Patriarchal Blessings and the Foreknowledge of God

 Many members of the church seem to have a contradiction in their beliefs and attitudes when it comes to patriarchal blessings and the foreknowledge of God.

Patriarchal blessings are usually a once in a lifetime priesthood blessing given by a stake patriarch to a member of the church. This can be done at any time, but is typically done during the teenage years. These blessings declare the lineage of the individual as a member of the House of Isreal, and often give certain guidance and blessings regarding the future of the recipient. These blessings are often very important to members of the church, and they consider them to be a form of personal revelation for their life.

Most members of the church will acknowledge that this blessing is no guarantee. We need to do our part in living the gospel, and making good choices in life for these blessing to really happen. Thus the blessing may be a type of ‘best case’ scenario for our lives that is contingent on our behavior.

I think this is a proper and healthy attitude to take regarding these blessings. But, it does seem to contradict what many members believe regarding the foreknowledge of God. There are many members who feel that God knows the future perfectly, and that he knows this future because the past, present and future are before him in a type of eternal ‘now’. I sort of felt this way a few years ago myself, so I can’t blame my fellow church members for feeling this way. Especially when a few scriptures, and statements by people like Neal Maxwell suggest that very thing.

My guess is that many church members do not think about this apparent contradiction in the least, and thus it remains.

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32 Responses to “Patriarchal Blessings and the Foreknowledge of God”


  1. 1 C Jones March 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I’m still holding on to the belief that God knows all and yet we have free will. Possibly by some time travel skills or quantum entanglement. Or something :-)

  2. 2 Jacob J March 15, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Yep, good point Eric. Why don’t patriarchal blessings tell us what will happen rather than what might happen? Many answers can be given, but it seems they would generally include the idea that the blessings/prophesies are contingent on what we choose to do in the future. It would be almost absurd to consider a patriarchal blessing as a prophecy of what will happen in the future no matter what. Thankfully, if the future is closed, at least God humors us by pretending we have options.

  3. 3 John I March 16, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Perhaps the key word is in the title — patriarchal blessings. They aren’t patriarchal prophecies or patriarchal promises. Rather, they are blessings pronounced upon the heads of the faithful by men called and ordained to do so.

    Do patriarchs enter a trance when they give blessings, and start “channeling” directly from the presence of God? No. Do they use a different process for giving blessings than others? No. Rather, like all other men who hold the priesthood and give blessings to others, such as to their wives, their children, the sick and afflicted, and those being ordained or set-apart, patriarchs are men who feel after the Spirit and give words of counsel and encouragement to the persons under their hands. And like all the other priesthood holders and all these other manners of blessing, they do so by the authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ.

    Thus, I generally try to avoid giving overly important or almost mystical meaning to patriarchal blessings. I hope members respect them, and read them, but I do see them as blessings pronounced by men for our good. And there is power in the priesthood, and there is power in faith.

    Now, to the real point of the original posting. When I was a teenager, I recall talking about foreordination with my dad. I asked if he thought the phone book for the celestial kingdom could be printed now, in its final form, before all is said and done, and he tended to think yes. I understand the scriptural basis for this, and I’m familiar with some general authority quotes on the subject, but in my own mind I have a difficult time accepting this as perfect doctrine, or perceiving that we understand this doctrine perfectly. I don’t deny God’s knowledge or power, but I also admit not fully understanding this matter. Like so many other matters pertaining to the eternities, we know so very little, and we learn and discern little by little as we ponder in a spirit of prayerfulness. Discussions among the faithful on matters such as this can contribute to learning and discernment, even though none of us may ever in this mortal life come to a perfect and final understanding — well, some of us might come to a sort of a “final” understanding in our own minds and think of all others as wrong, but I tend to feel none of us can come to a perfect understanding of a matter such as this.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Cjones:

    I felt that way a couple of years ago, but now I am changing my mind. I feel that the free will end of this is the more absolute end.

    As I ponder the foreknowledge end, I wonder just what does God know about the future, and how does he know it? I do not currently believe that God can travel forward in time and see a one-and-only fixed future. I would wager what God knows about the future is predictive, and is not absolute.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 7:08 am

    JacobJ:

    Thanks. I would guess we are in agreement on this. It does appear that God wants us to believe (when it comes to these blessings) that we have real, destiny shaping free will.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 7:10 am

    John I:

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    As far as the p.b. goes, most members would believe they are revelation based. The patriarch isn’t just guessing. If they are not revelation then they are of little value.

