Damnation?

December 30, 2003 | 19 comments
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At http://www.timesandseasons.org/archives/000213.html#001150 Nate refers to an ancient blog entry he wrote: http://goodoman.blogspot.com/2002_12_08_goodoman_archive.html#85894696. Though the discussion in question was baptism for the dead and some objections by non-LDS to the practice, Nate made a very good point in passing: we don’t really believe in damnation except for those who are LDS.

Our version of (almost) universal salvation is, as far as I know, quite unique. But we don’t consider it an important point when we talk with non-LDS, and it seems to me that we don’t because we also often overlook it when we talk amongst ourselves. We preach the three degrees of glory and, within moments, speak of salvation and damnation in fairly traditional ways.

One could probably give sound rhetorical explanations for talking about damnation as we do, but I don’t think that is what is going on. Perhaps it once was, but I don’t think it is any longer a rhetorical strategy like that described in D&C 19:6-7: “”It is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.”

I find the doctrine to be very liberating. For example, I need not believe that my neighbors who are inactive or my friends who aren’t interested in hearing the missionary discussions are in danger of eternal punishment, in the usual sense of that term. They will not be consigned to hell fire for eternity because I have been unsuccessful as a missionary. The doctrine also helps me understand better that God is loving: he will save all but those who knowingly refuse his offer of salvation.

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19 Responses to Damnation?

  1. clark on December 30, 2003 at 1:58 pm

    I’ve long thought that the dualism of damnation and salvation, while always useful, can also be misleading. The way Protestants, and to a lesser extent Catholics, use them implies an all or nothing formulation. The Mormon view of rewards according to our works seems to make such simplistic judgments difficult. When you add into it our belief in a continuing existence in the spirit world where probably the majority of people accept or reject the gospel, then things get very complex.

    We still have the acceptance or rejectance, but perhaps the “space for repentence” that Alma talks of is longer than it appears.

  2. Matt Evans on December 30, 2003 at 1:59 pm

    I’ve always wondered how to reconcile the idea that everyone will eventually be saved into one of the kingdoms of glory with 2 Nephi 28:8-9, “And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God — he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines…”

    It seems that the usual explanation for your neighbors’ salvation is that they will suffer, eventually accept Christ’s atonement, and be received into a kingdom of glory. How is this different from the vain and foolish doctrine that we’ll be saved after being beaten with a few stripes?

  3. clarkgoble on December 30, 2003 at 3:19 pm

    The Book of Mormon is fairly dualistic in its ethics and metaphysics. There definitely isn’t the more nuanced view. Still, I think there is a lot of truth to it, even if more revelation clarifies some issues.

    The common way those two approaches is dealt with is to simply take Alma’s comment that that same spirit that possesses your body now will possess your body then. Spirit in this context isn’t a physical spirit, but rather your inclination. Which inclination rules you? The good inclination or the bad inclination. When you read the Book of Mormon in terms of that notion then the doctrine of two ways makes more sense. What do you like? If you think you can love sin and die and everything will be OK you are mistaken. You still love what you love. That doesn’t change.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on December 30, 2003 at 3:31 pm

    This doctrine is actually one of the reasons why I was a poor missionary, strictly speaking. I simply didn’t believe, and never could believe, that what I (a stumbling, sin-wracked, immature 19-year-old) did or didn’t do in Korea–or indeed what any number of hundreds of other stumbling, sin-wracked, immature 19-year-olds could or couldn’t do in Korea, or in any mission field anywhere–really would make all that much difference in the end. (That is, I knew I could a difference in a temporal sense, but not insofar as souls were concerned.) The idea that I could actually prevent someone whom God knew would embrace the gospel from so embracing it by being lazy, or a screw-up, struck me, and still strikes me, as nonsensical. Which is why, I guess, all those stories and songs about people thanking you in heaven for having brought them the gospel, or condemning you for having failed to reach out to them before death, pretty much washed off my back.

    Now that I think about it, this is just putting a nice doctrinal veneer on the fact that I WAS a screw-up in the mission field. Still, that doesn’t mean the doctrine isn’t on point. If, in the end, Christ will save all who reach out to Him, and if, in the end, every kneel shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, then in the end (again, insofar as souls are concerned) missionary work–indeed, practically all temporal work, for that matter–has little or nothing to do with the actual mechanics of salvation.

  5. clarkgoble on December 30, 2003 at 4:32 pm

    There is an interesting contradiction here, as you point out Russell. I think we must acknowledge that from the perspective of God, all our sufferings are pretty minor and short. Further that, before the end, all will have the opportunity to accept or reject. I remain convinced that the main act of the play of “life” takes place in the spirit world and not here. Lacking that perspective on what transpires there we are in a poor position to judge much.

