Thinking of Mortal Life as a Test

There are a couple of common ideas in Mormonism (and many religions) that seem to be contradicting to me.  The first idea is that mortal life is, among other things, a test.  The second idea is that mortal life is radically different from either our premortal life, or our after life.  To be fair, I would say that most Mormons would feel that there is more in common between mortal life and ‘heaven’ than most Christian religions would, yet my sense is that most of us believe the differences are substantial.  But do such perceived differences make sense if we look at mortal life as a test, with premortal life as preparation, and mortal life as an evaluation for a future after life?

Mortal life is what we know the most about – we are living it right now.  Mortal life has its joys and sorrows, its pleasures and pains, its triumphs and tragedies.  We have our struggles for food and shelter, our battles of good and evil, and our evident vulnerability and ultimate death.  There are many opportunities for testing during our time here, and it is easy to see why the idea that mortal life is a test appeals to us.  So if life is a test, does that tell us anything about premortal life as a preparation for this test, or about the afterlife if mortal life is an adequate evaluation of our fitness for it?

For mortal life to be a test, it seems that there ought to be a time of preparation – which would be our premortal life.  Yet it seems to me that much of what we go through during mortality bears little resemblance to my perceptions of premortal life.  For example, mortal life is filled with things like money concerns, health issues, etc. which I perceive to be absent in our premortal life (or afterlife).  Why should certain things seem to dominate much of our mortal life as part of some test, if such things are of no concern either before of after mortal life?

It appears to me that something has to give here.  Either my ideas about what is really going on during mortality is pretty warped sometimes, or my gleaming white perceptions of premortal and afterlife are not accurate.  Or both.

11 Responses to “Thinking of Mortal Life as a Test”

  1. 1 Matt W. June 7, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    question- aren’t the things you mention of life (money, health, etc) merely symptoms of death?

    If no death, no need for money. If no death, no concern for health.

    So doesn’t mortality itself make all the difference?

  2. 2 Eric Nielson June 7, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Yes, it probably does. My questions here is whether it makes for a good test or not, and if it informs us about the nature of pre and after life.

  3. 3 dennisonlott June 7, 2015 at 7:09 pm

    As a college professor I like to think of my tests as learning tools rather than exercises to weed people out. It is in this context that I view the word test when it get is used to describe the purpose of mortality. If the purpose of this life was to be born in the church, graduate from seminary, serve a mission and marry in the template, then obviously the plan isn’t working as so few have this opportunity. Rather I feel this life is a opportunity given to us to teach us through experience certain principles that will be useful to us in the next world. The Lord expects we will make mistakes and that is the reason he gave us the atonement. Everyone, regardless of the opportunities or lack thereof will have the same opportunity to receive eternal life if that is what their heart desires. Heavenly Father is a loving father who wants to save all of his children and I believe he is smart enough to achieve most of his objective.

  4. 5 Eric Nielson June 7, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks dennisonlott. As a professor, you still give a grade correct? With the idea of degrees of glory, this takes the school test even further no? Sure we go to school to learn, but to also get a grade. Do you view mortal life as resulting in a pass fail course, or a regular course with a grade?

    • 6 dennisonlott June 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      As with any analogy there is not a perfect correspondence with the item with which the analogy refers. I don’t believe the word “test” if it is used to mean the to mean process of proving to us that we are stupid or inferior, as I have heard it used in church settings, is correct. The objective of mortality I believe is to learn. Yes anyone who truly wants an A in my class can eventually receive it either by coming in for tutoring or retaking the class. Again the analogy correspondence is not perfect, but the Lord will judge us on our heart and intent and will take into account our ignorance, the unfortunate environments we may have been born into and so on in judging us. If there was no chance to accept the gospel, which entails a change of heart and repentance, once we leave this mortality existence, Christ would not have arranged for the spirits in prison to be taught the gospel and we would not do temple work for generations people’s only option for survival was blood and horror.

      • 7 dennisonlott June 7, 2015 at 8:40 pm

        To respond to the question more precisely, and to not sound negative, which was not my intent, I believe that we do eventually get graded perhaps by ourselves as well as God, but the analogy of the test in a school environment only makes sense if we have a chance to improve our grade in the next life if our earthly professors were deficient. It is not fair to fail a student for not knowing material he or she was not taught or was taught incorrectly.

  5. 8 jamiejourney June 7, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    I always thought of the pre-mortal life as more of a planning period than a preparation period where we progressed as far as we could without a physical body. You are right, it’s impossible to learn how to walk/exercise/all of the physical things without actually having a body. I tell my own students that actual learning does not happen through my lectures – that it is like watching a circus – you can watch someone walk on the tightrope (it always looks easy when someone else does it), and then say “OK, you understand what walking on a tightrope is, right? You just put your feet on it, balance etc…” and everyone nods their head that they understand… are there any questions? No, no questions, everyone understands the idea of it… OK, you told me you understood, so here is the rope – let’s see you actually walk across it! Of course no one can walk across it even though they claimed they understood, asked no questions etc. etc. It’s theory vs. practice. “In theory, theory and practice are the same… in practice, they are not.” – Einstein. It’s the difference between science and ENGRing – ENGRing is applied, and there is quite a lot entailed in that little word “applied”. So you watch the lecture (pre-mortal life), then you actually try to apply it (life), then after you have had a little experience in both parts of it (theory and practice), you are finally able to make an informed decision about what you really want to do for the rest of eternity. If you are motivated to keep learning, than so be it. If not? The other realms of glory are not overly horrible places.

  6. 9 Eric Nielson June 8, 2015 at 7:39 am

    I like what you have said here. Although I think the distinction between planning and preparation is quite subtle – planning and preparation seem about the same.

    Yet it seems the original questions still remain. What type of planning are we talking about? Does what we experience in mortality inform us about the nature of that planning? What type of experience are we gaining during mortality that is relevant to the afterlife? Does any of this mean that mortal life is more similar to premortal and afterlife than we usually suppose?

  7. 10 jamiejourney June 8, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    The pre-mortal life was where the plan of salvation was outlined, where Jesus was chosen as our Savior, where unorganized matter was formed into our world, etc. In mortality we try to learn how to control our own body – it seems like our physical body is the big difference between pre-mortal and mortal life, and our physical body is also the first little bit of matter we are given power over. Perhaps beyond the veil, some will be able to control larger amounts of matter than just their own bodies (able to move mountains, or form worlds)… Those in outer-darkness seem not to have control over matter (fallen spirits trying to possess a herd of pigs, not wanting to be without a body etc.)… I suppose if someone is going to manipulate matter for evil purposes, (starting with using their own physical body for evil) it’s better not to allow them to have access to matter at all? You cannot physically hurt anyone if you have no physical body etc… vs. those who would use matter for good (starting with using their own physical body to serve and do good) are given larger and larger domains – able to control larger amounts of matter? In any event, I like Skousen’s idea that the universe is made up of two basic components – “that which acts, and that which is acted upon”… a fullness of joy is a happy union between the two. In any event, without matter, without a physical body, it seems like there would be nothing but thoughts/intentions/theories… To me, matter makes something real. … One thing I like about Mormonism, that God is not some mystical light/spirit etc., but that He is a real, physical, material, being… Does that make me a materialist?

  8. 11 Eric Nielson June 9, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Yes it does. Quite a thorough one, which I think is correct. I think this is an excellent response. I think the nature of a mortal life ‘test’ makes more sense with a highly materialistic afterlife. Which seems counter to most other religions/worldviews.

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