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Eternal Progression

This page contains comments from the following authors:

Lisa Ramsey Adams
Elder Bruce R. McConkie


by Lisa Ramsey Adams

The principle of eternal progression cannot be precisely defined or comprehended, yet it is fundamental to the LDS worldview. The phrase "eternal progression" first occurs in the discourses of Brigham Young. It embodies many concepts taught by Joseph Smith, especially in his King Follett discourse. It is based on the proposition that "there is no such thing as principle, power, wisdom, knowledge, life, position, or anything that can be imagined, that remains stationary—they must increase or decrease" (Young, JD 1:350).

Progression takes many forms. In one sense, eternal progression refers to everything that people learn and experience by their choices as they progress from premortal life, to mortality, to postmortal spirit life, and to a resurrected state in the presence of God. Personal progression is possible in each of these states, but not the same kind of progression. Progression apparently occurred in the premortal life, for most spirits there chose to follow Christ and some were noble and great, while others chose to follow Lucifer. Entering mortality affords opportunities for further progression. Obtaining a physical body is a crucial step, enabling a person to experience physical sensations of all kinds and to progress in knowledge and understanding, all of which will rise with the person in the Resurrection (D&C 130:18). Brigham Young taught that even in mortality, "We are in eternity" (JD 10:22), and the object of this existence is "to learn to enjoy more, and to increase in knowledge and experience" (JD 14:228). "When we have learned to live according to the full value of the life we now possess, we are prepared for further advancement in the scale of eternal progression—for a more glorious and exalted sphere" (JD 9:168).

Life is never static. "One must progress or retrograde. One cannot stand still. Activity is the law of growth, and growth, progress, is the law of life" (A. Bowen, in Christ's Ideals for Living, O. Tanner, ed., Salt Lake City, 1980, p. 368). A person's attitude about ""eternal progression' will largely determine his philosophy of life…exalting, increasing, expanding and extending broader and broader until we can know as we are known, see as we are seen" (Young, JD 16:165).

At the Resurrection and Judgment, people will be assigned a degree of glory. Further progress is believed possible within each degree. Marriage and family life, however, continue only in the Celestial Kingdom, allowing "eternal increase" through having spirit children (see Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase). "All this and more that cannot enter into our hearts to conceive is promised to the faithful, and are but so many stages in that ceaseless progression of eternal lives" (Young, JD 10:5).

No official Church teaching attempts to specify all the ways in which God progresses in his exalted spheres; "there is no end to [His] works, neither to [His] words" (Moses 1:38). God's glory and power are enhanced as his children progress in glory and power (see Moses 1:39; Young, JD 10:5). Ideas have been advanced to explain how God might progress in knowledge and still be perfect and know all things (see Foreknowledge of God; Omnipotent God).

The concept of eternal progression is a salient feature of the gospel of Jesus Christ, readily distinguishable from traditional Christian theology. The philosophical views of the Middle Ages were basically incompatible with such a concept, and the idea of progress that emerged in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was that of social evolution (Bury, The Idea of Progress, London, 1932). The traditional Christian view has held that those in heaven enter "a state of eternal, inactive joy. In the presence of God they would worship him and sing praises to him eternally, but nothing more" (Widtsoe, p. 142). Latter-day Saints, however, constantly seek personal and righteous improvement not only by establishing Zion in this world, but by anticipating the continuation of progression eternally.

Bibliography

Widtsoe, John A. "Is Progress Eternal or Is There Progress in Heaven?" IE 54 (Mar. 1951):142; see also Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 179-85, Salt Lake City, 1960.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Eternal Progression

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

Endowed with agency and subject to eternal laws, man began his progression and advancement in pre-existence, his ultimate goal being to attain a state of glory, honor, and exaltation like the Father of spirits. During his earth life he gains a mortal body, receives experience in earthly things, and prepares for a future eternity after the resurrection when he will continue to gain knowledge and intelligence. (D. & C. 130:18-19.) This gradually unfolding course of advancement and experience -- a course that began in a past eternity and will continue in ages future -- is frequently referred to as a course of eternal progression.

It is important to know, however, that for the overwhelming majority of mankind, eternal progression has very definite limitations. In the full sense, eternal progression is enjoyed only by those who receive exaltation. Exalted persons gain the fullness of the Father; they have all power, all knowledge, and all wisdom; they gain a fullness of truth, becoming one with the Father. All other persons are assigned lesser places in the mansions that are prepared, and their progression is not eternal and unlimited but in a specified sphere. There will be truths such persons never learn, powers they never possess. They are "ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory," and they so continue "to all eternity, and ... forever and ever." (D. & C. 132:16-17.)

Those who gain exaltation, having thus enjoyed the fullness of eternal progression, become like God. It should be realized that God is not progressing in knowledge, truth, virtue, wisdom, or any of the attributes of godliness. He has already gained these things in their fullness. But he is progressing in the sense that his creations increase, his dominions expand, his spirit offspring multiply, and more kingdoms are added to his domains. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 5-10.)

Mormon Doctrine, p.239
Copyright by Bookcraft


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