Three Realms of Law, Light and Life
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 1, 2005
President Wilkes, BYU–Idaho administration, staff, and students, I thank you for this invitation and for the gracious hospitality we have always experienced when we visit this lovely campus. I am humbled by the opportunity given to me today to speak at a podium that has been shared by so many individuals that I admire and whose teachings and examples have touched my life. I have earnestly prayed that my words will find an acceptable place among the words delivered here by my betters.
I also must take a moment to thank my family for their desire to come and support me today. With my husband, five of our children, a daughter-in-law, both my parents and both my parents-in-law here today, I feel we are not so much visiting your campus as invading it. While I can never sufficiently express my gratitude for my wonderful family, I hope they will never doubt my love for them.
These past few weeks, I’ve struggled to decide which of three different messages I should share today. Let’s hope this is the right one!
The plan of salvation teaches clearly that this mortal sphere is a preparation for the next life. Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants more specifically explains that we prepare now for the kingdom of glory we will inherit by virtue of the law we choose to obey:
For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88:22-24).
Many years ago these verses caught my attention. It seemed clear that if I hoped to obtain a celestial glory, I needed to obey celestial law. Since that time, I have thought a great deal about what celestial law is and how it differs from terrestrial law and telestial law. Along the way, I learned some things that I’ve found quite useful and that I hope will be useful to you as well. A brief warning as I begin: some may consider what I say to be judgmental. It is. Those that are bothered by the judgments to follow may choose to review the 7th chapter of Moroni where we are reminded that
it is given unto [us] to judge, that [we] may know good from evil…that [we] may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you to the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ…
but whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil (Moroni 7:15-17, see also “‘Judge not’…Unrighteously,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, BYU Devotional Address, March 1998).
The “Three Realm Model” that I present this afternoon is intended to be an aid in making correct judgments, remembering always that the ideas discussed are not intended to help us condemn our neighbors, but to help us evaluate our own decisions and to help guide our own life’s choices.
So, let’s consider this “Three Realm Model” and then discuss some of its applications.
Laws of Light, Outcomes of Glory
Telestial law might be characterized as immediate gratification and appetite satisfaction. The natural man is in charge. Individuals in this realm are completely focused on themselves and their desires even to the exclusion of concerns about the needs or rights of others. Outcomes of living telestial law include pain, violence, and destruction. Such outcomes may be physical or emotional and are always spiritual. The pain, violence, and destruction are generally first felt by those close to the offender. For instance, an abuser is living telestial law, but those he abuses will be first to experience the pain. Eventually of course, the offender, having sown the wind, will reap the whirlwind (see Hosea 8:7), but this may take some time, justice being promised at the final harvest, not necessarily along life’s paths. Living with a telestial roommate is pretty painful. They may consider your possessions to be fair game, they may borrow money they never return, they may consider it their right to make noise even if you need to sleep, and they may expect you to put up with their temper, their moods, and their mess.
Terrestrial law might be characterized as self-control and deferred or delayed gratification. Terrestrial living requires the harnessing of the natural man and it is through obedience to the commandments of God, or even a willingness to comply with the basic rules of society, that we are able to do that. These rules and God’s commandments require that we increase the strength of our spirit over our flesh, controlling our appetites in order to refrain from hurting others and to do what is pleasing to God. Of course, human appetites are not of themselves evil, but if left unrestrained create enmity between us and God (see Mosiah 3:19) as well as making us pretty tough to live with. Living terrestrial law brings at least external peace and safety. I think it’s easy to see that if we control our desires, appetites, and passions, and those around us do the same, we can have peaceful, safe lives. Terrestrial roommates, for the most part, don’t eat your food, don’t take your clothes or car without permission, return things in good condition or replace them, control their tempers, and do their fair share of the work.
