Mormons 2

We met again today – the two young ‘Elders’ and I.  We were joined by a different gentleman this time, who again looked several years older than I.  Since LDS churches utilize volunteers for almost all local functions, I’m assuming that whomever is available to sit in on the sessions does so.  

I’ll say this for the Mormons – their commitment to evangelism is fantastic.  Young men and women are charged with saving up for their mission trips, which I believe are 2-year commitments following their graduation from high school.  They pay for the trip, but they do not decide where they go.  They are assigned a location to begin.  At any time, they can receive new directions about where to go.  One of the Elders told me that if they are moved from one area to another, they usually get the call on Monday and have to leave the next day!  One of my Elders is from Salt Lake City, and the other from Austin.  
Today we really began to dig into Mormon theology, focused around the topic of our lives.  They quoted Jeremiah 1:5 as evidence that we have a pre-earthly, pre-mortal existence.  In other words, we are created as purely spiritual beings in what they call a pre-mortal life.  We exist with Heavenly Father (their typical term for him, as opposed to God the Father) and Jesus.  We are taught everything we need to know about how to live correctly.  But during this time, we realized that Heavenly Father had a physical body and we did not.  He also was much wiser than we were, and we wanted to be like him.  So a plan was devised whereby we would receive physical bodies and gain the wisdom and experience that would make us like Heavenly Father.  
Heavenly Father would create a physical realm – the earth – where his spiritual children could receive physical bodies.  In the transition from purely spiritual to spiritual and physical, they would lose their memory of their pre-mortal life and all that they had learned from Heavenly Father.  They would retain some sense of elemental right and wrong.  Their goal would be to find their way back to Heavenly Father, ultimately through Jesus, the Son of God (they didn’t distinguish if this title for Jesus meant something substantively different compared to the rest of God’s ‘sons’ or daughters).  Adam and Eve were the first of Heavenly Father’s children to receive mortal bodies.  
But before this all went into effect, about 1/3 of the spiritual children of God refused to participate in this plan.  Satan led this rebellion, and he and his followers were cast out of the pre-mortal life.  They did not receive physical bodies but remained purely spiritual – and very unhappy.  
Once in the physical realm, Adam and Eve were given two commands, and the Elders referred me to Genesis 1:28 and 2:15-17 for this.  The two commands were to procreate and to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  However, this posed a conundrum in LDS theology.  Clearly, Adam and Eve were supposed to procreate, but they didn’t know how.  They were innocent and lacked the understanding necessary to fulfill this command.  Therefore, they had to eat from the tree in order to fulfill this first command.  
So here is the first major rational difficult with Mormonism.  God commands Adam and Eve to do two mutually incompatible  things.  They can only obey one of the commands – not to eat from the forbidden tree – but in doing so they can’t fulfill the first command to procreate.  It’s completely impossible for them to fulfill the command to procreate unless they specifically violate the prohibition about the tree.  It is only by violating the second command that they can fulfill the first command.  
When I pressed them on this, they didn’t have an explanation.  They were in agreement that eating the fruit was a good thing.  In Mormon theology (at least as presented here), the Fall is a good thing because through it we gain the wisdom and experience to be like God.  Rather than the Fall being an unqualified bad thing as in historical Biblical Christianity, in Mormonism the Fall is a good thing.  In fact, Satan as the tempting serpent is really not deceiving Eve at all.  He is revealing the actual truth of the matter – we can become like God if we rebel against him.  The Law is only there to hold us back, and it’s up to us to recognize this and discard the Law in order to become godlike. 
Ultimately, what they are describing is a form of dualism, and they quote from 2 Nephi 2 to support this idea.  Only in the presence of sin can righteousness be defined.  In other words, without a devil, you can’t really have a God.  I asked them about this – if Adam and Eve required opposition and struggle to fully realize their full potential, who is it that stands in opposition to God, thus defining him and providing him with his full potential?  This confused them, but eventually they presumed that Satan must be the opposition to God.  Now, in the pamphlet they had given me, Satan is clearly presented as a created being, essentially no different from you and I other than that he didn’t receive a physical body because of his rebellion.  If righteousness can only be properly defined in contrast to sin or evil, then clearly Satan doesn’t fulfill the role of providing God the needed opposition.  My leaders couldn’t really understand that concept.   
