Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Losers from the Pre-Existence?

Posted by nhilton on January 24, 2008

During last week’s lesson (GD#3) our Sunday School President told the class that he felt Laman’s & Lemuel’s repeated bad choices can be blamed on their NOT BEING CHOICE SPIRITS, that they were less valiant in the pre-existence and were inherently lower quality than their younger brothers…that the most valiant spirits were saved for these latter days and people who were born back then simply weren’t as choice.

As the teacher, I stood listening to this long comment with a surprise considering the source, mostly wondering how he had conceived it, and how I was going to respond. I said, “That’s an interesting perspective.” I certainly didn’t want to create contention in the classroom, though I was sorely tempted. I reminded the class that Laman & Lemuel actually did do what they were commanded, like leave Jerusalem, return for the brass plates, etc. and that it was their posterity that were ultimately not obliterated. That’s where I left it. I’m sure you have other comments to add!

It is inconceivable to many of us that the oldest brothers repeatedly rejected God, even after seeing angles and witnessing miracles. (See I Ne. 2:12-13; 3:28-31; 7:16; 8:17-18.) How can we deal with this story?

  • Did Lehi & Sariah go wrong in their parenting?
  • Why were Laman & Lemuel so hard hearted?
  • What can be said about Laman & Lemuel that isn’t judgmental or naive?
  • What do we learn about repentance, forgiveness, justice and God from Laman & Lemuel?
  • Are there other lessons to be learned from these two men and their story?

26 Responses to “Losers from the Pre-Existence?”

  1. brianj said

    Ugh! I don’t know where to begin. First, I think that you handled this well: avoid contention but point out that there is reason to reconsider what has been said.

    As for the questions…. In light of Nathan’s post (“Nephi and his Brothers”), I wonder if the very question is wrong. Are we “suckered into” seeing things from Nephi’s political perspective?

    Growing up, I had this sort of hatred for the Lamanites—you know, the same feeling inside as when someone mentioned the Nazis or some slave driver in the South. Is that what the BoM teaches us: “love thine enemies but hate mine”? For that matter, doesn’t the Book of Enos sit in the most important and influential part of the book? We begin by firmly establishing that the Lamanites are rotten in every way, and then we see Enos earnestly praying for them! Wow, someone who actually loves the Lamanites! Then much of the rest of the books try to tear us away from Enos’ loving view and back to hating. (Okay, so the books don’t “try” to do anything, but you get my point.)

  2. RuthS said

    Interesting perspective. I suppose it could come from a talk given by Alvin R. Dyer some 40 or so years ago. In this talk he posited that some spirits were less valiant in the war in heaven and that was the reason some races are more blessed than others.

    That would seem to have been proven false given all that has happened since then. I have also heard the explanation that Laman and Lemuel had to go with them because they had to provide the opposition that is in all things. Otherwise Nephi and his descendants would not be tested.

    I doubt that there is any way we can actually know what it was that was that made Laman and Lemuel the way they were any more than we can know why Joseph’s brothers were willing to sell him into slavery. Perhaps that story might give us a hint. Sibling rivalry is a very powerful motivator.

    If Laman and Lemuel’s choices are the result of them being bad because either there had to be opposition or they were not among the choice spirits who chose to follow Christ (we know that can’t be so) then how responsible can they be for the choices they made?

    If that had happened in my class I expect there would have been someone else there who would have spoken up in dissagreement. I think I would have asked for some kind of reference and then moved on.

  3. claire said

    This is a major pet peeve of mine- and is all wrapped up with the idea that members of the church, whether they were BIC or are converts who were found by the missionaries, are somehow better than the rest of the chattle. Grrrrrr

  4. joespencer said

    I don’t see the problem. Isn’t it simply true that everyone who disagrees with me must have been one of the less valiant in the premortal life? (By the way, if you disagree with my opinion about this, you can guess what I’ll have to say in response!) :)

  5. aquinas said

    Certain notions of pre-mortal life can have unfortunate results. I don’t think this is the result of the doctrine of pre-mortal life, but rather on particular interpretations of it. At a logical level, if one takes the position that failure to make good choices in mortality is the result of failure to make good choices in pre-mortality, is one really offering any sort of explanation? All it does is push the question back into a distant past and then one has to ask, “why were they less valiant in pre-mortal life?” Any answer other than choice will result in a kind of spiritual determinism. At a practical level, under such an understanding, what is to stop someone struggling in life from concluding, “well, I guess I’m just not one of those choice persons.” Or, “Well, maybe I wasn’t one of those valiant ones and that’s just the way I am, and the way I have always been.” Such a notion seems to fly in the face of Christ’s infinite atonement, erode the critical role of agency, and disregard the teaching that “this life” is the time for men to prepare to meet God and that “this life” is the day for men to perform their labors.

