Questions On Our Eternal Being

June 11, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 7:48 am   Category: Eternal Progression

One of the most prominent and appealing concepts throughout our religion is that of continual eternal progression. Another important concept in our religion is the eternal nature of matter as opposed to ex nihilo creation. I would venture to say that these two concepts are widely agreed upon among all my co-religionists.

Some other concepts don’t merit such unanimous support. Sometimes, this is due to the slippery nature of the language we’ve given ourselves. For example, there is the question of what eternal means in these scenarios. Is it never ending progression, or is it Progression like God? Is matter never beginning and never ending or is it God’s matter? Is there a distinction between these two or isn’t there? Is there sometimes a distinction and sometimes no distinction?

Another issue is the relevant question of Man’s nature in this scenario. While our religion strictly adheres to a concept of pre-mortal and post-mortal existence, there is a lack of clarity or agreement on either of these fronts.

First, as to our pre-mortal state, there are different models of thought as to what that entailed. Where we spirits in the likeness and image of our physical selves? Were we always such or did we progress to that point from something else? If we did progress to that point, did we cause that progression our selves, or did some external force (like God) act upon us which caused our progression. If we go back far enough, do we get to a point where we really didn’t exist, because the sub components that make us ourselves were not fully together, or are the components of us that are unique and constant, making us who we are? Of course, even if there are such components (say some form of eternal concept of gender), are these things relevant to the self aware beings we are now, or are they more like building block components from which we were built and formed? In other words, what of us is the ultimate true eternal “us”, and what is learned or acquired through the process? Is all we are ultimately in our true ultimate eternal “us” merely a speck of libertarian free will riding on the back of a quark?

Secondly, what, if anything, did our pre-mortal state have to do with our current condition? We are taught that we were born for a purpose, and that happiness is the object and design of our existence. We even go so far as to say that having a physical body is essential to the plan of God. But what about our spirit makes us a human, and not a dog or a rock or a blade of grass? Why were we born to a well to do family in North America, and not to a poor woman in a 3rd world country? Why were we born in a time of prosperity and not a time of great difficulty? Why in our lives did we have the opportunity to accept the Gospel? Do we somehow have more agency in this life than we did before we was born?

Finally, Questions can and should be asked about our post-mortal state. We are taught that by keeping the commandments we can become like our Father in Heaven. In what way do we become like him? What is he like? How does loving one another as we were loved by Christ lead us to access to omnipotence or omniscience? Does everything that has a beginning really have an ending? What is Heaven? What is it like? We are taught there are three degrees of glory, and that some go to each kingdom, depending on certain criteria. How much do faith, understanding, determinism, accountability, works, and intent play into these criteria?

It seems to me there aren’t really clear answers to these questions, but that if we want to understand our religion, whether something deep and important like the atonement, or something simple and temporal like the word of wisdom, we need to understand these eternal things, and more time and effort for revelation or reasoned theology in these areas is needed. In order for either of these two to occur, more dialogue is surely needed, whether between men, or between God and man.

21 Comments »

  1. I wonder about this stuff all the time, Matt W. Unfortunately I’m not smart enough to come to any meaningful conclusions.
    But do you think that we are at the point where physics can help at all? I mean do we need to know more about how the universe(s?) came to be before we can say too much more about components and self-awareness?
    But aren’t you glad to be asking these questions as a Mormon? I had a few great moments this week while reading Paul Davies and contemplating Joseph’s ring analogy, and our doctrine of a pre-existance, and some other lovely Mormon things.
    I’m so glad that we don’t put God into that small evangelical box.
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to the discussion here!

    Comment by C Jones — June 11, 2008 @ 8:45 am

  2. I agree that more dialog is needed. That is why I check by the thang as often as I do – even during dry spells.

    It is my impression that many of our early church leaders, and perhaps many people of that era, discussed this type of thing at a pretty high level. Maybe higher than we currently do.

    One can not force revelation however. And we ought to have some patience in our pursuit.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 11, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  3. C Jones: I am surely grateful for the framework we have in our faith on which to think about our reality and existence. I would be completely lost without my religion. However, there are so many items that are sadly just beyond the horizon of the known, that it sometimes leaves me yearning for the higher level.

    I am a single universe guy myself, which means that if matter is “eternal”, then the universe must also be “eternal”. I also think assume there is an infinite amount of space in the universe. I do all these things completely ignorant of physics, which is by far, my weakest topic.

