Replies to Thomas

Tag: forever

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

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Heaven or Hell?

Dear Joseph,

Mormon doctrine teaches that God manipulated pre-existing matter? Is that accurate? So . . . he “built” then, right? He didn’t create. And if THAT’S accurate then I would wonder why we are accountable to him in the first place. We are his children, yes, but a child does not live under his father’s rule his whole life. Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority. A child has his own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn. So now, God is not a crazy ex-boyfriend, he’s an overbearing parent. Sort of amusing, on a side note, that Jewish mothers have a bit of a reputation for that very thing. Hehe, wonder where they got it from? 


“We will all be rewarded for choosing Christ as our redeemer in the council held in the pre-existence. But for those who again (but this time through faith in this life) choose to follow Christ, an even greater reward is at hand.”


And that is fine, and fair, and how it ought to be! Unfortunately, that’s not what other denominations teach, and those teachings seem lacking in logic to me.

And I would be extremely interested in another version of “Heaven and Hell.”


I also want to add that I very much appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me. I’m sure you’re “happy to do it” and all that, but it’s still time out of your day that could just as easily be spent doing other things that could make you equally happy, so I’m grateful that you picked writing to me as the way to use your time.

—Thomas 

P.S. 
I love the analogy with the son and the “shiny car”. That is inspired.


Dear Thomas,

You’re right, I am ‘happy to do it,’ and it makes me even happier that you appreciate my time. So thank YOU for sitting through what I imagine must be hours of squinting to decipher my ramblings. I can be verbose at times and I hope you can forgive me if I wander here and there. Your respect of my beliefs has equally fueled my drive to spout more information your direction. So thank you!


“Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority.”

Yes, you’re on to more than you know. Mormon doctrine does teach that in the Celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heavenly glory, where God dwells) we will again live in or be able to enjoy the presence of the Father, but that is not the only distinction between it and the other kingdoms. We define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of glory within the degree of the celestial kingdom (that means, yes, the highest level within the highest level), and people in this station not only live in the Father’s presence, they receive “all the Father hath” including living as the Father lives. As you mentioned above, it’s sort of a logical step—that is, if eternal families are like mortal families (and they are, minus the depravations of mortality)—to assume that someone who grows up to become an adult goes on to establish their own home and have their own kids.

Likewise, those who not only enter into the baptismal covenant but who are also are married in a sacred covenant in the temple can be together for time and eternity. This is why my wife and I were married in one of our LDS temples; sacred ordinances—far too sacred for a public viewing unlike baptism—can only be performed in a place built specifically for it. There we were married not until at “death do [we] part,” but forever. Why forever? Because we will set up our own Heavenly home and have our “own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn,” someday gaining a body on an earth and having their own children, etc., which pattern we catch a generational glimpse of while here on this earth.

There is a famous Mormon couplet of poetry penned by one of the early prophets that puts it this way: “As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may be.” This doctrine is very sacred and rejected by mainstream Christianity (along with many of our other beliefs), but that’s why we call ourselves the “restored” church, and not another “reformed” one.


So when our Heavenly Father pleads for us to follow Christ, it’s not just because He’ll get anything more from it, but also because He knows the purest happiness and joys the universe has to offer and wants us each to be able to live like He does and enjoy what He enjoys. But he does gain glory in our eternal life, if we attain it. Just imagine if there was no death so that all of your progenitors still lived on the earth. Doubtless you’d still have left your mother and your father and cleaved unto your wife, as you have now and as the Bible teaches we should, but what would your relationship be like with your grandfather? Or great grandfather? Or great, great, great, great, great grandfather? The farther back you go, the more respect and veneration you would find by nature of his position within the family; put differently, it’s his descendants who would revere him and give him his honor. In the same manner, our Father in Heaven receives His glory from below, not above. 

You brought up another good point though, if God just “organized” stuff that was already around, why do we owe Him our allegiance? God knows the whole spectrum of existence already, and I think part of our being here is for us to learn that what He calls happiness actually is happiness. It’s like, if there was no veil of forgetfulness at the time of our births, we would look around and be like, “Oh yeah, you’re right, this place wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be.” A school of hard knocks, kind of. We are all, at some point, the prodigal son. The thing is God realizes that some of His children will prefer to dine with the swine instead of feasting on the fatted calf, and He will let them do as they choose! In the end, He will place us where we are happiest.


Another reason we ought to give allegiance to Him is because He is the architect of our existence and eventual salvation. Like St. John saw in vision, even the beasts fall down to worship God because they owe their happiness to His creative hands (animals have spirits too). The familial relationships analogy works here too. Though a child won’t necessarily choose to or even want to see his parents again, the fact of the matter is that he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for them, let alone have some college money to blow, etc. Similarly, whether or not we choose to praise God for organizing the unorganized into our spirit bodies, and later physical bodies, the fact is that He did it, and we owe our current happiness to Him for it.



