Original Artwork - The Three Degrees of Glory

Note: some of you probably know that while I can do a lot of things from scratch, I'm better at compositing than drawing or painting. I also don't know any iguanas presently, so I couldn't take the photos I used here myself. I do, however, find great pleasure and inspiration in using images I've found online - always properly licensed - to create something new. I think taking the raw materials provided by others and combining them to create something uniquely mine is the essence of how we shape our characters in the real world. Image credits for this piece go to Enrique Dans, Stefan W, Paul Asman, Jill Lenoble, macinate, Christine, and David DeHetre. Thanks, one and all.


It's impossible to understand this image without appreciating something about the LDS concept of the afterlife. The doctrine of the Three Degrees of  Glory is the doctrine of eternal happiness for the children of God. 

Mormons believe that while every person who ever lives on the earth will have an opportunity to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ before facing their final judgment, not every person will choose to do so. And yet, we also believe that God loves all of his children, even if they lack faith in him. God's purpose, therefore, is not to weed out the faithful or to reward the elite few while condemning all others, but to provide for all of his children the greatest measure of happiness they are willing to receive. God teaches the principles by which the greatest happiness can be achieved, but honors his gift of agency by allowing all people to choose for themselves.

This view of things necessitates that the conditions of men and women in the eternal world will not be uniformly glorious. Those who accept and live by all of God's laws will be capable of a more exalted enjoyment than those who only partially live these principles, or those who reject them all together. It is along these guidelines that the three degrees of glory are split. 

The lowest kingdom - the Telestial - is for those who have rejected the atonement of Christ and the blessings of the gospel. While they must bear the natural consequences of this decision, their ultimate end is rest and a happiness which we are told we cannot in our mortal minds conceive of. 

The middle kingdom - the Terrestrial - is inhabited by those who once accepted Christ but were blinded by the things of the world or the cunning of the devil and failed to be completely faithful. They are worthy of greater glory than the beings of the Telestial Kingdom, but not an eternal increase of joy.

The highest kingdom - the Celestial - is the dwelling place of God and those who comply fully enough with all his commands that they become perfect in Christ. This is not to say they are sinless, but only that they desire to be so and act accordingly. These exalted beings enjoy the privilege of perpetual progression in knowledge, power, might, and dominion until they come to the same fullness that God himself enjoys. Thus they become like him. This condition is the only one that does not include a measure of damnation, as it is the only one in which the soul's eternal progress is not limited by its choices. This is what God and Christ desire for all humankind.

To be clear, the reason any person's eternal glory is limited is that he or she has chosen to reject a principle which, if accepted, would open the door to greater opportunities. Each person will be rewarded with the greatest privileges for which he or she qualifies, plus (in my personal understanding) a heaping portion of generosity. Even within these kingdoms, individual glory and happiness varies according to personal circumstances.

While I've done my best to briefly articulate this doctrine, my words constitute my own understanding and belief, not an official statement of the church's teachings.

Now to explain the artwork, though I won't explain everything. That would defeat the purpose:

Obviously, the image is divided to represent the three kingdoms, called the three Degrees of Glory. No disrespect or irreverence is meant by the use of iguanas. For one thing, I like iguanas. For another, their faces are, I think, well suited to a piece dealing with eternal mysteries. They are difficult to read and therefore can express many things.

In the lower third, the colorful background represents the variation in the glories of the individuals in this kingdom, and also the many types of paths that can lead to this condition. While the iguana is distinct from the background, it has the same coloring, indicating that it is thoroughly a part of that world. Souls in the Telestial Kingdom cannot travel to kingdoms of greater glory: they would be miserable in the company of beings whose lives represent "what might have been." 

The lower and middle kingdoms are divided by the branch of a tree with the coloring of the ocean. This indicates an earthly, elemental focus to their existence, but also represents a progression upward between the two kingdoms.

The middle third features an iguana that is very much outside. It exists in a space from which it can behold greater glories than the earthbound iguana below it, but it lacks their presence. Beings who inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom serve as ministering angels to those who are fully exalted, and the constellation lines in this third represent the travels involved in such activities. They connect the souls in the lower kingdoms with their greater authority.

The middle and upper kingdoms are divided by the leaves of a tree with the coloring of the sun. This has a symbolism similar to the other dividing line, but as in that the oceanic coloring represented distance from light, here the solar coloring represents an approach to light. The lower divider also seems to be containing what is below it, while the upper divider seems to be supporting and even enabling that which is above it.

The upper third, representing the Celestial Kingdom, is completely different from the two below it. The question I asked myself in creating it was, if I could look God in the eye, what would I see there? I chose a green coloring to represent life and, since the subjects here are iguanas, the kind of being an iguana might see when imagining perfection. The green rings in the pupil represent the penetration of God's vision - he sees all - and the unbroken nature of his existence. Concentric circles imply that this is the only realm in which family unions and unions of other kinds, priesthood, joy, and life can be truly eternal. The red rings in the iris indicate the potential for wrath: God is loving, but capable of using whatever measures will best serve his purposes.

The green inner circles also represent the mercy with which God views us, while the contrasting red outer circles reflect the justice within which all of God's actions must operate. Mercy cannot rob justice. 

There's more, but suffice to say that I wanted to create something representing the eye of an infinitely complex yet attainable being. Of course, it invokes the all-knowing eye that is often used to represent God. I chose not to depict some other resident of this sphere for two reasons: we know very few specifics about life in the Celestial Kingdom, and God represents what those who attain this Kingdom are capable of becoming. 
Finally, the dome shape further emphasizes the idea of eternity and limitlessness in this kingdom.

So, I hope that helps you understand what I'm getting at here, whether or not you agree with it. Please leave me your comments below. I'd love to hear what you think.


I got the three degree's when I first saw it-I just didn't get the iguana's.
Mr. said…

Striking. This would be a provocative image to use in a quorum lesson to get discussion going.
Feel free. I thought of using it that way too, except in Sunday School (because, you know, I don't teach EQ).

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