  6. brianj said

    aquinas: I think, perhaps, that your response would be an excellent way to deal with this in class; viz., walk that class through the implications of the idea. I think this (false) doctrine lives on because there is no immediate negative consequence to it; it some ways, it even sounds about right. But you nicely illustrate some of the problems with it—problems that would make most members cringe. What do others think: would you, as a teacher, feel comfortable walking the class through aquinas’ reasoning?

  7. NathanG said

    It would depend on my class on whether or not I would discuss it. Since my current class is only the primary, chances are that we would never talk about it:)

    It is inconceivable to me that I repeatedly reject God to return to my sins. I can’t judge Laman and Lemuel too harshly, until I become perfect myself. Once I’m perfect, I think I’ll spend my time helping others attain that perfection rather than idly think of how much better I must be since I was born in the last days. This is another example of the danger of looking to others rather than looking inward at ourselves when studying the gospel. My motivation for reading 1 Nephi from Laman and Lemuel’s perspective (on “Nephi and His Brothers”) was to see what I could learn about repentance from people that I felt I was more similar to. I tried on Laman and Lemuel’s story and learned great lessons about myself.

    Unfortunately thoughts like what was expressed in the class naturally follow so much talk about us being a chosen generation saved for the last days. Once we say someone was better than others, someone has to be worse. While I don’t doubt the doctrine, the implications of that principle are unceretain to me. I usually leave it as, why am I not better?

  8. brianj said

    Nathan: what (and where) is the doctrine about “a chosen generation saved for the last days”? I really don’t know, except what I heard in seminary in high school.

  9. NathanG said

    Brian,
    Charles Dalqhuist (YM presidency) said this in 2004 (note most of this is Pres Hinckley’s Quote):

    Even in the face of all the temptations and challenges to youth of today, I believe in the strength of our youth. The young men and young women of today are stronger and more capable than ever before. Maybe that is why the adversary seems to have stepped up the onslaught. But in spite of the challenges and temptations, this is a glorious time to live! Speaking to the youth, President Hinckley said:

    “There never was a time such as this. What a season in the history of the world to be alive! Never before has there been such a generation of youth. . . .

    “You really are ‘a chosen generation.’ You are better educated. You desire to do the right thing. Many of you are trying to keep yourselves free from the corrosive stains of the world. In so many ways, you are remarkable! You are exceptional! I believe that as a group, you are the finest this world has ever seen.

    “It is important for you to understand that you are part of a chosen generation. Limitless is your potential. Magnificent is your future, if you will take control of it and if you will decide now that you will not let your life drift in a fruitless and aimless manner” (Way to Be! [2002], 3–4).

    If you search lds.org you can find a lot of things about a chosen generation. Interestingly they often quote Peter, but talk about the youth of our generation.

    What does it all mean? I’m not sure. Most of the talks tend to either praise the youth for their faithfulness in these days or motivate the youth. Is this just a motivational exercise? Is the chosen generation really those who are willing to be the covenant people of God?

  10. m&m said

    This is an interesting topic. I heard a talk once (think it may have been by Robert Millet, but don’t quote me (or him) on that) about the fact that our premortal choices affected our place in the spiritual house of Israel. I don’t remember much else, but that has stuck with me. I don’t know quite what to do with that idea, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the realm of possibility.

    Although I don’t know what that would mean re: Laman and Lemuel, I’m not sure we can completely reject this notion that some spirits were more valiant in some sense. Alma 13 seems to get at this, as does Abraham 3. I think 2 Ne. 3 also gets there, with Joseph Smith’s foreordination and all. How that translates to mortality for most of us, however, imo is pretty fuzzy, but if I had a comment like this, I might pull it back to a general concept…that we know we all made choices in the premortal, that all who come to mortality made a choice to follow the Savior at some level or they wouldn’t have been born at all, but that there usually is no way to fully know from someone’s mortal choices or situations where one stood in the premortal realm.

