How Exaltation Will Be Accomplished
By Alonzo L. Gaskill
Editor’s note: This is part 2 of an excerpt from the new book that offers comfort to Latter-day Saints, Odds Are, You’re Going to Be Exalted . Read part 1 here.
How is it to be done? How will God and Christ exalt more than they will lose in a world seemingly filled with wickedness and sin? Is such a grand promise of so many saved creations from a fallen world realistic, particularly when scripture informs us that God “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance”? (Alma 45:16; D&C 1:31).
Oh, the greatness of the Plan! Oh, the wisdom of our God! Oh, the forethought He and His Son had in the grand councils before the world was! All has been considered. And all arrangements have been made.
We left the presence of the Father, to begin our mortal journey, with the absolute assurance and with complete confidence that the Plan the Father was inviting us to participate in was safe, good, helpful, and exalting. And so it is!
A number of revealed truths lead us to a belief that the Plan works and that you and I likely will be exalted:
- the merciful, loving, and benevolent nature of the Father
- the perfect Atonement wrought by the Son
- the nature and length of the mortal experience
- high infant mortality rates, coupled with the truth that children are not accountable for sin
- Satan is to be bound during the Millennium
All these things, and many more, assure us that the Plan is perfect, that everything has been taken into consideration, and that you and I will likely be exalted.Infant Mortality Rates
Thankfully, today, in westernized nations that enjoy ongoing medical advancements, most children survive both childbirth and infancy. Indeed, statistically speaking, most children born in the twentyfirst century will live beyond the age of eight – the age of accountability.
But such has not always been the case. One need only look back 100 years to see a dramatic increase in infant mortality in comparison to today’s trends.
Consider this. In the United States in 1910, one out of every ten babies died before its first birthday. Even as recently as 1970 the worldwide average for children dying prior to their fifth birthday was approximately 15 percent – that’s 15 percent of all children born upon this planet.
Although, as of 2004, the rate of premature deaths worldwide had dropped to around 8 percent; nonetheless, in countries such as Sierra Leone, Niger, or Angola, the statistics are still saddening. For example, Sierra Leone had a 36 percent infant mortality rate in 1970. In 2004 the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday in that nation was still at a staggering 28 percent.
One study looking at mortality rates of European children within their first year of life suggests that between the early 1500s and the year 1820, approximately 25 percent of all European children lived less than one year. This same study indicates that by age five, almost 40 percent of European children died during that same era.
In Roman Egypt (A.D . 12-259) more than 33 percent of all children died before the end of their first year of life. 27 It is assumed that these numbers are actually low, because, as one scholar of demography noted, “There was a widespread tendency … not to register the burial of an unbaptized infant.”
A 1973 study concluded that 30-50 percent of all prehistoric and modern, non-industrialized peoples died prior to adulthood. Indeed, those dying prior to their fifteenth birthday are estimated to be 58.1 percent of the population.
What of the underdeveloped or third-world countries? Surely their infant mortality rates were much higher. Indeed, President John Taylor stated that, statistically speaking, the total number of people who have died prior to the age of accountability is “more than one-half of the human family.” More than 50 percent!
One scholar has observed:
Although the chances of death were overall higher for everyone in the past, the main reason life expectancy was so much lower than today was severe infant mortality. In many historical populations between a fourth [25%] and a third [33%] of newborn infants died in their first year of life ..
Estimating the life expectancy of specific historical populations is difficult, but enough evidence has accrued to permit life expectancies to be estimated for a wide range of human populations from prehistoric, to ancient, to modern times ..
Using model life tables we find that in a population with a female life expectancy of twentyfive years about thirty percent of newborn infants will die in their first year of life. And in this population a female at age fifteen has a fifty percent chance of living to see her fiftieth birthday ..
In a population with a female life expectancy of twentyfive years, women surviving to age fifty needed to have had about 5.1 live births on average in order to keep the population at level numbers.
What has happened to the more than 50 percent of all of God’s children who have died prior to the age of accountability? The Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets on this question are quite clear.
In a revelation given in 1836, the Lord gave Joseph Smith a glimpse into the celestial kingdom and declared: “All children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10). And in an epistle written by Mormon to his son Moroni we read: “I [the Lord] am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation” (Moroni 8:17; see vv. 5-22).
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “It does not make any difference whether it is a Catholic baby, a Protestant baby, or a [Muslim] baby: no matter whose baby it is, it is not responsible for original sin; it is not responsible for any sin; and the mercy of God claims it; and it is redeemed.”
