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I was once told by a member of the LDS that the mormon concept of eternity is different, that they believe in "eternal progression" or something to that effect.

Essentially from what I recall, this is how LDS explain that God is both eternal (which most Christians may understand to imply immutability) and changeable.

When did the LDS church start teaching that God the Father had a beginning? touches on it somewhat, but not in a satisfactory way. In fact, the top answer uses the phrase "during the first phase of His (eternal) existence." "Phase" seems to imply change.

St. Thomas Aquinas' contingency proof and LDS cosmology also does not provide me an answer, as the top answer seems to argue from ignorance.

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines "eternity" as:

ETERNITY. In its full sense, duration of being without beginning, succession, or ending. Only God possesses the fullness of eternity, since only he always existed (no beginning), has no succession (no change), and will never end (no cessation). It is defined Catholic doctrine that God possesses the divine Being in a constant undivided now. His eternity is the perfect and simultaneous total possession of interminable life. Rational creatures share in God's eternity, but only approximate it, by participation. Angels have a beginning, and they have a succession of past, present, and future, but they have no cessation since they are pure spirits that will never die or cease to be. Human beings likewise have a beginning and they have succession, but unlike the angels they will die in body, to be later resurrected, while the souls live on forever. In God's absolute power, however, angels and human souls could be deprived of existence. Their eternity depends on the goodness and will of God.

Is the answer simply that among the LDS, the definition of "eternity" does not preclude change, or that it simply means "lasting forever from its beginning"?

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  • I think this answer addresses some of your question. I'm not 100% sure what "something eternity" is refering to
    – depperm
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 18:28
  • Yeah sorry I couldn't be more specific. I do wish that answer would expound a bit more rather than just posting quotes. I was considering a separate question to ask about the overlap among LDS and Thomism. Specifically if there were any notable LDS scholars who had a depth of knowledge in thomism.
    – user54757
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 19:01
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    Up-voted +1 but might I suggest that you miss out the word 'How' from your header and merely ask 'Is the . . . . . '. Establish that first and then ask the 'How ?' question later : is my suggestion.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:35
  • I still feel a bit confused by the question. The body doesn't seem to necessarily expound on the title. I'll admit to be ignorant of specifics of your knowledge/belief of eternity or what your standard you want to measure against. Can you clarify 1) base view of eternity to compare against 2) what context of eternity you want addressed (I just bring up 2 because of the other answer in comment the context is important)
    – depperm
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 23:01
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    @SupportiveDante Maybe you're thinking of the phrase "eternal progression"? Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 5:19

1 Answer 1

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What is time to a god?

Part of the problem here is that we mortals, without assistance from the Holy Ghost, really can't comprehend Godliness in any terms but our really narrow field of view.

Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men. (Alma 40:8, emphasis mine)1

The important part of that statement is that time is important to us, but isn't important (from a perspective that we understand) to God. Before I continue the main theme of what's unique about our belief in eternity, let me bring up one more verse:

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. (D&C 93:29-30, emphasis mine)2

When we consider what "eternity" means, it's important to understand that the truth we understand is within the scope of this Plan of God's and not, insofar as we can comprehend, God's time. From the perspective of this Plan of God's, which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commonly calls the "Plan of Salvation," our Heavenly Father, God, has always existed and always will exist.

Therefore, from the perspective of this "independent sphere" in which God has placed His "truth," the word "eternity" describes the time from the moment our Heavenly Father decided to create that independent sphere until the time that independent sphere's purpose has concluded.

But will God not last forever, and did He not exist into the dawn of all existence?

Here's where things get sticky when you compare our dogma to that of another Christian tradition. Because we believe God had a beginning.

The fifth president of our Church, Lorenzo Snow, is famous for the following couplet:

As man now is, God once was;
 as God now is, man may be3

When our Father spoke to Moses He explained:

But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

Our Heavenly Father created a great many worlds and "Plans of Salvation" before this one and has a great many more in-process. And based on what has been revealed, He will continue to create worlds and organize "Plans of Salvation" upon them.

OK, we know from President Snow that our Father had a beginning (I'll get to that in a moment), and we know from Moses (writings restored through Joseph Smith) that our Father has been doing what He's doing for an incomprehensible period of time before Moses.

So, from a human perspective, if we identify "today" as point "zero" on a time graph, then God became God at some time -∞ (negative infinity) and will exist until some time +∞ (positive infinity). That's eternity.

