If I were Satan and wanted to destroy God’s work on earth, there are a few key doctrines I would corrupt or withhold.
First, I would try to hide God’s generous heart from His children. If people believe that God is a hard taskmaster who can never be pleased with them, they will get discouraged. They will not have the joy and resolve to run boldly to Him and draw on His glorious love and generosity.
And, if I were Satan, there is a more subtle doctrinal ploy I would also attempt. If I could convince Christians that a supreme God created all His children out of nothing (“ex nihilo”) at the time they came to earth, they might very well conclude from their abundant failings that God was having a very bad day on the day He created them and that He will surely discard them when all was done, hiding them in some heavenly landfill.
The belief that we had no existence before mortality is profoundly limiting. Yet “Christianity has long consigned the doctrine of a pre-mortal soul to the realm of heresy” (Givens, 2010, p. 4).
Contrast that limiting view with the Restoration understanding that we are co-eternal with God. We have lived as long as He has lived—though we are far behind Him in our development. There is something that is uniquely, eternally, and inherently you and me. And our beloved Father “being free of jealousy, he wanted everything to become as much like himself as was possible” (Plato as quoted by Givens, 2010, p. 322).
There is more. Not only are we His eternal companions, we are His children. We are not mere shop projects but are His beloved offspring! While we do not understand the process that transformed us into spirits, we belong to Him and Mother in a personal and eternal way.
Yet, even we who believe in a personal connection and a pre-earth existence may have stripped them of their personal power. We may not recognize just what His Fatherhood means for our futures. To add clarity to the vision of our relationship with God, I adapt a section from my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.
A heavenly one-on-one
In my mind, I picture a time ages ago when Father called you and me—each of us individually—to a Father’s Interview. He looked on us with love and shared His appreciation for us: “I love you, Dear One.” We beamed.
Then He told us: “You have learned and grown so much! You are ready to go to earth.” We tensed at the prospect of leaving Him. He continued: “I can customize your earth experience to prepare you for the place you want in Eternity. So, the key question is, where do you want to spend Eternity?” Each of us trembled. Dared we say? Dared we hope? He prodded: “Go ahead. Tell me. Please.”
We blurted: “Oh Father! I want to be with you! I want to be a part of your work! I want to spend Eternity with Jehovah and all the noble and great ones.” Then we hung our heads in shame. How dare we hope for such a glorious outcome? How could we be so presumptuous?
But He gently lifted our chins. I imagine His eyes filling with tears. “And that is where I want you. I want you back with Me and all my most cherished ones.” He pulled each of us close and filled our spirits with His goodness. We leaned into His love and felt more at home than we ever had.
After what seemed like an eternity, He leaned back and sighed. “The education for exaltation is very rigorous and demanding . . .” We interrupted: “Oh! I’d do anything to be with You again.” He smiled, but had a concerned look in His eyes. “Let me show you something.” He opened our minds to see the courses that would lead to our perfection—which included Occasional Loneliness, Periodic Disappointment, and Advanced Adversity. He also warned us that some instructors along the way will be insensitive and some classmates rude. There will be many challenges.
We were sobered.
He asked, “Would you bear all of that to return Home?” “Gladly. But . . .” We hesitated. “Can I do it? Am I strong enough? Am I good enough? Do I have a chance of making it?”
Father replied. “No, you can’t make it on your own. You would get hopelessly lost. You will often be confused and uncertain. You will become forlorn and dispirited. But, if you’re willing to go, I’ll provide my two Extraordinary Helpers. I will provide you my Third-in-command, the Holy Spirit, who will teach you, comfort you, and cleanse you. And I will provide my Second-in-command, my dearly Beloved Son, who will give you the teachings you need. And He will pay the price of all your debts so that you can come Home clean and perfect. And I will personally preside over your life experience.” Father glowed.
At this point our eyes were big with amazement and tears coursed down our cheeks. We slipped from His arms to our knees “You would do all that for me?”
“Gladly,” He replied.
“And all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). Never in all of eternity had there been such Good News! Right then and there we committed to make the perilous journey. We signed the contract. We made a covenant.
However, somewhere between our Heavenly Home above to the bedeviled and beleaguered earth beneath, we suffered from a veil that hid that sacred pre-trip moment from our view. So, we started this journey dazed, forgetful, and vulnerable. As newborn babies we cry and flail our limbs. This cold and breezy place is clearly not our natural Home. The bad news is that things will get worse before they get better. Our mortal pathways are strewn with thorns and thistles (see Moses 4). As we journey through mortality in this harsh world, we continue to be vulnerable to brutal attacks. We often fall among thieves.
So, this treacherous journey through mortality can be dispiriting and discouraging. We may despair—unless we have come to know that God who presides over our mortal education and His helpers who facilitate our growth, renewal, and return.
When we know the heart of God and glimpse our glorious history with Him, we live our lives with quiet confidence. We know that He will guide us safely home both enlarged and refined to live with Him and all those who love Him. We know this because He is our loving and devoted Father. He has made a covenant with us. And He has all power in heaven and in earth.
For Latter-day Saints, the rich doctrine of our pre-earth history is obvious. For most Christians, it is anathema. Yet, when we take away that precious doctrine, each of us feels that we are “a foundling, laid on the doorstep of a merely physical universe, crying in vain for any father who begot him or any mother who conceived him” (Fosdick, The Meaning of Faith, 1918, Association Press, p. 110).
Thank Heaven for the Restoration!
What a glorious and encouraging vision! It is no wonder that He encourages us to be of good cheer regardless of our challenges. We make the journey with confidence knowing that He, His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit are guiding us in our journey back home to Them and our beloved brothers and sisters.
If you are interested in books that apply the gospel perspective to family relationships, consider reading one of my books on parenting, marriage, or happiness. My newest book—covering key breakthroughs in all three areas—is Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. To find the book that is right for you, go to https://www.amazon.com/H-Wallace-Goddard/e/B001H6ND5A/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful suggestions for this article.
Givens, T. L. (2010). When souls had wings: Pre-mortal existence in Western thought. New York: Oxford University Press.
Goddard, H. W. (2009). Drawing heaven into your marriage: Eternal doctrines that change relationships. Alpine, UT: JoyMap Publishing.