    To keep that in check, I’m also remembering a fairly recent statement by Elder Holland (again, I think that’s who it was) talking about the fact that since we are here, with bodies, we can know that we chose wisely and rejoice in that knowledge (seemed that he was maybe trying to debunk this premortal competition notion?) …anyone know what I’m talking about? I didn’t read it myself but heard from someone else, so I can’t remember the source or context, or if I’m even remembering it right.

    Just like so many other things, seems there is a tension that is interesting to consider and try to sort through.

  11. brianj said

    Ahhh, I see. But the quotes about “chosen generation” don’t necessarily have anything at all to do with being more valiant premortally or even being held in reserve like some kind of special forces. Hinckley hints that “chosen” means “blessed” when he says “You are better educated.” Then he makes it sound like “chosen” means “select, distinct, separate, peculiar” when he goes on to point out how the youth today keep themselves “free from the corrosive stains of the world.” I see absolutely nothing to suggest that the spirits that inhabit the bodies of this generation were any more or less valiant than those of past generations.

    To be clear: I am not denying that some spirits are more valiant that others—anyone who has read Abraham must accept this (not to mention D&C 138, etc.). I just don’t see any reason to think that, on average, the “valiant quotient” has changed over time. More importantly, I don’t see any evidence that we can judge a person’s premortal character based on their mortal one (nevermind whether we should, even if we could).

  12. CEF said

    I was also taught this idea in church and have taught it myself. I assume it is talked about somewhere in “Mormon Doctrine”, which of course is mostly quotes form older GAs.

    I have also questioned it since the past changes in doctrine, but sitting here thinking about it, I have decided, how could it not be true. It seems to be reasonable to believe that the way we lived in the preexistence has something to do with the way we are placed here. And, the way that we live here, will decided where we are place in the resurrection.

    The way it would seem to be fair, is that everyone will be judged by their individual circumstances. In other words, what did you do with what you were given? That would seem to make exaltation available to everyone.

    And, “chosen-ness” and covenant people seem to be talked about in the scriptures. Are not the Jews a covenant people? It would seem to be somewhat arbitrary if the Lord sent just anyone to live in that chosen people.

    I would be interested in seeing some other way to explain the way things are.

  13. tb said

    The term “chosen generation” I feel is President Hinckley’s catchy cliche he uses to inspire and excite the youth into a feeling of belonging. How else is he going to stave-off the declining activation-rate (~26%) among our YSA (18-30 yo.) By the way, the same was served up at the regional level in my youth a generation ago, and likewise, my father’s generation.

    To those who teach the “chosen generation” now and/or in the future, overly emphasizing the pioneer (the handcart companies) experience as if they were the greatest generation to ever walk the earth does their self-worth/esteem and Pres. Hinckley’s desires no good.

    My father is a good hearted man. He struggles with the human trait of “one-upmanship.”
    Seeing some of my opportunity/successes in life, which for various reasons he was unable to obtain, will sometimes resort to the “I-had-to-walk-miles-to-school-up-hill-both-ways-barefoot-in-knee-deep-blowing-snow…” It generally doesn’t bother me. But it does bother a sibling quite a bit, which has resulted in irrational decisions on his behalf.

    Why is it that parents blame the forces of society for their children’s mishaps/poor decisions/poor attitudes/lack of achievement/idleness, and yet pride themselves upon their successes?

    Are not Lehi and Sariah as human as you or I?

    Sariah “complained against my father” (1 Ne 5:2) and Lehi did “begin the murmur against the Lord his God” (1 Ne 16:20). I only wonder what else may have been said in the lost manuscripts.

    Speculating on the “interesting perspective” of Laman & Lemuel “not being choice spirits” is a road that has been mistakenly traveled before. Then again, maybe Laman and Lemuel were actually adopted twins from the “dark continent.” Some of our modern-day “noble and great ones” are going to have to answer some serious questions on Judgment Day and offer an apology to a very large multitude of the “less obedient ones.”

