Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano
The Marriage of Time and Eternity
In the context of Christian orthodoxy, the word “time” refers to anything available to mankind through the senses, anything which can be imagined by the human mind. “Eternity,” on the other hand, refers to a realm entirely beyond time. Orthodoxy does not see eternity as the opposite of time, because the orthodox believe that eternity can have no opposite. It is beyond all such definitions and comparisons. Eternity is unknowable because it partakes of God’s infinite and “totally other” nature. For centuries orthodoxy has taught that upon death all humans will enter eternity to experience either the bliss of heaven or the torments of hell.
In contrast progressive Mormonism (which emphasizes the finite and immanent over the transcendent characteristics of God) teaches that eternity partakes of location, duration, and extension. It is a distinct place, where things and people exist and events occur. It is divisible, for it is comprised of the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms, the realm of pre- and post-mortal spirits, and the realm of outer darkness. After the resurrection most humans will dwell in eternity in a state of harmony and peace, untainted by sorrow, corruption, sin, and evil.
We think Joseph Smith’s revelations contradict elements of both points of view. Where orthodoxy sees eternity as inherently incomprehensible, Joseph Smith taught that its incomprehensibility lies in our lack of knowledge and experience not in its existence beyond all categories of thought. The progressive Mormon idea that eternity is somehow beyond sorrow, corruption, or evil is also contradicted by Joseph Smith.
A revelation to Joseph dated 5 April 1843 tells us that “angels do not reside on a planet like this earth” but “in the presence of God on a [p.99] globe like a sea of glass and fire” (D&C 130:7). Angels do not exist in some great beyond but on a globe. God too lives on a planet. “The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim,” and “this earth, in its sanctified and immortal state,” will be just such a “Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon” (vv. 8-9). This earth when glorified will become the dwelling place of Christ (v. 9). The point is that eternity partakes of location.
The Book of Abraham holds that eternity also partakes of extension. Abraham “saw the stars that they were very great, and that one of them, Kolob, was nearest unto the throne of God” (3:2). The text makes it clear that spatial proximity to God is not employed here as a metaphor: “for I am the Lord thy God: I have set [the planet Kolob]… to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (v. 9). The earth, a temporal sphere, is revealed to be part of a single continuity which includes the eternal place where God in person dwells. This idea contradicts the notion that eternity is time’s transcendent other. Instead time and eternity are presented as two perceptions or components of a single, integrated cosmos.
Joseph Smith’s revelations also tell us that eternity, like time, partakes of duration. Section 19 of the Doctrine and Covenants censures as false the orthodox view of hell as a state of endless and eternal damnation. The revelation asserts that the words “endless” and “eternal” do not refer to timelessness but are really alternative names for God (vv. 10-12). Thus the phrases “endless punishment” and “eternal punishment” mean only that the source of the punishment is God, whose names are Endless and Eternal, not that the punishment itself lasts forever. This also means that God and angels though they exist in eternity experience duration.
The Abraham text informs us further that the cosmos consists of different fields of time. The closer we approach the planet where God is, the more slowly time advances. Earth, because its time moves at a relatively rapid rate, is a lower order planet. Spheres of a higher order are deemed superior, not because they are larger or even habitable from a human perspective but because they exist in fields where time moves more slowly than it does on earth (3:5-8). On Kolob, we are told, time moves at the same speed it does for the Lord: one Kolob day equals a thousand years on earth (vv. 4-5). These revelations tell us of an eternity of location, extension, and fields of relative duration.
In Joseph Smith’s Book of Moses, we are presented with the story of the prophet Enoch, who in vision beholds God weeping: “And Enoch [p.100] said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” (7:32). Enoch is surprised by this vision. Apparently he held the inaccurate view that eternity was proof against sorrow. In response to his question, he is told: “Behold, these thy brethren… are the workmanship of mine own hands… but behold they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;… Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom;… wherefore, should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer” (vv. 32-37). In the Book of Abraham text too, we get a discomfiting glimpse into heaven. There Satan, unhappy with God’s plan to create the earth, refuses to submit and leads away many after him (3:26). He and his fellow rebels are eventually cast out of heaven into the earth, where they continue their war upon Michael, his angels, and humans (Rev. 12:7). Such tales of discord do not say much for heaven as a place of uninterrupted peace and security. This contradicts the orthodox and popular Mormon view of an eternity devoid of strife. If all of this is so, then the question remains: What distinguishes time from eternity?
