Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beware the Flawed Doctrine of Universalism

I felt I ought to finally post on a subject of a more doctrinal/philosophical nature. Maybe I'm overemphasizing this growing problem, but since some guy brought it up in Sunday School last week, and since I read where someone tried to push this doctrine on an AML blog, and since some might misconstrue that this doctrine is also supported by a new book by Alonzo Gaskill called, Odds Are You're Going to Be Exhalted, I felt it was worth bringing up.

"Universalism" is the doctrine that eventually, whether it may take billions of years, ALL of our Heavenly Father's children will be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom. The idea is that even though many on earth will inherit the telestial kingdom, or the lowest of the three degrees of glory, over time they will have the opportunity to progress to higher kingdoms. Usually this doctrine is couched with the emotional philosophy that a loving Heavenly Father could NEVER introduce a plan of salvation wherein only a portion of His children would receive exhaltation and be permanently reunited into His presence.

The idea that souls can progress from kingdom to kingdom, over time, was batted around by various Church figures in the late 1800's and early 20th Century. But the concept was sent to the trash heap with a great deal of dramatic flourish by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in the early 1980's with a popular talk that he gave entitled, "The Seven Deadly Heresies." One of these "deadly heresies" was the notion that souls could progress from kingdom to kingdom.

It's easy to fall into this error. Our mortal understanding of fairness and compassion is lulled and comforted by the idea that God could NEVER condemn ANYONE to a state less than their full potential. Gaskill, in his book, points out the doctrine that many general authorities have espoused that children who die before the age of accountability, the mentally handicapped, and several other prominent categories of souls are assured exhaltation because of their station in life. It even references a little known doctrine taught by Joseph Smith and others that celestialized parents who have wayward children in mortality will, through their own faith and determination, have the power to influence a child to change their attitude in the afterlife and eventually rejoin them in an eternally exalted family. Gaskill is not immune from the emotionalism inherent in our mortal understanding as he writes on page 17 of his book, "The thought that God would promote something that would ensure that the vast majority of His children would never again be able to dwell in His presence is incomprehensible. And the assumption that our mother in heaven would idly sit back and allow such a guaranteed flop to eternally strip her of any interaction with her spirit offspring is equally unfathomable. Such could not-and did not-happen!”

Yup. Based on our mortal understanding of the eternities, Gaskill's argument has a gut reaction that is quite pursuasive. Our earthly comprehension of "fairness" seems to scream out to the carnal mind that this MUST be the case. But the fact is, we have no revealed doctrine that supports this. It is a supposition based on the logic of mortals. And we have so little understanding of anything about our Mother in heaven that assuming any state of mind for this sacred figure might actually be inappropriate. Whatever else it may be, the interpretation that Gaskill presents is a doctrinal stretch.

To give Gaskill his due, his book mostly tries to highlight the fact that we are saved by the grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ. This is certainly true, and oft forgotten by Latter-day Saints who are sometimes overprone to bouts of guilt and (mental) self flagellation. But if one seeks comfort by gaining a full understanding of the overwhelming power of the Atonement, I would much more heartily recommend Robinson's book, Believing Christ. Gaskill's book, though seemingly innocent in its motives, and though he tries to support his argument with many scripural and GA resources , is too easily interpreted to support the notion of "Universalism." Or in other words, to support the idea that God does not punish anyone. That there are no eternal consequences for choices made in mortality. And that very few will ever be condemned to live in the eternities in any permanent state that would keep them cut off from the presence of God the Father.

As I already mentioned, Bruce R. McConkie specifically condemned such ideas in his talk "The Seven Deadly Heresies." In this talk, he states that the belief of eternal progression from kingdom to kingdom "... lulls men into a state of carnal security. It causes them to say, "God is so merciful; surely he will save us all eventually; if we do not gain the celestial kingdom now, eventually we will; so why worry?"

He then enlists some powerful scriptures. Of those in the telestial world it is written:
"And they shall be servants of the Most High, but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end" (D&C 76:112).

