Editor’s Note: After a 6-week hiatus for family and reunions, Richard Eyre continues this twelve-part series on the restored doctrine of The Parental God which separates our theology from that of any other faith or religious tradition. In this article, part 9 in the 12-part series, we go back to the Beginning (or as close as we can get to the beginning). You can access the first eight articles in the series HERE.
Author’s Note: The central thrust and thesis of this series is that our belief in literal Heavenly Parents changes everything and is the most pivotal and distinctive teaching of the Restoration from which most other theological distinctions stem. If we are the spiritual children of Heavenly Parents then of course we lived with Them pre-mortally, and of course They have a plan for our happiness, and of course our own families and parenting must be our highest priority. This series seeks to organize what we know from prophetic and official Church sources in a way that prompts personal pondering and prayer about our Parental God and perhaps draws us closer even as it influences how we think and how we live our lives, particularly within our families. This is important to me because, while I am not a theologian or a religious authority, I am one who believes deeply in eternal families and who has, with my wife Linda, written and spoken about family topics around the world for more than four decades—and I believe that the ultimate example of marriage and parenting is our Heavenly Parents. In these final four articles we will explore more deeply what we know about the beginning and the reality of this divine relationship and how Their parenting and Their marriage can influence ours.
It is only in the context of the beginning and the end that the story in between can make sense
One of the most powerful ramifications of believing in Heavenly Parents is that our beginnings were with Them before this earth rather than with our mortal parents on this earth. The beautiful doctrine of our pre-mortal existence bestows on us the great gift and context of being able to truly contemplate a Parental God and to see this mortal life, with all of its joys and pains, as the gift of fair and loving Heavenly Parents rather than an arbitrary, random, and seemingly unjust roll of the dice.
Early Christians knew of our Parental God and of our premortal life. Other great religions and philosophies also incorporated, at least in their early iterations, the notion of life before life. Today, even Wikipedia, that first-stop on so many Google searches, bears this out. Put “pre-existence” in a Wikipedia search and this is what comes up:
Ancient Greek thought
Plato believed in the pre-existence of the soul, which tied in with his innatism. He thought that we are born with knowledge from a previous life that is subdued at birth and must be relearned. He saw all attainment of knowledge not as acquiring new information, but as remembering previously known information.
In the Bhagavad Gita, considered by Hindus to be a most holy scripture, Krishna tells Arjuna; “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.”
In Islam, all souls are believed to have been created in adult form (before earthly life) at the same time God created the father of mankind, Adam. The Quran recounts the story of when the descendants of Adam were brought forth before God to testify that God alone is the Lord of creation and therefore only he is worthy of worship.
Origen argued that God could not love Jacob and hate Esau until Jacob had done something worthy of love and Esau had done something worthy of hatred, therefore, this passage only means that Jacob and Esau had not yet done good or evil in this life and their conduct before this life was the reason why Esau would serve Jacob…
Origen also quoted Jeremiah 1:5:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
But this paradigm of pre-existence, and those views of who we are and where we came from, were debated and diluted and dispersed and darkened and it finally disappeared during the aptly named dark ages.
Within Christianity, that parental and pre-existent paradigm was confused and then eliminated by Augustine and failed to re-emerge during the Reformation wherein it was replaced with what could be labeled its polar opposite—with a view of humans as fallen creatures, conceived in sin rather than as eternal intelligences who became Spirit Children of our Parental God.
This didn’t just alter or mess up one isolated part of Christian theology, it undermined it all. A more effective destruction could not have been invented. By eliminating a belief in a Parental God and in premortal life, the higher Divine love is also lost, and the motivation of love is replaced by the motivation of fear.
On this point, Terryl Givens, who has written extensively about the widespread and early belief in a pre-mortal life in his book When Souls Had Wings, has recently quoted Edward Beecher who said that if there is a “malignant spirit” or an adversary to God, his most effective “opposition to the progress of the cause of God” would be to “pervert and disgrace” the story of our true origins in a premortal world, and our true relation to God.
Changing the Narrative (and the Perspective and the Purpose)
The deepest questions we can ask about ourselves is whether we live after death and whether we lived before birth.
