Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Feast upon The Vision

Posted by robf on July 2, 2007

Doctrine and Covenants 76 has to be one of the most well known if understudied latter day revelations. Missionaries teach about the three degrees of glory, and many of us are motivated to seek the Celestial Kingdom described in the revelation. For a long time its message has seemed pretty obvious to me: people who reject Christ after he has been personally manifest to them are cast into outter darkness. Everyone else is saved in a kingdom of glory. Wicked people have to suffer for their sins until the end of the Millennium, then they go to the Telestial Kingdom. Good people, who reject the restored gospel, go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. Latter-day Saints who are true to their covenants inherit the Celestial Kingdom.

Or do they?

A closer reading of this section calls some of that into question. What, really, is the difference between a Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial lifestyle here on earth? Is it really just a matter of being a “good Mormon” and you get everything the Father has, while a good Catholic or Jehovah’s Witness gets a lesser portion? What does it even mean to be a “good Mormon” in this sense? And what does a good Catholic get, anyway?

There is so much here in The Vision. So much that we seem to quickly pass over. For instance, do good Catholics or Jehovah’s Witnesses really get a Terrestrial glory? A close reading of this section seems to imply that the Terrestrial Kingdom is really mostly for those who a) accept the fulness of the gospel in this life, but aren’t “valiant” to their testimony and b) those who reject the gospel in this life but afterwards receive it. No mention of those of other faiths here. They’re really down there in the Telestial World with the the liars, adulterers, and whoremongers (D&C 76:99-103).

So, what is the difference between someone who is valiant (Celestial), isn’t valiant (Terrestrial), and otherwise (Telestial)? If we can’t see a huge difference between our own lifestyle and that of the best members of other faiths, what is that telling us about our lifestyle? Does that mean we aren’t really “valiant” or that we are really on the same plane as they are if they eventually accept the gospel after they die?

I’ve started posting questions about this section on the Feast wiki. I’m really curious about this revelation. I think I’ve become lax about this section, perhaps lulled away into carnal security by the thought that if I’m just a good Mormon, I’ll get to the Celestial Kingdom, and that my nonmember friends, if they are good, will at least get the Terrestrial Kingdom, which isn’t all that bad, right? But what’s really going on here?

The Vision is a rich and sumptuous feast that we sometimes perhaps treat as fast food fare. But slowing down, savoring every word, I think we’ll find much, much more than we’ve previously encountered. Maybe we’ve been chipping off pieces of this revelation and mixing it with a lot of sugar to create a chocolate frosting for our gospel cake, without recognizing the rich, savory, and more satisfying bittersweet chocolate here in its original form? Join me in feasting on this remarkable revelation. What subtle tastes of truth can you find here that you may not have noticed before?

47 Responses to “Feast upon The Vision”

  1. Last Lemming said

    I am inclined to agree with your implication that we are too quick to impute valiance to ourselves and acquaintances in the Church. But I also think you are too quick to condemn the good Catholics, etc to the telestial kingdom. The terrestrial kingdom also contains “they who are honorable men of the earth,” which would seem to make room for good Catholics and even JWs.

  2. Matthew said

    Sounds fun Rob. I won’t have time to work on it at all today but hope to take a look tomorrow at some point. I glanced through the questions quickly. Thanks. There’s certainly a lot of things to think about/look at here.

  3. robf said

    Last Lemming, I’ve always assumed that you were right, that “honorable men of the earth” no matter what their religion, would merit a Terrestrial glory. But I wonder now. That line about honorable men of the earth is modified by “who were blinded by the craftiness of men.” This seems to relate to the verses immediately before, which indicate they to merit a Terrestrial glory they will still have to accept the gospel in the spirit world, even though they didn’t here in mortality because they were “blinded by the craftiness of men.” So, it seems possible here that the good Catholic and Jehovah’s Witness could get a Terrestrial glory, they could only do so by accepting the gospel in the spirit world. This is not what I had traditionally thought, which was that they would automatically get a Terrestrial glory because they were “honorable”.

    This leads me to a thought I’ve had for a while about the Sons of Mosiah, who wanted to go on a mission to the Land of Nephi because “they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3). In thinking about my own missionary efforts, I’ve wondered why I don’t have that same feeling. One thing I’ve thought is that, well, the good people I know won’t actually endure torment, since the Terrestrial Kingdom seems like a good place for them. But now, reading The Vision more closely, I see that maybe they will suffer torment unless they accept the gospel–and that if they don’t accept the gospel here or in the spirit world, they will merit not the Terrestrial Kingdom, but a Telestial glory. Maybe I should be more fearful for them? Maybe I should tremble to think of them suffering?

