What is the nature of of the soul of mankind? What is this mysterious union of flesh and spirit that gives us our mortal life? Are we nothing more than complex electro-chemical organisms or is our body of divine design housing temporarily an eternal spirit child of God?
Think of the billions and billions of people that have lived on the earth, that now live and will yet be born.
Where did our spirit come from? Is our existence here for the purpose of taking a step towards an eternal and divine destiny to become like our Eternal Father or are we mere creatures placed on earth because some mysterious presence in the universe became tired of being alone up to a point in eternity about 6000 years ago?
What are the existing doctrines of mainstream Christian theology and why is Mormon theology on the nature of our spirit so unique. This is my own opinion as to how they are taught in the religious communities based on study of the various theologies put forth by the religious institutions that publish information.
How do Catholics, Protestants and practically all mainstream churches understand the subject of creation? Two basic ideas formulate the prevailing dogmas on the power by which God can create. The one that is taught by mainstream bible philosophers and scholars in the halls of christendom is that he speaks and out of nothing comes something. This is known as creation ex-nihilo and is taught by christian seminaries as the prevailing doctrine.
This teaching assumes that at one point in time God existed in the void of space by himself and nothing more. They say he was perfect in his existence. These teachers describe a creation as singularity, in other words it had a beginning. Such is how they say the spirit is. They say that man's soul was created out of nothing at birth. Some even go so far as to say that he had them thought up in his mind. If this is true did he also hold all of the evil they would do as well. If so why did he proceed with creation if he was already perfect?
The purpose for this creation in traditional theology is because God desired fellowship and worship. What it turned out to be in reality is a trial whereby some few are saved and a larger majority are condemned for failing to recognize the salvation process. Would a loving God cause such a process? Yet, this is what is taught by the orthodox mainstream Bible scholars and philosophers. There could be no eternal reason or purpose under this doctrine because there was no pre-existence of the soul.
Latter day revelation recognizes that all elements or matter co-exist eternally with God and that they obey him when he speaks. My travertine floor was at one time a mass of rock in a mountain. Now it is a beautiful floor. Intelligence brought it to its current state is what we are by the powers of God. We can see that space is endless and materials abound. Mainstream theologians say all was created out of nothing. For what purpose? Just to look at? Surely this is the speculations of philosophers formulating their own opinions. The Bible teaches no such thing. The Bible teaches that we did live before our birth. We are here to learn and act of our own will and to submit this to God's eternal laws. This is known as moral agency. It is very different that the concept of free will. God desires that we be free beings and we can only be so when we are free from sin through knowledge and repentance. (See the Garden of Eden)
All things have an innate eternal matter or intelligence. Traditional theology seems to have as a primary theme the incomprehensible and supernatural mysterious power of making something out of nothing as a key characteristic of God's nature. Mormons teach that God is a being of laws and that nothing can in effect be created or destroyed, only organized or disorganized. All things respond to his commands because his power is recognized as a holy authority.
If in fact there was a point in time when only the Creator existed, he would then be responsible for all of the evil. He would be the condemning force of his own creatures and creation as well as the rewarding force. If something is created out of nothing to later be condemned then why create it?
If Jesus is co-eternal with God and in fact a "son" then some element of his existence would of necessity have been changed or altered to form this relationship of father and son if it wasn't always so. Mainstream theologians and scholars have changed the definition of father and son to suit their misguided doctrines.
The idea of a pre-mortal existence of man's spirit is not found in contemporary mainstream or traditional biblical based teachings. From a historical perspective however, it was taught for many centuries after Christ by some of the early church fathers like Origen and Tertulien. Origen's teachings were stopped by something called the anathemas against Origen in the 5th Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. http://www.comparativereligion.com/anathemas.html
The mainstream teachings of our day say that the spirit is created sometime during the birth of the person. The scriptural language describes it as being breathed into us as was described in the creation of Adam. There is however no firm doctrine in traditional Christianity regarding this subject because there is no revelation to enlighten them on the concept.
In the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants to Joseph Smith we learn something about the eternal nature of our spiritual development. We also learn something about the war in heaven where in Satan was cast out. Good and evil were not something that first came about in the Garden of Eden.
We have in the core of our spiritual nature an uncreated intelligence that is the essence of who we are as a person and individual. It is like no other. This is where our will originates. It has no beginning and will have no end. It truly is eternal in every sense of the word. God the Father is literally the father of our spirits and through a natural eternal process we are begotten of him.
LDS teach that Jesus was the first begotten of all the spirit children of the Father but that all are indeed begotten of eternal parents. Our eternally existing intelligence is united during our spiritual creation to bring about an existence where we are capable of acting. God is giving us freedom to act. We choose what those actions are.
Most people do not realize that if something has a beginning then it cannot be truly eternal. Of course the concept of no beginning is pretty much incomprehensible to the mortal finite mind. It is like asking the question; Where did God come from? If it was answered we would not understand it. So all people of a believing heart accept on faith the idea that God has always existed.
As in all of these essays I am expressing my understanding based on my studies of various teachings on these subjects and they are not intended to reflect an official position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The official site for the church is www.LDS.org.
More reading on these doctrines.