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A Pre-existence Text In The Book Of Mormon


Beowulf

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I taught the High Priest group lesson yesterday on (free) agency.

For my main scriptural support, I used Alma 13:3-5.

Now I had never thought that the Book of Mormon had much to say about the pre-existence, but in reading this month's Ensign (See! You CAN learn deep theology from Church magazines!), I came across a reference to this verse, and realized something important was going on here.

Here is the relevant section:

Alma 13: 3 And this is the manner after which they were ordainedâ??being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was preparedâ??

This is a description of people (verse 3) being foreordained to the Melchizedek priesthood before they were born. Hmmm, I thought. The Book of Mormon is indeed aware of preexistence. But there is a hitch. Does God's foreknowledge determine whether we shall choose good or evil? If it does, then we are subscribing to Calvinism.

I call this problem the Hitler Scenario (note to Mods, please don't shut this down yet....). If God knows everything in advance, was Hitler doomed to become the most reviled man in human history? Or did he have a choice (agency) to decide whether to do good for his fellow man or unleash the most terrible war in human history?

See verse 4. Some have been called to this holy calling, while others reject the Spirit of God. So there is choice. But perhaps their choice occurred in the Pre-Existence, and therefore their choices are moot in this life. Hitler is doomed because he was not valiant enough in the Pre-existence? Some Mormons believe this, I think.

No. Verse 5 utterly refutes this. In the first place they were on the same standing as their brethren. So even the ones who rejected the Spirit of God started out the same. In other words, every Child of God has the potential to be one of the Holy Ones. No one was "less valiant" or "on the fence".

The implications for free will are obvious. In this life, we ALL have a choice, to choose to do good or to evil. God's foreknowledge does NOT force us into one stream or the other. It is all up to us.

For back-up, I also quoted Isaiah 45:7, which the Calvinists love, and which I love for its implications of free will.

KJV Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

The Lord here is NOT telling us that he is the root of evil. Rather, he is telling us that he has laid out creation, and we (as his creations) are free to do with it what we will, even if it is wrong, or awful, or WWII.

Or try this:

Galatians 6:7-8 (Oxford Study Bible)

Make no mistake about this: God is not to be fooled; everyone reaps what he sows. If he sows in the field of his unspiritual nature, he will reap from it a harvest of corruption; but if he sows in the field of the Spirit, he will reap from it a harvest of eternal life.

Again, we have our choice. No one is forced to take one path or the other. And God is waiting for US to act, not predestinating us to good or to evil. (I have purposely included Paul in here for all you grace-only types who think that Paul never talked about works for salvation. <_< )

This has gone rather far afield, so I will come back to my original theme...

Alma 13:5, in particular, is a remarkable statement affirming both Pre-Existence of souls AND the free agency of man.

I find this interesting because it comes YEARS before Joseph Smith's ventures into Pre-Existence as found in the D&C or the King Follette Discourse. If we start from a naturalistic premise, how did he know this in 1829? And more importantly for such a naturalistic exegesis, why did he then not revisit it for so many years?

I know MY answer. Which is that Joseph Smith did not notice it. (This is an argument that Bill Hamblin, for one, has made elsewhere regarding other aspects of the BofM. Ie If he did not notice it, then it was because he did not WRITE it. He was just a transmitter.)

I also find Alma 13:5 remarkable because it refutes the Platonic view of the Omnisicent Deity. A God with perfect foreknowledge already knows which way His Children are going to respond, to every single question. Hitler is doomed to his evil ways, in other words. But if Alma 13:5 is right, then Hitler is NOT doomed, because he has started on the same footing as everyone else.

God knows all the possibilities, but He CANNOT know which way we will actually choose, until we choose. Hitler is free to choose, either to become a great charismatic leader (which I think he could have been) or to become the instigator of unimagined misery.

This is what I get out of one verse.

Thoughts? Responses? (Anything goes, except for calling somebody a Nazi, of course.... :P )

Beowulf

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>I also find Alma 13:5 remarkable because it refutes the Platonic view of the Omnisicent Deity. A God with perfect foreknowledge already knows which way His Children are going to respond, to every single question. Hitler is doomed to his evil ways, in other words. But if Alma 13:5 is right, then Hitler is NOT doomed, because he has started on the same footing as everyone else.