So my head was reeling from this conundrum – that a good God would only make it possible for us to please him by sinning against him.  And it’s clear in LDS theology that eating the fruit – although entirely a benefit to humanity – was still technically a sin.  A sin punished by mortal death and spiritual separation from Heavenly Father.  Quite the paradox indeed!  
Orthodox Christianity has to admit that God the Father planned creation, knowing that humanity would choose to rebel (though not forcing it to).  We can’t wrap our heads around why He would go ahead and choose to create the universe in the way that He did, knowing that we would Fall.  And to be sure, that’s a huge area of ignorance.  But we affirm that we didn’t have to sin.  We could have remained pure and perfect and obedient and able to fulfill everything that God had directed Adam and Eve towards in Genesis 1.  The Bible doesn’t set us up for failure – requiring us to sin in order to be faithful.  Mormonism does.
There was brief talk of Jesus at this point, about his death being an atonement for our sinfulness.  But the main emphasis was on his resurrection, but not in the way you might expect.  What was conveyed about the importance of the resurrection was the fact that Jesus received a glorified physical body.  This is evidence that we will also have glorified, perfected physical bodies after we die.  Resurrection is a gift that everyone receives, according to Mormonism – even those who reject Mormonism.
So we exist in a spiritual, pre-mortal state, then we enter the mortal, physical earthly life, then we die.  Our bodies disintegrate, but our spirits remain, and Mormonism teaches that our spirits go to one of two areas of the post-earth spirit world.  Those who were brought to faith in Mormonism in earthly life go to Paradise.  Those who did not embrace Mormonism or who lived lives inconsistent with Mormon teachings while professing to be Mormons go to a spiritual prison.  There, they receive missionaries from Paradise who seek to enlighten them and bring them to acceptance of Jesus as their Savior.  They referred to Luke 23 at this point.  Jesus promises the thief on the cros
s that they will be together in paradise.  Yet the thief clearly was not ready for this as he had lived a bad life.  The explanation is that the thief went to spiritual prison, received Christ there, and then could move to Paradise.  Thus, the spirits of the dead can move from prison to Paradise, and indeed in LDS theology the assumption is that most if not everyone will make this move.
The spirit-world after death is a second chance for people to accept Jesus.  At some point however, there will be Judgment Day.  At this point, there are basically three options – three heavens – that people can be assigned to based on their lives and faith.  The best of the best can go to Celestial heaven to dwell in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus.  Those who weren’t quite the best  but better than most (didn’t believe in Jesus but were still good people) go to Terrestrial heaven.  Finally, those  who really weren’t all that good people go to Telestial heaven.  All the heavens are really awesome places, but of course Celestial is the best and Terrestrial is the next best and Telestial is the least best (but still really, really, really awesome!).  
I pressed them on the issue of hell and at first they were confused and said that nobody went to hell – there were just slight differences of degree in terms of the three heavens.  When I asked about Satan, they appeared confused again, but then recalled that Satan and his followers dwelled in Outer Darkness – not one of the three heavens.  Those who steadfastly  refused Jesus and the truth of Mormonism even in the spirit world would join Satan in Outer Darkness, but they were all pretty well agreed that there would be very few people in that situation.
So presented today was a picture of a pre-earth spiritual life, an earthly spiritual & physical life, a post-physical death life in a spirit world, and then the final assignment to one of three possible heavens.  Faith in Jesus is critical, but also our actions in this world have eternal ramifications.  Jesus saves us, but we still inherit the relative debits or credits of our actions.  
I left the session marveling at the logical inconsistencies in their theology.  That only in disobedience can we actually be obedient.  That evil is necessary and therefore good, after a fashion.  I understand that Biblical Christianity is confusing to many people because there are a great many questions to which our only answer is ‘We don’t know’.  Yet to the best of my knowledge, Christianity is internally consistent.  In other words, it doesn’t set us up for failure.  Failure is possible and now unavoidable, but that wasn’t because God created the universe in a way where failure was a prerequisite.  Knowing that we would Fall is not the same as demanding it or setting it up so that we really had no other option.  
But I also wonder what I’m blind to because of being brought up in the Church.  What things do I profess in faith thinking that they make rational sense (to the extent that we are able to apply our rationality), without contradicting themselves.  Am I missing something?  Are there contradictions in the Bible (and here I’m talking about real theological contradictions, not the alleged issues of misprints or other minor discrepancies)?  Can you think of any?  
Next meeting is Saturday – woohoo!

