In virtually all of us, there is some sort of innate yearning to know what was before this life and how it affects us here.
Fortunately though, for Latter-day Saints, we need no special revelation to tell us we had a life before. Such revelation exists. Latter-day scriptures and prophetic teachings not only confirm our intimations but also paint a clear picture of just who we are, where we came from, and why we are here. Without this modern revelation we could only guess at what it all means, but with it, the scriptures unveil something hidden to the rest of the world—the premortal heavens are no longer a mystery.
Here are just a few insights into the life we lived before mortality and how that life continues to shape who we are today.
There Were Two Creations
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith many important truths concerning the Creation. One of those truths was that there were really two creations—one spiritual and the other temporal or physical. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said, "For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal-first spiritual, secondly temporal" (D&C 29:31-32). Later, the Prophet Joseph was given additional information concerning these two creations. When he received the Lord's revelation given to Moses, Joseph learned that "the Lord God . . . created all things . . . spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth" (Moses 3:5). Concerning man, the Lord also said that even before Adam was created in the flesh, "all things [including mankind] were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word" (Moses 3:7).
The Substance From Which the Earth Was Formed Existed Eternally
In April of 1844—in the address that came to be known as the King Follett Discourse—Joseph Smith refuted the idea that God created the world out of nothing and explained that, instead, God organized the world.
Now, I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? The reason is, that they are unlearned in the things of God and have not the gift of the Holy Ghost....
You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing, and they will answer, ‘Doesn't the Bible say He created the world?’ And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau, which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos-chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.
The Substance From Which Our Spirits Were Formed Also Existed Eternally
In 1833 the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that “man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). Several years later, with the publication of the book of Abraham, additional information about the immortality of the soul of man came to light. The Lord told Abraham that these intelligences or spirits “have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal” (Abraham 3:18).
The Prophet Joseph often suggested that just as the earth could not be created out of nothing, neither could man. In the King Follett Discourse, the Prophet Joseph once again addressed this subject of the immortality of the spirit of man.
The soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation . . .
The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself . . .
Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end . . .
Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.
We Have a Spiritual and Divine Father and Mother
In 1909, the First Presidency of the Church issued an official declaration concerning the spiritual as well as temporal origin of man. Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund wrote:
All men and women are in similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity . . .
The doctrine of the pre-existence revealed so plainly, particularly in latter days, pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man's origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents.
It is most profound that the First Presidency clarified the relationship of the spiritual creation of man by using words like "begotten" and "born." This official statement of the First Presidency answers the question. How was the spirit of man organized or born? Just as mortal beings take on their physical bodies in a procreative process involving both an earthly father and an earthly mother, the birth of spirits came about "in like manner." This important truth implies that not only a Heavenly Father is needed in the spiritual procreative process but also a Heavenly Mother.
We Have Spiritual Talents and Predispositions
We’ve seen how closely our earthly existence is patterned after our premortal one. The similarities can be extended even further. Each child that is born inherits certain qualities and characteristics from his or her physical parents. This inheritance can be more than just physical. It is also common to inherit musical talent, other artistic or intellectual gifts, and even personality traits. "It's in his blood" and "It's in her genes" are common expressions.
In a real yet spiritual sense each child of Heavenly Father likewise inherited characteristics and capacities from his divine parents. These capacities may not necessarily be talents such as athletic ability or artistic gifts, but no doubt all spirit sons and daughters of God inherited the potential—all the spiritual capacities—necessary to enable them to become like their Father or Mother. "There is the nature of deity in the composition of our spiritual organization," said President Lorenzo Snow.
It should be significant to each of us to know that by virtue of our divine lineage, we possess innate spiritual capacities which, if developed and nurtured properly, will lead to godhood--godhood like that of the Father who endowed each of his spirit offspring with that inheritance.
For a more in-depth look into our life before this one, check out Brent L. Top's The Life Before available at deseretbook.com.
The Life Before delves into fascinating topics such as our spiritual origins and capacities, premortal organization and harmony, agency, opposition, foreordination, the eternal nature of the priesthood, and the war in heaven — all elements that are “timeless.” Brent L. Top then shifts to a discussion of “time” — our earthly existence — and the reader learns what the “here and now” has to do with everything that happened “then.”