Eternal Progress vs. Eternal Increase: A Poll

HawkgrrrlMormon 30 Comments

One of the distinct LDS doctrines is that of eternal progression:  the idea that we continue to grow and develop as individuals throughout eternity unless through our own choices we stop progressing.  But there are two different interpretations of this doctrine that both seem to be supported by authoritative statements.  Are both interpretations correct?  Or is one correct and the other incorrect?

Eternal Progress.  This means that individuals in this life are progressing and growing, learning new things, and becoming more and more like our heavenly parents on our (long) way toward godhood or god-adult-hood.  In fact, if we do not continue to learn in this life, we also cease to learn and grow after death, being relegated to one of the “static” kingdoms:  telestial or terrestrial.  Two alternate twists on this, though, allow for progress after death even if one does not merit exaltation (the Celestial Kingdom):

  • Multiple Mortal Probations.  In this version, as with reincarnation, someone can return to progress through another mortal life.  This theory would also explain how Jesus could be perfect (maybe it wasn’t his first life?).
  • Progress between Kingdoms.  Although decried as one of the Seven Deadly Heresies by Bruce R. McConkie (who also had some enchanting things to say about evolution), this version allows for individuals who did not merit exaltation to continue to learn and grow throughout eternity, and move between kingdoms as they increase in light and knowledge.

Eternal Increase.  An alternate understanding of the doctrine of eternal progression is that it merely refers to a continuation of one’s dynasty through eternity, adding spiritual offspring (increase) to someone who is righteous.  This model is likely to be favored by those who are more inclined to view God as static and omniscient rather than also continuing to learn and grow.  It also seems to be the version of this doctrine that is more in vogue with the current correlation committee’s emphasis.  Because it does not require continuous learning, it can be supported by a strict obedience model  (because individual learning and development is a byproduct of trial and error).

Assorted Quotes on this Doctrine:

“We prepare for eternal life by daily learning, improving, and building the kingdom of God.What are we here for? Eternal life is the ability to progress and increase forever. This is the greatest gift that can be conferred on intelligent beings, to live forever and never be destroyed.”  Brigham Young

“Satan does not have a body, and his eternal progress has been halted. Just as water flowing in a riverbed is stopped by a dam, so the adversary’s eternal progress is thwarted because he does not have a physical body.” (from a CES statement)

“We will have the blessing of being sealed in a family forever with the promise of eternal increase.”  Henry B. Eyring

“And through Joseph Smith he says: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. This exaltation meant godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase for which they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences.”  Spencer W. Kimball

“Developing spirituality is critical to our eternal progress. The fruits of eternal progress are manifest in joy, peace, love, hope, increased confidence in the Lord.”  Elaine L. Jack

So what’s your view?

[poll id = “179”]


Comments 30

  1. I view the two as almost neccessary analogues of each other. In the scriptures we have countless accounts of individuals when awakened to the truth desiring nothing more than to share their knowledge with others. This is the focal point of earthly missionary work. Likewise, as eternal beings we would want to share our knowledge and light with other autonomous and free beings. Like god we will want to bring order and perfection to a universe still filled with unpredictability and chaos. This will require some form of creation of spiritual offspring. We don’t know the exact mechanism but it seems that family units ( large or small) are somehow tied up in the process. Yet, the key is in our selfless desire to share all good blessings just as our father in heaven has done with us.

  2. Hyrum Smith taught that the Terrestrial Kingdom was like the moon because it waxed and waned as it filled with people passing through who then exited onward. Just FYI.

    Personally, every time BRM was able to be checked against reality (e.g. when Blacks would get the Priesthood, whether Christ has ever called any man his friends, whether the Catholic Church is the great & abominable, etc.) he was wrong. That is often a good predictor of where the truth lies when comparing a doctrine and a BRM statement. If he was against it, that is a good predictor it may be correct. 😉

  3. Well, as you know, we can play the GA quote game all day long that combined with scripture can “prove” any position. (You can back just about any position with the right combination of GA quotes and scriptures.)

    That said, I’m sure it will be a combination of the two.

  4. I voted for a combination. But I want to point out that there are at least two models of eternal progress in lower kingdoms that do not involve either multiple mortal probations or progress between kingdoms. I have a strong preference for the second of those models, but present both just for completeness.

