemer then, and now that His Gospel is once again on the earth in its fulness, the question is will you choose Him again? If so, then “repent, and be baptized,” as Peter so invited, “…in the name of Jesus Christ,” by one having authority, even as Peter had authority (Acts 2:38).

—Joseph