Replies to Thomas

Tag: eternity

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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One Eternal Non-Euclidean Round

Dear Joseph,

So God has been around as long as we have? I think I see what you mean. Might it be analogized like so: God knows he is ahead of us but it’s not something he’s gloating about or lording over us (if you’ll pardon the pun); He’s more like a racer who’s finished the marathon going back to cheer encouragement to, us, the other runners?

I like that idea, but I can’t quite understand how this no-end/no-beginning thing works, which is maybe the point. If God is cheering us on from the finish line, then isn’t he at some kind of end? Or is He not quite there yet and so He is available to cheer us on for the time being? I don’t know if that makes any sense to you, but God is an incomprehensible being to start with, so why bother trying to comprehend Him?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Your notion concerning God’s nature (that of being “incomprehensible”) is still very influenced by your sectarian upbringing. God is not incomprehensible; God intends to be comprehended by His children. Though the word mysteries is sometimes applied to His Heavenly ways, what is meant is that we simply do not yet know the details of those ways; it is not that we cannot understand them. It’s also important to distinguish between what is unknowable and what is mysterious: the former applies to nothing; the latter is a consequence of the limitations of mortality. More on this later.

Your analogy of God being like a runner who has completed a race and is now cheering on other racers is a good way to understand our place relative to God in terms of eternal progression. But you’re right that the analogy then implies that there is a beginning and an end to the race. How can we make sense of this with the fact that we as eternal beings have no such thing as an end or a beginning? Allow me to explain:

I think a good place to start is with a relatively famous quote from Joseph Smith:

“I [will] 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…. God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.”

I like this analogy very much, for it lays down a law concerning all things: if something has a beginning, it will have an end; if it has no beginning, it will have no end. Joseph Smith also identifies the “mind of man” as the immortal component of our being. This means that any other piece of our makeup, like our physical body gained at birth, is not eternal, and we likewise find that it had a beginning and so it will have an end, at death.

But then comes the glorious resurrection from the dead and we conquer death with Christ and receive perfected bodies that are not subject to death. God has already been through that and has obtained a perfected body long, long ago. We are His children and are going through that process that He went through already, and so He cheers us on because He has already run the good race. In other words, we can reconcile our eternal nature with your analogy of a race because within eternity there are many things that are not eternal, our mortal probation being one of them.

You’re next question maybe, “Well, if we receive perfected bodies in the resurrection, isn’t that another beginning, meaning that those bodies will have an end?” Now herein is a true mystery of God (not an incomprehensibility), for though we will all be resurrected to a perfected body that will not be subject to death, if it had a beginning it must have an end. What will that end be if not death? That much has not yet been revealed by God.

Let’s go back to Joseph Smith’s analogy of his ring (I believe it was his wedding ring, in fact). As he said, if it is cut then it has a start and a stop; if not, it goes on forever. How can we reconcile this fact with the fact that God expects us to progress? Isn’t going in circles not exactly progression if we are going over the same points over and over? The scriptures too state that progress and eternity can be two synchronous conditions of existence:

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. […]
“If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after…
“And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they…” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29 and Abraham 3:18-19).

But the question remains: how do we reconcile Joseph Smith’s wedding ring as the symbol of eternity with the concept of ever increasing intelligence? These ideas seem contrary to one another because the ring implies a return to the beginning—that there is no beginning or end is a mere technicality because they are one in the same. With this contradiction in place, it seems as though that when God crosses the finish line, will He actually be crossing the starting line again!

Joseph Smith wisely taught that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” We are about to do just that and discover the missing third truth that completes this puzzle: how can progression be measured in ‘one eternal round’?

The place to begin is with our comprehension of geometry. The geometry most of us are taught for a few months in our teenage years is known as Euclidean geometry, which is composed of parallel lines, circles, and the like. Euclidean geometry is very useful and nearly indispensable when it comes to the practical applications of modern engineering. But there is one very important thing it is not: natural. It is perfectly applicable to man-made contrivance (bearing in mind that mother nature often destroys such things) but no where to be found in nature—plants, animals, planets, galaxies, etc.—anywhere!

