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.
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.
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.