Logistics of the spirit world

The long lines at Pope John Paul II’s viewing made me think of an interesting question connected with our concept of God as a physical being in the form of a man.

When Jesus visited the people gathered at the temple in Bountiful (see 3 Nephi 11:13-17), about 2500 men, women, and children came forward to feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet.

If each of these people had ten seconds for this encounter, it would have taken nearly seven hours just for this portion of the account. There were far fewer people in this account than the millions at the Vatican recently. But even those millions pale in comparison to the vast humanity on the planet now. Not to mention the uncountable other populated worlds mentioned in the Pearl of Great Price.

The mortality rate on earth right now is approximately 1.78 deaths per second. This brings up an interesting question regarding the physicality of God and the nature of time. Sometimes in the Church, we talk about having an interview with Christ as our judge, or being embraced in the arms of our Heavenly Father after this life. But these activities take far longer than the half-second or so before it’s the next person’s turn. Spirits would be arriving far faster, so there would be a line that would continue getting longer and longer.

Of course, logistics in the spirit world might be such that the time spent waiting wouldn’t be standing in line like in the Vatican, but keeping busy with other activities. However, there is still the issue of the time involved. Will I need to wait for several millennia for my turn to see Christ in a face-to-face interview? Do prominent people get priority?

One possible answer to the question is that God is somehow “out of time”, so the question of elapsed time doesn’t come up. There are a few problems with this answer, though: one is that modern scripture says that God is in time, even though his time may be measured somewhat differently than ours. The second is that unless we posit that not only God, but all spirits are somehow “out of time”, or time slows down for them, or something along those lines, we still have spirits waiting a long time, regardless of how God experiences the passage of time. Another is that taking God “out of time”, or even out of the passage of “our timeline” seems to imply that God can physically be in more than one place at one time (from our perspective). But it seems to me that in our teachings about a physical God, we typically deny that. (The Encyclopedia of Mormonism has an excellent entry on “Time and Eternity” that addresses a number of these issues.)

So it seems to me that in order to resolve the question of a large (and ever-growing, given the uncountable creations of God) backlog in heaven, we have to adopt one of the following options:

1. Our ideas of how we might personally encounter God in the next life need to be drastically modified. We probably won’t have a face-to-face interview with Christ or literally be embraced by our Heavenly Father.

2. Our ideas of time need significant revision. Time doesn’t really exist in the next life, despite what D&C 130 teaches, and despite the huge questions that raises in terms of God interacting with us here on earth.

3. Our ideas of God’s physicality need to be reconsidered. Perhaps his embodiment is more than his manifestation as an exalted man and this will somehow allow more than one of us to literally be in his presence simultaneously.

Are there other ways to resolve this puzzle?

25 thoughts on “Logistics of the spirit world

  1. Christopher, when I ponder these types of issues I return constantly to Moses 1:35, “only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” Moses wanted to know about things beyond his understanding in the universe, and God basically told him that he wasn’t ready to know all of those mysteries. How exactly we will each (all of the billions and billions of us) have an interview with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ? I have no idea. How does Heavenly Father hear and listen to all of our prayers (there are probably millions of people praying at any given moment). I have no idea. But I know He does. Some things are just unknowable for now.

  2. Geoff, do the scriptures teach that we will have a one-on-one interview with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ? Authoritative prophetic teachings?

  3. Christopher, I don’t have time to find the scriptural references right now, but I will look into this on Sunday. This falls into the category of “I thought I have read that before, but I can’t remember exactly where.” I accept the help of anybody willing to rescue me in the meantime.

  4. I’ve occasionaly mentioned “The Physics of Immortality” by Tipler on other blogs and websites. It is a serious, albeit highly speculative, treatise by a scientist who professed atheism at the time he wrote it. He makes the assertion that our perception of time decelerates as temperature increases. (He may even have had references, but I don’t have the book handy to check). When the universe undergoes the “big crunch” (one of his many speculations that more recent science does not support), the resulting temperature increase will slow down our perception of time to the point that it will seem to have virtually stopped. If he is correct, and if God dwells in “everlasting burnings,” then a variant of your solution 2 might work.