    Eric Nielsen:
    Patience should not equal giving up the pursuit, though, should it? While it is true that some questions we must confess to be unanswerable and move on with our lives, I think there is value to holding on to those questions, because what is unanswerable today may be easily understood in the morning.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 11, 2008 @ 9:25 am

  4. Never give up. Don’t ever give up.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 11, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  5. Matt W.:

    I think we’ve all had questions similar to the ones you ask. In cliche we say that not enough has been revealed about certain of these questions – but we know that questions are the basis for revelation.
    One approach I like to use is to look for what has actually been revealed – get that settled first (at least for me). That, of course, necessitates an agreement about what has been “revealed” or, what does one accept as revelation or the doctrine of the Church. I would hope we agree that the canon of scripture would be first in that category. Then, maybe Official Declarations, Proclamations, First Presy Letters. Additionally, maybe Teachings of Joseph Smith, conference talks, other Church publications, etc.

    So, for example, in answer to one of your first questions: “Were we spirits in the likeness and image of our physical selves?” – I try to pull together a list of what the scriptures say and then other supporting information from other “trusted sources.” Whatever portion of an answer to that question that I feel confident about, I seek a personal spiritual confirmation. On everything else, I just get to speculate.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 11, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  6. I think about this kind of stuff all the time. My latest question is: If Christ is the God and Creator of many worlds like ours, why did he choose this one to effectuate the atonement in mortality. Did this “universal” atonement work for all the other worlds as well? This whole “earth as the center of the universe” type of doctrine has always kind of bugged me.

    Comment by kwk — June 11, 2008 @ 10:35 am

  7. Mondo Cool, it is true that the canon of scripture is top of the list, but then there are questions of which vs. of scripture mean what and whether they are applicable to the questions at hand, or if they are just an instance and not a general rule. For example, Does the fact that the Brother of Jared saw the finger of the pre-mortal lord and then saw his personage mean that Christ’s spirit always looked like a person? Is Christ a special case and is this moment in time indicative of all moments in time?

    Also, has said scripture been superceded by another scripture of a later date? A good example of this is that I believe that Moses’s account of first a spirtual and then a physical creation holds truth, while J. Stapley points out that Moses came almost ten years before Abraham, and Abraham says the spirits of mean are eternal. He argues that Abraham supercedes Moses, while I do not see the conflict.

    Studying the scriptures and looking for what is revealed is extremely important, but it is difficult to set a hard and fast hierarchy to what is most correct. If Anything, I would say the words of the living prophet by far supercede the value of anything the old testament has in it, because the living prophet is Representing Christ to us now.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 11, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  8. kwk: your question seems to suppose their is intelligent life on other planets. This isn’t a bad thing, I am just just saying that if there isn’t intelligent life on other planets, the answer is easy. If there is intelligent life on other planets, then your question has a lot more weight to it. You’ve probably already thought that through, but I’m just saying..

    Comment by Matt W. — June 11, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  9. Matt W.:

    One can always ask questions.

    This is how I would do it:

    For the BoJ epiphany, I feel confident in saying that the Lord had a spiritual body that appeared in the form of a man.

    Your question: “Was that always so?” might best be answered by looking for other scriptures that would call that into question; i.e., “What other scriptures suggest that a spirit or Christ’s spirit did not look like a person?” If I find no supporting scripture, then any Church Leader statements, etc. If not, for me, it’s speculation.

    Then I try to do that with each facet of the question.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 11, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  10. That’s a good point, Matt. I guess I have always interpreted Moses 1 in a way that verifies the existence of “inhabitants” on Christ’s other worlds, and reading it again I see how that might have been reaching.

    Sometimes I wonder about these kinds of questions: What consequences would God have to deal with if he reveals the answers to us? His children do have a history of taking revealed truth and twisting it into ideas that result in the opposite of our progression.

    For instance, what if God revealed to His prophet that a man’s essence is actually a programmed collection of free-will particles that He gathered up from the center of a black hole (or whatever, I’m not good at physics either) and “organized” into intelligences modeled after his own. What would this revelation do to the LDS ideas of “self”, and of a loving Father in Heaven? To help my own son become a stable adult, I’ll teach him that I love him, and that he should share his toys, before I tell him the details of how babies are made.