    You bring up an interesting thought about the ck phonebook. I think your dad was wrong about this one. It seems a direct contradiction to free will/agency.

  7. 7 SilverRain March 16, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Like other commenters, I think the basic nature of Patriarchial blessings is grossly misunderstood. They do not “foretell” what might happen any more than they foretell what will happen. They are not auguries, they are guides. They are scripture. The very nature of foretelling the future can change the future. God would not take away our agency.

    My own experiences have led me to believe that Patriarchial Blessings are meant to guide our behavior in this life. Therefore, many of the things which are “foretold” do not happen. Often, we say “oh, but you’ll get the blessing in the next life,” but that is an incomplete understanding as well.

    For example, let us say that a young man receives the blessing that he will serve an honorable mission, and then is killed before actually going. We tend to claim that his mission is in the next life, but to my mind that lessens the power of the blessing. Being told in his blessing that he would serve an honorable mission gives him the opportunity to live his life as if he is going to serve an honorable mission. Perhaps he would not have done so otherwise, at least not with the same degree of consciousness. Whether or not he serves a mission is moot when compared with the spiritual growth he can obtain if he takes the blessing as a guide and lives up to it.

    It is a strange concept, but I believe it answers both for the foreknowledge of God and our own agency with an eternal perspective.

  8. 8 SilverRain March 16, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Just as an afterthought, I believe it is with this same concept that we have been told that the Second Coming is nigh. Whether or not we live to see the Second Coming is moot when compared to the power of living our lives as if we will.

  9. 9 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

    SilverRain:

    I think your perspective is very good. Of course, key questions still remain. Don’t know whether you want to discuss those or not.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  10. 10 SilverRain March 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I’m willing to try, though I can claim no special insight. Which key questions are these?

  11. 11 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Does God know the future perfectly?

    How does God know what he knows about the future?

    Is God revealing ‘truth’ in things like PB, or is it inspired, motivational fiction?

    My current thoughts:

    God does not know the future perfectly. In fact there is no concrete, fixed future to know.

    What God knows about the future is predictive based on a knowledge of eternal principles, and past and present conditions.

    I think God is revealing truth in PB, but in a vauge general way. Because that is likely all there is to reveal.

  12. 12 SilverRain March 16, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Firstly, I suspect that questions about the future really don’t relate to a timeless being. The questions themselves are framed so solidly in mortal experience, they bear little relevance to eternitiy. Even as a mortal mother, I can predict the behavior of my daughter in certain situations with tolerable accuracy.

    To clarify, I believe that God’s knowledge of eternal principles etc., as you put it, is so complete that the difference between a perfect knowledge of the future (as I believe you mean it) and what you call “predictive” is so small it is nonexistent.

    I believe that God is revealing unadorned and perfect truth in Patriarchial Blessings, based on the language and understanding of the giver and receiver. I also believe, however, that truth does not mean what we think it means. I go into some depth on that topic here.

  13. 13 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    So what do you mean by timeless? I would prefer the term ‘eternal’ to ‘timeless’.

    I think with our belief in a flesh and bone God, who also ‘weeps’ with us leads to a God who is progressing through time. And that he has a past, present, and future.

  14. 14 Eric Nielson March 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    And that this ‘future’ hasn’t happened yet.

  15. 15 SilverRain March 17, 2009 at 9:35 am

    And that is a difference. I suspect that time is a construct of the veil. That isn’t to say that things don’t happen in an order, but that time itself is meaningless to God in the way it means to us.

  16. 16 Eric Nielson March 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Yeah, this may be the point where we agree to disagree, and admit our ignorance and hope for additional revelation (like you say in the post you linked to).

    I think the absolute omni’s of God, and a belief in a ‘timeless’ God is part of what lead early councils to adopt a God who did not have a body or passions – because a body and passions lead to a God who is progressing in time. For anything to have emotional, moral meaning there must be free will and time progression. For durations to exist, for movement of a flesh and bone body, there must be velocities and accelerations that are meaningless without time.

    I guess for me saying that time is meaningless to God, makes God incomprehesible and meaningless.

  17. 17 John I March 17, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Eric,

    I tend to perceive that you’re trying a little too hard — you’re trying to frame a definition of God with some certainty that allows you to understand him in terms of our mortal condition. But I somehow believe we tend to err when we insist on lowering God to fit within our level of mortal understanding. We can’t and don’t understand the things of eternity perfectly, and we should be so willing to admit. And the exercise of considering the things of eternity and the glory and power of God has its best result when we try to raise ourselves rather than to lower God.

