Salvation of Children — is it really guaranteed?

September 9, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 1:10 pm   Category: Scriptures,Theology

The automatic salvation of little children is hard to reconcile with the rest of what we know about the plan of salvation. If there is an “official” doctrine of the Church, it is that all little children are automatically saved in the celestial kingdom. Two representative examples are the EoM entry and BRM’s Ensign article on the same subject. However, it doesn’t take too much pondering of the “big picture” to wonder how this makes sense with the rest of our doctrine.

The Problem

Why should children be exalted automatically? One way of answering is to say that gaining exaltation is matter of being sinless. Since little children cannot sin (D&C 29:47), the are assured exaltation (so reasons BRM in the link above). The problem with this answer is that it conflates sinlessness with celestialness.[1] According to Joseph Smith, the entire plan of salvation exists because of our need to progress from a weak state to an advanced state like that of our Father. In LDS theology, progression is always governed by agency, and free-will requires the possibility of wrong choices as well as right ones. It is difficult to conceive of any reason that those who die as little children will uniformly and without exception choose the right during their progression when everyone else makes a lot of mistakes.

This leads to an alternate explanation, which is that those who die in infancy were already celestial before coming to earth. This explanation ship-wrecks on the same problem of free-will because the deaths of little children are often the result of the free choices of people on earth. In other words, God does not choose which children die in infancy, so he has no way of insuring that all those who die in infancy were celestial before being born. We all know of infants who have died because of accident or homicide, and we do not expect that if they had lived into adulthood they would have lived sinless lives (as one would expect if they were already celestial).

The doctrine of automatic exaltation for children also leads to the unacceptable (but unavoidable) conclusion that killing children is doing them an eternal favor. Supposedly God’s plan in the pre-existence was unable to guarantee our exaltation, but automatic exaltation says that I can guarantee the exaltation of my children by killing them before they turn eight. Clearly, this will not do.

My Solution

My solution is to look more closely at the scriptural evidence for the exaltation of little children. In doing so, I find good reason to suppose little children are not automatically exalted. We begin in the Book of Mormon.

The speeches by Jacob (2 Ne 6-10), King Benjamin (Mosiah 2-5), and Abinadi (Mosiah 12-16) are closely related and build upon one another. Jacob introduces the idea that those who die without law are automatically saved by the atonement (2 Ne 9:25-26). Benjamin adds to that the idea that little children are automatically covered by the atonement (Mosiah 3:11,16). Abinadi repeats the same two groups as being automatically covered (Mosiah 15:24-25).[2] As I have previously argued, the BoM prophets did not understand salvation for the dead or degrees of glory. Thus, they had no way to explain how God would save those who died without hearing the gospel. In lieu of the doctrine of salvation for the dead, they were told that those who died without law would be automatically covered by the atonement. Since the only two destinations they were aware of were eternal life and eternal damnation, they taught that both groups would go to receive eternal life. This is, of course, much better than the alternative of saying that those without the chance to hear the gospel would be eternally damned through no fault of their own.

In September 1830, Joseph was given the same message as that in the BoM, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world (D&C 29:46-48). This is followed by the suggestive statement that “it is given unto them even as I will, according to mine own pleasure” and then this enormous hint that there was more to the story to be revealed later:

49 And, again, I say unto you, that whoso having knowledge, have I not commanded to repent?
50 And he that hath no understanding, it remaineth in me to do according as it is written. And now I declare no more unto you at this time. Amen. (D&C 29)

In February 1832, Joseph Smith received The Vision in which he learned about the degrees of glory, but at this time he still did not know about salvation for the dead. In the vision, he got a brief description of what kinds of people end up in each degree of glory and “those who died without law” were said to go to the terrestrial (middle) kingdom (D&C 76:71-72). No mention was made of little children.

In January 1836, Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marveled at how he got there because he had not been baptized (D&C 137). Based on D&C 76 he would have expected Alvin to be in the terrestrial kingdom. The doctrine of automatic salvation for those without law was replaced by the doctrine of so-called “middle knowledge,” or the knowledge of what “would have been.”

7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; (D&C 137)

The important thing to notice is that this is not the full doctrine of salvation for the dead. In fact, we no longer believe that God judges those without law based on what they “would have done.” Instead, we believe that they are presented with the gospel in the spirit world and are given a chance to respond to the gospel in the same sense that people on earth were given that chance. Notice that in D&C 137:10, Joseph was shown that little children were also saved in the celestial kingdom. The two groups are still showing up together.

By January 1841, the doctrine of baptism for the dead had been revealed (D&C 124:29) and the saints were coming to understand how the dead could be saved.

In October 1918, Joseph F. Smith received a vision of the spirit world and learned about the gospel being preached to the dead. He learned that the full gospel was preached to those in the spirit world. This (together with D&C 137) overturned the previous teaching in D&C 76:73-74 which said that those who received the gospel in the spirit world (quoting 1 Pet 4:6) would go to the terrestrial kingdom. D&C 138 leaves no doubt that those who die without the law have the chance to receive the fullness of the gospel and exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

Where does that leave us with the salvation of children?

We have seen that the salvation of the ignorant has historically been tied to the salvation of little children. In the absence of a doctrine of salvation for the dead, both groups have been said to have automatic tickets to heaven based on the atonement. We have also seen how this doctrine was replaced, piece by piece, with the doctrine of salvation for the dead with respect to those who have died without the law. The new doctrine of salvation for the dead makes a lot more sense with respect to our understanding of the big picture and the plan of salvation. The doctrine of salvation for little children has not received a similar explanation, so it remains clouded in the same mystery that it used to share with the salvation of the ignorant.

It seems to me that the obvious conclusion is that more will some day be revealed about the salvation of little children and that when we are given the full story it will look a lot like the salvation for everyone else. The dead are saved on the same principles and under the same constraints (free-will, need for progress, etc.) that everyone else is. I suspect that little children, likewise, will need the same types of experiences and opportunities that everyone else does. Until more is revealed, I choose to believe that such provisions will be made and that the salvation of children need not turn our theology on its head. Accordingly, I am not going to kill my children to get them a free pass to heaven.

What’s your reason?

[Associated radio blog song: Beautiful South – Something That You Said]
[Another associated radio blog song: Rancid – Salvation]


[1] The same mistake is sometimes made with respect to telestial salvation.
[2] Moroni, in his diatribe against infant baptism, cites the same two groups as being exempt. (Moroni 8:22)

90 Comments »

  1. Nice post Jacob. I agree with your reasoning and your conclusions. I think a lot of people get themselves into doctrinal trouble by using individual proof-texts but not looking at the progression in revelations about salvation for those who die without learning the gospel (including little children). And as you note, the logical incentive to murder children is reason enough to conclude that something very important is missing in the assumption that little children who die get a free pass to exaltation.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 9, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  2. Setting aside McConkie’s insistence that salvation and exaltation are synonymous, I think this is easily resolved, given the standard interpretation of D&C 131. With three levels within the Celestial Kingdom, salvation in that kingdom does not equate to exaltation. Little children will not have to suffer for their disobedient acts, and hence will inherit the celestial kingdom. Having inherited celestial glory, there will be no external constraints on their eternal progress. But it is unwarranted to assume, as McConkie does, that they will necessarily progress to full exaltation. Indeed, it is my opinion, that they will be at a disadvantage relative to others in the CK who gained more experience on earth.

    Incidentally, the 3-dimensional model of the degrees of glory that I have posted here more than once was derived in response to this very question.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 9, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

  3. Jacob, I pretty much have to agree, as you have put this tgether so well as to make it fairly inarguable.

    Alternative theories I have heard include that the children were so righteous the lord took them too himself, or were so delicate the lord protected them from the challenges of life, but they have some obvious problems. Even BRM said that while this may be true, it is definitely not always true. (Though I don’t know where. I heard it in a talk in church in the MTC, so take it with a grain of salt.)