    I do think though that the important part of missionary work ends up being for us as much as others. (Although the “elect” certainly appreciate finding out about it sooner rather than later — just that this delay doesn’t amount to much from an eternal point of view) Mosiah 15 as I recall talks of saviors on mount zion. A lot of what we do in serving others has a more profound impact on us ultimately.

  6. Greg on December 30, 2003 at 4:45 pm

    Clark refers to the verse that says that the spirit/inclinations we have now will follow us after death. I’ve always been interested in that verse because it seems nearly impossible to me in some sense. For me, the temptation of sin is often bound up with the doubt that there is an afterlife, the worry that that all I am is what my biology book says I am.
    If my body dies and my spirit goes on, the biggest doubt I have about the gospel will be forever resolved. And with that doubt resolved, I can’t imagine that I’ll be as weak as I am here.
    Am I misinterpreting that scripture?

  7. Jim on December 30, 2003 at 7:52 pm

    As a convert, though anything but a recent one, it seems to me that even without damnation hanging over our heads, having the Gospel earlier rather than later makes a difference, so missionary work is important. Missionary work really is about the salvation of others, not salvation period, but salvation now rather than later and, so, joy now rather than later. When I see the lives of some of my relatives who do not have the Gospel, it is difficult not to believe that they would be better off had I been able to show them an alternative.

  8. Jim F. on December 30, 2003 at 7:57 pm

    I understand the doctrinal explanations of three kingdoms and suffering in the spirit world (though, as Matt points out, the difference between that and being beaten with “a few stripes” isn’t clear), but I was taken by the fact that, though we have explanations that more or less bring these doctrines together, most of the time we seem to me to think and speak and act as if the either/or of salvation and damnation is what we believe rather than salvation in degrees of glory.

  9. Matt Evans on December 30, 2003 at 9:21 pm

    Regarding your last point, Jim, it’s not just “we” who speak and act as if the dualistic nature of salvation were primary, so does Christ and all the prophets of scripture. I’d guess there are a hundred scriptural references to duality for each of the few that suggest nearly everyone will eventually be saved. Given our emphasis on scripture study, it’s not surprising that Mormons adopt the angle that dominates the scriptures. So, to redirect your pondering — why are the scriptures filled with dualistic statements?

  10. brayden on December 30, 2003 at 9:58 pm

    God made us (in his image) so he knows exactly what motivates us and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, many of us are motivated by direct threats of punishment. Fuzzy definitions of eternal salvation may simply not instill enough fear/devotion in our organisms to make us find God and cling to the Iron Rod.

  11. Clark Goble on December 30, 2003 at 10:09 pm

    I think anyone who does good solely on the basis of fear from punishment won’t be getting salvation… That much I agree with Paul on. However it may be the “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ I suppose. Still that whole approach reminds me a little too much of the Lotus Sutra in Buddhism and the justification of lies about metaphysical demons and so forth so as to scare the masses. I don’t think God works that way. He may teach via allegory or the like, but I don’t think he tells us something is so when it isn’t. (Not that you are saying that Bayden – more a reaction from some other discussions I had a few weeks ago which argued the Book of Mormon could be fiction yet still function as scripture)

    Regarding the why of dualism, I really think it goes back to the doctrine of two inclinations found in fairly early Judaism. The parallels with the Book of Mormon use are quite profound. It is just that I think we have too much baggage with the term spirit and assume it means something more than it does in all cases.

  12. Matt Evans on December 31, 2003 at 12:37 am

    An idea a seminary or youth teacher suggested a long time ago just surfaced. I’d discounted it before as too simplistic, but it does square the circle.

    People who are in the lesser degrees of glory *feel* damned due to their disappointment. The damnation is an eternity mulling “what could have been.” They’re not in hell, as they inhabit a world of glory superior to mortal experience, yet they suffer forever because they cannot have eternal lives; their spiritual progression has stopped; they are damned.

    If everyone who’s not part of the top tier of the celestial kingdom is damned, the dualism taught in scripture makes perfect sense even though most of the damned are received in glory.

    The rub with this solution is trying to figure out how a “large heaven” can have so many damned people in it!

  13. Renee on December 31, 2003 at 1:20 am

    I was under the impression that salvation is a gift for everyone. EXALTATION is another story.

  14. Clark Goble on December 31, 2003 at 2:00 am

    Salvation from physical death is available to all. Salvation from spiritual death is available for all, but few will take hold of it. Exaltation is made possible by salvation from spiritual death.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on December 31, 2003 at 9:31 am

    Jim,

    “As a convert, though anything but a recent one, it seems to me that even without damnation hanging over our heads, having the Gospel earlier rather than later makes a difference, so missionary work is important.”

