Replies to Thomas

Tag: veil

How Faith Can Soar to Knowledge

Dear Joseph,

It’s been a while since I’ve written; you’ve given quite a lot of information to digest in your letters to me and there’s just been a lot going on elsewhere in life lately on top of it. But, if I understood your last letter correctly, it all essentially boils down to this: knowing the truth is important. You gave many examples and explanations as for why this was so and what we can do to recognize truth when we see and hear it.

This does not seem to line up with—if not go against—what I’ve been told before, that what we need to truly come close to God is faith—specifically faith without knowledge; I’ve been told that choosing to believe the truth takes more conviction than simply knowing what the truth is.

Be that as it may be, I guess I don’t see the point in God’s forcing us into faith over knowledge either. I mean, doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust (i.e. faith) to act on the truth you know? Why leave any room for doubt or interpretation whatsoever when it comes to this stuff? What’s worse is that I supposedly knew all the answers to these questions before I was born, in my pre-life existence. But now, purportedly in an effort to move a step forward in my relationship with Christ, I find myself apparently two steps back. This plan seems like a rather buggy one for having come from God himself.

So, if we’re supposed to know the truth, and we’ve got all these wonderful instructions for how to know truth when we’re exposed to it, why go through the whole charade at all? We knew all this already. How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God? Doesn’t that just put us back where we started to begin with, or at least start us off with a handicap on our journey?  Way back, you told me that the whole point of this life was that it was a proving ground for our faith. But why is faith so terribly important in the first place, as opposed to good ol’ knowledge?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

It’s good to hear your voice again (or at least hear it in my head as I read your letter). Your wit and sensibility are as bright and  welcome as ever. You’ve written some very good questions here, and I am so enthused to respond that I can hardly bear to spend another sentence in decorous reminiscence. I hope you won’t mind if I spare humoring you with continued expression of my gladness in receiving word from you again. I trust that you, as ever, can detect my sincerity.

Your questions to me are right in line with what I considered writing to you about anyway if I’d only taken the time to write to you unprompted, as it were. Recall the post script of my last letter:

“I think that I would like to write you another letter soon detailing the differences and relationships between faith, belief, and knowledge since we dipped our toes into it at the end here.”

And you’ve just written to me thusly:

“…Doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust (i.e. faith) to act on the truth you know?”

I will say firstly: yes, it does. But before we dig deeply into the inner workings of faith, we need to establish some surface-level semantics, some definitions we can mutually accept so that we’re sure we’re on the same page moving forward:

  1. Belief: a principle of trust; a mental, positive decidedness in the unseen;
  2. Faith: (1) a working hope in things that are not seen, but which are true; not a perfect knowledge; (2) a principle of action among all intelligent beings.
  3. Knowledge: a personal witness of the truthfulness to a great degree on a given subject.

Now allow me to illustrate these principles by applying them to the scientific world (often considered a faith-less subject, though that is not the case):

A young and ignorant man entered his first day of biology class. He was early so it was just him and the professor in the room alone. The professor asked what the new student knew of biology to which the young man replied that he comparatively didn’t know his right hand from his left. Astounded, the professor asked if the student had ever heard of microbes and germs. The young man replied that he hadn’t. Still in astonishment, the professor quizzed the young man as to how many organisms he thought were present in the room. (The professor had to explain that an organism was an individual form of life.) The student replied that there were two present: the young man himself and the professor. The professor corrected the young man, saying that there were in fact millions of unseeable organisms present in the room. The young man refused to believe it. The professor produced a microscope from his desk and invited the young man to look into its lens to learn for himself. The young man looked through the scope and then reeled back in fear, exclaiming that he beheld monsters eight feet long. The professor explained that the nature of the microscope was to take the tiny, unseeable organisms around them and make their image large enough for human eyes to behold. With wonder in his mind from the special experience before class, the young man went on to study the unseeable world harder than any of his classmates, and he would eventually go on to become himself a great professor.

