One of the distinct LDS doctrines is that of eternal progression: the idea that we continue to grow and develop as individuals throughout eternity unless through our own choices we stop progressing. But there are two different interpretations of this doctrine that both seem to be supported by authoritative statements. Are both interpretations correct? Or is one correct and the other incorrect?
Eternal Progress. This means that individuals in this life are progressing and growing, learning new things, and becoming more and more like our heavenly parents on our (long) way toward godhood or god-adult-hood. In fact, if we do not continue to learn in this life, we also cease to learn and grow after death, being relegated to one of the “static” kingdoms: telestial or terrestrial. Two alternate twists on this, though, allow for progress after death even if one does not merit exaltation (the Celestial Kingdom):
- Multiple Mortal Probations. In this version, as with reincarnation, someone can return to progress through another mortal life. This theory would also explain how Jesus could be perfect (maybe it wasn’t his first life?).
- Progress between Kingdoms. Although decried as one of the Seven Deadly Heresies by Bruce R. McConkie (who also had some enchanting things to say about evolution), this version allows for individuals who did not merit exaltation to continue to learn and grow throughout eternity, and move between kingdoms as they increase in light and knowledge.
Eternal Increase. An alternate understanding of the doctrine of eternal progression is that it merely refers to a continuation of one’s dynasty through eternity, adding spiritual offspring (increase) to someone who is righteous. This model is likely to be favored by those who are more inclined to view God as static and omniscient rather than also continuing to learn and grow. It also seems to be the version of this doctrine that is more in vogue with the current correlation committee’s emphasis. Because it does not require continuous learning, it can be supported by a strict obedience model (because individual learning and development is a byproduct of trial and error).
Assorted Quotes on this Doctrine:
“We prepare for eternal life by daily learning, improving, and building the kingdom of God.What are we here for? Eternal life is the ability to progress and increase forever. This is the greatest gift that can be conferred on intelligent beings, to live forever and never be destroyed.” Brigham Young
“Satan does not have a body, and his eternal progress has been halted. Just as water flowing in a riverbed is stopped by a dam, so the adversary’s eternal progress is thwarted because he does not have a physical body.” lds.org (from a CES statement)
“We will have the blessing of being sealed in a family forever with the promise of eternal increase.” Henry B. Eyring
“And through Joseph Smith he says: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. This exaltation meant godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase for which they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences.” Spencer W. Kimball
“Developing spirituality is critical to our eternal progress. The fruits of eternal progress are manifest in joy, peace, love, hope, increased confidence in the Lord.” Elaine L. Jack
So what’s your view?
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