Today is the six-year anniversary of giving a talk version of this chapter for sacrament meeting. It’s the writing that ultimately spawned my entire book. Thanks to Travis Kupp for asking me to give a talk at his mission farewell.
Freedom to Live
The last stage of the hero’s journey is liberation. With the Death Star destroyed, the Empire dismantled, Luke could now live his life freely, without fear, without enemies. Neither his past nor his future were bound. In his book, Campbell even quotes Christ when He said to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
Similarly, when we have won our own cup of glory, our conception of time will cease to exist. We will recognize our eternal past and our eternal future as one great Now. We, too, will be freed from fear, from the chains of mortality and the chains of hell, by the power of the Resurrection and the Atonement, and we can live as free beings, having gained all power over ourselves and the world around us. The life of a god is a life of true freedom. That agency is, I believe, the very definition of godhood.
But agency has a twin that is just as necessary to godhood, and just as beautiful. It is the family: men and women, children of God, united by the sealing bond of the Holy Ghost. As His children, we are what gives God goals. Without progeny, the Plan is meaningless. Without parenthood, a god has no purpose, and all that freedom is for naught.
And so we see in our tests of mundane mortality the great practice grounds of godhood: the work of marriage and raising children. No other work comes close to the very essence and duty of God. And so that is the responsibility we must take most soberly.
Family is what this is all about. To be given the responsibility and “sacred privilege” of having and taking care of a family, one must first prove worthy to enter the temple, be armed with the attributes needed to be worthy of a temple recommend. In the temple we take more steps into eternity, principally the endowment and of course our sealing to an eternal companion. Only then are we granted the opportunity to take on the same kind of stewardship as Heavenly Father’s, the power to create life and the responsibility to raise that new being the same way Heavenly Father is trying to raise us. First we are stewards over ourselves, our spirits, our bodies, our souls, and when we have proven ourselves therewith, we are granted that blessing of increase, and subsequently receive grace for grace as we advance in the endless creative work that is eternal progression, the endless generations of gods.
This in its totality is the Eternal Arc, a term that, if thought about, seems to be a paradox. An arc, after all, is something finite, something that culminates in a defined conclusion. But the Eternal Arc does not. It is progress from all eternity to all eternity. Progress through eternal lives, the endless propagation of the race of gods that only builds on its own glory as eternity continues, linked by love and priesthood power—all of which comes back to choices we make here in this temporal trial, and the perspective with which we view this life. As we go through our seemingly mundane daily routine, we must never forget that we are actually living something far grander, something so bright and glorious that we can currently only see it through the cracks of our fingers, caught up in the mortal moments and telestial tempests as we are.
Those moments matter. The lone and dreary world is full of mediocrity, sameness, and often only in dull shades of gray and brown. The test lies in how we navigate through it, what lessons we can learn from life as we sharpen our eyes, as we pay attention to what occurs and why, and maintain an awareness of the grand goal at the far end, and that we, all of God’s children, are on this journey together, a truth too easy to forget. When we pass others in the street, do we see them for their potential, for their preciousness in the eyes of God? Do we even see ourselves with that same potential?
CS Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
Think of the beginning of Star Wars. When you first see that whiny kid living on a desert planet with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, could you believe he would one day give hope to the galaxy and topple the devil’s Empire?
Ponder the consequences if Luke had remained with his aunt and uncle, farming moisture out of a barren wasteland of a planet—What a parable for our modern-day distractions! Meandering through apps and further down the Facebook feed, employing ourselves primarily in video games, putting all our resources and spending all our time merely seeking to gain more and more money, more and more things that fall away from us as we rise into the next world—though flashy and colorful, this kind of living leaves our Book of Life as empty and dull as Tattooine.
