If They Tarry…

Mormon Heretic church, death, doctrine, LDS, Mormon, questioning, revelation, spiritual progression, spirituality, temple, theology 27 Comments

D&C 137 records a vision of Joseph Smith “in the temple at Kirtland, Ohio, January 21, 1836. HC 2: 380–381. The occasion was the administration of the ordinances of the endowment as far as they had then been revealed.” [Preface].  There are 2 important pieces of Mormon doctrine to consider here:  (1) baptism for the dead, and (2) children that die before the age of accountability (and baptism at age 8 ) will inherit the Celestial Kingdom.  Since it is a short section, let me quote it entirely.  This section is only in the LDS version of the D&C, but other accounts of this revelation can be found in the History of the Church.

1 THE heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.

2 I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;

3 Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.

4 I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.

5 I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept;

6 And marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.

7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

9 For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

10 And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.

Since God is the ultimate judge, and “who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God “, the LDS baptize all and let God be the judge.  (I previously discussed baptism for the dead from a non-LDS Irish writer.)

So, this phrase “if they had been permitted to tarry”, got me thinking.  Following my mission, another guy about my age returned home.  I believe he got home on a Thursday and was slated to give his homecoming address on Sunday.  (I’ll call him Ted.)  He went out with some friends on Friday or Saturday night, and was involved in a serious car accident.  Sitting in the back seat, his car was t-boned at an intersection.  The woman sitting next to him was killed, and he received some fairly serious injuries, resulting in a delay of his homecoming address for about a month (which he gave standing on crutches.)

While it is probably a bit morbid to think about, a few people speculated that if he had been killed the day after his mission ended, he was probably very righteous and would have gone straight to the Celestial Kingdom.  After all, he was probably living more righteously at that point in his life than at any other time.

Ted went on to college on the east coast (I stayed in the west), he majored in art, I majored in math, and our paths really never crossed much.  I ran into his parents a few times, and they told me about his art exhibits, but neither one of us really made much of an effort to maintain contact.  Enter Facebook.  I noticed that he was friends with some of my friends, so I thought I would “friend” him and see what he was up to.  To my surprise, he had posted his letter of resignation from the LDS church.  There were many messages congratulating him for his courageous decision.

So, it got me thinking, what happens to those that perhaps died on a mission or similar circumstance, but “if they had been permitted to tarry”, they might have become wicked.  (I’m not saying Ted is wicked—I’m not the judge, but just saying, “what if”?)  Can we really be so certain of anyone’s final judgment?

Comments

comments

Comments 27

  1. “…if he had been killed the day after his mission ended, he was probably very righteous and would have gone straight to the Celestial Kingdom.”
    Of course not. This mentality is inherently wrong and contrary to Church doctrine. Departed spirits go directly to the spirit world, not any of the kingdoms. Even Jesus, the most righteous person ever, went to the spirit world upon death. Speculators who find themselves on the line of thought you described should keep such things in mind.

    They should also remember that we all have individual journeys, just as you are describing with “Ted.”

    “So, it got me thinking, what happens to those that perhaps died on a mission or similar circumstance, but “if they had been permitted to tarry”, they might have become wicked.”

    Here’s a bit of speculation for you: If God knows we all will sin, and many turn to wicked practices, why does he not step in and bring all those home again before they can succumb to apostasy? The possibility for wickedness exists in every single one of us, and for God to snatch us all up before we sin would not only be overprotective, it would be contrary to our purpose here. We are to learn to truly appreciate the Atonement and apply it in our lives, and if we have 9 years or 90 years to do that is His prerogative.

    It seems to me that the scripture was given to remind us that work is done on both sides of the veil. Those who had no opportunity to embrace Christ’s gospel in life have the opportunity to claim every blessing, but those who could have fallen away given enough time to “tarry” aren’t penalized for sins they never committed. By that same token, if we DO sin, and absolve ourselves of it through the Atonement, it is as if that sin was never committed.

  2. “Here’s a bit of speculation for you: If God knows we all will sin, and many turn to wicked practices, why does he not step in and bring all those home again before they can succumb to apostasy?”

