“God is: (1) all loving, (2) all powerful, (3) all knowing. Pick any two.”
A couple years ago, Nate Oman asked a couple questions. Here’s my answer. (It has come together as an artless cross between speculative theology and science fiction, so I hope you’ll look past my limited storytelling skills to catch the vision I’m trying to convey.)
“Once upon a time, numberless spirits inhabited the vast chaos of space and unorganized matter. They exercised their minuscule powers to organize little creations, but these quickly vanished in the swirling chaos, like sand castles against the tide. Having spent an eternity without achieving any lasting accomplishments, these spirits mostly just despaired and drifted.
One of these spirits, however, discovered the skill (perhaps through ingenuity, or perhaps just through persistence and luck) to build works that could endure the chaos. So, with much effort and with limited power, he began to build a habitation from the unorganized matter around him. This new dwelling attracted the attention of the other spirits, who desired to take shelter from the constant chaos.
This spirit received those who besought him. He explained that his power was not sufficient to build lasting habitations for all of them, but that he could teach them and train them so that together they might build a refuge that could shield them all from the chaos. He would be their father and they would be his children, if they would learn and live the lessons he would teach.
So this father spirit built a school where his children could go. Their combined experience would teach them how to make and maintain places of refuge in the face of the infinite chaos.”
How Is This Different?
This little story is rather similar to our conventional telling of premortal life and Heavenly Father’s designing a plan of salvation for us. But it differs in a two key points. First, the father in this story is infinitely powerful relative to his children, but he has only limited power relative to the primeval forces of existence. Second, in the context of this story it is not necessary for any specific child to obtain specific skills as long as the whole society of children together obtain sufficient skill and power to sustain their habitations in heaven.
What Does This Get Us Doctrinally?
The context of this story provides an explanation for (1) why people suffer, (2) why not everyone suffers equally, and (3) why God intervenes only on rare occasions.
- People suffer because life is hard and things fall apart. Life is hard because eternity is hard, and the lessons we learn here in managing and mitigating suffering will be directly applicable in eternity. (This has the side effect of making heaven a dynamic environment, actively engaged in the struggle against chaos, rather than it being a secluded idyll, entirely unaffected by the tides and forces of existence. Think of the “busy Joseph” vision attributed, I believe, to Wilford Woodruff.)
- Not everyone suffers equally because not everyone needs to suffer equally. Innovations in government, technology, social norms, art, etc. are the results of individual suffering, and they benefit society. Nations and cultures experience varying levels of suffering because they implement varying defenses against suffering. In this story, salvation is a community work. (I think it’s interesting the scriptures gives examples of prophetic blessings and curses made toward nations and churches generally, and not just to the individuals in them.)
- God intervenes only rarely because, in this narrative, it is not sustainable for him to intervene always. Perhaps he could mitigate all of our suffering in life, but then in death that leaves him back where he started, with trillions of incapable children whom he lacks the means to support.
The story also has the advantage that it is does not contradict any particulars of the traditional LDS plan of salvation narrative (though it may contradict particulars of LDS soteriology (which I only say because it lets me use the word “soteriology” in a public forum)).
What Does This Get Us Practically?
To me, the greatest benefit of this narrative is that it puts us on the hook for learning and living well here. It encourages us to reach out and help our fellow brothers and sisters here, because if we don’t do it here, we can’t expect god to do it for us later. “The religion that does nothing for a [person] in this life isn’t likely to do much for [them] in the next.”
What Are The Problems With This Narrative?
I’m sure you’ll let me know. Does this depiction of god and the purpose of mortality resonate well with you? Does it offend you? Why?