    The first is a relativistic model. Under the theory of relativity, the speed of light constitutes an absolute limit on the speed at which we can travel. That is analogous to being in a lower kingdom, unable to break through into the higher kingdom. But no matter how fast you travel in a relativistic universe, you never perceive yourself as bumping up against the limit. Say I hitch a ride on a photon, providing just enough drag to slow it to 1 mph below the speed of light. Then I pull out a flashlight and turn it on pointing in the same direction I am already traveling. Somebody standing where I started will perceive the beam from the flashlight to be traveling 1 mph, but I will perceive it traveling the speed of light. It could be the same with barriers between kingdoms. One observer could perceive you as approaching the barrier, but from your own perspective, you have virtually unlimited potential for progress.

    The second model uses Euclidean geometry to create its analogues. In this model, progress is a multi-dimensional thing. For convenience, I limit it to three dimensions (and don’t ask me to label them beyond the analogy to degrees of glory).

    A son of perdition is unable to make progress of any kind after death, so his reward is analogous to a point. (Not necessarily the point [0,0,0]. It could be a point representing advanced progress, but it is utterly static.)

    The reward of a telestial being would be the opportunity to progress along a line. Everyone’s line would be specific to them, so they could progress in the way that provides them the most joy, given the linear constraint. Lines would necessarily intersect occasionally, giving them fleeting opportunities to share their progress with others in the same kingdom.

    The reward of a terrestrial being would be the opportunity to progress within a plane. That gives them access to infinitely more points than a telestial being, but is still severely constrained. The lines of some telestial beings would necessarily lie on the same plane, allowing them to progress together at the discretion of the terrestrial being. Also, planes would intersect, allowing members of that kingdom to progress together along a particular line if they so choose.

    The reward of a celestial being would be the opportunity to progress within space–that is without constraint. Every line and plane would be contained within that space, allowing celestial beings to progress with members of other kingdoms at their own discretion. Most importantly, however, every celestial being’s space would overlap completely with that of every other celestial being. Any of them could progress together in any way they choose.

    I have promoted the second model on numerous occasions and in numerous places around the bloggernacle, but I don’t feel like anybody really gets it. So I keep trying.

  5. LastLemming:

    I think I understand what you’re saying in your second model and find it interesting. The first one confuses me with references to relativity, because all observers will measire the flashlight beam as travelling at the same speed, so I don’t get what you’re trying to say.

  6. I voted neither, because I feel like God’s nature (omniscience, etc.), our relationship with God, and our future place in God’s plenitude are the subject of much speculation, but little or no certainty among any of the worlds religions, and especially in Mormonism, which has no firm theology. Joseph Smith’s own understanding of God evolved over the 14 years of his ministry, and most of the words I’ve read from LDS leaders who came after him have been speculations upon JS’s words in an attempt to harmonize them all together, and to literally accept every word used to describe God whether it was meant to be literal or not.

    I’m inclined to accept a metaphorical model of revelation in regard to God’s nature. In this model, the person receiving a revelation about God’s nature interprets what she or he “sees” using symbols (language, images, sound, etc.) available to them within their own historical/social/religious context, and which cannot possibly describe the totality of God’s nature (btw, most revelatory writings in the Bible, BoM, and D&C proclaim the utter unsuitability of language to appropriately describe a vision of God). Given the failure of our symbols to signify exactly what we mean them to signify, it is hard to place much stock in the absolute truth of one statement about God or the afterlife over another. In the metaphorical sense, God is a Father, God is a Mother; God is embodied, God is in everything; God is omniscient, God is the Ideal form of all good qualities (patience, love, virtue, etc.); God “sees”, uses the strength of his “arm”, “stands”, “forms”, “commands”, “judges”, etc.: each of these statements represents but one aspect of God’s existence in terms we think we understand. And yet, God transcends all of them.

    To insist that God is a certain way based on the writings of any individual or group is perhaps a form of idolatry, where we seek to embody and completely encapsulate through words the totality of God, disallowing God any other modes of Being outside the realm of possibility of our (rather limited) human experience.

  7. because all observers will measire the flashlight beam as travelling at the same speed, so I don’t get what you’re trying to say.

    We speculators are all analogous to the observer who perceives the beam traveling at 1 mph relative to the flashlight holder. Just as it seems to us that the flashlight holder has just about achieved his maximum speed, we also perceive somebody approaching the barrier between kingdom as about to hit the wall. But the flashlight holder himself does not share the perception of approaching any limit. Similarly, I am proposing that the actual inhabitant of the lower kingdom would never perceive himself to in danger of no longer progressing.

