I’m highlighting portions from my most recent podcast episode in blog posts right now. This week, I produced an episode on the Book of Abraham, Book of Moses, and JST. In this episode, I break down the Book of Abraham issues. In the last half of the episode, I get into the Book of Moses and JST, which led to this discussion on universalism.
Another insight Terryl Givens gives about the Book of Moses is that it introduces the concept of universalism for the first time in the restoration. He describes the universalism in Joseph’s day as being a false universalism. That’s identified in the book of Mormon and it’s condemned in the book of Mormon.
That’s the school teacher that says I’m going to pass you all. Everybody gets a free pass. And that’s where you get the eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. So that’s a false universalism that’s in Joseph Smith’s day that the Book of Mormon condemns. Then the alternative to that is the strict disciplinary in school teacher who says, no, you study to take the exam and if you fail, you fail and you’re out.
And this is the God that is there in the Protestant Reformation. And it appears to be in the Book of Mormon, but then Joseph Smith through the Book of Moses and then later doctrine, he is restoring a new kind of God.
Terryl Givens says, “we believe there’s a third way and that this is the God. Who’s the ever patient tutor who commits to us and says, I will never forsake you. And I will do whatever it takes until you master this material and are transformed by it. That’s the God that we believe Joseph Smith restored.”
He sees the first evidence of this coming in Moses 7: 38-39.
38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.
39 And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;
That looks like it’s the genesis of the concept of the spirit world, spirit prison and spirit paradise.
But then these people have the ability to repent. How could that be? These are evil people. There were evil in the world. According to our doctrine, they should be condemned, but it says they have the potential to repent and return. Now let’s go to D&C 19. This is a revelation that Joseph Smith gave in the summer of 1829.
4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.
5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.
6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endlesstorment.
What?? That’s confusing. “It’s not written, there should be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.” Here’s my theory on what’s going on. I think Joseph Smith had a problem with some of the harsh language in the Book of Mormon. I said before my theory on the book of Mormon, that it put a stamp on the Protestant reformation and took the very best of all the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, put it in the book of Mormon.
And this serves as an anchor that we’re tied to in the restoration. Now Joseph Smith can go explore, but he still has this anchor of the book of Mormon that he’s tied to, but he can go explore some new doctrines. This is the summer of 1829. The Book of Mormon has just barely been finished and let’s look at Jacob 6:10.
And you think about the Book of Mormon order. Jacob 6:10 is translated at the very end of the Book of Mormon because they started in Mosiah, which at the end and then restarted. Jacob 6:10
10 And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.
So here’s my crazy theory for the day. Some people say that Martin Harris might’ve subscribed to some of Universalist doctrine. Joseph Smith’s father also was known to believe in some Universalists doctrine. This revelation was given to Martin Harris. It came almost directly after Jacob 6:10 was translated. And this reference to this “lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment”. And I wonder if we have something going on here, like Martin Harris or Jospeh Smith’s father in a Zelophehad’s daughter kind of way says to Joseph Smith, are you sure this is right?
Could you check with God to see if this endless torment is right, because it doesn’t jibe with my doctrinal understanding. And maybe Joseph Smith gets new revelation, even though the ink is barely even dry on the Book of Mormon. And we’ve got this endless torment doctrine, maybe Joseph Smith is already getting new revelation that it, that he needs to fix this.
So let’s go on to D&C 19:7
7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express (I think that word express means like urgent or blunt or maybe harsh in this context.) than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. 8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. (Here’s the kicker) 9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. 10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.
Back to verse six. “It is not written that there should be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.” And here’s why it says endless because that’s my name. Endless is my name. Eternal is my name. So if I give endless punishment, it’s my punishment and I can make it last as long as I want it to. I can make it last an eternity, or I can make it last a hundred years or I can make it last a year. I can make it last 10 minutes. It’s my punishment. And I’ll give it to you as long as I want to.
I think that Joseph’s resolution of how to make sense of this harsh sounding unfair sounding Book of Mormon language was what he received in this new revelation just moments after he translated it.
Then the big whopper on universalism came in 1832 a couple of years later. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were working on the Joseph Smith translation. They were in the new Testament and they were working on John 5:29.