The worst answer is neither, and the best answer is both.
Virtually everyone who believes in God believes in some form of life after life. Yet a belief in an afterlife without a belief in a pre-life—a one-way eternity—carries a certain inconsistency.
We should all love this mortal existence, because it is a gift from Heavenly Parents.
For all believers, even those just clinging to a shred of faith, the hope and the effort feels like it needs to be about comprehending and striving to understand who and what God might be, and whether we ourselves might be more than the genetic creation and combination of our earthly parents.
When trying to understand something—anything—a good place to start is with origin. Where did it start? Where is its beginning? Where did it come from?
The doctrine of our own pre-mortal life is essential to our understanding of purpose, of destiny, and of God Himself.
And while this precious and pivotal doctrine once existed in most major religions, it was completely lost and absent from the official creeds of the Christianity that emerged a few centuries after Christ. And while some writings still existed that suggested a life before birth, the Reformation and the Protestant Churches did not return to it or embrace it.
The Uniqueness and Blessing of our Perspective
So, we have now in the world more than 2.2 billion Christians who officially believe in a life after life, but not in a life before life. It is a belief in a one-way eternity which, as mentioned, ultimately feels illogical and disconnected.
It is the contemplation of a continuous existence that goes forever backward as well as forever forward that can give us the perspective of hope and fairness and justice and mercy that gives us a footing from which to ask the rest of the questions about why we are here and where we are going.
And while neither the Pope-believing half or the Reformation-believing half of Christianity has that two-way perspective, we, the less than one percent of Restoration-believing Christianity, DO. How incredibly grateful we should be.
Because it is this back-story that makes the now-story and the future-story vibrant and approachable and that explains so much of what is otherwise unexplainable.
It is hard to think about mortal purpose in a paradigm where we sprang into existence at conception or birth. It is hard to grapple with or reconcile God’s universal fairness and love in a perspective where some originated as healthy and privileged and others started as poor or deprived or without hope.
You may have heard of the metaphorical story of the Australian Aborigine who left on Walk-About and returned to his primitive tribe six months later on what happened to be the very day that a white doctor from a humanitarian group was performing an emergency appendectomy on his wife. Without knowing the beginning of the story, the Aborigine man comes to at least three instantaneous wrong conclusions or judgments: 1. The White Man is harming (or killing) his wife. 2. He is doing it against her will. 3. No good could possibly come of it.
We make the same kind of wrong conclusions and judgments about life when we don’t have the context of what happened before.
When we look at mortality without any pre-mortality it is harder to believe in the universal and unconditional love of God, or in the fairness of a God who lets a child be born without a spine or tolerates this world’s inequality and the high percentages of His children who live in extreme poverty. It is this kind of struggle of which atheists and agnostics are made.
Commonality with Hinduism?
Let me tell a personal story that illustrates how urgently people wish to believe in a God who is fair and who loves all of His children equally. Linda and I were in the Caribbean on the private yacht of a friend many years ago and we had a chance encounter with the sister ship of the very vessel we were on (Large yachts are often made in pairs, and there is, somewhere in the world, the twin that was made side by side with the one you are on.) The sheer coincidence of running across each other was compelling, and the owner of the other yacht who was a famous British television chef—I’ll call him Graham—invited us on board for dinner. It was a long, relaxed evening, and in the conversation, it came up that he had left Christianity and become a Hindu. I told him that I had never met anyone who had made that particular shift, and I asked if he would explain what motivated such a dramatic spiritual change. He said, in essence, that he liked the “fairness” of Hinduism in that we each are re-incarnated to live multiple lives, some rich, some poor, some blessed, some cursed, and that, over many, many lives, we are all equal in what we have been given and what we have had to endure. The most touching moment was when I asked him if he missed anything about Christianity and he said “I miss Christ.” I asked him then if he knew that there was a Christian faith that answered the fairness question in a similar but different way—not souls that change identity over and over through reincarnation, but souls that remain themselves as they pass through different places and phases including some before and some after this life, and that these phases allow each soul ultimately equal opportunities.
He said he did not know there was such a Christian Church, and I will leave it to your imagination what I told him after that.