    I disagree with the notion of spiritual determinism.

    I crudely liken the spirit world unto high school. there are those studious-types (the noble and great ones) who sit in front of the class participating/learning/readying-to-shape-the-future end up contributing little-to-none to society after graduation and the non-participating trouble-making punk kids (the less obedient)in the back off the class, although still choosing to attend (accepting of the Lords plan), end up contributing significantly.

    …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Phil 2:12

  14. m&m said

    This concept of being a chosen generation isn’t just a rhetorical tool used by Pres. Hinckley. We have heard about spirits being saved for this time elsewhere as well. I think it can both apply to youth who are youth now, but also to this last generation after the Restoration. Some examples follow:

    e.g., President Benson:

    “God has saved for the final inning some of His stronger and most valiant children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly.”

    You have been born at this time for a sacred and glorious purpose. It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fulness of times. Your birth at this particular time was foreordained in the eternities.

    “You are to be the royal army of the Lord in the last days. … ”

    Pres. Monson:
    “You…have been reserved for this special period in history.”

    Vaughn J. Featherstone: “It is not difficult to understand why the great God in heaven has reserved these special spirits for the final work of the kingdom prior to his millennial reign.”

    John Taylor: “We are living, as I have said, in an important day and age of the world. … [God] has reserved us for the latter days, that we may perform that work which He decreed from before the foundation of the world.”

    H. Bryan Richards:
    “They are choice spirits that have been held in reserve to come forth in this day.”

    BrianJ, as to your comments, I think we do see the nobility in our youth and children. When they choose faith, they are spiritually sensitive and amazingly bright and capable. I think some of that comes of opportunity and focus that is present in the present day, but I don’t doubt that as things intensify as we near the Savior’s coming, that there were spirits reserved to face the challenges of these days and to bring the work forward.

    More thoughts…. Nephi tells us that people are chosen because of their faith. I think we can’t really argue with that at any stage in the plan. We were surely foreordained and chosen for certain things premortally based on our faith. I can’t believe that those who have the gospel in this life (and the many, many responsibilities and expectations tied to that blessing) somehow just fell into that by chance. One measure I’m thinking of is the caliber of students coming into BYU, and how difficult it is to get in. My friend talked of how he was able to walk into admissions, pay five bucks and get accepted. I do think there is a difference and increase in light and ability in the youth today. That doesn’t mean any of us are any less serviceable, because all have all of God’s blessings ultimately available.

    This isn’t a competition. God will give all the opportunity to be exalted, and all will be able to choose whether to accept that blessing. All of us as children of God have a birthright we can claim if we choose to do that. Also, all have been given the light of Christ and can choose whether to respond to it. And, of course, all will be judged according to all that God knows about their circumstances.

    But the very fact that God says that unto whom much is given much is required suggests to me that there is a sort of temporary differential about who was given what and why. I can only suppose that some of that has to do with premortal faith. (Alma tells us that we would have all been on the same standing were it not for differing degrees of faith. Could we really declare that none of that spilled over into the opportunity and blessings and corresponding responsibilities that come in mortality?

  15. m&m said

    I’m also thinking of the Lord talking to Nephi about how the Lamanites would be there to stir the Nephites up to repentance. It might be that there is a mixture of the chosen (because of faith) and the rebellious in the church, in families, etc. ??

  16. m&m said

    BTW, I’m thinking in generalities, here, not suggesting specific judgments ought to be placed in specific situations.

    I also think we can remember how merciful God is in giving people many, many opportunities to come to Him.

  17. dlb said

    It occurs to me that there must be opposition in all things. If we presume that Nephi was foreordained to be the prophet of this new land then it follows Laman and Lemuel were as well in that there had to be opposition for the people of Nephi in this new land as well.

    There are many people on earth today that have had, while perhaps not visitation from a angel, miraculous events in their lives, and fallen away. Time has a way of causing them to forget them, particularly when difficult times come again, and again. Their faith was not as strong.

    But they had a place in God’s plan for the promised land. And it was served well.

  18. m&m said

    But they had a place in God’s plan for the promised land. And it was served well.

