“O my Father,” early Latter-day saint poet, Eliza R. Snow, once asked, “In thy holy habitation / Did my spirit once reside? / In my first primeval childhood / Was I nurtured near thy side?” In her lines, she asks, essentially, whether her life began at birth—or whether her existence had its origins even earlier. There are glimmers of the doctrine of a premortal existence in the Bible (see Jeremiah 1:5; Job 38:4–7); however, a fuller understanding of that doctrine and its marvelous implications has come only through modern revelation.
Summarizing our place in the eternities, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “We are sons and daughters of God. God is the Father of our spirits. We lived before we came here. We had personality. We were born into this life under a divine plan. We are here to test our worthiness, acting in the agency which God has given to us. When we die we shall go on living.” In this succession of simple sentences, we see that the life we experience now is only a small part of our eternal existence and that we are here under a divine plan. Latter-day Saints know that plan as the Plan of Salvation, and it is the foundation for all of our beliefs and practices.
We believe that, before the creation of this earth, God the Father presented a plan to all of His children, a plan that would allow us to receive physical bodies and to qualify for the quality of life that He enjoys. In His infinite love and wisdom, God knew that life in the world would be rife with temptations, calamities, disappointments, and tragedies, so He also promised a way to overcome the opposition that we would face in mortality as we made our way back to His presence. As Elder Robert D. Hales once explained, “Father knew we would stumble and sin as we learned by experience in mortality, so He provided a Savior to redeem from sin all who repent and to heal the spiritual and emotional wounds of those who obey.” Of course, that Savior is Jesus Christ, and we can have the assurance that, as we follow the plan and strive to live after the example of the Savior, we can return to live with our Father in Heaven, to live in a state of eternal joy with our families.
That, in its most condensed form, is the basis of an eternal perspective, a paradigm that includes the reality of our existence beyond this life. But, while a knowledge of the eternal nature of God’s plan is interesting and worth having, the real power of that knowledge is in the way that it can transform our lives and give us a deeper sense of purpose. “The Plan of Salvation,” in Elder Hales’ words, “is one of the greatest treasures of knowledge ever given to mankind because it explains the eternal purpose of life. Without it, we are truly wandering in the dark.” He then goes on to say, “Understanding the plan clarifies our spiritual vision and allows us to see things as they really are.”
Being able to situate myself within an understanding of God’s plan has given me a sense of confidence and purpose that I couldn’t have otherwise. Knowing that my existence goes back far earlier than my birth gives me a reassuring sense of identity. Knowing that this life is all a part of God’s plan for my eternal success gives me the confidence to press forward despite difficulties and uncertainties. Knowing that there is much to my existence beyond this life encourages me to work hard to be my very best in order to return to my heavenly home and help others to do the same.
Without the knowledge of God’s eternal plan, our perspective would be limited to the short decades of our lives on earth: the commandments would be arbitrary restrictions, religion would be a fruitless pastime, and morality would be as flexible and negotiable as the latest fashions. With the perspective that comes from His plan, however, everything changes: commandments become guideposts to a happier eternity, religion becomes a binding link between God and His children, and morality becomes the bedrock of a successful life founded on eternal principles. To know the plan is to know God’s love, to know that, even though we must sometimes pass through heart-wrenching difficulties, He has provided a way for us to overcome all sorrows and to return to His presence, where He “shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).