By Eric Johnson
Preexistence, also known as premortality, is the belief that God the Father and Heavenly Mother(s) produced spirit children in a spirit world. According to third President John Taylor, “We know that our spirits existed with the Father before we came here” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 2001, p. 187).
According to Mormonism, there was a disagreement between Lucifer and Jesus, who was the firstborn child of God the Father. Both wanted to be the Savior of the world. Lucifer devised a plan that would force everyone to accept the Gospel plan. Eleventh President David O. McKay explained,
Satan wanted to force us all to do his will. Under his plan, we would not be allowed to choose. He would take away the freedom of choice that our Father had given us. Satan wanted to have all the honor for our salvation. Under his proposal, our purpose in coming to earth would have been frustrated (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay , 207) (Gospel Principles, 2009, pp. 13-14).
Jesus, however, wanted to allow everyone being sent to earth to practice their agency and choose for themselves if they wanted to follow God’s plan. All spirits had to make a choice at the Council in Heaven. All who sided with Jesus and his righteous plan were given the opportunity to come to earth with physical bodies, which were needed to progress to godhood. These spirits would then be allowed to enter mortality. Authorized church manuals explain in more detail:
In harmony with the plan of happiness, the premortal Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son of the Father in the spirit, covenanted to be the Savior (see Moses 4:2; Abraham 3:27). Those who followed Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were permitted to come to the earth to experience mortality and progress toward eternal life. Lucifer, another spirit son of God, rebelled against the plan and “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). He became Satan, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven and denied the privileges of receiving a physical body and experiencing mortality (see Moses 4:4; Abraham 3:27–28). Throughout your premortal life, you developed your identity and increased your spiritual capabilities. Blessed with the gift of agency, you made important decisions, such as the decision to follow Heavenly Father’s plan. These decisions affected your life then and now. You grew in intelligence and learned to love the truth, and you prepared to come to the earth, where you could continue to progress (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 116).
Only those who accepted Jesus to be their Savior can have bodies of flesh and bones. We know, because we have bodies of flesh and bones, that we accepted Jesus to be our Savior. We chose the right things in heaven (Gospel Fundamentals, 2004, p. 11).
Every person who was ever born on earth is our spirit brother or sister. Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 9).
Making the correct choice at that time allowed spirits to be born with physical bodies to families on earth based on each spirit’s obedience in premortality:
QUESTION Then what determines where and when you are born? ANSWER We don’t know in detail all the factors that influence the circumstances into which we are born, but the prophets have clearly taught that the basic rule of obedience to law as the prerequisite for blessings holds true in this matter as well. QUESTION Meaning that the kind of life we lived in the premortal existence influenced where we are now? ANSWER Yes (The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles Religion 211-212, 1979, pp. 254-255).
When we lived as spirit children with our heavenly parents, our Heavenly Father told us about His plan for us to become more like Him. We shouted for joy when we heard His plan (see Job 38:7) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 23).
According to 16th President Thomas S. Monson, we did not remember anything from our previous lives as spirits:
How grateful we should be that a wise Creator fashioned an earth and placed us here, with a veil of forgetfulness of our previous existence so that we might experience a time of testing, an opportunity to prove ourselves in order to qualify for all that God has prepared for us to receive (“The Race of Life,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May, 2012, p. 91).
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith taught how those spirits that were not as noble as the others were marked with a black skin:
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient; more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less (Doctrines of Salvation 1:61. Italics in original).
NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits (Doctrines of Salvation 1:65-66. Italics in original).
What Does Christianity Teach
The Bible does not teach premortality and the idea that humans existed in a previous life as spirits. Latter-day Saints have used several biblical verses out of context to support this idea, including:
- Job 38:4-7: Preexistence
- Ecclesiastes 12:7: Preexistence
- Jeremiah 1:5: I knew thee / Preexistence
- John 9:1-3: Preexistence
- Hebrews 12:9: Preexistence
The idea that previous actions before this life affected where we were born, our attitudes, etc. seems to be more in line with Eastern philosophy (karma / reincarnation) than with a biblical worldview. The Bible says that people were fearfully and wonderfully created at the time of conception (Psalm 139:14).
Finally, people across the world are born with skin based on their race. Those with African heritage are born with black skin because this is part of their DNA, not the result of being less noble in a previous life. For more on this, click here.
Other articles to consider:
Test your understanding
- Which of the following is NOT a valid understanding of the LDS teaching on preexistence, or premortality?
A) All angels and demons were created to be with God and live in this state before life, humans came later
B) All humans on this earth once existed as spirits in another realm
C) Satan and one-third of the spirits did not choose the plan of Jesus and were cast out of heaven
D) How well one obeyed in the preexistence determined whether or not one would be allowed to become a human and come to mortality
2. Where was this decision made by the spirits?
A) Spirit Prison B) Paradise C) Council of Heaven D) Heaven
3. What was Satan and one third of the spirits NOT guilty of?
A) They rejected Jesus and his plan B) They had pride C) They practiced Devil worship D) They did not act righteously
4. According to Joseph Fielding Smith, what was the cause for those spirits who had made the right choice but were given black skin?
A) They were randomly chosen for this B) They were not as obedient as they should have been C) They chose Lucifer D) They had bad thoughts
5. How much can the average person remember concerning the preexistence?
A) Nothing B) The Council of Heaven C) Randomly remember some things D) Most things
Answers are below the video
Answers to the quiz
- A. All spirits existing in the preexistence either became human with mortal bodies or they were cast out of heaven as spirits (demons) with no chance to get a body.