Oh yes, Heaven and Hell. As you could probably deduce from my description of the three kingdoms of glory, nothing in that sounds quite “hellish” to our limited, mortal understanding, does it? Well, there is a place called “outer darkness” that will be pretty awful apparently, but we don’t know much about it besides the fact that it’s reserved for the devil and his angels. It’s not surprising that God has chosen to reveal to us more about our highest possible potential than the opposite so as to keep our minds on the goal. We know from modern revelation too, however, that there will be some mortals who will go to outer darkness, but they will be few and far between. They must be the types who say, “there is no sun,” at noonday, sinning against the Holy Ghost. I can name a couple notables who will probably go there, though judgement is obviously reserved for God: Cain and Judas Iscariot. Again, not official doctrine on the names of those who will go to outer darkness, but I feel pretty sure that of all people, they qualify.


But that’s not the whole of it. I mentioned a place called the spirit world in my last message. The spirit world is where our spirits go when we die, when our spirit body separates from our physical body. This spirit world is here on the earth, just invisible (to most of us). The spirit world is composed of two bodies of peoples, those who rest in the glory of God having a knowledge of His plan, and those who are pretty freaked out that they are still alive after leading a terrible life. Okay, I’ve probably generalized that too much, but you get the point hopefully: spirit “paradise” and spirit “prison,” we call it. The essential division is between the righteous and the wicked. This sphere is not just inhabited by the dead, but also by the angels and demons who seek to help or destroy us.

I don’t know how much more to say about it, but it may be interesting to know that the righteous dead who have received the Gospel are trying to preach to the wicked dead who perhaps never had an opportunity to accept it. That is why, as you have probably heard, we do ordinance work—like baptisms and marriages—for the dead in our temples. We don’t dig up corpses and baptize them or something bizarre like that, but we stand in place of them, so that if in the spirit world they accept the work, it has been completed in their behalf and they can receive the blessings as if they had been physically baptized while living (ordinances must be accomplished with a body, you see). We focus this work primarily on our own ancestors though we also do work for all that we can. This doctrine should help drive home the point that God gives ALL of His children an opportunity to become like Him.


In the New Testament, spirit paradise has a couple names including “paradise” itself (Jesus spoke it to the other man on a cross), and “Abraham’s bosom” (one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, Luke 16). If you read in Luke 16, you’ll see how the rich man describes his feeling of losing out on his chance of being with Abraham (a righteous, departed spirit) as being “tormented in this flame” and desires Lazarus (another righteous, departed spirit) to “dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Now, I’m not intentionally trying to set up a logical argument here, but merely prove a point: if the fire of “hell” is actually a pit of fire, how does a dude’s finger extinguish it with just a touch? Obviously, this is an analogy to the forgiveness the rich man desires for his unrighteousness so that he can be counted with the righteous. Likewise, it is part of our doctrine that the fire and brimstone, and “smoke that ascendeth up forever,” etc., are all describing the feeling of unbearable guilt that will beset you when you wake up to the bad choices you were making all along.


That is nearest to what we would call hell, but it is not our ultimate destination. Some day all men will be resurrected (the righteous at the beginning of the millennial reign, and the wicked at the end), and the resurrection marks the reuniting of our spirit bodies with our physical bodies, no matter what we did (or did not) in this life, forever. Then our bodies will be perfect and without flaw, and we will not age, get sick, or die. Christ was the first to be resurrected—He was the only one who could do it—and because of Him and His atonement (which includes the resurrection) we will all live forever. Why are we all gifted back our bodies? Because our bodies are the reward for those who chose Christ in the pre-mortal council, and they are key to enjoying the happiness Heavenly Father now enjoys. 
Who didn’t make that choice, and who will not and have not received bodies? The devil and his angels.

So there will come a day when we will all leave spirit prison regardless of what we’ve done—yes, what we teach is that there is an exit to hell (though we might not say it in those words because it would seem like incentive to blow our money on that shiny car)—and that day is called the resurrection. But then comes final judgement, where exaltation is shown to be ultimately our choice. Again pointing to God’s fairness and love, just as we have no choice but to die in this life, we will freely be resurrected to die no more; just as it is entirely our choice to sin and cut ourselves off from His presence, it is entirely our choice to return “home” by choosing to follow Christ as we did before this life.


And that’s only the surface. Even so, I understand that some of what I’ve shared is very deep to tread in. Please remember that if there are flaws in what I’ve said they are from me, not the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know these things are true.

—Joseph