According to President Smith, every child that dies prior to the age of eight will receive a reward of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. LDS commentators Hyrum M. Smith (of the Council of the Twelve) and Janne M. Sjodahl wrote: “The celestials must also be numerous, since [all] departed infants belong to that class.” Likewise, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
Millions of children, from Adamic times to our day, have died before they arrived at the age of accountability, and, because they were alive in Christ and had never died spiritually, they shall have eternal life. It will come to them through the Atonement of Christ. They never were called upon to undergo and overcome the trials and temptations that almost overpower us.
Billions of spirits will come to earth during the Millennium, when Satan is bound, when there is peace on earth, when there is no sorrow because there is no death, when they will not be confronted with the evil and carnality that face us. They will grow up without sin unto salvation. Thus saith the holy word.
A number of years ago I sat in a high priests group meeting in a ward of which I was not a member. The discussion that particular Sunday was from the Joseph F. Smith Teachings of Presidents of the Church manual. The instructor read the following statement from the manual:
Little children who are taken away in infancy and innocence before they have reached the years of accountability … are redeemed, and Satan has no power over them. Neither has death any power over them. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and they are saved … Such children are in the bosom of the Father. They will inherit their glory and their exaltation, and they will not be deprived of the blessings that belong to them … They will lose nothing by being taken away from us in this way.
After reading this quotation the instructor indicated that President Smith’s point was that all children who die before the age of eight will be exalted.
At this point one of the brethren in the class raised his hand and objected, stating that this seemed unfair and unbelievable. He cited the overwhelming number of children who have died before the age of accountability and then added, “I cannot believe that God could possibly save that many of His children. And I don’t see how such could be fair, in light of the fact that they’ve all died, and you and I are required to remain past the age of eight.”
Another brother chimed in and expressed a similar sentiment about how unfair this seemed. I was shocked, although not speechless. I raised my hand and expressed my disappointment in the comments of these two brethren. I said, “This should be cause for rejoicing, not jealousy! What a blessing to know that so many are going to be exalted. Yes, you and I have remained. But President Smith’s words fill me with hope, not with frustration and anger. Just because we don’t understand why we remain when others are taken does not make God’s Plan unfair. It only highlights how limited we are in our views.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie reminds us: “Whatever the Lord does is right whether we understand his purposes or not … There will be billions of millennial mortals who will never be tested, as fully as we are, and who will go on to eternal life, as do little children, because an Almighty God in his infinite wisdom arranges that kind of a life for them.”
As noted, then, it appears that more than half of all people who have ever lived have died before the age of accountability. And doctrinally speaking, these folks are guaranteed exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God. Yes, they will need to have saving ordinances performed vicariously on their behalf, but they will be saved. There is no doubt about it! And what a testament such news is to God’s love and mercy and to the functionality of the Plan He authored!
Now some may ask, “How do we know each of these were supposed to die at an early age? Could any of these deaths have been an accident? Could any of those who died before the age of eight been destined by God to live past the age of accountability, but because of agency, they did not?”
To this we answer no! God is in charge and His plans are never frustrated. Elder Neal A. Maxwell noted that “no righteous individual dies an untimely death” – and certainly “unaccountable” implies “righteous” in God’s eyes.
In a modern revelation we read: “Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less” (D&C 122:9). Elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants we are told: “For there is a time appointed for every man, according as his works shall be” (D&C 121:25).
Likewise, President Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “No righteous man [or woman] is taken before his [or her] time.” From President Spencer W. Kimball we read: “I am positive in my mind that the Lord has planned our destiny. We can shorten our lives [by living recklessly], but I think we cannot lengthen them very much.”
Elsewhere President Kimball wrote:
Just as Ecclesiastes (3:2) says, I am confident there is a time to die, but I believe also that many people die before “their time” because they are careless, abuse their bodies, take unnecessary chance, or expose themselves to hazards … I believe we may die prematurely [through unrighteous living], but seldom exceed our time very much … God controls our lives … but gives us our agency. We may … foolishly shorten or terminate them. But, if we are living righteously, when our time comes the Lord will take us.
President Ezra Taft Benson stated: “It has been said that the death of a righteous person is never untimely because our Father sets the times. I believe that with all my soul.”
Those who passed away before the age of accountability did so because such was the plan of God. Obviously, in His eyes they are deemed righteous. Thus their death was not premature. And all of them have been exalted and will dwell for eternity with that same God in His heavens.
As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once noted, when we understand that God intends to exalt all who die before the age of accountability, “Infant mortality, which rages in so many parts of the world, is … placed in a reassuring doctrinal context (see D&C 137:10).”
The Mentally Handicapped
The good news does not end with the salvation and exaltation of little children who die before the age of eight. The restored gospel also provides a comforting message regarding all those who are born with mental handicaps.
President Joseph Fielding Smith put it this way: “Mentally deficient persons, those who are incompetent of understanding, are classed among those who are redeemed as little children through the Atonement of our Redeemer.”
