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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
The still small voice whispers yet a deeper meaning. Home is heaven. We are strangers here on earth. My real home is not here, but there.—Elder Gene R. Cook[i]
Understanding the extent of the Fall and the condition of our physical bodies is a significant step forward in understanding a child’s condition of waywardness.
Like us, our children are strangers here—not strangers on earth, necessarily, for it was created to be their eternal home,[ii] but strangers in this remote sector of space in a telestial setting far from their Heavenly Father. To say that they fell is an understatement; they fell enormously. They, like the earth, once enjoyed celestial associations in a celestial environment in the celestial presence of God. President Brigham Young explained,
When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. And when man fell—though that was designed in the economy . . . the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there.[iii]
The Fall was necessary. As we have been taught, the universal law of opposites[iv] states that to ascend up on high we must descend below all things, so that we might comprehend all things, and thereby gain the ability to become as the gods—above, and in all, and through all things.[v]For reasons that we do not completely understand, this process is the only way to become exalted.
Our Children’s Descent
We cannot comprehend the distance and depth of the Fall. We fell physically, spiritually, and emotionally into a condition described by President Joseph F. Smith as “below all things.”[vi] A couple from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada described their son’s mortal fall:
Evan came to us as all babies do: innocent, pure, full of promise and fresh from Heavenly Father. But by the time Evan was a toddler, we knew that we were in for a rough ride. It was just a matter of time. The downslide began when he entered middle school and discovered the electric guitar. Soon some friends invited him to join a band. We were concerned about his friends and the influence they seemed to be exerting on him, but we also wanted him to have the freedom to develop his talent. We were so naïve. The band played hard rock, and soon Evan embraced everything that goes along with that culture. He began to dress sloppily . . . and experiment with alcohol.
Six months ago, he began to smoke, and now he goes through a pack a day and cannot stop. He has tattooed his body, pierced his ears, nose and tongue, and has begun to wear eye makeup. He has died his hair strange colors, and most recently he has shaved his head except for a clump that he braids into a ponytail that falls to the middle of his back.
We don’t know how to stop the hemorrhaging. We have tried calmly talking to him, screaming at him, and even limiting his privileges; we have even threatened to send him away to a disciplinary school program—but nothing has worked. He has a girlfriend with whom he has frequent sexual problems. He invites his friends to our home and they leave upon it a dark and terrible feeling. Our oldest son moved out after high school because he couldn’t stand the atmosphere; our younger children are always tense, as if they are afraid.
Four weeks ago, Evan nearly lost his life when he overdosed on drugs, slid into unconscious oblivion, and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Where, we ask ourselves, is the sweet, innocent spirit that came to us seventeen years ago? Evan is so far removed from the clean, angelic son of God whom we once welcomed into our family that now he is almost unrecognizable.
Our children’s descent might be compared to the earth’s descent. Between premortality and achieving God’s presence loomed the experience of mortality. In effect, our children stood upon the safe ledge of the brilliant celestial kingdom and looked downward into the dark, knowing that once they stepped off, they would forfeit their memory and power and become helpless, completely incapable of making it on their own.
Worse, they would have no immediate comprehension that they had descended into a fallen world. Unless they are taught differently and gain a testimony of their real identity and heritage, they will grow up believing that this mortal life is all there was, and worse, that this life is normal. Tragically, for a time, they might even embrace the dangers that permeate earth life.
In her Alma the Younger series, M. Catherine Thomas proposes that our children “would begin to make choices before [they] had much knowledge or judgment or ability to choose right over wrong consistently and would inevitably make mistakes and sin . . . . As [they] grew in a fallen environment, [they] would form wrong opinions and make false assumptions, by which [they] would then govern [their] lives, and would unwittingly be programmed by many precepts of men. [They] would make many choices before [they] had grasped the significance of even the Light that [they] had.”[vii]
We cannot fathom the range of emotions our children must have experienced as they contemplated their descent into this lone and dreary world. To have this mortal experience was what they had fought for. They had vigorously defended the Father’s plan in the great war in heaven; they had shouted for joy at the prospect;[viii] they had dedicated their lives to Christ, who was to become their Savior and the central figure of the plan; they had prepared in every way for this moment; and yet, they must have had some idea of the sobering reality that some might come here and succumb to sin.
In Catherine Thomas’s words, “The period of descent was surely seen by the righteous premortal spirits as a great sacrifice. The most righteous did not want to sin. They knew the truth about sin. A veil was necessary so that they would make the descent . . . into spiritual darkness.” Only profound faith in Christ could have given them the strength to descend.
Therefore, armed only with the Light of Christ, they stepped off the celestial ledge and plummeted toward this dark telestial world. Imagine their courage, for we must assume that, because of agency, no one was compelled to come; imagine their hope, for the transcendent possibilities of eternity lay before them. But they knew that those possibilities were dependent upon their keeping their second estate.[ix]
Therefore they willingly left the arms of seasoned, perfect, Celestial Parents for the arms of novices—we, imperfect telestial parents. What we parents had going for us was love, but otherwise we would be learning through trial and error. President Howard W. Hunter said,
Conscientious parents try their best, yet nearly all have made mistakes. One does not launch into such a project as parenthood without soon realizing that there will be many errors along the way.