    Comment by Matt W. — September 9, 2007 @ 7:46 pm

  4. The idea of a free pass to children never made sense to me – it seemed to go against all we believe about progression, so I appreciate this post. But one more question remains for me. We are tried and tested in this life – merely accepting the gospel isn’t enough, as we see though the thousands of people baptized that go inactive. Is there a testing and enduring to the end process also in the spirit world?

    Comment by Josh — September 9, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  5. Last Lemming,

    Your resolution seems to have the same problems I outlined in the post. For example, you seem to be assuming that sinlessness is equal to celestialness. What reason do we have for assuming that every spirit who comes to earth and dies in infancy was already capable of living the celestial law before arriving?

    I have forgotten the 3-dimensional model you have posted before, can you add a link or summarize to refresh my memory?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 9, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  6. Josh,

    That is what I understand from the language of 1 Pet where is says they were taught the gospel in the spirit world “that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” Obviously, more could be revealed about the spirit world to fill in some details, but I assume the people who accept the gospel in the spirit world have to endure to the end just like we do.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 9, 2007 @ 8:38 pm

  7. Jacob,
    Well done.

    This may be of interest.

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (edited by Bruce R. McConkie):

    EXALTATION OF CHILDREN.

    Little children who die before they reach the years of accountability will automatically inherit the celestial kingdom, but not the exaltation in that kingdom until they have complied with all the requirements of exaltation. For instance: The crowning glory is marriage and this ordinance would have to be performed in their behalf before they could inherit the fulness of that kingdom.

    CHILDREN NEVER TO BE TEMPTED.

    Satan will be loosed to gather his forces after the millennium. The people who will be tempted, will be people living on this earth, and they will have every opportunity to accept the gospel or reject it. Satan will have nothing to do whatever with little children, or grown people who have received their resurrection and entered into the celestial kingdom.

    Comment by Howard — September 9, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

  8. Its not what we do or don’t do, its who we are that is important. The key to this entire issue is this: “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6.) This is the key. Again, more keys from Joseph Smith: “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” (DHC 4:588.) “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation.” (DHC 5:387.)

    These keys should now be kept in mind with what Mark E. Petersen said: “In our Church we teach that ‘the glory of God is intelligence.’ We believe also that the glory of man is likewise intelligence.” (Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 65.)

    Again Joseph Smith: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” (D&C 130:18–19.)

    And then the question arises, how do we increase in intelligence or glory (or in other words, knowledge)?

    “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.”

    “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

    It is a sectarian doctrine to say we’re either saved or we’re not. Knowledge/Intelligence is our only salvation/glory. Therefore, to suggest that little children are placed on thrones in the celestial kingdom, completely ignorant, would contradict everything quoted above, and just doesn’t make sense anyway. As for the theory that children were previously prepared for celestial glory before coming here, that also makes no sense, because I can go kill a child of my own free will, and would if that child wasn’t prepared?

    The only possible solution: Children, like anyone else who die without law, must get there like we do: Line upon line, precept upon precept, obedience to the commandments, tests, trials, etc. This means that the only way to achieve celestial glory is mortal probations. We must be tested and tried in all things. There must be opposition in all things. He who has not experienced the darkest and most awful trials, cannot comprehend its exact opposite–a fullness of joy.

    [Edited by Admin to introduce paragraphs and replace emphasis-caps with italics]

    Comment by John Coltharp — September 9, 2007 @ 9:21 pm

  9. You are correct that I equate sinlessness with celestialness. But I do not equate celestialness with godliness or exaltation.

    To recap my 3-D model–

    First, jettison the notion that the degrees of glory represent distinct geographic locations with barriers between them, or that they represent different segments along a single upward-sloping line. Instead, each degree of glory represents dimensions along which one can progress. Don’t ask me to identify those dimensions. I suspect that we have no comprehension of two of them.

    Start with outer darkness. It is represented by a point in my model. The point can be anywhere in XYZ-space, but one cannot progress beyond it in any direction.

    The telestial kingdom is a line (possibly one that is unique to each individual). Infinite progress is possible along that line regardless of the starting point, but no progress can be made in any other direction.

    The terrestrial kingdom is a plane (again, possibly unique to each individual). In this case, progress can be made along two dimensions, regardless of starting point, and in whatever direction on that plane the person sees fit.

    The celestial kingdom is space. In a 3-D model, this would not be unique to each individual. People would start at different points, based on the progress they made on earth, but would be able to progress forever in any direction they choose. To oversimplify, exaltation would occur when progress has been made to the point in XYZ-space that God is now.

    Little children who die would have starting points relatively near the origin of XYZ-space, but would not be constrained in their progression and could ultimately achieve exaltation. Or, they could piddle away eternity making no progress at all. They are celestial either way. Others who made more progress on earth will have starting points further from the origin, and thus will have a head start. In fact, even those in lower kingdoms or outer darkness could have starting points further from the origin than little children, but they will be constrained in their progress along one or more key dimensions and thus will never achieve exaltation.

    That there are three degrees of glory and three spatial dimensions with which to illustrate them is a mere convenience–the model could be extended to any number of dimensions, but would be impossible to illustrate effectively. In addition to the question of the treatment of little children, I have found applications of the model to questions of progression between kingdoms and relationships between family members in different kingdoms.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 10, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  10. Howard,

    You quoted exactly what I wanted to add. I think you missed some crucial phrases though in that book, Doctrines of Salvation.

    Exaltation of Children.
    “The Lord will grant unto these children the privilege of all the sealing blessings which pertain to the exaltation.”
    “We were mature spirits before we were born, and the bodies of little children will grow after the resurrection to the full stature of the spirit, and all the blessings will be theirs through their obedience, the same as if they had lived to maturity and received them on earth.”

    No Blessing to be Denied to Children.
    “The lord is just and will not deprive any person of a blessing because he dies before that blessing can be received.”
    “The Lord judges every soul by the intent of the heart”
    “Children who die in childhood will not be deprived of any blessing. Wen they grow, after the resurection, to the full maturity of the spirit, they will be entitled to all the blessings which they would have been entitled to had they been pivileged to tarry here and receive them.”

    Children in the Resurection.
    “When a baby dies, it goes back into the spirit world, and the spirit asumes its natural form as an adult, for we were all adults before we were born. When a child is raised in the resurection, the spirit will enter the body and the body will be the same size as it was when the child died. It will then grow after the resurection to full maturity to conform to the size of the spirit.
    If the parents are righteous, they will have their children after the resurection.”

    Every aspect of this is of course not set doctrine, but I agree with it fully.

    Comment by Gunner — September 10, 2007 @ 7:58 am

  11. Howard, Gunner, I already acknowledged the standard doctrine in the post and linked prominently to two good examples of it. Long quotes demonstrating that position are not adding anything. If Doctrines of Salvation was available online (or Answers to Gospel Questions vol 1. pg. 55 for that matter) I would link to them, but they aren’t. If you feel you need to quote someone, keep the quote short and to the point and always add a comment explaining what we are supposed to get out of the quote.

    This is a place to discuss your thoughts on the matter. If you accept the standard model and you don’t know what to say, try answering my question at the end of the post.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 10, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  12. Last Lemming,

    Got it, thanks for reminding me. Your 3D model is basically what I believe except that I think every kingdom is 3D and open to progression. I understand where you are going with it though.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 10, 2007 @ 8:29 am

  13. LL,

    But I do not equate celestialness with godliness or exaltation.