    Comment by kwk — June 11, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  11. I know our lack of knowledge is in no need of scriptural support, but one of my all-time favorite scriptures is this one:

    Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things—
    Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—
    Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven. (D&C 101:32-34)

    I was pretty sure already that we didn’t have a good handle on the purpose of the earth, but it’s nice to see it in print.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 11, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  12. Mondo Cool, I’ll keep searching.

    kwk: Interesting point about questions. I think when my daughter asked where babies came from when she was 3, we just said “their mommies tummy”

    I did however tell her on the day she was born that there was no santa claus, that way she can never accuse me of not having told her…

    Jacob J:
    One thing I am somewhat surprised by is that no one has ventured an answer to any of my questions. I was inspired in this post by going back and re-reading your atonement theory questions. Anyway, great scripture.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 11, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

  13. Certainly questions worth asking. I often wonder if just doing what is asked is really enough? The bare minimum never seems to get the optimal results, that comes from something more. Perhaps this pertains to our future beyond.

    Comment by b. evans — June 12, 2008 @ 12:04 am

  14. Did yopu want people to attempt to provide answers? The questions seemed rhetorical to me.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 12, 2008 @ 5:37 am

  15. I assure you Eric, I really want to know the answers to these questions. They are not rhetorical.

    b. evans: Ironically, we’ve even been asked to do more than we’re asked to do, so in order to just do what is asked, we have to do more…

    Comment by Matt W. — June 12, 2008 @ 6:45 am

  16. Well, all I have are some current opinions, many of which are not ‘the’ answers.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 12, 2008 @ 8:34 am

  17. Opinions are what make dialogue. I’ll do a follow up post with my opinions in a day or so, and we can discuss.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 12, 2008 @ 9:24 am

  18. Is it never ending progression, or is it Progression like God?

    Yes. I do not think there is a difference.

    Is matter never beginning and never ending or is it God’s matter? Is there a distinction between these two or isn’t there? Is there sometimes a distinction and sometimes no distinction?

    I vote for no distinction.

    Where we spirits in the likeness and image of our physical selves?

    Yes.

    Were we always such or did we progress to that point from something else?

    Progress (I like BH Roberts Immortality of Man)

    did we cause that progression our selves?

    God offers the opportunity, which we can accept by choice.

    Is all we are ultimately in our true ultimate eternal “us” merely a speck of libertarian free will riding on the back of a quark?

    Might be something like that.

    Secondly, what, if anything, did our pre-mortal state have to do with our current condition?

    I think it has a lot to do with it. Probably more than most people.

    But what about our spirit makes us a human, and not a dog or a rock or a blade of grass?

    The fact that we are literal children of God. (Big surprise there).

    Why in our lives did we have the opportunity to accept the Gospel?

    I think this is very commplicated. I feel Abraham 3 and Alma 13 give us a glimpse, but we should not oversimplify this.

    And….you ask to many questions that run on. So these are my quick opinions.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 12, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  19. Eric, here are my opinions on my own questions, in parenthesis.

