There’s a joke that Mormons are the only people in the world who can communicate a profound spiritual sermon by drawing three circles in a row. This traditional paradigm for teaching the gospel—with its circles for the premortal world, Earth life, the spirit world, and the three degrees of glory—has served very well as a visual aid of the plan of salvation.
Here, I propose a new way of visualizing these things. Instead of the narrative flowchart model, I’m going to describe a great, eternal chiasm. Yes, chiasmus as in the ancient Book of Mormon writing style where a series of ideas or phrases are given and then repeated in reverse order, to contrast parallel variations in the elements of the story and to highlight the central turning point.
Chiasms are typically shown as the left side of a letter X, looking like an arrow pointing to East on a map. This one will be depicted as a letter V, because I want us to see the turning point as the end of a long descent and the beginning of an ascent. You’ll see why shortly.
This new paradigm was inspired by the temple. I won’t make any overt references to the basic floor plan of the average temple or to the content of the endowment, but the reader who is familiar with those things is encouraged to consider how they suggested the ideas presented below.
The elements of this story can be understood as following the ideal progress of each individual person or of “the whole human family of Adam” (Mormon 3:20).
A and A’: The Celestial Kingdom
Our journey, as far as we understand it, both begins and ends in the Celestial Kingdom. This is where, from our point of view, our “descent” begins and our “ascent” ends.