    Interestingly, that reminds me of someone’s argument that God was really being merciful when he drowned all the kids at time of Noah’s flood, thereby preventing them from growing up to be wicked.

    Looking for consistency in popular religion is a sure-fire recipe for headaches.

  3. When it comes down to it, I don’t think we can even know that. At least not right now. My favorite daydream is that one day, when all is done and “the Earth is rolled up as a scroll” I’ll get to sit down and just get answers to all of the questions like this that plague me. The motivations behind inexplicably tragic or abrupt deaths, including prehistoric mass extinctions… The many apparently contradictory ideas peppered here and there throughout history and doctrine… For me, heaven will just be a huge Google search full of incontrovertible answers. 😉

  4. I guess the hidden message of the revelation is “received it, permitted to tarry and stayed true……” Since agency and choice are paramount to one’s progression, whatever happens up to the judgment might have a bearing on that judgement.

    Since we know so little about the mechanics of the Spirit World, it is hard to say. The sad part about your friend is that once you resign from the Church, you have to be re-baptized and re-everything else either in this life or by proxy. If you go to the Spirit World and then realize you might have made a mistake, its a bit harder to resolve it at that point. I don’t know if anyone is doing Temple work for resigned members……

  5. “If God knows we all will sin, and many turn to wicked practices, why does he not step in and bring all those home again before they can succumb to apostasy?”

    Simple. Agency. If God had wanted that implementation of His plan, He had a willing Spirit to lead it.

  6. “the Earth is rolled up as a scroll”

    That always made me think that whoever wrote that passage was someone who thought the Earth was flat…like an unrolled scroll.

  7. I think the key is in the last sentence of the blog post: “Can we really be so certain of anyone’s final judgment?”

    The point is that WE can’t be certain. And it’s not our job to be certain, since we don’t know people’s hearts. We don’t know what led up to this man’s “unconversion”. I think that the idle speculation on the eternal destination of others is one of the most dangerous of all speculations.

  8. We will be judged for what we did in our lives from the beginning (ie birth) to the Day of Judgement. All those who did not get a chance to hear the true gospel on this earth receive one in the spirit world before judgement. This is where they will decide if they want to join or not – hence ‘if they tarried’.

    As far as ‘Ted’ goes, if he was already becoming apostate in his heart when the accident happened, then there is a possibility that he would keep going on those lines while in the spirit world, as the same spirit that inhabits our body is the one in existance there in the spirit world. The spirit world is just an extension of this world to this extent.

    So I agree with #7 Mark Hansen that we can’t be certain about others’ final judgement. The main one we have to worry about is our own, then our family’s before we worry about anyone else.

  9. E Black,

    I note a few problems with your explanation. First of all, ordinances for the dead weren’t known at the opening of the Kirtland Temple, so Alvin hadn’t been baptized. Secondly, verse 6 says “And marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that [Celestial–see verse 1] kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.”

    So did Alvin bypass this Spirit World, and go straight to the Celestial Kingdom with Abraham? It seems to not quite agree with section 138 where Joseph F Smith discusses his vision of the Spirit World. Joseph clearly sees Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom without baptism, and Alvin seems to have bypassed the Spirit World. So, what are the implications about the importance of baptism?

    Verse 10 discusses children who die before the age of accountability go straight to the Celestial Kingdom. Clearly, Joseph saw real problems with the Catholic idea that infants needed to be baptized, but if Alvin was in the Celestial Kingdom without baptism, how critical is baptism anyway?

  10. Following up on children prior to baptism, I’ve seen some of videos of parents showing kids how to shoplift. Let’s look at that for a minute. On the one hand, the sins will be on the heads of the parents–but at what point? Let’s compare 2 kids–the 7 year old shoplifter dies in a drive by shooting, and goes straight to Heaven. Meanwhile, his 7 year old twin brother survives to adulthood, gets involved in gangs, continues to rob, and steal, perhaps gets involved in drugs and kills. At what point does this twin become responsible for his own sins. Are his parents guilty for his murders? Meanwhile, his 7 year old twin ends up in the Celestial Kingdom because of a stray bullet?