Celestial law, I believe, can be defined as Christ-like being, as distinct from Christ-like behavior, which can be found at the terrestrial level. If we have self-control and we can delay gratification, we can behave like Christ, but we still are not as He is. In order to truly become as the Savior is, our heart and behavior must be integrated. That is, not only do we do the right things, but we feel the right things. We are not kind because we should be and it works better, but because we see people as God does and it is no longer in us to be unkind. The laws of God are not just observed, they are engraven upon our hearts. Coming to live celestial law is a line-on-line, precept-on-precept experience, a process dependent on our cultivating a sensitivity to the tutorings of the Spirit (see 2 Nephi 32:5). The outcomes of living celestial law are the peace that passeth all understanding (see Philippians 4:7), and creation/rebirth. This kind of creation is not only a reference to the future, when celestialized individuals will be able to participate in the same kind of creative work that the Father does, but a reference to the birth of the new creature in each of us (see 2 Corinthians 5:17, Mosiah 27:26), as we are born of the Holy Ghost and sanctified (see Alma 13:12, 3 Nephi 27:20).
Two Basic Three-Realm Principles
Now with the basic model in place, let’s consider two corollary principles. First, we “can’t skip” from the telestial realm to the celestial realm. We must first establish a pattern of obedience, achieving some consistency in our mastery over the natural man, before we can progress to a celestial realm. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, speaking of how conversion comes about, explained that in rare, miraculous cases, conversion is an event. But for “most people,” Elder McConkie explained,
conversion is a process; and it goes step by step, degree by degree, level by level, from a lower state to a higher, from grace to grace, until the time that the individual is wholly turned to the cause of righteousness (“Be Ye Converted,” BYU Speeches of the Year, 11 February 1968, p. 12).
I think an awareness of the “can’t skip” principle, can help us understand better some otherwise confusing behaviors. For instance, we might think that individuals living telestially are easily recognizable as evil and dangerous, but that’s not necessarily so. Remember that appetites are not always evil. They may include an appetite for fun, for generosity, or even, occasionally, an appetite for the spirit and things of righteousness. Remember that a key element of the telestial realm is that there is no consistent regulation of appetites. So, when someone who lives largely by telestial law is in a fun mood, no one is more fun. When they feel generous, no one is more generous. When they feel the spirit, no one seems more spiritual. A nursery rhyme that I learned when very young goes like this:
There was a little girl, with a little curl right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.
Those in a telestial realm can be like that. Wonderful when they are wonderful and scary when they’re not.
This “can’t skip” idea also explains what I call the “girls’ camp syndrome.” Many of you young women may have noticed that almost every year at girls’ camp are some girls who seem to come primarily to give the leaders grief. They break rules, they don’t show up when they’re supposed to, etc. But on the last night of camp, at the “testimony bonfire,” they often bear testimonies that seem quite sincere and emotional. They may say things like “I love my mom and dad, even though I don’t usually do what they say. I love my sister, even though I treat her badly. And I love all of you, even though I was a jerk all week.” You can see the puzzled expressions around the campfire wondering if such expressions are genuine, not wanting to be skeptical but neither wanting to be naïve. Personally, I believe the feelings expressed in such moments are sincere because the Spirit can touch anyone who is receptive. Nevertheless, in many cases, those spiritually charged moments pass quickly and are not followed up with the “trenchwork of the terrestrial.”
It becomes very important then for us to be able to distinguish between solid, consistent progression toward the celestial and what we might term “the natural man on a good day.”
Note that celestial law does not replace terrestrial law as much as it builds upon the foundation of terrestrial principles. When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to secure a law for governing Israel, he first received a celestial law. Of course, upon his return to camp, he found the people clearly displaying their subjection to the carnal, sensual, and devilish appetites of the natural man. The Law of Moses was not a punishment, but an opportunity for progression, given as a “schoolmaster” to help the Children of Israel acquire, if they would follow the law, a mastery over the natural man. Those who diligently followed the law could then continue their progress toward a higher realm. Few in the Old World completed that path. In the New World, however, many of the Nephites, faithfully living the Law of Moses, were given the opportunity to progress into a more celestial realm, coming fully to the Savior to be perfected in Him (see 2 Nephi 25:24-27).
We, too, can come fully to Christ by first subjecting ourselves to His commandments. Those of you who served missions may have seen individuals who felt the Spirit, gained a witness of truth of the gospel, and were baptized, but whose testimonies faded quickly because they failed to consistently comply with basic commandments and harness the natural man – again, the “trenchwork of the terrestrial.” It makes sense, then, doesn’t it, that obedience is the first law of heaven (see John A. Widtsoe, An Understandable Religion, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1944, 51)?