    I think this is so interesting to think about. The devil himself is one who, even knowing not the mind of God, actually had and has a key role in bringing about His plan. It is almost amusing to me. It doesn’t matter what we do, God’s work will move forward. He can use our weaknesses and the weaknesses of others for good.

    I also just consider His mercy for all those who have lived on the earth. Each (minus sons of perdition, which I just don’t consider in this thought) will receive a glory. Each will have a resurrected body.

  19. aquinas said

    I appreciate the great comments. These different view points help me work through my thoughts as I contemplate this issue. I also appreciate brianj’s comments for viewing my comment as a possible example of how to approach the issue. I do think it is very important not to simply see ideas as ‘possible.’ but rather to see the implications of an idea and carry it out to its logical conclusion. In other words, we need to think beyond the question of ‘could this be true?’ and ask ‘what happens if one takes this view? How might it influence one’s daily behavior?’

    Take the quote NathanG offered above from President Hinckley: “It is important for you to understand that you are part of a chosen generation. Limitless is your potential. Magnificent is your future, if you will take control of it and if you will decide now that you will not let your life drift in a fruitless and aimless manner.”

    Notice the role that agency plays in this statement. Pres. Hinckley explains that the future depends on the choices one makes in this life (e.g. ‘if you will decide now’), not on the choices one made in the distant past of which she has no recollection. For example, consider the pre-mortal life of King David. Consider a hypothetical patriarchal blessing of King David. Consider the magnificent blessings and promises made to him. Yet, we know that in the end he has fallen from his exaltation (D&C 132:39). His ‘performance’ in pre-mortality was not the determining factor in his exaltation. Rather, it was the choices that he made in mortality. No one is immune because of their performance in the pre-mortal life. No one can rest on their laurels. And even supposing that it is somehow true that the year, place, race, and socio-economic conditions, birth order, family, etc., we are born into were somehow determined by unknown choices about issues of which we have no knowledge, does it change the fact that I must choose ‘this day’ whom I shall serve? Furthermore, and more to my concern, what do we tell someone who was born in objectively not-so-good circumstances? What do we tell them? Such a doctrine, if we are to be consistent, must tell them that apparently while they kept their first estate and they get some credit for that, that their choices simply were not good enough as those who were born into a member family in a certain country at a certain time. This doesn’t taste good to me. One might then say, “Okay, well then, maybe God also has a plan for us, and our choices in premortality do play some role, but we don’t know all the reasons for why things happen.” Fair enough, but then why the appeal to pre-mortality as an explanation of mortal circumstances, if one is going to concede it does not explain all the reasons why things are the way they are, and that we can’t even know which of life’s circumstances are a result of God choosing and which are a result of our unknown pre-mortal choices? It seems there are very few benefits and great unfortunate costs to this notion. In addition, what role would such a notion play in my daily walk that cannot be served from well-established doctrine I do not have to extrapolate or reason by analogy?

    Consider what we know:

    We know there was a pre-mortality. We know everyone born into mortality kept their first estate and indeed did make a choice. As a result of that choice, individuals are taking part in the second estate; a test to see if they will be obedient. We know others made a different choice did not keep their first estate. This is supported by scripture (Abr 3:26-28). From that point, however, we reason that there must have been other choices. What these choices are exactly, or the nature of these choices, we do not know, nor have I seen anyone articulate them to any degree of satisfaction or specificity. In this life, we have learned from experience that choices we make in the past can often limit or broaden opportunities in the future. Here too, we reason by analogy from out experience in this life, that this same dynamic must have applied in pre-mortal life. Yes, it seems quite possible. However, I think it is important to distinguish between what we reason from doctrine, and the doctrine itself. Simply because it is ‘possible’ given a doctrinal framework, this doesn’t necessarily make something true or edifying. We must look at the implications.