    But I don’t want to waste too much time on the relativistic model, because it perpetuates what I consider to be a wrong-headed notion about the nature of what distinguishes one kingdom from another.

  8. LastLemming: I understand your analogies, but have no idea how they relate to reality. They may be true, they may not be true. I don’t think we have enough data to know.

    I think there has to be some combination of things we don’t understand. We always talk about eternal families. We do temple work so families can “be together”. We are also told that there are many different “levels” depending on our life in mortality. I would venture that the vast majority of families I know have quite varying levels of spirituality, even among siblings. If we are truly consigned to different kingdoms and different levels, I think many families will end up spread all over the various “places” in heaven. To me, that wouldn’t be heaven. If I wasn’t with my spouse and kids and parents, etc., what would be the point of “heaven”?

    To me, the only way to reconcile “eternal families” with the widely varying levels of “spirituality” in mortality within families is progression after mortality. It is the only way to truly have an eternal family.

  9. Post

    Symphony of dissent: “Like god we will want to bring order and perfection to a universe still filled with unpredictability and chaos. This will require some form of creation of spiritual offspring.” Well, I’m not too sure God is about reducing unpredictability and chaos given how much free will is allowed. But IME, having kids did nothing to reduce chaos. Rather the reverse! 😉

    Ethesis: Thanks for the Hyrum Smith reminder. And the BRM rule of thumb I’ve often held is that the truth is inversely proportionate to BRM’s emphatic-ness. The more hyperbolic language he uses, the more tenuous his position. And that’s probably a rule of thumb that applies to most of us.

    Last Lemming: You lost me on that one, so I’ll wait to comment until someone can dumb it down for me.

    Mike S. – “To me, the only way to reconcile “eternal families” with the widely varying levels of “spirituality” in mortality within families is progression after mortality” I think this is a great point. If both increase and progress are eternal, then (individual) progress can’t be hampered by parenting. It has to either be increased through parenting or at least impacted neutrally. For that to be the case, I think at some level of eternal offspring, there has to be a real absentee parent thing going on. Which is more or less my own view anyway.

  10. Hawkgrrrl:

    I also don’t think it’s necessarily “absentee parenting” seen from an “eternal increase” perspective. I think it has to do with our immediate reward. In my own family here in mortality, my sibling and my wife’s siblings have widely varying levels of spirituality seen from a strictly LDS perspective. And that doesn’t even include our parents. According to a strict LDS-based system of reward, some of my own immediate family might be candidates for the celestial kingdom, some for the terrestrial kingdom, and some for the telestial kingdom. And this doesn’t even include “variations” within a given kingdom. They are all good people, living good God-fearing lives, but not necessarily “LDS-fearing” lives. And we are all sealed together.

    So, when this life is over, if we’re all spread to various kingdoms and if there is no chance for progression between kingdoms, what good does the “sealing” do? What is “heaven” if my own immediate family isn’t with me? If I “make it” but the rest of my family doesn’t, have I truly “made it”? Or if my parents “make it”, but none of their kids do, is that really “heaven” to them, to be separated from their family for eternity?

    I think we really have no clue whatsoever what is really going to happen. We can ponder and guess all we want, but at the end of the day, no one truly knows how any of this is going to work out.

  11. I think it’s silly to think that your ETERNAL progress will be decided by what you do in 0 to 100 years in this single mortal life. That seems very short sighted for a doctrine that is so inherently far-reaching in its perspective. I also agree with SteveS (#6) we don’t have a clear idea of the nature of God. We have a lot of ideas that help cultivate a good relationship with God which is what we are trying to do, so whether God is a being of flesh and blood is immaterial to God but is important to us because that is what helps us to relate to him on a personal level.
    In the same light, our view of our relationship with our family is improved by the idea of an ‘eternal family’. When all of us are working to become one with God and by doing so becoming one or sealed to everyone else.

    We need to Love God and Love Others so we are taught that God is our father and while this is very much reality it may not be human mortal condition reality and we are taught that we are sealed to our families for time and all eternity and while this is very much reality it likewise may not be human mortal condition reality.

    Not sure if any of that makes sense to anyone else…

  12. Our perception of heaven, the afterlife, and eternal progression are so bound to mortal feeble constraints that we must conclude- we have no real idea of things to come- of Gods ways. However, we can piece together the principles of godlieness and come up with a pretty clear picture of what may come. We do know that it is God’s work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man and I believe he is astonishingly successful at this work he does.