    So, I can be resurrected into the celestial kingdom without being godly? I thought that was the whole point of what it meant to be celestial.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 10, 2007 @ 9:23 am

  14. Good stuff. For Mormons there is also the non-canonical teachings. I did a similar chronological history at BCC a while back that is relevant.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 10, 2007 @ 9:42 am

  15. Thanks for the link J., your post dovetails nicely with this one.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 10, 2007 @ 9:50 am

  16. In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; (D&C 131:1)

    I equate godliness with highest-degree-of-celestialness, which is a subset of celestialness. So one can be celestial without being godly. Obviously, I don’t buy the theory that the three degrees in Section 131 are the same as those in Section 76.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 10, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  17. LL,

    Right, I get that you are advocating three degrees within the celestial kingdom, but the description in D&C 76 is still about the whole kingdom we call the celestial kingdom, is it not? Are you saying all the stuff in D&C 76 is referring only to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom? It seems like that position is going to be hard to support from the scriptures and is also going to diminish the lower degrees of the celestial kingdom dramatically. Why are they even called celestial in your paradigm?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 10, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  18. I don’t think it is difficult to reconcile with the scriptures. I see Section 131 as a precept-upon-precept refinement of Section 76, clarifying that Section 76 should not be interpreted as describing a uniform state achieved by all CK inhabitants. The lower levels remain celestial because their inhabitants never had to suffer for their own sins.

    Incidentally, I have heard the lower degrees of the CK described (without public argument) as part of “hell” in priesthood quorum discussions. I don’t subscribe to that view (I limit my battles in the quorum to subjects I am teaching)–I believe that after the resurrection, everybody but the sons of perdition will consider themselves to be in heaven. But I mention it just to point out that the diminishing of those lower degrees seems to be the conventional wisdom among the orthodox.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 10, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  19. I think if you shift around the reading of Section 137 you get another option-

    “And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.”

    Nowhere else in scripture is the phrase “Celestial Kingdom of Heaven” used. In fact, earlier in the section, the “Celestial Kingdom of God” is referred to. What if they are two different places?

    The Celestial Kingdom of God is where we progress to – where we become Gods.

    The Celestial Kingdsom of Heaven is where we came from – the premortal existence. What if those that die without sin go straight back to where they came from. They go and wait for the millennium and then are raised in a world where choices can still be mafde, but Satan is bound. They can still sin, if they choose and still have experience.

    In reality, this doctrine has never been flushed out. If the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven is a different place, then all the doctrine built around this verse could be conjecture and false.

    Comment by Gilgamesh — September 10, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

  20. Jacob,

    “If Doctrines of Salvation was available online…I would link to them, but they aren’t.”
    Given this, I don’t understand your objection to my brief quote in 7.

    “This is a place to discuss your thoughts on the matter.”
    If Joseph Fielding Smith were still alive would you be interested in his thoughts on the matter as well?

    Comment by Howard — September 11, 2007 @ 7:35 am

  21. Howard,

    Don’t be obnoxious.

    We have living apostles. Why don’t you go invite some of them to comment here? If you want to just drop random quotes from JFSII online without adding any thoughts of your own go do it at your own blog.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2007 @ 7:59 am

  22. Geoff,
    It certainly wasn’t a “random quote”, it was on topic and selected for brevity from a broad range of material.

    Would you have preferred I paraphrase JFS as Jacob did or is the objection that my thoughts were not included with JFS’?

    Yes, we do have living apostles, do you object to my quoting from them as well?

    Comment by Howard — September 11, 2007 @ 8:36 am

  23. Jacob: I don’t have a problem with children being “saved” or “exalted” (two different concepts) automatically because, as you say, there are additional doctrines to put the doctrine into perspective. However, I put it together a little differently and retain the view that little children who die in infancy are assured exaltation. Here’s how.

    First, there is no unfairness in the sense that someone gets a free ride because our spirits progressed to a point before this life such that those who die in infancy did not need the probation of a mortal life to be exalted. They had already progressed that far.

    You raise the issue of foreknowledge. As you know, we both agree that absolute foreknowledge and free will are incompatible. We also agree that often young children die in infancy because of free actions. However, I suggest that God could in every instance prevent the death if he wished in virtue of his present knowledge of the actions chosen. Take any free action. Say a father beats his child to death. Certainly God has enough knowledge and power to stop the father. He has enough power and knowledge to heal the child. Give me any situation of death due to free actions and I believe it is demonstrable that God could have chosen to prevent it if he so desired. That of course focuses on the problem of evil. However, that problem is mitigated by precisely the fact that God knows who those children are that are assured exaltation.

    You also argue that if children who die in infancy are exalted then that entails that we should be willing to kill children. Well, no simply because we then lose our salvation and exaltation. We can trust God to work it out without having to forfeit our exaltation. Thus, killing little children is not a rational action.

    I prefer this approach because the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s statements seem very clear to me: little children who die in infancy are exalted. So are those who are mentally challenged such that they cannot appreciate the difference between good and evil. Anyway, that is my take on it.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 8:40 am

  24. Blake, in this view, If our child is very sick and on the verge of death, do we then just leave it in God’s hands or do we act to save the life?

    Something that has always snagged me in this, which I don’t have any answers for is the fact that there are some very mature and very accountable 6 year olds out there and some very immature and unaccountable 10 year olds. While the 10 year old doesn’t hold my interest, the 6 year old, who is accountable and has sinned, does attract my attention. This sinning six year old gets a pass on the ordinances of the gospel due to age. What does that mean in terms of the ordinances, accountability, etc? I have no answers, really, just idle speculation.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 11, 2007 @ 8:58 am

  25. Howard, the main thing is that when you just throw up a quote and expect it to be self-evident what you are trying to say with it, it often isn’t. I am guilty of doing that too. The next thing though, is that when you add your exegesis to the quote, the quote often becomes unnecasary save for as a reference connected to the midrash.

    I like quotes, but without context, it is hard for us to be edified together instead of contending one with another. dig?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 11, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  26. Actually, Blake, Joseph Smith was quite clear that children who die in infancy live separate and single for eternity.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 11, 2007 @ 9:08 am

  27. Blake,

    Take any free action. Say a father beats his child to death. Certainly God has enough knowledge and power to stop the father.

    This explanation seems completely untenable to me. Are you really suggesting that God uses his sovereign power to guarantee that all spirits not already celestial before being born will live to the age of accountability? If that is the case, then it is literally impossible to kill a large percentage of the children on earth (since God would protect them). Do we have any hint that such super babies exist (they would appear to us as super babies since any attempt to kill them would be thwarted)? I can’t hardly believe you are advocating that view, I may be misunderstanding.

    If you want to stick to your guns here, I suppose you could argue that God can protect them without leaving any hints to me that he is doing so, but I just can’t bring myself to accept that this is what is really happening.

    Well, no simply because we then lose our salvation and exaltation.

    Greater love hath no man than this, to give up his own salvation and exaltation to guarantee the salvation and exaltation of others. I’m not sure why we should see this as the ultimate expression of love. We absolutely cannot assume that God will work it out without our sacrifice since his whole plan is based on the risk that people will not make it to the celestial kingdom.

    …the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s statements seem very clear to me…

    Well, the point of my scriptural chronology was to argue that the scriptures are not at all clear on this point. Yes, they say that little children are saved, but in context we can see that there is ample reason to suppose this is a place-holder doctrine waiting to be replaced by further light and knowledge on the situation. The scriptures are just as clear that those who die without the gospel will be automatically saved–and you don’t believe that, precisely because we have had more revealed on that subject. Of course, Joseph Smith’s statements are explained in the very same way since he is a prophet in the same way that Abinadi was and can’t be expected to know more than has been revealed. Besides that, Joseph seemed to be anything but certain about the details of infant salvation, thus all the controversy about if they are resurrected as babies, or raised in the millennium, or what. I know you are familiar with all the ins-and-outs of that debate.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 9:45 am

  28. Matt,

    On the mature 6 year old vs. the immature 10 year old, the scripture in D&C 29:47 says:

    for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me

    The phrase “begin to become accountable” seems to acknowledge your point. I take this to mean that 8 is not a magic number when everyone becomes acocuntable, but a best guess statistically speaking. Of course, God is not going to get hung up on the age, I am sure he’ll hold us accountable before age eight when it is appropriate, and not hold us accountable when that is appropriate. Of course we don’t have the problem of worrying about the 6 year old not being baptized because we know about work for the dead. So no need to baptize infants just to be sure; it is much better to let them choose to be baptized when they are old enough to have some understanding of what that means.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 9:57 am

  29. Jacob J: I am somewhat confused, becuase I know the church does not do work for the dead for children under 8 who have died. The only ordinance performed for them is sealing, if needed. That could be temporary, like you say in your initial post, but that is the current policy.

