Saturday, December 19, 2015

After the test of life

I remember wondering how the Millennium could include all the just of the earth--both those destined for celestial glory and those for terrestrial glory--and everyone wouldn't simply convert to Mormonism? For years I satisfied myself with the answer that the spirit world and the Millennium must look enough like other religions' conceptions of the afterlife that there would still be room for confusion. And maybe lots of people simply won't want to be as good as is required to become celestial beings. They will be happy with stunted potential. But I don't get that anymore. If you could become a God, why would you choose less--especially if eternity is involved? Maybe you aren't in a rush to become a God, but would you honestly refuse the possibility--forever?

So what are the differences among the kingdoms of glory? From a naturalistic perspective that rejects arbitrary or authoritarian definitions of justice or punishment, and also rejects the arbitrary power of God to bring everyone to heaven and celestial glory simply through His grace and love, what distinguishes a God from a servant of God?

Let's get out of the way some ground rules. Three degrees of glory is simply a convenient grouping, not a walled reality. Beings are as diverse as we see on earth--or more. What makes a God is only based on the power to create worlds and new Gods--any other characteristics must be justified. Now I've already shared my reasons for hoping that Gods are compassionate, empathetic, and willing to contribute to a creative and loving society. Now I want to share why I think atonement is so miraculously hard.

As Mormons we have two stories we love to tell. The much more prominent one is that Jesus's suffering in the Garden far surpassed anything he suffered after. That time in the Garden of Gethsemane was when he took on himself all our sins. All the sins of all who lived or would live on this earth. All the sins of all who would live on other earths. We often add that he suffered so we don't have to suffer. I'm not exactly sure I believe that anymore.

The second story we tell less often, but still love. This is the story of God weeping when the great flood killed so many of His children. It's hard for me to imagine this was like my 4 year-old melting down because I accidentally stepped on the bug we had been looking at--"You killed my bug! Now I can't see it!" I'm glad at my 4 year-old's valuing life, even of insects, but that isn't how I picture God's compassion. I see a Father--and a Mother--weeping at the pain, loss, and suffering of their children. Weeping because of what their children were experiencing and losing. I see Them weeping sometimes at the pain of any God or proto-God, and there are a lot of those.

But our Heavenly Parents go on, enduring to the end. But remember, there is no end. They watch children grow and succeed, grow and fail, experience joy, sorrow, love, loss, good, evil, learning, languishing, and the list goes on. And on. In this cosmos it doesn't stop. It doesn't stop for us. It doesn't stop for the Gods. The form changes. I trust that we will one day overcome disease and death. The lamb will one day lie down with the lion. The child will play on the hole of the asp. Not all of eternity will be the hell of mortal life. But when we are free of mortality, we will not be free of suffering for others.

Remember the one, unavoidable job of the Gods. They must make world upon world. They must raise up God after God. If they slow down for any reason, they cease to be Gods. Other beings will surpass them, and after few generations all the new Gods born in the cosmos will be the children of these other Gods. Countless lives brought into being and living under the rules and in the society of these other beings. Whether bad or good, that is a mathematical certainty. So even without killing off ineffective reproducers, evolution can exert pressures to make them inconsequential for most every living being.

What does that mean in the words of Mormon thought? The rest of God is not a freedom from work. It is not even freedom from sorrow or pain, even if we have overcome death, because we cannot overcome emotion. We cannot lose the empathy that would free us from sorrow, because we need that empathy to be reproductively fit. We need it to work as a society. We need it to cease destroying the work of others. We need it to desire children.

But what happens to those who are just, who have empathy, who overcome death and the impulses to harm others, and yet somehow choose not to be Gods? What do they do? Why might they choose irrelevance or servitude over godhood?

I think the answers are likely as simple and complex as several of my friends shared when I asked this question. One more way my Gods are in our image. Why do people choose to not become parents? But remember, the group we are looking at is the just men and women of the earth. It isn't the murderers, thieves, and others who have proven themselves motivated first by selfishness. This life weeded those out and left them to their kingdom of selfishness until they figure out how to be happier. Why would just beings reject parenthood? What are the good reasons?

For one, it will cause pain. There is no path to godhood except through a life like this one. There is no path to godhood without bringing beings into self-awareness and empathy and watching them lose their brothers and sisters. You are inviting the most empathetic and loving to become Gods, and those are the ones who will watch a Lucifer lead away a third of their brothers and sisters. Those are the ones who will watch more suffer through mortal life. Those are the ones who will watch more choose selfishness and give up their chance at godhood. Those are the ones who will watch even more turn away from godhood when it was in their grasp. They will watch some just and loving brothers and sisters choose other paths because they don't want the work and uncertainty of Godhood. Those will choose paths of greater certainty, but less evolutionary fitness. But these loving Gods will watch others walk away, not because they were too evil, or selfish, or averse to uncertainty for godhood. These last will choose other paths because they feel too strongly the pain and suffering of other beings and they are not willing to bring others into a cosmos of sorrow. Because sorrow doesn't go away when you are God. These may even serve the Gods because they want to alleviate sorrow. They may feel both pain and joy more intensely than the Gods--for eternity.

What is the rest of God? It must be a peace in the midst of joy and sorrow. It must be something we can learn. It must be something we can find even as we navigate existence in a society of Gods, where different needs and desires forever conflict, and where we continue to hurt one another, even if it is only through the inevitable unfairness of making conflicting choices.

So what is the miracle of atonement? It is the Gods choosing to be, and act, together despite their different desires. Despite the pain they will cause each other, again and again, throughout eternity. It is the Gods choosing the joys of relationships, and choosing to rejoice in the success of others, even if it is sometimes at their own expense. It is the Gods choosing to lift other beings up to godhood, knowing that those beings--Their children--must suffer through pain, death, separation, and uncertainty. Knowing that even after the pains of mortality suffering will not be all gone, because only those who love can become Gods. It is choosing to continue in the society of Gods knowing that life will be forever uncertain. This, for me, is the miraculous atonement. It is why Jesus had to suffer the pains of all creation, and why we will have to choose the same. It is why we all must partake of the atonement. It is why, if we are not one, we are not God's. It is our joy and our song.