Replies to Thomas

Category: creation

Time: All is as One Day with God

Dear Joseph,

Life: what a waste of time! I find it hard to believe that God would waste time having me and the other billions of humans bumbling about stubbing our toes in cluelessness. And Mormons say we’re here to become like God? Say I’m lucky enough to have until age 80 to do that. Somewhere in the Bible it says God gets one day for each millennium for us. Why can’t I have 80 years of his time (I guess that would be 80,000 human years) to try and become like him? Seems like he’s just proven himself a tid-bit unfair.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

There are a great many proofs for the eternal nature of our existence. As I’ve written before, the curvature of the earth itself is a proof of eternity, reality being non-euclidean. Of course, faith operates independent of this or any proof (there are many, for the scriptures say, “All things denote there is a God” [Alma 30:44]), and you will still need to cultivate faith before you can approach God’s presence in your life. But I outline here per your inquiry a few items to satisfy your mind for the time being.

The theme of time touches closely on the non-euclidean nature of reality, and many of the principles implicit in the one are explicit in the other. But let’s start with the grand secret (or mystery) to be comprehended: the universe does not exist in time, but time exists in the universe. Following? Let’s look at this concept a little closer.

Perhaps due to the structure of our faulty, human language (which Joseph Smith termed a prison), people generally assume that the past, the present, and the future are distinct, nearly-tangible states of being. Indeed, time is the accepted “fourth dimension” of three-dimensional space, all subjects of the three spacial dimensions being translated across the fourth at relative rates. Einstein solidified the notions of general relativity and of space-time as a unified substance during the then-blossoming scientific era, and it’s been stuck in our collective heads ever since. Popularity, of course, can never justify a falsehood (I won’t even touch the contradictory evidence of late that is pushing general relativity and space-time off the proverbial chalkboard of “facthood”).

Whatever the reason, humanity is practically born being told to believe that time is something that, if not nearly physical, is at least somewhat tangible. Case in point: the ever-popular, ever-elusive time machine, the subject of so much science fiction that it would seem only a matter of pending human genius before it finally manifests as science fact. But can one who is a denizen of the present be planted in the past—which was once someone else’s present—and then mess with it? Then you get into multiverse speculation and so forth. It’s good fodder for a thrilling movie or sci-fi novel, but hardly the substance of truth!

Lucky for us, God has been anything but silent on the matter, and if we apply our minds to the revelations he has given, we can comprehend this enigma and be glorified by the light of truth—by knowledge (D&C 93:28).

One of the greatest gifts, in this respect, is this word given in the scriptures: “reckoning.”

“And the Lord said unto me[, Abraham], by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob” (Abraham 3:4).

What this verse is saying is that time is measured according to the motion of something relative to the motion of another, and furthermore that this principle is applied throughout the universe. At another time, the Lord says to Abraham that all measurements of time can only be comprehended relative to “that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning,…the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:5). If you don’t have a ruler, you can’t measure anything!

This is the same principle behind the drip analogy. Say you have a faucet just floating in space and a drop of water drips off the end. Then another drip drops after that. And another after that, and so on. How much time intervened between drips? With no rotating planet around a star like the sun—with no motion beside the drips—there is actually no way to tell how much time intervened, let alone whether the drips are occurring at a regular rate or not. But add a second faucet to the scene and say it dripped with the other but also once between those drips. Now we can establish, or ‘reckon,’ a passage of time: the first faucet drips half as quickly as the second. Now, relative to earth time that still doesn’t tell us how much time has passed—but that’s the point: earth time only means something if you are standing on earth! Anywhere else in the universe and it becomes arbitrary, unless you’re an astronaut in contact with earth and need to comprehend something relative to your former setting—which is exactly Abraham’s situation.

According to the above scripture (verse four; see also what you alluded to in 2 Peter 3:8), one day in Heaven (or the planet Kolob [see Semetic qlb, “heart, center”]) is not 1,000 years because of relativistic space-time distortion compared to the earth (time dilation), but because it is measured in comparison to the earth’s time keeping as 1,000 earth years (365,000 earth days or revolutions) to one Kolob day or revolution (by revolution these scriptures refer to a synodic period, the measure of time needed for a stationary object [the sun] to return to the same point in the sky). Further reading in the same chapter confirms that the simple truth is that Kolob rotates extremely slowly relative to earth’s rotation (1/365,000th the speed, to be somewhat exact). All other planets too have their own reckoning for the beings that live upon them, but it can only be understood by us when compared to our own “ruler,” which is the earth day—the synodic period, approximately 24 hours (an hour simply being an equal division of the synodic period, with a minute being an equal division of the hour, the second of the minute, and so on, relative to the motion of the earth, which the Lord calls our ‘point of reckoning’). Hence 80 years of your earth life is 80 earth-years to God’s experience, he just measures it differently.

joseph_wright_of_derby-philosopher_giving_a_lecture1321039276448

“[…] All the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

Now, you may be thinking, “I get it. The rotation of the worlds is needed for measuring time, sure. But how does that make time travel impossible? How does that not make the future and the past aspects of a fourth dimension?” Let’s turn to the words of the prophet Joseph Smith:

“I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end…. But…God never had the power to create the [intelligence] of man at all. God himself could not create himself.
“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.
“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 354).

