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Monday, September 19, 2005 

Foreordination: is it fair?

I suggested this question because I have had personal issues with aspects of the topic of foreordination.

Here’s the official lowdown:

Going along with the last week’s theme of life beyond this life…we touched upon the fact that we believe we were created by God the Father in spirit form and we lived in his presence before we were born to live on earth:

“To carry forward his own purposes among men and nations, the Lord foreordained chosen spirit children in pre-existence and assigned then to come to earth at particular times and places so that they might aid in furthering the divine will. These pre-existence appointments, made ‘according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Peter 1:2), simply to perform mission which the Lord in his wisdom knew they had the talents and capacities to do.”
--Bruce R. McConkie (Sorry, I use him a lot, but he gives really concise definitions.)

The scriptures are full of examples of the Lord having a specific purpose in mind for his children. McConkie and Alma are careful to point out the role of agency in this principle:

“In all this there is not the slightest hint of compulsion; persons foreordained to fill special missions in mortality are as abundantly endowed with free agency as are any other persons. By their foreordination the Lord merely gives them the opportunity to serve him and his purposes if they choose to measure up to the standard he knows they are capable of attaining.” –Bruce R. McConkie (see also Alma 13:3-9)

I can accept all of that just fine. It seems logical that God, knowing us so well, would have specific “tasks” in mind for us, if we choose to do so. This principle is not to be confused with FATE or DESTINY. It’s a little more subtle than that. Maybe I’m uncomfortable with the idea that fate or destiny takes away my agency somehow, but we are ALL foreordained to return to our Heavenly Father.

My previous issues with foreordination are somewhat related to that idea although they are a little more on a tangent; they stemmed from the ponderings of why I was born to the family I was born to, in this time, in this country, yada yada yada. I consider myself to be EXTREMELY fortunate: I have a great family, I have a wonderful husband, we have plenty of food, clothing, and more than adequate shelter…so why did I deserve to be born here and now when so many billions of others were born into poverty and ignorance. I felt that I did not deserve the millions of blessings that have been granted to me because of my unworthiness to receive them. This isn’t to say that good things can’t happen to bad people, and bad things can’t happen to good people. There is SO much in life that is put into motion through random acts of agency… On a bigger scale, I wondered “why me”?

It was during a self-pitiful conversation with my dad just a few months ago when he shed some light on the topic for me. I was expressing my foreordination quandary of “why me” and “it’s not fair” when my dad gave me a new perspective on the topic. He explained that our existence can be broken down into a three-legged journey: pre-existent life with God our creator, mortal life here on earth, and life after death. We believe that we had certain strengths and weaknesses in the pre-existence according to our unique creation by God. The scriptures tell us that some spirits were “noble and great” (Abraham 3:22-23) and some spirits were weak and/or disobedient and were cast out of God’s presence along with Lucifer.

In the LDS faith, we believe there was a “war” in heaven: one “team” supported Heavenly Father and his plan to send Jesus Christ to be an example and a savior, the glory being reserved for the Father, and the other “team” supported Satan and his plan to “compel” us to be obedient, keeping all of the glory for himself and giving none to God. (Moses 4:1-4) We, as spirit children had the opportunity to participate in this “war” (most likely it was a war of words and influence seeing as how none of us had bodies yet). Some spirits were valiant and strong supporters of God’s plan, others were just as strong for Satan, which left a lot of fence-sitters and lukewarm believers in either camp.

We had the chance in the pre-existence to show our devotion and faithfulness to God, which is part of our eternal progression. I kind of always had the impression that we all started with a clean slate when we were born, things had been “reset”, and that was why I thought it was so unfair that I was foreordained to come here, now.

My dad patiently pointed out that it would have been unfair after all the chance we had to prove our loyalty and obedience, for everyone to start out at the same place. That would have invalidated the purpose of the great plan, which is choice/agency and progression. How I live my life here on earth will put me further along, or further away, from my goal of returning to God. When I die, that simply ends the second leg of the three-leg journey.

Would it be fair if I strove to live the commandments the best I could in this life only to be “reset” after death? No. Neither would it have been fair to do that after the pre-existence leg.

So can I sit back and enjoy my privileged life because I earned it? Heavens, no! We also believe in the LDS faith that “unto whom much is given, much is required.” Those of us who were born into “wealth” and a knowledge of the Gospel have a responsibility to share both with others. We must! We are commanded to, just incase we are not inclined to do so naturally. My responsibility in life toward my fellow men is that much greater because of the blessings I have been given. I have made some decisions in my life directly based on that principle serving a full-time mission, for example.