Let me give you a simple illustration. Imagine that you set out to draw a straight line in the ground from New York City to Tokyo (as if there was ground all the way around the world). If you were to walk along that line it would appear very straight to you, but if you were to project your course upon a map the line would actually be quite curved. You may have noticed this phenomenon when tracing your airliner’s path whilst flying a very great distance. I was once on a flight to China from Los Angeles and was surprised to find that we skirted along the coast of Alaska.

This is because we do not live in an Euclidean universe. The world is not flat, though on our scale it sometimes appears so. If you follow me so far I’m sure you’re wondering, “Yes, yes, I get it: nature does not produce perfect lines and circles because we don’t live on a flat world. But what does it have to do with an eternal round?” Well, let me ask you this, if we are currently living in the midst of eternity (we are), and reality is non-Euclidean, then what does that make eternity? Non-Euclidean.

Joseph Smith’s wedding ring, then, is in reality an imperfect illustration of the perfect truth he was trying to convey: an eternal round simply has no beginning or end. This can be readily illustrated, however, by non-Euclidean geometry that encompasses the motion of ring while enabling forward progression:

Take any seemingly circular course in nature and you will find that it is actually not quite circular: a planetary orbit, the circumference of the earth, a bird’s egg, etc. What these near-circular (near-Euclidean) shapes have in common is that they are all perfectly comprehended by the three-dimensional shape of a rectangular hyperbola vortex, sometimes called a Pythagorean funnel or horn. It, or a section of it, can be found in every form in nature from music to light. I really want to describe to you more about this phenomenal shape—I would coin it nature’s map—but it would get us far from the core topic at hand, the eternal round. If I am lucky, then perhaps you have already studied this shape and this form of geometry in the past.

Suffice it to say that it mimics the ever-changing forms of nature, including eternity, and one of these instructive forms is that of a spiral, like a conch shell. When viewed from above, the Pythagorean funnel can be seen to be mathematically composed of a line that circles about with ever increasing curvature (unlike an Euclidean circle of constant curvature). It is a visual display of the principle that no matter how many times you divide the number one in half, you will never come to zero. One direction of the line comes from infinity—Alpha, mathematically infinity—and the other continues to infinity in the other direction, or Omega. No segment of the line is the same as any other segment due to the constant change of curvature (see facsimile 1).

Facsimile 1: Rectangular Hyperbolic Vortex Spiral

In other words, ‘there are two [segments], one being more [curved] than the other; there shall be another more [curved] than they.’ As with intelligences, or the minds of men, there are no two segments that are the same, just those at different places along the spiral. From Alpha to Omega, the line makes an infinite number of ’rounds,’ but each continues to increase in curvature moreso than the last.

This then is the key that unlocks Joseph Smith’s symbol of eternity to our minds. It is not unknowable just previously unknown, and so it is a mystery to those who yet do not know. By mapping the patterns of nature, or reality, we can find the pattern to eternity. It has no beginning and no end and revolves in infinite ’rounds.’ This means that God has crossed the finished line of your analogy, and awaits expectantly our arrival there. By the time we get there, though, He will have progressed along the spiral of eternity and still be our God in eternity. As Joseph Smith said:

“Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? […]
“What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? ‘Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.’ So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before….”

I hope this very basic introduction to the geometry of nature can help you understand a mystery of Heaven, since ‘that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly.’ Intelligence, that immortal part of our being, is as old as God Himself because none of us ever had a beginning. God therefore esteems that the spark of divinity that is within His heart, and yours and mine, is of equal worth to that of any other person that ever was or ever will be. The difference is that God is more advanced in His intelligence than we are, and He has shown us, His children, where the starting line for the race is. Again as Joseph Smith said:

“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. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits.”

And that is where the ordinances and the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ come into play. If we are to advance in intelligence with God, we cannot do it on our own in this life. Without the atonement of Jesus Christ we would be forced to retrogress in the rounds of eternity. It is not merely a quest of learning about God and His mysteries, but showing forth our obedience to the principles God has outlined that inherently enable progress.

What sometimes dismays the mind hungry for the mysteries is the necessity to act like God, who acts in a completely selfless manner, to advance one’s own ‘knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence.’ This is because to do so is in opposition to what the natural man would desire, what “the spirit is willing” to do though “the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). This is why knowledge of even the deepest mystery means nothing “if ye have not charity” and if you cannot abide this command: “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Moroni 7:46 and Mark 9:35).

—Joseph

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