Of those who had the opportunity to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in this life and who did not do it the revelation says: "Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven; which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all etemity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. [D&C 132:16-17]

To the mortal mind this just seems unfair, right? If God really loves us, how could it be true?

The answer to this is simple: In the end, as we receive our eternal estate, none will ultimately view themselves as being "punished." This is God's eternal mercy at work. We exist in the eternities because of our choices. In essence, we choose our kingdom of glory. It is not given to us as punishment. I emphasize the word "glory". These lower kingdoms are never referred to in the scriptures as states of sorrow and anguish. There's an old axiom that states that if men could see the glory of the telestial kingdom, they might readily commit suicide just to obtain it because of how glorious it really is. Ever since I joined the Church in 1981 this has been a popular axiom, thought I have not found a particular statement from the scriptures, or from a GA, that might be the axiom's source material.

Personally, I've reconciled all of our understandings about the "fairness" and mercy of God without, I believe, changing basic LDS doctrine. In essence, we must assume that our lack of understanding regarding "fairness" (such as the "luck" of children born with certain physical limitations, or who die as infants and getting automatic exhaltation, and our own lack of "luck" that we did NOT die as infants) might be resolved with a great "Oh, duh!" if we could simply remember our pre-mortality. We would then fully comprehend the whys and wherefores of things that occur in mortality and utterly eliminate any thoughts of unfairness regarding opportunities and consequences while residing on planet earth in its mortal probation.

Once again, what if telestial glory is actually total and complete bliss for those who inherit it? I believe we receive our kingdoms by choice as a result of our actions. It is a consequence based more on principles of math and physics than on any kind of punishments. Such preserves the basic doctrine of the Church without introducing "universalism."

Have we ever considered that maybe there are those who don't WANT to return to God's presence? That it's not necessarily high on everyone's priority list? Getting back to the presence of the Father and Mother of our spirits sounds very attractive in principle, but the reality may not be nearly as attractive as the abstraction. Many mortal parents have children who ultimately feel ambivalent about them. Or even resentful. And maybe those who obtain lower kingdoms that will lack the interaction of our Father and Mother in heaven are just happier in that state of existence. No doubt this may be heartbreaking for the parents, but heartbreak and sorrow for the "world" and for decisions made by our offspring is plainly defined as a characteristic of God. For all we know, inheritance of the Celestial Kingdom assumes an incredible amount of responsibility and action from the inheritors that many souls simply do not want to undertake. Creating worlds? Let's face it, some folks in mortality choose to not even hold down a job.

So what about "billions and gazillions of years" that make up the fabric of eternity? Just what are those who inherit telestial glory going to be doing ten gazillion years from now if not attempting to progress to a higher kingdom? Well, again, this logic, assumes way too much based upon our mortal understanding of time. The same flawed arguemnt could be placed upon the past as well as the future. If we have "always" existed, why did it take so doggone long to even get to the point of coming into mortality? See the problem? Again, we are trapped by our lack of eternal understanding. The "veil" is hindering our comprehension. As the scriptures often hint, "God's time is not our time." And it may be that time itself is a "thing" created strictly for mortality. Deep stuff, and totally beyond our comprehension. But that's the whole point. "Universalism" is a doctrine born of that lack of understanding. It's a doctrine born of a lack of faith. And born of grave impatience.

Here's the clincher: "Universalism" really DOES make me want to go out and do any darn thing I please. It makes me feel okay about sin. The scriptures say there are consequences??? "Universalism" makes me say "Whatever!" As a carnal, self-serving human being I am prone to respond, "I'll worry about consequences later and seek out all my self-gratifications now" or to paraphrase the scriptures, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" This notion really is reenergized in my psyche if I were to accept "universalism" or any doctrine like unto it.