    The Book of Abraham does indeed say that there were noble and great ones and that God chose them (the Book of Abraham does not use the term valiant to describe them). However, the Book of Abraham offers no detailed explanation about why some souls, spirits or intelligences were noble and great in the first instance. It simply states that they were. In fact, the Book of Abraham does not have a verse which reads: “And God saw these souls that they were bad, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will not make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were bad.” Some may reason by analogy that if God saw souls that were good, he must have seen souls that were bad. However, the text doesn’t say this. One must supply this text to the book if one is to take this view. And again I say, even if this were true, what implications would this have on agency and the infinite Atonement of Christ? Does this mean that a bad spirit can’t be exalted or make the right choices? Does this mean that some intelligences are ‘broken’ or can’t function properly to make the right choices in mortality? What does that do to our trust in God? What does that do to someone’s view of agency? What does it do to faith, hope and charity? It doesn’t taste good to me. What is advanced at constructing a doctrine based on analogy which seems to run up against well-established doctrine that God is no respecter of persons, that men are on the “same standing” and “privileged the one like unto the other [to partake of the goodness of God], and none are forbidden”? (Romans 2:11; Alma 13:5; 2 Ne. 26:28).

    Now, one might say: “Look, this idea is important so that people, and the youth in particular, understand their potential and divine origin. After all, people live up to their expectations.” I would not disagree with this at all. I would simply point out that one can achieve this by clear and well-established doctrine. All are created in the image of God. God is the Father of our spirits. We are sons and daughters of God. God loves us and sent his only begotten Son to redeem mankind. He has chosen to covenant with us and invites all to come to him. To me these are powerful truths of our divine heritage.

    I suppose it might simply come down to personal preference. I would appreciate any further insights and ideas people have.

  20. m&m said

    aquinas,

    FWIW, my comments have not been trying to tie exaltation to premortal decisions, but just suggesting that there might be a connection. But I agree with you wholeheartedly that it all boils down to agency, which means no one can rest on his/her laurels. On the flip side, no one has to choose to stay stuck or be a victim of less-than-ideal circumstances.

    I think if you combine Abr. 3 and Alma 13, however, you can’t get past the point that it’s faith and choice that affects what happened and what happens. We are on the same standing in terms of what is possible, but our choices and faith will change that ‘same standing’ state.

    “And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
    “Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;….”

    God doesn’t change our standing, we do. Our choices do.

    It would not be surprising that a spirit that chose light in the premortal will hear the Shepherd’s voice in this life at some point or another. But that doesn’t mean that we can make a final judgment about one’s spirit by the present state of things. There is always room for repentance, unless one has reached the fulness of iniquity, right?

    I think the message no matter what is that it is faith and choice in this life that will affect what happens. We can all be on the ‘same standing’ if we have faith and follow Christ. Minus the sons of perdition, there are no dead ends. Essentially, then, one can always repent, always change, always become good through the Atonement.

    In my mind, no discussion of any possible connection between premortal decisions or valiantness and mortal situations don’t change the power of agency in the lives of those who have the opportunity to choose. There aren’t any hopeless bad spirits unless they choose themselves to that state, and except those who already chose themselves to that state (and will never get bodies).

    That said, I like this: “I would simply point out that one can achieve this by clear and well-established doctrine. All are created in the image of God. God is the Father of our spirits. We are sons and daughters of God. God loves us and sent his only begotten Son to redeem mankind. He has chosen to covenant with us and invites all to come to him. To me these are powerful truths of our divine heritage.”

    Still, though, don’t you think it’s possible also to realize that there are some unto whom much is given and thus much is expected? There is still an implied differential of sorts there, no?

    To be honest, I really don’t have a vested interest in this premortal valiantness thing being right and true. I’m just sorting through it all trying to see what might be possible given all that we are taught. Again, I don’t think this possibility inhibits what you have said at all in principle. In practice, it might and I understand that concern. (With the possibility of someone thinking they can just ride on their spiritual pedigree. But our doctrine won’t let that idea get very far, so….)

    Thoughts?

  21. aquinas said

    m&m, I appreciate your thoughts and perspectives and I can see you are also trying to navigate through these challenging ideas. I can sense this in some of your comments: “there usually is no way to fully know from someone’s mortal choices or situations where one stood in the premortal realm.” “I’m thinking in generalities, here, not suggesting specific judgments ought to be placed in specific situations.”

    Here are some of my thoughts. You write: “I can’t believe that those who have the gospel in this life (and the many, many responsibilities and expectations tied to that blessing) somehow just fell into that by chance.”