This is Joseph Smith’s famous ring analogy, which says that our ‘intelligence,’ a term that has been uniquely abstracted in Mormonism, which might also be called the ‘mind of man,’ has no beginning and no end. It just is. This is only difficult to comprehend when we fail to see beyond the prison of viewing the universe as existing in time. Start by removing the notion that time is a thing at all. “…Time only is measured unto men,” the scriptures say (Alma 40:8), and so it must be for now—this form of existence between the bounds of birth and death—because this life is a probation (1 Nephi 10:21), in other words it is finite. Like I’ve said before, it’s a testing period, but you don’t measure the passage of life before or after the ACT or SAT based on the timing of that test, and likewise a test taker needn’t measure the time of the test relative to the longer years of life. What I’m trying to say is that time is only ‘measured unto men’ because the test has a beginning and an end—existence does not; existence is infinite. This is important to understand in order to comprehend that time only exists relative to its measurement (movement); time itself, however, is not a thing.

Existence alone is a thing, and either it is or it isn’t—that is all. When Joseph Smith gives his analogy of cutting his ring to produce a beginning and an end, he is saying that nothing in existence follows such a course (though the same matter may be organized into various forms whose appearance have definite beginnings and endings, the matter does not). This applies not only to the ‘intelligences’ or ‘minds’ that exist, but also to the very elements which compose our bodies and the very universe—that which we might term “matter” (though much of what is matter is too pure to be detected by technology had by us currently). As Joseph Smith said:

The elements are eternal. That which has a beginning will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beginning or end—cut it for a beginning place and at the same time you have an ending place.
“A key: Every principle proceeding from God is eternal and any principle which is not eternal is of the devil. The sun has no beginning or end; the rays which proceed from himself have no bounds, [and] consequently are eternal” (STPJS, 181).

As also a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy…. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God…” (D&C 93:33-35).

So also is the nature of the non-euclidean universe: all things that exist are not confined to given finite quantities but reach on in an infinite continuum, whether they be varieties of ‘intelligences’ or fundamental elements (“things to act” and “things to be acted upon” [2 Nephi 2:14; of course Lehi knew this before Joseph Smith]). There will never come a time when the matter that currently makes up your body will not exist somewhere in some state. There will never come a time when your intelligence will not exist somewhere in some state. And as the revelation above stated, joy is had in uniting mind and matter.

Another analogy was put forth to describe a seeming paradox of time: a man goes forth to build a tower exactly 50 feet high with two rules and one constraint: each layer will be exactly half has tall as the last, each layer will alternate in color black and white, and his deadline is 50 days. His first layer was black and 25 feet tall—half the overall design—and took him 25 days to construct. The next piece was white and 12.5 feet tall—half of the remaining design—and took him 12 and a half days to construct. How long will it take him to finish the tower and what color will the final layer be?

The paradoxical answer lies in the idea that no matter how many layers of the tower are added, an increasingly small amount of space will always be left between the height of the topmost layer and the desired height of 50 feet. The paradox of time comes in that, if each layer could be constructed in exactly half the time of the previous layer, the division of time would become so increasingly minute to the point that the tower will never be finished though continually built!

This is of course an absurdity, trying to cram an infinite action into a finite situation: though infinities are attested to in nature and are key to existence, “finities” are just as real and must not be confused or frustrated. It is paradoxes such as this that try and pit the one against the other, reaching a supposed infinite conclusion based solely on the supposition that time is a dimension that can be infinitely subdivided. Even if we possessed the capacity as humans to measure time to the smallest degree fathomable, even an infinite one, the earth would continue rolling upon her wings just the same, with existence being finitely measured out to us just the same. No matter how you measure time, your reckoning cannot change. And this is precisely because time is not a fluid thing, existence is simply a constant, eternal instant of being, measured in movement “from eternity to all eternity” (Moses 6:67).

“So what color would the final layer be, Joseph?” Answer: white or black, depending on how quickly the builder can build. The point is that even the gods building such a tower would end up with white or black given a finite measure of time—like the ring, it has, in this hypothetical situation, been given a beginning and an end. But the gods could go on making an infinite number of towers because they have an infinite amount of raw materials and existence for them is unbounded.

But I don’t believe God wastes his time with trivial thought traps such as a paradox (perhaps because he has grasped such ideas long ago) and we needn’t either if it will not bring us closer to the truth. Probability and other number games can be a dangerous diversion if we do not guard ourselves with knowledge of things as they really are (Jacob 4:13). For example, there is the triviality that some trillion or so monkeys all typing on typewriters have some measurable probability of producing a Shakespearean work. That’s interesting to think about, but the truth is that a trillion times a trillion monkeys will never possess the intelligence necessary to ever, ever do so—none of them will ever do it, ever. Likewise, the beauty of this world has some probability of existing by chance, and yet the principle of entropy does not allow for it, unless Shakespeare himself was actually seated among the trillion monkeys—there has to be an adequate intelligence to produce it. There is an adequate intelligence that produced this world.

“Okay, Joseph, I think I get what you’re saying here,” I hope you’re now thinking, Thomas. “Time is actually just existence, like an awareness of existence, that seems like it is moving forward into the future, but really we’re just measuring our place in the universe? Like, time can’t be experienced faster or slower depending on where you are or how fast you’re moving, but it can be counted faster or slower. Are you saying, in essence, that time cannot be experienced differently but it can be measured differently?”