The second corollary principle is that the telestial realm often mimics the celestial realm. Satan is the master counterfeiter. “The father of lies” always seeks to deceive. Satan offers telestial counterfeits for many celestial forms, but while the form may seem the same, the content is diametrically different.
A Few Examples
Systems of government illustrate this mimicry. Celestial government is theocracy. Until the millennium comes, we won’t experience theocracy in a pure form. However, the Nephites, for a time, were governed by a dynasty of prophet-kings – Mosiah I, Benjamin, and Mosiah II, an earthly theocracy . Terrestrial government would include democracy or a representative form of government. A dictator or an unrighteous monarch would be telestial government. Notice that the form of a telestial government is similar to that of the celestial – one man at the top. The substance, however, is diametrically different. A dictator uses his power to control others to achieve personal gain. A prophet-king consecrates his life to serve and bless his people, never seeking to abrogate their agency.
It is significant that when King Mosiah II was near the end of his righteous reign, he found that none of his four sons wanted to assume the monarchy. He told his people that he would continue as their king until his death, after which would be instituted a terrestrial government form, elected judges, in order to keep the people safe from the danger of a telestial government in the form of an unrighteous king. Let’s read from the 23rd chapter of Mosiah:
If it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings…who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people…if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you…. Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you. For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction! Yea, remember king Noah….
Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges…
Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law – to do your business by the voice of the people.
And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you (Mosiah 23:13, 16-18, 25-27).
King Mosiah, to protect his people from telestial mimicry of good government, instituted a terrestrial “safety net.”
Economic systems also illustrate telestial mimicry of the celestial. The United Order or Law of Consecration is the celestial system of economy. A terrestrial economic system is our system of free enterprise or capitalism. Communism, which mimics the celestial form, is a telestial economic structure. In the 1950s, some members of the Church thought that communism might be the same as the United Order. Church leaders clarified: “Communism and all other similar isms bear no relationship whatever to the United Order. They are merely the clumsy counterfeits which Satan always devises of the Gospel plan” ("Message of the First Presidency," 112th Annual Conference, April 6, 1942, emphasis added).
Three Realm Model Applications
As I consider these three realms of law and light, I find more and more ways to apply these ideas. Today I’m going to suggest four applications that I think may be useful to you.
First, there is safety in the terrestrial, safety in obedience. Several years ago I read a cover story on one of the popular news magazines that reported on how many people had been killed in one day in this country. They included small photos of most of the victims, with a short summary of the circumstances underneath. I don’t recall many of the details now, but I remember being surprised that while, of course, horrified at so much violent loss of life, when I finished reading the article I was strangely comforted. I realized that while there were certainly some innocent among the victims, the large majority had been involved in drugs, or in the commission of a crime, or even in a few cases, some strange lovers’ triangles. I remember thinking, “I don’t live like that. And my family members don’t live like that.” Again, there are innocent people who are sometimes hurt by an increasingly violent world, but there is great safety in following basic commandments.
To extend this idea of a terrestrial “safety net,” let me talk about mate selection for a moment. On many occasions, with single students or clients, I will hear descriptions of the kind of individual being sought out as a future husband or wife. Descriptions include such characteristics as, “She needs to have a strong testimony, or he needs to really love the Lord.” I can appreciate the righteous desires expressed here. Faithful individuals desire faithful partners and seek to marry someone with whom they can progress to the Celestial Kingdom. Nevertheless, given telestial mimicry of the celestial, trying to find a celestial partner can be very risky. Celestial characteristics – love, spirituality, true integration of the heart and behavior – are impossible for us to measure accurately, as they involve deep recesses of the heart. Some individuals seem to have such celestial characteristics, but are later found to be very different from what they appeared to be. We have been warned that there will be many wolves among the sheep in the last days (see Acts 20:29; Matthew 7:15). May I also suggest that – wonderful as so many of you are – for someone at your stage of life to have progressed to a consistent celestial level is - shall we say - unlikely?
