September 17, 2007

The Increased Powers and Faculties of the Mind In a Future State

Orson Pratt October 15, 1854 Who, other than Orson Pratt, would have a discourse of this title? About ten paragraphs into his remarks, Elder Pratt gave a slight disclaimer[1] of his views which I offer at the beginning:

There are many things connected with the spirit of man, in the intermediate state, that we do not know anything about; and then there are other things that we do know, so far as they are revealed, and no further; and then there are other things connected with the spirit of man between death and the resurrection that we may believe, but not have a certain knowledge of, but believe that 'such and such' will be the case from analogy, from reason, from the nature of things. There has been but a little revealed to man on the subject of the intermediate state of the spirit, after it leaves this mortal tabernacle.
With that disclaimer out of the way, put on your goggles. Elder Pratt dug right in to the topic, mining some semi-deep (or perhaps less-discussed) theories of theology. This is, perhaps, one of the discourses which gives the Journal of Discourses a reputation for being a little "far out." To be fair, sermons like this are few and far between so far. Elder Pratt begins by expressing his belief that our actual spirit can feel pain:
If the spirit while in the body is capable of suffering, of being acted upon from without the body, and of experiencing diverse sensation, if it is capable of intense joy, or intense grief, may we not suppose that when it is freed from the body, when the animal tabernacle is fallen into the dust, and returns to its former earth, the same spirit, unclothed and unshielded, standing naked, as it were, before God, and before the elements that he has made, will be acted upon then, more or less, by these same elements; and that the same spirit that is capable of suffering here, will be capable of far more intense suffering hereafter; the same spirit that is capable of great joy here, will be capable of far more intense joy and pleasure hereafter; and the same things of an eternal nature that are capable of producing intense pain here, are, under certain circumstances, capable of producing a hundred fold more pain hereafter? If this be the case, how important it is that we should take that course that the spirit may, in its future state of existence, be placed under circumstances where we can obtain the pleasure, joy, and happiness, and escape the pains, evils, and bitterness of misery, to which some spirits will be exposed.
Alma the younger, who spent some years fighting God, was rebuked by an angel. He described his feelings, and perhaps this is where Elder Pratt began his hypothesis:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins... Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror... And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul (Alma 36:12,14,16).
Elder Pratt continues by referring to the Book of Mormon:
We might now inquire, what is the cause of this intense suffering and misery? Is it the action of the elements upon the spirit? Is it the materials of nature, operating from without upon it, that causes this distress, this weeping, wailing, mourning, and lamentation? It may be in some measure; it may help to produce the misery and the wretchedness; but there is something connected with the spirit itself that no doubt produces this weeping, wailing, and mourning. What is this something? It is memory, and remorse of conscience; a memory of what they have once done, a memory of their disobedience. Do you not suppose the spirits can have power to remember in that world as well as in this? Yes, they certainly can. Have you never read in the Book of Mormon, where it informs us, that every act of our lives will be fresh upon the memory, and we shall have a clear consciousness of all our doings in this life? Yes; we have read that in the Book of Mormon-'a clear consciousness.'
The Book of Mormon mentions this "clear consciousness" specifically about three times. Twice when dealing with Zeezrom, whose "soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell," (Alma 14:6, see also Alma 12:1), and once when Mormon asks if we'd be happy dwelling with a holy being with a consciousness of all our guilt (see Mormon 9:3-4). Next, the subject of memory is discussed. The Book of Mormon says at the day of judgement we shall have a "bright recollection of all our guilt" (Alma 11:43). Elder Pratt suggested the reason we cannot currently have such a recollection is because our physical body acts as a veil: is not the want of capacity in the spirit of man that causes him to forget the knowledge he may have learned yesterday; but it is because of the imperfection of the tabernacle in which the spirit dwells; because there is imperfection in the organization of the flesh and bones, and in things pertaining to the tabernacle; it is this that erases from our memory many things that would be useful; we cannot retain them in our minds, they are gone into oblivion. It is not so with the spirit when it is released from this tabernacle... my estimation not a single thought of the heart, that has ever passed through the mind, not a single act of an individual, from the earliest period of its memory till the time it comes into the presence of God, will escape the notice of the memory when it appears there, unclogged from this tabernacle.
A bright recollection, then, of not only our guilt, but our joy, I imagine. For now, the veil prevents us from sustaining such a powerful memory- we are limited. Of this limitation Elder Pratt said it was necessary for our proper development in mortality. It is a way for us to descend before we ascend:
Why is it that our knowledge is so limited? I say limited, compared with that which is to be known, and which will be known. The reason is, God has seen proper in his infinite wisdom to place us in circumstances where we can learn the very first elements of knowledge, and act upon them in the first place. Instead of having the whole of the rich treasures of knowledge and wisdom unfolded to us at once, He begins to feed us little by little, the same as you would feed a weakly, sickly infant with food prepared and adapted to its taste, and to the weakness of its system. The Lord brings us in this state under similar circumstances, endowed with certain senses by which we can gain, by little and little, knowledge and information; but it takes a long time to get a little into our minds. It seems that our spirits, that once stood in the presence of God, clothed with power, capacities, wisdom, and knowledge, forget what they once knew-forget that which was once fresh in their minds.
In our mortal state, then, it is difficult to understand the things of God, as He told Isaiah:
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
As was discussed by Brigham Young in a former post, God condescends to the level of the individual, as the prophet Joseph taught:
We may come to Jesus and ask Him; He will know all about it; if He comes to a little child, he will adapt himself to the language and capacity of a little child (TPJS, 162).
God has that ability, but still adapts that revelation to our current capacity:
A blind man knows nothing about light, as we were told here the other day by our President [Young], the blind man knows nothing about light if he were born blind. You cannot, by talking with him for a thousand years, instill into his mind an idea what red, yellow, white, black, green, blue are like; they are ideas that have never entered into his mind. Why? Because the little inlet to this kind of knowledge is closed up, and there is no other part of the spirit exposed to the light. It is only a small place by which the spirit can converse with light and its colors. Just so in regard to many other ideas.
Elder Pratt continues, talking about the perception capacities of the spirit as compared to the body:
If we, by looking through these little eyes of ours, can see objects some thousands of millions of miles distant; if we can see objects that are existing at that immense distance through the medium of these little inlets; suppose that the whole spirit were uncovered and exposed to all the rays of light, can it be supposed that light would not affect the spirit if it were thus unshielded, uncovered, and unclothed? Do you suppose that it would not be susceptible of any impressions made by the elements of light? The spirit is inherently capable of experiencing the sensations of light; if it were not so, we could not see. You might form as fine an eye as ever was made, but if the spirit, in and of itself, were not capable of being acted upon by the rays of light, an eye would be of no benefit. Then unclothe the spirit, and instead of exposing a small portion of it about the size of a pea to the action of the rays of light, the whole of it would be exposed. I think we could then see in different directions at once, instead of looking in one particular direction; we could then look all around us at the same instant.[2]
This called to mind Joseph Smith's explanation of how one receives revelation; directly to our spirit:
All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies (TPJS, 355).
According to Pratt, not all knowledge will be gained by direct study, and there is something more than the five senses involved in our learning; knowledge can be endowed:
In relation to this matter, touching the extension of our knowledge year after year, some people have thought that we should have to learn everything by study. I do not believe it; there are a great many ways of learning things without reasoning or studying them out; without obtaining them through the medium of the five senses. Man will be endowed, after he leaves this tabernacle, with powers and faculties which he, now, has no knowledge of, by which he may learn what is round about him.
Our finite minds will expand to their full capacity, giving us the ability to learn with greater rapidity (How Maxwellian!):
There is a faculty mentioned in the word of God, which we are not in possession of here, but we shall possess it hereafter; that is not only to see a vast number of things in the same moment, looking in all directions by the aid of the Spirit, but also to obtain a vast number of ideas at the same instant. Here, we have to confine ourselves in a little, narrow, contracted space, and we can hardly think of two things at a time; if we do, our minds are distracted, and we cannot think distinctly. Some, by habit, it is true, are able to think of two or three little things at once, or at least the interval between the successive thoughts is so small as to be inappreciable. Some people play on an instrument of music, and may go through a very difficult performance, while their minds are thinking of something else; and by habit, they hardly perceive the working of the musical instrument. I believe we shall be freed, in the next world, in a great measure, from these narrow, contracted methods of thinking. Instead of thinking in one channel, and following up one certain course of reasoning to find a certain truth, knowledge will rush in from all quarters; it will come in like the light which flows from the sun, penetrating every part, informing the spirit, and giving understanding concerning ten thousand things at the same time; and the mind will be capable of receiving and retaining all.
Orson Pratt ends with his belief that there are many more senses than the 5 to which we commonly refer, and in the next life, these senses will be restored and increased:
When I speak of the future state of man, and the situation of our spirits between death and the resurrection, I long for the experience and knowledge to be gained in that state, as well as this. We shall learn many more things there; we need not suppose our five senses connect us with all the things of heaven, and earth, and eternity, and space; we need not think that we are conversant with all the elements of nature, through the medium of the senses God has given us here. Suppose He should give us a sixth sense, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth, or a fiftieth. All these different senses would convey to us new ideas, as much so as the senses of tasting, smelling, or seeing communicate different ideas from that of hearing (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourse 2:235-248).
Footnotes: [1] Orson Pratt's disclaimer was still more extensive, the rest of it quoted below. It dealt with whether or not we should have all knowledge, and Pratt said he was determined to defer to the opinion of the current prophet of the Church for official statements on doctrine. This disclaimer is important in light of many statements made by early Church leaders, especially in light of some disagreements Pratt later had with Brigham on doctrinal issues. While on a mission in Washington D.C. Pratt published "The Seer," a work often quoted by anti-Mormons. Of this work, the First Presidency released an official statement, as explained by B.H. Roberts in Defense of the Saints, vol. 2, pg. 294:
The Seer, by formal action of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles of the Church was repudiated, and Elder Orson Pratt himself sanctioned the repudiation. There was a long article published in the Deseret News on the 23rd of August, 1865, over the signatures of the First Presidency and Twelve setting forth that this work--the Seer--together with some other writings of Elder Pratt, were inaccurate. In the course of that document, after praising, as well they might, the great bulk of the work of this noted apostle, they say: "But the Seer, the Great First Cause, the article in the Millennial Star, of Oct. 15, and Nov. 1, 1850 contains doctrine which we cannot sanction and which we have felt to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works or harts of works are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed."
Pratt's disclaimer in this discourse, which is critical to understand before reading the Journal of Discourses and other early writings, continued as follows:

