Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series about “Not oversimplifying the gospel.” Read the first three articles.
Question: Of the 500 or so Christian denominations, how many have doctrines that contemplate a premortal existence?
This magnificent insight, which helps explain so many things, should be carefully and respectfully taught to our children because knowing of a premortal life gives a perspective that allows us to deal with the seemingly random vicissitudes of life.
Prior to our life here, prior even to the existence of this earth, we lived as spirit sons and daughters of God. We were separate and individual, even as we are now. Our Heavenly Father's goal then, as now, was our progress and happiness. Over the eons of time that we lived with our Father, we learned and grew — progressing not by changing our identities or taking on other life forms, but by moving through different types of challenges, different realms of experience.
There came a time in the course of our "eternal progression" when the element of complete agency and individual choice was prerequisite to further growth. We needed the challenges and tempering of a physical existence in a realm of finite time, and we required the stretching, deepening experience of becoming parents ourselves in order to understand and more closely resemble God, our parent.
For these purposes, God conceived a temporal earth, bounded by time and by a finite span of physical years where we would receive, for the first time in eternity, the power of procreation and the opportunity to operate and to discipline appetite-laden physical bodies of flesh and bone.
Our children can begin to appreciate this doctrine at a very early age. This was illustrated to me (Richard) one Sunday many years ago when our 5-year-old daughter greeted me after Primary with an amazing declaration. “You’re not really my daddy,” she announced. “What do you mean?” I responded. “Well,” she said, “Today I learned that Heavenly Father is our real daddy, and you are just my brother!”
A little later that afternoon, she was still thinking about it. “And Daddy, I think actually that maybe you’re my little brother!” It turned out that her teacher had suggested that perhaps God saved some of his more mature spirits to come to the earth later. She loved the whole concept, and I realized as I listened to her that it was giving her a sense of reality about her Heavenly Father and about her relationship to him.
As they grow up, knowing of these "beginnings" can give our children a perspective and a framework in which to view life's circumstances as well as life's purposes. Knowing where we came from is essential in understanding why we are here. These insights are one of the great gifts of the Restoration.
The Bible makes several references to man's premortal life, including God's statement to Jeremiah that he knew him before he had formed him "in the belly" and "before he came forth out of the womb" (Jeremiah 1:5).
And while no other church teaches it, many individuals believe they lived before birth because of personal experiences of déjà vu, or because of things they seem to know that they don't remember having ever learned, or simply because, in their deeper moments, they feel there is more to them than the sparse accumulation of a few years of earthly experience.
No one has said it better than the remarkable British poet William Wordsworth:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
hath had elsewhere its setting
and cometh from afar
not in complete forgetfulness
and not in entire nakedness
but trailing clouds of glory do we come
from God who is our home.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."