Who Writes the Script? Thoughts on "Saturday's Warrior"

“Saturday’s Warrior” is a Mormon musical/movie from 1974 about a singing family whose lead guitarist gets drawn away into a successful hippie rock band. However, what the show is really all about is how the eight children in the family, and various other characters, all make promises to each other in the Mormon preexistence before they were born, and how those promises play out on an earth where they remember little if any of their previous life.

When the littlest girl is afraid she’s going to be left behind in the Preexistence, the oldest brother (the one who becomes a rock star) promises her that he will make sure she joins them. The oldest girl falls in love with a guy with whom she spends an eternity together (so they claim) before they must leave for earth. They promise to rejoin each other on earth, but are not sure how they will recognize each other. Meanwhile, a future LDS missionary is boasting to his future missionary companion that he’s going to work his way up to becoming an apostle by age 25.

How do these plots work out? You’ll have to watch the movie. (I got it as a Christmas gift! I have a whole collection of Mormon comic books, a few romance novels, and now a famous movie.)

I found the plot to be fascinating and thought-provoking. What if our life scripts were all determined by decisions we made in a previous life that we can no longer remember? The difficulties of reincarnation also apply to the LDS preexistence: why should we be rewarded or punished for a life we don’t remember? Given the importance of the LDS belief in free agency (see here), I would think it would be better to insist that we write the script in the here and now; it’s all up to us. However, I think it would be even better to believe that God is writing the script, and that even when we think that we are writing the plot, the truth is that God is calling all the shots (Proverbs 16:9, 19:21), according to a grand plan that will turn out to be even more exciting than decisions made in a previous life in “Saturday’s Warrior.”

(My discussion of the Biblical case for and against the Preexistence is available here. Surprisingly, it is the least read blog post I’ve ever written, which is strange, given the huge importance of this belief to LDS believers. One ex-LDS Facebook friend said she had the hardest time adjusting to the truth that she did not exist in a previous world. Note that the movie said not one word about Joseph Smith or the claimed Restoration of the true church, but a ton about the previous life. The song “There’s Got to Be More” is not about the spiritual dimension in general, but about the belief that there has to be a previous world to make sense out of this world.)

I see God’s plan in the way he directed me to find and eventually marry a girl 2000 miles away from my home, even though both of us almost chose not to show up on the day we met. I also see God’s plan in the way God arranged for me to meet the LDS on that same youth group trip from St Louis to Oregon on which I met my wife. What God had in mind by putting a 42+ year heart for the LDS has been a much more confusing question. I thought God was calling me to be a Protestant pastor in Utah, which has never happened. Now, I see that God was probably equipping me in all sorts of different ways to write my recent book, The Historical Jesus and the Historical Joseph Smith (see http://www.historicaljoseph.org/).

I find the doctrine of predestination (which I don’t write about in my book – see here instead) to be comforting and reassuring. I don’t think the idea that God preplans most of what happens to us in life makes me into a robot. For me, this means that life becomes an adventure, a treasure hunt to see what God’s plan is going to look like when the puzzle is finished. Life is a constant stream of decisions that are not always clear. I don’t always make the best ones, but there are numerous times where I am convinced that God has put me exactly where I am, for a reason.

According to Ephesians 1:4-5, God chose me (and all those who believe) before the foundation of the world. That’s better than a fabled preexistence. Paul goes on in Ephesians 2:10 to say that God has prepared in advance the good works that he created us to do. That reassures me that those deeds will get done! And Paul’s famous formulation that in all things God works (literally “synergizes”) for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28) reassures us that God can and will take even the worst that happens to us in life and bring good out of it. I’m happy to have a God like that calling all the shots.

In the words of an old Vacation Bible School song: “Before the beginning / before there was time / before there was earth and before there was sky / before he made the mountains / before he made the sea / God loved you and me.” For me, I’m thrilled enough that I existed in the mind of God before the universe was made. From there, I’m on a lifelong hunt to see what else is in the script.