>God knows all the possibilities, but He CANNOT know which way we will actually choose, until we choose.

I am curious whether you are able to find the flaw in your logic.

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And what flaw is that, pray tell?

That if God knows all possibilities, then He DOES know what we will do in any given circumstance?

I specifically rejected this. Tell my why I can't (reject it)...

I say that God is capable of being surprised by what I do, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly...

Beowulf

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God knows all the possibilities, but He CANNOT know which way we will actually choose, until we choose. Hitler is free to choose, either to become a great charismatic leader (which I think he could have been) or to become the instigator of unimagined misery.

I was with you up until this point.

I really do believe that God KNOWS what choice we are going to make before we make it, simply because He knows each of us so well.

I look at my four year old son and i can see this happening a little bit already between him and i. I know, not with 100% certainty but with pretty good odds-what he is going to do when he is presented with different choices.

If i have this ability after knowing him for only four years-i can only imagine how good our Father in Heaven is at it by now-with all of us.

Hitler was completely free to choose-but, in my belief-his choice was already known by God before he made it-because God knew perfectly what kind of man he was, what was in his heart and what he wanted out of life.

If you know someone well enough-it becomes obvious what their choices are going to be-even before they make them.

As imperfect humans-even with the obvious things-we may sometimes guess another's choice wrongly-but our Father in Heaven doesn't only know us because He's been around us a long time-He literally knows what our thoughts are and what our hearts intentions are-ON TOP of knowing for thousands of years already...

I think with that kind of experience He is more than capable of being 100% sure of each choice we make before we make it.

anyway-my rambling thoughts... :P

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And what flaw is that, pray tell?

That if God knows all possibilities, then He DOES know what we will do in any given circumstance?

I specifically rejected this. Tell my why I can't (reject it)...

I say that God is capable of being surprised by what I do, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly...

Beowulf

Among EVs, there is a group generally known as Open Theists. Adherents include folks like Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders. They would generally agree with your analysis here, I believe.

Their view of God's foreknowledge, as you can imagine, has come under fire by other EVs.

Essentially, argue those opposed to Open Theism (among whom I count myself), this understanding denies the classical understanding of God's omniscience. In this model, God doesn't know all things; he knows some thingsâ??even the majority of thingsâ??but not all things. God is not truly omniscient.

Open theists counter this criticism by suggesting that future free acts of free creatures are not logically-possible objects of God's knowledge. And, so, God knows everything that it is possible for him to know. He knows all things up to the present moment. He knows a great deal about the future, too. But he knows nothing infallibly about the future free choices of human beings.

I've read somewhere (perhaps someone can provide a reference; I'll look myself) something similar to this in an LDS writer's take on God's knowledge. Does that ring a bell for anyone? It seems to be generally what you're arguing, so I suppose, if I'm right about the quotation, you may be in good LDS company.

At any rate, more traditionally-minded EVs reject Open Theism because it denies God's perfect, exhaustive foreknowledge of all things. They would reject this formulation as presented by LDS theologians, as well.

Best to you.

CKS

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Yes, CK, I guess that I am an Open Theist. (Although I may have some differences, it is close enough.)

This was articulated recently by the LDS philosopher Blake Ostler. I suggest you read the Review of his latest book at FARMS Review of Books. Much of what I describe above is influenced by that.

To Bluebell: This is what my sister-in-law thinks about Hitler. (Which is where the subject came up...) So it shows that it is a common view among LDS. However, I think that Alma 13:5 refutes the idea. Hitler was on equal ground with even the holiest of God's saints, according to that verse, at the moment that he was born. After that...., well, things went downhill fast...

Beowulf

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To Bluebell: This is what my sister-in-law thinks about Hitler. (Which is where the subject came up...) So it shows that it is a common view among LDS. However, I think that Alma 13:5 refutes the idea. Hitler was on equal ground with even the holiest of God's saints, according to that verse, at the moment that he was born. After that...., well, things went downhill fast...

Beowulf

I'm not sure how knowing that Hitler was on common ground with 'even the holiest of God's saints' refutes the idea that God knew that he would not choose to stay on that 'common ground'.

Maybe you could explain further.

