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I (somewhat) recently had the opportunity to share the gospel. Conner and I had been involved with conversations about the gospel with this couple before, and so when they asked to come stay with us again, we knew that it would turn into more conversations about the gospel.
Both he and she were deeply involved in their own Christian religion. He was extremely well-versed in the bible, and he loved the bible. Conversations with them were fascinating and challenging.
Having grown up in Texas surrounded by Baptists, Methodists, Christians of all sorts, I had a feeling that deep down, this couple was not trying to learn about the gospel. This couple was trying to save us.
After dancing around the implication for a while, I finally just asked them, “If we were to die right now, do you believe that we would go to hell?” Though they seemed reluctant to admit it, she finally jumped in and answered in the affirmative. They were both quick to say they believed we were very good people and very dedicated to God; we had simply chosen wrong. The Christ we believed in did not resemble the Christ that they believed in. This didn’t necessarily invoke any anger on our part; this certainly wasn’t the first time we were warned about being driven to hell, but my perspective did shift as I reflected on that moment.
Up until that conversation, I had always tried to argue that we believed in the same Christ as other Christian denominations. We believed in the Son of God who was born to a virgin in Bethlehem. We believed in the Christ who died on cross and was resurrected. We believed that Christ suffered for our sins and paid for our salvation. We believed in the bible.
However, in that moment and in the moments afterwards as I reflected, I came to realize that we do believe in a different Christ than they do.
What do we believe about the character of Heavenly Father and Christ?
This section could go on for quite a while if we let it, but I want to focus on just a couple of characteristics.
Christ is perfect. He loves us. He holds high expectations for us. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He knows our circumstances even better than we do. He knows our abilities and weaknesses. He knows us personally. He is the perfect judge.
God holds those same characteristics. God is also our Perfect Father; He is the literal Father of our spirits. He holds a parental regard for us. He is also the perfect judge.
It is this characteristic of “perfect judgement” that I want to focus on so clearly.
Three Kingdoms vs. Heaven and Hell
Many in the Christian faith hold to the theology of heaven and hell. They vary in their attitudes and opinions about who goes where; for example, I know Christians who believe I’m going to hell and I know Christians that don’t believe I’m going to hell. But in the most general terms, a majority of Christians believe that when you die and are judged, you will live in heaven with God and be happy forever or you will be thrust down into a literal lake of fire known as hell.
Joseph Smith received the vision that became Section 76 alongside Sidney Rigdon. There were other men present in the room when the vision was received, but they did not see the vision. One man describes feeling the glory of the vision, but he could not see what Joseph and Sidney could see. This vision included an immense amount of “new” information. It spoke of the Sons of Perdition, Satan’s fall from heaven, and it introduced the doctrine of the three kingdoms.
Doctrine and Covenants 76:96-98
96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one.
97 And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one.
98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;
The section likewise reveals who gets to go where in general terms. Many people struggled with this new vision. Brigham Young struggled with this new vision and had to study it out and seek answers from the Lord. It was extremely foreign.
Many Christians likewise struggle with this doctrine of our’s today.
But what do we know of the character of God and what do these two theologies teach about the character of God?
I think that if we search deep down, we intuitively know that people cannot be so easily separated into good and bad. There are too many people in between. One of the reasons I love the Plan of Salvation so much is that it fits in with what I understand about who God is and must be.
As I mentioned previously, many Christians believe different things about who gets to go to heaven and who is cast down to hell. However, a grand majority believe that you have to believe in Christ in order to make it to heaven. My friends that I spoke of earlier believed that little children who died before knowing Christ would be okay, but a random man in some indignous tribe who never heard the name of Christ need only look around at the miracle of the world to pray and learn about Christ. That man would still be held accountable regardless of whether anyone had come to teach him about Christ.
My friends likewise believed we were going to hell. They believed we were going to hell even though they also strenuously insisted believing we were good people.
This is completely incongruent with what I understand regarding the “perfect judgement” of our Father in Heaven. Even I, in my limited and faulty and ignorant ways, understand that a loving Father in Heaven wouldn’t put me in a burning pit of fire for eternity despite the fact that I was a good person. How can these doctrines coexist? How can you believe in a perfect, merciful, and loving Father in Heaven and simultaneously believe that He would condemn His child to burning despite having devoted their lives to Him?
There are Muslims in the world who are far better people than some Christians. There are atheists I know who come closer to the character of God than their Christian counterparts. But none of that matters? It’s completely disregarded in the judgement?
Please do not misunderstand me. I believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior. I believe that He is the only way in which we can return to live with our Heavenly Father.
But how could a perfect judge disregard any evidence of a good person? It doesn’t make sense; they cannot fit together.
The only way we can come to truly believe in the doctrine of the three kingdoms of glory will be through revelation from our Heavenly Father. The Spirit has to make it known to us, and I acknowledge that.
However, can we at least acknowledge that it makes sense that Heavenly Father would have more than eternal bliss and eternal fire and damnation?
Let’s pretend that you were in charge of judgement. To go along with previous examples, a young man stands in front of you. He was born into an indigenous tribe in the middle of Australia. He prayed to the gods he was taught about. He was a good man. He took care of the people around him. He was merciful to those who had wronged him. He was kind and easy to laugh. He set a good example for young children.
Can you imagine yourself pushing him into a burning building? Let alone, pushing him into a pit of fire where he has to stay forever?
I love the Plan of Salvation. I love that it makes perfect sense. I love that the Lord can be perfect with His perfect plan.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior. We can only return to live with our Heavenly Father if we believe in Him and are baptized in His name. I love that Heavenly Father is perfectly just, and He holds everyone accountable to that standard. And yet, He has likewise provided a path so that everyone has the opportunity to truly hear of Christ and determine whether they choose Christ.
I believe in the three kingdoms of glory, and because of this, I am grateful that I can believe in a Heavenly Father who would never place one of His good children in an eternal pit of fire. If He was willing to do that, then I’m not so sure I would want to live with that kind of a father. And so I echo the words of Joseph Smith.
“I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.”