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
So they’re looking at this verse and they see that there’s different variations in the resurrection. And this doesn’t make sense to them, according to the traditional definitions of heaven and hell. So Joseph receives a revelation and that section 76, and that’s that great revelation called The Vision, where they see the three kingdoms.
And this was a big deal. A lot of people were really upset by this revelation. They thought Joseph Smith was going full on universalism. A lot of people apostatized, they left the church. Brigham Young, it was really difficult for him. He said it took him a long time to come to terms with this. Some scholars believe that we’ve never really caught the vision of Joseph Smith and that we’ve kind of dumbed this whole thing down.
We’ve kind of turned the three kingdoms into just kind of our own version of the Christian Heaven and Hell, just with one extra kingdom. But Terryl Givens is arguing that this is not how Joseph Smith intended it, that he believed that there was progression between the kingdoms. Joseph saw Alvin in a vision in the celestial kingdom, and that started him really thinking about what’s going on here. And Joseph Smith believes that there was progression between the kingdoms. And that it was believed and taught by the prophets all the way up into the 1950s and 60’s when Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R McConkie put kind of put a kibosh on that. Bruce R. McConkie called this one of the great heresies–that there could be movement between the kingdoms. He wanted there to be no movement between the kingdoms, but Terryl Givens says that Joseph Smith believed that there was, and he believes that was the understanding in the church before the 1950s and 60’s.
James Talmage said “in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement.”
That makes sense to me. And I think this is universalism with some teeth, this life is important. It’s not time to eat, drink and be merry. And this makes sense to me in a very pragmatic way. If I make a hundred good decisions in a row, I’m going to create a heaven on earth for myself and the people around me. If I make a hundred bad decisions in a row, I’m going to create hell on earth for myself and for the people around me and my loved ones.
Do we want to be in heaven or do we want to be in hell? When do we want to be in heaven? And when do we want to be in hell? Do we want to create heaven for ourselves and our loved ones right now?
Do we want to do it in 10 years after we’ve gone through some hell? Do we want to do it in 50 years? Do we want to do it on our death bed? Do we want to do it in the spirit world? Or do we want to do it after we’re in one of the kingdoms? If we don’t want to be in heaven, we don’t need to be, we can make bad decisions and we can create a hell, or we can make good decisions and create a heaven.
I really liked his doctrine and it makes a lot of sense to me. And I love how Joseph Smith kind of put this wrapper around this Christian world of this world and heaven and hell. And the wrapper on one side is the preexistence and the wrapper on the other side is this eternal progression.
We’re free to progress at our rate. And if we want to move towards the light and towards God we can. And if we want to move towards darkness and bad decisions, and that’s also our right. But God wants to save us and God wants us to be in heaven with him.
I personally believe that if there are indeed three kingdoms, there will be progression between the kingdoms. If there is NOT progression between the kingdoms but there is constant teaching and learning within the kingdoms, wouldn’t this mean that many people would hit the progression ceiling in the telestial and terrestial kingdoms? In other words, individuals in the lower two kingdoms would keep progressing to the point where they max out but are unable to make the next step into the celestial kingdom. And this would go on for eternity?
If you believe that, you believe that your 75 or so years on earth would influence your ultimate place for eternity and that you’d never be able to progress beyond a certain point even if you were a quick study in the other two kingdoms and even if that went on for centuries (remember, centuries is nothing relative to eternal time). Does this make any sense to anyone?
Does the idea of progression between kingdoms require the belief that there is a “ceiling” on the lower kingdoms — as josh h suggests? What about a model that hypothesizes some kind of “parallel trajectory” with different starting points? I’m thinking of something like the way that the Tour de France deals with the intermediate days. You are assigned a time after the leader at the end of the day, then, the following day, you wait until your time after the leader is sent in order to begin your day’s journey. If I’m several hours after the leader, I am unlikely (especially in my condition) to ever catch up to the leaders. If my goal is competitive (to finish the race at the same time or ahead of the leader group), then I will never be in that group. However, if my goal is to experience the French countryside on a bike, then I will still end up riding the same course and experience the same sights and sounds and experience the thrill of riding a bike across France.
