The March 30th, 2020 Come, Follow Me lesson for the Book of Mormon focuses on Easter and the resurrection of Christ. When the manual quotes “He shall rise … with healing in His wings” they then follow up with the question for each of us, “what exactly does it mean to be resurrected?” This post is about my musings on the question of the day.
The manual offers several sets of verses to read in order to direct our thinking about the resurrection. The plan of salvation is the whole story of our beginning through to the end of this part of our eternal existence. The resurrection ends this part of our progress and acts as the beginning of our next phase but every verse suggested in the manual really just talks about the middle of the story that leads up to the resurrection. I would like to focus on the beginning and the end of the story, without all the distractions of the middle portions.
To tell this story I would like to take the liberty to write in a less formal fashion, and add some thoughts that may or may not be doctrinal. There are certainly no scriptures or utterances from the prophets to back up some of my statements, but I promise you I am not leading you down the garden path to apostasy. Because I don’t have my usual scriptural or prophetic backup for what I write, I ask that you take what I write with a grain of salt and instead try to imagine what it would be like as a spirit in the premortal world who is still looking forward to your experience on earth. The focus here is on the prize – the end of this story – our future resurrection. Consider this as part fiction that can help demonstrate a point.
(A messenger appears and begins to instruct you.) I have been sent to help you understand where you came from and what lies before you. To do that I have the unenviable task of trying to help you see beyond the bounds of your mortal existence. You are accustomed to the idea that everything has a start and a stop time or date stamp. But think of how the scriptures open up in the book of Genesis. The opening line reads, “In the beginning.” What I need to help you see is that for eternal beings there is no beginning, nor end for that matter. We just are.
Have you ever wondered what was going on before the beginning talked about in Genesis? You were there. It is difficult to discuss time in terms of the eternal, since existence just always is. The universe if full of Intelligences who have always existed. I won’t get into their nature or their capacities. Suffice it to say they are eternal and have always been around. You were once just an Intelligence. This is what makes you co-eternal with God, you both started as Intelligences.
It was from among these limitless numbers of Intelligences our God chose us and offered a path to godhood. His plan, because it encompasses the entire universe, includes at least billions and billions of Intelligences. He offered us increased capacity for growth and goodness in the form of a spirit body.
You accepted this invitation to receive a spirit body, and to begin your progression towards greater spiritual capacity. You, as an Intelligence were clothed with a body that enabled you to progress in ways you were not able to as an Intelligence. You were welcomed into your Father in Heaven’s family as one of His children. The Intelligence part of you is what makes you eternal. It is the core of your soul. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that anything that has a beginning must also have an end, for only eternal things have no beginning and no end. Your spirit body has a beginning, yet you remain eternal, because your Intelligence has always existed.
Life as a spirit
All spirits consist of a permanent fusion of an Intelligence and a spirit body. As a newly made spirit you had eons of time to learn, progress, grow, and make decisions and act on those decisions, all with the end goal of receiving the promised possibility of the same kind of body God has. As much as you were able to progress throughout the eternities you spent as a spirit in your heavenly home, there is a limit to how far you can go with only a spirit body. The glory able to be added to a spirit is limited, and we wanted to become like our heavenly parents. Our Father’s desire for us was to give us unlimited glory and to be able to progress for all of eternity.
In order to progress eternally, a special kind of body is required. This body is referred to as a resurrected body. It must be acquired in a special way, for there is no way to go directly from a spirit body to an eternal and glorified body. But the glorified resurrected body was always the aim. The possibility for such a body was what we were promised before we came into God’s family.
I now need to make a short diversion and talk about some important topics, such as the nature of bodies in general, and the use of agency and how it affects your soul. After that I can return to talk about the resurrection.
The nature of bodies
Not only can I not tell you the details of what the nature of a resurrected body is, but there are mysteries surrounding the nature of bodies in general. For example, spirits can interact with other spirits, just as humans can interact with other humans. Spirits are made of such fine eternal matter that they can pass through the coarser physical matter that comprises the human body. This allows the world of spirits and the world of humans in mortality to exist in the same space on the same planet. But as with everything God does, there is a purpose for everything.
Even though spirits can grow spiritually and gain light and truth, there are limits on their capacities. Those limits can be changed and increased to include the same capabilities as a god, but they must go through a process to get the kind of body that will allow for those limits to be extended beyond their current capacities. Spirits must get a new kind of body, a physical body, which is the second step towards getting a resurrected body. The first step was getting a spirit body. Are you beginning to see that a resurrected body is achieved through a layered approach? First comes the Intelligence. Second, that Intelligence is fused with a spirit body. Third, that spirit is placed into a physical body.
Physical bodies are temporary, with some lasting only hours and others lasting almost a thousand years, like in the days of Adam. But in any case, a physical body is short lived and must eventually stop functioning. And physical bodies cannot operate on their own, for a spirit must inhabit the body for the body to have life. When the body stops working, for whatever reason, the spirit leaves it and reenters the world of spirits.
While in mortality, you are not solely a spirit or a physical body, you are a combination of the two. Yes, the two parts of you are only temporarily together, but because of this fusion, the experiences of your spirit while in your body affects your body and the experiences of your body also affects your spirit. When your life in mortality ends you are not the same person you were when you entered mortality. The degree of righteous behavior you choose to engage in or choose to fight against in mortality changes who you are when you return to the world of spirits. Your spiritual capacities are now different than they were when you entered mortality. The purpose of obtaining a physical body is to learn for yourself where the real desires of your heart lie. This is why we are told in Abraham 3 that the purpose of mortal life is to prove each person to see if they will be obedient to God when God is not visibly present in their life.