And yet God had a beginning. And that's were we differ majestically from other Christian traditions. We find a curious statement in Psalm 82:6:

I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

Now that might cause many to raise an eyebrow, but maybe it can be dismissed by David's artistic license (if David wrote the Psalm). But Jesus referred to the verse:

The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken… (John 10:33-35)

Jesus agreed that we, the spiritual children of our Heavenly Father, are destined to become gods. I'm sure many other traditions would disagree with that assessment, but it's codified in our dogma:

Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. D&C 76:50-70(58-59))

Which reflects President Snow's couplet.

So, eternity?

My personal opinion is that it's satisfying to watch science grow ever closer to the truth I hold so dear. The concept of time becomes really messy once you get out of our pleasant solar system — and God knows more about that than we do. He's done His best to give us a reasonable explanation, but not a lot of details, because (when you think about it), how time relates to Him is pretty much irrelevant to our goals as His children here on Earth.

So, despite our belief that God had a beginning, that beginning was further back in time than I can comprehend and He's going to keep on going further into the future than I can comprehend.

That's "eternity," isn't it?

Yeah, yeah, yeah... but something eternity, yeah?

I really can't speak to this. Like @depperm, I don't recognize a something eternity phrase from my experiences. The phrase "contingent eternity" sounds like something a well-meaning but not-too-well-prepared Sunday School teacher might say to describe the differences between the Kingdoms of Glory (c.f., D&C 132:17) or something like that. Inside the Church we distinguish "immortality" and "eternal life" such that "immortality" is granted to all through the Grace of Christ but "eternal life" (aka "exaltation") is only granted to those who are not cast to perdition (and even that's a fairly simplistic statement). I'd vote not to worry to much about what that something was.


1"God's time" and "man's time" has been a favorite discussion with numerologists. We see, for example, 2 Peter 3:8 and many similar verses that, taken literally, suggest that a day to God is a thousand years to humanity. But the scriptures are full of basic hyperbole (how many times should I forgive? seven-times-seventy... i.e., always). Can you imagine trying to explain to a nine-year-old how something as complex as a computer works? What would you do? Computers affect every aspect of their lives, after all. Of course, what you do is simplify the explanation so that it makes sense to a nine-year-old. What humanity regularly forgets is that, compared to God, we're nine-year-olds. We're old enough to understand the truth... but not necessarily the details. So let's leave you with another passage of LDS scripture, Moses 1:6, "...but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all." There's only one way for "all things [to be] present with me," and that's for our concept of time to be irrelevant to God.

2Curiously, science is beginning to understand that the measurement of time between two (or more) worlds is messy. We can identify the relationships between gravity, velocity, and time, but the ability to identify time between two worlds is so complex that Physics has a name for it: the Relativity of Simultaneity. "According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, it is impossible to say in an absolute sense that two distinct events occur at the same time if those events are separated in space." In other words, God actually can't explain the difference in time between His realm and our world without making us a whole lot smarter than we are today.

3And for the modern viewing audience, "man" is used in the sense of Humanity (aka, "Mankind"). It's a very different world today compared to when I was a child. Back then, everybody understood that the word encompassed everybody. So, please don't get upset — Lorenzo sincerely believed women would become like God, too, and the modern Church believes that anyone, regardless of their gender-related condition, can become like God through obedience to God's commands (D&C 130:20-21).

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    This seems like a long-winded way of saying that eternity does not mean eternity but just an incomprehensibly long time. Have I understood correctly? Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 12:51
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    @Join JBH on Codidact When you say "What is time to a god" to whom are you reffering? Secondly, I agree with what Mike Borden stated.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 16:31
  • @Mr.Bond I'm referring to our Heavenly Father, God Almighty. Though not included in my answer, this is reflected in D&C 130:4-5, "In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside? I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it." Curiously, this 1843 revelation reflects scientific developments between 1892 and 1908.
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 18:05
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    @JoinJBHonCodidact Interesting but not the least bit surprising. You just identified for us that God the Father is "a god." A god is not a god just because you, your church, and your so-called prophet Joseph Smith say so. Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! Since there is only one God why do you teach there are three distinct beings of God, which by definition means there are three gods. Trinitarians believe there is one God who chose to manifest Himself as three distinct Persons of the one God. Eternal life is knowing the true God and His Son, not 3 gods.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 21:47
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    Not trivialize but simplify: God Almighty had a definitive beginning in the incomprehensibly deep past and will continue, perhaps unending, into the incomprehensibly deep future. However, Scripture says "... from everlasting (olam olam) to everlasting (olam olam) thou art God": olam olam being understood as "to the horizon, and again . This is a POV that we can, indeed, understand as we know that the horizon is unreachable; thus Scripture declares that God is without beginning and without end and LDS (or your representation of it) is in direct contradiction. Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 13:07

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