If that’s what you’ve picked up so far, then yes that’s exactly what I’m saying! Time is motion because an intelligence ordered the cosmos to give us a reckoning in it. Time exists (is measured) in the universe because the universe exists and has movement. By the nature of movement, finite periods are established such as days, hours, and minutes, but these measurements only stand to give ourselves reference in an infinite universe.

Now, when you and I are through with mortality, you may be surprised to find that with your mortal limitations of single-thoughts and single-focus (test parameters) removed, time may seem different. Like dreams wherein you seem to experience a decade’s worth of life only to wake up the next day, our ‘intelligence’ has perhaps an infinite potential for thought, making our ability to comprehend and experience existence in a finite period a much vaster and efficient thing than we could ever now imagine it to be (literally and idiomatically). That coupled with the limitless bounds of existence and access to all the record of the past states of things (and, for some, the future [D&C 130:8]) will produce a state and experience within a reckoning of time that will be so splendid and foreign that there’s literally nothing else I can really say about it. So I’ll let the prophet Brigham Young say a few words:

“The brightness and glory of the next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered so that when we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and be careful lest we fall down. We see our youth, even, frequently stubbing their toes and falling down. But yonder, how different! They move with ease and like lightning. If we want to visit Jerusalem, or this, that, or the other place—and I presume we will be permitted if we desire—there we are, looking at its streets. If we want to behold Jerusalem as it was in the days of the Savior; or if we want to see the Garden of Eden as it was when created, there we are, and we see it as it existed spiritually, for it was created first spiritually and then temporally, and spiritually it still remains. And when there we may behold the earth as at the dawn of creation, or we may visit any city we please that exists upon its surface. If we wish to understand how they are living here on these western islands, or in China, we are there; in fact, we are like the light of the morning” (Discoursed of Brigham Young, 380).

Thomas, I know that you and I lived with our Father in Heaven before we were born on this earth. During that time, he taught you and coached you and did everything he could to prepare you for the test of this life. He, you, and I are each infinite beings, though you and I are passing through a finite phase of existence. He has guided us to this important point with all the love of a tender parent. Where we are now is a right of passage of the gods, and those of us who may prove faithful over a few (finite) things, will be made ruler over many (infinite) things (see Matthew 25:14-30). That is how our Father in Heaven came to the station he is in with relation to us. He is not an overbearing general imposing his unkindness upon us, his feeble creations. We are part of an infinite pattern, and this world is going on much the same as other worlds from which gods have been chosen. Will you wake up to the invitation to follow Christ to the regions of light, to live up to your infinite potential? I testify that Christ is the way, and that he restored his narrow gate through Joseph Smith.

—Joseph

 

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Is There No Other Way?

Dear Joseph,

In between this last visit and the one, the missionaries stopped by while I was upstairs and gave my boy (who was in fact Batman at the time and as such they addressed him much to his delight) a printed out copy of an essay by John Sutton Welch entitled Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity Among the Problems of Evil. I read through it once to take it in as a whole and then went through it again highlighting interesting bits and making my own comments in the margins.

I don’t know what the chances are that you’ve read this yourself, but the general impression I got, by way of summary, was this: I should be content to allow others to suffer and die just so that I can be aware of how glad I am that it’s not happening to me.

At one point, Mr. Welch writes, “Slowly but surely I have seen, in case after case, how evil, suffering, and injustice serve as essential creative conditions that allow us to develop nearly every Christian virtue, creating opportunities for goodness and the grace of the Atonement to cure us.”

I pointed out to myself that these are virtues and an Atonement that we would not need to employ or receive if there was no evil in the first place. What point is there in a cure if there’s no disease to begin with?

Welch goes directly on to say, “The development of such interpersonal virtues as forgiveness, mercy, generosity, compassion, and charity logically requires the prior existence of some form of evil, suffering, or injustice.”

Well, sure. But again, who needs forgiveness when there’s nothing to forgive? Who needs charity or compassion when there’s no suffering? Who needs generosity when you want for nothing? God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.

—Thomas

P.S.

I got home about half an hour ago from a Mormon church service. Three hours, they said it’d be. I thought that sounded like a long-winded service, but they included what amounted to a Sunday school class and another gender specific service in there, so we got to stretch our legs in between.

It was a lot less formal than I thought it’d be, for all that they wear ties, button-ups, and slacks when they go knocking door-to-door.


Dear Thomas,

I have never read John Sutton Welch’s essay. From what you are saying, it sounds like he’s trying to explain the existence of evil by saying that it is a necessary element of creation in order to furnish a world where we can develop attributes of the opposite nature. That’s an interesting way of looking at it and, if that is his total explanation, I would say that it serves better as a description of our current circumstances than it does an explanation of the origins of evil.

Before I give my full explanation of the matter, I must give you a little aside. By giving you this essay from a dubious source (I’m actually surprised they didn’t provide you something written by a prophet or an apostle, as this topic has been covered before by higher authorities) it’s apparent that the missionaries are trying to think of anything they can to help answer your profoundly deep questions. I know they’re hoping that something they give you may strike a chord with your understanding at some point. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to ask such questions; remember, the restoration of the Gospel began with a question! But I do think the Lord allows us to be backed up to the wall of faith at times where we must make our stand or otherwise falter.