CK-as far as i am aware, the majority of LDS do believe in God's omniscience as you describe it. :P

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OK, here is the relevant verses in Alma again.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;

Some of these people are called to holy callings, and some reject it.

But even the ones who reject it could have "had as great privilege as their brethren". In fact, they were "on the same standing" as their brethren.

To me, this means that they had exactly the same opportunity to be good upstanding people in this life as the others.

If God already knows that they will not make it, then that "same standing" cannot exist.

That is why I have to reject perfect omniscience for God (which I think is a Platonic overlay and not Biblical anyway).

I prefer a perfect knowledge of all possibilities instead (as I stated above).

Beowulf

Did I explain it any better this time? Go to FARMS Review and read about Blake Ostler's book. Very interesting stuff.

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OK, here is the relevant verses in Alma again.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;

Some of these people are called to holy callings, and some reject it.

But even the ones who reject it could have "had as great privilege as their brethren". In fact, they were "on the same standing" as their brethren.

To me, this means that they had exactly the same opportunity to be good upstanding people in this life as the others.

If God already knows that they will not make it, then that "same standing" cannot exist.

That is why I have to reject perfect omniscience for God (which I think is a Platonic overlay and not Biblical anyway).

I prefer a perfect knowledge of all possibilities instead (as I stated above).

Beowulf

Did I explain it any better this time? Go to FARMS Review and read about Blake Ostler's book. Very interesting stuff.

Still not getting you-but maybe if i use another example it will help to see where we are not understanding each other.

What if there are two football teams-both who have the EXACT same opportunity to win the superbowl-they have been given the same equiptment to train with-same coaches and trainers-no expense spared in helping them to achieve their goals, they have been given it all....

Let's say that after all of this is given to these two teams, after they practice and use these things for a time in the off season-they are then left on their own to either keep up with the training and practicing or they are free to stop all of that and just show up at each game and hope for the best.

With that freedom to choose-one team chooses to keep doing all that they were doing and to keep using all the things they have been given to help them be the best football team ever. The other team decides they don't want to practice anymore and instead decide that it's more fun to party and sleep late and stuff-they lose all of their games, but they don't really care. They decide that there are better things in life than winning the superbowl-they want to pursue other things...

Knowing everything about each football team, their attitudes, their desires, and their intentions-Can you predict with 100% accuracy, even at the beginning of the season, which of these football teams will make it to the superbowl? Does you KNOWING which team will make it-negate the fact that both teams started out with 'the same standing'?

This is how i view the idea that we can all start out equally, all of us with the exact same priviledges, and yet why I believe that God can know, because He knows us, how each of us will use the priviledges in this life-and how He can predict exactly what choices we will make, before we make them...and why Him knowing that some of us will fail and some of us will suceed in gaining eternal life, does not negate the common ground that we all began on.

:P

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Still not getting you-but maybe if i use another example it will help to see where we are not understanding each other.

What if there are two football teams-both who have the EXACT same opportunity to win the superbowl-they have been given the same equiptment to train with-same coaches and trainers-no expense spared in helping them to achieve their goals, they have been given it all....

Let's say that after all of this is given to these two teams, after they practice and use these things for a time in the off season-they are then left on their own to either keep up with the training and practicing or they are free to stop all of that and just show up at each game and hope for the best.

With that freedom to choose-one team chooses to keep doing all that they were doing and to keep using all the things they have been given to help them be the best football team ever. The other team decides they don't want to practice anymore and instead decide that it's more fun to party and sleep late and stuff-they lose all of their games, but they don't really care. They decide that there are better things in life than winning the superbowl-they want to pursue other things...

Knowing everything about each football team, their attitudes, their desires, and their intentions-Can you predict with 100% accuracy, even at the beginning of the season, which of these football teams will make it to the superbowl? Does you KNOWING which team will make it-negate the fact that both teams started out with 'the same standing'?

This is how i view the idea that we can all start out equally, all of us with the exact same priviledges, and yet why I believe that God can know, because He knows us, how each of us will use the priviledges in this life-and how He can predict exactly what choices we will make, before we make them...and why Him knowing that some of us will fail and some of us will suceed in gaining eternal life, does not negate the common ground that we all began on.

:P

Bluebellâ??

This is rather a providentialist account of God's foreknowledge.

I'm with you here.

Best.

CKS

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A rather silly example...