The point is that this isn’t a race, and we’re not being compared to one another. We are not being graded on a curve here. There is room in “heaven” for everyone. We were all created with the potential and foreordained to do what we need to do to make it back. I hope and pray that we all do…

CA, I've heard this theory before in a context that leads me to believe that there is some truth to it. However, I wonder about the assumption that those of us "born in the covenant" were more valiant than others. That seems like an awful lot of unjustified back-slapping to me. I don't know that the accident of birth should be considered entirely random (like, say, natural disasters) but I do think that there are similar principles at work. In other words, I do believe that there is a reason why we are born into certain circumstances, but the reasons themselves are probably inscrutable. I worry that any attempt to find the reason reveals more about how our mind works than it does God's.

I really don't want this to seem like I think that it is something to congratualte ourselves about. I'm concerned that people will take it that way. It makes it seem like I think that people born into poverty in China or Africa or India were somehow less valiant than, say, Americans or something. That's not the idea, and that's not what my dad was trying to explain to me.

I had other concerns that I don't feel like sharing at the moment, of which this was a part. His main point to me was that "unto whom much is given, much is required".

I don't believe birth is an accident either, and while my father/daughter talk helped answer a small part of my question, there's still a lot I don't know, and a lot that the church doesn't teach. It might not be important knowledge in the grander scheme of things right now, but later we'll find out the why's and how's...I hope...because I'm chronically curious.

What makes you think that natural disasters are "entirely random"?

I think the pre-mortal life has a definite impact on our situations here... the problem is, i'm not sure what that impact is. Was I born into a middle-class LDS family because i "earned" that right, or because the Lord knew I was such a weak spirit that I needed a little extra boost at the beginning or i'd never make it? See what I mean? The "privileges" of our various births can be taken as rewards, or as equalizing factors (put the weakest spirits in the better circumstances, and vice versa). Certainly Joseph Smith was born into abject poverty. Certainly many of the world's most well-off people are not spiritual giants. However, I'm sure there are exceptions on both ends. So, as much as I hate to admit it, I guess I agree with John that while there is an influence of the premortal life on this one, it is unclear what that influence is.

CA, I am not accusing you or your father of that kind of self-congratulation. It wasn't explained to me in that context and I didn't take it in that context (although some of the others present did take it in that context and scoffed at the idea). It is a very serious idea and one that deserves a lot of thought.

I suppose I am cautioning because there are a lot of possible reasons for why we are who we are and where we are (and that's just for the stuff we have no control over). I always worry about those sorts of unknowns, because I don't have any idea what the answers will be like and that is a bit frightening. In particular, I am scared of answers that make me seem better than I am for I am someone who would like a laurel tattooed upon my backside permanently.

When I have heard this idea discussed, it has always been with "much is given, much is required" as a guiding principle.

Rob, that I believe that natural disasters are essentially random does not indicate that I have replaced God with a butterfly in Brazil. It just means that I believe some chaos is accounted for in the order.

What I've never heard, in all discussions of Foreordination is "were there failures"? Was there supposed to be an Edward the Lamanite? Or, in other words, did God foreordain only those know he knew would succeed? [Were the rest of us jealous of those few who were foreordained?] How far reaching was the foreordination? We can probably agree that Mary was foreordained to be the Mother of Jesus. Were her parents foreordained (to be her parents)? How much protection does God give to these foreordained individuals? [Was Mary protected from accidental death? from murder?] Does this foreordination protection violate agency?

So many questions...

While it is interesting and doctrinely important to understand the basics of foreordination, I don't think God expects or wants us to understand its full complexities in this life. "Getting to the bottom" of foreordination would most likely mean we would have so great an understanding of God and our position in the eternities that faith would not be necessary. And we are supposed to live by faith in this life - that is what this earth life is for... so I'm just not going to worry about the details of foreordination too much.

The way McConkie briefly explains foreordination is that all of us are foreordained to certain things, and then some of us to others, and fewer things to others. Not all of us were foreordained to be great leaders or prophets, but the "mightiest and greatest spirits" were.

Alma taught that every person to that holds/held the Melchizedek priesthood was foreordained to do so. Now does this mean that all men were foreordained to hold this priesthood and through their agency and choices the foreordination will come to fruition? I don't know.

But here's what McConkie says that Alma says: "'This is the manner after which they were ordained.' They were 'called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works [while yet living in the pre-existence]; in the first place [that is, in the pre-existence] being left to choose good or evis; therefore they haveing chosen good, and exercising exceeding great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that hold calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption of such.' Thus, he explains that Melchizedek Priesthood holders have been 'prepared from the foundation of the world' for their high callings. (Alma 13:3-9)"

I DO think that there were Edward the Lamanites who were foreordained to do great things but who chose another path, maybe a path that led him away from the Lord. We have our agency, I would not be surprised to know that some great spirits who were foreordained fell short. Think of people like Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdry...what if they HADN'T fallen away, what would they have been capable of? I don't think we are foreordained to fail.

Although this brings up another question for me...about patriarchal blessings. Can we forfeit blessings because of unrighteousness. My dad says no. I haven't figured that one out yet either, and I think it has something to do with foreordination. I know people who have had AMAZING blessings who have turned from the church, what then? Anywho...

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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