  4. robf said

    But I’m still puzzling about the actual lifestyle differences between those who merit a Terrestrial and Celestial glory. Are there any? What is it about accepting the gospel in this life, or in the spirit world if one never had a chance in this life (cf. D&C 137:7), that can open doors to a Celestial glory, while rejecting that chance in this life and accepting it later, or not being valiant to a testimony only qualifies one for a Terrestrial glory? What’s really going on here? Is there really that much difference between people who make those kind of choices? And how do they differ from honorable people who may not accept the gospel in this life or the next and end up with a Telestial glory?

  5. robf said

    While I’m on the topic of D&C 137:7, how does that square with D&C 76:72 which says that “they who died without law” obtain a Terrestrial glory? What does it mean to die without law? How is this different from dying “without a knowledge of the gospel”?

  6. Robert C. said

    robf, great post and great questions. I’m a little puzzled by your view (if you have one!). D&C 137:7 says that “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.” Verse 8 extends this claim to those who “shall die henceforth without a knowledge.” From this verse, it seems that good people, Catholics and JW’s as you mention, will have a good chance to receive the gospel and enter into the CK, no?

    The question, it seems, is how to square this with D&C 76:74ff that describes the Telestial as those “Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. . . . [the] honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.” That’s a question you seem to be raising, right?

    I’m inclined to . . . well, look for loopholes so-to-speak in D&C 76. That is, I think D&C 137 calls into question your reading of D&C 76 that would put good Christians in the Terrestrial Kingdom. That is, I think that being “blinded by the craftiness of men” is something different than simply attending “the wrong church on Sundays.” Rather, I think it there is more culpability in being blinded than your first reading suggests, blinded perhaps in the Isaiah 6:9ff sense, or the sense blindness is talked about in the NT, being caught up in the world when we really know better—that is, honorable, but perhaps very materialistic, or pleasure-seeking, or lacking in love. Craftiness has, I think, has a connotation of seductiveness, not just something that is misleading. So, a whore might be crafty, but if I allow myself to be taken in by her craftiness, I cannot simply blame my sin on her craftiness, if that makes any sense….

    [Oops, I just saw your #5….]

  7. robf said

    So Robert…a good Catholic who never has the chance to accept the gospel in this life, but accepts it in the spirit world, can go to the Celestial Kingdom. A good Catholic who has the chance in this life (what might that even mean?) but doesn’t accept it here, then does accept it later in the spirit world can go to the Terrestrial Kingdom. But a good Catholic who rejects the gospel entirely can only go to the Telestial Kingdom. Is that how this all reads?

  8. joespencer said

    Rob, tsk tsk tsk for your timing! Since I’m out of town and only have access as time arises on a dialup connection, I don’t think I’ll get to this for two weeks! But I’d very much like to take it up when I get back. Soon enough.

  9. robf said

    In looking at the criteria for those who enter the Celestial Kingdom, I see the following–

    1) Receive the testimony of Jesus–what does that mean?
    2) Believe on his (Jesus’s) name
    3) Are baptized after the manner of his burial–in his name so they can be washed clean.
    4) “Receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power”
    5) Overcome by faith–what does this mean?
    6) Sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise
    7) Perhaps accept ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (vs. 57), though its perhaps difficult to tell if this only refers to their station in the next life, or is tied to a requirement in this life. Not sure how this relates to both men and women.
    8) “Valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (vs.79)

    That’s all I see here. So, what’s the great distinction between a Telestial or Terrestrial or Celestial lifestyle? Is there one? What about our good Catholic friend–what are they potentially lacking if they don’t accept the restored gospel?

    While I used to see this revelation dividing people between evil, good, and godlike–is there really this distinction? If so, where does it come in? Is it in being given power through the ordinances and righteousness to “overcome by faith”? Is that where the big distinction comes in? If so, what does this mean? There seems to be a big distinction between being “valiant in the testimony of Jesus.” What does this mean? What else are we missing here?

  10. robf said

    Funny how I just got an automatic emoticon 8) rather than a numbered bullet for my eighth point. I’ll take that as an automatic formatting glitch rather than a sign that its cool to be valiant in your testimony. But who knows…

  11. Robert C. said

    robf #7, yeah, I think I’m inclined to think something like that. Great follow-up questions in #9, much more to think about here….

  12. Kim M. said

    What uncanny timing on this question! This is exactly the issue that I’ve talked with Joe about, and in fact is the subject of the paper I’m writing for my English class! You expressed the exact attitude that I find so prevalent among Latter-Day Saints: “I think I’ve become lax about this section, perhaps lulled away into carnal security by the thought that if I’m just a good Mormon, I’ll get to the Celestial Kingdom.”