I really don’t know. It seems to me that we have so little understanding of the next life (or lives) that who knows what it really looks like. I suspect that there is more universalism in the after life than “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God” types expect, and less universalism than the “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die and, if we have sinned, God will beat us with a few stripes and at last we will be saved” types expect. But I have no idea exactly what that looks like — except that I know that a perfect God through the atonement of His Christ will be able to perfectly balance justice and mercy to provide me with the best combination of growth and potential that He can possibly give.
I have frequently stated to friends that Joseph Smith had issues with his mother, because Mormonism is a blend of his own Methodism with his father’s Universalism, but it is a complete rejection of his mother’s Calvinism. Where is Freud when you need him….?
MrShorty: Just FYI, that’s not how the Tour de France works. Riders start at the same time every stage. But cumulative time is kept for the entire race and that determines the general classification (GC) winner. A rider who is 60 min down in GC, can win the stage for the day. The TdF is really many races in addition to the GC race. Maybe that is a better metaphor for life anyway.
Thanks for the correction 10ac. Not sure where or when I got my wrong information.
MrShorty: You can keep your analogy, but link it to the Olympic Nordic Combined instead of the Tour de France. In the Olympic NC, participants start the cross-country portion of the event at different times based on their ski jumping performance.
Rather than risk more downvotes here, I’ll simply refer interested readers to the brief description of my Flatland analogy in the Seven Changable Heresies thread.
But is there two-way progression? When we speak of progression between kingdoms it appears there is an assumption of a ratchet effect towards better kingdoms – but no digression. I had a religion teacher who opined that there may have been a few gods who may have lost that position. His reasoning being that perfected beings are expected to make their own choices. No one is forcing them to be good. So… is it correct they always choose the right? If one can progress to the better, because of their choices, why can’t the reverse happen?
If there is a ratchet effect, what keeps a person at the highest level they achieve? The atonement? If that’s the case, then Universalism is just the logical conclusion – everybody gets to heaven eventually.
Two-way progression…Gee whizz the Mormon Plan of Salvation is just so full of comfort.
Honestly the idea of fallen gods doesn’t seem to vibe well with Mormon theology or aesthetics. The idea is of eternal progression, not eternal devolution.
My view is that of the early Christian Fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Origen who taught that even the vilest of sinners after a period of time “of correction and education” would be eventually be redeemed ,sanctified and glorified” Against Celsus.. While the Book of zMoses sheds wonderful light on the subject the doctrine was clearly taught in the NT and Book of Mormon. Look at John 12:33 the word translated “draw” “ (Heiko ) can and in many translation is translated “drag”. Paul was dragged heiko into the arena in Colosus. David Hart used “dragged” in his translation of John 12.:33 See David Hart “The New Testament. Likewise Alma 13 is best understood as describing preexistent but previously mortal indiduals.who are judged worthy to return to a subsequent mortal existence. ReadJoseph last Sermon given 10 days before he died “The Sermon in the Grove” See how we must go from exaltation to exaltation before we can finally do what the Savior and his Father and his Father before him did, that is lay down his life and take it up again.. We think that there are only 3 kingdoms and agonize about movement between them when the scriptures teach there are more than that. D and C 130:10. I can only conclude that the BRMs and JFSs of the world like Johnathan Edwards and Calvin did not understand that as Joseph taught “God is more liberal in his views and boundless in his blessings that we can believe or are willing to accept. No wonder we shouted for for joy when the plan was introduced.
Thanks for writing this. Very interesting topic.
“Two-way progression” is an interesting idea. I think David Bentley Hart (referenced by BellamyBellamy) would respond that regression is impossible because no rational being can reject God. Those who reject Him in this moral existence do so because of the baggage attending mortality, i.e., insufficient information, culture, circumstances of birth. Those obstacles will be removed in the world to come. Rational creatures will eventually run to God, because he is the source of creation and truth.
Query how that fits with free will, if no one can resist the ultimate outcome of communion with God. (Hart in fact acknowledges that is the best argument in favor of an eternal hell.)