I was at work, keeping my head down, when one of my colleagues asked me about the “three kingdoms” of Mormonism.
“So, I have a question about those three kingdoms,” he asked. “Are the people at the very top—you know, the really righteous ones—allowed to visit the not so righteous ones in the bottom?”
It’s not every day you’re asked about one of the more complicated aspects of your faith. So I simply made a joke about it by referencing the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Nope, can’t associate with those peasants,” I laughed. “It’s like the ultimate 1%. The rest of those miserable 99%-ers are supposed to stay where they are.”
Jokes aside, nothing could be further from the truth. True Mormonism (and true Christian belief) defines leadership, kingship, godhood very differently than the world defines it. The world defines leadership as someone who calls all of the shots, has dominion over others, and has great powers of force.
However Christ defines leadership very differently: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11) a sentiment which King Mosiah echoes in the Book of Mormon:
“I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service…I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes…And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
“Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?” (Mosiah 2:12-18)
Paradoxically, “greatness” and “power,” as defined by God, are to be found in those who humble themselves and serve others.
We see this true mark of leadership in the life of the Savior, who—the greatest of all beings—left the throne of heaven to serve all mankind in an effort to elevate us to greatness. The ultimate 1% serving the 99%.
Furthermore, in the book of Moses we learn that God’s “work and [His] glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). God’s very life purpose is to serve others. And if we are to become like God (Matthew 5:48), we must be willing to be like Him—to live has He lives—to serve others.
And that’s where the Three Degrees of Glory come in…
Mormonism teaches a doctrine that is very different from that of mainstream Christianity. In a nutshell, we do not believe in the traditional idea of heaven and hell. We believe that through Jesus Christ, all men and women are essentially saved: that we will each receive a degree of glory in the life to come. These three degrees of glory are the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial. Each of these kingdoms have different laws and standards—degrees of righteous living.
But which degree of glory (or life) we receive, however, is entirely up to us:
“…they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received” (D&C 88:32).
The highest degree (the Celestial Kingdom), is the degree of life at which God lives. The Celestial Kingdom is the highest standard of living—one that requires us to make the immortality and eternal life of others our primary purpose. The Gnostic Gospel of Phillip reflects this idea: “In this world, the slaves serve the free. In the Kingdom of Heaven, the free will minister to the slaves.”
For many people (especially selfish, anti-social types like myself), that degree of living makes receiving the Celestial Kingdom very difficult. Because the Celestial Kingdom is less about power and dominion and more about serving others.
Those who receive the Celestial Kingdom (the “1%-ers” of Heaven), are those who are willing to humble themselves while laboring to elevate the rest of humanity.