The other (not lower)

The New Testament preserves a parable (Matt. 7:24-27 and Luke 7:46-49) about two builders, a wise and a foolish.  They are not so termed, respectively, on account of their activities; they both build houses, maybe even the same type.  It’s where they build that differentiates them.  Building on rock is hearing the commandments and doing them; building on sand is hearing the commandments and not doing them. It would appear there are only two kinds of people.

Two thoughts:

First: The parable demonstrates adversarial, binary thinking, which mindset is lesser than and antithetical to a rounded Mormon perspective.  One might object that there must be opposition in all things.  The idea of opposition in all things is not wholly expressed by such stark dichotomies as good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and/or us vs. them.  Those pairings represent the Heaven or Hell worldview, which paradigm has no place in the Restored Gospel.  Permit opposition in all things to represent complementarity, and not just of the sexes.  Difference allows for the formation and solidification of individual identity which, in Mormonism, is eternal and indestructible.  Not only is every human person unique, Mormonism declares, every human consciousness (spirit, soul, mind) is and always has been unique; how many conceptions of happiness exist amongst us all?  Mormonism revealed our Heavenly Parents’ acknowledgement of the relative nature of our happiness with a pluralistic heaven.  For all the flowing prose that describes the three degrees of glory and the respective inhabitants thereof, their difference boils down to sociality or types of relationships.  First, let us assert that they differ in glory (D&C 76:71, 78, 81) or physical nature, not in locale; Heaven, like Earth contains all types interacting (D&C 76:86-88), for, “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2).  Now, one might object, citing the language of section 88, where we encounter the term kingdom accompanied by what appear to be theological zoning laws reinforcing the segregation of heavenly peoples (D&C 88:22-24).  The objector ought to keep in mind that all of heaven is kingdom: “…there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.” (D&C 88:37).  That said, we return to sociality or types of relationships in heaven.  To speak plainly: celestial glory is the descriptor assigned to those in procreative marriage relationships; the other (not lower) two glories are defined by whatever degree their respective participants do not maintain such relationships.  Now, normative culture promulgates a rather provincial perspective of terrestrial and telestial glory; instead of realizing the implications of a pluralistic heaven, one encounters a repackaged Heaven or Hell paradigm: Celestial Kingdom or Outer Darkness, as if the uppermost border of Outer Darkness starts at the Terrestrial Glory and goes “down” from there.  The other (not lower) kingdoms are indirectly stigmatized as though salvation is a competition and second place is first loser.  Such a perspective is vicious and unscriptural.  Consider D&C 88:32-33.  In v. 32 we learn that telestial folk will be quickened and “…return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.”  That we are culturally conditioned to pity these people notwithstanding, ponder the language of this verse: telestial people will enjoy their status.  How could they possibly enjoy it?  It’s what they want.  It’s what they were “willing” or wanting or desirous to receive.  But, wouldn’t they have enjoyed celestial status more?  No, because celestial glory is not what they wanted: celestial glory is “that which they might have received” but “they were not willing”.  But who wants that?  Look around; the world contains all kinds of people who willingly do not maintain procreative marriage relationships (for more reasons than we think).  But aren’t they an affront to heaven?  Are not our Heavenly Parents displeased with them?  Look to v. 33: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”  Far from displeasure, our Heavenly Parents are here concerned with benefiting those who prefer telestial glory; they do so giving the desired gift.  Remember, “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”[1]

Second: The kind of thinking embodied in the parable, whether brandished about or self-inflicted, destroys people in (and then right out of) the Church. Before we call one foolish, remember that what land we have for digging foundations is often inherited.  Some dig in sand because they have nothing else, some because they don’t know what else to do.  As well remember that rock is not always a sure foundation.  At Luke 8:13 we learn that, “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.”

Now let me tell you something I love about Mormonism: it teaches me to embrace truth whencever it comes.  In this instance that requires sharing another first century perspective on foundations:

Puta enim duo aedificia excitata esse, ab imo disparia, aeque excelsa atque magnifica. Alterum puram aream accepit; illic protinus opus crevit. Alterum fundamenta lassarunt in mollem et fluvidam humum missa multumque laboris exhaustum est, dum pervenitur ad solidum. Intuenti ambo quicquid fecit alter in aperto est, alterius magna pars et difficilior latet. Quaedam ingenia facilia, expedita, quaedam manu, quod aiunt, facienda sunt et in fundamentis suis occupata. Itaque illum ego feliciorem dixerim, qui nihil negotii secum habuit, hunc quidem melius de se meruisse, qui malignitatem naturae suae vicit et ad sapientiam se non perduxit, sed extraxit. -Seneca, Ep. 52.5-6

Translation:

(Consider that there are two buildings, quite different in foundation but equal in breadth and splendor.  One received solid ground and the work there progressed smoothly.  The other exhausted the building materials, being set down in soft, wet ground, and much was wasted in the toil ‘til it reached bedrock.  To someone looking, what is accomplished in the first building is apparent, while the great and more difficult part in the other is hidden.  Some people have an easy-going temperament and are well-ordered, while others, as they say, must work by hand and are fully taken up in laying their own foundations.  I would say the one is more fortunate who never needed to wrangle with himself but that the other merited better regarding himself; he conquered the baseness of his nature and did not lead but dragged himself to wisdom.)

14 years ago to the day, in the sand, I joined the Church.

[1] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 257, 240–41.

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