Sunday, May 1, 2011

Family Foreordination

Yesterday we had the blessing of witnessing the baptism of yet another grandchild. Recently, it was Molly and Spencer. These choice young spirits who have been sent to our family in the third generation continue to amaze and humble me. Present by invitation at yesterday’s baptism was Alex’s best friend, not a member of the Church. At age eight he is already a missionary. Even before that he gifted his kindergarten teacher with a Book of Mormon.

There is little doubt in my mind these spirits who are coming to earth in these last days are uniquely prepared for the days that lie ahead. Alex carries his scriptures with him in a special carrying case with the image of a basketball imprinted on it. Our grandchildren are all exceptional (you may discount these words if you choose, because it’s a grandfather talking about his grandchildren) but I fear no contradiction for those who know them well.

In a note to Alex I observed the new layer of snow on the ground (I know, April 30th, still snowing in Utah), and how the covering of white symbolized the purity of one who is baptized. Certainly, Alex will make mistakes, he will sin, but in the sacrament each week and in repentance the gospel offers purity going forward from one's baptismal day. 

Prompted by events, e-mails and questions lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this matter of parentage, foreordination and family life. How soon did we know about families? Where did we learn our first lessons about families? How were we organized before we came into this mortal world? We are organized into families here, we know we will be organized into families hereafter if we remain faithful, so how does that knowledge inform us about how we were organized before? How much agency was at work in our choices about which families we would come to?

These are some of the questions that arise. I doubt there is a single influence that permeates our existence more than the families into which we are born. The age-old debate about nature versus nurture will perhaps never be fully resolved to our satisfaction, but who we are, what we become and how our character is shaped is certainly the pre-eminent result of the laboratory of home and family. Regardless of how we start, it is how we finish that is important. Improvement is the goal, and we are free to choose outcomes. Nothing is pre-determined that will not yield to faith and perseverance.

There may be no more important facet of the doctrine of foreordination than how it plays out in the families to which we come. Is that ultimate designation made by assignment, by agency and freedom of choice, or by merit or by divine randomness? Without knowledge of the plan of salvation, most would conclude our family situation is merely a matter of the randomness of the universe.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
It would be hard for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to conclude anything less than the family unit being central to God's designs. With Scott Strong, I have written extensively about this topic in the past. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, ". . .the Lord operates through families. He himself lives in the family unit; it is his eternal system of government in heaven and on earth, and he always offers as much of his own system to men as they are willing to receive." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 35).

In addition to foreordination to lineage, there is evidence to indicate that there is, at least in certain cases, foreordination to favored families. President Harold B. Lee affirmed that, generally, we come to certain families as a reward or blessing for our premortal lives.

Now then, to make a summary of what I have just read, may I ask each of you again the question, “Who are you?” You are all the sons and daughters of God. Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was. You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world’s history, as the apostle Paul taught the men of Athens and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created. (“Understanding Who We Are Brings Self-Respect," Ensign, January 1974, 7).

It was his view there had been a premortal assignment to specific families based upon our faithfulness in the pre-existence.

President Brigham Young
Joseph Smith appeared in vision to Brigham Young at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on February 17, 1847. The full account is longer, but here's the partial quote that applies to this topic:

Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion.
Joseph then showed me the pattern, how they were in the beginning.
This I cannot describe, but I saw it, and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect chain from Father Adam to his latest posterity.
Joseph again said, “Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it, and it will lead them just right." (Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, February 23, 1847, LDS Church Archives).

I’ll lay out a few more statements, then draw a conclusion. There can be little doubt of the noble heritage of our prophets from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson. They were certainly among the “noble and great ones” in the pre-existence. (Abraham 3:22). Brigham Young described it this way, pertaining to the foreordination of Joseph Smith:

It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that [Joseph Smith] should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eye upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father's father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. (JD, 7:289-290).
President Spencer W. Kimball

When President Spencer W. Kimball was sustained as President of the Church, Elder Bruce R. McConkie made this statement:

May I take President Spencer W. Kimball as an illustration and pattern of one who was prepared, foreordained, and called to leadership among the Lord's people. He was, it is true, born in the household of faith. . .
But more than mortal birth. . . [is] involved. He was born in the household of faith for a reason. . . The fact is, he is a spirit son of God who was called and chosen and foreordained before the foundations of the earth were laid, and he is now fulfilling the destiny designed for him from the pre-existence. ("God Foreordains His Prophets and His People," Ensign, May 1974, 72).

If this assignment of spirits based upon pre-existent spirit faithfulness can be applied to prophets who come to faithful families, it can certainly be applied to others who are not among the “pre-eminent” families who govern the Church. It is also important to point out that the details have not been fully revealed. Let’s be careful, therefore, in making broad generalizations.

President John Taylor
Elder John Taylor published an article entitled "The Origin and Destiny of Woman" in the August 29, 1857 edition of The Mormon. He hinted, "You also chose a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world (and who had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle), to be your head, stay, husband and protector on the earth and to exalt you in eternal worlds. All these were arranged, likewise the spirits that should tabernacle through your lineage." (Cited in N. B. Lundwall, compiler, The Vision [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.], 145-148).