    I don’t want to threadjack this post though, as I find ordinances to be complex and hard to understand to begin with, once I start looking at them from such a point of view.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 11, 2007 @ 10:52 am

  30. Matt,

    No, we don’t do baptisms for children who die before turning eight; sorry, I should have clearly said this to avoid confusion. I simply meant that we are aware of the provisions God has made for those who need baptism without receiving it in this life. If it turns out some children need baptism for whatever reason, we can do it in the millennium, that’s all I’m saying. The rational behind infant baptism is that everyone needs to be baptized and we better do it right away in case the baby dies. Obviously, LDS theology solves that problem whether it comes up in relation to infants or to mature 6 year-olds.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 10:58 am

  31. Blake said:

    So are those who are mentally challenged such that they cannot appreciate the difference between good and evil.

    Say I have a mentally challenged child whose ultimate accountability is uncertain. Instead of killing him to ensure his exaltation, all I have to do is not teach him the difference between right and wrong. Unlike the killing thing, which, despite its apparent logic, has only been carried out by seriously disturbed individuals, the withholding of spiritual education is a real problem.

    For example, my mom used to teach a Sunday School class for mentally retarded members of our stake, but some parents would not allow their children to attend because they believed their children could not possibly gain any spiritual benefit from it. Nobody was wiling to suggest to those parents that they were doing their kids a disservice.

    More recently, I was asked to accompany a high counselor to a ward in my old stake. Afterwards, I found out that he had been hoping I would say something to counter that very attitude, which apparently was present in the ward. (I didn’t disappoint him.) That I was given that opportunity is progress. But without the teaching of automatic exaltation, it would never have been an issue.

    So unlike most who see the automatic exaltation teaching with regard to the mentally challenged as a great merciful blessing, I find it to be insidious because it excuses the spiritual neglect of those people.

    Note that my 3-D model, which assumes automatic salvation but not exaltation, provides plenty of incentive to provide spiritual education to the mentally challenged.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 11, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  32. Incidentally, Jacob, the talk I gave at the high counselor’s behest relied heavily on the “beginning to become accountable” line.

    Comment by Last Lemming — September 11, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  33. Jacob:

    I really like how you presented the chronology of the revelations in the D&C. I need to do more study on this. Does anyone publish a D&C in chronological order? THat would be interesting.

    I like your take on this.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 11, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  34. Eric,

    I don’t think I’m aware of any D&C published in chronological order, but there are only a few sections out of order to begin with so it might be enough to just jot down a note for yourself about those ones.

    This site is really useful for studying the D&C as it shows you all the changes that have happened between the Book of Commandments and the current D&C. It also has this year-by-year chronology if you are trying to get a sense for what was going on at the time of a certain revelation.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  35. I fully agree that it is possible that more will be revealed about the salvation of little children.

    I do not think that you have made your case that “The two groups are still showing up together”, i.e. that little children who die and adults who die without knowing the Gospel and having the chance to choose to follow it are treated together in the Book of Mormon and that therefore they share the same fate for the same reason.

    First, from what I can see you have not refered to the primary Mormon scripture on the heresy of the baptism of little children, Moroni 8:8-23. This passage of scripture teaches in the most forceful of terms that assuming that little children need baptism literally denies the power of the Atonement of Christ.

    Second, when the BoM speaks of those who die in ignorance of the law not being condemned by the law, that is not the same thing as saying that they are saved or exalted. As you have noted elsewhere, and as I have long believed and discussed around the blogs, BoM (and OT) prophets did not seem to have an understanding of the full organization and mechanics of existence in the afterlife (and we ourselves might still not have such a full picture — who knows what may yet be revealed pertaining to the Kingdom of God?). Thus, their reference to those who die in ignorance being saved is further explained in subsequent revelation to mean simply they are not “damned” in the first instance, but rather have the chance to accept the Gospel before being held accountable for their acts in mortality. They have a contingent expectation of salvation, despite their actions, precisely because of their ignorance (whereas those of us who are born and raised in the Restored Gospel have no such contingent expectation outside of a hope in the mercy of Christ, as supplicated through the principles and ordinances of the Gospel). Based on the choice they make upon learning the Gospel in the afterlife, they are either able to allow the Atonement to take effect in their lives or not. The logic is not the same with little children.

    This brings us to the third point: little children are affirmatively saved, not just spared condemnation of the law based on ignorance of the law until they either accept or reject the Gospel in the afterlife. It is more than simply not being damned in the first instance. Your post makes it seem like you think that the reason that little children are saved is that they were ignorant of the law or the Gospel. This, however, is not why little children are saved in Christ, at least according to the Book of Mormon. Mormon tells Moroni that Jesus has said the following thing to him (Mormon):

    Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

    Little children are pure; adults who commit sin but who have not yet heard the Gospel are not pure — they are just given the opportunity to allow Christ’s Atonement to make them pure. In other words, little children (children who have not yet reached the age of accountability) seem to be ontologically different in that they are whole, they are pure, they are in a state in which the curse of Adam doesn’t even apply to them, i.e. the Atonement shields them from it. Little children cannot sin, not because they are ignorant, which they are. It is something more than just being ignorant. They are pure.

    Thus, when children die they are automatically saved and inherit the Celestial Kingdom. This is, however, in no way incompatible with the idea that to obtain the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom they will still need to marry at some point down the road in the afterlife. After all, it seems pretty clear that neither man nor woman will exist alone, as a separate being, in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. So, to inherit that glory, the being who died in mortality as a little child will need to be united with a husband or wife to obtain that degree of glory. One could almost say that there is something about that degree of glory that requires man and woman to be united into a single new being to inherit it.

    Comment by john f. — September 11, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  36. Woodford’s dissy, available on DVD from BYU Studies is probably the most useful publication on the D&C and Cook’s Revelations of Joseph Smith is an excellent compliment.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 11, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  37. Good point J. I was restricting myself to stuff I knew of online, but I have Revelations of Joseph Smith and it is good too. I haven’t read Woodford’s dissertation, I’ll have to check it out.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  38. john f (#25),

    I do not think that you have made your case that …therefore they share the same fate for the same reason.

    You seem to have missed this from the post:

    The doctrine of salvation for little children has not received a similar explanation, so it remains clouded in the same mystery that it used to share with the salvation of the ignorant.

    I am not arguing that the ignorant and the infants must share the same fate, but that there is reason to believe something similar will be revealed with respect to little children in the future.

    First, from what I can see you have not refered to the primary Mormon scripture on the heresy of the baptism of little children

    I linked to Moroni 8, but only in a footnote, and I didn’t deal with most of the substance of his argument. That is because it is based on the earlier doctrine which I did dicuss. The footnote is there to make that point. Incidentally, I am not saying that little children need baptism, and all the reasons Moroni gives against it make good sense. None of them applies to the things I am suggesting, so it didn’t seem overly relevant.

    Second, when the BoM speaks of those who die in ignorance of the law not being condemned by the law, that is not the same thing as saying that they are saved or exalted.

    As I cited and linked to in the post, the BofM prophets say much more than that they will not be condemned by the law. Abinadi says they will receive eternal life:

    24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord. (Mosiah 15)

    Abinadi says they receive “eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.” So, I don’t agree with your assertion that the BofM prophets taught anything like a “contingent expectation” for the ignorant. This is identical to the statement made about little children (next verse: “25 And little children also have eternal life.”). This applies to your third point as well about little children being “affirmatively saved.” The ignorant are affirmatively saved according to Abinadi.

    In other words, little children seem to be ontologically different in that they are whole, they are pure, they are in a state in which the curse of Adam doesn’t even apply to them, i.e. the Atonement shields them from it.