    A talk that has helped me a great deal in discerning between the three laws relative to the kingdoms, is a BYU-I devotional, found here: http://www.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2005_02_01_Anderson.htm
    (I apologize for the copy+paste necessity–I still find myself strikingly illiterate as far as wiki/blog techniques go…)Sister Anderson beautifully explains the difference between the three laws. Very helpful.

    But this is an excellent question! As I’ve pondered and studied this out more thoughtfully, I’ve noticed a frightening trend of complaisance among church members. Hence the English paper! I hope my longwinded comment has been of help…
    -Kim-

  13. Kim M. said

    Oh! Nevermind! It automatically linked for me. Excellent!

  14. robf said

    Kim, thanks for the link to the Anderson talk. For those who haven’t read it yet, Social Worker and Counselor Lili Anderson provides this distinction between Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial lifestyles and behaviors:

    1) Telestial–Being subject to appetites and passions as a “natural man”.
    2) Terrestrial–Delaying gratification through self control and Christ-like behavior.
    3) Christ-like being, rather than just behavior.

    She spends more time discussing what she sees as distinctions between Telestial and Terrestrial behaviors, and less time discussing a Celestial state of being.

    There is a lot to think about here–and how her ideas may or may not find support in D&C 76 and other scriptures. Can we justify Anderson’s distinctions from the text of D&C 76? Is there something about overcoming by faith that relates to obtaining Christ-like being as opposed to merely Christ-like behavior? What is it about the restored gospel, as opposed to other religions, that might make it the only path to facilitate Christ-like being?

    I’ll have to admit that the closer I read D&C 76, the less I find about differences in lifestyle–at least this section doesn’t seem to focus on those differences. On the other hand, I did find a lot to think about in the Anderson talk, including the idea that many times people may have appetites and passions that look Celestial–perhaps compulsive scripture reading or family history interests to name a few that I may have had at times–but that flashes of these behaviors are far from the steady and measured efforts brought on through self-discipline, or the even more effective efforts that may be obtained when undertaken with a more Christ-like spirit.

    To finish off my thoughts on this, for now, what is it about being “valiant” in our testimony of Jesus, as indicated here in The Vision, that merits Celestial rather than Terrestrial glory? Is it more than just keeping the commandments no matter what?

  15. robf said

    As I’ve thought about this today, I think a critical key, perhaps the key, to the distinction between a Celestial and Terrestrial lifestyle and glory is related to the concept of being “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” found in D&C 76:79. I’ve placed some thoughts about this on the wiki, but basically this “testimony of Jesus” is referred to as “the spirit of prophecy” in Revelations, the Book of Mormon, and the teachings of Joseph Smith. It is more than just believing in Jesus, or “keeping the commandments”. It is an ability to feel, recognize, and follow the Spirit–to “be One” in mind and action with God. Becoming valiant (strong, brave, mighty) in this ability is only possible by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and cultivating this ability through the ordinances and practices of the gospel. That’s why the Celestial glory is only available to members of the Church. Without this ability, you can be good, decent, and “honorable” but you cannot become one with Christ and obtain a fullness of the Father’s glory.

  16. robf said

    Perhaps one of the most interesting summaries describing the process of becoming celestial by heeding the Spirit comes from Joseph Smith:

    God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and . . . the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him. History of the Church, 2:8.

    Note the emphasis on overcoming evil and the desire for sin. This concept of overcoming is one of the principle requisites for obtaining celestial glory (cf. D&C 76:53).

  17. robf said

    My reading today took me to C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory, where he contrasts unselfishness/self-control with the higher virtue of love/actively seeking the good of others. While I found this interesting, and related to Anderson’s distinction between Terrestrial self-control and Celestial Christlike Being, the real thing that took me to C.S. Lewis was his discussion of glory. This whole concept of glory seems under-discussed in our LDS tradition. While we have more scriptures than most pointing to God’s glory and our sharing in it, I’m not sure we have a good understanding of what that means–and in light of this thread, what the difference might be between a Celestial “glory” and other “glories”. C.S. Lewis sees glory as sharing a divine approval or acclamation from God. However, I suspect that doesn’t quite cover it. I’m wrestling with the Greek doxa (“glory”) and wondering where that may take me. A whole new realm of flavors to this feast upon The Vision–What is glory?

  18. Robert C. said

    I was thinking about doxa quite a bit when studying John 7-9 for Sunday school, since the word occurs in four times in this stretch: John 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24 (and many other times in John, as shown in the link), esp. the end of chapter 8 where Jesus explains he glorifies the Father, and the father honors (another translation of doxa) the Father. Honor and glory also seem important priesthood terms (also used frequently in conjunction with the word “power”). My recent study of Levinas has me thinking in terms of genuine glory/power coming from seeking (in actions and words) others’ interests rather than self-interest. Also, the eternal nature of the glory in D&C 76 has me rethinking the command in the garden to be “fruitful” (Jim F.’s paper on Genesis 2-3 in the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture discusses this term “fruitful” a bit, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since). Jesus’ teachings on the seed that dies before bearing fruit gives us perhaps a good way to think about glory coming through selflessness.

