When we study the gospel, if there is one thing that is always guaranteed to happen it’s that we will make discoveries and have thoughts we never anticipated when we sat down to study. The Spirit has a way of opening our field of view so we begin to consider things we never even imagined before.
The old view
In my pondering I realized that my old view of the end goal of my obedience was a place at the Celestial table, so to speak. I wanted me to be there. I would have my wife, and hopefully, all my children around me. If I was lucky my natal family would also be there so I can enjoy the company of my parents and siblings. What happens after that is beyond anything I have ever considered before. I have never thought about how one progresses once arriving at the Celestial kingdom.
What work will we be engaged in as neophyte Celestial beings? I can’t imagine that I would want to start, or be allowed to start having children right away, because there will still be eons of time needed for us to learn all the rest of the lessons of what it means to be a god. We will progress more quickly than we ever could on earth, and our capacities will be greatly enlarged, but the road before us is long and will still be filled with challenges as we learn to become like Christ and our Father. And there is that little issue of me having to learn math. So this may take even longer than I thought.
The view begins to open
I have been journaling as I study the Come, Follow Me lessons. The result of my journaling is commentary for study for each week’s lessons. As I read about Paul’s teachings that we will become joint-heirs with Christ I got thinking about what that means. If my being a joint-heir with Christ is going to mean anything, I must first have some concept as to what he is going to inherit. Once I have a grasp on that then I will have a rough idea as to what I will jointly be sharing with him.
The first section of this article described my initial thoughts about the Celestial kingdom and how it was all about me – and my spouse, and my family, and my parents, and my siblings. Me, me, me. Something suddenly seemed very wrong with my perception of the Celestial kingdom. It simply can’t be all about me. Wow, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I might just choke on that one.
If the Celestial kingdom is not about me then how do I expand my view to include others in what I want out of my work and sacrifices here on earth? After all, the home of our Father is supposed to be the ultimate reward, and surely a God’s ultimate reward for His children is more than someone with my tiny mind can comprehend. Surely there is some way for us to begin to see a bigger picture than to return to our original home and only have it be all about me. Surely when Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, and during all those other arduous hours he wasn’t thinking only about what he was going to get out of this when it was all over. Or was he?
It was at this point that I began to think that perhaps I needed to answer the question – What is Christ’s inheritance? What was he looking forward to when he finished his mortal mission? The only thing I have considered, up to this point, is what I will personally be treated to when I return home. What was Christ looking forward to? We are taught that he will inherit all things from our Father for his role as our redeemer. This inheritance is what he will share with all those who believed in him and demonstrated their love for him by keeping his commandments. What is included in “all things?”
In several places in the scriptures the Lord makes reference to those whom the Father has given him. He promises that those whom the Father has given him will not be lost, but all will be saved. I assume that means to be saved with him in the Celestial kingdom. These are they for whom his atoning sacrifice has merit. These are they who repent of their sins and can be forgiven and exalted by Christ. By being forgiven they become justified, because they are now living within the laws of happiness God has given us. By living in a state of justification we become more holy through our righteous behavior, meaning we become sanctified or purified as well.
The Savior’s atoning sacrifice is capable of covering the sins of every child of God, but it can only cover the sins of those who come to Christ and seek reconciliation with him, and forgiveness from him. Those who refuse to take advantage of Christ’s sublime offer of forgiveness of our sins will be left in the end as though no atonement had been made for them. They will have to suffer on their own to the full extent of their ability to pay for their own sins. When all is said and done Christ’s atonement will still have to finally release them from their suffering, but because of their rejection of his payment for their sins they will be forever separated from those more willing to accept a weightier crown of glory in the Celestial kingdom. They who reject his sacrifice will have to inhabit a lesser kingdom.
When I began to consider those Jesus refers to as his, it occurred to me that his view of the Celestial reward is far more grand than mine. Christ was looking forward to being reunited forever with all of his brothers and sisters whom he loves so much he was willing to pay the ultimate price to redeem them from their fallen state. This will include billions of the righteous children of God. For a moment I felt a twinge of jealousy that I might not hold a preeminent place in his heart, but then I remembered that God is no respecter of persons. He loves all of us equally, the supremely righteous and the supremely wicked. He does not hate those who choose to reject him, he sorrows over their loss to the joys he knows they could have enjoyed had they chosen differently.