Then, if seeking a celestial individual to marry isn’t realistic, what should you be looking for? Using terrestrial law as a safety net, you can choose a partner based on how firmly he or she is planted on a terrestrial foundation. Terrestrial characteristics, consistent behaviors requiring self-control and deferred gratification, are rather easy to measure and are difficult to fake. For instance, does this potential partner pay his/her bills? Is he/she in significant debt? Can he/she hold down a job? Is he/she often hurtful and offensive? Is he/she able to maintain solid relationships and healthy friendships, or do they seem to leave a trail of injury and enmity in their wake? Does he/she control temper and other appetites? Does he/she honor commitments – attending meetings, fulfilling callings, doing home or visiting teaching? Remember that at this stage we aren’t looking for perfection, but for solid consistency over time. It’s true that even these behaviors can be faked, but counterfeits can’t “hold their breath” forever. Over time – and please, my young brothers and sisters, take your time – it becomes fairly evident what kind of mastery an individual has over the natural man.
We are fallible human beings. Just because someone makes mistakes or has weaknesses doesn’t mean he or she is telestial. But red flags should go up when a pattern of telestial behavior is exhibited over time. Some individuals seem to go from one crisis to another. They may explain such crises in terms of coincidence, or unfair treatment, or bad luck, but no one has that much bad luck. It is true that anyone can experience unfortunate or unfair circumstances, but if someone is constantly “victimized” by such circumstances, a closer look often reveals that the individual’s choices and behaviors are not consistently in the terrestrial realm.
For instance, I once visited in a counseling session with a young woman in her early twenties, hurt and angry because her father had verbally exploded at her the night before. She asked, “How am I supposed to feel any self-esteem?” With a strong sense of ill-usage, she told of a friend working in law enforcement who wanted to prosecute her ex-boyfriend who had introduced her to illegal drugs. She thought this was unfair and she felt responsible for her ex-boyfriend’s getting in further trouble with the law. You see, this boyfriend had returned to dealing drugs after serving a prison term for the same thing. In addition, he had kept all her furniture the last time she moved out and, incidentally, had given her an STD. Yet she had just a week previously contemplated moving in with him again, rather than stay with a new boyfriend (not an ex-felon and with a stable job).
It’s important to understand that this was a very nice young woman. She was attractive and could obviously be lively and fun. She wanted to be drug-free and out of debt (“but how am I supposed to pay my bills if I’m in a re-hab center?”). Those living at a telestial level are not necessarily unpleasant or “bad” people. Nevertheless, they are allowing appetites and passions to govern their choices and their lives. Eventually, the consequences start to pile up for them and for those around them. While not a terrible person, this young woman was not a very safe candidate in terms of potential for marriage or motherhood.
Not all prospective partners with serious telestial patterns are as easily identified. However, if we don’t rush the courtship phase of a relationship, over time it usually becomes apparent when an individual is too often governed by their appetites. As a marriage counselor, I have spoken with many individuals who have lived with painful consequences brought into their marriage by a telestial partner. Sadly, as they think back to the courtship phase of their relationship, they most often say that the signs of trouble were there, they just didn’t give them appropriate weight when making the decision to marry.
An awareness of the difference between telestial and terrestrial lifestyles can be a tremendous tool in the mate selection process. Of course, presumably, as we recognize the great blessing it is to have a terrestrial partner, we likewise develop in ourselves a consistent pattern of terrestrial living.
Certainly, as a potential partner demonstrates a solid terrestrial foundation, it is important to discuss our interest in working toward the celestial realm. If both partners are building on a solid terrestrial foundation and both have a desire to progress, their potential to do so is real.
Second, in fulfilling stewardships, we must be mindful of avoiding the telestial counterfeit of unrighteous dominion. Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants gives a very strong warning concerning stewardships, beginning with these familiar words, “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen….” Continuing a few verses later: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” I believe that one of the reasons that stewardship responsibilities can so quickly lead to unrighteous dominion is that Satan, seeking to deceive, tempts those with authority into counterfeit kinds of leadership – telestial mimicry of celestial principles.
For example, a scout leader may be called who, in his enthusiasm to fulfill his stewardship, determines that every young man will get his Eagle Scout award. This may seem a worthy ambition, but – wait - whose plan was it that none should fail? It was Satan’s counterfeit plan, rejected in the pre-earth council in heaven. It would have required that our agency be taken away. Similarly, anytime we, in our stewardships, try to accomplish good by limiting others’ choices – even their choice to fail – we are falling for Satan’s telestial counterfeit of true leadership – in effect, taking lessons from the loser – and effectively ending our potential to truly bless or save. Efforts to guarantee Eagle status for every young man may result in an “Eagle Mill,” with young men receiving rubber-stamped merit badges they didn’t really earn, and parents and leaders completing projects or other requirements without much effort on the scout’s part. Not only does this prevent the growth that should have occurred for that young man, but it ends up making the award less meaningful for young men who really earn it.