This is why they want you to read the Book of Mormon and gain a witness of whether or not it is true. If it is, then—though you may not know the exact reasons behind the forces of good and evil—you can acknowledge their existence with an assurance that the truth of it may be learned when the Lord sees fit to reveal it. I don’t mean to make a witness of the Book of Mormon seem like an excuse for not being able to explain something, but it is the keystone of our religion and if it is true, then all that is claimed by it and the religion it supports is also true; If YOU find out that it is true, then your holdup in logic would transform from a brick high on a wall to a step high on a staircase: at some point, you will be given to understand it step after step.

Nonetheless, I don’t mind trying to help answer your questions where I am able. As you said, it is ‘enlightening and entertaining.’

Let me begin with a scripture:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
“Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

What Lehi here is teaching is that some things never had a beginning and will never have an end. This includes good and evil, light and dark, gods and devils, and you and I. Our doctrine teaches that all of us are eternal, meaning that our intelligence (what we might consider as our minds) never had a beginning and will never have an end. The interesting thing is that the implication here is that we are all as old as God Himself.

Accordingly, God doesn’t and cannot see Himself as better than any of us but—within the spectrum of eternal progression (for He is more progressed than us)—He knows that He is greater than us. The words I emphasized in the last sentence carry very different connotations. This is important. What I am trying to say is that to be better than another implies a differing degree of intrinsic worth, whereas to be greater than another implies a differing degree of development or attained attributes.

This is part of the reason God will not take our agency away from us, for if we cannot choose between opposing forces as He does, we lose our ability to act for ourselves, which thing defines existence (I wrote quite a bit to you about this before). Therefore if we are eternal, and if we exist due to the ability to choose, and the ability to choose requires things to choose between, then those options to us are also eternal. Those options are good and evil, or light and darkness, etc.

“God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.”

The thing to understand is that God did not create the evil and the darkness of the universe—like the matter with which He organized this world, it was already there when He came to it (remember that Hebrew bara means “to organize” and not “to create”). I agree that it would be bad parenting to throw your kids into a fire pit under any circumstances, but this analogy simply betrays your limited understanding of what this life really is (which limitation is completely acceptable at this point). This life certainly manifests evil—your ‘fire pit’—in its varied forms, but it is not a unique aspect to existence on this earth; evil is an aspect of all existence.

The difference is that in the holy company of Heaven, evil appears as it truly is: a detestable sludge that you wouldn’t touch with a 40 foot pole (or maybe it’s 40 lightyears); on earth, this same evil appears as a finely dressed gentleman to whom the world gives praise and power. In both places evil is a constant, but from the higher plane its mask is removed.

(It is possible to attain to that higher plane while living down here because perspective is an individual matter. To get there requires obedience to the principles of righteousness so that you may become righteous and more easily distinguish between good and evil. This is provided by obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

“…They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).

But the question that begs to be asked is why, why must we come to a place where evil is so disguised? The answer brings us back to the fact that many things are as old as God Himself. When God was not yet a god, what was He? Recall my previous letter about the head of the gods, or the family of the gods, wherein I wrote that He was once a mortal, like you and I. The process, then, by which He became God—by which you and I are to become gods—is the way it has always been done on any other world that has ever been.

Combine this knowledge with these two facts:

  1. Our bodies have been created in a fallen world and so the flesh is prone to weakness (sin and evil).
  2. The veil of forgetfulness placed over our minds, which causes us to choose goodness by faith, also causes us to choose the opposite by faith.

Perhaps you can begin to see that this mortal probation is a place where evil can be presented to us in an appealing way because of where we are—a fallen world. We are left relatively alone to pick between good and evil for that is part of the test of this life, but it’s not because God created the evil or that He created a fallen world. The world became fallen when Adam and Eve fell, and they fell “that man might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added; also read my letter to you on the necessity of the fall).

The analogy you must consider should not be ‘[would I] throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll’? But rather this: would I subject my child to the shocking and undoubtedly unpleasant experience of being torn from the warmth of the womb to breathe cold air and lose all feeling of previous security just so they could learn to walk, talk, and grow?

The answer is a deliberate and ultimately merciful yes because whether cesarian or natural birth there is no other way to further your child’s development.

Think about that. I know that you would not go back and change a thing if it meant not having those precious ones in your life. Likewise is God a good parent to us, and we are born into a fallen world simply because of this same reason: there is no other way. There is only one way by which a body of flesh and bone can be created, and “it is sown in corruption[, and] raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

And when we learned we could come to this world in that premortal council that you and I attended, all of us “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

—Joseph

P.S.

You made it through all three hours of church! That can be a feat for someone used to shorter stints. In our ward this past week, my wife and I gave the sermons during the sacrament meeting (that first and longest meeting). My wife spoke about Joseph Smith’s first vision and I spoke on the nature of the Godhead.

What did you think of the services? Anything strike you as peculiar?

Deep Admissions of the Creator

Dear Joseph,

“With this doctrinal foundation laid, we can talk in a little more depth about what really happened during the creation.”

Yeah, go ahead.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

As a reminder, you said:

“… The Hebrew word “Elohim” is closer to the English word ‘god’ than the English word ‘God.'”

And then I added:

“… [‘Elohim’] is not only more similar to the English ‘god’ rather than ‘God,’ but… it is actually plural, therefore meaning ‘gods.'”

