If, as a teacher, I acted like my students had no life before they entered my classroom, I would severely limit my appreciation of them and the richness of their lives.
In contrast, if I welcomed the whole person to my class, acknowledging and valuing their earlier experiences and rich predispositions, we could learn far more from each other.
Most of Christianity teaches that we had no existence before we came to earth. In fact, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D. condemned the doctrine of pre-existence as heresy even though it had been commonly taught before then.
This rejection of preexistence creates a terrible problem. As Terryl Givens observed,
“If God creates the soul afresh in every human, how can it be imperfect, as a soul of fallen nature necessarily is? If it is created pure and innocent, how and when does it come to acquire the burden of Adam’s sin and guilt? And what justice can there be in immediately consigning a purely created spirit to the [nightmare] of guilt, sin, and fallenness?” (2010, p. 2).
The Plan does not make sense without our pre-earth existence.
Think about it. If I am totally a creation of God and He makes me good or evil, then I cannot be accountable for either. God should be rewarded or punished for making me what I am. And, if God is perfectly good, how can He make anything that is not perfectly good? Evil just doesn’t make sense if God did all the creating!
In magnificent contrast, we lived with God and each other for ages before coming to earth. We lived in God’s classroom where we learned and developed. Then, when God invited us to take on a new educational experience—earth life—it was natural that He would allow us to choose the set of experiences that would prepare us for our eternal careers. Some may have chosen just the basics. Others had loftier ambitions: “Give me the experiences that will prepare me to do the things You do!”
Because we have always existed, we can acknowledge variations in valiance without blaming God. Because we made choices about our earthly experiences, we may recognize some hardships as a part of the course of study we chose before coming to earth. We do not know the formula that translates our eternal ambitions into mortal experiences, but we know that God is completely devoted to helping us fill the measure of our possibility.
When we remove an understanding of pre-earth existence, nothing makes sense. How can we be accountable for the way God made us? Why do some people get such severe tests? How can we understand pain and evil?
“An emphasis on human preexistence comports quite comfortably with a celebration of humanity’s primal purity, inherited innocence, and divine potential.” (Givens, 2010, p. 175).
Earth is education for eternity.
It should not be surprising that, as we leave our eternal homes for the lonely and stretching education of mortality, we would have times of loneliness and melancholy. Yet, as we incline toward the whispering in our souls, we are reassured. “God is mindful. His purposes are perfect. He has not forgotten us. And He will use all the powers of heaven and earth to remove the stains and retain the gains of mortality.”
A side note: When God prepared earth for our mortal classroom, He did not create a bare concrete bunker. Earth is not a scant and skimping classroom. No! He filled the earth with wonders and opportunities for discovery from modest forget-me-nots in shady woodlands to magnificent sunsets, from a child’s chubby fingers to a grandparent’s gentle wisdom. It is glorious and beautiful! Or, as Kant observed, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” We regularly fail to appreciate God’s generosity in equipping our mortal classrooms so gloriously.
The world is filled with wonders! So, while we struggle with the lessons of mortality, God has left reassurances and reminders all around us. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1).
While He will not intrude on our agency, God has given us abundant reasons to be reassured, to be peaceful in His goodness.
The Lord modestly declares that “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:20). And His work is to teach, enlarge, refine, and ultimately glorify us.
All the parts of God’s plan fit together magnificently. We have always existed. Our beloved Father and Mother wanted to help us grow in light and glory. They trained us until we were ready to “go away to school.” They watch over us and send messengers (including the Holy Spirit, ancestors, and friends) and experiences to bless us while we are here on earth. They provided a Savior so that we can be brought again into Their presence and with Them partake of eternal life and exaltation.
When the doctrine of a pre-earth existence was jettisoned from Christianity, she was left with a “theology whose central concerns were human sinfulness, not human potentiality; divine determination, not human freedom and responsibility; God’s mystery, not God’s justice” (Givens quoting Clark, 2010, p. 322). What a tragedy!
The Restoration fully restored the glory of God’s plan. May we be mindful and grateful!
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: The Part of God’s Glorious Plan that we Often Neglect