    I suppose I simply don’t think the only options are that people fall into the Gospel by chance or that their actions in the pre-mortal life determined that they would have the Gospel in this life. I can believe God has a plan and perhaps that nothing happens by chance, but that whether someone has the Gospel in this life isn’t necessarily determined by pre-mortal choice. Here too I must ask: What about all those who have lived in every era that didn’t have the Gospel? I am not prepared to say that all of those people somehow didn’t exercise sufficient faith in the pre-mortal life to allow them to be born in a time where they had the Gospel, which I would be forced to admit if I believed that access to the Gospel in this life was determined solely by pre-mortal choice. I can imagine many scenarios where noble and great ones may not have the Gospel in this life for purposes known to God.

    You write: “I can only suppose that some of that has to do with premortal faith. Alma tells us that we would have all been on the same standing were it not for differing degrees of faith. Could we really declare that none of that spilled over into the opportunity and blessings and corresponding responsibilities that come in mortality?”

    You may be right that there is such a thing as pre-mortal faith, but at least with regards to Alma, I read him as teaching about faith in mortality, not faith exercised in premortality. Alma is drawing a parallel between the holy calling and the Son of God (Alma 13:2). The holy calling was prepared from the foundation of the world; the Son of God was prepared from the foundation of the world (Alma 13:5). The high priesthood is without beginning or end; the Son of God is without beginning or end (Alma 13:8-9). I agree that Alma is teaching that the priests were called to the holy calling on account of their faith and repentance (Alma 13:3, 10). I don’t see Alma teaching that this faith and repentance happened in the pre-mortal life. The text reads: “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works” (Alma 13:3). It is the foreknowledge because their good works and exceeding faith and repentance and works of righteousness had not happened yet. “[T]here were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish” (Alma 13:10). I read all of verse ten to be referring to mortality: the ordination, the faith, the repentance, righteousness before God rather than perish, etc. This reading that makes the most sense to me. I know of no doctrine that teaches man repented in the pre-mortal life, so I don’t think one must read the faith and repentance to take place in premortality. I completely agree that faith and choice impacts what happens to us, and I agree that men are called from the foundation of the world, but I don’t see Alma in this chapter teaching that our faith and good works in the pre-mortal life determine being called to the high priesthood. Rather he teaches they were called according to the foreknowledge of God, “for such as would [future tense] not harden their hearts… while others would [future tense] reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren” (Alma 13:5, 4). If I read this verse as happening in the pre-mortal life then I would have to read understand these spirits to be rejecting the Spirit of God in the pre-mortal life on account of the hardness and blindness of their minds. I don’t think that is what Alma is teaching. I think Alma is talking about men (i.e. brethren) in this life. The different degrees of faith happen in this life. But even if there is pre-mortal faith, I don’t see evidence of this being a direct cause of whether we have access to the Gospel in this life.

    “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). I don’t see this connected to pre-mortal life in any significant way. I just think this is a jump to interpret the verse to read “where much is given in mortality, much faith was exercised in premortality.” Much may be given to us, but I don’t see any evidence that it is only given to us based upon pre-mortal choice. God may have his own reasons for giving us responsibilities and callings.

    I really appreciate your comments because it has allowed me to think more about these issues. Mostly I disagree with the pre-mortal life as a kind of end all and be all explanation of why things are the way they are in this life, and I fully understand you are not making that claim. I also appreciate your efforts to try to “see what might be possible given all we are taught.” That is what I hope to do as well, and I want to be faithful to the text and take a holistic approach to reasoning the scriptures and match any possible reading with well-established doctrines in terms of coherence, function and implication.

  22. LeIsle Jacobson said

    I really don’t have a problem with the idea that some spirits in the pre-existence were more valiant than others. Or that some were more talented, or that some were better at some jobs than others. God certainly does not have a problem with acknowledging that there are differences between intelligences, why should we? (Abraham 3: 18-22)

    I do have a problem, however, with people pointing to the circumstances of a certain individual (or race of people) and attempting to judge, based on what they can currently see with their limited mortal perceptions, how valiant or good that person may have been in the pre-existence.

    First of all, it is impossible for us to accurately make that kind of judgment – lacking any memory of the person’s behavior in premortal life, and lacking a complete knowledge of the person’s earthly past, present and potential future, we just simply don’t have the data that we would need.