Well, who was creating this earth anyway? To answer this question, let’s begin by looking at the full Hebrew version of our beloved Genesis 1:1:

Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ

Hebrew romanization: Bereisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz

English: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Some rabbis would teach that the first letter in the whole verse, the letter ב “be-“ of “bereisheet” (literally, the preposition “in/at” as found in the adverbial phrase “in/at the beginning”), is fundamental to understanding the Torah—that there is deep significance to the first letter being ב bet (the “t” is pronounced when the letter is read in isolation). This is because ב bet is a pictograph and symbol meaning “house” or “home,” therefore implying that our world that God was creating in Genesis 1:1 is the house of God.

But we have to discard these teachings in order to dig up a great clue as to the identity of “the gods” who created this world. This clue can be found if we accept a surprising fact: the letter ב bet was an unauthorized addition to the original first verse of the Torah. Lest you think that this idea is actually an unauthorized one itself, know that it comes from The Zohar, a group of books that Wikipedia calls “the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought….” The Zohar teaches that the first phrase that should be read in the account of the creation in Hebrew should not be Bereisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz, but Reisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz (noticeably missing the “be-” from the first word).

To actually understand the full implications of this mere change of spelling, let’s take a look at the meaning of the new first word of our Hebrew verse: ראש rosh-/reish-. Though commonly translated as “beginning,” this word has a more literal translation as the word “head,” which would be synonymous with “beginning” if it is assumed that a reference to time is intended by this phrase. But there is no explicit reference to time with which to make such an assumption, and once we remove the preposition ב bet “in/at” from our verse, the previous adverbial phrase of “At the head of [time]” (“In the beginning”) ceases to modify the verb ברא bara “to organize” (not “to create,” remember?) and instead becomes an adjectival phrase modifying the noun אלהים Elohim “the gods”!

Got it?

That was a mouthful, so let me boil it down for you: the Hebrew no longer literally translates to “At the head of [time] the gods organized…,” but instead “The head of the gods organized….” And herein lies the answer (or a step to the final answer) to our original question: “Who was creating this earth anyway?” Answer: someone identified in scripture as the “head of the gods.”

So there you have it, when incorrect changes to the scriptures are removed, and the true meaning of the scriptures is restored, revelation occurs before our eyes. Genesis 1:1 now makes three very deep admissions:

  1. There are multiple beings designated as “gods;”
  2. There is a being among them designated as the “head” of these beings;
  3. There is no indication that the organization of our world took place at the beginning of all time.

It becomes difficult to tread in these deep waters without the aid of direct revelation from Heaven itself. After all, if unauthorized changes to scripture led us away from the truth in the first place, we ought to be very careful to try and not interpolate our own unauthorized changes as well. It becomes expedient, then, that we seek further revelation from Heaven on the subject. Luckily for you, I am a believer of modern revelation and am aware of many such revelations that have come through God’s authorized servants in our day that would help us better understand the three “deep admissions” above.

A lot of what has been revealed on this subject has come to us through Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this dispensation (Do you know what a dispensation is? If not, it’s a topic for another time, I’m sure), but somewhat has been added to his revelations by his successors in the years since his martyrdom. For instance, the prophet Lorenzo Snow wrote a famous couplet of poetry that may expand your thinking on the subject a little (think of a family with a “head” while you read this):

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”

Curiosity piqued? I will give you another hint of where I am going with this, also from modern revelation: there is an interesting verse of scripture that we have from God that is found in the book of The Doctrine and Covenants (modern scripture composed of new revelations [new relative to the books of The New Testament, that is]), which reads:

“This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent…” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:24).

In The New Testament, there is a similar verse found in the book of John whose only difference is the word “life” instead of “lives.” This change is crucial. The implication of the version restored by Joseph Smith (quoted above) is that those who go on to the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven (the highest degree of glory in Heaven, remember?) will go on to become like our Heavenly Father—in a very literal sense to become an heir with Christ of the Father’s lifestyle and authority. That means that those who inherit this glory will go on to inherit ‘eternal lives,’ a continuation of what we now recognize as the human family—parents begetting children who themselves become parents who beget children, and so on. The difference is that this pattern will take place on an eternal scale, but only by those who prove themselves capable (we’ve already written at length about the test of this life).

The fact is that the seed of an oak tree does not produce a cow, neither a chicken’s egg, a dog; a man begets a man, and a god begets a god. We are the children of God—man is a god in embryo—we’ve simply forgotten that we are the same race as that being who organized our world. In other words, a god begets a man that becomes a god, but we’ve forgotten that we’re part of this chain. As I wrote in my last letter, Adam and Eve also had forgotten everything, and they are the pattern for this test of mortality that you and I are currently taking. The forgetting is necessary, but just as an absence of evidence cannot be held as evidence for anything, let alone that something does not exist, we must realize and awaken to the fact that, although forgotten, God is in actuality a living being who we are more closely tied to than we know. Said Joseph Smith:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man….”

So it is then that our Father in Heaven has children who grow up to become like Him, just as we do—just as we are doing. Would it not be true to call them also “gods” (“deep admissions” point 2)? We are not grown up to that full stature (yet), but if we are not His first creation—if there is no scriptural indication of a beginning of all time (point 3)—then surely others of His children have so matured to become like Him in all ways. He sat at the head of His family (point 1), the “gods,” and counseled with them about the next world He was to organize and, after the premortal Christ was chosen as Savior, got to work.