The dangers warned of in Section 121 are an ever-present trap for the unwary foot: a Young Women’s president who vows that every young woman will finish her Young Womanhood award, a bishop who determines that every young man in his ward will serve a mission, a husband who is set upon having a righteous family and is deceived into thinking he can control or dictate that outcome. All these need to remember that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood” or, may I suggest, by virtue of any stewardship, or even by virtue of having a correct goal. Let’s suppose a young husband and wife are both working before children come. Let’s say the husband wants to pay tithing on their earnings, but the wife does not. He is right, of course, both should pay tithing. But if, in a sad fulfillment of Section 121, he insists, “As long as I’m head of this family, we will pay our tithing,” well, he was right a moment ago; now he’s wrong.
Recognizing how easily the telestial counterfeit can seduce those desiring a celestial experience may help to keep us safe from substituting unrighteous dominion for inspired leadership or from thinking the priesthood can be used as a cloak for compulsion or chauvinism. A favorite hymn of mine – too seldom sung – reminds us:
“Know this that every soul is free to choose his life and what he’ll be, For this eternal truth is given, that God will force no man to heaven. He’ll call persuade, direct aright, bless with wisdom love and light, in nameless ways be good and kind, but never force the human mind” (Hymns, #240).
Third, a three realm perspective can help us be more effective parents. There are too many parenting applications of this model to discuss here this afternoon, but I can’t forego the opportunity to suggest a few. Probably not very many of you are parents, yet, but I trust you can file this information for future reference.
It’s important for you to understand that in these last days, as the wickedness in the world intensifies, if you, as parents, do the same things your parents did, even if your parents were great parents, it won’t be enough. A simple illustration: over the last couple of decades, I have heard an increasing number of parents express frustration that their children treat them with disrespect. “I would never have spoken to my parents the way my children speak to me,” they complain. In a number of cases, these frustrated parents have gone to their parents and asked what they did to command basic respect. These grandparents consider for a moment and then consistently respond, “We don’t know.” Of course, this just increases frustration.
The three realm model can help us understand what’s going on. When the grandparents were parenting, the world was more terrestrial. For quite a while, post-WWII, middle-class America held pretty close to basic Judeo-Christian beliefs. This was reflected even in the television shows watched by the rising generation: “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” etc. In those television families, children spoke respectfully to parents. I remember an episode of the Andy Griffith Show when Opie got mouthy with his teacher. The whole town came down on him. Respect from children to adults was in the air we breathed. Not so today. Popular children’s television fare now includes shows like “The Simpsons,” “Beavis and Butthead,” “South Park,” and worse. I hope you and your children won’t be watching just anything on TV, but even shows considered to be “safe family sitcoms” show a lot of disrespect from children to adults, and a laugh track lets us all know how acceptable and even clever it is to lace every conversation with zingers and put-downs. Today’s children and tomorrow’s children, your children, will be breathing increasingly telestial air.
Parents in a telestial world have to parent more pro-actively than parents in a terrestrial world. Society won’t teach your children to be respectful; you’ll need to do it. Society won’t teach your children the difference between true, modest beauty as defined by God and trendy, immodest, but increasingly popular behavior and attire; you’ll need to do it. Make a goal now to learn about good, pro-active parenting. Passive permissiveness won’t be enough. Elder Maxwell once made this sobering statement: “I have no hesitancy, brothers and sisters, in stating that unless checked, permissiveness, by the end of its journey, will cause humanity to stare in mute disbelief at its awful consequences” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Becometh As a Child,” ENSIGN, May 1996, 68).
As a counselor, as a neighbor, as a citizen I am already seeing the fulfillment of this prophetic warning.
