What Mormons don’t get about the Telestial Kingdom

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.

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15 thoughts on “What Mormons don’t get about the Telestial Kingdom

  1. In the email notification for this post, you accidentally included a first name. And if that person is who I think of, I would hardly describe them as a “reasonable” LDS believer. I don’t think the problem is you, but then again, I am not a reasonable LDS believer.

  2. My experience with Mormons and my clients (I.e. those who follow the law and those that don’t) tells me that I can sincerely call most people “reasonable” even when are only 5-10% completely nuts. I actually consider myself reasonable 😄

  3. The problem isn’t the perspective that you’re sharing, it’s the source. It’s quite obvious that this is what Mormon theology teaches. If any body with credibility within the LDS Church were saying these things it would be celebrated and accepted no questions asked. But because this appears to be some sort of “trick” you’re butting up against resistance.

  4. True. It makes me want to set up a meeting with some of the Apostles and a bunch of patient Evangelical preachers to try to clear some of this up. 😉

  5. It would be helpful if your interlocutors actually explained what exactly is so unhinged or irrational about what you were saying, rather than just bailing out. Everything you say is well-supported in sections 19, 76, and 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Like most people, Joseph Smith became increasingly universalist in his theology as he got older.
    The problem with universalism is practical. It can give rise to complacency, which is why people talk about things like “eternal regret” rather than the glory of the telestial kingdom “surpassing all understanding.” So we forget exactly how much hope there is in the Mormon plan of salvation.

  6. It would be helpful if your interlocutors actually explained what exactly is so unhinged or irrational about what you were saying, rather than just bailing out.

    Sadly, this is what they were saying: The telestial kingdom is not a kingdom of glory, and those that are in the telestial kingdom will suffer regret for their sins eternally. This is absolutely not what Joseph Smith taught and it bugs the sh!t out of me that the Church does not stamp this crap out.

  7. I agree that there is tons of hope in Joseph Smith’s plan of salvation. We have to remember that Joseph Smith absolutely believed that hell would end. (D&C 19) This explains why he had so many wives, and his entire lifestyle. Only a man who thought he was going to some-sort-of-heaven NO MATTER WHAT would have acted the way he did.

  8. Only a man who thought he was going to some-sort-of-heaven NO MATTER WHAT would have acted the way he did.

    LOL, whatever. He probably just read the Old Testament and figured that if he was going to hell for polygamy he’d have lots of other great prophets to keep him company.

  9. “The problem with universalism is practical. It can give rise to complacency, which is why people talk about things like “eternal regret” rather than the glory of the telestial kingdom “surpassing all understanding.”

    Look, I get the practical problem, but the Spirit should take care of that, No? Worrying about how we are constantly disappointing God leads to fear and denial, not confession and joy.

  10. But recognizing the grace given to us by the Father through the Son should provide us with infinite joy, no? And Jesus tells us not everyone will make it, right?

  11. It can give rise to complacency, which is why people talk about things like “eternal regret” rather than the glory of the telestial kingdom “surpassing all understanding.”

    And that is the same reason many Mormons historically have been reluctant to talk about grace at all.

  12. I think that this reluctance is a problem, my Mormonism was based on a small group of selected gems found in the Book of Mormon that provided an impenetrable hope in salvation, not exaltation. I concluded that exaltation was not something we should strive for, rather we should seek the power of God in our experience to polish the “rough stone” into whatever God had in mind for us. Mormons, as did I, gave up on the idea that we can see our fate now, and abandoned this “second endowment” even though it seems like even this endowment is the Gospel of grace.

  13. I heard a few times about that teaching that says that Joseph Smith taught that if we were capable of seeing what the Telestial Kingdom is, we would kill ourselves to get into it. But the teaching did not end there, it continued to: “Now, if the Telestial Kingdom is so glorious, how will the Celestial Kingdom be! And why do you want to get into the Telestial Kingdom if Father wants to give you fullness of joy in the Celestial Kingdom?

    There is a lot of misinformation about Mormon theology, in and out of the church. The Telestial Kingdom as glorious as it can be requires people to pay for their own sins. Since they rejected Jesus as their Savior, there is no one else to atone for their sins, but themselves. Where is this payment done? In hell? Where is hell? Wherever it is, it is a temporary condition. Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 says more about this.

    So, basically, in Mormon theology, God is so good to everyone, almost everyone will be saved in a state of glory, except very few that will go to hell eternally.

    Another misunderstanding in Mormon theology is that to get into the Celestial Kingdom you must be sealed in the temple (temple marriage) which is totally false. To get into the Celestial Kingdom you only need to have:

    1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (to accept him as your personal Savior and Redeemer, to accept his atoning sacrifice for you).
    2) To truly repent of your sins,
    3) To be baptized by immersion for the remission of sins,
    4) To receive the Holy Ghost and
    5) To endure to the end with God’s help.

    In this formula, there is no room for temple ordinances, because they are not necessary to get into the Celestial Kingdom. Temple marriage is necessary to receive exaltation which is a a different condition in the Celestial Kingdom. No everyone in the Celestial Kingdom will be exalted, or in other words, you don’t need to be exalted to get into the Celestial Kingdom. This is a topic for another discussion.

    Going back to our discussion about the Telestial Kingdom. I think the reason is not taught with so much joy and more frequently is because we would easily set up ourselves to get that kingdom instead of trying to obtain a higher state of salvation or exaltation. We would be happy to live lesser laws and not longing a better condition in the eternity.

    We are taught that Our Father in Heaven wants to give us exaltation, he expects we make it to the highest condition instead of settling up for the lowest. The highest is by Jesus Christ, the lowest does not need any savior.

  14. I’m an “Orthodox member” and I think what you said is super accurate. Anybody who criticized you must have seriously misunderstood you. I think it is the little True to The Faith booklet or something like it where it says that there are six different definitions of being saved. For example, all are saved from physical death. This is completely by grace. All who lived are resurrected. Then there is telestial salvation, which is being spared from outer darkness, and there is basically no one who will not qualify for this kingdom. You can be as wicked as you want, and confess the name of Christ and you will be saved to that degree, by grace. This is the form of being saved that seems to prevail in common Christian terminology. We Mormons typically talk about another form of salvation which is more properly termed exaltation, in which we receive a fullness of all that the father has. We become heirs of eternal life, which is the life that God lives. This is made available only through making and keeping covenants. With this kind of “salvation,” it is through the grace of Christ, not by our own power, that we eventually become perfect. So the multiple meanings of salvation gets people confused. Still, all forms of salvation are accomplished through the Atonement. That point is a clear and common teaching in the Church. But it’s not just you who runs into saints who don’t understand the whole grace thing. A lot of less educated members miss that because they are busy being taught all of the commandments they are supposed to be living by. Also, the Atonement does not make righteous living (AKA works) obsolete.

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