Dear 100 Hour Board writers,
Do you think you (will) want to go to the Celestial Kingdom? Why or why not? Or perhaps it's more of a spectrum, in which case, where do you fall?
Ever since learning the Plan of Salvation, I've always assumed the top is the best and where I want to go, because it's the best right? When I'm in school I'm trying to get As, when I'm in a race I try to get first (well, I push myself anyways). As a culture we put a lot of emphasis on "climbing the ladder," and it never even crossed my mind all these years that maybe I wouldn't be happiest in the Celestial Kingdom, in spite of being a covenant keeping latter day saint. When I think honestly about myself and my life choices and preferences, I know I do not relish significant responsibility, and much prefer to go have fun outside; I imagine there's a lot of responsibility and work that goes with eternal progression, and not a lot of days off exploring canyons or taking naps.
As Anathema so nicely graphed it, we cannot even comprehend what eternal joy looks like. I do willingly take on responsibility when I see value in it, for myself or for others--perhaps on the other side of the veil when we have a greater understanding of Christ's sacrifice and what it was for, we will not only see the glory of the Celestial, but we will desire it. I've heard said no one goes inactive in the spirit world, and maybe no one chooses a kingdom below their privilege, but I do wonder. I still believe in being the best person a person can be, and if that leads us up a tree, there we will be.
The short answer is that I think I would like to go to the Celestial Kingdom, but if I end up in another kingdom it will be where I'm happiest. It's really hard to judge however because there's so little we know about the afterlife. I believe that God will do all he can to maximize his children's happiness. We should obviously try our best to repent and come unto Christ, but in the end I feel like God will know exactly where to put us so we shouldn't worry too much about where we end up because it will be exactly what would make us happiest.
There's so little we know about the afterlife. There aren't very many details. I searched through the topics "Celestial Kingdom" and "Kingdoms of Glory" on lds.org and after reading through the scriptures listed I still didn't know much. The scriptures talk a lot about what we need to do to be worthy to enter the Celestial Kingdom, and what we need to be exhalted (two different things mind you). The scriptures however don't say much about what either experience will actually be like. The best explanation I could find on the site was given in the gospel topic essay on becoming like God:
"Since human conceptions of reality are necessarily limited in mortality, religions struggle to adequately articulate their visions of eternal glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.'50 These limitations make it easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture. For example, scriptural expressions of the deep peace and overwhelming joy of salvation are often reproduced in the well-known image of humans sitting on their own clouds and playing harps after death. Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.
A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, although most Christians would agree that inspired music can be a tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.
Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. They see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children, in the impulse to reach out in compassionate service to others, in the moments they are caught off guard by the beauty and order of the universe, in the grounding feeling of making and keeping divine covenants. Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated. As the scriptures teach, 'That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.'"
While I don't know much about the afterlife, I do believe in a loving Heavenly Father. I personally believe that He will be much more merciful than we could dream of, and that what He has prepared for us all will be better than what we can imagine. I'm really glad that God is the one making the calls. It's hard to imagine an afterlife that is fair and enjoyable for all, so I'm glad that God is the one who is crafting it especially for us.
I definitely agree with you that not everyone will want to end up in the Celestial kingdom. The impression I've always gotten as I've read the scriptures and the Church's material on the Plan of Salvation is that everyone will end up where they fit best/are genuinely happiest. I think we often confuse Plan of Happiness to mean Plan of Only The Celestial Kingdom Brings Happiness.
Overall, I think everyone will be surprised in the best way possible with the after life.
Based on my current feelings and circumstances, not really. I am at a place of struggle with my faith, and therefore I cannot say I feel qualified. I have a lot of issues with current teachings about the afterlife, but I also acknowledge that we don't actually know pretty much anything about how it works out there. In the end, God is the only one who knows everything. He understands who we are, how we feel, what we think... and I think there's more to it than what we claim to know. I'm not totally sure what I believe about the afterlife, but I do believe in one... and I believe it will be much different than we anticipate. I believe I will be happy, regardless of how things work out.