    First, I don’t think you really mean “ontologically different.” Second, the point of my problem statement in the post is to describe the fact that the “curse of Adam” is not at the root of the plan of salvation. At the root is the fact that we were weak sprits who needed a chance and the framework in which to progress. As I say, being sinless by virtue of not being tempted is much different than being celestial and able to withstand any temptation in righteousness (as Christ did when he came to earth). Are you arguing that all the children who die were celestial before being born? If so, how do you respond to the problems I have laid out for that view?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  39. Greater love hath no man than this, to give up his own salvation and exaltation

    Jake, we already have a Savior and we don’t need another. And yup, I believe that God is intimately involved in who lives and dies and who gets what lessons to learn.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  40. Blake,

    I have to say that I think Jacob is right that your ideas imply that non-Celestial little children cannot be killed regardless of the free will of adults on the earth. The general idea of limiting free will in such ways is problematic I think. It kind of throws a monkey wrench into the possible answers to the problem of evil too doesn’t it? If God intervenes and allows/causes all already-Celestial little children to die then why does he refuse to intervene in the suffering and torture of older children? How is he still good in such a situation? It seems to me that your solution causes more problems on that front than it solves. (I really ought to write a post on the problem of evil…) Am I missing something with all of this?

    Plus ideas like the one you support seem like incentive for nutjobs out there to kill their children to me. The twisted logic would be “if I can send my little children on to the next life then they are guaranteed exaltation”. As Jacob mentions, people could easily justify going to (temporary) hell in the name of love for their children if what you say is accurate. I too am very surprised to see you defend that idea (even if you are doing so in a rather half-hearted way).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  41. Geoff: I don’t think we can escape the problem of evil by claiming that God just didn’t know enough or have enough power to avoid the results of free choices. We can deal with the problem of evil in other ways. If you think that the problem is solved because God couldn’t have intervened, then God is more limited on your view than mine.

    I’d like to see you make a good case for the problem of evil that is logically sound. Usually the argument just ends up assuming that we know a lot more about God’s reasons than we have reason to believe we can know.

    You have already noted that only nut-jobs are going to take the view that little children are exalted as an excuse to kill them. It has no pragmatic weight as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  42. Blake,

    The logical consequence of your position is that if I am able to kill a child, then ipso facto, we can tell that the child was already celestial. What then, is bad, per se, about the murder of children on your view?

    I have another question come to think of it. Do any of these celestial children live on to adulthood, or does God make sure that they die before age eight. If some do live to adulthood, then why do we not have more perfect people walking among us? If God makes sure that they all die before turning eight, then I’m doubly curious as to what makes child murder bad.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 3:32 pm

  43. Jacob: You cannot even bring yourself to want to kill a child let alone carry it thru for real. Your argument has no pragmatic value. Do you really think that who lives and dies is a matter of random chance or sheer insanity? What, God just sits around and watches while we have at each other?

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  44. It is true that I am not at risk for murdering a child, but the logical implications of your view do have pragmatic value with respect to our judgment of people who do kill children. Which is why I asked the question I did.

    And yes, I think the evil that happens in this world (which happens in abundance) is due to people exercising their free-will while God looks on and weeps over our sinfulness. God sitting around watching while we have at each other is not a bad description. What is the alternative, that he sanctions or controls everything that happens? Surely not.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  45. Jacob: Yup, God is in control. He can cover his tracks as has been suggested. You’re suggesting that it is simply out of His control and God cannot do anything about it. That just isn’t feasible. God has more ability to control than you seem to give him credit. So when a little girl is killed, you believe that God didn’t know what was happening or couldn’t intervene in time? Or that he just didn’t know enough to know what was going on? If God just sits around and watches, then you’re really a Deist and not someone who believes that God’s hand is in all things. I believe differently than you on this score. I don’t believe in accidents. I don’t believe that God just idly watches. That seems far more culpable to me than what I am suggesting.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 4:11 pm

  46. Blake,

    How do you reconcile this “I don’t believe in accidents” line with your well documented ideas about libertarian free will? Killing children need not be an accident after all — it could be the willful act of an earthly agent.

    Also, I didn’t see the answer to Jacob’s other question. Are you saying that God himself kills off all the pre-Celestialized children (Or at least sees to it that they do die)? Or does he let some grow up?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

  47. Blake,

    I am not suggesting that God never intervenes (and I am not a Deist). However, the amount of intervention necessary to guarantee that no children ever die unless they were already celestial in the pre-existence is prohibitive. Not because God is not powerful, but because he lets us exercise our free-will. Saying that all the evil acts in the world somehow have God’s tacit approval gives him far more culpability than the suggestion that allowing people to exercise free will logically entails their ability to do evil and that God cannot accomplish his purposes without giving us the chance to exercise our agency.

    Assuming that God is willing to let some children die because they are already celestial, what reason does he have for allowing children to be raped? Did he not know what was happening or he couldn’t intervene in time? Does the fact of his not intervening imply that he has some purpose behind that child being raped? Such a suggestion is almost too much for me to type. Just what kind of control are you suggesting God exercises over all the actions in the world?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  48. Jacob: Let’s play a game. You give me any scenario where a child dies through the free will of another and I’ll explain how God is culpable for it having merely present knowledge. Yes, I’m saying that God is omniresourceful with respect to what occurs in the world. I believe life is fragile and we would all die prematurely but for God’s intervention.

    As for your question about why God allows children to be raped the answer is: I don’t know. Nor am I really sure that I should expect to know that answer to that kind of question. What’s your answer?

    Geoff: Well, God certainly allows diseases, cancer and accidents take their course with children and all of them could have been avoided by God if he so chose — every single one of them. He could also have avoided the deaths of children who are injured by violence (a simple aneurysm to the brain of the attacker, even temporarily, ought to the trick in almost every instance. If not, anoxia always works).

    With respect to your question the simple answer is: I don’t know.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 6:00 pm

  49. Blake,

    As for your question about why God allows children to be raped the answer is: I don’t know. …What’s your answer?

    I am the first to admit that I cannot fully account for the problem of evil. That said, my answer is the one in #44 that you objected to. I believe God allows us to exercise our free-will. If he were to intervene every time we did something wrong or every time we were going to injure someone, it would not allow us the environment we need in order to progress. I also suspect it would make God’s existence obvious to everyone (which doesn’t seem to be in his plan).

    Since we are granted the opportunity to exercise our free-will, I think God is often merely an observer of things that happen, that he mourns over our sins and uses his power to bring good out of evil for those who allow him to work in their lives.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 11, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  50. Geoff, Jacob & Matt have all encouraged me to post my thoughts with quotes. So, here goes…

    I to suspect that someday there will be more revelation regarding the salvation of little children. But according the JFS quote in 7, they follow a different track. They automatically inherit the celestial kingdom, but not exaltation and will never be tempted. To me this does not look a lot like the salvation for everyone else.

    Comment by Howard — September 11, 2007 @ 9:10 pm

  51. Blake,

    The problem I have with your theory is that if we accept it then I have to accept that my son was never really in danger of dying in his drowning accident a couple of years back. Rather, he was predestined to live to the age of accountability because he was not a pre-Celestial spirit. The problem with that is that I am completely certain that his his future and fate was as open as the future and fate of any grown up. His risk of death was very real. God’s intervention to save him was not predestined — it could have gone either way. And to me, that destroys this theory you are suggesting about children in this thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  52. Geoff: What have I said to suggest that your son’s “fate” was not open or was somehow destined? Your son lived after all. Had he died, you may well believe that his death was a part of God’s plan because your son didn’t need mortal life as a learning and training ground.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 10:32 pm

  53. Well Blake, you have said that all children who die must be pre-Celestial spirits who earned exaltation before arriving here. So unless you concede that pre-Celestial spirits who earned exaltation before arriving here can indeed grow to the age of accountability, you would have to concede that God could not have let him die if he was not pre-exalted. Therefore in such a scheme he was predestined to live.