    As a matter of faith, we’re taught to have complete faith in our God as perfect and as knowing all things (because all things are continually before him, past, present, and future) and as having all power. When one allows inquiries of the mind to result in answers that suggest our God is limited (not perfect, not complete, not finished) or that seem to contradict the scripture (God “really” doesn’t have all things before him, past present, and future, even though he says so in the scripture, but rather is in time just like us and predicts the future just like us), one might find himself weakening his faith or the faith of others. Well-intentioned theologians through the years have done this, and we can see the results in much yof the rest of Christendom. And, I regret to observe, many Latter-day Saint theologians do the same thing, with similar contributions towards doubt within our own fold.

    I appreciate Silver Rain’s observation that some questions such as yours “are framed so solidly in mortal experience [even though] they bear little relevance to eternity.”. God’s ways are not our ways, and we cannot understand God in our terms by reducing him to fit within the constructs of mortality. It seems to me we can only understand God when we allow ourselves some glimpse or understanding of the eternities, as a matter of faith, when we try to raise ourselves to see him through spiritual discernment.

    On the subject of patriarchal blessings, you’re right that some Latter-day Saints see them as pure revelation. I tend to differ. I acknowledge the revelatory power of blessings, but I prefer to believe that patriarchal blessings are blessings given by patriarchs, exactly as fathers blessings are blessings given by fathers. In either case (and within perhaps differing bounds), a holder of the priesthood pronounces a blessing on the head of a faithful recipient — and that blessing contains perhaps some varying mixture of revelation from God and hoped-for promises from the speaker’s heart, both of which are sealed by the authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. The blessing is both given and received in faith. There is power in the priesthood, and there is power in faith.

    In my first posting, I shared an instance where my dad shared his belief on a small matter which I have found difficult to understand — but I stopped short of suggesting he was wrong. So many times, our differences of opinion are not matters of right and wrong as they are of different perspectives, different preparatory understandings, and different levels of spiritual maturity. I will not often openly disagree with somone who sees some matter differently than I do (such as by expressing that patriarchal blessings as pure revelation); rather, I might instead merely offer my own differing thought as I did above.

    I appreciate Silver Rain’s careful and nuanced thoughts.

  18. 18 Eric Nielson March 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Trying to hard to understand God?!

    Joseph Smith taught that we should be very concerned with understanding God. The scriptures suggest that life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ. The scriptures teach that we must study things out in our own mind prior to revelation. We have been given a lot of modern revelation concerning the nature of God, and I believe we need to consider what these things mean. Insisting on keeping God as some mysterious ‘other’ will have its consequences as well. Insisting that God is an absolute God leads to Calvinism and determinism. So these mindsets carry their own potential dangers.

    I am certainly not suggesting that I have any special knowledge in this area. And all my guesses and speculations may be wrong too. But I will not stop trying to know God and the type of being he is. I also think that trying to shed mysteries, and being concrete and materialistic about things is consistent within Mormonism, and modern revelation.

    I also appreciate Silver Rain’s thoughts, but I am not sure that her comments are any more careful or nuanced than anyone elses. She is making claims that are every bit as bold as mine. (And I do not think that either of us are out of line fere). I do not feel that Silver Rain and I have major disagreements other than God’s ability to really ‘be’ in a future time.

  19. 19 Eric Nielson March 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I might throw in that Elder Maxwell has made some of the more famous statements about ‘eternal now’ and the ‘timelessness’ of God. He backed off of this view as documented in note 30 on page 75 here

  20. 20 Eric Nielson March 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    To throw in a few scriptures regarding God in time:

    9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same border as that upon which thou standest. (Abraham 3:9)

    and:

    4 In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?
    5 I answer, Yes. But there are no aangels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.
    (D&C 130:4-5)

    So one should not think that believing that God in is time is a-scriptural.

    Also, there is an interesting recent post on the timeless topic at the Thang here.