- A Writer
My thoughts on the Celestial Kingdom have changed a bit since talking to El-ahrairah about his thoughts over the past few years. I've fretted a lot, especially in my teenage years, about whether I was going to "make it" to the Celestial Kingdom, and sometimes about whether I really wanted to, especially because I wasn't sure I even wanted to be with my own family for an incomprehensible amount of time. But El's perspective was so different and refreshing. I'm probably oversimplifying, but to me it comes across as "Of course we'll make it. And it's going to be awesome." He's very good at staying in the moment and seeing what he can do to help people, now, and not dwell on where he'll be, forever. That's just something I've come to admire about him and have learned a lot from. I've thrown out a lot of what we think we know about the Celestial Kingdom and keep the things that bring me peace. Over the past couple of years (probably longer) I've been shaping and re-shaping my image of God and heaven and everything to be who and what is worthy of worship to me (I think I first came across that idea from The God Who Weeps) and I'm liking where it's taking me. I think I'll like where it leads me in the eternities, too.
Short answer, no.
Long answer, I have very complicated feelings about the Plan of Salvation and Celestial Kingdom (among other things). Full disclosure: I'm no longer a member of the Church. That being said I have had most of these complicated thoughts for a long, long time. Well before I left the Church.
This mostly comes back to one specific issue I had growing up. Many of extended family members that I was close to growing up were not active or members in good standing. Having lost some of them over the years, it was challenging for me to believe in and accept that I might not get to be with them in the afterlife. This lead me to a belief in a choice regarding the afterlife. I think that even had I "earned" a spot in the Celestial Kingdom in the years I was a member of the Church that I would have opted to spend my time with my family. That was what always felt right to me. It's what still feels right to me - despite my beliefs changing over the years. To me, the afterlife and eternity are meaningless if I cannot spend it with the people that I love and want to be with.
All of that said, if I am wrong (and I could be) then where we end up is where we will be happiest. I do still believe that.
So in Terry Pratchett books the afterlife people get is just the afterlife they always imagined they were going to get. If you were always a terrible person, but firmly believed you were going to heaven, you go to heaven. If you believed in nothingness after death, you experience nothingness after death. If you believed in reincarnation, you're reincarnated. And while I don't believe Terry Pratchett somehow stumbled upon the exact way the afterlife works, I do think we'll get to shape our own experience in the afterlife. So to some extent, heaven will be what we believe it to be, because we'll get to make it so. If your idea of heaven is sitting on a cloud and plucking a harp, you'll probably get to do that in the Celestial Kingdom, at least to some extent. On the other hand, if you hate the idea of playing stringed instruments and singing in a choir, I doubt you'll be coerced into it in the Celestial Kingdom. We all have agency with what we do and how we spend our time, and that's not going to suddenly disappear in the Celestial Kingdom.
Sometimes when I think about eternity it freaks me out, because the concept of existing forever is terrifying and mind-boggling, but hey, at least it means you'll have time to do a lot of stuff! I don't think anyone will be confined to just one box in the eternities, because there's just too much time to only do one thing. So maybe you'll have significant leadership responsibilities in regards to some things that are suited to you, but you'd take on a more passive role in other things. After all, taking on responsibility and leadership can definitely help people progress, but so does learning how to be a gracious follower/supporter/behind-the-scenes person. You don't have to always be the leader/person with the most responsibility in a situation to learn from it. Plus, like you said, people in the Celestial Kingdom are trying to progress, and progression involves so many things! Including canyoneering, probably. D&C 88:78-79 talks about the importance of learning about doctrine, but also about things "in the earth," and what better way of learning about the earth than by exploring it? I know this paragraph is a little jumbled, but basically I don't think that progression in the Celestial Kingdom has to be at odds with doing things that we enjoy. Eternity is a long time; I think we'll be able to fit our worthwhile hobbies in alongside our heavenly responsibilities.
The God I believe in isn't going to pull some "gotcha!" moment on us by tricking us into going to the Celestial Kingdom and then forcing us to work for the rest of eternity at things we don't care about. This isn't some celestial corporate scheme where we're "promoted" to do mind-numbing work that we have to pretend to be excited about because at least it's in the Celestial Kingdom. And maybe some would say that if we think what we're doing in the Celestial Kingdom is less than satisfactory it's because we don't belong there, but I don't totally buy into that. Yes, we'll have opportunities to expand our horizons and do things that might seem daunting to us right now, but I don't believe that will come at the cost of giving up everything we currently enjoy. After all, we "are that we might have joy," right?