    Is it never ending progression, or is it Progression like God? (I guess this question needs some decompression. I was thinking of the England vs. McConkie discussion, which requires a certain kind of progression. My opinion is that there are certain things we can progress forever in, and others we can not, because they are what I would call binary functions, and not leveled. An example is that I can not perpetually improve at knowing the letters of the English Alphabet. At some point, I either know them or I don’t. However, Mastery of the letters does not mean that I know every combination of the letters, as that is infinite.)
    Is matter never beginning and never ending or is it God’s matter? (This one also could go a lot of ways. To be concise, I think there is an infinite quantity of matter filling an infinite amount of space. This matter has always and will always exist. I would venture to say that each particle of matter is somehow different. This matter has synergy with other components of itself which cause an infinite variety of results)
    Is there a distinction between these two or isn’t there? (There is a distinction between something being never ending and something being Godlike)
    Is there sometimes a distinction and sometimes no distinction? (Only sometimes)
    Were we spirits in the likeness and image of our physical selves? (I think we are currently spirits in the likeness and image of our physical selves. The best I can say is that yes, I believe we were, to a certain extent, in the likeness of our physical selves. I wouldn’t say to what extent that is.)
    Were we always such or did we progress to that point from something else? (I believe there was progress in our premortal state, just as there is now. I think, in fact, there was an immense amount of progress followed by a terrible stagnation which resulted in our being bound and unable to progress without God the Father’s help.)
    If we go back far enough, do we get to a point where we really didn’t exist, because the sub components that make us ourselves were not fully together, or are there components of us that are unique and constant, making us who we are? (This is the old Young or Smith thing. All I can say is who I am right now didn’t exist yesterday, because I am more than eternal matter. I am also an aggregate of my experience. More on this below)
    Of course, even if there are such components (say some form of eternal concept of gender), are these things relevant to the self aware beings we are now, or are they more like building block components from which we were built and formed? (This is one I have no definite answer on. There is too much complexity to drill down to a specific example like gender. What about my eternal self makes me able to pee standing up?)
    In other words, what of us is the ultimate true eternal “us”, and what is learned or acquired through the process? (I think a lot of what we are is a compound of our experiences and our perception and understanding of those experiences. Therefore, one might say we are determined by our situation and our cognitive abilities to assimilate the information our situation presents us. However, There is some fundamental component of us (LFW) which allows us to choose what perceptions and what terms we will accept in any given situation)
    Is all we are ultimately in our true ultimate eternal “us” merely a speck of libertarian free will riding on the back of a quark? (In a sense, I guess I think of this as a sort of apologia between Young and Smith, in that we are eternal, but also made of “spirit atoms”. It is relatively possible to explain, because language fails. If we go backwards and retrogress our selves, as I suggest, we get to a point where we were something which had existed for an infinite amount of time, but must be in its most primitive state. Question after Question comes forward. If we are a dormant being for an infinite amount of time, can we be more than a dormant being now? It’s hard to wrap one’s head around being a dormant almost nothing forever, and then suddenly not, as it requires an end to forever. I like the language to describe this sub-segment of forever. Anyone know the right word?)
    Secondly, what, if anything, did our pre-mortal state have to do with our current condition? (I guess I go for the idea that God gave us this opportunity of life on earth so that our pre-mortal life would have less to do with our current condition, rather than to determine it. Thus the veil.)
    But what about our spirit makes us a human, and not a dog or a rock or a blade of grass? (Someone attributed to Cleon Skousen an idea that our pre-mortal progression and obedience to the laws of cause and effect brought us to what state we would exist in. The Question then becomes can a tree progress in this life or after this life to reach a greater level of progression or self-awareness? (This assumes the more self aware we are, the better.))
    Why were we born to a well to do family in North America, and not to a poor woman in a 3rd world country? (I personally believe that for myself only, I chose my parents. It may be an irrational belief, but it is what I irrationally believe based on a religious experience I had in the MTC. Outside of that, I dunno.)
    Why were we born in a time of prosperity and not a time of great difficulty? (See above?)
    Why in our lives did we have the opportunity to accept the Gospel? (This one is pretty amazing to me. I think that less than .001% have a real opportunity to accept the “fullness of the Gospel” in life. Maybe there is meaning to this, and maybe there isn’t. Sometimes I think God’s plan only needs representation of the truth, and not absolute conversion of all to it, while representing the eventual absolute conversion through temple work. Other times, I think that’s crazy..)
    Do we somehow have more agency in this life than we did before we was born? (I’d say yes, because I am free of the deterministic forces that I acquired pre-mortally, and am thus free of them.)
    In what way do we become like him? (I can only say we find more of the attributes he has within ourselves)
    What is he like? (Ineffable? Loving and kind. Good. Wise.)
    How does loving one another as we were loved by Christ lead us to access to omnipotence or omniscience? (Love is the greatest form of power in social relationships. It is called referent power. I believe in the idea of power relationships.)
    Does everything that has a beginning really have an ending? (Not in my opinion. I don’t believe so. If two “spirit quarks” which have no beginning and thus make a beginning of the synergy between the two of them, there is no reason to believe that synergy will end.)
    What is Heaven? (A state of being, more than anything else. A state of connection with those around us, including our Father in Heaven…)

    Comment by Matt W. — June 13, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

  20. We have a discussion about your blog with my wife and we talk about eternal progression. We also wonder, does God or the God’s are progressing also? Interesting thoughts?

    Anyway, what are your thought about this too?

    http://jbsolis.blogspot.com/2008/06/kirby-heyborne-standing-for-something.html

    Comment by kenjebz — June 13, 2008 @ 8:44 pm

  21. Solis:

    In a fairly famous miscommunication between a BYU professor, THe BYU professor (named Eugene England) hypothesized that God would have perfect knowledge in some ways, like how to save us, and be progressing in others. Jahn A. Widtsoe (an apostle in the early 1900s) agrees with this in his book a rational theology, and so does Brigham YOung, which we have record of from a fairly public debate with Orson Pratt. The part that makes this a miscommunication is that when Elder McConkie, an apostle, responded, he said essentially that God could only progress in certain ways and had to have perfect knowledge in other areas, essentially agreeing with England. The Disagreement seems to be in what ways God is currently progressing, rather than whether he is progressing.

    Parte ni Kirby Heyborne, ambot lang. Bahala na, kay actor lang siya ug dili siya og apostole. Kahibalo ko nga lisod ang trabajo sa movie star ug role model siya, pero wa’ ko’y labut sa iyang kinabuhi.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 14, 2008 @ 9:57 am

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