  19. robf said

    I’m wondering what to make of D&C 76:19 where Joseph and Sidney saw the “glory of the Lord” that “shone all around”. I think perhaps they are talking about a very real sort of light or brilliance here–something that might relate to the glory of God being “intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36)–whatever that means! Clearly we seem to be moving into a cosmological or metaphysical realm of exploration here, and I’m not sure how far we can get here with glory, light, and intelligence, but its part of the feast served up here and I’m hungry to dig in!

  20. robf said

    In looking at scriptures about the glory of God, I’m struck by Alma 19:6, where we read that while King Lamoni was passed out, “

    the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame.

    Once again the concept of the “natural” being “overcome” and glory associated with a light. What is this “light of his goodness”? What possibly could that mean? And how does this light “infuse” joy into a soul or light up a soul? Again, we seem to have a real something here–a spiritual power associated with light. A light that brings intelligence by dispelling darkness and revealing truth.

  21. robf said

    In feasting on this section of scripture, it might also be of worth to look at the poetic rendering of The Vision as recorded by Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps. One thing that leaps out at me from vs. 73 where it says that the Telestial “glutted their passion”–which seems to support Anderson’s view of the Telestial as those who never overcome their passions. In vs. 71 it also says that these souls never received the “prophetic spirit.”

  22. Robert C. said

    Interesting, robf, I’ve been wondering a bit about this seen and unseen nature of glory. Consider:

    But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor 3:18)

    And:

    While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:18)

    Since I’ve been thinking about veils and hiddenness a fair bit recently, this “things which are not seen” phrase jumps out at me. Somehow, I think God’s glory is a result of his ability to see things which are not seen by less glorious beings. And I think this idea puts an interesting spin on truth, light, and knowledge, esp. as they interact with faith. That is, perhaps the weight (kbd is Hebrew for weight, and is used figuratively for both riches and glory…) of God’s glory is a result of his ability to see things in some eye-of-faith sort of way, and to bring them into being. To have this kind of power/glory, one must be keep one’s promises, and understand how things are (and were and will be)….

  23. robf said

    Nice Robert, how does this relate to truth as aletheia=uncovering/unconcealed/undisclosed? Been awhile since I read Heidegger on this. Does the glory of God uncover or shine light on…I don’t even know what to call it here, being?…in some way that seeks to enoble or glorify eternal intelligences? That these various glories–Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial–reflect, so to speak, one’s relationship to that eternal power? The Celestial share that same glory and shine with the same light, while the Terrestrial can only reflect it, and the Telestial who are unmoved by that glory shine with their own less luminous glory?

    Joseph Smith said a lot about having to obtain glory to be able to deal with spirits in the other world (see the May 21, 1843 sermon notes). There’s a lot here once you start chowing down on it!

  24. I’ve been thinking a little bit about the difference between the just of the earth and the honorable. The just are those who will inherit the celestial kingdom. Those who will inherit the terrestial kingdom, in contrast, are merely honarable. What is the difference between being just and merely honorable? I’m still thinking.

    In light of D&C 137:7 we can say that v 72 doesn’t mean what it seems to, but what do we then make of verse 72 and 74. It is convenient to throw in the phrase (who had the chance) but why isn’t the phrase already there?

    I am a little confused in general in what to make of a long list of criteria/characterisics for those in each kingdom. Does the fact that two things are in the list and both seem to be criteria suggest that if you have one then you have to have the other? A lot of the interpretation comes down to what you think the relationship is between these different criteria that are listed. For example, is verse 75 meant to restate verse 74 or to qualify it?

  25. Robert C. said

    Matthew #24, is there a particular verse you have in mind regarding the distinction between the just as Celestial? D&C 76:69 seems to qualify this as “just men made perfect through Jesus the meadiator of the new covenant.”

  26. robf said

    The more I think about it, the differences seem to be pretty stark and simple:

    Celestial–accept the gospel fully and become One with God through following the Spirit.
    Terrestrial–accept the gospel, if only eventually or half-heartedly but don’t become One through working with the Spirit.
    Telestial–what you get if you don’t accept the gospel.

    Perhaps there is something more to that part about dying without law. Matthew, as you note, that seems a bit confusing. I’ll keep pondering that as it does seem to have something to say about the boundary between the CK and TRK. I’m presuming that the maind difference between the kingdoms has something to do with becoming One with God through the Spirit, I’m not sure how the opportunities of mortality are at play there. Because, of course, then you have all of those children who die before the age of accountability. Makes me still think I must be missing something here. Perhaps it has something to do with the three levels or degrees of glory in the CK. Hmmm.

