We love God because he’s just. We look at children in bad homes and console ourselves with knowing that their day will come. Every blessing God has offered us he’ll offer them and through grace he’ll clear them of whatever would impede their choice. We see the cemeteries full of people the gospel never reached and we’re pleased to think of baptisms for the dead. When we ourselves have sinned in our parenting or our friendship or our calling and it seems very much like we’ve made it harder for our children or our husband or our friend to accept Christ and the Gospel we remember that men are punished for their own sins and not for ours. If we mess up, someone else will fix it, or God will offer grace if only our victims will accept it. We are comforted. We can hardly even bear all the inequity that natural disaster and inexorable history and wicked men do, even knowing that its all just a trial and a probation. Could we stand to think that even the probation was unfair? No. Everyone will have their equal chance to choose God and salvation. We can’t ruin it. Frank McIntyre brought this up today. “It should not be the case that I am punished for being what God (or other people) made me. I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me. And what is that? I believe it is the part of me way deep down inside that chooses to follow and seek truth or to reject truth.” That essence is so deep down that no outsiders and circumstances can shake it, only me. Yes, I believe it. Salvation available to all, beauty made of you though your nation and fathers and culture are ashes, this is one of the most beautiful doctrines of the Restoration.
The dark side of this doctrine is that one clear afternoon by the window while I sat in Zone Conference listening to that dark, earnest Spaniard, my Mission President, say, “Elders, don’t think you’re the best God has. You aren’t. God could send mature adults who were professionals. God could have the very angels preach. Try your best, remember that God lets you be a missionary as a favor to help your own salvation, and don’t worry if you can’t save everyone. God knew you weren’t perfect when he sent you here,” I became detached from the scene and thought to myself that if I quit at that moment someone else would take up the work and if not them, why, in time the people of Spain would stand before God and He Himself would preach them what I would not, because He is full of justice and love to these people and would not deny them because of me, and I swear to you, brothers and sisters, that after that day though I gritted my teeth to be a good missionary I never had the same fire. Saving myself seemed so less urgent than saving Granada, Jaen, Algeciras, the people of the sierra and of the campo and of the Costa del Sol. All Andalucia, young and old, had stood before me when I started and now I was alone. God was just, and I didn’t matter. The Grey Fox went through the same experience on his mission. Perhaps others have too. I hope they shake it sooner than I. I still wonder if I ever really can be a savior on Mount Zion or even a savior on a molehill. How can I matter if God is just?
I’ve thought a lot about it. Let me say I know God is just, and I know what I do matters to others, at least sometimes I want to know it. Here as I see it are ways that God can give everyone a fair chance at salvation and exaltation but that our efforts and influence still might matter. It seems there are a few possibilities:
- Window to His Love: I am a vehicle either by which God gives grace to a soul or by which the soul is given the chance to say him ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ My participation doesn’t affect the outcome one way or the other, but–my willingness to be the instrument lets the love and gratitude and relationships formed flow in three directions instead of one. My participation affects no one’s salvation or exaltation but my own, but it does increase the joy available to those who are exalted or saved. This view also reminds me that if I fail in my own salvation by not participating, God and my friends are saddened thereby, whereas if I fail not they are pleased.
This view is hard to take though because it still means that my actual efforts to help a friend are bootless. It’s still only the secondary effects that matter, so my attempts to assist are really a kind of deep courtesy and expression of love.
- Salvation’s Grandfather Clock: My actions don’t ultimately change someone’s chances at salvation or exaltation or even at temporal blessings or happiness, but they can postpone or accelerate it. It really does matter if I do my hometeaching. Otherwise that family might have to wait for the eternities to learn then what I could have taught them now. These current moments pass and are gone from them forever.
- the Weeping God of Mormonism My actions do change my brothers’ and sisters’ chance at happiness and salvation. God in justice will not let us act in a way that reduces anyone’s chance to zero and there probably is no possibility that we can raise anyone’s chances to 100%, but he will let us aact–perhaps he must to achieve his purposes–in a way that makes other people’s salvation more or less likely. Even in heaven we will weep to see the damned that we could have saved and God will weep for them too. (Note that rejecting this view may not lessen our personal blame but only transfer its object. Instead of bearing the blame for messing up someone else’s salvation we bear the blame for the agony Christ bore to save them from our mistakes). A stronger version of this view might say that our Lord is not just, just as just as he can be. One might look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and say that they were destroyed because they had passed beyond any hope of choosing right. Any child born to them would have been bent so far no power could straighten him. But even here, the destruction rather than let a child so grow tells us that the Lord is sure, he will keep him the promise that salvation is available to all even if he must intervene to do it.
There is a stronger view yet. I choose not to state it.
- Stranded up the beach: In a related view, we do not and cannot influence anyone’s choice either for damnation or exaltation. This is the utter ‘yes’ or the uuter ‘no’ that can only come from within. But we can influence and affect how much progress people have made when they say ‘yes, but’ which seems to be the case of the inhabitants of the Telestial, Terrestrial, and lower degrees of the Celestial Kingdom. We know that the Abrahamic trial, both of which seem to be the last acts one takes before entering surely into everlasting Lordship, is done alone (see the Atonement, for example). ‘Alone’ seems to be its distinguishing feature. This suggests to me that exaltation might be a blessing available only to those who say ‘yes’ from their own deep self without outside influence, but that anything less than exaltation can be merited while still relying on others as a crutch or support. It’s up to the individual whether or not they enter into the highest degree of the highest heaven but it’s up to us whether, refusing to do so, they are left to wander in the twilight gardens of the Telestial or stand as proud ministers in the Celestial courts. In this view we can’t make people swim but we can hold them up a little longer and influence how far, when the trump sounds, they are left stranded up the beach.
These are my views. Add to them. Critique them. Persuade me out of my doubts.
I have been discussing here the view that our actions matter only for our own salvation, not anyone else’s. Mormons often debate the reasons for repenting now, not later. I wonder if some of the rationales in that debate would apply to this one.