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by Steven C. Walker
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views all descendants of Adam and Eve as the children of Godnot in an abstract or metaphorical sense, but as actual spirit offspring of God the Father and a Mother in Heaven. This basic premise has profound implications for the LDS understanding of what human beings are, why they are here on earth, and what they can become.
As children of God, men and women have infinite potential (see 2 Ne. 2:20; Heb. 12:9). As a result of their divine heritage, all people carry the inherent capacity and the predisposition to become as their heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints seek to follow the injunction of Christ to be "perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Their view of each person's relationship with God stresses that life is as a maturing process, a working toward becoming like God, of becoming worthy to be with God (see Deification; Exaltation; Godhood). Mortal life may be only a beginning, but the potential is there.
This view of mankind emphasizes the family. Marriage is central to the LDS spiritual experience: "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:11). Marriage is not intended to last for this life only, but for eternity; therefore, Latter-day Saints marry in the temple for time and eternity. As members of the family of God, Latter-day Saints see the family as the most important arena of life. "No other success," President David O. McKay frequently declared, "can compensate for failure in the home" (Family Home Evening Manual, "Preface," Salt Lake City, 1966). (See Eternal Marriage)
The LDS ideal also reaches out toward the universal family of humanity. People with infinite potential have infinite value; all people matter because they are brothers and sisters in the family of God. The LDS perspective affirms the infinite love of God for all mankind, and the essential goodness of human beings and their capacity to improve the world. The conviction that people are responsible for their moral behavior, "agents unto themselves" (D&C 58:28), tends to make Latter-day Saints supporters of political systems that maximize free choices (see Agency; Politics). The intelligence, or inner core of the soul, is seen in LDS theology as self-existent, not created ex nihilo, but having existed always, and thus ultimately responsible for its own decisions and its own destiny as well (see Intelligences).
The vast potential of human beings, as literal spirit children of God, brings to the LDS view of mankind a purposeful and weighty sense of responsibility. Sons and daughters of God have an obligation to develop their divinely given talents, to magnify what God has given them. Latter-day Saints privately, and through the Church, labor to make the most of individuals. They believe that through the ages people are accountable for their responses to God, which determine what they now are and what they will be, and that it is God's work and glory to bring about the exaltation of mankind.
Each human intelligence is born of God as a spirit child, and that spirit child is later born into mortality in a physical body. Spirit is unusually real to the Latter-day Saints, for whom everything that exists has spiritual essence: "All things are spiritual" (D&C 29:34; Moses 3:5). Mortal life thus becomes for Latter-day Saints not only a difficult and risky time, but also a time of infinite opportunities and possibilities, a pivotal step in the eternal process of becoming as wise and good as the heavenly parents.
This sense of possibility and of responsibility tends to make Latter-day Saints strong proponents of all forms of ennobling education: "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36). In a world fraught with risk and temptation on the one hand and the possibility of godliness on the other, the wise Latter-day Saint will "seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118).
Thus, the purpose of earth life is to prepare for eternity through learning and experience. In mortal life Latter-day Saints expect trials, challenges, and tests. But the expectation of difficulty in life holds within it the promise of real happiness, of having life "more abundantly" (John 10:10). The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi summarizes the LDS sense of the challenge and reward of this mortal experience made possible by the fortunate Fall of Adam: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25).
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; The Creation home page)
Madsen, Truman G. Eternal Man. Salt Lake City, 1966.
Talmage, James E. The Vitality of Mormonism. Boston, 1919.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Mankind
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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