Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a new Tuesday/Thursday Meridian Series with twelve installments that will explore some of the most remarkable and exciting doctrines of the Restoration. Read the two-part introduction to this series here, and here. You are invited to comment and turn these questions into an interactive dialogue or forum.
Of all the doctrines and truths lost in the Apostacy and recovered in the Restoration, which would you say is the most pivotal? On which one do so many of our other beliefs and doctrines pivot or hinge? Which single doctrine changes our paradigm and our perspective most, and makes the biggest difference in how we look at life and at purpose and at God and His Plan?
The safe thing to do, when asked this question, is to go for a broad, safe answer:
–The nature of God
–The Plan of Salvation or of Happiness
And it is hard to argue with any of those answers—but Priesthood is more than a doctrine, the Plan of Salvation is essentially all doctrine, and the nature of God was revealed by appearance rather than by revelation.
And, not all true doctrine about God and His plan was lost. All genuine Christianity embraces Christ as Savior and teaches certain truths about heaven.
But what was the biggest gap, the biggest hole that the Apostacy ripped open in the fabric of Christ’s original Gospel doctrine?
Well, when trying to understand something—anything—a good place to start is origin. Where did it start? Where is its beginning? Where did it come from?
I would suggest that the doctrine of our own pre-mortal life is essential to our understanding of purpose, of destiny, and of God Himself and is thus, arguably, the most pivotal doctrine of the Restoration.
And this precious and pivotal doctrine was completely lost and absent from the official creeds of the Christianity that emerged as the Roman Catholic Church. And while writings still existed that suggested a life before birth, the Reformation and the Protestant Churches did not return to it or embrace it.
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 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 a 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 backstory 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 or reconcile God’s universal fairness and love in a perspective where some originated as healthy and privileged and others started as poor or deformed 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 emergency surgery on his wife. Without knowing the beginning of the story, the Aborigine man comes to at least three instantaneous wrong conclusions or judgements: 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.
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.
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 done that and asked if he would explain what motivated such a dramatic shift. 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 ignore. 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 very different way—not souls that change identity over and over through reincarnation, but souls that remain themselves but pass through different places and phases including some before and some after this life, that 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 problem of not considering or contemplating any earlier-than-birth origin of our souls is that it creates a paradigm of incomplete perspective that could be, in some ways, 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, a loving and benevolent God gives 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 He allows us that 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 Him and even, audaciously, becoming like Him.
That word, “return” is, to we who have the blessed, restored doctrine of the pre-mortal life, a magnificent concept. We were with Him. We are His literal spirit children. He gave us agency and this perfect laboratory and school of mortality so we could learn, away from Him, what we could not learn with Him. And we can RETURN.
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, for us, 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 parents of our spirits. No understanding of the part that agency played and plays in that plan
I am writing this article from London, where we have just welcomed our youngest daughter’s twins who happened to be born on October 13, the birthday of their great grandmother, Linda’s mother.
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 both) who has just made his or 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.
It would be hard to watch that child grow with the assumption that all that he or she is and will become is a product of the binary formula of genetics and environment, of nature or nurture.
In fact, we have another set of twin grandchildren, now 15, and these two are identical twins—they have exactly the same genetics, identical DNA, and the same environment and family, and yet they are so wonderfully different and unique 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 end with a personal observation and belief. While the creeds and official belief canons of other Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and other Faith Communities do not include a premortal life, I have come to believe 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. Such a belief is as natural and spiritually intuitive as is the book-end belief that we can still be married and with our family and loved ones in the life after life. In both directions, forward and backward, it is that spiritual intuition that is right, not any contrary or absent doctrine or creed.
How blessed we are to live and breathe within the Restored Gospel where the two agree and coincide; and where, instead of just a generality, we have spiritual specifics.
And re-join me here on Thursday for Question Two: Is the Restoration about Salvation or Exaltation, and are You a Perfectible Entity?
Richard Eyre is a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author who served as Mission President in London. He and his wife Linda are frequent Meridian contributors.