Line upon Line: Before Birth


Theresia Mangels, an elderly widow, lived alone in an apartment in northern Germany. One evening she heard a knock at her door and opened it to find two young men standing there. Remembering that she still had a book their colleagues had left years before, she invited them in, then went to find the book. When she tried to return it, they grinned and refused to take it, telling her the book was actually from another church. They were from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they said, and asked if they could give her an important message. She was a bit lonely and, besides, they were such nice young men. She agreed to listen.

They taught her that evening about someone named the Prophet Joseph Smith, but their message confused her. Visions and gold plates and angels—it all seemed so strange. They asked if they could come back another time, and she almost said no. But she decided to give them one more chance.

When they returned, they said they were going to teach her about the purpose of life and God’s plan of salvation. That sounded interesting. And then they started talking about something she had never heard of before: a premortal existence where all of us lived with God. It was as if a light went on in her soul. This doctrine was true. She could feel it. And it explained so many things she had wondered about but her church had never been able to clarify. From then on, everything the missionaries taught made perfect sense, and when they invited her to be baptized, she accepted eagerly.

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “There is no way to make sense out of life without a knowledge of the doctrine of premortal life.

“The idea that mortal birth is the beginning is preposterous. There is no way to explain life if you believe that.

“The notion that life ends with mortal death is ridiculous. There is no way to face life if you believe that.

“When we understand the doctrine of premortal life, then things fit together and make sense” (“The Mystery of Life,” Ensign, November 1983, 18).

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. Mortality becomes a puzzle with crucial pieces missing, and our heavenly heritage seems a mystery, as does our divine destiny. “This doctrine of premortal life,” said Elder 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” (Ensign, November 1983, 16–17).

When we understand that we lived before birth and came to this earth to be tried and tested, the need for a Savior comes into sharper focus. Even the troubling questions of inequality, disease, and physical disability become much less difficult when seen in the light of the premortal existence.

The Lord has not revealed many details about premortal life. For instance, we don’t know what the premortal existence was like—what we did there, what specific laws and conditions prevailed, how long we lived with our Heavenly Father, or what the war in heaven was really like. What has been revealed, however, is sufficient for us to accomplish our purpose here on earth. “Essential facts about our premortal life have been revealed,” said Elder Packer. “Although they are sketchy, they unravel the mystery of life” (Ensign, November 1983, 17). A few of these essential facts follow:

  • We are God’s literal spirit children, and as such we have the potential to become like Him (see Rom. 8:16–17; D&C 93:33–34).

  • We attended a Council in Heaven and heard the Father’s plan presented, and we chose to follow Jesus Christ, who offered to come to earth as our Savior and Redeemer (see Abr. 3:24–28).

  • Satan rebelled and was cast out of heaven with “a third part of the hosts of heaven,” and they now work with devilish determination to destroy our souls (see D&C 29:36–39).

  • We come to this earth life without the memory of our prior existence, but we do 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, 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).

[photo] Photo illustration by Lana Leishman