The key to the answer is found in a revelation which states: “The same sociality which exists among us here [in time] will exist among us there [in eternity], only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). What distinguishes time from eternity then is not location, duration, extension, sorrow, or evil but God’s “glory,” which arrests the forces of decay, fragmentation, disunity, mortality, change, and exhaustion. Without God’s glory, the entropic processes are not stopped and the elements tend toward disorganization. Eternity is eternal because it is dominated by health, integration, unity, immortality, constancy, and energy. A full measure of God’s glory creates a condition of duration without decay, of life without death, of motion without exhaustion—fields of celestial eternity. The lack of a fullness of glory creates in the universe fields of terrestrial and telestial eternity and even fields of outright temporality. So long as we are without a fullness of this glory, disintegration is inevitable. But for resurrected beings filled with celestial glory, time is no longer: “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end;… they shall be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue;… Then shall they be gods, because they have all power” (132:20). To be glorified means to have the power of creation and recreation, the power over decay and dissolution, the power to comprehend all things.
According to Section 93, glory is composed of “light and truth” (v. 36) and truth is “knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as [p.101] they are to come” (v. 24). This means that the glory of God is a reservoir of information. In Moses 7:61 we are told that the sanctified will be blessed with “the record of heaven; the Comforter, the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things; which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power.” The glorified will have a knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come.
To understand how it is possible to have such knowledge, particularly of the future without pre-determining what the future will be, it is first necessary to consider that the glory or mind of God is comprised of both light and truth (D&C 93:36). This idea suggests that God’s mind or glory is a duality. Our lives, the world, and the universe contain myriad paradoxes because God is a paradox. Not only is the divine nature a duality of flesh and glory, but God’s glory is itself a duality of light and truth.
The Book of Mormon asserts that duality lies at the root of being. In a difficult, if frequently quoted passage from the Book of Nephi, we are told: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition [not "to" all things, but] 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… for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon” (2 Ne. 2:11-13). As a compound in one, God’s glory is a single reality arising upon the interaction between “light” and “truth.” Light or energy has two forms, a passive one, similar to “rest energy,” and an active form, similar to “kinetic energy.” Truth also has two forms, a passive one, consisting of a knowledge of things past, and an active form, consisting of the knowledge of the future—or more accurately the knowledge of all the possible futures.
We believe that in God’s view there is not just one future but an infinite set of potential futures. God has a knowledge of all these potentialities. Of course not all these potentials will be actualized, so not all the possible futures will become the present and the past. For example, one may exit a building through many doors. All of these possibilities are real until a particular door is chosen and used. Then all the potentials resolve into the chosen possibility. At the moment of [p.102] moving through the door, one future is actualized as the present and comes to rest as a historical event, a fixture of the past. This concept is complicated by the suggestion that every actualization creates a new infinite set of possibilities taking into account the new actualized reality. Thus in every moment both the potential and the actual universes are renewing themselves. This is why from God’s perspective everything is always new.
The transformation of potential to actual is not the creation of something from nothing. Reality is transformed from one mode of being (a potential) to another (an actual). Thus for God everything is not only new, it is also everlasting. Through such transformation, the futures become the present and the past. If there were only one future, God would need only have a knowledge of it, for it would be the same as the present and the past. But the scripture does not say that the past, the present, and the futures are the same. It says they are “continually before” God. Although God knows all possible futures, we think God does not know with absolute certainty which of the futures will be actualized by the free choices of others. But God knows all the futures that may be actualized by such choices. This is how God can know the futures without determining which of them will become the present and the past.
In addition to knowing the potential futures, God also observes the actualization of the one chosen future as it is transformed from potentiality into actuality. This moment is the present.
God also has a knowledge of the past, which is different from a knowledge of the potential futures or of the moment of actualization. Since the potential futures are constantly recreating themselves every time one of them is actualized and since the present is in a constant state of flux, a knowledge of the past is a knowledge of all of the presents that have ever been. God not only sees us as we are from moment to moment but also remembers us as we were at every moment of our lives. When this earth passes away, as it eventually must, it will no longer exist in the present or the futures. And at that time, a knowledge of the present and the future will provide no knowledge of this earth. But because God has a knowledge of the past, the earth will continue to exist in God’s mind as a planet that was. In fact every moment of the history of the earth and the lives of each of its inhabitants will continue to be known by God.