I’m sure that you are insightful enough to identify the principles of belief, faith, and knowledge in the above story, but let me draw them out for you to be sure that we have a mutual understanding:

The ignorant young man at first possessed none of the qualities of belief, faith, or knowledge. Even when told by the professor who had himself a knowledge of the millions of organisms around him, the young man refused to believe it. So the professor invited the young man to act. The young man did not know what he would see in the microscope, but he had faith, as demonstrated by his peering into the lens, that following the professor’s commands would result in something. He did not know at first how to interpret what he had seen, but the professor’s explanation helped the young man turn his experience into knowledge. The young man then began his schooling believing in unseen things, having gained a knowledge by faith.

So, Thomas, it is with the unbeliever in revelation, though the roles and tools are somewhat different. The unbeliever does not believe in God, in angels, or in spirits because he cannot see them. But let him exercise faith to peer through a spiritual lens, which comes through obedience to the commandments of God—let him get the Spirit of God, and he then he can see the truth—he can gain a knowledge of spiritual things. It is the same process.

But faith doesn’t end with knowledge! No, definition number (1) of faith is no longer needed when a knowledge is obtained, but definition (2) is (reprinted below for convenience):

Faith: (1) a working hope in things that are not seen, but which are true; not a perfect knowledge; (2) a principle of action among all intelligent beings.

As with the young man who was enabled to begin his study of biology with a knowledge of the unseen world of microorganisms, he then had to ask himself, “Now that I know they are real, what will I do about it?” The response to his knowledge was what I termed in my last letter “the measure” of his faith. The young man could have done any number of things after returning to his seat: he could have dropped out of class; he could have kept his hands off his desk for fear of the germs; or he could even have gone to the microscope for a second, and a third, and a fourth look, trying to disprove the notion that the microscope did what the professor claimed it did. In my example, he chose to believe, which led to faith in higher concepts, which led to knowledge of higher concepts, and so on (a positive loop, upwards and onwards) until he too became a knowledgeable professor. But he could have chosen to disbelieve, and had no faith, and gained no knowledge (a negative loop) and dropped out of class—it would have been the same opportunity but a far different and faithless reaction.

So too it is with the unbeliever in revelation. He may obey the commandments, gain the spirit of God, gain a spiritual witness—a knowledge—of something spiritual, and then choose to disbelieve it, endeavoring to explain it away as a coincidence or nothing special—he could go on a negative loop. Then there is no faith, and the knowledge he once enjoyed is devalued in his mind to the point that he sets it aside as a fluke. Or he could take that witness and choose to believe it, which leads to faith in higher concepts, which leads to action, which leads to knowledge of higher concepts, and so on, riding the positive loop to greater and greater heights, as Joseph Smith said:

“…The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him.
“[…] But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed…” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], p.51).

So why doesn’t everybody just get ‘wrapped in the power and glory’ already? Because of what you asked: ‘…Doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust… to act on the truth you know?’ And my answer: ‘Yes, it does.’ In fact, it takes so much discipline and trust that few people ever submit so fully to the commandments of God that they reach that high station. Hence the scriptures say, “many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:40; Matthew 22:14; see also Matthew 20:16).

(And of course then there’s the opposition, helmed by Satan himself, that makes the opposite course—the downward loop—seem ever so much more attractive and logical and easy. To be certain, this classroom is a battlefield. But let’s not get into that side of things for the moment.)

Thomas, you also said this:

“This plan seems like a rather buggy one for having come from God himself…. If we’re supposed to know the truth, and we’ve got all these wonderful instructions for how to know truth when we’re exposed to it, why go through the whole charade at all? We knew all this already. How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God?”

I tell you, those are such beautiful questions. I could read them over and over all day!

To answer them, let me share with you another story:

