Mormonism and Universalism
I’m highlighting portions from my most recent podcast episode in blog posts right now. This week, I produced an episode on the Book of Abraham, Book of Moses, and JST. In this episode, I break down the Book of Abraham issues. In the last half of the episode, I get into the Book of Moses and JST, which led to this discussion on universalism.
Another insight Terryl Givens gives about the Book of Moses is that it introduces the concept of universalism for the first time in the restoration. He describes the universalism in Joseph’s day as being a false universalism. That’s identified in the book of Mormon and it’s condemned in the book of Mormon.
That’s the school teacher that says I’m going to pass you all. Everybody gets a free pass. And that’s where you get the eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. So that’s a false universalism that’s in Joseph Smith’s day that the Book of Mormon condemns. Then the alternative to that is the strict disciplinary in school teacher who says, no, you study to take the exam and if you fail, you fail and you’re out.
And this is the God that is there in the Protestant Reformation. And it appears to be in the Book of Mormon, but then Joseph Smith through the Book of Moses and then later doctrine, he is restoring a new kind of God.
Terryl Givens says, “we believe there’s a third way and that this is the God. Who’s the ever patient tutor who commits to us and says, I will never forsake you. And I will do whatever it takes until you master this material and are transformed by it. That’s the God that we believe Joseph Smith restored.”
He sees the first evidence of this coming in Moses 7: 38-39.
38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.
39 And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;
That looks like it’s the genesis of the concept of the spirit world, spirit prison and spirit paradise.
But then these people have the ability to repent. How could that be? These are evil people. There were evil in the world. According to our doctrine, they should be condemned, but it says they have the potential to repent and return. Now let’s go to D&C 19. This is a revelation that Joseph Smith gave in the summer of 1829.
4 And surely every man must repent or suffer, for I, God, am endless.
5 Wherefore, I revoke not the judgments which I shall pass, but woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yea, to those who are found on my left hand.
6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
What?? That’s confusing. “It’s not written, there should be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.” Here’s my theory on what’s going on. I think Joseph Smith had a problem with some of the harsh language in the Book of Mormon. I said before my theory on the book of Mormon, that it put a stamp on the Protestant reformation and took the very best of all the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, put it in the book of Mormon.
And this serves as an anchor that we’re tied to in the restoration. Now Joseph Smith can go explore, but he still has this anchor of the book of Mormon that he’s tied to, but he can go explore some new doctrines. This is the summer of 1829. The Book of Mormon has just barely been finished and let’s look at Jacob 6:10.
And you think about the Book of Mormon order. Jacob 6:10 is translated at the very end of the Book of Mormon because they started in Mosiah, which at the end and then restarted. Jacob 6:10
10 And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.
So here’s my crazy theory for the day. Some people say that Martin Harris might’ve subscribed to some of Universalist doctrine. Joseph Smith’s father also was known to believe in some Universalists doctrine. This revelation was given to Martin Harris. It came almost directly after Jacob 6:10 was translated. And this reference to this “lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment”. And I wonder if we have something going on here, like Martin Harris or Jospeh Smith’s father in a Zelophehad’s daughter kind of way says to Joseph Smith, are you sure this is right?
Could you check with God to see if this endless torment is right, because it doesn’t jibe with my doctrinal understanding. And maybe Joseph Smith gets new revelation, even though the ink is barely even dry on the Book of Mormon. And we’ve got this endless torment doctrine, maybe Joseph Smith is already getting new revelation that it, that he needs to fix this.
So let’s go on to D&C 19:7
7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express (I think that word express means like urgent or blunt or maybe harsh in this context.) than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
8 Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles.
(Here’s the kicker)
9 I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest.
10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.
Back to verse six. “It is not written that there should be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.” And here’s why it says endless because that’s my name. Endless is my name. Eternal is my name. So if I give endless punishment, it’s my punishment and I can make it last as long as I want it to. I can make it last an eternity, or I can make it last a hundred years or I can make it last a year. I can make it last 10 minutes. It’s my punishment. And I’ll give it to you as long as I want to.
I think that Joseph’s resolution of how to make sense of this harsh sounding unfair sounding Book of Mormon language was what he received in this new revelation just moments after he translated it.
Then the big whopper on universalism came in 1832 a couple of years later. Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were working on the Joseph Smith translation. They were in the new Testament and they were working on John 5:29.
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
So they’re looking at this verse and they see that there’s different variations in the resurrection. And this doesn’t make sense to them, according to the traditional definitions of heaven and hell. So Joseph receives a revelation and that section 76, and that’s that great revelation called The Vision, where they see the three kingdoms.
And this was a big deal. A lot of people were really upset by this revelation. They thought Joseph Smith was going full on universalism. A lot of people apostatized, they left the church. Brigham Young, it was really difficult for him. He said it took him a long time to come to terms with this. Some scholars believe that we’ve never really caught the vision of Joseph Smith and that we’ve kind of dumbed this whole thing down.
We’ve kind of turned the three kingdoms into just kind of our own version of the Christian Heaven and Hell, just with one extra kingdom. But Terryl Givens is arguing that this is not how Joseph Smith intended it, that he believed that there was progression between the kingdoms. Joseph saw Alvin in a vision in the celestial kingdom, and that started him really thinking about what’s going on here. And Joseph Smith believes that there was progression between the kingdoms. And that it was believed and taught by the prophets all the way up into the 1950s and 60’s when Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R McConkie put kind of put a kibosh on that. Bruce R. McConkie called this one of the great heresies–that there could be movement between the kingdoms. He wanted there to be no movement between the kingdoms, but Terryl Givens says that Joseph Smith believed that there was, and he believes that was the understanding in the church before the 1950s and 60’s.
James Talmage said “in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement.”
That makes sense to me. And I think this is universalism with some teeth, this life is important. It’s not time to eat, drink and be merry. And this makes sense to me in a very pragmatic way. If I make a hundred good decisions in a row, I’m going to create a heaven on earth for myself and the people around me. If I make a hundred bad decisions in a row, I’m going to create hell on earth for myself and for the people around me and my loved ones.
Do we want to be in heaven or do we want to be in hell? When do we want to be in heaven? And when do we want to be in hell? Do we want to create heaven for ourselves and our loved ones right now?
Do we want to do it in 10 years after we’ve gone through some hell? Do we want to do it in 50 years? Do we want to do it on our death bed? Do we want to do it in the spirit world? Or do we want to do it after we’re in one of the kingdoms? If we don’t want to be in heaven, we don’t need to be, we can make bad decisions and we can create a hell, or we can make good decisions and create a heaven.
I really liked his doctrine and it makes a lot of sense to me. And I love how Joseph Smith kind of put this wrapper around this Christian world of this world and heaven and hell. And the wrapper on one side is the preexistence and the wrapper on the other side is this eternal progression.
We’re free to progress at our rate. And if we want to move towards the light and towards God we can. And if we want to move towards darkness and bad decisions, and that’s also our right. But God wants to save us and God wants us to be in heaven with him.