In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism we read: “Latterday Saints believe in the ‘infinite and eternal’ power of the Atonement, that it will bring to all mankind an end to the basic effects of the Fall of Adam: it automatically forgives the sins of those who are … children under the age of eight, [or] mentally handicapped.”
It seems reasonable to me that if one who has a mental handicap is on an intellectual level of someone less than eight years of age, that person, upon death, will also be exalted in the celestial kingdom – guaranteed!
Now, although we have no way of calculating how many of God’s children have been sent to earth to traverse this mortal experience in a mentally handicapped body, nonetheless, we do know that each has the promise of eternal life. And, more particularly, we realize that this beautiful truth only adds to the numbers of exalted individuals previously cited. Thus, again, an incredibly large number of Father’s children will be exalted in the celestial kingdom.
The Millennium will play a significant role in the statistics of which we have been speaking. Why? Because so many will be born during that thousand year period when Satan is bound and righteousness reigns. From A New Witness for the Articles of Faith we read: “More people will live on earth during the Millennium than in all prior ages combined many times over.” Elsewhere we read:
What of the countless billions of those children to be born during the great millennial era – during a time when disease and death have no sting nor victory over mankind? This is that time … when “children shall grow up without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:58).
Given the renewed and paradisiacal state of the earth, it may well be that more persons will live on the earth during the thousand years of our Lord’s reign – persons who are of at least a terrestrial nature – than the combined total of all who have lived during the previous six thousand years of the earth’s temporal continuance. Indeed, who can count the number of saved beings in eternity? Our God, who is triumphant in all battles against the forces of evil, will surely be victorious in the numbers of his children who will be saved.
In his book The Millennial Messiah, Elder McConkie wrote:
Truly the millennial era is the age of salvation. It has been established by the Lord to save souls. Truly he shall send to earth during that blessed period those who earned the right, by faith and devotion in the premortal life, to receive their mortal probation in a day of peace and righteousness. It is not unreasonable to suppose that more people will live on earth during the millennial era than in all the six millenniums that preceded it combined. And all those who live on the new earth with its new heavens shall be saved. The Lord be praised for his goodness and grace.
In the book of Revelation, John describes the vision he had of the throne of God and the exalted beings who surrounded it. He informs us: “I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and … the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11; see also 7:9; 19:1). Of this verse Elder McConkie wrote:
“Lord, are there few that be saved or many?” (Luke 13:23), is the query in the hearts of many disciples. The answer: Few as compared to the hosts of men in our present worldly society (Matt. 7:13-14), but many when all who so obtain are counted together. Here John sees 100,000,000, plus thousands of thousands.
Later he shall see “a great multitude [of saved persons], which no man could number.” (Rev. 7:9.) The expansion of world population being what it is, we can suppose that the billions who live on earth during the Millennium – and who “grow up without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:58) – shall far exceed in number the total hosts of men who have lived during the preceding six thousand years. Truly, in the aggregate, there are many who shall be saved!
Thus, it appears that during the Millennium - when Satan is bound and we are enabled to live “without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:58) – righteousness will abound and many, if not most, who live upon the earth during that period of peace will be exalted. If one couples this reality with the unfathomable number of people to be born during the Millennium, the message is one to rejoice over.
Again, God has provided the circumstances that will enable a vast number of His children to successfully make their return to His presence. Billions who live during that thousand year period will be exalted. Praise be to the Father and the Son! The Plan works!
We must not forget to add the inhabitants of the cities of Enoch and Melchizedek to our total of successfully saved beings. During the eras of both of these stalwart and saintly brethren, translation was the norm within the Church.
Indeed, likely most from Enoch’s Zion, Melchizedek’s Salem, and those living in “the golden era of the Nephites,” were translated and thus exalted. And how many other “holy societies” have experienced similar things and yet a knowledge of their miracles are lost to us?
We have no idea exactly how many of the Saints were sent by the Father to dwell upon the earth during that period of the Church’s history. All we can say with certainty is that those who were translated - a number that can conservatively be placed in the millions, if not higher – were all guaranteed exaltation.
The Spirit World
It has become somewhat colloquial to say, “It is ten times harder to accept the gospel in the spirit world than it is to accept it here on earth.” It is unclear where this popular saying has its origins. In actuality, there is evidence that the statement is simply untrue.
First of all, since we know that more people will hear the restored gospel in the spirit world than will hear it here on earth – and most of God’s children will receive their ordinances vicariously in temples while their spirits dwell in the world of the departed – it makes no sense that acceptance of the gospel in the spirit world will somehow arbitrarily be “ten times harder.” For what reason would God make such the case? Particularly since that’s the realm where most of His children will be introduced to the truths of Christ’s atonement and the restoration of His gospel.