    Now if you do concede that these hypothetical pre-exalted people can live past childhood then we have another (interesting) discussion on our hands. But it seems to me that these are your only two options on this subject.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2007 @ 10:44 pm

  54. Geoff: The fact is that on my view we would all die in infancy if God didn’t miraculously save us over and over. Those who die in infancy were destined to be exalted because they already were before coming here. Not much mystery in that, now, is there? Nor is it destiny but the result of free choices before this life for a very long time. So I’m perfectly fine with the view that your child was destined to live — and in fact the very fact that he lived shows that he had something left to accomplish and learn from his experiences in life. I don’t believe in a random life where sometimes people die before their time and their progression is messed up because of it. Of course, if you believe in MMP, as you do, it really doesn’t matter much. Die now. Die later. It’s all the same.

    Look, Joseph Smith was very clear. His revelation and the voice of God to him in D&C 138 are very clear: infants who die are celestial. I would need a very compelling argument to simply reject the voice of God. I just don’t see one here.

    Comment by Blake — September 11, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

  55. Howard, good job! How does your concept mesh with SWK saying (which has been said by others as well) that no one will be denied any blessings for anything the could not help? In your view, either SWK is wrong, or exaltation is not a blessing..?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 5:50 am

  56. Blake: So from your point of view, it is unwise and a poor investment to put any money into medical care for any person under the age of eight? Because God is going to save them because there are things left to do?

    Personally, Blake, I can believe that sometimes you are correct, that God takes a child home to him because it is his time and his experience has been sufficient, but I do not believe this is the case all of the time.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 6:05 am

  57. Matt: Don’t be absurd. We aren’t authorized nor in an epistemic position to play God. Moreover, God is good enough at being God that we don’t have to do it for him. Your assertion assumes that somehow we get to step in for God. Your position is pragmatically self-defeating. The view that little children who die in infancy simply doesn’t that we get to step in for God as Jacob argued. So invest away.

    Comment by Blake — September 12, 2007 @ 7:48 am

  58. Matt,
    Little children are not denied exaltation. They automatically inherit the celestial kingdom and exaltation becomes available to them once they have met the other requirements such as marriage.

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  59. re # 38, I don’t agree with your conclusions about “weak spirits” and the base of the Plan of Salvation, for one thing. It is Satan who says “there is no other way” in reference to eating the fruit and being cast out, not God. But the fruit was eaten and man did fall because of this transgression. As such, children are protected from the curse of Adam until they reach the age of accountability. Children who die before reaching this age are saved, not because they were ignorant of the law (which they are) but because they are (1) incapable of sin and (2) the Atonement of Christ shields them, affording them salvation.

    I linked to Moroni 8, but only in a footnote, and I didn’t deal with most of the substance of his argument. That is because it is based on the earlier doctrine which I did dicuss. The footnote is there to make that point. Incidentally, I am not saying that little children need baptism, and all the reasons Moroni gives against it make good sense. None of them applies to the things I am suggesting, so it didn’t seem overly relevant.

    Moroni 8 is relevant here. Moroni 8 explains why children do not need baptism — and it is not because the law has not been preached to them; rather it is because they are already whole through the Atonement. No part of my comment implied that you believe infants should be baptized.

    Also, Moroni 8 does not seem to be based on Abinadi’s teachings, which is why I highlighted it specifically in response to the construct you have set up. Moroni 8:7-8 names the source of this doctrine as follows:

    For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:
    8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little cchildren are whole, for they are not capable of committing esin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.

    This passage states that the source of this doctrine is not a philosophical extrapolation from Abinadi’s teachings but rather direct revelation from Jesus Christ to Mormon. The substance could not carry more import given its provenance. Little children are saved through the Atonement because they are whole and pure. Adults who have not learned the Gospel and therefore did not have a chance to accept or reject it are not therefore whole and pure; rather, they are entitled to a chance to reject it — salvation is theirs to lose in the Spirit World.

    Why do you think that I don’t mean “ontologically different” when I say “ontologically different”?

    Of course, as a faithful Latter-day Saint, I fully agree that more can and probably will be revealed on the principle of the post-death progression of little children who died before the age of accountability. My best guess is that such revelation will bear on moving them from the Celestial Kingdom, where they are, to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom through being able to find an eternal companion through a mechanism that has not yet been revealed to us.

    Comment by john f. — September 12, 2007 @ 7:56 am

  60. Blake (#54),

    His revelation and the voice of God to him in D&C 137 are very clear: infants who die are celestial. I would need a very compelling argument to simply reject the voice of God.

    The verses just before that in the same revelation say that people who die without a knowledge of the gospel receive a reward based on middle knowledge. Do you accept that? If not, then you have your compelling argument.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 8:38 am

  61. Jacob: There are two ways it is possible for God to know who is saved based upon whether they would have received the gospel: (1) God has middle knowledge; or (2) God in fact waits to let them accept it and thus he knows their hearts and what they would have done. I adopt the latter possibility. So I deny that D&C 137 requires middle knowledge.

    Comment by Blake — September 12, 2007 @ 9:38 am

  62. Howard: then you are pretty much agreeing with Jacob then, with a possible caveat that exaltation either does or does not equal the celestial kingdom.

    Blake: How is that playing God? If I have faith in what you are saying: a) All little children (or people without buot) who die will gain exaltation, because of pre-mortal righteousness. b) God will never allow any child to die who will not be immediately exalted. So by not intervening, I am in fact NOT playing God, since it is up to God to know who should live and Die. In fact I am leaving it up to God to sort out your A and B above.

    In your view, are there little children who could get automatic exaltation who make it past the age of 8?

    Perhaps everyone on the planet is qualified for automatic exaltation under the age of 8? That’s the only way I can agree to what you are saying. (I should add that this is pretty much how I interpret the whole “those who have the melchizedek priesthood where foreordained to have it from the foundation of the world” issue)

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 9:41 am

  63. Matt: You don’t get it. If you really had faith you wouldn’t need to worry about the salvation of little children because God will (and has) taken care of it. In fact, the children have already taken care of because of their past progression. Whether they live or die, they will exercise their agency in a way that is consistent with their past righteousness. So either way, you don’t need to worry about it and should do everything in your power to assist and help them because that is what God has called you to do.

    Comment by Blake — September 12, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  64. john f,

    I don’t agree with your conclusions about “weak spirits” and the base of the Plan of Salvation, for one thing.

    I am taking the word “weak” from this statement of Joseph Smith, which explains the purpose of the plan of salvation from a context prior to the fall:

    God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 354)

    This expresses the concept I am paraphrasing: that the plan of salvation exists help weaker intelligences have the chance to progress. Do you disagree with Joseph’s statement? If not, in what way am I misrepresenting it?

    Little children are saved through the Atonement because they are whole and pure.

    Little children are incapable of sin before they begin to become accountable, but that is not because their spirits are intrinsically incapable of sin, it is because of their specific circumstances for a few years while they are babies. They still have the same needs as everyone else to advance in knowledge and to become like God if they want to abide a celestial glory (D&C 88:22).

    What do you think it means that they are whole and pure? Does it mean they are already celestial? If so, how do you suppose they became celestial? It seems from your comments that you think I was whole and pure as a baby, even though my salvation in the celestial kingdom is now contingent. If so, then you are arguing that by putting any spirit in a baby body and killing it you could assure its salvation in the celestial kingdom (and possibly its exaltation according to the revelation you expect might be in store). If so, then why in the world didn’t God put us all in baby bodies and kill us? Seriously, that would have made the plan a lot easier if every one of us would have gone to the celestial kingdom if only we had the good fortune to die as babies.

    Why do you think that I don’t mean “ontologically different” when I say “ontologically different”?

    Well, because ontology generally deals with the fundamental kind of existence something has and I didn’t think you really meant that children have a different mode of existence than adults. Ontology, for example, deals with whether something exists necessarily or contingently. Generally, something that is ontologically different than something else cannot become like the other thing because their fundamental manner of being is different. Anyway, please explain what you meant so I can understand.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 10:21 am

  65. regarding my #62: It just occurred to me that no one else will know what “people without buot” means. Buot is cebuano for something along the lines of accountability. I’d go back and change it, but I think it is funny that I used a visayan word.