That is what really happened during the creation.

—Joseph

The Devil Told the Truth

Dear Joseph,

“…The original Hebrew word for ‘created,’ as found in [Genesis 1:1], does not actually mean ‘to make’ as we often assume it does. It means ‘to organize.'”

Very interesting, I had never heard this before.

I’m also interested to learn from that Wikipedia article about Genesis 1:1 that the Hebrew word “Elohim” is closer to the English word “god” than the English word “God.” This translation fits in better with the God-was-an-ancient-astronaut theory that’s become popular lately, what with those Ancient Aliens-type shows on TV and all.

Kind of makes me wonder about who Adam and Eve were too. Why doesn’t God want us to learn deeper truths? Is He afraid that if we find out the truth we won’t respect him the way he wants us to? If we find him out he won’t be able to control us anymore? It’s these kinds of shady wordings that make me wonder if he’s just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

You know, I can’t read Hebrew (yet…), but you’d think that in the couple-thousand pages of The Bible we’d find some other passages to explain what was happening during the first couple pages. Someone could have at least tried to tie it in to the big Bible-thumping topics of death, Hell, or maybe even Jesus Himself, maybe?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Yes, knowing a bit of Hebrew can be very enlightening. There’s a lot more to learn as one considers upon all of the implications that the word “Elohim” brings to our interpretation of the creation, but it would take several more letters to properly introduce the subject. It is an important one though, so I will be sure to bring it back up if we get away from that topic in our future discourse. Suffice it to say for now that you are straddling some deep truths, one of which is the fact that it is not only more similar to the English “god” rather than “God,” but that it is actually plural, therefore meaning “gods.”

“I saw a humorous meme recently that depicted God as a cartoonish caricature with the caption: ‘Create the entire universe out of nothing; need Adam’s rib to make one more thing.’ That made me wonder, how can God get away with that one?”

I want to return to this idea of Eve being created from Adam’s rib. In my last letter to you I explained that God does not create from nothing but organizes from preexisting matter. So what are the implications with the creation of Eve? How did God make an entire person from a rib?

But before I continue, I want to be sure of one thing: your kids were delivered by a stork like mine, right?

When we as parents tell our children that they were delivered by a stork, what we are really doing is speaking to a child about a subject that we cannot fully explain without a much deeper conversation that would get their little minds focused on a subject far outside what we want them to be focused on, right? Likewise, when God explained to Moses, the author of Genesis, how the world was created, He explained it in terms the mind of man could comprehend—for now. If Jesus Christ taught in parables to reach multiple levels of comprehension at once, would we not expect the premortal Jehovah to also so teach?

Was the world created in six days, as we know them, or were there six generally-divisible periods that Moses used the word “day” to describe? The geologic record, so far as it is interpreted correctly, seems to indicate the latter.

Were the heavens and the earth created at the same time, the “beginning,” or have the “heavens” been around a lot longer than the earth? The cosmic record, so far as it is interpreted correctly, seems to indicate the latter.

God knows the answers to such questions as these, and He also considers them to matter less to us, His children, than the clearer fact that He was at the head of it all.

It’s not that God doesn’t “want us to learn the deeper truths”—He desires to share with us greater truth and light on the subject—but He must wait until we are prepared. The fact that the Hebrew version of the creation makes bare some of the deeper truths by virtue of the language itself should be evidence enough that God is not arbitrarily “pulling the wool over our eyes.” The same goes for the creation of Adam and Eve: there is a deeper understanding (that, frankly, is slightly clearer in the original Hebrew), but, like the truth behind the stork that delivered you and me, it is meant for spiritually matured minds.

Most of Christianity looks down upon Adam, and especially Eve, for committing the first sin, the “original sin,” and believes that life wouldn’t be so hard for the rest of us if it wasn’t for their introduced of sin into the world. This is an old sectarian notion and is false. In all actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth: “Adam fell that men might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added).

If you’ve come to know the devil and his tactics in your life (and we all have by virtue of being on earth), I will open your eyes to the fact that he hasn’t changed his ways in the five- or six-thousand years since the day he tempted Eve: the devil will tell nine truths to get someone to accept one lie. “What!” the world will exclaim, “the devil tell a truth?” Yes, if that’s what he must do tell a lie—one more lie than God would ever give. In Genesis 3:4-5 we get to hear Satan do just that:

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

The one lie here was that neither Eve nor Adam should “surely die;” the rest was true. Let me give you some context: Adam and Eve were created in the Garden in a state of innocence and, well, we’ll call it ignorant bliss—like someone who eats only ramen noodles every day, it’s not until they taste filet mignon that they realize just how good something can taste; conversely, it’s not until they taste dirt and crab grass that they realize just how good ramen noodles can taste. In other words, we cannot know the sweet until we taste the bitter. God designed the mortal experience that we each go through (not just Adam and Eve) to be the bitter, that we might become like Him (and “the gods,” as the devil mentioned [think Elohim here]), “knowing good and evil.”

That’s what this life is about: we are on to the next stage of becoming like our Father in Heaven, the father of our spirits. Adam and Eve didn’t make a mistake, they made a decision.