    Second of all, it’s not our job to make those kind of judgments. Our “working model” as members of the church (tasked with the three-fold mission of proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead) is to assume that everyone is equal in the sight of the Lord, and proceed forward with that assumption.

    Third, what possible difference does it make how valiant someone was in the pre-existence? I think it very likely that in the final judgment, there will be more than one “less valiant” spirit who will most definitely, “exceed expectations.” There will, I’m sure, also be many talented spirits who fail to achieve their potential (Sampson and Lucifer pop quickly to mind).

    That doesn’t mean that everyone really is equal, however. If everyone were truly equal in every sense of the word, we wouldn’t need three-degrees of glory or “many mansions” in Father’s house. Equality is a good, practical and essential working model. But it doesn’t really exist.

    “And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.”

  23. m&m said

    In my mind, no discussion of any possible connection between premortal decisions or valiantness and mortal situations don’t change the power of agency in the lives of those who have the opportunity to choose.

    Ugh. Take out the don’t and make change say changes in your mind. I know I’m tired, but that is scary to read….

  24. m&m said

    I can believe God has a plan and perhaps that nothing happens by chance, but that whether someone has the Gospel in this life isn’t necessarily determined by pre-mortal choice.

    I can buy that possibility, too.

    And I agree with and understand this, too:
    “What about all those who have lived in every era that didn’t have the Gospel?”

    Again, I’m not meaning the possibility to be absolute or absolutely applicable in every circumstance. I just think we ought not reject the possibility simply because we realize it’s not just a linear cause/effect kind of thing.

  25. LeIsle Jacobson said

    This is somewhat off the topic of the current discussion, but nhilton actually brought up another interesting theme in the Laman and Lemuel story.

    “It is inconceivable to many of us that the oldest brothers repeatedly rejected God, even after seeing angles and witnessing miracles. (See I Ne. 2:12-13; 3:28-31; 7:16; 8:17-18.) How can we deal with this story?”

    I used to think Laman and Lemuel’s behavior was inexplicable as well, but I don’t find it particularly unusual anymore.

    For example: I have a friend, a self-proclaimed atheist, who was very ill a few years ago. During that time period, he had a fairly profound and I suspect genuine spiritual experience. I talked to him quite soon after the experience and for that brief moment in time, he believed. By the next morning however, he was embarrassed and asked that I not discuss the incident with him any further. I’ve honored that request. Now, several years later, he mentioned the incident in passing, and informed me that the whole experience was a by-product of acid indigestion.

    Now, my friend is a good person. I would never compare him to Laman or Lemeul in any other respect but this — Believers see miracles, non-believers see a coincidence, luck or too much pizza before bed.

    It basically boils down to the fact that Nephi had spiritual discernment but Laman and Lemuel “knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” (1 Nephi 2:12)

    Nephi saw God guiding them through the wilderness, Laman and Lemuel saw a vision-crazed man that they were duty-bound to obey, forcing them away from their homes, security, and social positions – and a younger brother who was playing up to their mentally unstable father in a treacherous attempt to usurp Laman’s rightful leadership of the family.

    How hard is it to deny an angel? A better question might be, did Laman and Lemuel ever actually believe that they had seen an angel? They don’t act stunned, surprised, or even particularly impressed by the visitation. Indeed, Nephi has to remind them just a few minutes after the event that an angel just spoke to them. (1 Nephi 3: 29-31, 1 Nephi 4: 1-4)

    Later on we read that Nephi shocks Laman and Lemuel when they refuse to help him build a boat. Now, one would think that a brief physical shock would be easier to explain away than the appearance of an angel, yet the reaction of Laman and Lemuel to being shocked was much more pronounced and immediate. (1 Nephi 17: 54) They respond to being “shaken” with instant (albeit temporary) repentance and obedience.

    All this suggests, at least to me, that the appearance of the angel was probably very much similar to that of an ordinary man –easily ignored and dismissed as years and the continual hardening of their hearts made the memory grow dim.

    But even if the angel appeared amidst the sound of trumpets and the glare of blinding white lights — I’m sure they’d have talked themselves into believing it was simply a case of heat, lack of sleep and too much excitement on an empty stomach.

  26. Julie said

    I still hold out hope for Laman and Lemuel. I don’t recall reading any visions that include seeing them in their final state.

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