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We know so little about the War in Heaven, speculation not withstanding. But what occurs to me is that there is a fundamental choice to be made in life – pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal: Do we want the certainty that comes from protection and stasis? Or do we want eternal progress and creation that comes with real risk and vulnerability?
I think that this, at core, is what the debate was about, what it is still about, and what it will always be about. It is the struggle for salvation. Sometimes the risks seem too high and we shy away from creation towards the comfort of stasis. Sometimes the hell of that stasis is so horrifying that we accept the risk and vulnerability of creation and eternal progress. And while God has made the choice for creation and progress in heaven, God cannot make the choice for us. We each have to make, and re-make this choice in how we approach life.
William James, in his book “Pragmatism”, put it this way:
Suppose that the world’s author put the case to you before creation, saying: “I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own ‘level best.’ I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk?”
His questions are poignant:
- Will you join the procession? – Will we join God in making the choice of creation and change?
- Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk? – Are we willing to extend faith and trust towards one another and expose ourself to the risks of vulnerability?
We don’t like vulnerability, often equating it with weakness. Vulnerability leads to rejection, shame, disconnection, injury, and harm. But vulnerability is also what leads to love, union, diversity, creation, courage, grace, and healing. It is on this ground that we battle in our own souls, in our relationships, in our institutions, in our societies, and in our world. The risks are huge and our safety is not guaranteed. We cannot do it alone and must face it together with others. But there is no other way if we want a world that can hold together virtues worth living for.
I find that the Grand Fundamentals of Mormonism, centered on Christ, are well-equipped to navigate this space. For a wonderful overview of these fundamentals see Don Bradley’s excellent Sunstone essay (1):
- Truth: “Receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (2)
- Friendship: Turning the hearts of generations towards one another (3), sustaining (4), and Zion as “one heart and one mind” (5)
- Relief: “to be just and merciful” (6), “mourn with those that mourn” (7), and joining a God who “weep(s)” with others (8)
Grounding our beliefs in truth that is not dogmatic or sectarian keeps us from stagnation and stasis. Turning our hearts towards others gives courage to lift the oppressed. And responding to evil and pain with relief is our responsibility to face ills in our societies and in a chaotic universe. All of these come together in our discipleship in Christ, who embodies this radical choice, to respond to and mitigate the real risks that come with making and remaking this world. Perhaps this existential choice is a defining characteristic of agency or volition. And perhaps this is precisely the work of salvation as we together build Zion, which makes eternity worth living and worth the struggle.
1) Don Bradley, “The Grand Fundamental Principles Of Mormonism” Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Reformation, Sunstone April 2006
2) History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1949), 5:499.
3) Doctrine & Covenants 128:15, 18
5) Moses 7:32
6) Sermon of Joseph Smith, 21 May 1843 (Sunday Morning), in Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 206.
7) Mosiah 18:9
8) Moses 7:37