The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The contention in heaven was-Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him” (TPJS, p. 357).
Source: Encyclopedia of Mormonism, War in Heaven
That phrase has always intrigued me. We believe that eventually all will be resurrected and will be assigned a kingdom of glory. Does that mean that most will be saved? We teach that there are very few who will become Sons of Perdition. A simplified definition of a Son of Perdition is one who has had open visions of God and Christ and then goes about fighting against their work.
The unembodied spirits who supported Lucifer in the war in heaven and were cast out (Moses 4:1-4) and mortals who commit the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost will inherit the same condition as Lucifer and Cain, and thus are called “sons of perdition.” Again, we believe that it is very difficult for most people to commit the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost.
The War in Heaven
We believe and teach that spiritual growth is dependent upon agency, or the capacity to act for ourselves, and to be accountable for those actions. In other words, we have the freedom to choose our actions. Most people I know feel very strongly about that freedom. There are some of course, who reject the idea of being held accountable to anyone else for their actions.
Satan proposed that all could be saved or redeemed and brought back into Heavenly Father‘s presence. He felt that he could ensure the obedience of everyone through force. In other words, he would remove choice from the plan. We would pass through mortality without opposition. Amazingly, he eventually became the one who provided the source for opposition in our lives.
My understanding of the War in Heaven is that we fought a war of words and opinions over elements of Lucifer’s plan and our Father’s plan. We debated over the details of obedience, submission, faith, repentance, the need for a Savior, opposition, choice, freedom, agency and a myriad of other basic doctrines of the gospel. It’s the same stuff we debate about today.
Opposition and temptation
We believe and teach that Lucifer and those who followed him were cast out of heaven and came to this earth as devils, never to have the opportunity to become mortal or have physical bodies of their own. We also believe that they can and do possess, even if just for a few moments, the physical bodies of mortals when we sin, or knowingly disobey God’s commandments for us.
Although it is true doctrine believed and taught today, I don’t think we should get hung up on this concept of evil spirits possessing the bodies of mortals. For most people, their influence is only momentary, such as when we lose our temper or when someone gets so drunk that they are no longer in control of themselves. Being under the influence of evil can be subtle or obvious.
I think most people, or at least Christian people, agree that the influence of the adversary can be seen in the world throughout history and especially in our day. We see his influence in the misuse of drugs, in pornography, in crude language and behavior, murder, rape, abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior, oppressive tyranny, war, divorce and in many other areas.
Some will not be saved
Now this is going to be pure conjecture, and I throw it out there as speculation. I wonder if maybe what the Prophet Joseph taught, that there are certain souls that will not be saved, applies to many who were born into mortality. In other words, I don’t think his explanation of the war in heaven was limited to the loss of just those who followed Lucifer and were cast out.
Of course, this really requires a clear definition of what it means to be saved. I define salvation as being placed beyond the power of one’s enemies. It means redemption from the bondage of the consequences of sin and the lasting power of death. Of course, to be saved from sin, one must accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and abide by the conditions of the atonement.
Therefore, when the prophet Joseph Smith taught that there are certain souls that will not be saved, I believe we can logically apply that to many mortals as well. They are not saved from sin because they will not believe in Jesus Christ, exercise faith in him, repent of their sins and obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel. They will not be saved from the consequences of sin.
The War in Heaven continues
Now this may seem very obvious and you may wonder what point I am trying to make in this essay. I’ll try to spell it out clearly. I know individuals, as you probably do too, who have been taught the gospel and at one time understood it well enough to know what the Lord requires of them, and yet decided to exercise their agency and not believe or act upon their knowledge.
In other words, they have been taught what it takes to be saved from the consequences of sin, and yet they refuse to take advantage of that free gift of salvation. They will not be saved. They must suffer the consequences of their sins and someday pay the price of suffering themselves. So Joseph taught and it is central to God’s plan, that some just will not believe and be saved.
The War in Heaven continues. We fought over the idea that some would not be saved. I see great evidence all around me that many believe in Lucifer’s plan – that there should be no consequences for sin, that we should not be held accountable for our actions or our beliefs. This is most evidenced by those who refuse to accept personal responsibility for their own lives.
Summary and conclusion
While we believe that all will eventually be resurrected and obtain a place in the Kingdom of God, we do not believe that all will be saved. To be saved means to not have to suffer the price that justice demands. To be saved means to have mercy extended to us upon conditions of faith, repentance and obedience to the commandments of God. It is obvious that not all will be saved.
Perhaps it is stubbornness or pride that prevents them from accepting the free gift of mercy. They are so invested in the idea that they should not be held accountable for their actions that they will not do something so simple as to believe and repent. That idea is a holdover from the War in Heaven. Lucifer said that there is no sin and that it isn’t fair to be accountable for sin.
Accepting responsibility and being accountable for one’s own life can be a tough decision to make. It precludes a belief in God and the idea that there are standards of behavior that He requires. In other words, we can’t live our lives with the idea that anything goes and that whatever we do is not sin. That just won’t cut it. Those who believe that will not be saved.
Note: Almost all the hyperlinked references in this essay are to the new HTML version of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, now available online at BYU. Thanks to those who provided it.