Many Mormons got a bit bent about my “off-the-wall” post about how the LDS Church could advance itself dramatically by adopting a more grace-based theology, and that Uchtdorf’s talk was a great step in that direction. Many claimed that “Mormons have taught this all along”. I see where they are coming from, because I might have claimed this as a Mormon. This was my attempt to salvage a clumsy attempt to explain to Mormons that in Joseph Smith’s own theology everybody get’s a free ride to heaven through God’s grace:
Me: I’m being serious. When we confront the reality of death and hell we fear God, and recognize that we have no capacity to escape death or hell, even with our great choices. Our only hope to escape the disease is to simply look to Christ and live. Reasonably people often recognize that they do not have any freedom except in Christ, because they cannot escape hell, and they cannot escape their guilt. When we can grasp that in Christ we are redeemed, the joy of the redemption transforms us. If we react to the joy we will live, if we deny the joy, we are doomed. This is really our only choice, but it is a simple choice and the fruits of that choice, including the resulting power to live the celestial law, is all a free gift from God.
What Joseph Smith saw about the next life doesn’t change this reality. In fact, he saw that only those that do not CHOOSE heaven over hell will be given a portion of God’s glory. Even those who are filthy when they die will be cleansed and glorified. The telestial kingdom is HEAVEN, and we all get that free ride. And that fact alone should make us uncontrollably happy that we will eventually be free from all of the consequences of our choices. Joseph Smith taught that hell is not eternal, and that God won’t let anyone stay in hell that does not want to. Thus, we all get a free ride to heaven.
Reasonable LDS believer: At this point I don’t think any purpose can be served by discoursing with you any longer. Your views here are, as far as I’m concerned, so unhinged and irrational as to be quite beyond any attempt at logical amelioration.
Reasonable LDS Believer 2: Agreed [Believer 1]. Not only unhinged and irrational but also disjointed.
Me: You can’t expect much more from someone like me who learned theology from the Book of Mormon.
Was I as incoherent as they are saying here? Am I getting the Gospel wrong?
I re-read my un-edited response and, even though it could have been worded a whole lot better, I am not sure that my ideas are completely “unhinged”. It’s hard to swallow that criticism coming from a Mormon, so I admit that I let by ego get involved. But I actually don’t have an agenda that is against the Church here: I am very open to any orthodox believers correcting me if I explained grace incorrectly and I am very open to hear from Mormons if I get Joseph Smith wrong.
When I was a TBM, my LDS theology was mainly based on Joseph Smith’s theology, and I believe Joseph Smith had a reasonable grasp of grace, even if he did not explicitly use that word (he would often use the word “mercy” and did so inconsistently.)In my opinion, the sooner the Mormons start at least listening to Joseph Smith’s actual theology, the sooner they will start listening to the message of the New Testament.
If you really get what Joseph Smith was saying, Mormons are, strictly speaking, complete Universalists. In Joseph Smith’s theology, beings are immune from utter destruction, because we are co-existent with God. God cannot destroy us, but only relegate us to the torments that our sins will give us for eternity. There is no hell in Mormonism, only regret. No matter how successful we are in this test, it will torment us forever to know that we could have “had it all” but chose not to because we were too weak to follow the principles that lead to any particular level of glory.
I personally think this regret is directly opposed to the Gospel, and to teach it at all completely misses the point, to a dangerous degree. But what is often ignored by Mormons and anti-Mormons is that Joseph Smith taught that the telestial kingdom, the lowest tier in heaven, surpassed all of our wildest dreams of happiness and that men would commit suicide in droves if we were to understand this. This was always puzzling to me as a kid, this teaching was almost never repeated in church, even though it seemed like a piece of information that we should be very excited about, i.e. we will eventually be free from all regret from our choices and dwell in eternal joy. Sometimes it seems that Joseph Smith might have been the last Mormon to actually believe this. (Perhaps you can blame him for that, but that is another story.)
What Mormons simply don’t get — but Joseph Smith did — was that any heaven is heaven, not earth life. And a state of being called “heaven” requires that we be free of the regret that often plagues faithful Mormons throughout their lives. In Christ even the worst of us will, eventually — after a lengthy term in spirit prison, the millennium, and eons of time in our post-earth existence — learn and grow to the point that we will be completely happy serving God in whatever heaven we wind up in. Those in the telestial kingdom will have no regrets, they will be as the angels, filled with joy in the service of God. This should not make us not want to be celestial, but it should FILL US WITH JOY NOW.
However, Mormons often teach that those in the telestial kingdom will be in the hell that we find themselves in on earth, i.e. plagued with the knowledge that they are complete screw-ups when it comes to really being one of the “good guys”, and the everlasting regret that they didn’t follow Christ well enough in this life. This is not the Gospel.