It seems contrary to the nature of God to intentionally put stumbling blocks in front of His children so that they will have difficulty accepting the very thing He sent them to earth to find and embrace.
More to the point, latterday prophets and apostles have suggested that the gospel is actually readily accepted by those who hear it in the spirit world. For example, in the April 1894 general conference of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff stated:
There will be very few, if any, [in the spirit world] who will not accept the gospel.
Likewise, Church patriarch Eldred G. Smith taught that there are constantly “many” in the spirit world who are accepting the gospel; and this has been the case since Christ first introduced it upon His postmortal visit there. Anthon H. Lund, of the First Presidency, taught that we need to work “in faith” for those in the spirit world. We need to believe that they “will accept the Gospel.” “They are longing for the work to be done” on their behalf.
Then he added this: “There are many more going to join the ranks of the Saints” in the spirit world, adding dramatically to the numbers of those who accepted the gospel here in morality.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that, since we who have the gospel are of the house of Israel, then our ancestors who have passed on before us – even if they did not have the gospel - are also of the house of Israel. Thus, according to President Smith, they are “likely to receive the gospel” in the spirit world.
John Henry Smith, of the First Presidency, stated that God’s “great plan, as revealed to us, provides for the redemption of millions who have gone before without a knowledge of His Gospel.” President Lorenzo Snow taught: “When the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable.”
In support of all that the Brethren have taught on this subject, there is the confirming witness of personal spiritual experiences. Consider this singular account, which highlights how readily the teaching of the gospel goes forward in the spirit world and how generally vicarious ordinances are accepted by those on whose behalf we perform them. Patriarch Charles Woodbury recorded this experience:
As I witnessed baptisms one day in the Manti Temple, when the first name was called out for baptism, a voice said to me, “This person has had the gospel taught to him, has accepted it, and desires baptism.”
As the second name was read, the voice said: “This person has not heard the gospel yet.”
Another name was called, and I was told, “This person has heard the gospel and was not converted.”
I witnessed 300 baptisms, each time being advised by the voice as to those who accepted of their baptism, and those who did not. Twentyfive of the 300 whose baptism had been done for them were not ready for it; they had as yet not been converted to the gospel. The remaining 275 were prepared, and rejoiced that their work was being done.
Many a gospel scholar has conjectured that the conversion process on the other side of the veil is moving forward just as quickly, if not more so, than it is on this side of the sacred divide. If President Woodruff was correct when he said that “very few, if any” in the spirit world would reject the gospel, then Father has indeed done a mighty saving work on behalf of His sons and daughters.
To this point much has been said about the billions upon billions of God’s children whom He intends to exalt – and the message thus far has been one of optimism.
Nonetheless, you may be asking yourself right about now: “That’s great news for all of those groups mentioned. But I’m not mentally handicapped, I didn’t die before the age of accountability, I’m not a translated being, I’m not living during the Millennium, and I’m not being presented the gospel in the spirit world. So what about me? What about my salvation? Do things merely ‘look good’ for every group except for me? And how, specifically, does all of this optimism translate into my personal exaltation?”
These are valid questions. And as we continue our discussion in the chapters that follow, many of these queries will be addressed. Certainly you and I should not assume that we are at a disadvantage because we lived to adulthood, nor should we conjecture that somehow we are unfortunate because we were given the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we will note in the chapters that follow, having the gospel places us in an enviable position.
Additionally, it should be pointed out that the very fact that Father’s Plan is designed to save so many of these groups mentioned does indirectly say something about your exaltation and mine. After all, we know that the Father is an entirely just and fair God (see Isaiah 45:21; see also Mosiah 2:28; Alma 42:15; 57:26). We know that He is no respecter of persons (see Acts 10:34; see also Moroni 8:12; D&C 1:35; 38:16).
Thus, we know God could not create such an optimistic and successful plan for everyone except you and me. Because we know that the odds are in favor of exaltation for all those categories we have thus far discussed, we know by default – because of God’s nature – that such must also be the case for us. We must believe that for us also, the odds are in our favor! For you and me, things look very good, too!
Yes, there are things we must do – and we’ll speak of those in the chapters to come. But the hard things have been taken care of by the Father and the Son. What we’re called to do is quite easy, in comparison.
Doctrinally speaking, it certainly appears that the Plan was designed to work, that it was created to exalt more individuals than it would damn. Such a doctrine “tastes good” to those who have felt of God’s love and “tender mercies” (Psalm 51:1). Such a doctrine brings comfort, reassurance, and a confidence to endure trials.
Such a doctrine builds hope and faith. And such a doctrine enables us to see God for what He really is – the ultimate, loving Father.