  27. Kim M. said

    Forgive me if this has been raised before, or if I’m missing the mark by virtue of being a newer member on the blog, but…

    …I’ve always had difficulty with the thought that there are 3 degrees WITHIN the Celestial Kingdom. It’s always been puzzling to me that if there WERE three degrees within the CK, why we never heard any more about them, or why the scriptures wouldn’t give us more explicit directions on how to avoid being relegated to one of the lower two, since our ultimate goal is to live with God forever, after all.

    Joe gave me a thought to chew on two months ago that I really like: D&C 131 says that “in the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.” Apparently in the 1830s, “celestial” was used to refer to just the heavens, in stead of explicitly referring to the highest kingdom of glory. So perhaps there really are just the three: Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial? This reading seems to fit so much better with me.

    Apologies. That was an incredibly “wordy” way of stating my own reading. *sigh* Given time, I’ll make more sense. Thanks in advance for your patience!

  28. robf said

    Kim, thanks for your post. I’ll have to look into this a bit more, but D&C 131 dates to 1843, the height of the Nauvoo period when most of Joseph’s thoughts seemed to be directed towards Celestial Marriage, so I find it easier to think that he really was talking about three levels in what we would call the Celestial Kingdom. And I think we do know a lot about what you have to have in order to inherit that level–a temple marriage sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. Whatever that really means!

    On the other hand, there is almost nothing–or maybe actually nothing–written in the scriptures about the second level of the Celestial Kingdom. But then again, we don’t know that much about the Telestial or Terrestrial Kingdom either. I think Joseph Smith kept his sights on the highest levels possible, so that once he knew about the Celestial Kingdom, he didn’t worry much about the other kingdoms. Once he knew about Celestial Marriage, he didn’t talk much about the lower levels in the Celestial Kingdom. In fact, if anything, towards the end he might have been starting to wonder about kingdoms higher than the Celestial (D&C 130:10)–which are presumably beyond the reach of us in this life.

    The real reason that we don’t know have much more about the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom may come from the fact that Joseph Smith was not recording new revelations much in the Nauvoo period. Most of what we have in the D&C from that period was added after his death from notes made by scribes at some of his public sermons. Then again, we probably know as much about that highest level of the Celestial Kingdom as we do about anything in the afterlife. I mean, how much do we really know about the spirit world, spirit prison, or anywhere else in the degrees of glory, or those higher kingdoms of D&C 130:10. Brigham Young and others had a lot more to say about all of this, but they aren’t in the scriptures, just the published accounts of their public talks.

  29. Matthew said

    Robert #25, Not sure if this answers your question directly, but here is a synopsis of how just is used in this section.

    First, in verse 17, we hear that this whole revelation was given in response to Joseph and Sidney’s suprise at the revealed translation of John 5:29 which replaces “resurrection of life” with “resurrection of the just” and “resurrection of damnation” with “resurreciton of the unjust.”

    Then the part of this section that deals with those in the celestial kingdom is introduced by saying “concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.”

    Verse 53 then points out that those in the celestial kingdom are those who “are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.”

    This point is then repeated in verse 65 “These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just.”

    Verse 69 says that the people in the Celestial kingdom “are just men made perfect…”

    It is interesting that in the original verse Joseph and Sidney are thinking of there are only 2 resurrections mentioned, that of the just and the unjust. But then there are 3 kingdoms and much is made of connecting the first kingdom with the resurrection of the just and the last kingdom the with resurrection of the unjust but nothing is explained how to fit the terrestial kingdom into the just/unjust categorization.

    We could assume maybe that the terrestial kingdom is made up of just people who aren’t perfected. And that then they would be part of the resurrection of the just. Is this what maybe you were thinking? Or maybe we should see the translation of John 5:29 given in verse 17 as using the beginning and end to talk about the whole resurrection–not to suggest that there are only two. That would support the reading I was getting at where we see “the just” as almost shorthand for the entire description given of those who receive the celestial kingdom.

  30. Matthew said

    re: 3 degrees in the celestial kingdom.

    I’ve never really understood how one can make it to the celestial kingdom but not make it to the highest degree. Everyone in the celestial kingdom, by definition, is willing to do whatever it is that the Lord wants. And we assume everyone there also has the opportunity to do what the Lord wants. So if you have both the opportunity and the will, why wouldn’t you end up in the highest degree?

    Maybe D&C 130:10 suggests that the boundaries within (at least the celestial kingdom) are not permanent. They represent stages. In that case, maybe each person needs to get through level 1 and 2 to make it to level 3, but they all will make it. who knows. Sometimes i wonder why we are given small sketchy pieces of a picture. Maybe the main thing we are to take away from this section isn’t so much to understand the words of it, but rather to want to experience it for ourselves as is promised to us at the beginning of the section.