There was once a beautiful eagle that could soar higher than all the other birds in the forest. This majestic creature had powerful wings that enabled it to fly high to its lofty heights while all the other birds and creatures of the woods watched in awe. One day an inquisitive blue jay perched near the eagle’s home to await an audience with the grand fowl. The blue jay had struggled to reach the eagle’s nest as it was located high atop a lonesome cliff where the wind blew ferociously. And at such a perilous spot he was surprised to find three large eggs. The eagle suddenly and gracefully returned to her nest and stared intently at the blue jay.
“Why are you here?” the eagle demanded.
“I’ve come to ask thee a question, mighty eagle,” quivered the tiny blue jay. “How is it that thine wings art able to take thee so high?”
“Have you not wings?” came the eagle’s swift reply.
“I have, but they cannot carry me as thine doth carry thee.”
“Return on the morning of the third day, and I will show you my secret.”
The nervous blue jay reverently bowed and then flapped away, down to his forest home below. Three days later, as the sun was beginning to rise, the blue jay returned to the eagle’s lofty home. He was surprised to find that instead of three eggs in the nest there were three tiny eagles. The mother eagle’s eggs had hatched while the blue jay had been away. The eagle gave a sharp look at the blue jay and then stepped aside so that he could see what the little eagles were doing. When the strong wind would race up the cliff wall and threaten the little eagles’ stances, they would open their wings and let the gust lift them off their feet. Again and again the strong wind would cause the young eagles to practice soaring little by little. To the blue jay’s estimation, they were already better than he at soaring. The mother eagle then focused her steely eye on the blue jay, and said,
“My secret is that my mother taught me to spread my wings into the wind, not to fear the boisterous gale; and that has made all the difference.”

“…The eagle’s nest… was located high atop a lonesome cliff where the wind blew ferociously.”

In the preexistence, we developed many attributes and talents (note: not talons). We learned about mortality and the process we would have to undergo here to become like our Father in Heaven. Though I wouldn’t claim that we ‘knew [it] all… already’ before this life, we knew quite a bit that we had to forget (Again, the only way for us to continue to grow was to come to earth and experience the viscisitudes of mortality [remember, there was no other way]). But even with all of that knowledge before this life, there was at least one grand bit of knowledge we did not and could not possess: the ability to exercise faith.

You said:

“Way back, you told me that the whole point of this life was that it was a proving ground for our faith. But why is faith so terribly important in the first place, as opposed to good ol’ knowledge?”

Yes, this life is a proving ground for our faith because it couldn’t be proved in the preexistence, and without faith, we cannot soar. In the preexistence we were like baby eagles with wings inside of eggs—we had studied all about faith, but couldn’t properly learn how to use it until we had a chance to try it. So we are born in a world where most spiritual things—certainly the heavenly variety—are unseen, and nothing but faith manifest in works (obedience to the commandments; see James 2:14-18) can remove the veil. The earth is perched upon the windy cliffs of sin and opposition so that we might learn to prize the heavenly and exercise faith unto salvation. And if we can do it, we too will soar like our Father in Heaven soars.

Put another way, all the knowledge in the world—all of the book smarts about how to ride a bicycle—means nothing if we cannot ourselves go out to a bicycle and ride it, putting that learning into practice. You might want to see the face of God—perhaps the equivalent of doing a superman on a BMX bike—but you ‘must have been instructed’ from the basics of simply pedaling to get to that point.

Remember how I once wrote to you about how you sustained Christ as king before this life? You would not be here now had you not made that vitally important decision—the right decision—once before. You certainly had quite a bit of knowledge back then, though you’ve had to forget it for now. The test now is to sustain Christ but in faith—which consequently can turn to a knowledge in this life. The existence of that potential does not negate the necessity of faith, but it provides a hope that your works will lead to something important, even life eternal. Does the scripture say, “And this is life eternal, that they might have faith in thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”? No; importantly it reads: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, emphasis added).

“How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God?”

Someday, the veil will be removed from our minds fully, and we will exclaim that God has been perfectly just in all his dealings with man. At that time, our previous learning will come back to us—we will realize that ‘unlearning’ did not take place. Some will have spread their wings of faith and will have taken flight to ‘power and glory,’ and others will have languished in fear, submitting instead to Satan’s temptations to disbelieve and ultimately fail the test (see Abraham 3:26). And in these you will discover the true meaning of fire and brimstone, as Joseph Smith taught:

“The great misery of [the wicked]… after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers.
“[…] A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner…. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone” (STPJS, pp. 310-311, 357).

Endeavor with all the faith you can muster, even the smallest grain, to obey the commandments of God, and I can promise you that the knowledge will come, which leads to greater belief, greater faith, and eventually greater knowledge, until you come to eternal life. I make that promise because of the knowledge that I have received from God. The lens of the spirit works. Someday, sooner or later, you will remember it. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later so that the reception of that memory will be one of joy and not of disappointment.

I ever pray for you as a brother in faith,

—Joseph

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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?

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