  5. I’ve always understood that I’ll stand in the presence of God the Father after the resurrection and judgement, not immediately after this life. The spirit world is just a lay over point between earth life and being in the presence of God. There is that scripture in the Book of Mormon though that says something about someone (sorry for my extreme vaguness) that after they were “taken back to that God that gave them life.” But the question is “Is it God the Father or God the Son?” I think it’s talking about Christ and when the resurrection come he’ll present take us to the Father.

    My mission president had his own idea of how the judgement would go down, which limited the number of people seeing Christ or Heavenly Father.He shared it with me while on a trip through the mission. Going off the scripture in D&C 130 that says the same socialaity that exsists in this life will exist in the nex, my president thought “Well, maybe there will be wards and stakes in the spirit world too.” OK. So Millenium is coming to an end and our time to be resurrected and judged is up. Before we see the Savior you have to pass through preliminary interviews with your spirit world bishop. If you don’t pass that, to the telestial kingdom with you. If you do pass, its off to the stake president. He interviews you, and if you don’t pass, then you’ll stay in the terestrial kingdom. If you do, then you’ll see the Savior for your final judgement who will then take you to the presence of the Father. I think it’s kind of strange to think that there will be bishops and stake presidents involved in the judgement process, but its an answer to the problem of everybody having their moment with God or Christ. The pres based this idea on the scripture in I Nephi 20 that says the Lord can’t tolerate the least degree of uncleanliness, so he thought “There has to be some kind of filtering process.” Though the idea that spirit world bishops and stake presidents is kind of weird, the filtering process isn’t. We know from the temple that there will be angels standing as sentinels and that we have to give them the information we learned in the endownment to get back to God’s presence. So only those who have their endownment will be able to do that.
    Well, I have to go to class now. I kind of lost my train of thought. Peace

  6. The whole interview with Jesus and being received into the arms of the Father smacks of cultural over-belief. There is nothing in the scriptures to insinuate it. If anything, the scriptures imply that the information of our lives will be publicly available.

    Moreover, the Gospel Principles manual deviates stridently from popular Mormon belief:

    The Apostle John taught that “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son†(John 5:22). The Son, in turn, will call upon others to assist in the Judgment. The Twelve who were with him in his ministry will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (see Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30). The Nephite Twelve will judge the Nephite and Lamanite people (see 1 Nephi 12:9–10; Mormon 3:18–19). President John Taylor said the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles in our own dispensation will also judge us (see The Mediation and Atonement, p. 157).

    I don’t know of anyone who preaches that.

    My personal opinion is that the judgment and assignment to glory will not be anything like advancement in the priesthood, but like the natural evolution of biology. We will go were we fit.

  7. I don’t know of anyone who preaches that.

    That is what I’ve always been taught.

  8. J. Stapley #6&8

    You’re kidding, right? The responsibility of the saints to judge the world is covered yearly by each ward/branch that has a Gospel Principles class. It’s covered in the Book of Mormon & New Testament Seminary and Institute classes every year. Maybe you meant that you haven’t heard it discussed at General Conference recently…

    That said, I agree with you: “the judgment and assignment to glory will not be anything like advancement in the priesthood, but like the natural evolution of biology. We will go were we fit.” But I don’t view it as a future event. It is going on right now. So too is the “having an interview with Christ as our judge, or being embraced in the arms of our Heavenly Father”

  9. Jason R. -

    No, I’m not kidding. I’m familiar with the belief (I have read the GP manual a couple of times and the references therein), but I haven’t heard anyone teach it in my memory. I have never attend GP, so that could be a reason I have not heard it.