Was he giving a specific answer to one woman here, or did he intend a wider interpretation?

Two prophets at a much later date seemed to suggest the former. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught there is "no scriptural justification. . . for the belief that we had the privilege of choosing our parents and our life companions in the spirit world." (The Way to Perfection [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 44).

In 1966, Elder Harold B. Lee stated, "we have no revealed word" on the extent to which premortal choices of family members were made. He then cautioned we should not accept or teach ideas that cannot be firmly established in the standard works or by inspired utterances of the living prophets. 

First Presidency, 1971
In 1971, while serving in The First Presidency, both men once again declared, "We have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives." (The First Presidency, 1971, cited by Steve F. Gilliland in, "I Have a Question," Ensign, June 1977, 40).

When we examine the make-up of some families, isn’t it obvious there are disparities, and that all are not alike? There's an old expression that you can choose your friends, but you don't get to choose your brother. So did we? The ranks of the disaffected former members of the Church are filled with those who were closest to the prophets. One prominent Church family may produce a deviant sex offender whose brother may be a stake president. Even some political observers I've spoken with have asked, observing Mike Lee and Harry Reid, "How can the same Church 'family' produce two such diametrically opposed points of view?" But I digress. I wonder if our Heavenly Father sends some of his most noble and great spirits to the least likely families because he knows his choice spirit sons and daughters may bring spiritual blessings to the rest of the family that might not otherwise be available. We must never judge someone's premortal character or performance based on current parentage or family conditions. Certainly, that applies to the political 'family' of the U.S. Senate, where Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch could befriend one another.

Again, God’s foreknowledge never impedes our ability to freely choose, not in the pre-existence, not here, and certainly not later in the spirit world or into the resurrection. I have come to conclude this about God, largely through my observations of a lifetime. (It's not doctrinal, only an observation). As a parent, wouldn't He want as many of His children as possible to achieve exaltation and eternal life with Him? I'm only beginning to understand that perspective as a grandfather of many in the third generation. I would want each to be with me again someday after this life. Wouldn't God? Wouldn't every father? Wouldn't any father and grandfather reach through the veil to the extent he were permitted to assist in bringing about that eventuality? To as many as will come, He will afford each child at whatever stage in their existence, ample opportunities to “get it right.” Life is a continuum, and this mortal probation is a blink in the eyeball of eternity.

President Boyd K. Packer
Noting the power of our covenants, I believe it is what led President Boyd K. Packer to conclude in an address to our stake, “When we go beyond the veil we will be surprised at how different things are. But we’ll also be surprised at how similar things are. If we don’t get things fixed here we’ll get them fixed there, but don’t give up.”

There is simply too much breakage in our mortal probation to draw hard and fast conclusions about eternal life before we get there. When one is young and idealistic, it is easy to picture oneself as one of the "few" who is chosen. It smacks of the precise number of 144,000 of Jehovah's Witnesses who will be saved.

What do I mean by "breakage?" After writing this post this morning we attended a ward fast and testimony meeting. It was a cascade of witnesses, six in all, who testified of their gratitude for second marriages, a chance to begin anew and to foster hope for their eternal inheritance despite an earlier failure for undisclosed reasons in their first marriages. Each of the sisters wept openly for the privilege of finally having a righteous priesthood holder in her home, a blessing for which many had longed for years.

So in old age, the kind of thinking tending toward unfettered idealism gives way to quiet contemplation and hope for a large dose of mercy administered to those who fall in this life. And not just for those who fall, but perhaps more importantly for those who are innocently affected by the sins of other family members. We certainly have enough information to reach for eternal life here and now, and through the power of the atonement we may yearn for it, hope for it and expect it. The "breakage" can be swept up, the broken things can be mended, and hope can triumph even when it isn't perfect the first time around.

No longer is it a question for me of what we've earned, what we're entitled to by our birthright or our relative righteousness ("I did better than you at keeping the commandments"), but rather what follows perfectionism is a quiet assurance of the majesty of the atonement in all its perfections. Do we really know everything about what constitutes a full opportunity to receive what He referred to as "the greatest of all the gifts of God" yet? (See D&C 6:13). I doubt it. Ask yourselves, would Heavenly Father prefer a small number of exalted beings ("but few are chosen"), or the vast majority of His children to be exalted? As a grandfather, I feel like I am barely coming to understand the answer.

In the meantime while we see through the glass darkly today, all the principles of the gospel still apply here and now – repent early, often and continuously – regardless of who your birth fathers and mothers might be. Live the gospel the best you know how, despite a parent who may have set a poor example and turned away in shame or guilt who hasn't returned yet. In the big eternal picture we are all sons and daughters of God, giving us all the nobility we need to inherit eternal life, if obedient in whatever stage we may find ourselves in our progression.

"If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation." (D&C 6:13).


  1. Hi
    I have read the post’s on the book “Power and Covenants: Men, Women and Priesthood”, I would like to know if the PDF copy is still available. I apologies if this is not a good place to ask.


  2. Yes it is, just ping my e-mail address at