But, no, I see what you mean. Of course, we can make a good guess who will make it to the championship game.

But it does not dent MY point, that they have their AGENCY to choose whether to loaf or work at it. Before they made that choice, no one could guess who would do better. Once their choice has been made, anyone can see the consequences...

Sure, I agree.

However (and here I will strain this parable one step too far... :P ) the loafers STILL have a chance to change their minds and get to work (i.e. repent) right up to the week before the Big Game. And who knows, maybe they will win, upsetting all the prognostications...

To get back to the horrible Hitler scenario... I was explaining this to my wife, who is Japanese. I said that Hitler had a choice. He didn't HAVE to cause WWII. But then I realized it was not an unmitigated disaster for me personally, since Japan opted to go with him down that monstrous path, which put America into motion to defeat both of those nations, which prostrated Japan, brought in America, LDS missionaries (including me), conversion of more than 100,000 Japanese to the LDS faith and eventually my own personal happiness.

God works in mysterious ways...

(But, I will argue, that it was the agency of countless people in the 20th century that brought my family to this point...)

Beowulf

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But it does not dent MY point, that they have their AGENCY to choose whether to loaf or work at it. Before they made that choice, no one could guess who would do better. Once their choice has been made, anyone can see the consequences...

I respect your point-but i just HAVE to add one more thing so you get exactly what i'm saying here....

I would say that no HUMAN could guess which team would be better-but I believe that GOD would know before the choices were even made, and this is why-

We humans cannot know what the team will do BEFORE they do it-we can't know whether they are going to choose to loaf off or work to win, until their actions show us. We can't see in their hearts or minds-so all we can go on is their actions.

BUT-if we could see the intentions of their hearts-If we knew exactly how much they wanted to win the super bowl or how much they DIDN'T care about it-would we have to wait to see what their choices were BEFORE we knew what they were going to do-or would we know what their choices were going to be before they even made them?

It's because God knows our intentions-our feelings-our deepest fears and motives-that I believe He knows what our choices are going to be BEFORE we choose them.

:P

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Qustions to consider:

.

Did God choose the parents that Hitler was to have?

.

Had God choosen to have Hitler's spirit placed in a child born to an active

LDS family in Utah. Would that spirit have been able to become the "Hitler"

that it has become.

.

Does God's choices come to play in this tragedy?

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And I suppose here is where we part...

Because I believe that it is possible for me to surprise God by making an unexpected choice.

To use an example from Church history... When God commands JS and friends to go to Missouri and build up Zion, I believe that there was a perfect chance that they would succeed. (Else why would he command it?) Yet they did not succeed. The antis love this, saying that JS was therefore a false prophet. We argue that the prophecy was conditional on the Saints' obedience. I think that the Saints could have "surprised" God and done what they were supposed to do, building up Zion in Missouri and being there still to this day.

But they didn't. And here we are in dry, dusty Utah.... :P

Beowulf

Thanks for your input Bluebell, and CK too.

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And I suppose here is where we part...

Because I believe that it is possible for me to surprise God by making an unexpected choice.

To use an example from Church history... When God commands JS and friends to go to Missouri and build up Zion, I believe that there was a perfect chance that they would succeed. (Else why would he command it?) Yet they did not succeed. The antis love this, saying that JS was therefore a false prophet. We argue that the prophecy was conditional on the Saints' obedience. I think that the Saints could have "surprised" God and done what they were supposed to do, building up Zion in Missouri and being there still to this day.

But they didn't. And here we are in dry, dusty Utah.... :P

Beowulf

Thanks for your input Bluebell, and CK too.

It has been a great discussion! <_<

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No. Verse 5 utterly refutes this. In the first place they were on the same standing as their brethren. So even the ones who rejected the Spirit of God started out the same. In other words, every Child of God has the potential to be one of the Holy Ones. No one was "less valiant" or "on the fence".

The implications for free will are obvious. In this life, we ALL have a choice, to choose to do good or to evil. God's foreknowledge does NOT force us into one stream or the other. It is all up to us.

I'll try to quickly explain my different take on this, I think. In the preexistence(, as on earth, as in the future in the afterlife), we differed in "glory", so to say. As was shown to Abraham, each intelligence is different--some greater, some lesser. Some were more valiant, and less valiant. (But no one was on the fence.) As such, we did not start mortal life at the same point.

