God’s Great Plan of Salvation was in place before the earth was created, and probably before all worlds were created. An understanding of the Plan of Salvation answers the following profound questions for mankind:
- “Where did I come from?”
- “Why am I here?”
- “Where am I going?”
No amount of secular research can answer these questions, nor can research into the works of religious scholars. The true answers come directly from God through His chosen prophets.
“Where did I come from?”
Everyone who lives, did live, or who will live on this earth, existed before in a spiritual state. In fact, we all eternally existed before the short span of mortal life on earth. In our spiritual state, we dwelt with God. He is the literal father of our spirits, so we are all literally children of God. God the Father is a glorious, perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing resurrected man. He enjoys the blessings of exaltation in a celestial kingdom of light. His desire is to help His children become like Him, also to enjoy the blessings of life eternal in an exalted state. In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:39, it says,
For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
To become like God, we must follow the path He has outlined for us, overcoming temptation, developing perfect faith, and cleansing the worldliness from our souls. Earth life is a mortal probationary period, albeit very short, in order to accomplish that.
Mormons call our previous, spirit state, the “Pre-existence,” “Pre-mortal Life,” or “Pre-earth life.” The Plan of Salvation was presented to us there, for us to exercise our God-granted agency in giving our “common consent” to the Plan. Revelation tells us that the Plan of Salvation was presented to us in a “grand council.” God knew that when we entered our earthly time of testing, we would fall short of perfect performance. God the Father, knowing we would perform imperfectly, chose a Savior for us, Jesus Christ, known in the Pre-existence as Jehovah, or the Word. Satan, also a spirit-son of God, came forward with another plan:
That Satan, …is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying-Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore, give me thine honor.
But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me–Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive, and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice (Moses 4:1–4).
One-third of the host of heaven sided with Satan and were cast down with him, never to earn physical bodies. The rest of us, everyone who enjoys the probationary “second estate” period of mortality, sustained and supported Jesus the Christ in the Pre-existence.
Paramount to the Plan is the guarantee of free agency for man, and no choice can be made unless there are opposites to choose from:
And he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other (2 Nephi 2:14–16).
The gift of understanding where we came from is to give us a sense of ourselves as truly immortal beings with a purpose that transcends mortal existence. It can give us a heavenly view that diminishes the importance of our minor setbacks and attachments on earth and makes our every day problems manageable. We can also know that we are indeed children of God, and that He is our personal Heavenly Father, standing at the ready day and night in case we might call upon Him. We can and should call upon Him on bended knee. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, He promises that He will answer.
“Why am I Here?”
And there stood one among them [Jesus Christ] that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
And they who keep their first estate [Pre-mortal Life] shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate [life on earth] shall haveglory added upon their heads for ever and ever (Abraham 3:24–26).
Remember that God introduced opposition into the world, so that all men and women would have freedom to choose good or evil. This is why He gave two conflicting commandments to Adam and Eve–so they would have agency. Mormons do not view the fall of Adam as the result of sin, nor do they believe in “original sin” that taints every human being (including infants). They believe Adam and Eve were fore-ordained in the Pre-existence to perform the very difficult callings of becoming the first man and woman on earth. Mormons believe that God instructed them in the garden, and that Adam was a prophet who understood and taught the Plan of Salvation and the coming of Christ. Thus, the fall of Adam is an integral part of the Plan of Salvation:
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:22–25, emphasis added).
A fullness of joy can only be achieved in a resurrected state, when the spirit and body of man are joined in a state of perfect health and immortality. The anchor of the Plan of Salvation is the atonement of Christ. If we in our imperfection, do everything in our power to keep His commandments and lay hold upon the power of His atonement, His grace is ample to take us the rest of the way to the purity necessary to dwell again with God. The resurrection is a free gift to all men, wicked or righteous, but exaltation to God’s own dwelling place is reserved for those who believe on the name of Christ and follow Him, repenting and keeping His commandments:
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:26–27).
“Where am I going?”
Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always has a living prophet, the Church teaches much about where we are going that is unknown to friends outside the Church. Prophet Joseph F. Smith experienced a vision of the “Spirit World,” which is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138. In the vision, he learned that when we die, our spirits separate from our bodies. The mortal body molders in the ground, but the spirit is very much alive. The righteous go to a spirit “paradise,” while the wicked go to a place he called “spirit prison.” In spirit prison, the wicked suffer for their sins. Christ suffered already for the sins of the righteous. All spirits have the opportunity to hear the true gospel of Christ in the spirit world and can use their continuing agency to accept or reject it. Christ Himself (in the spirit) initiated this missionary work in spirit paradise during His three days in the tomb. We wait in the spirit world for resurrection and judgment. Once judgment occurs, we are assigned to a kingdom of glory.
Joseph Smith, the prophet, saw a vision of heaven and beheld the kingdoms of glory, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76. This vision tells us more about heaven than any scripture heretofore had among men. From it, we learn that all men will inherit a kingdom of glory surpassing all description, except those who “deny the Holy Ghost” (having a perfect witness of the Christ and then denying Him, thus crucifying Him anew). Through modern prophets, we also learn that we enjoy eternal felicity with our friends and families, and that families can be sealed as units through covenants that last eternally. This is why Mormon funerals are so inspiring–we know that we will shortly be reunited with loved ones again. In addition, Joseph Smith taught that little children will be resurrected to the age at which they died, so their once-grieving parents can nurture them in the resurrection to maturity (see Chapter 14 under Teachings: Words of Hope and Consolation at the Time of Death).
An understanding of God’s eternal Plan of Salvation fills us with the knowledge that God is all-loving. He has established this grand plan in order to exalt His children eternally. We are eternal entities, not just mortal beings or thinking animals. We are potential gods, the Children of God. Remember that Mormonism is not a new religion, but the restoration of truths that have been had by prophets since the beginning of time. The original apostles passed on the knowledge of “theosis,” or potential god-hood to the early elders of the Christian church. As Justin Martyr said,
“…to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons… in the beginning men were made like God, free from suffering and death, and that they are thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest….”
And St. Irenius said,
We were not made gods at our beginning, but first we were made men, then, in the end, gods. How then will any be a god, if he has not first been made a man? How can any be perfect when he has only lately been made man? How immortal, if he has not in his mortal nature obeyed his maker? For one’s duty is first to observe the discipline of man and thereafter to share in the glory of God.Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, of his boundless love, became what we are that he might make us what he himself is.
And modern Prophet Spencer W. Kimball said,
You are the [children] of God, [that] you are the elect of God, and you have within your [grasp] the possibility to become a god and pass by the angels … to your exaltation”-possibilities which seem beyond ordinary imagination-yet the promises are divine. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 496.)