    For starters we know that God makes no law that does not correct us of our errors and bring us back to the path leading to eternal life. God is not capable either of creating a law that does not help us to correct our sinful natures. All of God’s laws, be they telestial, terrestrial, celestial or other, do not allow sin as a means of happiness. Think about that- no law justifies sin in even the least degree. All of Gods laws are made to help us realize our natural mistakes and correct them and still be covered by the atonement. Here is another-

    The path leading to salvation from hell has only one set of rules. As such, there is only one path of salvation and thus- only one destination. Joseph Smith spoke of this as “Jacob’s Ladder”. His interpretation of the “three heavens” of Pauls dream was that of Jacob’s ladder which represented the telestial kingdom as the lowest rung and then up from it the terrestrial kingdom and finally the top rung was the celestial kingdom. That was his interpretation of Jacob’s ladder. That ladder represents our eternal progression as we progress from glory to glory until we attain the resurrection of th edead and find eternal life in the celestial kingdom. Joseph stated later in his life that when climbing a ladder you must start at the bottom and then climb up one rung at a time.

    As this knowledge applies, God has no plans for leading us into some strange path leading to salvation outside of his heaven in his realm where he himself dwells. There is no glory for God in leading men back into glories outside of his direct presence. No, his work is only directed in one straight course- that course being leading us back into his very presence into his kingdom with his glory and he will never stop that work on anybody until we become just like he is.

    Like I said, God is astonishingly successful in completeing his work to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.

  13. but have no idea how they relate to reality.

    This is strictly an abstract model. If you try to fit it into “reality”, it won’t work. So I recommend adopting kind a Zen attitude towards it, letting go of reality, and analyzing the model on its own terms.

    If we are truly consigned to different kingdoms and different levels, I think many families will end up spread all over the various “places” in heaven.

    The first aspect of “reality” to let go of is geography. My geometric model implies no necessary geographic separation between kingdoms. I would interpret your placing quotes around “places” as a sign that you agree with that, but the rest of your comments seem rooted in the notion of geographic kingdoms, so I’m responding as if you are referring to literal “places.” In my model, kingdoms are defined by opportunity space, not physical space. Members of all kingdoms would be able to remain in social contact with one another and at least witness one another’s growth (or lack thereof). Whether they could participate in one another’s growth, however, depends on how their particular opportunity spaces overlap. Because the opportunity space of celestial beings would overlap with everybody else’s opportunity space, they could be fully engaged in the growth of anybody they choose. In that sense, their sealing to those people, whatever kingdom they might be in, remains meaningful.

  14. Bruce R McConkie (heretofore to be dubbed “The Conk” addressed this some thirty years ago in a talk labelled “Seven Deadly Hereses in Mormonism”. In essence, the Conk labelled any notion of Heavenly Father (HF) (and also by association, Jesus Christ) as progressing via posterity, e.g., “God is NOT a student”. Supposedly there is NOTHING that HF does not know.

    I can accept this reasoning for HF knowing everything as far as the sciences, mathematics, etc…as well as labelling every planet, every star, every Galaxy. etc etc etc. What a wonderful database, search engine, and processor He must have!

    Yet…somehow, I would feel that to know EVERYTHING would be a bit BORING. And I can’t accept the notion that HF ever has or ever does get bored. So…does HF HAVE to KNOW everything? Or simply “enough” to run the Universe? (Which must still be far staggering that I can’t comprehend it).

    My guess is that HF’s “challenges” (if indeed His experiences can be considered a challenge to Him in any way) are in relationships…e.g. knowing and experiencing interaction with his children. If my own experiences are any indication, multiply it by billions upon billions and it’s got to be a bumpy ride!

    (From The Back to the Future Trilogy):

    Doc Brown: It’ll give me time to explore the other great mystery of the Universe…Women!

  15. Doug: “somehow, I would feel that to know EVERYTHING would be a bit BORING. And I can’t accept the notion that HF ever has or ever does get bored.” Yeah, this is my view as well. Who wants godhood if we never learn new stuff, and frankly, there are a few things I can think of that could use some improvement, such as mole elimination. I’m not sure moles serve a purpose on the human body. Anyway, what if God just created everything off of a standard template? What if we could make improvements and changes to things? What if we can continue to innovate? Without that possibility, I can’t imagine eternity. It would be like the 3 hour block but not going home after 3 hours.

  16. The cartoonist Val Bagley drew a good one (too bad I can’t find it online). It shows an LDS woman ironing “celestial whites” (the plug goes into space, interestingly). She muses, I thought Heaven would be, y’know, different.”