  21. 21 John I March 17, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Eric, I can’t discern if you read my entire posting or solely the first sentence. But if you did, surely you fully and honestly appreciated that my “trying too hard” words applied only to my perception of your attempt “to frame a definition of God with some certainty that allows you to understand him in terms of our mortal condition.” I admit to very kindly cautioning you and other readers of the dangers of that approach. I also admit that you are not alone — indeed, you’re in good company among Latter-day Saints — in believing that God does not absolutely know the future, what God does know about the future is merely predictive, God’s weeping shows a sign of having exactly emotions like ours, God himself is still progressing and moving through time, and so forth. However, and also as a good Latter-day Saint (I hope you’ll allow me the benefit), I choose to be much less bold about these things and instead I choose to declare and rejoice in the omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience of God (even so, my definitions of these terms might differ from the understandings of those who attended the early Christian councils). I do think we err when we try to reduce God to mortal terms in order to understand and describe him rather than raising ourselves as best we can into the spiritual realm to see or merely to glimpse God as he wants us to see him. For now, I sometimes feel that our definitions of time and truth and future and so many other common, everyday words are limited by our mortal conditions, and the definitions of these words and so many others will change once we have passed beyond the veil of this life and we see everything with different eyes and different perspectives. For “as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared” for us on the other side of the veil.

  22. 22 Eric Nielson March 18, 2009 at 7:28 am

    John I:

    In my reply to you I addressed something in nearly every paragraph of your last comment.

    I do not know you in the least, and it really doesn’t matter whether you are a good latter-day saint or not. We are simply discussing speculative ideas about the nature of God. There is no need to make or imply anything about anyone’s righteousness, faithfulness, or anything like that.

    Saying God is absolute in the omni’s and operates outside of time is just as speculative and dangerous as saying God is finite and operates in time. It is also unnecessary to suggest that because I believe God operates in time lowers God in any way, or makes Him less worthy of worship.

    I feel that insisting that God must be some mysterious unknowable ‘other’ limits our ability to know Him. And that in the church as a whole we are not in danger of trying to hard to understand Him, we are more in danger of not trying hard enough to understand Him.

    God is the one who gave us this earthly experience. He is the one who is replacing the man made creeds with new revelation. There are also scriptures which say that the earthly conforms to things that are heavenly. And I am not coming at this like some physics professor. I am taking what has been given in modern revelation about the nature of God, and simply making logical implications of such revelation. I think we err when we take some of the apostate religious beliefs of the creeds and make them fit in with modern revelation.

  23. 23 John I March 18, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Perhaps the best we can do, Eric, is to agree to disagree. That’s what so many other Christians have to do when individals have differing opinions on matters of faith and doctrine. Absent more learning or revelation on either of our parts, we’ll just have to see things differently. Even so, we both need to remember the importance of doing nothing which might weaken the faith of others.

  24. 24 Eric Nielson March 18, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    If open discussion about the nature of God is going to weaken someone’s faith….

  25. 25 EMR April 9, 2009 at 5:00 am

    Your wrangling over patriarchal blessings has been interesting to say the least.I perhaps have a different perspective.When I joined the Church I was an adult, with a family, so I obviously hadn’t been on a mission.And as I grew in the church I felt that I had really missed a wonderful opportunity. As my husband and I waited to receive our blessings, I voiced to him how much I would like for us to go in our “twilight ” years. One of the first things the Patriarch said was that we would have that opportunity. Another part of the blessing said that I would be in many leadership positions, and that certainly has occurred. My point is, and I know without a doubt it is true,that Heavenly Father knows each of his children so well that he can make a reasonable prediction of what will happen in our lives. that is the true miracle to me.As for our Father still learning and growing, isn’t it a fundamental property of a living organism that it learns and grows in order to progress, not to stagnate. There cannot possibly be a limit to knowledge and its application. Just imagine here on Earth if after our years at school and college there was nothing left for us to learn.For us to ever learn to be like Heavenly Father we have to keep learning, not only knowledge to help us here on Earth but the mysteries of God’s kingdom. Why would he not be subject to the rules he himself has created?

  26. 26 Eric Nielson April 9, 2009 at 7:03 am

    EMR.

    WOW! That was a great comment. I agree with you on every point. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  27. 27 Bookslinger April 15, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Our inability to reconcile free will with the foreknowledge of God is a function of our mortal temporal existance. Only those who progress to exaltation (or maybe all resurrected beings, I don’t know) and have seen from both sides (both the temporal plane and eternal plane of existence) will fully understand and resolve the tension between free will and God’s foreknowledge.

    I think free-will is a function of our limited temporal existance. We had to fall and remove ourselves from that eternal viewpoint in order to experience total free-will. But even those 1/3rd who rebelled did so because of free-will too.

    I also think the patriarchal blessing is framed in conditional terms in order to maintain our free will, and to maintain “the test.” To reveal what God knows would be giving us a short-cut and violating the concept of free-will, and would invalidate “the test”.