"Says one, 'Shall we have all knowledge?' I have nothing to say about that; that is a matter that you must look to our President for information upon; he is the one to hear upon that subject; and we should not teach anything, when we once ascertain his real mind, that will come in contact with his teachings. I do not know that I have this day presented any views that are different from his: if I have, when he corrects me, I will remain silent upon the subject, if I do not understand it as he does. So with regard to any other principle whatever which I may teach. God has placed him as the President of this Church, as our leader, guide, and teacher, and we are bound not to come in contact with him-not to teach differently to what he does; that is, when we once ascertain fully his mind and views. But, very frequently, mankind are so imperfect, and their minds so contracted, and their knowledge so little, comparatively speaking, that they may throw out many ideas that may not be true, that are incorrect: but the Lord has appointed these that hold the keys, to correct and give us instructions on all principles of doctrine; and as often as they see proper to turn the keys and unlock to their own minds these principles, they can do so.

It is not always wisdom to use the keys of knowledge and revelation upon trifling subjects. There may also be many subjects that it is not wisdom for us to understand and receive at present. There may be many items of knowledge in the bosom of God, in the eternal worlds, that he does not see proper to reveal to us, while in our mortal state; consequently, people may differ with regard to their views of those things not revealed, and which they do not understand.

In many of my remarks and teachings, I may have laid before you ideas, which, when you come to learn the President's mind upon them, may be declared erroneous and not sound doctrine. I may have done the same things in many of my writings; but in all points of doctrine, relating to the plan of salvation, and the redemption of man, so far as I understood it, I have endeavored to write that which I, at the time, verily believed to be true. Some of those things may be wrong; I do not say that I am capable, without direct revelation, of writing upon many intricate points, with the same degree of perfection and precision as one who writes only as he is inspired.

But I do feel thankful to that God who has placed us in these Valleys of the Mountains, that He has ordained keys by which knowledge and information may be poured down from the great fountain, until we gain all that is necessary for us to know in this state: and I do look forward with great rejoicing at the prospects of the future."

[2] *Unsourced quote alert* I heard or read somewhere of Joseph Smith talking about some visions where it was almost as though he could see out of the very tips of his fingers. A google search didn't yield a source; I believe it might have been recounted in a Truman Madsen talk. If you know of the quote, let me know.

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