    Regarding Blake in #63- you’re right, I don’t get it, if getting it means that it seems to me as being a perfectly reasonable alternative. You say I am supposed to help people because that is what God has asked me to do, and in helping people, it shouldn’t matter to me whether or not they are on easy street to be exalted or not. While this is reasonable on one level, as I shouldn’t be concerned with religious issues in a First Aid situation, I am assuming you aren’t being that literal with me.

    Whether they live or die, they will exercise their agency in a way that is consistent with their past righteousness. Are you saying that someone’s future behaviour is determined by their past behaviour? What about repentance? What about falling away? Are these things not possible for certain subsets, in your opinion?

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  66. Matt: A person’s behavior reflects the past light and knowledge and progress they have made so far. They are still very free. Could they fall? I don’t know. Even celestial folks remain free to reject the light I suppose.

    Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that you would worry about whether you should kill little children. (Come on, you really don’t do you?) Let me lay a bet. I’ll bet up until Jacob’s post the vast majority of church members believed in the exaltation of children who die in infancy — probably including you. Yet have you ever heard of anyone killing a young child to insure their exaltation? Have you ever really been tempted to take this pedantic suggestion seriously? Like I said. Just not a pragmatic concern we can have.

    Comment by Blake — September 12, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  67. Matt,
    Jacob (in 39) lays out the difference between being sinless by virtue of not being tempted and being able to withstand any temptation in righteousness (as Christ did when he came to earth).

    Of course, there is a third version and it is us, mortal beings who sin.

    To me, these are three different tracks to salvation.

    The JSF quote indicated that little children are never to be tempted so they would be the “sinless by virtue of not being tempted” in Jacob’s 39 post.

    We clearly do not fit that description, so I do not understand his conclusion “when we are given the full story it will look a lot like the salvation for everyone else.”

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 11:18 am

  68. Howard: Because this is the first time I’ve noticed it, I want to firmly state i do not believe that little children are not tempted. My four year old is tempted all the time. She may not be accountable, but she is surely tempted. If Jacob said such, I disagree with him.

    Blake:You’re taking too literal a stance here, I am not worried, I was attempting to use the question in a sort of “reductio ad absurdem” but you have very successfully flipped it back to me, I’ll give you that. I’m not tempted to allow children to die if I can help it because I believe there’s more to life than being exalted, so the whole argument falls apart based on that, to be honest.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  69. Matt,
    My 4 year old is also tempted but not accountable.
    According to JFS if she dies before reaching accountability she will never again be tempted. This is the example being referred to as “little children”.

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

  70. Matt,

    If Jacob said such, I disagree with him.

    I am just parroting the scriptural language on this one, so I will defer your disagreement:

    Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me; D&C 29:47

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  71. Howard,

    We clearly do not fit that description, so I do not understand his conclusion “when we are given the full story it will look a lot like the salvation for everyone else.”

    You are making assumptions to get to your three tracks which I reject, so let’s talk about those assumptions. Christ was sinless by virtue of being able to withstand temptation and he is THE example of how to return back to the presence of God. Of course we are not yet progressed to his level and this is what the plan of salvation is about (see quote from Joseph Smith in #64).

    So, we are on the same “track” as Jesus, which is what we mean when we say that he is our example. In other words, if/when we become celestial, it will be because we can withstand temptation just like he did.

    Children are said to be sinless because they don’t have the capacity to sin. They don’t have an understanding of right and wrong, so they cannot act counter to their knowledge of what is right (i.e. sin). This does not necessarily represent a different track to exalation, it simply describes the state they are in as babies.

    There are those who die in ignorance of the gospel, who will be presented with it and have a chance to live according to God in the spirit so that they can be judged according to men in the flesh. Thus, they are on the same track as well. Their salvation is based on the same things that ours is. So far, only one track.

    The way you get to a separate track is through the speculation of JFS that little children who die will never be tempted. I am not aware of any revelation on that matter, from JFS or anyone else. Church leaders have expressed there opinions on a miriad of subjects and their opinions are not necessarily correct (as is abundantely clear from history and from their own statements saying that such is the case). If you want to rely on that speculation due to JFS being a general authority, I have no problem with you doing that, but I don’t feel at all unfaithful or uncomfortable questioning/rejecting that speculation based on the reasoning presented here.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  72. Jacob,

    Compare this:

    Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. (James 1:13-14)

    It seems that a strong case could be made that most temptation does not explicitly involve Satan at all, and that D&C 29:47 only applies to temptations of a particular kind.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 12, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

  73. Mark,

    That seems like a good argument. Notice that my description in the middle of #71 is more about the capacity of the child to understand right and wrong, which is something that develops gradually. Thus, in general I take accountability to be gradual and graded as well.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  74. Jacob J (#73),

    In general I agree. However, God certainly has the discretion not to hold children accountable for some actions that they would otherwise naturally be somewhat accountable for.

    On the general topic, I think the doctrine that little children who die are automatically saved in the celestial kingdom makes little sense.

    In the non-interfering case, the certainty of celestial salvation without an earthly tenure or equivalent begs the question of why any one of us is here at all. That is a big problem.

    In the interfering case, the same doctrine suggests that earth life is a reformatory for second class citizens, more or less an upgraded version of purgatory, and that none of the other reasons (marriage, service, family) for being here are significant enough for the first class spirits to bother sticking around.

    It also implies that God scheduled the first class spirit’s births according to available technology – infant mortality rates are much lower these days. Relying on ignorance and want to generate the appropriate number of premature deaths doesn’t seem like much of a plan to me.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 12, 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  75. Jacob,
    “I am not aware of any revelation on that matter, from JFS…”

    I was not aware of any revelation either, until I found this:

    But, with little children who are taken away in infancy and innocence before they have reached the years of accountability, and are not capable of committing sin, the gospel reveals to us the fact that they are redeemed, and Satan has no power over them. Neither has death any power over them. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and they are saved just as surely as death has come into the world through the fall of our first parents. It is further written that Satan has no power over men or women, except that power which he gains over them in this world. In other words, none of the children of the Father who are redeemed through obedience, faith, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and who live in that redeemed condition, and die in that condition are subject to Satan. Therefore he has no power over them. They are absolutely beyond his reach, just as little children are who die without sin. To my mind this is a consolation and a glorious truth that my soul delights in. I am grateful to my heavenly Father that he has revealed it unto me…

    (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, compiled by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939], 452.)

    This paragraph supports the JFS position I presented by showing that it was revealed to JFS.

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  76. What Joseph F. says here is interesting. He says that little children are “redeemed,” which is a different concept than being granted celestial glory. It means something roughly like “saved from the grasp of the devil and evil.” If little children are beyond the reach of evil, then it is hard to fathom how they would lose their salvation.

    Comment by Blake — September 12, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  77. Howard,

    You need to be a bit more careful in your exegesis here. First of all, when people bear testimony they often use language like this and they don’t mean that God gave them the kind of revelation you are suggesting Joseph F. Smith received.

    More importantly, the quote itself explains what he means by that phrase since he begins by saying that: “the gospel reveals to us the fact that they are redeemed, and Satan has no power over them.” These are the exact two things said in D&C 29:46-47; (1) that they are redeemed (vs. 46) and (2) that Satan has no power over them (vs. 47). Thus, it seems almost beyond doubt that Joseph F. Smith is referring to the fact that the gospel (read: D&C 29 and other scriptures scriptures we have been discussing here) reveals that children are redeemed and outside the reach of Satan. This is, of course, very different than claiming that it has been revealed that little children will never be tempted, which is what JFSII claimed which I said there is no revelation about.