Reality, in our view, consists of an ethereal potentiality becoming a liquid actuality becoming the solid fixture we call the past. But we [p.103] must remember that every time a potential future becomes an actual present, the infinite set of potentials is rearranged to create new potential futures. For example, if we at this moment were to call our daughters into our study, that actuality would set up a new set of potentials which would likely result in our not finishing this paragraph. If we do not call them, a different set of potentialities would obtain. So reality is not only potentiality becoming actuality but also actuality creating new potentialities.
Like potentials, actuals are also composed of dualities. The actualized universe is composed of spirit (energy) and element (matter). The interaction of these two creates events. With every event the set of potentials fluctuates and realigns itself but remains constant at infinity, while the set of actualities increases in number. Because we live in the illusion that actualities are real but potentials are not, it is hard to imagine how reality can exist in God as a numberless set of possibilities waiting to emerge as actual reality.
The revelations suggest that what we have here been referring to as a knowledge-of-the-possible-futures or truth-in-its-active-mode is in fact apparent to our senses in an unexpected form. Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants reads as follows: “And there are many kingdoms: for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.” At first blush this verse seems to say only that there are kingdoms everywhere in the universe. But what are we to make of the phrase, “for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom?” What kingdom exists in the space between the earth and the moon? Or in the space between the nucleus and the electron of a hydrogen atom? And what about the rest of the verse? Why go to the trouble to reveal that every kingdom has space in it?
This verse suggests that space itself is part of the “truth” component of God’s glory or mind. Space, perhaps, constitutes the reservoir of infinite potentialities, which may be transformed into the finite actualities we experience as matter and energy. We are not here reasserting the orthodox notion of creatio ex nihilo. Rather we are implying that the finite universe was created from the infinite potentials we experience as space.
We speculate that space is the Divine Something out of which everything, spiritual and elemental, was precipitated. Space is not perceived as such because, to use the words of the revelation, it is “too fine or pure” (D&C 131:7), the pure “truth” so to speak. What could be [p.104] purer than space, the invisible linkage, the consciousness of God, the naked, divine psyche, the matrix of universal reality. Thus there may exist latent at every point of space, no matter how small, an infinite set of possibilities capable of developing into actuality by means of a “quantum leap.” This potential dimension of God’s glory injects into the finite universe the element of infinitude. Because God is a being of matter and energy, God is finite, but because God has access to unlimited potentiality, God possesses an infinite capability.
Of course, these are but tenuous speculations that may or may not be useful. What the revelations of Joseph Smith teach is that time and eternity are permanent fixtures of the cosmos. They exist side by side, perhaps even intruding into one another. A pocket of time may become an eternity, which may eventually spawn new pockets of time, that themselves may be transformed into new eternities. And those who have eternal life are those with access to a fullness of God’s glory or power that allows them to continue from time to eternity and from eternity to time, again and again (D&C 29:30-33). This metaphysics, as we shall explore further, forms the backbone of some of Joseph Smith’s most important contributions to Christian doctrine: his teachings on the nature of God and humanity, good and evil, and Christian redemption.
Joseph Smith declared the paradox of time and eternity. Orthodoxy and, to some extent, traditional Mormonism have attempted to deny or ignore one or the other element of this paradox. But we cannot do this without denying a part of ourselves. Jesus could not do this. Eve could not do this. They could not deny time, or flesh, or the potential for evil. Instead, they reaffirmed these realities by showing us that the divine kingdom is a realm of spirit and element, flesh and glory, light and darkness, good and evil, pleasure and pain, life and death. It is a kingdom in which time and eternity are espoused. And for the preservation of this kingdom, these deities laid aside their glory and god-hood; each journeyed into an appointed garden, unprotected, to wrestle with pain, humiliation, and death. Eve went to Eden and her tree like a bride to the bridegroom. Christ went to Gethsemane and his cross like a bridegroom to the bride. And in them, the intersection of the cosmos, the source and repose of paradox, the marriage of time and eternity was consummated.[p.107]