You were promised the possibility of a glorified and eternal body when you came into our Father’s family, but some members of the family used their agency to rebel against Him and reject His laws. The nature of agency in the spirit world was different than the nature of agency in the physical world we call mortality. In the spirit world many spirits were able to become evil, but without ever actually breaking any of God’s laws, until they came out in open rebellion and refused to acknowledge Him any longer as their ruler. They followed His son, Lucifer who lead the rebellion. These are they who were cast out of Father’s home to become the servants of sin who tempt those in mortality.
Those who come to mortality are given a new kind of agency to live by called moral agency. Moral agency is designed to test our heart’s desire. All of our choices are geared around choices of right and wrong. We are placed in a situation in mortality that requires us to constantly choose between the two. God has promised us that He will honor our agency and give us whatever we choose. We can choose to turn to His Son, Jesus Christ and obey the commandments He gives us, and gain eternal life in the presence of God, or we can spurn that option and do whatever we want, or follow Lucifer openly, and fight against God, and be locked out of God’s presence for eternity. Again, we will get whatever we want. Our desires are demonstrated by our behavior here in mortality. Because our desires are proven by our behavior, we can’t say we want to live with God, but openly disobey His commandments. Our choice is made through the behavior we choose.
Back to the resurrection
Remember that the whole point of coming into God’s family was the promise that we would have the opportunity to become like Him. By entering into our spirit body we also entered what the Lord refers to as our first estate. The promise we were given by God was that if we honored that estate we would be able to have glory added upon us by receiving a resurrected body, like He has. Sort of. But not exactly. There was a caveat added to His statement in Abraham 3. If you keep or honor your first estate (the world of spirits) you will be added upon, which means you will receive a resurrected body. But to be added upon forever and become like God, Himself, we must also keep our second estate. Our second estate is mortality.
The fact that you are even in mortality demonstrates that you kept your first estate. Yea you! Everyone who comes to earth as a mortal will receive the promised reward of a resurrected body. But only those who also keep their second estate will be allowed back into the presence of God to someday become like Him. Because we will all be resurrected, that is, be given a glorified and eternal physical body, we will all live in a kingdom of glory somewhere. But where we live in the eternities is based on just how obedient we are to God’s commandments between the time we left His home and the time of our resurrection.
By definition, anyone who cannot continue to progress eternally is stopped at some point after their resurrection. Just like a body of flowing water that is stopped by a wall is said to be damned, so too is anyone who has their progress stopped for eternity. In this respect there are only two states of being for those who are resurrected, the damned and the exalted. Those who are exalted can continue their progression to someday become gods themselves. Those who are damned can continue to progress within the kingdom to which they are assigned, but the Lord has not told us whether they will ever be allowed to progress out of their assigned kingdom to the next higher kingdom. We will just have to wait and see.
Levels of resurrection
We were promised we would have the opportunity to become like God, and that is exactly what God, our Father has given us. As much as He wants that result for each of His children, the decision for that to happen isn’t His to make. It is ours, and ours alone. Our Father made all the laws that would make this possible, and provided us with a Savior to make it possible to return to Him once we came down to mortality, but what we do with our time in mortality is all up to us. We have made it past the first hurdle by successfully keeping our first estate. We are all promised a resurrected body. Now we are being tested in our second estate to see if we really want the full blessings God has promised us.
The final pairing
To recap: We were offered the path to godhood by becoming a member of God’s family. Our native Intelligence was fused with a spirit body to become a new form of an eternal entity. We passed the tests in our first estate and are now in our second estate. Our spirit is now only temporarily in a physical body. This time in our physical form is a testing period to see what our heart’s true desire really is. When our mortal body ceases to work any longer, for whatever reason, we leave our body and return to the world of spirits from whence we came.
The resurrection provided us by Christ’s atoning sacrifice, his death, and finally his own rising from the grave in a new immortal version of the physical body, is what we are being offered at the end of our mortal experience. Our new body will not be new to us, but a restoration of our old body, but with without any of our old mortal body’s flaws. Our restored body will be perfect and complete in every way. On top of its perfection it will also be the final layering of Intelligence, spirit, and physical flesh. The three-fold parts of the eternally perfect body, now complete, can be imbued with glory forever and ever.
Resurrected bodies can be perfect, but still restricted. Those who are damned will still be given the capacity to obtain certain levels of glory, but those who are worthy of exaltation will receive a resurrected body with an endless capacity of being exalted. This is my personal opinion, but I believe the bodies will all be essentially the same in makeup and quality, but the reason for the endless capacity for added glory comes from an outside factor.
That outside factor has to do with the covenants made between God and His children. Those who make and honor those covenants are promised eternal increase, which is what brings with it eternal glory and endless increase. Those who keep their covenants will be allowed to progress to godhood, ruling and reigning in the eternities over kingdoms, principalities, and dominions. They will be allowed to have children themselves, starting again the cycle that they, themselves participated in by becoming part of God’s family.
The resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises made to all of us before the world was even created. It completes the purpose for the creation of the earth. The resurrection begins the next phase of our eternal journey, our progression towards godhood, or our finding joy in the lesser kingdoms we chose through our behavior in mortality. The resurrection is the point and purpose of mortality. Without the resurrection of Christ the whole earthly experience would have had no meaning, no direction, no reason for happening.
Truly, the resurrection is the purpose of all the Apostles’ and prophets’ testimonies since the world began. This is what makes Christianity so different from any other religious philosophy. We preach of Christ, and him alive. We preach of that eternal life that all of us came from, and will return to, and in fact, that we are a part of at this very moment. The gospel of Christ is all about life, and that eternally. Christ’s promises to us are demonstrated in no higher form than Christ’s own resurrection and his promise that we will each personally share in that same glorious event. This is exactly what it means to be resurrected.
I loved your column regarding resurrection. It simplifies the Scriptures and puts things into perspective. Thank you for your insights.