We Mormons are very proud of the fact that knowledge of a pre-mortal existence has been restored to us. The fourth missionary discussion where this doctrine
is used to be taught was often the favorite discussion because the idea of a pre-mortal life resonates with so many people. But what do we really know about the details of our lives before we arrived here? Next to nothing. We have some vague scriptural references to councils and wars, but the details are anything but clear. As a result the models the saints have come up with can vary dramatically. I’ll mention a few I’ve heard here, and you can add more in the comments. Here goes:
A. The Basics (aka the “My Turn on Earth” model) – This one goes something like this: We (all humankind) were all living in heaven (whatever that means) with our literal spirit parents. (Some take that to mean that we were all born as spiritual babies to spirit mothers, but most never think about it). We were all like little children and we wanted to grow up to be like our Heavenly Parents. So we all got together in a grand family council and our Father proposed a plan to build an earth and send us all down so we could be tested. The idea was to veil our minds so we could show our true colors without remembering our Celestial home. The goal was to get back to that home, but more mature and like our Father. In order to overcome the problems inherent in mortality, though, we needed help. We needed a savior. Two volunteers stepped forward – our parents’ first-born spirit son (Jesus) and another brother of some rank (Lucifer). Lucifer proposed a plan that would compel all to obey and return to heaven and Jesus suggested following the Father’s plan which gave us free agency. A vote was taken and two thirds sided with Jesus and the Father while one third sided with Lucifer. As a result that one third was cast out of heaven and Lucifer became the Devil, Satan, with the one third his angels. So the earth was created and we are all taking our turn on earth to see how we’ll do.
(I won’t go into all the holes I see with this model now — I’ll let you take a whack at it first…)
The rest of the models I will mention assume all of the scriptural basics included above (war in heaven, Satan being cast down, etc.) though they might cast them in a different light.
B. The atemporal variation – One model I have heard is that we were not living in heaven “forever” — as in a long time — but rather in a state that is out of time or atemporal. The person who described this to me also believed that there is no such thing as spirit birth because Joseph made statements that can be interpreted as meaning our current spirits are as old as God’s – therefore heavenly parents could not have created us. (And let’s not get humg up that point — I’ll post on it soon.) Although we lived without time (whatever that means) there was apparently some sort of merit program (to account for Abraham’s statements about noble and great ones). At some point we decided to “go temporal” and try this world.
C. The trial-run model – I just heard a new one where we had lived forever with God in a heavenly state, but rather than going directly from there to this world we actually lived a life in a pre-mortal spirit world that was just like this physical one. I think this is riffing on the scripture in Moses that says all things here were created spiritually first. Apparently (and the details are a little fuzzy on this) we earned merit in that life and reap some of that here. So this model has us in heaven, then on a spirit-earth, then here in this physical earth.
D. The many-earths model – This one is best described in an opinion put forth by Heber C. Kimball:
We have come here to become inured to work-to build temples, and improve upon the elements that God has placed around us, that we may become more skillful tomorrow, through the experience of to-day. What I do not to-day, when the sun goes down, I lay down to sleep, which is typical of death; and in the morning I rise and commence my work where I left it yesterday. That course is typical of the probations we take. But suppose that I do not improve my time to-day, I wake up to-morrow and find myself in the rear; and then, if I do not improve upon that day, and again lay down to sleep, on awaking, I find myself still in the rear. This day’s work is typical of this probation, and the sleep of every night is typical of death, and rising in the morning is typical of the resurrection. They are days labours, and it is for us to be faithful to-day, tomorrow, and every day. (Journal of Discourses 4:329)
The basic idea if I understand this model correctly is that the worlds without end described in Moses that have already passed were inhabited by us and we either progressed or regressed in those.
Now these models I have presented are anything but exhaustive. I’m sure many people mix and match the parts to come up with endless variations. All of these models (and the parts) have strengths and weaknesses and the church takes no official stand on any of these details. Obviously we are dealing with speculation here, but I think this is an important topic to explore because it gets to the very heart of both our eternal nature and the nature of God. Concerning the nature of God Joseph said:
My first object is to find out the character of the only wise and true God, and what kind of a being he is; (TPJS, 344)
I am interested to hear what you think of the basics I’ve presented here. What models or details have I missed? What is wrong with the models or parts presented here? What is right with them? What do you think?