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Dear Gramps,

I am having a hard time with the two concepts-pre-ordination and pre-destination. Is there any way we can distinguish them? In our premortal life, Our Father knew which ones would return to him in the Celestial Kingdom. It seems unfair and it almost seems like I have no “say” in what happens with me- if Heavenly Father knows whether I will return to him.

Matthew, from Canada

Dear Matthew,

Of course there is a difference between pre-ordination and pre-destination. To ordain means to set apart or appoint to a specific office, function or task. To ‘destinate’ or determine means to decide or decree. One of the greatest gifts of God is the free agency he gave to man. Joseph Fielding Smith has written the following:

“Free agency is one of the greatest gifts of God. There could be no salvation, neither punishment for sin, without it. It was this great principle that Satan endeavored to destroy and for which Jesus died upon the cross, and as the poet has stated it, we, each and all, make our own choice. We can accept the mission of Jesus Christ and be true to him, or we can rebel and receive the merited punishment. We are free agents in all these matters.

“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 him with wisdom, love, and light-

In nameless ways be good and kind,

But never force the human mind.

-Win. C. Gregg”

(Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.194)

So we may be ordained or set apart to any function, and we may have been ordained or set apart in the pre-mortal spirit world to certain ends in mortality or eternity, but that in no way implies that were somehow required or forced to comply with the functions anticipated of us. God has ordained no man to evil nor has desired that any man commit sin. Yet look at how many evil and sinful men there are. We cannot imagine that they were required by God to be that way.

However, we are aware that God knows what we will do before we do it-

. . . . there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all (it. Moses 1:6).


But [the angels] reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord (D&C 130:7).

Your problem seems to be that you somehow equate foreknowledge with predestination. Perhaps your question could be rephrased to ask- Does foreknowledge imply predestination? Undoubtedly the answer is that it does not; otherwise there would be no free agency. For instance, if I see an animal running in the forest, I know that eventually that animal will stop running, because I know that it cannot run forever. Is there a causal relationship between my foreknowledge and the animal’s eventual stopping? None at all. The two concepts are not in any way related to one another.

But let’s examine another example. Let’s see if we can examine some of the differences that would exist between a person that was constrained to live in a two-dimensional world and a person living in a three-dimensional world. Let’s say that the two dimensional man lives on the surface of the ocean, and that his perception is limited to the ocean’s surface. He is not endowed with the ability to be aware of anything in the water beneath the surface or in the air above the surface. He can only perceive things that interact with the surface-and he lives in a boat.

There has been a shipwreck and the only survivor is clinging to a piece of wreckage where he is found by the two-dimensional men, who pulls him into the boat. In the discussion that follows, the 3D man learns something of the 2D man’s perception of the world. He believes in the spontaneous generation and dissolution of matter. To him, when a ship is launched, it suddenly comes into existence, and when it sinks, it suddenly disappears. Fish always occur in pairs. When the 2D man sees the first fish of a pair he can predict the second fish. By knowing the angle that the first fish cuts the water as it leaps out of the water, and by measuring how fast it is going, he can predict when and where it will reappear. However, he has trouble with ducks. To him there is no way to predict ducks. They just happen from time to time with no warning and no way of knowing when they will come into existence.

Upon learning this, the 3D man says, “I can easily predict ducks.” Presently the 3D man sees a flock of ducks circling to land nearby. He directs the attention of the 2D man in a certain direction, and as the ducks assume the landing attitude, lowering their tails and spreading their feet forward, the 3D man says, “One, two three-Ducks!” The 2D man is amazed and says, “You really can predict ducks. You must be able to see into the future!”

I’m not saying that God lives in a four-dimensional world. I’m only using this example to show how, with our limited knowledge of the environment in which God lives, we could make the same kind of judgement as the 2D man, not being aware of the nature of things in eternity.

As we consider these kinds of philosophical questions, we must always let our thinking be in accordance with the revealed word of God, and let our rationalizations be based on these eternal truths.


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