Note, for instance, in the next verse, Genesis 3:6, it doesn’t say that Eve “fell for the serpent” or “was deceived in that moment” or something, but that she “saw” that what the serpent said was mostly true, meaning that she logically analyzed her situation and made her own decision. In our doctrine, we praise Eve for making the decision that would allow us the opportunity to not only know the sweet, but to receive a physical body at all. There is an even deeper layer of symbolism we could delve into with respect to this decision, particularly pertaining to why Adam and Eve could not create children before it, but suffice it to say that, like them, it is crucial that we are introduced to a fallen world—something far different than the Garden of Eden—to take that next step towards becoming like our Father in Heaven (recall the council in Heaven).

However, the fall of Adam truly brought sickness and death and sin into the world, which could truly be considered as a step away from God, but without it—without opposition—we could not be tested to progress in an eternal sense. You wouldn’t take a test with the a copy of the answer key open on every student’s desk (at least, that wouldn’t be much of a test), and likewise we cannot be tested within the confines of the Garden of Eden—a place where God Himself could come and walk about; life is a closed-book test, and we are separated from God by the very nature of this sinful world.

So, if a fall away from God was needed to get the test started, and we have Adam and Eve to thank for that, how do we un-fall if we pass the test? How can Adam’s decision be praiseworthy when all we’ve got to show for it now is death, disease, and sin?

Actually, this—the nature of our current fallen state and all—was known from the “beginning.” In the council of “the gods” before the world was (the afore mentioned council in Heaven), a plan was presented whereby we could return to God’s presence—with Adam and Eve too—despite all of our unworthy, mortal baggage. The central figure of that plan is none other than Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer.

Christ was chosen in the premortal council in Heaven to be the “Atoning One,” the person who could bring us back “At-one” (atone) with God—the only one who had the power to swallow up our death, disease, and sin. For that reuniting with and inheriting of the Father and His glory to be complete, it was known far in advance that we would need bodies of flesh and bone (like the Father has) and no uncleanliness (like the Father is). Adam and Eve then came to get the process started whereby we could do just that, and in so doing they become archetypes of the journey we are all taking:

  • They forgot all, and we have forgotten all;
  • They came to a fallen world to know good from evil, and we come to a fallen world to know good from evil;
  • They gained bodies of flesh and blood (which blood is signified in scripture as a symbol of “corruption”), and we now have bodies of flesh and blood;
  • They will be resurrected to immortality and bodies of flesh and bone (without blood, or a body of “incorruption,” like the father), and we too shall be resurrected to the same;
  • They had their sins remitted through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we too may so choose to become clean and thus enabled to enter into the Father’s presence.

“…You’d think that in the couple-thousand pages of The Bible we’d find some other passages to explain what was happening during the first couple pages. Someone could have at least tried to tie it in to the big Bible-thumping topics of death, Hell, or maybe even Jesus Himself, maybe?”

Maybe with the context I have laid, these words of Paul, found in 1 Corinthians 15:45-54, will perhaps make more sense to you than they have in the past:

“The first man [Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man [Jesus Christ] is the Lord from heaven….
“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

With this doctrinal foundation laid, we can talk in a little more depth about what really happened during the creation.

—Joseph

Wild Beasts That Are Past Feeling

Dear Joseph,

“The murder discussion will be a lengthy one to pursue at the moment. But suffice it to say—again, for the moment—that our conscience is God-given. The first time you do something that is even minutely wrong, you can feel it, but if you ignore that feeling and continue to sin more and more, that feeling will become numb to you.”

I’m thinking of cultures with human sacrifice as a part of their religious rituals. The Aztecs, for instance. By all accounts, even the sacrificial humans themselves were honored to be chosen as a sacrifice. A person born into this culture and trained in the priesthood (or whatever they called it) would have no compuctions against taking a human life under the right circumstances. And I don’t think the concept requires that extreme an example. Take, instead, the Hashashin (the organization from who’s name the modern word “assassin” is derived). These assassins were trained from childhood into an ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment. Having not been raised in such a way, I can only take a guess, but it seems to me that if one were trained to murder by professional murderers, that one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.

In my Psychology 101 class oh-so-many years ago, we learned about an illegal study that was done by an self-proclaimed scientist who raised his own child from infancy in his attic without ever allowing the child any human contact at all. I Googled for the specific case, but there were a shocking number of similar stories and, without being able to recall names, dates, or locations, I had no idea which one was the one we were told about in my class. Anyway, by the time he was arrested and the then-adolescent child rescued, the poor kid was irreparably psychologically damaged. He was no different from a wild animal, but without the benefit of the more advanced instincts most animals are born with. So, the point is, very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.

You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s “because it’s fascinating” for a reason? So, thank you again for taking the time to actually write to me about things others dare not approach. It’s been fun! Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.

For example, I saw a humorous meme recently that depicted God as a cartoonish caricature with the caption: “Create the entire universe out of nothing; need Adam’s rib to make one more thing.” That made me wonder, how can God get away with that one? Can’t exactly say that Genesis had a typo there.

—Thomas

P.S.

I like that Smith quote, I’ve never heard that before.


Dear Thomas,

We have a lot to cover here, and it would be perhaps better to split the content I have in mind into two letters, but I really cannot wait to broach the subject of the creation, so I might just touch upon it at the end of this letter.

“[There was an] ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment…. If one were trained to murder by professional murderers… one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.”

