If They Tarry…

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?

15 comments on “If They Tarry…

  1. One spirit. Multiple physical copies. All the “what ifs” average out to produce the outcome.

    We’re spiritually fuzzy like an electron is physically fuzzy, IMO.

  2. Well you don’t have to repent (or suffer in hell for) sins you never committed, so in that sense you could argue that it is better to die right after your mission (or better yet, right after your baptism). But my understanding is that the Celestial Kingdom is not a luxurious retirement home waiting for us to move into it. We will be actively engaged in building it. People who do not repent of their sins will not have the opportunity to help build it–they will build there own kingdoms. Others, such as those who die at their spiritual peak, will have the opportunity to help build it, but they will not necessarily take that opportunity. If your friend’s actions since his recovery were freely taken, it seems likely to me that he ultimately would have made little of his celestial opportunities had he died in the accident. All pure speculation, of course.

  3. Ahh, these multiple universes. I still don’t get it, but it is interesting.

    Last Lemming, I think we really don’t understand the next life very well. Joseph said the same sociality that exists here will exist in the next life, and I wonder how much the next life will be like our life. When we hear all the near death experiences, the next life doesn’t really sound much like our current life.

  4. I like the thought of fuzzy standing wave souls. Firetag, that was fun.

  5. Stephen M:

    They are crazy ideas, but are they crazy enough to be right. If this version of you hasn’t done so already, see http://thefirestillburning.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/youve-read-this-post-before/

  6. firetag, this version of me remembers that post very well. I just think my brain is too small to fully comprehend your post. 😉 I always struggled with understanding physics.

  7. MH:

    I do, too, and I’m a physicist. But every so often, God shows us a new trick, and it is indeed wonderous.

  8. Makes me wonder why we bother at all. If God already knows what we will do with what we are given, what difference does it make? It almost sounds like predestination to me.

  9. When speaking of parallel realities, it is important to realize that theology itself changes depending on whether one has the “frog’s eye” view of us in our little “puddles of reality” or whether one has the “bird’s eye” (God-like) view of all reality. David Deutsch has pointed out that those aspects of freedom that allow me to choose actions that I do not wish to choose are useless – quite literally – because I will not use them. The only meaningful definition of freedom then is the ability to realize courses of action that are fully consistent with my own nature and desires. But this is precisely the aspect (and the only aspect) of freedom that is preserved in the multiverse. None of the “frogs” are ever forced by the existence of other realities to choose anything they perceive as against their own nature or desires. The absence of freedom, and the futile nature of attempting to be anything but what we were “intended” to be, is solely a “bird’s-eye” phenomenon.

  10. MH,

    I love this post because it has many subtle messages…I think you may have intended that to be the case. You mention the 2 pieces of doctrine that are considered here.

    1. All children who die before the age of 8 automatically inherit the CK.
    I always thought the age of 8 to be arbitrary. Why not 7 or 9, or 18? Are we to believe that ALL children that die before age 8 would have been CK worthy their entire lives?

    On a more morbid note, if you could guarantee the CK for your children (even at the expense of your own salvation) would you do ANYTHING to make that happen?

    2. Baptism for the Dead.
    D&C 137 pretty much eliminates the need for Temple work, don’t you think?
    If these people are already going to inherit the CK, why bother?

  11. Bishop Rick, I agree that there is a bit of predestination to this. I do think that Joseph had some real problems with infant baptism and the idea that infants without baptism will go to hell, so I recognize that this is a reaction to that.

    Is 8 arbitrary? Probably, but no more arbitrary that age 16 is to drive. Why not 15 or 17? These really aren’t questions that we can really answer. There is a vague reference in 1 Peter that 8 is the number saved during Noah’s flood so that’s why 8 is picked, but I’m not a strong proponent of that theory, because it is pretty vague. But if it is legit, then there is some symbolic reason for why age 8 is picked.

    I’m not sure I follow your question 2, who are “these people”? Are you referring to children under 8? You’re right that they don’t need temple work, and we don’t do it for them.

  12. “These People” refers to anyone that would have accepted the gospel had they been permitted to tarry. If they are already going to inherit the CK, why do they need temple work? Seems they fall under the same category as those under 8.

    I have to admit that I have always questioned the need for “saving” ordinances. Just seems like a bunch of unnecessary hoops to me. If we are judged by our works and the desires of our hearts, as D&C 137 states, then saving ordinances are unnecessary. Alvin obviously did not need them. Wasn’t he over the age of 8?

  13. Interesting note about Noah and the symbolic number 8. I had not heard that before.

  14. Bishop Rick, that is a really interesting take on this, because Alvin apparently did not need the saving ordinance of baptism when we look at verses 5-10 in isolation. Yet there are so many scriptures emphasizing why we need to be baptized, so this is a bit of a conundrum. I agree with you that it sure appears that Alvin didn’t need baptism. I decided to check into the dates for sections for baptism for the dead.

    D&C 137 January 21, 1836
    D&C 124 October 27, 1838
    D&C 127 September 1, 1842
    D&C 128 September 6, 1842

    So, it appears to me that section 137 is the first reference, and the words “baptism for the dead” do not actually appear in section 137. It does appear that section 137 is where Joseph started to think about baptism for the dead–obviously Joseph considered baptism essential to salvation. Otherwise, this vision would seem to contradict the need for baptism.

    Section 138 is the vision of Joseph F Smith that describes missionary work in the spirit world. The revelation was received on October 3, 1918.

    6 I opened the Bible and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly impressed, more than I had ever been before, with the following passages:
    7 “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
    8 “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
    9 “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:18— 20.)
    10 “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6.)
    11 As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.

    16 They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
    17 Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
    18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
    19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
    20 But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised;

    28 And I wondered at the words of Peter— wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah— and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
    29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
    30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
    31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
    32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
    33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
    34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
    35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.
    36 Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh;
    37 That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead, unto whom he could not go personally, because of their rebellion and transgression, that they through the ministration of his servants might also hear his words.

    Sorry for quoting so much (I did it for FireTag’s benefit.) Anyway, from this I suppose it is possible that Alvin was righteous enough to have enjoyed Christ’s presence without baptism. But from 1 Nephi 32, Nephi discusses why baptism is so essential that even Christ was baptized.

  15. MH:

    Thank you. Finding the scriptures in your canon that we haven’t canonized is actually easy for me, since yours are on-line.

    It’s finding the Scriptures we share, but number differently, that drives me to distraction.

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