Thursday, September 4, 2008

Our Premortal Existence

Recently I have been teaching my seminary students about the Plan of Salvation. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the quorum of the twelve apostles has referred to this plan as a sort of "three act play". The first "act" of this plan is our premortal life. The Bible does have some scriptures that speak of our life before this earth life, but we also have additional scripture given in the latter days that gives us more information about our pre-earth life.

In Jeremiah we read:
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Jeremiah 1:5
We lived with our Heavenly Father before this earth life. We are actual spirit children of Him. There are several Bible scriptures that talk about our divine heritage.
Hebrews 12:9
9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
Acts 17:29
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
While in the premortal world, God the Father proposed the plan of salvation. Satan, who was one of our spirit brothers, proposed a plan of his own. In his plan, we would not have free agency to choose for ourselves, but would be forced to obey. He wanted to take the glory for that success for himself. Jesus Christ agreed with the Father's plan, and offered to give His life as a sacrifice for our sins so that when we make mistakes we can repent. His desire was that the glory for the success would then be given to the Father.
In Latter day scripture we read:
Moses 4:1-4
1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice
At this time, a war was fought between those who chose the Father's plan, and those who chose Satan's plan. The bible does tell us a bit about this war.
Revelations 12:7-13
7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
Isaiah 14: 12-20
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
20 Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
Under the direction of the Father, Jesus Christ created this world.
John 1:1-4, 14
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Job teaches us:
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7
I can only imagine the joy that the we as sons and daughters of God experienced when this earth was created for us.
So now we have come to this earth to be tested and tried to see whether or not we will choose to follow the Father. Will we, when we have no memory of Him and our life before, still choose to do what is right? I will discuss this, and our mortal existence in a future post.


Looney said...

Delirious, thanks for that effort.

Acts 17:30 stands out as one that is a little different from what I have seen and uses the word "premortal". I went to my Greek New Testament to see what word it lined up with and it got:


Which comes from agnoia - ignorance - and is related to the word agnostic. Any thoughts?

In general, I feel that theology is a bit contrived, as we are trying to put spiritual concepts into terms which can be comprehended humanly. It seems to me that God is outside of time, how he sees us relative to time is not how we see ourselves. Certainly God conceived of us when time had not been created (this sentence is nonsense!), and perhaps that conception was enough for us to have some form of a premortal existence. On the other hand, I find it difficult to grasp an existence where we are neither conscious nor active in any way.

Thus, I am left with another question: What does it mean to have a premortal existence?

Delirious said...

Looney, I must admit that I'm a little confused by your comment about Acts. 17:30. In the King James Version of the bible, Acts 17:30 reads: 30 "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" Does your version of verse 30 include the word "premortal"? My version does have the word ignorance, referring to those who worshipped the "unknown God" spoken of in verse 23. The agnostics did not believe that God was "knowable". Paul was teaching them that we are the offspring of God, and thereby can know Him.

It's hard sometimes when you have cyber conversations to really communicate clearly, so I hope I am understanding your last question right. Let me see if I can explain according to our beliefs what our premortal existence was like. Some of this we get in latter-day revelation. Before we were born to this Earth, we existed as spirits. We lived with our Heavenly Father, who is the literal father of our spirits. During that time we were taught, and learned everything that was possible to learn as spirits without a body. We were taught that during our earth life we would have free agency to choose. We also learned that Jesus Christ would offer himself as a sacrifice to make an atonement for our sins. This was the sacrifice that Jesus offered in that grand council in heaven. With this physical body, however, would also come mortality. Because we are mortal, we all will one day die. Jesus Christ offered to also bring about the resurrection so that one day we can be resurrected and have a glorified resurrected body like Him. We believe the Father also has a glorified, resurrected body.
Without the resurrection, our eternal progression would have been damned, and we would have remained spirits.

In order for us to progress and learn more, and become more like Heavenly Father, we needed to come to this earth to receive a physical body. There are many more things that we can learn here on earth such as the joy of having children, physical pain and pleasure etc.

A veil of forgetfulness was placed upon our minds so that we can't remember our pre-earth life. This was important so that we could develop true faith in this life. Without being able to remember, and not being able to see God now, we must exercise our faith.

Hmm...I'm not sure if I answered your question. Did that help, or did that just confuse you more? ;)

Looney said...

Sorry, I think I confused myself. The 'premortal' was in your comments after Acts 17:29. Guess I need to slow down!

Looney said...

Hello Delirious,

Just pondering this some more as I rode my bike today: In John 8:58, we have - "'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am'!"

Now I have always understood that Jesus did exist before being born and was fully aware of this. (Although some would say he became aware of his premortality as he grew up.) I also understand the above verse to mean that Abraham didn't have any substantial existence prior to conception.

I was wondering if Jesus and the rest of mankind all have a premortal existence, then is there a difference between the premortality of Jesus and that of the rest of us?

Mainly I ask this because I always understand that the human spirit is fundamentally different from God - and it isn't simply a matter of rank or position.

Delirious said...

This passage you mentioned is a very interesting one indeed. There are some interesting things about Jesus' use of the term "I am". In this passage, the Jesus was teaching the Jews about the resurrection that He would bring to pass. He said, "51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. " They then replied, "... Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
53 Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?" Jesus answered them, " 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." As I come to this point in the story, a thought occurs to me. In our religion, we believe that Jesus was the God of the Old Testament. Is that what you believe? So, when God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, that was Jesus (when He was still a spirit, before he was born to this earth). Indeed, Abraham did look forward to the coming of the Savior to the earth. He did rejoice to see His day.
57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" Jesus answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." You mentioned that you felt this explained that Abraham didn't exist before he was born. However, there is another interesting explanation of this verse. Quoting from James E. Talmage in his book Jesus the Christ,
"The name Jehovah means the "Self-Existent One" or "The Eternal." It is written in our Old Testament as Lord in capital letters. According to ancient Jewish practice, the name Jehovah or I Am (the Self-Existent One) was not to be spoken for fear of incurring divine wrath.
"Jesus, when once assailed with question and criticism from certain Jews who regarded their Abrahamic lineage as an assurance of divine preferment, met their abusive words with the declaration: 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.' The true significance of this saying would be more plainly expressed were the sentence punctuated and pointed as follows: 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham, was I Am'; which means the same as had He said—Before Abraham, was I, Jehovah. The captious Jews were so offended at hearing Him use a name which, through an erroneous rendering of an earlier scripture, they held was not to be uttered on pain of death, that they immediately took up stones with the intent of killing Him." (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 37.)
With regards to Abraham, we have addiitional scripture that talks about Abraham.
22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born. (Abraham 3:22,23)
This scripture is very similar to the one I shared in Jeremiah 1:4,5
4 Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
You asked if there was a difference between the premortal existence of Jesus, and our premortal existence. The answer would be "absolutely". "Jesus was the firstborn of the Father from the beginning. In a statement issued in 1916, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve said: "Among the spirit children of Elohim the firstborn was and is . . . Jesus Christ to whom all others are juniors." (Clark, Messages of the First Presidency [Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose], 5:33.) He was the birthright son, and he retained that birthright by his strict obedience. Through the aeons and ages of premortality, he advanced and progressed until, as Abraham described, he stood as one "like unto God." (Abr. 3:24.) "Our Savior was a God before he was born into this world," wrote President Joseph Fielding Smith, "and he brought with him that same status when he came here. He was as much a God when he was born into the world as he was before." (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:32.) In that premortal estate, Jesus was, under the Father, the Creator and Redeemer of the Father's worlds." (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, p.15)
Great discussion! :)