So I feel to resolve this argument we must go back to the Book of Mormon (paraphrasing Mor. 7: 16-17) : "That which pursuades men to do good and believe in Christ is of God. That which pursuades NOT to do good is NOT of God." Such puts universalism squarely in the trashheap of the "doctrines of men." Though I am sorely tempted by the carnal comfort I receive from the concept of "universalism," I cannot ignore that such comfort is essentially laziness and does not contribute to our Spirit-driven desire to repent and do better day by day.

And lest there are some who believe that this rejection could only be born of a universal power struggle, a desire to stomp upon my fellow man and declare some to be superior to others, or born of an essential lack of compassion for humankind, I declare that this is not an accurate representation of what I feel. We see through the veil darkly. Human logic does not replace the eternal light of revelation. So until the Lord reveals more (or finds us humble enough to receive more) I think it's much safer ground to remain rooted to the understanding about repentence and living the commandments that we have been given by our Church leaders since our days in Primary.

Chris Heimerdinger

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Anonymous said...

Excellent Post. I was just discussing this subject on myspace with a lot of non-members who were asking if we could grew to the next did not matter that I told them no, your time to work on that is now...I always got back a " What kind of God does that?" errr ok.

I remember before I joined this church in 1989, I was pretty much pissed! my family did not go to any church but we knew about adam and eve and thought we knew I was walking around wondering why do I have to pay for adam and eve's sin? they messed up so I should be able to do whatever the heck I want and be ok, It is their fault not mine. When those elders explain to me the truth I straighten up real quick! boy talk about an 180! Once I found out I was responsible for my own saving I was going to try and walk that long narrow path..after my child was born I was grabbing at the rails to make sure I stay in it (my child was born with DS) and I would very much like to be with her.

Now I don't understand the whole marriage thing..can you explain that? I was married and now I am going thru a divorce, I know I am going to be sealed to husband until we are all brought back..according to my bishop, GOD with great sense of fairness will let me choose to stay with him or not? I find it kind of hard to deal with the fact I am still stuck with him..unless I decide to re-marry again (fat chance of that! ) or wait until we are resurrected and given the choice (IF we are given the choice) kind of blows to me.

No offense to the priestholders, I will always support them..just from a safe and long distance lol!

So what does that mean? Will I be able to make it to the top? or not because I am divorce and not re-married?

Anonymous said...

"Creating worlds? Let's face it, some folks in mortality choose to not even hold down a job"

I got a good laugh out this..You can just hear it in Heaven.. Sorry! can't trade foodstamps for a better kingdom lol.

teleknees said...

wow. that is one hefty post and i think the only person that finished it was queen.


Janell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

it was a good post..too bad CH did not reply to my post :( I had some questions which I thought were valid..maybe he did not wanted to get into that whole mess about men been able to do this and women do that...still kind of crummy not to reply :P lol! I think I am going to go and pout somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Chris I heard something, that I am not sure if you were aware of them, I heard them from somebody in utah is there an email I can send you this info to?

Mindful Molly said...

I love your post! I appreciate your posting it for others to see, and actually giving the references for those who need to read it for themselves. I will be posting about your blog (and of course movie) on

Thanks for a very enlightening post!


Chris Heimerdinger said...

Sorry Queen. I didn't see your question. I also posted this essay on another LDS blog and it had over eighty responses within a few days. That one kept me busy.

We are taught in more messages from General Authorities than I can possibly count that the Savior's judgment will be just, and that if you live a life worthy of Celestial exaltation, all sisters who did not find a worthy Priesthood holder in this life (or MEN for that matter, though I think most men face more accountability since worthy sisters are more abundant) will be given a worthy partner in the life to come and go on to fulfill all of their eternal potential.

Someone else asked for my email. It's

Anonymous said...

80 responses? where else do you blog? it seems like I am talking to myself here lol.

rodgertutt said...

Calvinism, Arminianism, or Christian Biblical Universalism

Which view of salvation is true?

Two good expositions specifically answering that question!



rodgertutt said...

Calvinism, Arminianism, or Christian Biblical Universalism

Which view of salvation is true?

Two good expositions specifically answering that question!