- The Vision
- And again I bear record of heavenly things,
Where virtue's the value above all that is priz'd,
Of the truth of the gospel concerning the just,
That rise in the first resurrection of Christ.
Who receiv'd, and believ'd, and repented likewise,
And then were baptiz'd, as a man always was,
Who ask'd and receiv'd a remission of sin,
And honoured the kingdom by keeping its laws.
Being buried in water, as Jesus had been,
And keeping the whole of his holy commands,
They received the gift of the spirit of truth,
By the ordinance truly of laying on hands.
For these overcome, by their faith and their works,
Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold,
And seal'd by the spirit of promise to life,
By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.
They are they, of the church of the first-born of God,
And unto whose hands he committeth all things;
For they hold the keys of the kingdom of heav'n,
And reign with the Saviour, as priests and as kings.
They're priests of the order of Melchizedek,
Like Jesus (from whom is this highest reward),
Receiving a fulness of glory and light;
As written--they're Gods even sons of the Lord.
So all things are theirs; yea, of life or of death;
Yea, whether things now, or to come, all are theirs,
And they are the Saviour's, and he is the Lord's,
Having overcome all, as eternity's heirs.
--Joseph Smith Jr.
To read the full text of this poetical rendering of D&C section 76, click here.
Today in Church, we had a lesson from the Joseph Smith Manual titled, "Beyond the Veil: Life in the Eternities." We talked mostly about the three degrees of glory, and who will go to which one (If you are reading this and you're not familiar with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, you may want to read the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Degrees of Glory to get an overview of the doctrine we were discussing). I mentioned a little sheepishly to someone sitting near me that it would have been easier to answer the questions about specific attributes that qualify you for each kingdom if I'd brought my scriptures with me (I carry around 22 pounds of baby, and 25 pounds of baby stuff -- At the moment, I'm limiting my books to a pocket sized Book of Mormon and New Testament). She said that she wouldn't know where to look, so I opened her scriptures to D&C Section 76 and showed her that the summary showed which verses talked about each of the Degrees of Glory. After that, she partly listened to the lesson, and partly read that section of the Doctrine and Covenants. At one point during the lesson, she asked me to repeat what had just been said -- that the only way to reach the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom was to make and keep the covenants of Eternal Marriage (see D&C 131:1-4).
At the end of the lesson, she turned to me and said something along the lines of, "I'm sure I've read this before, but I really don't remember it. I'd kind of thought about the subject, but I don't remember seeing it spelled out so distinctly. There's not really a lot of room for interpretation in this. So does this mean that if you don't join the church and go to the temple in this life that there's no chance for you? Someone in my extended family isn't a member, and it tears me up to think that not only he, but his faithful Mormon wife won't make it."
I told her that if this life was all the chance there was, then there would be no point in doing temple work for the dead. I also said that there are many reasons that someone might not join the church, and that not all of them were that they didn't believe in Jesus Christ and accept him as their personal savior. Essentially, I said that there is a chance for this family member. At that point, her child arrived with gum all over his hands, and she had to go take care of him, so I didn't get to finish explaining the other side of the issue, so I thought I'd post my understanding of it here, and ask for comments so that when I see her later, I can be sure to have my facts straight.
This life is the time to prepare to meet God. Earth Life is a kind of test to see whether we can have faith and keep His commandments. The same spirit that possesses our bodies when we die will do so in the hereafter. So if a person is unwilling to keep the commandments when alive, they'll probably be unwilling to do so after they're dead (This is what Alma talks about in his sermon on restoration. See Alma 34:32-35).
Heaven is a place of Eternal Progression. In the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, we won't be sitting around on clouds and playing harps, we'll be doing things -- learning, teaching creating, having families, and leading another generation of spirit children to exaltation (see D&C 132:20). I'm not really sure of the details, but it'll be work. God said, "this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (SeeMoses 1:39) This brings me back to the concept of restoration -- if you weren't willing to work for your own salvation during earth life, then why would you be willing to work for others' in the eternities?
Remember the parable of the talents (see Matt 25:14-30) -- the guy with two talents didn't LOSE the Lord's money. He wasn't evil, spending it on his own vices or gambling it away. He just didn't do anything with it to make it more than it was before. People who don't try to progress toward salvation (the ones going to the Terrestrial Kingdom. see D&C 76:79) will have what they were given taken away (they won't have their families in the eternities. see D&C 132:15-20).
Now, I don't really know this family member, and even if I did, I am in no position to judge his reasons for not joining the Church. Is he lazy, and just wants to have a worldly lifestyle without the demands of all that following the commandments business? Or is he a good person, who's trying to live the best way he knows how, and just doesn't understand the importance of baptism and other covenants? Was he taught something as a child that makes it hard for him to accept Mormonism or abandon the faith of his fathers? Did someone offend him so badly that he won't give the message a chance? I don't know. Even if I knew all the details of his life, I wouldn't presume to know the deepest intents of his heart. That's what the Lord means when He tells us not to judge others (see Matt 7:1-2). I can't tell my friend or anyone else which kingdom they or anyone else will be going to.
I do know that the Lord is infinitely merciful, and that each of his children will be given a fair chance, whether in this life or the next, to accept the gospel, repent of their sins, and receive the blessings of the atonement (see D&C 138). I believe that we will have a say in our Last Judgement and assignment to kingdoms (see the last section of today's lesson from the Joseph Smith Manual). I believe that we will choose to be with people who made similar choices -- that that's the degree of glory we'll be comfortable with. I believe that where ever we go, it'll be better than we could possibly have hoped or imagined (see D&C 76:89-90).
So is there hope for this person? Yes. Should his family rest easy on that hope, and not continue to invite him to partake of the gospel message while he's alive? No. I believe that there will be consequences for those who procrastinate the day of their repentance (see Alma 34:33-35). It will be harder for them to make the necessary changes after they're dead. How? In what way? What consequences? I don't know. But I know that as I said at the beginning, this life is the time to prepare to meet God.
One more thing: There's a lot we don't understand about heaven and what will be going on there after we die. One could argue that if even the Telestial kingdom is going to be infintely better than Earth life, then "Why even bother trying for anything better? That's good enough for me." To this, I say the same thing that I say to those people who don't believe there's an afterlife at all. Keeping the commandments and living the gospel as outlined in the scriptures and teachings of the prophets will make you happier here and now. No matter what happens after we die, being kind to other people, forgiving others, and valuing our families are things that are clinically proven to bring happiness and peace.
Anyway, that's what I believe. What do you believe? Are there relevant scriptures that I haven't cited? Even if you don't regularly comment, I'd love to have your thoughts on this one.