What will you be doing ten million years from now?
To me, this is one of the most troublesome questions for any religion, Christianity included. If we assume that there is a purpose to mortal life and that purpose is to prepare us for something better after this life (a fundamental principle of Christianity), then what is that “something?”
For the most part, Christianity’s answer to that question brings to mind a celestial retirement community, with the faithful gathered together, living in peace, resting from their labors, and praising God. To me, this view of eternity is far from satisfying. I have a hard time understanding why God would put us through eighty or so years of mortality–complete with its illness, pain, heartache, and hard work–in order to prepare us to do…well…nothing.
Now, I realize that I’m already on heretical ground here. Dissing Heaven is just bad manners, and it really isn’t what I mean to do. My point is merely this: Christianity is pretty vague about the nature of life after death. If we are going to endure all that mortality throws at us, it would be helpful to know what the end-game is.
And that’s where Mormonism gets into trouble with other Christian denominations: Although we don’t pretend to have all of the answers about life after death, we do believe that we have some. Those answers are the result of a principle that we call eternal progression, which is the idea that our mortal lives are but a stage in our development and growth. We believe that such growth began before our mortal births and will continue after our physical deaths.
Before I wade into these waters, I have to make a significant disclaimer. This isn’t a topic that lends itself to a short blog post, so I will break this into at least a couple of different posts. Even at that it is inevitable that I will oversimplify something or skip something important. As with all of my posts, if I raise more questions that I answer, feel free to leave me a comment, and I promise to reply in greater detail.
That said, you can’t begin to understand why Mormons believe what they do about the ultimate destiny of mankind unless you understand our perspective about the purpose of life, or as we call it, the plan of salvation.
We believe that our lives on earth are part of our Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness and progression, and that He has revealed enough information about His plan for us to have a fundamental understanding of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going after this life. That information is contained in the Bible as well as in the Book of Mormon and in revelations to modern prophets.
Mormons believe that all of us (“us” as in humanity) existed before we came to this world as spirit children of our Father in Heaven. As with any father, God wanted for us to grow and develop to be more like Him. But living continually in His presence in a state of innocence would not permit us to grow. Just as here in mortality children must leave their parents homes and engage the challenges of life themselves in order to become fully functioning adults, we needed to leave our heavenly home if there was any hope of us growing from innocence to righteousness.
We believe that it was essential to our Heavenly Father’s plan that we come to mortality, obtain physical bodies, and face temptations and trials. As we exercise faith and learn to choose good over evil, we gradually become more spiritually mature. Just as opposition on a weight machine increases our physical strength, we gain spiritual strength through resisting the temptations that we face every day in our mortal lives.
However, our Father also knew that there were two consequences of mortality that would keep us from becoming like Him. First, we all will die. (Mormons believe that God the Father, like Jesus Christ, has a physical body. See “Are Mormons Christian? Part II: The Holy Trinity” in this blog). Second, we all will make bad decisions that would make us unworthy to return to the presence of our Father in Heaven, who is perfect.
In order to overcome these two obstacles (sin and death), the plan required a Savior who could give us victory over both. (I deal with this in more detail in “Do Mormons Believe in Grace?”). That Savior, appointed to His mission before the world was created, was Jesus Christ (“Christ” meaning “anointed one” in Greek. The title is the equivalent of the Hebrew designation of “Messiah.”). Jesus would come to earth as the Only Begotten Son of God, would live a life without sin, and would provide a way for us to overcome both sin (through the resurrection) and death (through His atoning sacrifice).
But to what end?
That goes back to the initial purpose of our Heavenly Father’s plan. We believe that, among the many roles of God, He is the perfect Father. Here in mortality, good fathers do not find joy in lording over their children, but rather in helping them learn, grow, and develop so that they can enjoy all of the opportunities and joys that the father has enjoyed. Ever since my wife and I added children to our family, our happiness was tied to the happiness and success of our children. There is nothing we possess that is good that we would ever deny to our children.
We believe that a perfect Father in Heaven wants the same for His children. We take literally the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the ultimate hope and destiny of mankind: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:16-18, emphasis added).
Mormons believe that the love of God is perfect, and that His promises to us are true. We believe that the purpose of this life is to prepare us for the next step in our eternal progression, with the ultimate objective of being as much like God the Father and Jesus Christ as we can possibly be.
What that actually means is the harder question. As we will discuss in my next post, Mormons believe that it means something more than an eternity of relaxation and harp music. Instead, our Father in Heaven has something for us to actually do ten million years from now, and the clue to what that is might be found in our own homes.