This may be true, but I am sure that the first murder committed by an apprentice of such a society would still be accompanied by instinctual remorse. This is the light of Christ being extinguished by the mind raised to ignore it. In The Book of Mormon, the entire society of the Nephites (the people who once considered themselves to be the people of God) descends into a pitiful shadow of its former self. In their wickedness, these Nephites become a murderous and blood-thirsty people. The prophets of God, who once could preach with great efficacy to call the people to repent from their sins, found themselves unable to even stir the hearts of their audiences, who naturally proceed to try and kill these holy men. The term one prophet uses to describe the state of these people is “past feeling,” in other words, they collectively extinguished the Light of Christ.

I guess that the point I want to bring up here is that the topics of judgement—as in final judgement—and wickedness may be two slightly different topics. Let me elaborate: are the criteria by which God will finally judge our hearts the same as the criteria by which His standards and commandments are measured? The answer is actually yes, so far as one is aware of the criteria. This means that though a man may not be held accountable for the laws he did not receive in his life, those laws still exist to define happiness and wickedness; and wickedness never was happiness.

With this understanding, a society of murderers that raises little murderers is truly a wicked society if murder is a sin, but at the judgement bar they will not be judged for that wickedness like those who knew murder was sin. In this assassin society’s case, the greatest condemnation will be heaped upon the heads of those who started the society since they made the decision to break away from a standard of righteousness (assuming they were exposed to such, as these kinds of societies often are [again, this kind of thing is in The Book of Mormon]).

But there’s a another issue at hand:

When the judgement is passed and the time to return to God’s presence has come, will the society of murderers feel very comfortable in the Celestial Kingdom, where no unclean thing can bear to remain? Not unless they repent—and I don’t mean in an accountability kind of way, but in a change of heart kind of way. This re-emphasizes the need to be taught God’s principles and laws during this life when it is easiest to prepare for the lifestyle of Heaven (you can repent after this life, but it is much harder to do without your body as it turns out).

The subject here then becomes one of paradisiacal culture shock. A quote from the famous writer C. S. Lewis may serve to explain this idea further:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It is easier to be lustful and appetite-satisfying than it is to reign in those passions. Those passions are part of what makes our bodies powerful tools to the soul, when harnessed appropriately. As I wrote to you a while ago, part of what separated us before this life, as spirit children, from our Heavenly Father was the fact that He had a body and we did not. He has perfect control of His body, and if we are to have the ‘infinite joy’ He experiences, we are required to learn how to control our bodies like He does.

Unfortunately, God’s enemy, the devil, knows all too well what we are capable of experiencing, and he seeks (as he has ever sought) to use the tool of our very exaltation to bring about our damnation. Simply put, his strategy is to keep us out of Celestial glory by getting us to let loose of the reigns of the body, to go from being ‘half-hearted creatures’ to full-hearted wild beasts. The devil’s secret weapon is the fact that he can easily confuse us to recognize all pleasure as happiness. This is Hollywood’s message: letting loose the reigns feels good; wickedness is happiness.

“… Very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.”

Inner-turmoil aside, you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The question to consider then is this: if our environment can totally affect our lives, what can save us from becoming ‘full-hearted wild beasts’ that are ‘past feeling’? What can save us from becoming finer society for the devil and his angels than for gods?

I have heard of cases of total child neglect similar to the one you mentioned in your letter. I can recall a case or two of children who wandered into the forest as toddlers and wandered back out as adolescents but, like you said, almost “no different than a wild animal.” It is absolutely true that an environment can dictate, to a great degree, who someone may become as a person. I don’t think it will affect every part of a human’s nature, but the evidence is there to show us that environment is pivotal to human development.

What comprises environment then? Among many things, and perhaps foremost among them, is parenting. You may recall my words at the end of my last letter, but now add to it the emphasis of the evidence you bring to witness here: “The responsibility to raise children in righteousness is one of the most important charges God has put into the hands of mankind” for without it mankind would descend into a savage state. A state where murder becomes acceptable, as also, like you said of the Aztecs, offering human sacrifices to idols (which the Nephites in their depraved and wicked condition did also).

Though a man in such society may somehow avoid all contact with truth and God’s laws all of his life, it cannot be said that in the end he is righteous according to Heaven. He will not be judged for breaking a rule he didn’t know, but he will still have to set aside his ‘mud pies’ if he is to go on to that great ‘holiday at the sea’ with God. And he will have the opportunity to do so if he desires it. That decision may look like a no-brainer from here, but approaching God requires sacrifice (not the Aztec kind), and it’s much easier and much more appealing to stay in the mud when faced with true, sanctifying sacrifice (a great topic for a future missive).

“You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s ‘because it’s fascinating’ for a reason?”

That’s as worthy a reason as any if you ask me. Lucky for you, I do like to ‘talk theology,’ as you know.

“Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.”

As I said at the start of this letter, I will only dip into this subject for the length and the heaviness of the topic so far. Nevertheless, let’s take a short peak at the beginning (if there is one…):

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)

Mormon theology correctly recalls the seldom recognized fact that the original Hebrew word for ‘created,’ as found in the verse above, does not actually mean “to make” as we often assume it does. It means “to organize” (see the Wikipedia article for Genesis 1:1 and look under “bara”). As such, it is important to first recognize that there is no such thing as a creation “ex nihilo” but that such a notion is a man-made concept, and that it is not true to say that God ever made something from nothing.

—Joseph