Like most Christians, Mormons believe in life after death, but members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believe in life before birth. This unique doctrine helps us understand who we are and the purpose of this life.
Mormon doctrine teaches that individuals have always existed. Before this mortal life, we existed as spirit children of Heavenly Parents. Mormonism teaches that during this period, which Mormons call the first estate (see Jude 1:6) everyone knew and worshiped God the Father (see Godhead). Earth life is sometimes referred to the second estate. During the pre-mortal life we learned and grew in understanding and wisdom. Prior to being born as spirits, individuals existed eternally as intelligences or self-aware, individual entities whom God selected and to whom he gave a spirit body. The word intelligence as used here comes from Mormon scriptures, from the Book of Abraham, which says:
- Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the words was.
- ~Abr. 3:22
At some point, Heavenly Father called a council in heaven which all of his spirit children attended, and presented a plan of salvation. This plan would give us physical bodies and time in mortality to prove how well we could handle physical bodies. The plan also allowed us to gain wisdom through experiences. If we did well in mortality we would be able to become like our Father with perfect love, justice and mercy. According to the Book of Abraham, Jesus Christ was the leader of God's spirit children. He was like His Father. He said:
- We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
- ~Abr. 3:24-26
As the plan was presented Heavenly Father also told us that we would be tempted, that life would be dangerous and painful, and that some may not make it to exaltation (living with our Heavenly Parents again). Because of sin, which we as mortals would inevitably commit, it was necessary to have a redeemer so that we could repent. Lucifer, one of the spirit children of God, said that he would become the redeemer. He promised to save all of God's children and demanded God's honor and glory for doing so. Lucifer became angry when he was not chosen and declared war on God and Christ. One third of all of the spirits took Lucifer’s side. Our Heavenly Father had already chosen Jesus, known as Jehovah, to be the Savior. He became the sacrifice fore-ordained for man.
A war ensued, which Mormons refer to as the War in Heaven, and Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven. After being cast out of heaven Lucifer became the devil. Lucifer and his followers were denied bodies. From this, Mormons understand that all who have been born and all who will be born, chose to follow Heavenly Father’s plan because they have been given bodies.
Other events occured in the pre-existence which have had important impact here on earth. Joseph Smith taught that all the prophets and apostles and other leaders who have every served mankind were fore-ordained to these positions before coming to this earth. This means that certain people, whom the Book of Abraham describes as "noble and great" were selected for special missions here on earth. Indeed, the whole House of Israel, according to Mormon doctrine, were a distinct group in the pre-existence distinguished by their receptivity to spiritual things. They were fore-ordained to come down as the House of Israel and heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant to bless the earth by proclaiming the gospel. At birth, each of us has a veil placed over our minds to prevent us from fully recalling the pre-existence so that we can be judged by our faith and by our receptivity the Holy Spirit.
While the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price offer the most explicit teachings on pre-mortal life, there are hints to it in other scriptures. Job 38: 7 refers to the sons of God rejoicing when the world was created. Jeremiah 1:5 mentions that Jeremiah was selected as a Prophet before he was born. John 9:1 refers to a man who was born blind and the disciples of Jesus ask whether he sinned and was punished by being born blind implying that they believed in a pre-existence. Jude 1:6 refers to the first estate, which implies there must be a second estate. However, Mormons do not rely upon these for their teachings about the pre-mortal life, but have modern day revelation from living prophets.