  31. mberkey said

    Matthew, remember that 131:1-4 says that you cannot have in an increase. So someone in level one of the Celestial Kingdom cannot ever advance. So I don’t believe that those verses are talking about the Celestial Kingdom at all, but rather, as has been said, the celestial sphere or the heavens.

  32. Robert C. said

    Matthew #29, thanks for this. Interesting about the two-part verse/question being given a three part answer/elaboration—I hadn’t really noticed this so directly in section 76….

    I think you’re right that “the just” are being described in terms of those who will inherit the Celestial. But I think the “made perfect” line underscores what being just really entails (better: leads to), and that this serves to establish distance from the Terrestrial described in verse 75, “honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.” Though I’m not sure if this distance should be read more on to “honorable” or “blinded” (or both). In other words, should we read honorable as a synonym to just, or is just something more than honorable? Based on scriptural use of these terms elsewhere, I’m inclined to read these more as synonyms with the Celestial-Terrestrial distance being established between the qualifiers “made perfect” vs. “blinded by the craftiness of men” (which I think deemphasizes, without negating, the role of agency in all of this…).

  33. robf said

    I’ve never read D&C 131:4 to mean that there is no progression within the Celestial Kingdom. Another way to interpret that verse is to read “an increase” as posterity, and that without a Celestial Marriage, there can be no eternal posterity. But let me think about that more. I think the whole doctrine of eternal progression was taught in Nauvoo and in Utah after we stopped adding much to the Doctrine & Covenants, so we don’t have much about it in the scriptures.

  34. nhilton said

    I personally side-step this revelation in the sense that I’m not comfortable assigning anyone to a particular kingdom. You haven’t even mentioned the 3 degrees within the celestial kingdom. This quote by BRM is instructional & comforting to me: “As members of the church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; then it is absolutely guaranteed–there is no question whatever about it–we shall gain eternal life.” Bruce R. McConkie, 1976 Speeches of the Year, p. 400.

    I think the “members of the church” is due to ordinances required for entrance into the kingdom, meaning baptism. This is what sets us apart from other good people of the earth.

  35. robf said

    nhilton,
    I agree that we shouldn’t be assigning folks to kingdoms, but for our own benefit I think there is value of trying to understand what types of actions merit the various glories.

    I like this statement by Elder McConkie, but wonder what it really means? What does it mean to “chart a course leading to eternal life”? Does that just mean to accept the gospel, get baptized, and then stay temple worthy? I wonder if there might not be more to it than that?

    What does it mean to “begin the processes of spiritual rebirth”? This process happens with faith, repentence, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Ghost. But is that enough? Unless you are run over by a truck on your way home from your baptism, shouldn’t you have done more than just “begin” after awhile?

    What does it mean to be “going in the right direction”? I liked the point in the Anderson article mentioned earlier that we need to do more than just occasionally or periodically righteous, that it takes consistent self-discipline to cultivate spirituality. So, if I spend most of my week on idle pursuits, but then have a great Sabbath, am I “going in the right direction” or am I mostly just spinning my wheels?

    And what about sanctifying your souls? I think this is key–having to do with learning to live day by day in harmony with the Spirit. How common is this behavior within the Church? I’m glad I don’t have to judge anyone, but for myself, I can imagine that most of my activities may have dubious value as sanctifying actions.

    So, while I agree with the statement, I think it indicates that much, much more is required of members than to just get baptized and stay active in the Church.

  36. nhilton said

    robf #35, Sometimes we’re too hard on ourselves & everyone else. The gospel is simple: Love one another as I have loved you AND the ordinances. Beyond this we are likely to become overwhelmed and distracted from the focus.

    Loving God means keeping his commandments, granted. Loving really means serving. We serve God by serving his children.

    Worrying too much about which kingdom we’re qualifying ourselves for is silly since we can’t make it to the CK through our merits. We can’t earn the CK. It doesn’t matter how hard you work, you can’t work your way into the CK. It’s a process of evolution, as McConkie points out, and then we must still reach out and plead for and accept God’s grace to fill the voids. The CK is not for the elitest. I don’t think you can determine who, including yourself, is going to the CK but rather keep in mind God’s love and generosity and then treat others with the same. This is our only hope.

  37. robf said

    nhilton #36, I understand the sentiment that we can’t earn our way to the CK, and I agree that ordinances and love are critical factors–but suspect from reading this section closely that there is more at play, especially something to do with glory, and the Spirit, and the “testimony of Jesus”=”spirit of prophecy”. I think the ordinances and focus on loving and serving others probably make it possible for our souls to become infused with this Spirit and glory.