The thought of many in the Church about our Parental God and our pre-mortal existence is shaped by Eliza R. Snow’s poem which we quote each time we sing one of our most popular hymns:
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.
The problem of not considering or contemplating any earlier-than-birth origin of our souls is that it creates a picture with incomplete perspective that could be likened to walking into a stadium when a race is half over and observing that some runners are ahead of others and concluding that the race is not fair.
I am not suggesting that this life or this eternity is a race, or that those who seem more blessed are winning the race. But simply knowing that there is a pre-existence as well as a post- existence allows us to have faith that, over the long stretch of eternity, loving and benevolent Heavenly Parents give us each the life, the situation, the agency, and the ultimately the equal opportunity across the pre life, this life, and the Spirit World; and that They allow us that knowledge so we may discover the deeper parts of who we are and have the ability to progress as far as we each wish toward returning to Them and even, audaciously, becoming like Them.
That word, “return” is, to we who have the blessed, restored doctrine of the pre-mortal life, a magnificent concept. We were with Them. We are Their literal spirit children. They gave us agency and this perfect laboratory and school of mortality so we could learn, away from Them, things that we could not learn while we were with Them. And we can RETURN, through this experience, and find ourselves a little more like Them..
There is much universally accepted Christian doctrine regarding Jesus’s existence before life, and before this world, but no official creed about our own life before life, and therefore nothing about our pre-existent relationship with Him. No knowledge of the role He played in the “war in heaven” or his supernal offer to become our Savior. No knowledge of Him as Jehovah, the Creator of this world. No knowledge of the Father’s plan that He presented and of our allegiance to that plan and the opposition to it from one third of our spirit siblings. No echo of our “shouting for Joy” as we realized that we could have this mortal experience and make the mistakes that it would entail and yet still, through Christ, return to God. No knowledge of Heavenly Parents who were and are the literal Father and Mother of our spirits. No understanding of the part that agency played and continues to play in that plan.
Nature, Nurture, and something Beyond
I wrote the first draft of this article some months ago from London, where we had just welcomed our youngest daughter’s twins.
As with all births, at least in my own experience, there is a lot of awe in those first hours and days of being in the presence of this fresh, new spirit brother or sister (and in this case, one of each) who have just made his and her entry into mortality from pre-mortality. It is easy to look into those little eyes, who we sense are still seeing that other world, and recognize a spirit sibling who is as old as we, perhaps older. And it would be hard, I think, to look into those eyes and imagine that they had never seen anything before, or been anywhere or anyone before. We sense that they are more, that they have come from another place. As Wordsworth said in his Ode to Immortality, “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.”
It would be hard to watch these children grow with the assumption that all that he and she is or will ever become is a product of the binary formula of genetics and environment, of nature or nurture.
And by the way, we have another set of twin grandchildren, now 16, and these two are identical twin boys—they have exactly the same genetics, identical DNA, and the same environment and family, and yet they are so wonderfully unique and different from each other. How blessed we are to know that there is a third factor, beyond nature and nurture, that goes in to who they are and who they may become, and that factor is far vaster than physical genetics or family and community environment—it is the supreme factor of Divine Parentage and of a rich and beautiful premortal life.
Let me close my thoughts with a personal observation and belief. While the creeds and official belief canons of today’s other Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and other Faith Communities do not include a premortal life, I have come to believe a that great many people, of all faiths, nonetheless hold a personal view that they came from somewhere other than their mother’s womb and that there is more to them than the physical cells of their body, and that their “spirit” or whatever they choose to call it, did not originate on this earth. Often it is their own de ja vu which hints of things and perhaps of people that they knew before. Such beliefs are as natural and spiritually intuitive as is the book-end belief of life after death and the faith that we can still be married and with our family and loved ones in the world to come. In both directions, forward and backward, it is that spiritual intuition that is right, not any contrary or absent doctrine or creed.
Poetry may be more capable of capturing this spiritual intuition than prose. Wordsworth put it thus:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
If I could edit the last line, I would have it say “From God, who is our home, from God, who is our Parents.”