2 Responses to “Mormons 2”

  1. William Says:

    This is a most excellent post. Not that all your posts aren’t excellent.
    So regarding the 3 ‘heavens’ does this mean Paul was really a Mormon as he was taken up to the third heaven? Kidding of course but maybe you could give that to them for later use.
    My question would be is how good do I have to be to get to say just the Telestial level? I mean could I continue on with my gambling addiction er ‘hobby’ and still make it? What about Terrestrial level? No bad vices maybe just a little ‘gossipy’ but generally a nice guy. Will that get me in? I’m sure Celestial level is reserved for professing Mormons. Do they refer to themselves as Mormon? Ive heard they are not fond of that term.
    How will they ever know if they have done enough? Isn’t that extremely stressful? It just seems another system all about what you DO, not what has been DONE for you in Christ.

    One contradiction I would bring up is if we believe God is all knowing why are there places in the Bible that have God coming down to check things out. I am specifically speaking of Gen 18:20-21. Something like this also occurs at the Tower of Babel.
    Looking forward to hearing about Saturday.

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    We aren’t really clear what Paul means by his reference to a ‘third heaven’ in 2 Corinthians 12.  As I was studying that text a few weeks ago, one popular opinion of scholars is that this is a reference to completeness.  Paul is basically saying he got to see the whole enchilada, not just a limited preview.  Since Paul is comparing his qualifications as an apostle to the claims made by his competitors, this seems to make a lot of sense.  In other words, Paul wants to make it clear that he’s had every bit as good visions as these other folks who are trying to woo over the Corinthians, and probably better.  

    Either way, I’m sure the Mormons would be happy to claim St. Paul as one of their own.  They probably already have, in fact.  Ick.

    The question of how good is good enough is pretty much the question of every other world religion.  How good is good enough?  How enlightened is enlightened enough?  How ascetic is ascetic enough?  The criteria may alter, but whenever there is a criteria posited, the immediate question becomes how do I know when I’ve met the mark?  Mormonism is no different.  While there are some external guidelines that help determine which heaven you are likely to qualify for (do you believe in Jesus?  Are you a member of the LDS church?  Were you sealed in a Temple?  But those are just externals – what about the state of your heart?  The slope is slippery.

    I imagine (and I think the Mormons would agree) that literally everyone is going to get into the Telestial heaven.  They can’t imagine that anyone would reject the reality of Jesus Christ once they’re in the spirit prison and being evangelized by spirits from Paradise.  So most folks will likely come to faith here, and get at least to Telestial heaven.  Those whose lives were a bit better will likely make Terrestrial heaven.  But I’m pretty sure the Mormons would claim that only the cream of the crop – those who lived spotless lives as Mormons – even have a shot at the Celestial kingdom.  

    They are also insistent that even the Telestial heaven is so awesome we’d be clawing our eyes out to get there right now if we only fully apprehended how awesome it is.  I suspect that the defining difference between the three levels is really one between the Celestial heaven and all the others – and that would be the ability to become gods themselves and populate their own planet/universe.  They didn’t specifically mention that, but I suspect this is the main issue.  Those at the top of the class get this honor (if they’re male, of course).  Everyone else has to settle with just an awesome time as a continuing creature of our particular God the Father.  

    I had to postpone Saturday because of prepping for the move.  I hope to continue with them this week, but it’s going to be hard to find time.  If that’s the case, I’ll ask if they can refer me to someone in the Santa Barbara area proper to continue my education.  I’m looking forward to it!

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