In one of Elder Haight's discourses, I read this quote by Brigham Young, which he made when he dedicated the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple, and which has been widely quoted:
Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, . . . and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
I think that most of the time in which I have read or heard this quote, the last six words were omitted: in spite of earth and hell. I thought about them and why they were there.
The most direct correlation is that Earth and hell represent the two things that keep us from exaltation, save for the Atonement: mortality, or physical death, and sin, or spiritual death. So through the ordinances we make the Atonement effective in our lives, enabling us to enter into exaltation.
But I also thought of these on a practical, everyday level. What are the things that keep us from the temple, from spiritual progress, from living an exalted, celestial life? Of course there is hell--the forces and influences of Satan that surround us, tempting us to break covenants and stray from the path. That is real, and the endowment gives us real power to combat those influences.
But then there is also earth. This beautiful, messy life that brings obstacles no matter how much or little we sin. There are the weaknesses, illnesses, inabilities and disabilities of our bodies. There is the sadness and loneliness of losing others to death. There are the choices of billions of other individuals that weave a complex tapestry of circumstances, both good and bad, which become a part of our reality whether we like it or not. There are forces of nature--the earth itself--that can cause destruction and pain. But in spite of all that, the temple stands as a firm and unmoving symbol, pointing heavenward to our firm and unmoving Savior: He who has overcome the world, and whose grace is sufficient for us to do the same so that we may be exalted as He is.