  28. 28 Eric Nielson April 15, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Hmmmpf.

    I don’t really know what you have said here, but I think I kinda disagree with it. I think even God has free will. And I think even God funtions within time and space.

  29. 29 Bookslinger April 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Eric, I think time and space have _additional_ meanings, attributes, and definitions to eternal beings. That Moroni could pass through some sort of “conduit” into Joseph Smith’s bedroom is evidence of a different dimension or “attribute” of space, to me at least.

    If the past, present, and future all is the same to Heavenly Father, then time also is something different to Him than to us. Even in the Bible it states in Revelation, that at the end of the millennium “time will be no more.” In LDS our phraseology, “time and eternity”, indicates that “eternity” is something beyond, outside of, and in addition to, time.

    Eternity is more than X number of minutes/days/years times infinity.

    Even from our temporal standpoint, our scientists have started to catch glimpses outside of Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry with the theory of relativity, string theory, dark matter, etc.

    So when we say “time and space”, there is much beyond wall-clock time and yardstick (ruler) space that is unseen and undetectable and not-understandable with our basic human senses and thoughts. We can do some rude experiments with the theory of relativity, but we don’t know how it all relates to spiritual matter and eternal beings. And again “eternal” as an adjective means more than just “forever.” It’s also a quality or attribute of those beings for whom the label applies.

    The detectable attributes of our 3-dimensional universe, or what we consider normal “space” and normal “time” is only a fraction of the total existance that Heavenly Father lives in and interacts with. So yes, he does interact with us inside the frame of reference _we_ have for time and space, but this time and this space we inhabit is called a “local phenomenon”. When this time/space is over with and done with, the heavens and the earth will be done away with, will “pass away.” Perhaps our galaxy will be recycled into another galaxy, or this universe will be recycled into another universe.

    And what about previous generations of gods that Joseph Smith alluded to in the King Follet discourse? And what about the other members of Elohim’s spiritual generation? We probably shouldn’t even go there. But when I think of eternity, forwards and backwards, combined with space, in all directions, my mind is taken to previous spiritual generations and future spiritual generations; along with where they came from, and where they go to.

    IMO, Heavenly Father doesn’t merely predict the future based on a set of calculations that take into effect his exhaustive knowledge of past and present. He literally _sees_ the future. It’s there right in front of him: He just looks, and He sees it. The prophets have repeatedly said: “He _sees_ the end from [his standpoint at] the beginning.”

    Even before we create our own future through our constant decision-making processes, He has already seen by looking at what we are going to create.

  30. 30 Eric Nielson April 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Then there is no free will or free agency. The “statement” you claim has been said repeatedly really does not say anything about the nature of God, what he knows about every detail of the future, or how he knows it. It makes no case whatsoever, other than to create the allusion that your view has some authority behind it. I find the concept of real free agency to be a more clear and consistent truth, that vague notions about a mysterious God who is both embodied and in all time and space simultaneously.

    Vauge speculations about godly generations do not do much either. Just because there may be past and future eteranal generations does not mean that these beings do not have an eternal past and future.

    The scriptures speak of God’s time also. They speak of an embodied God who also weeps. I do not buy the notion that past present and future are all the same to God in an eternal now. I think that is a lingering set of beliefs that ought to be replaced.

  31. 31 Bethany March 5, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Okay, here’s how I see it, refute as you will.

    God is watching over us, this world of ours sitting before him, with time running by as a giant tapestry. He has many different colored threads representing the people of various calibers who could fulfill each completely necessary role within the sphere of history. He also knows to what level he can rely upon these people to use their agency in the way he needs them to, for them to be at specific fixed points in time that HAVE to happen to make the plan work. At time he puts challenges in their way or takes someone out of their life to influence them toward specific points, but he cannot MAKE them choose anything. He’s gently coaxing along events that need to happen, without being able to directly change them through the people themselves, because of their agency.

    So he sets up situations, trials, etc. and uses their own personality and normal reactions to guide them toward that point. They can still CHOOSE to walk away from it completely, but the majority of the time they make the right set of choices to fulfill the biggest blessings set out in their P.B.

    However those who don’t follow the prescriptions: scripture study, prayer, faithfulness… will not receive the blessings laid out, because they didn’t strive for them.

    My own patriarchal blessing is so full of things I can barely even accept the scope of that it’s daunting, to say the least. But it’s exciting too, as I continue living as a disciple of Christ, to see where I could end up…

  32. 32 Eric NielsonE\ March 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    That’s pretty good Bethany.


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