Sometimes permissive parenting is an outgrowth of a misapplication of a statement made by Joseph Smith. You may recall the Prophet’s answer to a question concerning how he governed the people of Nauvoo: “I teach my people correct principles and they govern themselves.” Quite regularly, I hear of parents using this statement as a guide in their parenting approach. But this statement doesn’t apply to young children -- or missionaries– as President Hinckley’s son Richard, a former mission president, added. There is a big difference between the citizens of Nauvoo and the children who come into our homes. Referring to the Three Realm Model, how might we characterize the citizenry of Nauvoo? Clearly most, if not all, Nauvoo citizens were at least terrestrial. These people had certainly harnessed the natural man. They had already paid a heavy price for their membership in the Church, enduring hardship and persecution and reclaiming the land of Nauvoo from a mosquito-infested swamp to build the greatest city of it’s time in that part of the country. Nauvoo, in fact, did not even have a jail –there wasn’t the need.
Now how do our little children compare with such a group of citizens? Well, they’re not really the same, are they? We know little children are innocent, but when they come to our families they are dual-natured: a spirit of great worth with divine potential cloaked in flesh, which from the Fall of Adam has become carnal, sensual, and devilish. Appetites of the flesh, if left unchecked, can make us enemies to God (see Mosiah 3:19). So how much sense does it make – really – to teach a young child about the value of education and then allow him to choose whether or not to go to school? I would agree that our ultimate goal as parents is consistent with Joseph’s statement, but first, we have a stewardship to help our children reach a terrestrial level of emerging mastery over the natural man. Be aware that, as parents, we can and should teach celestial law, but we can only enforce terrestrial behavior. We can’t change their hearts, but if their behavior is no longer offensive to God or their fellows, the spirit is able to work on their hearts. Let me share an illustration.
More than one parent has told me of planning FHE after FHE aimed at getting their children to quit fighting with each other, a telestial behavior. They felt good about those lessons, focusing on the importance of love in their homes and love for each other, good celestial ideals. The FHEs are successful, ending in a group hug, but five minutes after the prayer, the kids are fighting over refreshments. Do you see the mistake here? The parents are skipping the terrestrial middle ground so necessary to progression. It doesn’t work to stop quarreling children with something like, “Johnny and Susie, you need to love each other, and I’m going to wait right here until you do” because we can’t change their hearts and they can’t leap from telestial fighting to celestial loving. Instead, we could say, “Johnny and Susie, I know you’re really upset with each other (and frankly, I’m not too crazy about you, either, right now), but you can’t hit; you can’t break each others’ things; you can’t call each other those names,” etc. Do you see the focus on harnessing the natural man as opposed to trying to change their hearts? Not incidentally, when children are required to treat each other with respect and prevented from hurting one another, their hearts can change and love can grow.
Discussing specific parenting techniques that enforce the terrestrial while still avoiding telestial parenting patterns of compulsion or unrighteous dominion is beyond the scope of today’s presentation and a subject for another time. But you will find and develop those skills if you are committed to the task, learning by study and also by faith.
The fourth and final three realm application I would like to touch on today is this: it is important to set appropriate terrestrial boundaries in our relationships. This application also has a lot to do with the idea of not trying to skip from the telestial to the celestial realm. Let me explain.
If we are trying to be good people, and are earnestly seeking to follow Christ’s celestial pattern, we may make sincere efforts to respond to injuries from others with patience, kindness, and long-suffering. These can be appropriate responses to terrestrial troubles, but not always the best response to telestial behaviors. The reason for this is that while terrestrial, imperfect behaviors may be irritating, they are not destructive. If you have a roommate that watches too many sports on television, or who doesn’t clean up often enough, or perhaps is too finicky about cleaning, it can be a bit hard to live with, but patience, kindness, and long-suffering are certainly a good approach and good practice for marriage.
However, as a marriage counselor, I see too many situations in which a partner is involved in more serious, telestial behaviors – like adultery, abuse, addictions to drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Of course, such behaviors bring pain, violence, and destruction into relationships and should be confronted with strong terrestrial boundaries. Here’s an example:
One woman told me that her husband – when he came home hungry and found her outside watching the kids play – would go inside the house and lock all the doors, so she and the kids had to wait for an hour or more on the back porch until he decided to open the door. While milder than some marriage problems I just mentioned, this was still a very destructive pattern. It damaged the wife’s feelings of personal worth and it was destroying her feelings of love for her husband. It also was lousy modeling for the children. Her response had been patience, long-suffering, and serious efforts to forgive, but it wasn’t working and she was becoming bitter. I shared with her the three realm model and suggested that she was trying to skip from the telestial realm to the celestial. She was responding to her husband’s telestial behavior with what she thought were celestial efforts. However, showing patience with destructive, telestial behaviors or trying to forgive unrepented, ongoing injury – typically results in an acceptance of victimization that doesn’t benefit either victim or victimizer. The victim remains vulnerable to abuse and, almost inevitably, loses respect and love for the victimizer, while the victimizer continues unabated on their personal road to destruction.
