While pondering Christ’s atonement and the role our premortal spiritual existence with God played in it, I felt an inkling of the emotions that were involved in this premortal realm.
Before we were born, we all existed as individual spirit children of God. Our Father in heaven had so much love for us that He presented a plan whereby we would come to earth to learn and grow, and thus experience more eternal happiness. He explained that earth life would enable us to develop more of His attributes so that we could experience more love and joy. He explained that in order for this plan to work, we needed a savior to suffer all the pain caused by our sins and misdeeds.
Christ was also there. Christ felt so much love and gratitude to God the Father for introducing this great plan of happiness that Christ wanted to help our Father in heaven accomplish it. So Christ volunteered to be our Savior, knowing full well that it would entail suffering all our pain and sorrow.
Our Father in heaven was deeply moved by Christ’s willingness and devotion to do the Father’s will. Christ’s great love for the Father generated a phenomenal reciprocal love from the Father for Christ. Our Father in heaven was so touched by this mutual outpouring of love that He accepted Christ’s offer to be our Savior.
They then entered into a covenant whereby Christ promised to be our Savior and take upon him the sins and pains of the world, and God the Father promised to accept Christ’s sacrifice.
Christ then turned to us and, with great humility and sincerity, desired to know if we trusted him enough and had enough faith and confidence in him for us to accept him as our Savior. We were filled with awe at his humility and love. We felt so moved by his love for us and his willingness to endure all our sorrow that we were filled with tremendous appreciation and love for him. We felt great joy and responded that of course we would accept him as our Savior.
Christ, in turn, was touched by our love and confidence in him. He was filled with immense compassion and love for us and felt a great desire to bear all our burdens so that we would not suffer pain and sorrow. Christ then covenanted with us that he would bear all our sins and be our Savior, and we covenanted with Christ to accept him as our Savior and keep his commandments.
Even though I did not see anything with my natural eyes, I felt such a strong and distinct impression of the emotions involved that I felt like I was there and cannot deny the reality of what I experienced. I realized that Christ entered into a covenant both with God the Father and with all of us and became our mediator before the creation of the world.
I learned that being motivated by love to make a commitment and then confirming that commitment with a covenant is an eternal principle we need to follow. For example, we are motivated by love to become engaged to our future spouse, and then we later confirm that commitment by a covenant of marriage. Likewise, when we are motivated by love to accept God, we need to confirm that personal commitment with Him through the baptismal covenant that He established.
The belief in human premortal spiritual existence was an early Christian doctrine that was held to be heretical in the sixth century. The universality of this early Christian belief is evidenced by the story found in John 9:1–3, in which Jesus’s disciples asked him if a man born blind had sinned prior to his birth. Jesus did not question or refute their belief in a premortal existence but simply stated that the man was born blind so that the works of God could be shown through his miraculous healing.
Paul was probably referring to this premortal existence when he confirmed to philosophers in Athens that their poets were correct, stating, “We are the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29). Paul expressly referred to this premortal covenant when he began his epistle to Titus:
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:1–2, emphasis added)
He repeats this in 2 Timothy 1:9, where he asserts that we are saved, “according to [God’s] own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Promises from the Judeo-Christian God are often expressed as part of a covenant between humans and deity. Peter and John apparently also referred to this premortal covenant when they each mentioned Christ being foreordained to be our savior before the foundation of the world. (See 1 Peter 1:20 and Rev 13:8.)
Origen (AD 184–253), the most renowned and orthodox Christian theologian of the early Patristic period, taught this doctrine regarding a spiritual premortal existence and quoted Jeremiah 1:5 in support: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” He also quoted Romans 9:11–14 and argued that because God is just, the reason he loved Jacob and hated Esau before their birth had to be based on their actions in a premortal realm.
The belief in a premortal existence was embraced by the various Christian Gnostic sects that rivaled orthodox followers in number. Tertullian (AD 155–240), who joined the heretical Montanism sect, was one of the most ardent opponents of Gnosticism. He attacked the doctrine of a premortal existence because it was a fundamental Gnostic belief. He argued that both the human spirit and body are generated from their mortal parents, a concept he founded called traducianism. Jerome (AD 347–420) later argued that only the human body originates from its parents and that one’s spirit is created directly by God, Who places it into a physical body at some point between conception and birth. This concept is called creationism, not to be confused with our current usage of this term, referring to God’s influence in the creation of the universe. In AD 553, the doctrine of human premortal existence was rejected in the Second Council of Constantinople, but no decision was made regarding the competing theories of traducianism and creationism. Today, Lutheran theologians are generally traducianists while other Christians tend to be creationists, except for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which believes in a premortal spiritual existence.
The principles I learned from my experience involving God entering into a covenant with mankind in a premortal realm is supported by history and by scripture.