Surely our Heavenly Father knows, when he entrusts his spirit children into the care of young and inexperienced parents, that there will be mistakes and errors in judgment. . . . Especially at these first-time milestones when experience and understanding are somewhat lacking. Even after the parent has gained experience, the second-time and third-time occurrences of these milestones are sometimes not much easier to handle, nor do they come with much less chance of error.[x]
What amazing confidence God places in us new parents, and what profound power and grace He wields to undo our clumsy parenting and all that mortality can heap upon a child. Nevertheless, “trailing clouds of glory”[xi] and for a divine purpose, our children descended into this benighted orb, dimly lit by the sun, to finally, after untold eons of waiting, claim an eternal tabernacle for their immortal spirits in which they might work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.”[xii]
The Body—The Ultimate Vehicle for Moral Agency
What our children would gain here was the matchless gift of a physical body. Now they would become a soul—“The spirit and the body are the soul of man.”[xiii] To achieve exaltation the soul needs experience in the two major spheres of which the universe is constituted: spirit and physical matter. The physical body is made of physical matter and becomes the palette the spirit uses to act upon things.[xiv] The physical body is the spirit’s great tool of expression and feeling, and the physical world is its canvas.
Suddenly, with a body, our children could choose from and enjoy infinite possibilities. A spirit without a body is much like a mind without hands, arms, legs and feet—a being who can think but not act.[xv] President John Taylor said, “The body was formed as an agent for the spirit.”[xvi]
With a body, then, our children would have both the intellect and the vehicle to think and to act out their thoughts. They could give expression to their dreams, desires, and hungers. Therein were both amazing and frightening realities: with a body they would now have the potential to reach stratospheric, godlike heights, or they would now have the potential to plunge to the hellish depths of the devil. With a body, they, as children of God with infinite potential, would be capable of literally anything—“nothing shall be impossible.”[xvii] But to become as God, they would have to control the body and learn to point it toward exalted purposes.
And that would be no small feat.
By descending to this planet and taking up a fallen, telestial body made of fallen telestial material, our children would become “carnal, sensual, and devilish . . . by nature”[xviii] and consequently become subject to the devil.[xix] This fallen condition, known as the “natural man,”means “enemy to God.” Therefore, during their mortal sojourn, in order to progress toward exaltation, they would need to experience a spiritual awakening and allow themselves to be enticed by “the Holy Spirit and [put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the Atonement of Christ the Lord.”
To qualify for eternal life, they would need to learn to suppress their innate carnal, sensual, and devilish nature and learn to become childlike—“submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [them].”[xx] Moral agency would become a device that could accommodate this spiritual awakening. Thus, earth life was designed to be a test of wills between the physical and spiritual and between Satan and God. Our children’s mortal test would involve learning to act as independent beings; they were to learn to be faithful even if their circumstances would be “darker than 10,000 midnights.”[xxi]
Now, with a body, their every experience is heightened—they can fall lower or rise higher than they ever could without it. They feel more fully, hurt more completely, love more deeply, and, because they are now be a soul composed of spirit and physical matter, they have the potential to “receive a fulness of joy.”[xxii] Clearly, our children’s destiny lies within the potential of their bodies.
With a body they suddenly have the power to multiply and replenish the earth by procreating other carnate children of God—a powerful yet dangerous idea. Satan knows this, of course, and thus he tries to persuade our children to misuse their bodies and to experiment with the sacred powers of procreation.
As his primary tool, Satan uses ignorance—ignorance about who they really are, where they came from, why they are here, and what their glorious future will be. By keeping them ignorant, Satan can more easily tempt them to disobey their parents and God. He knows that disobedience can cut a wide gash in the soul, a gash that hemorrhages light and truth,[xxiii] and that once this happens, our children become weakened and disempowered—so that Satan can gain control over them.[xxiv]
The Influence of the Adversary
Because Satan knows that the body is highly susceptible to suggestion and can be acted upon by outside influences as well as its internal spirit, he tempts a person to sin. Then, once Satan has succeeded, he attempts to hold the sin in place by persuading the person to wink at the transgression, disregard it, or experience so much guilt that the person is paralyzed against repentance.
The problem with unrepentant sin is that it is the seed of spiritual cancer, which grows inside the soul until it has consumed it. The seed of unrepentant sin is never dormant; its cells divide like cancer until the system is overwhelmed by and dying from it. When Satan succeeds in getting a person to sin and persuading him to procrastinate repentance, he has free reign to dull the person’s conscience, steal away his light and truth, and render the person’s soul spiritually illiterate. The cumulative effect weakens the soul so that Satan can lead it captive down to hell.[xxv]
Only repentance made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ can once again infuse power into the soul and free it from Satan’s grasp, reopening the door to light and truth. We parents must watch for the warning signs of unrepentant sin and help our children to confess their sins and fully repent. Otherwise, the consequences are dire. Elder Boyd K. Packer said,
In the battle of life, the adversary takes enormous numbers of prisoners, and many know of no way to escape and are pressed into his service. Every soul confined to a concentration camp of sin and guilt has a key to the gate. The adversary cannot hold them if they know how to use it. The key is labeled Repentance. The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the adversary.[xxvi]
The body, according to Joseph Smith, when properly used and understood, can put us beyond the power of Satan and all our enemies.[xxvii] “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.
”[xxviii] Therefore, “Satan’s power over us always hinges upon our obedience or disobedience—our willingness or unwillingness to submit to the mind and will of the Father”
Moreover, the body is designed to be the “tabernacle of God,”[xxx] a holy, walled fortress to protect the spirit.
[xxxi] And we must not forget that the spirit—the actual offspring of God that animates the body—is a powerful being. Our spirit is made of the substance called truth, which is also referred to as spirit, light, light of truth, intelligence, glory, power, and law.[xxxii]
Because the body is carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature, it may not perceive the entity of light and truth that resides within it, but the spirit knows who it is. By nature, the spirit is truth-discerning, constructed and instructed so that it can perceive both truth and error.[xxxiii]Beyond our limited five senses, an ocean of truth exists, and although we might try to stubbornly deny it, we are nevertheless surrounded by it. Within our children exists the potential—if it is allowed to develop—for the spirit to exercise dominion over that natural man and to embrace truth. The spirit is constantly seeking for ways to emerge and take control.