However, we did start all without sin, and with the opportunity to choose God. God did not favor one being over another, as per setting one up for exaltation, and setting another one up for outer darkness. What happens with our judgment, WILL be just. Though everyone's situation in life is different, and that will SURELY be weighed in the judgment, the desire a soul has for truth and righteousness (as at the beginning of the book of Abraham)--and which must be FROM the individual, and not God--when "given the goods"--is a very good and stark indicator of what reward will be given.

God knows us. He knew the entire history of this earth, before the first man ever came. That doesn't limit us or our choices.

P.S. Kudos for saying "reviled" (which for the West is true) instead of "evil" or "wicked".

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OK, here is the relevant verses in Alma again.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren;

Some of these people are called to holy callings, and some reject it.

But even the ones who reject it could have "had as great privilege as their brethren". In fact, they were "on the same standing" as their brethren.

To me, this means that they had exactly the same opportunity to be good upstanding people in this life as the others.

If God already knows that they will not make it, then that "same standing" cannot exist.

That is why I have to reject perfect omniscience for God (which I think is a Platonic overlay and not Biblical anyway).

I prefer a perfect knowledge of all possibilities instead (as I stated above).

Beowulf

Did I explain it any better this time? Go to FARMS Review and read about Blake Ostler's book. Very interesting stuff.

I am aware of Blake Ostler's views (though I haven't read his books), and while I find his ideas interesting, I disagree with them. Personally, I feel that limiting the omniscience of God results in more questions raised than answered, and I don't think the scriptures must be interpreted this way. FYI, I accept determinism but feel that it is compatible with free will. I am LDS.

It doesn't follow that because we were all on the same standing at some point that determinism (and God's infalliable and absolute foreknowledge) must necessarily be false. I suppose the discussion of this particular scripture in Alma hinges on what exactly is meant by all of us having exactly the same opportunity to be good upstanding people in this life. The crux of this particular thread is whether the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP) is true. I know Blake Ostler, a proponent of libertarian free will, would answer in the affirmative. I would say no.

Every time a question like this one arises I look at the causal chain. What are the causes that made Hitler choose what he chose? Mocnarf already suggested that his environment likely played a role. Certainly his character came into play as well, wouldn't you think? It seems to me that even in a different environment, Hitler would have made equally bad (though different) choices based on the character that produced them. If it were truly possible for Hitler to have acted differently under exactly the same circumstances (i.e. there were real alternate possibilities), then what would have made the difference? Random chance? It is unfathomable to me that, going back in time to the exact same moment with the exact same circumstances, the outcome of any given decision could really have been different. If there aren't any knowable reasons for choosing A instead of B, then I just don't see how that situation leads to greater freedom in any meaningful sense.

So how do I look at the verses from Alma? To me, it refers to our standing before God, who will not judge us based on things He knows we will do, but have not yet done. For just one example, it is clear that Jesus knew beforehand that Judas would betray him, but I do not think that Judas was somehow condemned for the act before he carried it out. In a real sense, Judas had the opportunity to do differently, since the determined decision sprang from his character, not some external coercion. I interpret the phrase 'could have done differently' to mean that, having been different his character, he could have done differently. Verse 4 essentially says this as I see it, i.e. if not for the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds (character), they could have chosen more wisely and had as great priviledge as their brethren.

Of course this is all speculation and I am open to the possibility that I am wrong. So far, though, I have not been convinced by any arguments to the contrary.

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>Did God choose the parents that Hitler was to have?

Perhaps. Or, perhaps Hitler himself chose them. I believe that my gggfather was actively involved in my preparation for the mortal life.

.

>Had God choosen to have Hitler's spirit placed in a child born to an active

LDS family in Utah. Would that spirit have been able to become the "Hitler"

that it has become.

I assume Hitler's position in mortal life were based, in part, on his choices in the pre-existence.

.

>Does God's choices come to play in this tragedy?

Hitler made his own choices. This is a fundamental principle of the Plan of Salvation.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

>And what flaw is that, pray tell?

Do you know how to create a syllogism?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllogism

If you will take the time and effort to create one, I think it will will be very helpful. Specifically, look at your assumptions in your premise.

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