    Sometimes we mistake “simple” for “easy” and I think that’s the main thing I’m resisting here. The “it doesn’t matter how hard you work” sentiment can easily become “I’m OK, you’re OK” and “all is well in Zion”. I think it does matter how hard you work, in that you have to serve with your whole heart, might, mind and strength. Being saved (=attaining a kingdom of glory?) by grace does not mean that we don’t have to consecrate everything, and give it our all. I don’t think anyone was more “too hard” than Christ, who sent away the rich young man who had kept it pretty simple–loving and living the commandments–but wasn’t willing to give it his all.

  38. nhilton said

    robf, I agree with you that “simple” doesn’t equal “easy.” It is simple that I must forgive others but it isn’t easy. It is simple that I must serve others but it isn’t easy. It’s simple to show our love to God by keeping his commandments, but it isn’t easy. It is simple to participate in the ordinances but it isn’t easy to keep the related covenants.

    Re: the rich young man, I think he was lacking The One Needful Thing which was the love of God which runs deep and evidences itself spontaneously, annonymously because one has been spiritually re-born.

    The GD SS lesson #24 stresses that it is believing in Christ that saves a soul. What does it mean to BELIEVE? This is as succinct as I’ve ever seen it. It is the opitome of simple but the oposite of easy.

  39. robf said

    Amen.

    And, we’ll have to take up this thought about believing in Christ later! I don’t think I understand that at all!

  40. robf said

    Conversation seems to be winding down here, but I just wanted to throw one thing out that might be relevant to the discussion of the Celestial Kingdom, and specifically on there being different degrees within the Celestial Kingdom. A General Authority on my mission pointed out that Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham represents the Celestial Kingdom (with Abraham sitting on an eternal throne), and that there are clearly illustrated there Kings, servants, and slaves. We were told that yes, there were slaves there, and it would be a big eye opener for most members of the Church. While I can only present this as speculation, there would seem to be a lot more here to think about.

  41. Wow, I wish I’d been in town for all of this discussion. Let me pick up a few loose threads here and hope to see discussion pick up all over again.

    First off, it is curious timing that just yesterday (but before reading anything of the post or the comments) I taught a lesson to the priests quorum on the three degrees of glory. For what it’s worth, let me just provide a breakdown of how I presented it:

    The Christians have been speaking of heaven and hell for a long time, and they are basically right. Joseph didn’t come along saying that there are actually three heavens over against the one hell, but that heaven and hell are the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. In a sense, I see Joseph announcing not that the Christians were wrong, but that they were just missing something more: there is the possibility of godhood in all of this, and that’s what the celestial kingdom is all about.

    I imagine that my reading depends on my reading of D&C 131: I am wholly convinced that that revelation has reference to the three degrees of glory and not to three degrees within the celestial kingdom. I don’t see any evidence that “celestial” had a technical meaning before the Utah period, and it seems to me that D&C 131 would cancel some of the meaning of D&C 76 were it to suggest that angelhood is a function of certain levels of the celestial kingdom. Rather, it seems to me that angels are the inhabitants of the terrestrial kingdom, and gods of the celestial kingdom. The Christians all hope to become angels, and they probably will. But there is more….

    Hmm, I think I’ll let reactions come and then try to articulate this better. More soon, I hope.

  42. mjberkey said

    I’ve always assumed that Christian talk of heaven and hell referred to the spirit world in which there is paradise and prison. Spirit prison is where I believe the un-repentant will suffer for their sins and so it must be a hell.

    Furthermore, I don’t understand how the telestial kingdom could rightly be called hell if it’s supposedly so nice that we would like to kill ourselves just to get there.

    As for what Joseph meant in section 131, I really could go either way on this. Both explanations make sense to me. I’d like to see robf’s response to Joe.

  43. robf said

    Joe, can you show me clear instances of “celestial” being used to describe what we would consider to be telestial or celestial glories after The Vision of 1832?

    As for angels being inhabitants of the Terrestrial Kingdom, how do you explain the presence of angels before the throne of God (Isaiah 6, etc.)? Would you then consider Isaiah’s vision to have seen only the throne of the Son in the Terrestrial Kingdom? What do you make of D&C 132:16-17? Are these separate and single servants only residents of the Terrestrial Kingdom? Why aren’t there angels in the CK? Who are the celestial inhabitants that minister unto the terrestrial inhabitants (D&C 76:87)?

    Some have speculated that the three degrees within the CK are inhabited by those that accept various ordinances, i.e. baptism, endowment, temple marriage. While this may be a folk doctrine, what about it? Curious to hear your thoughts.

    I don’t have all the answers, but before accepting an interpretation (contra 3 degrees within the CK) that seems to fly in the face of 160 years of LDS teaching I’m going to need a bit more evidence.

