Of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. “One of the strange things to me,” wrote President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972), “is the fact that so many people believe that there is a spirit in man and when he dies that spirit continues to live as an immortal thing, yet that it had no existence until man was born in this mortal life.”1
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed the significance of this doctrine: “There is no way to make sense out of life without a knowledge of the doctrine of premortal life. … When we understand the doctrine of premortal life, then things fit together and make sense.”2
Without an understanding of our premortal life we cannot correctly comprehend our relationship with our Heavenly Father, nor can we completely grasp the purpose of this earth life and our divine destiny. “This doctrine of premortal life,” said President Packer, “was known to ancient Christians. For nearly five hundred years the doctrine was taught, but it was then rejected as a heresy by a clergy that had slipped into the Dark Ages of apostasy. Once they rejected this doctrine, … they could never unravel the mystery of life. They became like a man trying to assemble a strand of pearls on a string that was too short. There is no way they can put them all together.”3
As the Lord restored divine truth through the Prophet Joseph Smith, knowledge of the premortal existence became critically important to our understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan for our salvation. “Man was also in the beginning with God,” the Lord revealed. “Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). Thus, in the sense that our intelligence has always existed, we had no beginning. But at some distant point in our premortal past, spirit bodies were created for us, and we became, literally, spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents.4
The knowledge that we are spirit children of God, that we lived with Him before our mortal birth, and that we desired to become like Him defines our relationship with our Eternal Father. Joseph Smith taught that “God himself, … because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby [His children] could have a privilege to advance like himself.”5 A necessary part of our advancement required us to leave our Father’s presence, to have a veil of forgetfulness cast over our minds, and to walk by faith, learning obedience to His commandments.
Because we came to earth to be tested and to walk by faith, the Lord has not revealed many details about premortal life. What has been revealed, however, is sufficient for us to accomplish our purpose here on earth. A few of the revealed facts about our premortal existence follow:
We participated in a Grand Council in Heaven where we heard the Father’s plan for our salvation. We chose to follow Jesus Christ, who was chosen to come to earth as our Savior and Redeemer, and we shouted for joy at this wonderful opportunity (see Job 38:7; Abr. 3:24–28).
Lucifer, “an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God” (D&C 76:25), said, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1). But he sought that God should give unto him God’s own power and glory, and he proposed to change the conditions of our mortal experience, destroying our agency. Without agency, we would have been incapable of actually becoming like our Heavenly Father, so this proposal was rejected by God and by two-thirds of His children. Lucifer then rebelled, there was a War in Heaven—a war of words and a spiritual conflict—and he was cast out with “a third part of the hosts of heaven” who had followed him (D&C 29:36). He became known as Satan, and he and his followers now work with devilish determination to destroy our souls (see Rev. 12:7–9; D&C 29:36–39; Moses 4:1–4).
We came to earth without the memory of our prior existence, but we did come with individual strengths and talents, as well as weaknesses we must strive to overcome (see Ether 12:27; D&C 104:17; D&C 138:55–56; Abr. 3:23).
Earth life is not the beginning or the end of our existence, but it is both a test and a crucial stage in our ongoing development. Our performance in this test shapes our eternal future (see Abr. 3:25–26).