Sunday, April 15, 2012

George Albert Smith - Chapter 7 - Eternal life as eternal existence

Among Latter-day Saints, the phrase eternal life usually refers to the quality of life that our Heavenly Father lives. His work and glory are "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) For members of the Church, this is in the future. Right now, we are on the path that "leads to" eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:17-18.)

Eternal Existence

In some cases, the phrase eternal life has another meaning, one that derives from the ordinary meaning of the words — Eternal, meaning "without beginning or end," and life, meaning "of or relating to animate existence." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2006.) Thus the phrase eternal life can also refer to existence without beginning or end.

In this sense, even mortality is part of eternal life, part of our eternal existence. The phrase eternal life is used this way in Chapter 7 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith:

“Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life—that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity.” (p.69.)

“I leave my testimony with you that I know that we are living eternal life, and that the temporary separation of death ... is but one of the steps along the pathway of eternal progress and will result eventually in happiness if we are faithful.” (p.77.)

“That portion which leaves the body when our lives go out is that which is spiritual, and it never dies.... It simply passes from this sphere of eternal life, and awaits there the purification of the physical tabernacle.” (p.69.)

In the same Chapter, George Albert Smith teaches that "we received a spiritual tabernacle before we came into this world." (p.69.) This statement suggests that "we" existed prior to receiving a spirit body. In Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, there is a more direct suggestion along those same lines:

"We learn from the scriptures that we each have eternal existence, that we were in the beginning with God (see Abr. 3:22). That understanding gives to us a unique sense of man’s dignity." (p.183.)

"All of you need to drink in deeply the gospel truths about the eternal nature of your individual identity and the uniqueness of your personality." (p.222.)

Speaking as Church President in general conference, Spencer W. Kimball also said:

"The Lord had shown to Abraham ‘the intelligences that were organized before the world was’.... God has taken these intelligences [and] given to them spirit bodies." (Ensign, May 1977.)

The idea that we existed as individuals prior to spirit birth was made very clear to me in the October 1972 general conference by Elder Robert L. Simpson:

“Scripture reveals that even before our spiritual birth, each of us had individual identification as an intelligence. Before all else could take place, there had to be that beginning spark of light, that spark of intelligence or, if you please, the marvelous mechanism that controls our every thought, that controls our every act. We might think of this spark of intelligence as perhaps the nucleus of a human mind.” (Ensign, Jan. 1973.)

Thirty years later, Neal A. Maxwell spoke of this eternal existence when he said:

“Joseph Smith ... was told that ‘man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be’ (D&C 93:29; see also Abr. 3:16–18). Brothers and sisters, you have been you for a long, long time!” (Ensign, April 2003.)

In the April 2010 general conference, the idea that intelligences received a spiritual tabernacle was affirmed by Elder Richard G. Scott in these words:

"What eternal purpose would have come from the Creation of the earth, where intelligences tabernacled with spirits would receive a body, if death were the end of existence?" (Ensign, May 2010.)

The phrase eternal life, as sometimes used by George Albert Smith, refers to the infinite duration of man's eternal existence and includes our present state of existence. Eternal life as it relates to the quality of the life lived by Our Heavenly Father is in the future.


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