Instead, I suggested this woman draw a terrestrial boundary with her husband. She agreed to make sure she always wore clothes with pockets. In the pockets she was to put driver’s license, cash, credit card, or checkbook, and keys. She also packed the car with extra clothes and supplies for the young children. She then told her husband that she was no longer willing to accept behavior that she knew – and he knew – was not acceptable to God. If he locked the door on her again, she said, she would take the kids and go to place where they would be safe and not feel like beggars at their own door -- perhaps the library, a movie, a park, or a restaurant. Then, when she was ready, she would call to see if he were willing to take this problem to the bishop or to a counselor to learn better ways to deal with his anger. After she “drew that terrestrial boundary line,” he never locked the door on his family again, and he came into counseling where, working together, they made great improvements in their marriage.
The Lord has said, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:31). This is not the statement of a harsh deity, but an affirmation of a love so profound that it will give sin no quarter – knowing that sin destroys His children. If we are to become “even as He is” (see 3 Nephi 27:27), then we, too, must be tolerant of individuals, but intolerant of sin.
Notice, too, that this approach of “holding the terrestrial line” brings benefits to everyone. Drawing a terrestrial line benefits the victimizer as this gives him or her the opportunity to repent, rather than continuing on a path of self-destruction. And drawing a terrestrial line can help turn victims into agents. This is vastly superior, of course, to what so often happens when a victim reaches his or her limit and decides, “I’ve taken it long enough; now I’m dishing it out,” at which point they both end up telestial. The Lord does not want His people to live as victims (see Doctrine &Covenants 98:23-48).
About 15 years ago, I bought a greeting card that I liked so much I decided to keep it. On the cover it read: “A very wise man once said, ‘If you look through the rain long enough, you’ll see the rainbow.’” Inside the card were these words: “And an even wiser man said, ‘If you’re getting wet, get the hell out of the rain.’” Now there’s a clear non-victim message.
A serious caution must be given here. When a terrestrial line is drawn, there are two responses that may follow from the offending spouse. One is that, as in the case mentioned above, the partner backs down and makes efforts to improve in order to save the relationship. However, in some cases, a partner too deeply involved in telestial behavior may intensify or escalate those behaviors in an effort to force the other partner back into a victim role. So, we must never encourage anyone to confront a partner without backup, if there is any danger of a violent response. That is, don’t send a wife on her own to confront a husband who beats her up. She must be accompanied by a male family member, or a priesthood leader, or someone who can guarantee her safety, if necessary.
My young brothers and sisters, I have addressed some serious issues with you, today. My intent is not to frighten you – well, maybe just a little, enough to help you seek to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:12, Mosiah, 15: 26, Mormon 9:27). We live in an increasingly telestial world. President Hinckley said just over a year ago, “I do not know that things were worse in the times of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, January 10, 2004).
I sometimes worry that, as members, we are still responding as though the world were still in a more terrestrial state, as it was in the 1950s or early 60s. I think some members became used to only having to be “this much” better than the rest of middle-class America. Prom dresses, movie or television choices, swimming suits needed to be “this much better. When the world began sinking rapidly into an increasingly telestial state, I’m afraid that some members – having become used to being “this much” better, just maintained that distance. Now, in this new millennium, perhaps too often, our choices of are still just “this much” better than those of a telestial world. Consider that if such a trend continues, all it means is that we’ll get to hell about six months later.
We can and must do better. We can and must become increasingly different from the world, an increasingly “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9), so we can one day become God’s “peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5). In this tremendous and essential effort, God will not leave us on our own, for He has promised, “…I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand, and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (Doctrine & Covenants 84:88).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is both “to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” It is exactly what each of us needs. How generous is the Plan; how kind is our Heavenly Father; how merciful is His Son, Our Savior. What a glorious opportunity is ours – what a tremendous responsibility goes with it. May God bless you as you live solid terrestrial lives, moving forward in faith toward celestial light and life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.