    You’re right, of course; as I noted in my post above, I recognized during my mission, and still acknowledge today, that missionary work and other similar labors could make a difference “in a temporal sense.” And the temporal world surely matters (I may have an Augustinian-Lutheran streak in me, but I’m not down on ALL works). Being a Christian, living a Christian life, and associating with (contributing to and being benefitted by) a Christian community, is surely better than otherwise, and to that degree I agree that what missionaries are doing does matter. But that understanding was secondary during my mission, both in my own mind and in, so far as I could tell, all official mission materials or policies. And despite all I’ve heard and seen about the new emphasis on service work and member relationships in the missionary program today, I suspect it continues to be secondary to a very straightforward “save-the-wheat-before-the-field-is-burned”-salvation emphasis in the lives of missionaries. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it. As I see it, the church’s missionary program (at least the part of it made up by highly regimented, hierarchically structured, frequently transferred young men) cannot help but be about saving souls first, and serving people second. And since I simply don’t see the former purpose as being in our hands, doctrinally speaking, the justification for the program is complicated, to say the least, in my eyes.

    This is one of the reasons I’m happy we only have girls; it means that when the option of their serving a mission arises, I’ll have somewhat more flexibility in explaining my point of view and making my case (which is that they should serve, despite all my reservations). With boys, the confusion and doubt in my assessment of the missionary program would be, I think, much more obvious and problematic.

  16. Jim F. on December 31, 2003 at 2:23 pm

    Matt, of course you’re right: the question isn’t just one of why we think in dualistic terms, but why the scriptures are, for the most part, written in that way, though D&C 19 may answer the second question. As to your second point, unless there is no possibility of movement from one level of glory to another–a point about which I don’t think there is settled doctrine, though most LDS probably believe there is no movement–then even the “damnation,” i.e., lesser glory, of the lower kingdoms isn’t damnation.

    Russell, your point about the focus of missionary work is well taken, but doesn’t it just restate the question: why do we think in the “all-or-nothing” terms that seem behind the phenomenon you describe? On the other hand, it seems to me that most LDS missionaries have quite a different attitude toward missionary work than do most other proselytizing religions. In spite of the rhetoric of missionary work, most of them are more relaxed about it than their non-LDS counterparts. I first started thinking about that when a Dutch friend of mine taught at BYU for a term. He wondered why there was no pressure on him to convert. He had expected to be besieged but was not. He found people happy to talk with him and to answer his questions, but he didn’t get the kind of pressure that he expected from a church with the evangelizing program we have. After noticing that, on going back to the Netherlands, he got to know some LDS missionaries and decided that they were quite different than he had thought, much more relaxed and friendly, much more willing to take no for an answer. His reflections on LDS proselytizing made me see what we do differently than I had. (It also made me realize that one problem our missionaries have is that people seeing them don’t see them as any different than other, more pushy proselytizers.) I wonder if perhaps the degrees of glory doctrine has something to do with that difference. If so, the effect is subliminal, but it might nevertheless be an important effect.

  17. Kaimi on December 31, 2003 at 3:20 pm

    Greg: That’s a good point. On the other hand, there is probably some kind of temptation which we will encounter in the Spirit World which will still potentially delay our progress. It may well be procrastination. We think “I’ve got another 1000 years to get over my ___ problem; I might as well hang out with friends for a while, I’ll have time later.”

    Jim / all: Isn’t one potential negative consequence of the lack of damnation that people who are unsure about the church may engage in a Pascal’s Wager type of reasoning? I.e.,

    “I’m not sure if the LDS church or the Catholic church is true. If I’m wrong on the LDS account, I will go to a kingdom of glory. If I’m wrong on the Catholic account, I’ll go to hell. Therefore, I’ll stick with the Catholics, and take my chances with the LDS church.”

  18. clarkgoble on December 31, 2003 at 3:51 pm

    I was going to scan in some stuff related to this dualism but didn’t have time. I found a few web links with Jewish quotations (mainly from the Talmud and Midrash).

    http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=662

    http://www.mchschool.org/~malbert/inclinations.htm

    I also found a great analysis of “psychological” or “spiritual” terms in Paul which, at the end, gets into these dualism. (Called the two spirits or pneumata).

    http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/Pauline/Human.htm

  19. Aaron Shafovaloff on January 7, 2004 at 12:16 pm

    I opt to take the Biblical view, which was especially developed in the NT (Jesus talked more about Hell than heaven):

    “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

    “…and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:50)

    “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:6-11)

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