    Of course, why worry about whether Heavenly Father knows everything? My nine-year old daughter already does! (at least, EVERYTHING about Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, ICarly, etc…). Oh to make money off the little monsters while they KNOW it all….

    (From ‘Family Guy’s spoof of Star Wars: A New Hope, “Blue Harvest”)
    Luke (Chris Griffin): “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?”
    Han (Peter Griffin): “You mean that thing that you learned about just three hours ago and now are judging ME by?”

  17. Hawkgrrrl…

    Hmmm…like the 3 hour block, but NOT going home? Sounds like Eternal Damnation to me! After three hours of the fellowship of the “Saints”, it’s time to go home, fire up the BBQ, and have either the Giants or the 49ers on the tube! Sunday is supposed to be a day of REST! (on DVR-delay if it’s Fast Sunday and I gotta haul the lads around collecting offerings)

    As long as the Celestial Kingdom has a version of either Kezar Stadium or Candlestick Park, it’s worth striving for. If the “Oakland Masoleum” (e.g, Athletics and Raiders) awaits, ticket me for Outer Darkness! As for their needing to be a roof in the erswhile Texas Stadium so “Gawd” could watch His team play…answer…He doesn’t need a peep hole, and he wants His team in red and gold so they stand out better! Har dee har har har….

  18. Doug:
    *** Hmmm…like the 3 hour block, but NOT going home? Sounds like Eternal Damnation to me! After three hours of the fellowship of the “Saints”, it’s time to go home ***

    I find three hours a week far too short a time to fellowship with the excellent, inspiring, wonderful brothers and sisters in my ward. They are Saints in word and in deed, and I am only too happy to spend time with them, with the television remaining idly blank unless we watch something as a short family activity. I can feel my soul recharging. Would that every day were Sunday.

  19. Vort – blessed are you if you can’t get enough of your fellow ward members.

    Me, I get all the human company a man could want with a busy work schedule, family activities (even with the rest of the children grown and gone having a precocious nine-year old girl is enough!), and there ARE Church activities during the week…I NEED my down time and it’s Sunday AFTER Church. My family is all the company that I need for a relaxing Sunday. Now, if there’s a 49er-Steeler matchup, there is a good brother I can “fellowship” with…he bleeds yellow and black like I do red and gold.

    However, if circumstances (usually having to travel on business) cause me to miss the “reviled” 3-hour block, then I’m just not right. It’s not so much a social thing (but I DO socialize), but I NEED the block as well, even if I keep to myself. I could do with just Sacrament and Priesthood, but I can chill for 50 minutes during Gospel Doctrine if not called to substitute (I’d rather teach than sit). The idea is to always BE THERE, and then see what can be made of it.

  20. “Vort – blessed are you if you can’t get enough of your fellow ward members.”

    I certainly am blessed, I’ll agree with that.

  21. Not at all. I am as blessed a man as anyone I know, and not because of my überrighteousness or my charming wit and sparkly personality.

  22. while the churchs’ official position with respect to progression between kingdoms is one of neutrality…they have no official position as to whether it is possible or not…i am of the opinion that it is possible but progress in later parts of eternity will likely be more difficult relative to mortality

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  24. These two false aspects of eternal progression are a mere sign of the Apostate condition in which the church finds itself today.  Tell me why a “True Prohet & Apostles” can not definatively define what is right and wrong on points of Doctrine  and we be somehow satisfied that they have no opinion either way ?

    What knd of foolish logic is that ?  Why HAVE Prophets if not for that VERY PURPOSE ? 

    I garuantee, that one day very soon, the Lord will appease that form of warped logic among may deluded members who subscribe to any of those two doctrines and they will come to believe the Monumental LIE of all time…A FALSE Christ who appears to us as a vey familar person whom we came to IDOLIZE above God & will be commanded to trust in.  And REINCARNATION will be the BASIS by which that Delusion is justified & made possible.  Heaven help those who are asleep  who fall for that one.  It’s coming people…Don’t think for a moment that the “New Age Movement” has not made it’s way in among us.

  25. If one reads the scriptures thoroughly then there is no doubt as to the veracity of the Eternal Increase interpretation of this doctrine. I have laid out various points in favor of this doctrine at my my blog here:
    I have also laid out various rebuttals to the Eternal progress interpretation, especially support for progress between kingdoms, here:

  26. I appreciate this post and find it very thoughtful. Thank you for taking the time and encouraging us to ponder and search for truth.

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