    Notice that he starts out citing the two things revealed in D&C 29 and then couples this with a separate teaching (“It is further written”) about Satan only having power in this world (which is disputable, are people in the spirit world tempted?) and taken together he concludes (via logic) that those two together guarantee that children are absolutely beyond his reach. This is not the kind of revelation I was referring to when I said there hadn’t been one.

    This is a good example of why we should not jump to conclusions from a single turn of phrase.

    (By the way, excellent job stating after the quote the reason you quoted it and what I was supposed to get from it. That was very helpful in allowing me to respond without asking a question first.)

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  78. Jacob,
    I will defer to you regarding what people say when they are bearing their testimony, as I am new to the church.

    Yes, I see how you logically connected “they are redeemed” and “Satan has no power…” to D&C 29.
    But,

    “the gospel reveals…”

    and

    “I am grateful to my Heavenly Father that he has revealed it unto me, for it affords a consolation that nothing else can give, and it brings a joy to my spirit that nothing can take away…”

    are very different statements especially when you consider that JFSI was second counselor to president Wilford Woodruff (1889-1898) at the time.

    “Unto me” is personal.

    The occasion was the funeral of a young child. I think he is making a point:
    “They are absolutely beyond his reach, just as little children are who die without sin.”

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  79. Jacob: pulling out Gospel Doctrine to look at what Howard is discussing, JFS bears pretty strong testimony of his point of view:

    …the beauty of this to me is that I know these things, that I am satisfied of them, and so long as I possess the spirit of truth I have no fear that any doubt or uncertainty will ever enter my mind in regard to these principles.

    I think that’s a pretty stong testimony, as far as JFS goes. (sorry it’s so long)

    Comment by Matt W. — September 12, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

  80. Matt, Howard,

    As I have said before, if you want to base your belief on this topic on the statements of JFSI or JFSII or BRM or whoever else, I am fine with you doing that. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons people want to believe in the automatic salvation of children. It is a very comforting doctrine, as JFSI mentions. I am not here to pit my testimony against any of these good brethren, but none of them has presented a revelation on the subject. Certainly we should all be able to agree that none of these quotes you have presented is more authoritative or binding that the scriptures I reviewed in the post.

    In #71, I said that I was unaware of any revelations JFSII had presented on this subject. In #75 Howard quoted JFSI saying he was glad God had revealed this to him. I argued persuasively that the statement was not meant to convey a revelation on the subject. You both continue to press this line of argument. So, what is your point? Do you think these statements prove that children are saved automatically? Must I accept everything a general authority bears testimony of? Does that count for Brigham Young?

    While other people’s testimonies are hard to evaluate, I can evaluate ideas. I have outlined some reasons that the doctrine of automatic salvation for little children makes no theological sense. No one here has made a case for how this doctrine can be made to seem reasonable. If you believe in it (for whatever reason), make a case for how it makes sense. If you don’t want to make a case for why it makes sense, you just come across as arguing that we should blindly accept it based on a statement from a general authority. I know enough to know that that way of establishing a theology will not work out in the long run.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 12, 2007 @ 10:20 pm

  81. “Must I accept everything a general authority bears testimony of?”

    Nope.

    Comment by Howard — September 12, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  82. re # 64, it’s very nice to be taught by you what “ontology” means. Thank you.

    Moroni 8 holds the key here. Little children are in a state of being as if there had been no fall, as if Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden. That is what whole and pure means in the context of Moroni 8. This is possible because of the Atonement. Children are not saved when they die because they were ignorant of the law. Truth be told, neither are adults. Adults who die in ignorance of the Gospel are not saved; rather, their disposition is prolonged until they accept or reject the Gospel. On the other hand, children are shielded by the Atonement from the curse of Adam altogether. That is the message of Moroni 8.

    As for killing all the kids, you are right, that would be easier. How could God have been so dumb? So, you go first.

    While you’re at it, start campaigning for missionaries to add a disclaimer to the discussions informing the investigators that they can either be baptized now or wait to be baptized for the dead and accept it in the afterlife. That way they can have some fun in this life and still enjoy the Atonement later.

    Comment by john f. — September 13, 2007 @ 2:43 am

  83. Jacob: I think I’ve already stated what my position was. I was just saying perhaps you are being to quick to put off JFS1. Personally, I am not sure that I find that much difference in what he is saying and what you are saying. JFS is saying that children will have the opportunity to grow and progress in the post mortal existance and that in that area, Satan has no influence. I think Logic also indicates that we won’t suffer the appetites or lusts of a fallen body in such a state. I do not think God is denying the agency of children though, and I am sure more will be revealed in this regards in the future, as you say in your original post.

    Moreover, You and Mark D. make excellent points, and I am inclined to believe that little children are born in a fallen state, and are not fully accountable for their actions. I guess that means that even if they are influenced by bad things, then they are not “tempted by the devil” per se, as they are not accountable (able to choose for themselves) in a way that you or I are.

    One thing I am getting confused on is whether you are discussing Satan as a metaphor or as a literal being. I know we’ve discussed that topic here in the past, but I’m afraid I didn’t pay close enough attention to who was on what side.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 13, 2007 @ 6:32 am

  84. john f,

    That was more sarcasm that I was expecting from you, have I done something to offend?

    As to your substantive comment about the meaning of Moroni 8, I agree that he is saying it is, for them, as though there had been no fall. That is why I addressed this argument in the post and explained why I don’t think it holds up under scrutiny. This is why it is important that Joseph’s statement in #64 is framed in a context prior to the fall. If the whole problem was the fall, then avoiding the fall would solve the problem. But, if the problem existed before the fall (the problem necessitating the plan of salvation) then avoiding the fall is not sufficient to guarantee salvation in the celestial kingdom.

    I am still unclear on this aspect of your proposed theory: Are little children celestial before coming to earth (as Blake suggests), or is the fact of being killed as an infant, per se, that guarantees their salvation in the celestial?

    Comment by Jacob J — September 13, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  85. Howard (#81), glad we are on the same page on that.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 13, 2007 @ 8:37 am

  86. Just a little musing here trying to better understand all of this, so nothing set into stone.

    I tend to believe along the lines of Blake. Maybe one third of us went with Satan, one third came here and one third only came here to get a body, those being the children that die before the age of accountability.

    If God can set into motion the laws that keep everything in place and alive here, then I think He can set into motion the laws that require certain little children die before they reach accountability.

    If there is something to the law of attraction (“The Secret”/as a man thinks, so is he kind of thing) then there could be something to a child that comes here that needs to die early, attracts something that will cause his death. Seems pretty simple to me. I mean, if the speed of gravity is faster than the speed of light, I would not want to be the one that limits what God can do.

    The question that is begged to me, is the one of ordinances. But if Christ can be God before He came here, then I am not sure what the ordinances are all about anyway. Perhaps a way of creating a camaraderie that can out last it’s usefulness. But I do not think that will with stand criticism.

    Comment by CEF — September 13, 2007 @ 9:29 am

  87. Matt W. (#83),

    I believe that strictly speaking God is God because he is good, rather than good is good because it is of God. Likewise, Satan is the devil because he is evil, rather than evil is evil because it is of Satan.

    The alternative would be to believe that nothing could go wrong if Satan didn’t exist, and that nothing could go right (not even accidentally) if God didn’t exist.

    Lacking that sort of metaphysical tie, it doesn’t make sense to me that Satan is responsible for all the evil in the world, even if he is responsible for much of it.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 13, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  88. Mark D. we’re singing off the same page, bro.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 13, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  89. Glad to hear it, Matt.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 13, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  90. From the Ensign April 1977 – quote from gospel doctrine.
    The Salvation of Little Children

    Because they will receive a celestial inheritance, they will come forth in the first resurrection, President Joseph F. Smith said: “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 455–56.)

    Does Celestial kingdom residence mean exaltation? Not to me, unless one reaches the highest level(degree) of that kingdom. For me this shows there will be some decisions and some sort of proving for these children to yet atain to exaltion after the resurection. “In my fathers house there are many mansions(degrees)”

    Comment by Gunner — September 13, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

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