Further Thoughts and Comments
For me personally, one of the joys of writing this series is receiving the responses and comments of readers. I get this feedback in three ways: 1. Meridian comments (you can comment publicly by clicking the comment link) 2. Private comments (you can write directly to me with the link at the end of each article) and 3. Reviewer comments (I have a wonderful team of friends and collaborators who read each article and comment before it is published).
I generally incorporate the third kind of comments directly into the articles, but this week many of these reviewer’s inputs were so strong that I felt that they should stand alone, so I am going to quote some of them directly to conclude this article.
One reviewer said:
“Inasmuch as fairness/justice across an arc of eternal progression is a major theme in this article, the verse with a quintuple repeating digit comes to mind: “I will order all things for your good, as fast as ye are able to receive them.” Doctrine and Covenants 111:11.
“You’ve touched on the significance of returning home and the spiritual intuition of life before this. For me this is by far the most meaningful part of this doctrine and it is worth getting into those emotions in greater depth. Of course, words do feel like they fall woefully short here. Still “The Longing”, experienced in various degrees by all of humankind, remains the greatest testimony of a hitherto. I still remember at age 4, enamored with the music of “Annie”, I knew every song by heart. The song “Maybe” resonated particularly though I couldn’t explain why. I was by no means an orphan. I had a great life with two wonderful parents who loved me dearly. But there persisted this sense of missing and being missed profoundly. While we may be temporally deprived of a conscious recollection, there remain deep currents running through the soul, tugging at the heartstrings with their echoes of a home and family which we have left behind to make this mortal sojourn. In this light, uncovering pieces from our premortal past and coming to again know the God whose home we left not long ago, is no mere peripheral point of interest, but central to life’s very purpose. All this talk of pre-mortal reflections and re-connections certainly gives new light to Paul’s stanza: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12)”
Another friend commented:
“Instead of just generalities about the rejection of the doctrine by other churches, why don’t you cite some hard evidence. For example, the early church didn’t just disavow the concept of pre-mortal existence, they aggressively banned it. The Second Council of Constantinople convened by the Emperor Justinian in 550 A.D. stated that “If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it; let him be anathema.” That is, the person is cursed and rejected.”
And a third reviewer said:
“When you mention binary as primal (heredity & environment) you should amend it to the LDS tripartite primal (always existing free intelligence, heredity and environment). This first factor of an uncreated free entity CHOOSING to participate in genetic relations (family) and social relations (friendship) is the special sauce of the LDS. We agreed to befriend God(s) and join their families. That’s radical. Don’t miss this chance to rub it into our conscious thought more deeply. Your whole article is about how the right idea of premortal life build faith based on the fairness of God. Well, nothing is more fair than our free intelligent choice to become children and friends of our Heavenly Parents in this soul expanding eternal journey.
“You could end it with a bang by introducing the LDS community to Robert Frost’s astounding poetic revelation on this subject: The Trial by Existence.
Note how Frost makes life FAIR for each of us must like LDSaints believe. “And none are taken (to Earth) but who will, having first heard the life read out that opens earthward, good and ill.” But that fairness cannot be assured during mortality else it would not be a courageous experience as he says in ending the poem.
Here it is. It makes you feel like he channeled Joseph Smith in writing this:
Next Week’s Article 10
Please join me here again next week when we will try to get specific in the idea of modeling our imperfect parenting after the perfect example of our Heavenly Parents. In fact, we will look at 15 things we know about how God deals with us, His children, and how we might seek to incorporate those same 15 things into how we raise our own children.
Thank you for reading this ninth article, and please feel free to share your inputs and thoughts and questions directly with me by going to https://valuesparenting.com/contact-eyres/. You can also reply there if you would like to reserve a copy of the forthcoming book Our Parental God which is based on these articles.
You can also hear further discussion of this latest article on our Podcast “Eyres on the Road” which is available on your favorite podcast app or at https://byuradio.org/eyresontheroad. You are also invited to follow the weekly meditations on Christ on Instagram @RichardLindaEyre.
Richard Eyre is the New York #1 Bestselling Author of more than 50 books, a dozen of which are on parenting and marriage. He believes that the ultimate parenting and marriage example is God.