Life and Death

I want to expand on some of the ideas covered in Seeking the Order of Heaven. This post will make more sense if you’ve read that one first.

Because all of creation is governed by the same law, all of creation follows the same pattern. This is why Alma noted that “all things denote there is a God… the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it… its motion… and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44; emphasis added). The fact that all creation follows a pattern means it follows a law, which law is given by God.

There is an eternal pattern in all things (D&C 52:14). Nothing in the eternities is without its earthly precedent or type. Just as creation here is never ex nihilo (out of nothing), neither is it there. Creation is always the process of taking raw materials and fashioning them after a certain pattern. Whether you’re building a machine, a house, or a business, it is the same: you gather the available resources and organize them to work together. When something is created, it’s organized; when it dies, it’s disorganized back into chaos.

Without getting into more detail than is necessary, God did the same when He created the earth and all things in it. Consequently, Adam and Eve were ordered after a certain pattern, and would have eternally remained so had they not rebelled. As they were created by law, so would they have remained by law. The scriptures describe this concept using the imagery of a tree. While a branch is attached to a living tree, it lives, grows, and brings forth fruit. If the branch is cut off, it immediately begins to decay and will eventually turn to dust.

When Adam and Eve deviated from God, they effectively “cut themselves off” from the tree of life. God informed Adam that he would decay as a result, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Raw material is organized by its obedience to God, and disordered by its disobedience.

Because of the fall, this world is a world of death. Everything ultimately dies: People, marriages, organizations, civilizations, nations, etc. As a matter of fact, were it not for God’s direct intervention, the whole earth would ultimately be wasted (D&C 2:3; cf. Malachi 4:5-6). Everything would end in a downward spiral until it had been reduced to its most basic element. Everything.

There are lesser (telestial) orders of creation that we participate in to stay alive. We eat, we take care of our bodies, etc. If we didn’t do these things, we’d atrophy at a faster rate. We’d start losing weight, strength, and basic bodily functions until our bodies were not sufficiently organized to hold our spirits. When we do things like eat, we prevent death for a longer time, though these things are always temporary.

While we’re alive, we also create our “worlds” as we build family, home, work, etc. Just like us, everything we create is subject to atrophy. Just as people can create many things before they die, so can organizations, and civilizations. This is the principle of “they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire” (3 Nephi 27:11). As mentioned earlier, eventually all civilizations and the world itself would expire. Once Adam fell, all creation was cut off from the tree of life, and would continue to fall forever.

As Alma taught his son, “But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man. And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” (Alma 42:6-7)

Cut Off

The imagery of a branch being cut from its mother tree is employed all throughout holy writ. As Lehi taught, “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Nephi 2:5-6).

As discussed last time, Christ’s is the only name (manner) given whereby we can be reconciled to God and life (John 14:6, 15:5). 2 Nephi 9 is a beautiful chapter about Christ rescuing us a from an endless state of death, and how vital keeping the commandments is to retain life. Jacob is very clear: the wages of sin are death: “Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal” (2 Nephi 9:16, 27-39; cf. Romans 6:23).

Because we have been cut off from the tree of life, we would be endlessly lost were it not for Christ’s redemption (Mosiah 16:4). Fortunately, we have not been left to decay forever, both body and spirit. Through the Word of God, both by revelation and embodiment (John 1:14), we can be reclaimed from death. Hence, Alma said “God did call on men, in the name of his Son” (Alma 12:33).

The covenant God extends through His Word is a lifeline whereby we can be reconciled to Him. However, if those with whom He covenants don’t obey, they are similarly “cut off.”

As the Lord told Nephi, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 4:4). The Lamanites were initially cut off from the Lord’s presence because they removed themselves from His law, covenant, and people. They did not prosper, their lives were not full. In the end, the Nephites were cut off from the same covenant, which resulted in their being permanently cut off from the earth.

Many ancient prophets taught that if the people rejected the name of Christ, they would be cut off before His second coming – both spiritually from His covenant/people, and physically from the earth (1 Nephi 22:19-20). When the Savior appeared to the Nephites following His resurrection, He melded several prophecies together to depict an endtime servant declaring the words (name/way/order) of Christ to the Gentiles, and all disbelievers being cut off:

“For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them. But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them, yet I will heal him. For I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.

“Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.

“And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.

“Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father,
that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee,
and I will destroy thy chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of thy land,
and throw down all thy strongholds;
and I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land,
and thou shalt have no more soothsayers;
thy graven images I will also cut off,
and thy standing images out of the midst of thee,
and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands;
and I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee;
so will I destroy thy cities.