  44. Rob, to your first question, “no” (or at least, not without a lot of research). But because the word “celestial” had a meaning before the Vision, I’m reluctant to assume that every instance of the word after its reception has reference to the Celestial Kingdom as such. Moreover, the earliest instance of anyone saying anything explicit about this revelation meaning that there are three degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom is a talk by Joseph E. Young given in the Logan temple in 1888. Smith and Sjodahl’s commentary (the earliest commentary on the D&C to my knowledge) speaks so ambiguously that it could be taken either way (like the revelation). The context in which Joseph was speaking is also complex: it was not a public discourse, nor was it a written revelation to the saints. Was it transcribed correctly (the oldest source on it was written in 1854, but what was the source of this source?)? Even if it was, was he speaking to people who would have assumed any reference to “the celestial glory” would imply a reference to the Vision? Might he have been trying to explain precisely what he and Sidney had learned in the Vision to someone unfamiliar with it? It seems he was speaking with Benjamin Johnson and his wife. What do we know of them? I’m not sure.

    As far as the terrestrial/celestial business, are we to understand the kingdoms necessarily to be in totally different locations? I know well enough of the celestial planets, terrestrial planets, and telestial planets business, but I’m hardly convinced on that point. In fact, the vision of the throne in Revelation 4-5 (quite similar in ways to Isaiah 6) provides us with three degrees in a sense, does it not? God on His throne, the twenty-four elders, and the ten thousand times ten thousand gathered round about. And I wonder about the title “sons of God” for angels: could this not point to the possibility of the Kingdom in the presence of the Son being a place for those who are the sons of God? In short, could we be talking about a kind of hierarchy in heaven rather than three spatial locations?

    As for the various ordinances, I don’t know how to make any sense of it. Baptism and the sacrament are so clearly mirrors of sealing and endowments respectively. At times, I’m not sure it is too healthy to separate them. And what of the exalted position of baptism for the dead in D&C 128 (which we’ve discussed before)? In the end, this ordinance way of dividing up the celestial kingdom really lays to the line what seems to me to be the major difficulty with a three-fold celestial kingdom: if one of them is for marrieds, what are the other two for (and I’m certainly less than comfortable with one for men and one for women)?

    I’m glad, let me add, that you are hesitant “before accepting” my interpretation. I haven’t yet accepted it either! I suppose my point is this: it seems much more likely than the other to me. Which is really to say that I’m just questioning the common interpretation more than I’m arguing for my own.

  45. Mike,

    I anticipated something like that response. I’m not sure exactly how to think about that. But, at least roughly speaking, I think telestial and hell are equatable (though without the suffering, etc.). In a sense, this seems to be the thrust of D&C 19.

  46. robf said

    Joe, while I’m all for questioning the common interpretation, I’m wondering what we can possibly be left with in all this? Is there any way to reach a resolution? A more firm understanding? If we don’t know what we think we know, what do we really know? Your three levels of beings at the throne in Revelations could be taken more as an argument for the three degrees within the CK, could it not? And what should we take as evidence?

    Here’s what I see as possible evidence for the 3 degrees/various levels of being within the CK:

    * D&C 131 (if transcribed correctly and interpreted traditionally)
    * Book of Abraham Facsimile 3 (if interpreted to represent the CK)
    * Revelations 4-5 (per your thoughts in #44)
    * Isaiah 6 (angels and God in throne vision)
    * 1 Nephi 1 (angels surrounding throne of God)
    * D&C 130 (gods and angels both on celestial world)
    * Common official LDS teaching, as indicated by lots of statements by prophets and reflected in the Gospel Principles manual and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article.

    But what do we really know without looking into heaven for five minutes?

    “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject” (TPJS, p. 324; cf. HC 6:50).

    “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching” (TPJS, p. 191).

  47. robf said

    Joe, my first response disappeared into the WordPress ether. Until I can resurrect it, [saved; #46] suffice it to say that I think all of the evidence for angels and gods together at the heavenly throne argue for there being several classes of beings in the Celestial Kingdom (i.e. several glories or degrees). Your reference to Revelations 4-5 seems to me to just add more credence to this. I haven’t seen any evidence for mixing of the kingdoms, except what we are told about the Celestial ministering to the Terrestrial, and the Terrestrial ministering to the Telestial. That said, the scriptures that might touch on the subject here in The Vision and elsewhere (eg. D&C 88:20-26) are a little ambivalent about whether a Terrestrial being can be in the Celestial Kingdom. They can’t “abide a celestial glory” but does that mean that they can’t serve at the throne of God? Its all a little disturbing how much wiggle room the scriptures leave here (though the recent teachings of latter day prophets may be much more clear?).

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