    All I know is that I’m glad God gets to decide these things, because they are pretty complicated. I just don’t think we’re in any position to judge another person. But some of these platitudes are pretty nice when a young child passes away.

    Let’s put Ted back in the situation. If he had died at 7 or 21, straight to Celestial Kingdom. Now he has resigned from the church, and many probably want to assign him to a lower kingdom. Do we really know? No we don’t. It’s troubling to me when we get so confident in our ability to assign people to kingdoms. And can we really be sure about that every 7 year old that dies? What if they had been permitted to tarry, and ended up like my friend Ted? How binding do you think verse 10 is?

    There is the famous story of 4 young men that braved the icy waters of a river to help pioneers cross an icy river. Brigham Young is reported to have said that one act ensures there salvation in the Celestial Kingdom. So does one heroic act put us there, despite they previous lives that may not have been Celestial worthy, or is this just something nice to say at a funeral?

  11. MH – The vision was not of the present, because Joseph says he saw his father and mother (both of whom were alive in 1836) in the Celestial Kingdom. So he saw Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom after the Judgment, apparently.

    This revelation was groundwork for later revelations on baptism for the dead, so just because it doesn’t mention the practice, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be required for Alvin.

  12. “And marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that [Celestial–see verse 1] kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.”

    Let’s take a closer look at the Lord’s response to Joseph’s amazement:

    V.7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

    He says “shall be heirs.” Shall be. “Shall” is a modal verb used to express the future. Modern American English uses “shall” and “will” almost interchangeably in this context. Thus the Lord is speaking of the dead receiving such reward at a future point.

    Another noteworthy point is that Joseph also sees his father and mother there. His father died in 1840, four years after the vision is received. His mother died in 1856, some 20 years after the event. If they are present in the vision as well, then it seems logical that Joseph is being shown a future event.

    So Joseph clearly sees Alvin in the Celestial kingdom, and he ASSUMES that it is without baptism. The Lord is introducing at this point the concept of salvation for those who die without receiving the Gospel in life.

    “…how critical is baptism anyway?”

    Numerous scriptures point out the necessity of baptism, linking it with personal salvation. Thus the church practices baptism for the dead, in order that all the children of God can claim the symbolic act requisite for their salvation.

  13. #10: “At what point does this twin become responsible for his own sins. Are his parents guilty for his murders? Meanwhile, his 7 year old twin ends up in the Celestial Kingdom because of a stray bullet?”

    You’ll have to forgive my imagination. Whenever I read a story that starts with two twins one often jumps in a rocket ship and takes a round trip at relativistic speeds. 😛

    But you said it best, MH: we’re in no position to make that judgment, and shouldn’t speculate about the hypothetical twins nor about “Ted’s” immortal soul.

    “It’s troubling to me when we get so confident in our ability to assign people to kingdoms.”

    To me as well. Hence the warnings in previous comments about speculating about such things.

    “How binding do you think verse 10 is?”
    As binding as God deems it to be. The decisions about kids and Teds is above my pay grade. 😉

    “So does one heroic act put us there, despite they previous lives that may not have been Celestial worthy, or is this just something nice to say at a funeral?”

    I’d firmly place this in the “something nice to say” category. Those boys’ act was truly heroic, and I have no doubt their selflessness will be appropriately rewarded. However, this statement is not found in any scripture, and thus should not be considered such. Too often the words of a general authority are taken as prophetic when they are only the statement of well meaning, intelligent, but fallible men.

  14. Great point about the BY quote, MH. When you start talking about death and speculating about “what-ifs” and add emotion to the mix and then mingle it with scripture, things can go down hill fast. I have had several close friends commit suicide, and some of the most blatant false doctrine I have ever heard has come from bishops and stake presidents speaking at these tragic funerals, in attempts to comfort the families and make sense of something so senseless.