Knowing I am loved by God as much as is Adam, Abraham, Joseph Smith, the current prophet, or any righteous soul to ever live, helps me feel better about his far greater view of what it means to return home to the Celestial kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that they earned greater blessings than me, because they chose to live more righteous lives. But that doesn’t change God’s love for me. I can have any reward in the end any of the prophets have earned, but I will have to choose to be faithful and diligent in my efforts to become more like Christ.
The character of Christ
While I was thinking that the Celestial kingdom would be all about just me and mine, Jesus, I believe, sees the Celestial kingdom for the associations he will be able to have with all those he loves so dearly, no matter how many of us there may be. We are all valued to him.
Speaking of value, I was just discussing with my wife about the character of Christ as discussed by Elder Bednar in a recent Missionary President Leadership meeting (2019). We tend to have many trite conversations, casual meetings and encounters, and throw-away relationships. We fail to see the value in others that we often should see and cherish. Can you imagine Christ having a conversation with you and dismissing you or your feelings as unimportant? Can you imagine him thinking of you as a disposable “friend?”
Suddenly Elder Bednar’s comments about the character of Christ started to click things in place. As we minister to others we need to learn that every person is valuable. There are no disposable people. There are no inconsequential conversations or relationships. We won’t become like Christ until we learn to value each person we meet, no matter what their station in life, their mood at the moment, or their financial balance or physical appearance.
I was having a conversation about making friends, and how difficult it was to do so, because we have become a disposable society. Our relationships with each other are no longer a matter of mutual survival, but of convenience. So now our friendships are often based on what we believe we can get out of the relationship. When their value is “gone” then we move on and just don’t consider them important any longer. It is as though people have become commodities to be exchanged and bartered with. Christ would never treat another person in such a way.
When I think of going to the Celestial kingdom in the same terms I am applying to our Lord, I think of not just having the kingdom inhabited by me and mine, but of all my brothers and sisters I knew so well and intimately before earth life. They will love me and cherish me as much as I love and cherish them. Our memories of each other will return and we will be able to share and swap our stories of our earthly experiences with each other.
The Celestial city will be one of overflowing love and friendship, of acceptance and gentleness. No one will be lonely, outcast, unaccepted, or left out. We will include everyone because we will love and value everyone as an old friend. Everyone there will be precious in our eyes.
Finally, I considered what it would be like to be resurrected and to live with those who were resurrected. In this life we grow to maturity then continue on to slowly degrade into old age and infirmity. If someone here is older they are necessarily wrinkled and more infirm than those in their prime. But isn’t resurrection by definition to receive a body that is in its prime, never to age and degrade?
This gave me a whole new visual when Christ states that if you have seen him you have also seen his Father. They might have a difference in glory, but they would both be (for the sake of argument) 30 something looking in age. Both would be of timeless health and appearance. Can you imagine the Father and the Son standing next to each other and looking more like twin brothers than an older father and His young Son?
This means that the Celestial kingdom would be populated by almost nothing but 30 somethings, like a single adult conference, but everyone has a partner. The whole Celestial city would be filled with youthful, healthy individuals. All age and infirmities will be a thing of the past. Only vitality and strength, indescribable beauty and charm will exist among those Celestial citizens.
Finally, I love the quote from the Come, Follow Me manual for 2019, page 127. There is a quote from Sister Linda S. Reeves.
I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, ‘Was that all that was required?’ I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally. What will it matter … what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior? (Worthy of Our Promised Blessings.”Ensign or Liahona Nov. 2015, 11).
It is my personal opinion that our little mortal minds cannot begin to grasp the greatness of the reward God, our Father has in store for us. No matter how grandiose our vision of what He might have to offer us, it will pale into complete insignificance with what the reality of our reward will be. The sooner we begin to learn how to see each other as Christ sees each of us, as valuable beyond compare, the sooner we will begin to experience the kind of joy those in the city of Enoch experienced, that joy that got them taken back into the bosom of the Father. This view of those around us will make us worthy companions for the people of Enoch when they return in the Millennium.
We may see our current trials as never ending, unbelievably difficult, and beyond description. But if we can learn to see through the eyes of faith and hope at our final destination, we will see that any sacrifice we are required to make here will be more than amply rewarded in the day of resurrection.