Before reading your question I had never really thought about whether or not I would want to go to the Celestial Kingdom beyond just, "Well of course I would, it's the best, right?" Now that I've thought about it some more, I still think I would like to go there because I genuinely think it will be great and we'll be able to do all sorts of things that bring us happiness (some of them familiar to us, some of them probably completely new). Then again, the other degrees of glory are also going to be great and we would be able to do all sorts of things that bring us happiness, so who knows? (Sidenote: I think heaven will be less like a pyramid, with the select few at the top in the Celestial Kingdom, and the masses in the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms below it, and more like some sort of big happy neighborhood where we all have different responsibilities.) Suffice it to say, I think the Celestial Kingdom will be better than we're able to imagine. And my imagination has come up with some pretty high expectations, but I'm sure those will still be surpassed as all of our questions (what about friends and family who aren't in the Celestial Kingdom? What if I don't want to administer my own planet forever? What if being a heavenly mother for the rest of eternity doesn't sound all that heavenly if that's the only thing I ever do again?) are resolved. I don't know how they'll be resolved, but I'm sure they will be.
Thanks for helping me think more deeply about this in a way I hadn't before.
We see through a glass, darkly. I do believe that Joseph Smith and other prophets have been given glimpses of heaven, but I think these were just peeks at an existence we can barely comprehend. That world offers incomparable joy, and it makes sense to me that it would include more of what gives me joy now—enjoying meaningful relationships, helping others, learning, and much more. But what we know about the afterlife is very limited. For example, I'd always heard that the glory we received at the final judgement was final. But in the history of the Church, this has not been a universally-held view. Joseph L Anderson, Secretary of the First Presidency in the 1950s, said:
"The brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the brethren have taken the opposite view. But as stated, the Church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point." (You can see this and other quotes on the subject here).
It also makes sense to me that heaven, like life, is consequential rather than transactional. That is, God's not going to say, "You did X and Y and Z—looks like you qualify for our Salvation Deluxe model!" Instead, we'll be asking God, "I'm pretty good at X, and that makes me happier. But I struggle at Y, and that results in some anxiety and pain. Could you help me with Y?" This is an ongoing process, in heaven as on earth, and I don't think strictly delineating the afterlife into 3 (or 5?) grades by our pre-Judgement accomplishments is a very helpful paradigm. But I don't think this was the point of the revelation on the degrees of glory at all. I think the purpose of Joseph Smith's revelation was that there isn't just one heaven for the "righteous" and hell for the rest—God loves all of us, and will give each of us all the resources we need to do what we really want. Our Parents have prepared many rooms for us in their house above.
Well, my wife is going to be there for sure and I love her a lot. So that would be reason enough for me, but I would say yes for other reasons as well. I think I want to live like God does. I don't necessarily know what that means, but it intrigues me. If God makes it sound like such a good place, then I'll trust Him.
-Sunday Night Banter
I have trouble wrapping my head around this one a little. Let me 'splain.
When I hear "Celestial Kingdom denizens," I think of the most self-righteous, cookie-cutter, all-the-rules-and-little-of-the-nuance people possible, and that doesn't sound like good times to me. I'd fit in better with the well-intentioned who fail to quite live up to those intentions, and those who prioritize loving and supporting others in what feels most true and holy to them (assuming they're not serial murderers who experience no guilt, etc) over exact wordings and unexamined traditional practices. To quote the title of one of the too-many music videos I put in another answer, "in hell I'll be in good company." And while I don't really think most LDS folk would think I'm bound for Outer Darkness-style hell, I'd guess they'd place me in one of the lesser heavens--probably the Terrestrial. According to my understanding of the categories, I think that's probably where I'd fit best, too--with the people who weren't sold on Mormon doctrine or couldn't live up to their guidelines, but are basically good people in their own ways. And if the folk-wisdom of you ending up wherever you'd actually be happiest is true, then hooray! That sounds great! Though no romantic relationships ever seems kinda harsh, teebeehaitch.
But if my somehow, my personal view of morality is actually right, and so is the LDS categorization of the afterlife destinations (the combo seems unlikely, but we'll go for it anyway for this hypothetical), then maybe the Celestial Kingdom is full of people whose company I would enjoy, and who would enjoy mine back. If that's the case then sure, I'd like to end up there, but in that case, I'll be there with the queer folks (in their queer relationships), and the coffee-and-alcohol drinkers, and the swearers, and the R-rated movie watchers (and X-rated too!), and the consensual uplifting healthy sex (even outside of marriage) friends, and the LDS folks whose were Christlike in the loving rather than the critical sense, so traditional LDS doctrine wouldn't really be the best guidebook to get me there, anyway.
It's hard for me to think about what comes after death through anything other than the LDS filter or total oblivion, though, so the truest answer for me is just "I have no idea, but I hope I like whatever comes next, or if there's nothing, I hope my life is a net positive to the world."