Kaimi went crazy over at Times and Seasons yesterday and now I feel inspired. I have put up several posts over the last few months that deal in generally subtle ways with the concept of multiple mortal probations. When I first began to explore this concept I was mortified to learn that the only people who seemed to talk about it in public were apparently Mormon apostates who were now part of one fundamentalist group or another. But upon further study I discovered that in the 19th century the idea was taught privately and openly by such luminaries as Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow and many others. With heavyweights like them in the corner of multiple mortal probations I figure it should at least be fair game to explore.
I have put up several posts that mention the topic. Here is a list of them:
- Models of our Pre-Mortal Existence
- Problems with the My Turn on Earth model
- Worlds without number and the inhabitants thereof
- Who were the inhabitants of all those other worlds?
- Progression between kingdoms
- Sun, Moon, and Stars
- Did each world have a savior of its own?
- Playing Brigham’s Advocate
[Update: See all posts related to multiple mortal probations (including those written after this post) here]
The subject that I want to discuss here is not whether these early church leaders actually believed in multiple mortal probations or not – that fact is well established (see this post by Jeffrey Giliam for some references) – but rather if the doctrine holds up to scrutiny or not. Just because the leaders in the 19th century believed the doctrine does not mean it is true. Brigham also believed that Adam is the Father of Jesus Christ and I think he just got that one wrong. So did he and others get this doctrine right or wrong? I think they probably got it right and here are some reasons why.
Jesus was a full God before coming to earth
Julie brought this up over at T&S and it is very important. We believe that Jesus was a full-fledged God before his mortal probation here. Yet we also believe that the probationary time of mortality is required to achieve Godhood. Something has to give.
Some believe that the members of the Godhead have always been Gods. Blake Ostler postulates that when the Father had a mortal probation on a previous world he condescended to do so just like Jesus did. He believes they have never not been Gods. J. Stapley likes a variation on this theory too. J. goes further to say that we are fundamentally and ontologically different than the Father and the Son. We have not always been divine and they have. Therefore we can never truly become like them in that model but I suppose it could be pretty great anyway. (Blake, is your book out yet? J, you probably better defend yourself here!)
Of course the problem is that those theories fly in the face of the famous Lorenzo Snow couplet “As man is now, God once was; as God is now man may be.” Blake may quibble with my assertion but as I understand it even he doesn’t believe that God ever came to earth in the state that we normal mortals are in.
Multiple mortal probations is the only way I can understand the problem of evil in the world. How do we explain a God that lets hundreds of thousands of his children be swept out of their one and only mortal probation by a tsunami? If this is their single mortal probationary state how do we call that a fair test? And even without the disasters, what percentage of the human population ever had a chance to even hear the name Jesus Christ, let alone hear the fullness of the restored gospel in their single chance at getting a body? Yes, we teach about temple work and missionary work in the spirit world, but why the incredible inefficiency? Why did they need a mortal probation at all if one can be perfected in spirit form? Is coming to an earth simply a formality in order to get a body that one will then be stuck with for all eternity afterwards? This was the point on the previous post on progression between kingdoms – the concept of “only one chance” makes no sense.
Moreover, how do we explain the incredible disparity in conditions people are born into? The basic answer is that there was a merit program before this earth. How does God run his merit programs? Well look around you. You’re in it. The course of the Lord is One Eternal Round.
The idea of reincarnation was been taught in ancient Judaism and in Christianity as well (see links). Multiple probations is different than the refuted doctrine of reincarnation in that we believe we only get one probation per planet. The question then is who inhabited all those previous inhabited planets? As we’ve discussed before, I think the only workable answer is that it was us.
Is there a better explanation?
I have heard attempts to explain the eternities but none make any sense to me. Does someone have a better model to explain eternities than the one Heber C. Kimball taught?
As far as I can tell the mmp explanation just make the most sense of our world and the Universe. It helps explain why in this life God is apparently content when he helps “make bad men good and good men better” (a favorite saying of several modern prophets including President McKay and President Hinckley). An eternity of getting better would lead to being just like him right? Maybe that’s why it is so important that we are always repenting. If we don’t improve in this life we might actually be on the eternal regression plan.