    From a doctrinal as well as practical standpoint, I’ve always thought the best answer is one that has been said in several previous comments: “I’m glad god gets to sort it out and I don’t have to.”. You won’t go wrong if you leave it at that.

  15. Post
    Author

    Thanks Duke and E Black, it’s hard to keep track of Lucy and Joseph Sr’s death dates when reading these scriptures; I’m sure you’re right–this does appear to be a vision into the future.

    And I guess it’s nice that we have so many people here that refuse to judge others; but when I blogged about Sunstone, some people (such as this one) happily assign members of the Community of Christ to the Terrestrial Kingdom. And we all know of comments assigning suicides or homosexual behavior to lesser kingdoms.

  16. That’s ok, MH. There’s a classic youth camp campfire skit from my youth that has an angel conducting a tour for new arrivals in the CK. When asked about a small group off in the corner, he replies, “They’re the RLDS; they think they’re the only ones up here.”

  17. The problem that comes when we decide what kingdom someone will end up in is that we don’t know that person’s backstory. And that plays into the equation. A long time ago, I was contemplating that, and I blogged about it, here: http://moboy.blogspot.com/2005/11/yu-gi-oh-destiny-and-judgment-day-from.html

    On another threadline introduced, here, I think that when a child is raised to sin, that child, past the age of accountability, is still accountable for their own choices, to the extent that they are able to understand the consequences. Remember that murder is a serious sin, but the king Lamoni and his people repented of it, because they had been taught differently. The person committing the sin still bears some responsibility.

    The sin that rests on the heads of the parents is the sin of not raising their children correctly. And, that can be a very, very serious sin. It’s certainly one that I don’t want on my head.

  18. This speculation is of course all under the assumption that leaving the LDS church automatically consigns one to hell and makes one ineligible for celestial glory. There are several people out there who have left the church but not for reasons of they think they can be wicked without facing consequences or to justify their sins as far too many people assume, but they may find that the church no longer meets their spiritual needs and they decide to look elsewhere while still believing and worshiping God. The primary reason why we can’t and shouldn’t judge others is because we almost never learn their motivations or the full knowledge of what lead up to their deciding to do what they do.

  19. I think the scripture is also reassurance that we are judged on what we are, not merely on what we do.

    And the truth is that others’ salvation is none of our business. Even if those others are our own children.

  20. I think most of everything is going to have to be resolved in the next life anyway. Around 0.1% of the world’s population is currently active-LDS and therefore “eligible” for the Celestial Kingdom, having had a baptism with “proper” authority. So for the VAST majority, either an “LDS” baptism doesn’t matter, or else it will all be proxy work anyway.

    I don’t know that we can ever answer any of these questions. Everyone speculates all sorts of possibilities based upon a few verses given 150+ years ago. It’s been a long time since any modern prophet has given any additional insight on any of this. So, at the end of the day, we should just all be good to our fellow man, be good people, and let God sort it all out.

  21. Reminds me of hearing that if Benedict Arnold had died at battles at Ticonderoga or Saratoga, he would have been remembered as one of the greatest of American heroes.

  22. What about the law that those of us who understand the gospel and have committed to live it to the fullest,
    are required to LIVE the law of the celestial kingdom day by day…NOW….to the best of their ability and agency.
    That the celestial kingdom is a NOW thing…a condition that we try to BE now, NOT only a destination later?
    Several scriptures back that as well as GA’s comments. Wish I had time to support my comment. Gotta deadline.
    I agree with EVERYone about that ONLY God can sort it out, still am convinced we HAVE to live UP to our sure knowledge and understanding…be responsibile to the level of our REAL testimony, beliefs, not just casual ‘words’
    given without true belief.

  23. “we HAVE to live UP to our sure knowledge”

    That’s an interesting use of phrasing. Of course, this would apply to those of us with “sure knowledge” as per section 132.

    This is an interesting discussion for a variety of reasons. I recently had an email exchange with a local minister who had placed a tract on our car titled “Are You Keeping Your Covenants”. His thesis was that Mormon theology teaches that a person must attain to sinless perfection in mortal life, in order to qualify for exaltation. Therefore, at the end of the day, salvation was largely an impossibility. I debated with him whether that is truly a component of Mormon doctrine, countering his usage of Alma 34 with D&C 137.