“And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away. For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel; and I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard” (3 Nephi 21:9-21).

In any age when God seeks to establish and build a people, He does so by a covenant and law. When the people turn away from the law, they begin to atrophy back into chaos. This happens on an individual level as people begin to lose light, as well collectively when they apostatize and are eventually scattered. It was upon this principle that Israel was broken up and scattered. This is also why Joseph Smith said in his day, “my only trouble at the present time is concerning ourselves, that the Saints will be divided, broken up, and scattered, before we get our salvation secure; for there are so many fools in the world for the devil to operate upon, it gives him the advantage oftentimes” (TPJS p. 331).

It follows the same pattern: creation is to order, death is to disorder.

John the Beloved calls the fate of those who continue to cut themselves off from God “the bottomless pit,” due to the never ending de-creation of its subjects. Isaiah similarly calls it the “pit of dissolution,” and Joseph Smith frequently referred to it as “outer darkness.” Everything outside of the the light and love of God will continue to be disordered and broken down until it’s reached its most primordial state.

Eternal Lives

In contrast to death, decay, and atrophy, salvation through the name of Christ offers eternal life, progression, and increase. Life necessarily implies growth. This means not only are we immune to entropy, but we also continue to grow, learn, and progress beyond what we currently know here.

Furthermore, we increase through an endless posterity. Life begets life. Just as a branch will have smaller branches shoot off of it, and will bear fruit/seed to begin another tree, so will those reconciled to God and life. In this sense, the tree of life is also a family tree wherein light is passed down from father to son generation after generation forever.

Joseph Smith's Kingdom of God: The Council of Fifty and the Mormon  Challenge to American Democratic Politics | Church History | Cambridge Core
Orson Pratt described the Kingdom of God using this diagram

It’s humorous to me that multi-level marketing models and pyramid schemes follow this pattern. It’s actually just a false priesthood. The true order is an eternal family, generation after generation in which you have vested interest.

This is why Abraham introduces himself as “having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (Abraham 1:2). It’s why God’s promises to him included an endless posterity (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:5; 22:17).

Isaiah prophesied Immanuel would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, One Mighty in Valor, a father forever, a Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). You may note the similarities to Abraham; these are the attributes and patterns of a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek/the Son of God/heaven and life itself. This is the pattern of being plugged into the tree of life and bringing forth fruit/life.

The blessing of eternal posterity stands in direct contrast with those who are cut off from the tree of life. As the Lord said to Malachi, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). Those cut off from the tree are left with neither root (a claim to ancestry) nor branch (posterity). Like a branch loosed from the tree, all they can do is decay into dust.

The order of heaven (or life), always intended for eternal increase. That’s what life does. Hence, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, male and female. Not only does this teach us something about the image of God (that it is comprised of both male and female), but the eternal nature of mankind.

The scriptures teach that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In contrast to the prior days of creation which ended in God’s calling them “good,” the man without the woman was something He deemed “not good.” It was not until He created a female companion for the man that He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31 [26-31]). Thus we read from Paul, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). The image of God – as well as life and creation – is incomplete in a single, separate state.

Adam and Eve were created according to the order of life, and were thus intended to live forever in their union as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God called His creation this day “very good.” This union would have continued on forever (according to the order of creation) had it not been interrupted by the fall and death.

If you’re going to become “a father (or mother) forever” with numberless posterity, you will only do so in the context of marriage. There is no “exaltation” without posterity, and there is no posterity without marriage. Hence the prophet Joseph Smith taught, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131:1-4).

This order of the priesthood is also called the “gospel of Abraham,” whereby we ourselves can obtain the promise that “in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:12; cf. D&C 124:58). As the Lord declared through Isaiah, “And as the new heavens and the new earth which I make shall endure before me, says Jehovah, so shall your offspring and name endure” (Isaiah 66:22; cf. Isaiah 44:3; 54:13-14; 56:3-5; 61:9; Ezekiel 37:25-27).

This doctrine is most explicitly and plainly revealed in D&C 132. Those married and living according to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage become ordered after the image of God; they receive the promise of an endless posterity, and become parents forever. As such an innumerable posterity resembles God’s own, moreover, it constitutes a promise of godhood. As the Lord declared

“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise… [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. …

“Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne. Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.

“This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself. Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved. But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham” (D&C 132:19-21, 29-33).

Life continues eternally; as it was before, so shall it be forever. Can anything be plainer than this? Does anything in nature testify to the contrary? Though the wicked will be cut off both root and branch, yet the righteous will continue forever – both root and branch. On what other principle does life operate? There is none.

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