We have a destiny far grander than that. And it is Satan’s victory if we forget it, or disregard it, or treat it as dross. We must take absolute and total advantage of this gift given us by our Heavenly Father, this gift of salvation, this gift of love, this potential for perfection, for eternal increase. For right now, it is only potential, for none of us have reached it yet. Potential does not entail success or accomplishment. It does not mean that it will, in fact, happen. Just as a car sitting at a stoplight needs the gas pedal to be pressed to take it to its full speed, so are exertion and effort required for any journey. Without any input, we will sit there idly, never going anywhere, forsaking our inheritance for a figurative mess of pottage, for worldly pleasures and distractions—a fate Heavenly Father never wants us to fulfill. And fulfilling the potential God has in mind for us is definitely not as easy as putting your foot on the gas pedal. It takes work and significant sacrifice, and we can’t make that sacrifice if the reason for it fades from our eyes.
Yes, we must provide for our families, give our children good lives, work hard to improve ourselves and even help our neighbor fix his roof. But we must not forget to what end we carry out those temporal chores. Not for the sake of our daily bread, our daily lives, but our eternal bread, our eternal lives. Though our work may look mundane from our view on the ground, in exerting effort and sincerely trying to improve the lives of our families and all around us, we are indeed advancing through our very own Hero’s Cycle, our very own Eternal Arc. We are indeed becoming a society of gods and goddesses.
A Christlike people striving forward together against the shafts of the whirlwind will become a God-like people, and on a variety of scales—the self, the family, the community, and even the world. We are working to create a place where we grow together, where our own progress interweaves with our neighbor’s, where our families bloom in divine destiny, and we happily help each other in all things, including and especially in our Eternal Arc—that is Zion. And it is the reason for our more temporal (but still spiritual) callings in this life—as bishop, as Sunday School teacher, as ward clerk, even as the bulletin writer, or building cleanup supervisor, or Relief Society newsletter writer, and every other responsibility we are asked to undertake in our corners of the universe. Our progress is truly tethered to all those around us. We cannot succeed alone, nor should we even want to.
It is indeed telling that the authority to use the priesthood power is only granted for its capacity to bless others, and never one’s own self. For it is all a part of the pattern of stewardship, taught so perfectly by Christ in the Parable of the Talents. The talents that the worthy servants invested to gain were not for them alone—those invested talents went into the general economy of the society, and would have had to bless others as much as it blessed themselves. That deceptively short parable contains within it the structure of God’s plan for us, God’s plan for eternal progression: our Eternal Arc is not one we undertake for ourselves alone, nor is it by our efforts alone, but by the example and grace of Christ to become as He is, and with us rising to celestial glory our family, our companion and all those to whom we are sealed.
This end is the goal Heavenly Father wants for us more than anything, the conclusion of our own Hero’s Cycle, our Eternal Arc—for He is our Father, and He loves us more than all else He has created in ocean, earth, or sky. As He declared to Moses, this is His work and His glory—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
General authority Vaughn J. Featherstone related the following story:
“Many years ago I heard the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France. King Louis had been taken from his throne and imprisoned. His young son, the prince, was taken by those who dethroned the king. They thought that inasmuch as the king’s son was heir to the throne, if they could destroy him morally, he would never realize the great and grand destiny that life had bestowed upon him. They took him to a community far away, and there they exposed the lad to every filthy and vile thing that life could offer. For over six months he had this treatment—but not once did the young lad buckle under pressure. Finally, after intensive temptation, they questioned him. Why had he not submitted himself to these things—why had he not partaken? These things would provide pleasure, satisfy his lusts, and were desirable; they were all his. The boy said, ‘I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king’.”
Brothers and sisters, that is what we were born to be: Kings. Queens. Rulers and Creators. For we are children of the Most High, and heirs to a heavenly throne. We must be awakened from our slumber, roused out of our dormancy, and be reminded of our full potential, reminded of our fondest dream. Remember this mirror in your daily lives. Remember it when you say the things you say and do the things you do. Remember it as you press forward and endure well to the end. And remember most of all that unlike Luke Skywalker, in God’s kingdom, there is no limit to your arc, no true end to your story.