    In reality, this whole discussion is about the process of attaining to perfection on a time bound continuum. It reminds me of the old Christian debates about “death-bed-salvation”, and it’s inverse. Is it possible for a person to recognize at the last possible moment the error of their ways, and turn to light side of the force a-la-mode Darth Vader? What about the opposite? Is it possible for a person to live their whole life in righteousness, still maintaining the possibility of throwing it all away at the last possible moment? Let’s take this a bit further now and introduce somewhat of an abstract and debatable LDS notion, that God operates outside of the sphere of time where all things to him are “omni-present”. Perhaps this adds new depth to the Old-Testament teaching of David that, whereas man “looketh upon the flesh”, “God looketh upon the heart”. Lastly I am aware of some commentary of the JST of the New Testament verse which is modified from “judge not…” to “judge not unrighteously” (Matthew 7:1). The notion is that because God and/or Christ are the only true righteous judges, the honor of “final judgement”, ie, which Kingdom do we get, is reserved for them alone. However, temporary judgements such as how we will act, or who we will align ourselve, etc, ought to performed by each of us regularly. I tend to like that notion. We each must judge, for that is a requisite component of choice. Still understanding that only God truly knows our hearts, we ought not busy ourselves with judgements that are clearly beyond our mortal capacities – after all wasn’t that part of why the atonement was necessary, so that Christ might know how to succor his children. The point I made to the minister was focused around D&C 137:9, “for I will judge man according to his works, according to the desires of his heart”.

  24. If you saw in vision that your 1 month old son was going to be a murderer later in life, what would you do?

    1. End his life right then and there and assure his place in the celestial kingdom but by doing do you lose your place.
    2. Let him live out his life and exercise his agency but you lose him and you more than likely go to the celestial kingdom.

  25. Henry:

    You are raising a question which my wife and I were discussing a few weeks ago. The conversation quickly evolved to WWJD. For me this begs the question of the Sacrifice made by Christ on behalf of mankind. Yes, on the one hand he had to endure unfathomable mortal and godly suffering, but on the other, as far as I understand the doctrine, he had everything to gain. The notion of God giving his only Son is a bit lost on me, again with the exception of understanding the suffering, because he did not risk “losing” him in any sense that I understand. In fact, it was this act that ultimately made Jesus one with the father. The only way I can get my mind around this, so that it is both doctrinally consistent, and logical, is too surmise what we already believe – that the whole thing was related to the temporary suffering. This then raises the question: Would Jesus have truly taken our place if the consequences were more permanent -which of course then, for me, would almost suggest that the parent in scenario 1 – demonstrates even greater benevolence.

  26. I love the ‘what if’ scenarios presented here. I think the final judgment isn’t going to be nearly as easy as we mortals make it out to be. ‘if thet tarry’ is an impossible standard to predict. cowboy’s note about death bed repentance vs death bed sinning is an extremely provocative point that none of us have the answer to. i am not sure this revelation makes judgment any easier to understand when we look at all the possibilities.

  27. I personally feel we will be judged on who we ARE, and not what we’ve DONE–although the to are closely related. Part of the ambiguity comes from whether the core of who we are can change in the Spirit World prior to final judgement. I believe the scriptures indicate that we can. Anyway, I don’t believe deathbed repentance or deathbed apostasy is valid.

    One interesting insight on the topic is this one from Elder Ballard:

    “Shortly after returning from my first mission, I heard our faithful stake patriarch bear his testimony in our ward fast and testimony meeting. He was just over 90 years of age; he said, “I pray every night that God will see me safely dead with my testimony burning brightly.” Seeking to comfort this righteous patriarch, I said to him, “Patriarch, I know of no one more prepared than you are.” He responded, “My boy, no one is safe until he has endured to the very end of his life.” ”

    (Ref the whole talk here http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=245b6378be7f0210VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *