Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Doctrinal Speculation

I don't know where I first heard the theory that resurrection is an ordinance, and that when the day comes, Jesus will send us out to resurrect each other.

I don't know if that's how resurrection will actually happen, or if it's doctrinally sound--but it's a beautiful story. I love the image of people being raised from the dead and then immediately going out to bless and wake others, to place hands on heads and ask God to clothe naked spirits in fresh perfection. 

Here's the thing: even the story isn't accurate, I think it's true. In the sense that it can wake a profound truth within the listener about our connections to each other and about the kind of hope the promise of this earth's end can bring.

On Real Intent, I wrote a poem that builds off this idea to imagine a moment in which Elijah Abel gives the blessing to raise Brigham Young. Only after writing the poem did I realize that many LDS readers have probably not heard the idea of resurrection as ordinance that the poem invokes, especially seeing as it's speculation rather than standard Mormon belief. And only when I thought about the speculation element did it occur to me that I'd need to give some kind of disclaimer to share the resurrection-as-ordinance story.

And that made me think about how we tend to have mixed feelings in the Church today about speculative religious stories or ideas which aren't confirmed doctrines. Part of that suspicion is good. There are plenty of chain email type stories which may be inspiring, but are also deeply problematic. And there have been many doctrinal speculations that were actively harmful, from the heresy of one true soul mate in Saturday's Warrior to racist stories that built up around the 1846-1978 priesthood restrictions. So I can see why we care about patrolling the line between doctrine and speculation.

And yet...

Mormon religious imagination is so rich and varied I'd hate to stifle it too much. Does a grain of sand contain an intelligence that demands justice? Was Melchizedek a title for the ancient patriarch Shem? Did our spirits act as angels until it was our turn to be embodied on earth? Are the Three Nephites still serving across the earth today, heedless of modern nations' insistence that all wanderers be documented?

We don't know. And because we have no good reason for needing to know in this life, we are unlikely to find out. At least not until take the advanced trivia class in the Spirit World MTC, or our mortal blood is swapped out for divine light, or until Elijah Abel puts his hands on our heads just after breakfast on the morning of the first resurrection...

We don't know. But we can imagine. And maybe by opening our imaginations, we'll have eyes for deeper truths.


  1. Yes!! I love these discussions that help us explore. I've been surprised at how threatened people are about these discussions. What do we do with Valerie Hudson's statements at FAIR last year about Heavenly Mother and her Veil Theory? The pushback was so off-the-wall to me. It was interesting. It didn't challenge anything a prophet has brought forward. Nobody who had a problem with it could synthesize any kind of cogent argument. And I happen to like it. Until someone tells me differently, say a prophet someone, I let the theory sit on my theory shelf. It's good for us to press the heavens for answers, to seek deeply for knowledge we don't presently have. The tendency to smack down exploration out of a fear of false doctrines arising does little to respect the intelligence of our members. I personally think that if Christ didn't go personally to preach to the spirits in prison, and we are called to minister to one another as a pattern of eternal things, it makes sense that resurrection will be accomplished (heavy silence) by ministering to one another. How beautiful!

  2. I love Bonnie's comment and I love this post. And I completely believe that all the elements of the world DO demand justice! I'm a little careful who I do my speculating with, but I'm very fortunate to have a wide circle of intelligent, searching and faithful LDS friends with whom to explore the "mysteries of the kingdom". Thanks for this lovely post.

  3. "maybe by opening our imaginations, we'll have eyes for deeper truths"

    This is a powerfully true statement. As one ponders the mysteries in engagement with the Holy Ghost, there are lots of truths that can be learned. Most of these are probably incremental truths -- truth A might come first, and will fit my circumstances and season of life for a while; and then truth B will come, and will also fit perfectly for a while; and then truth C, which might last me till I die. Truth A is incomplete, perhaps, and perhaps is only valid from a narrow perspective, but it is still truth. So if in a certain matter, I tend to think towards truth A and you tend to think towards truth C, well, we're both right in the sense that we're where the Holy Ghost has brought us, and we're both wrong if we condemn the other's truth as false.

    Even so, these are personal truths -- truths given to me by the Holy Ghost to help me in particular circumstances and in particular seasons of my life. They aren't truths that I can impose on someone else.

    My public preaching, if you will, is always very basic -- the simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In my own private ponderings, though, are thoughts and truths that I may never share out loud, or never beyond the privacy of my own family.

    Stories are a method where some of these private thoughts can be shared. I would rather see the idea of resurrection as an ordinance in a story rather than as doctrinal speculation (and contention) among saints.

    "maybe by opening our imaginations, we'll have eyes for deeper truths"

    Truth is multi-dimensional. Each of us can see a building from differing perspectives, and we can each faithfully and accurately draw the building from our perspective, but none of our drawings will match. I will only see the truth of the other drawings as I walk all the way around the building. Even then, I will still be missing the perspective from above. And I will need x-ray vision to see the internal structure of the building.

  4. Spencer W. Kimball addressed the issue in a talk:



Related Posts with Thumbnails