  10. With regards to time, one problem is understanding what we mean by time. I’ll not get too technical. (I do that on my blog) But there is a notion called a multiverse where each universe is like a bubble. Time exists within each universe. But the times are “unrelated.” So God could be out of our time while still subject to time.

    I think there are significant reasons why a multiverse like view of physics is necessary for Mormon theology. I’ve discussed them quite frequently over at my blog and won’t bore everyone with them. I should add that while multiverses are still speculative theoretical physics, they have become quite mainstream the last ten years. The only possible problem, from a physical point of view, is whether “communication” between universes is possible.

  11. But Clark, does this resolve the issues raised in my post? Even if God is on a separate “timeline”, doesn’t the fact that he is subject to time (and presumably if we were personally interacting, we would have to be subject to the same time) still leave my questions unanswered?

  12. When I was around six, I somehow was under the impression that after this life, we’d all sit down for a really long movie and watch the life story of pretty much everyone. I was so mad that my brothers and sisters would see EVERYTHING that I had done…

  13. Take this for what it’s worth. I cannot vouch for its accuracy (check out the sketchy source at the bottom), but I’ve heard it many times:

    In 1965, President David O. McKay made the following statement to a group of Church employees:

    “Let me assure you, Brethren, that some day you will have a personal priesthood interview with the Savior himself. If you are interested, I will tell you the order in which he will ask you to account for your earthly responsibilities.”

    “First, he will request an accountability report about your relationship with your wife. Have you actively been engaged in making her happy and ensuring that her needs have been met as an individual?”

    “Second, he will want an accountability report about each of your children individually. He will not attempt to have this for simply a family stewardship but will request information about your relationship to each and every child.”

    “Third, he will want to know what you personally have done with the talents you were given in the preexistence.”

    “Fourth, he will want a summary of your activity in your Church assignments. He will not be necessarily interested in what assignments you have had, for in his eyes the home teacher and a mission president are probably equals, but he will request a summary of how you have been of service to your fellow man in your Church assignments.”

    “Fifth, he will have no interest in how you earned your living but if you were honest in all your dealings.”

    “Sixth, he will ask for an accountability on what you have done to contribute in a positive manner to your community, state, country, and the world.”

    (Reported by Cloyd Hofheins in a talk to the seventies quorum of Provo Utah Oak Hills Stake, May 16, 1982.)

    I found this at http://emp.byui.edu/HOLTJ/PPI%20-%20David%20O.%20Mckay.htm

  14. “Sometimes in the Church, we talk about having an interview with Christ as our judge, or being embraced in the arms of our Heavenly Father after this life. But these activities take far longer than the half-second or so before it’s the next person’s turn. Spirits would be arriving far faster, so there would be a line that would continue getting longer and longer.

    Of course, logistics in the spirit world might be such that the time spent waiting wouldn’t be standing in line like in the Vatican, but keeping busy with other activities. However, there is still the issue of the time involved. Will I need to wait for several millennia for my turn to see Christ in a face-to-face interview? Do prominent people get priority?”

    Alma 40:11 teaches the spirits of all men (good & evil) are taken home to that God who gave them life. I don’t know if that means a face to face interview, or if it means we are simply taken within His influence/presence/spirit. The time/physicality issues are problematic. Still Alma seems pretty clear on the subject. And it was in response to a direct inquiry on what happens after mortality.

  15. In light of the possibility that God may somehow be “out of time”, or at least, or comprehension of time, here are some possibilities. Has anybody read Flatland? The second half of the book envisions what it would be like if a third-dimensional being visits a second-dimensional being. The walls and limits of the second dimensional being’s house were nothing to this third dimensional being. The point of the story was to try to illustrate how a “fourth dimension” would seem to us. I read a short sci-fi story once where an alien invasion took place. But b/c these aliens were “fourth dimensional” (where that fourth dimension was time), their spatial invasion also occurred across time. Once they invaded, they had _always_ invaded.

    So, to add my 2 cents, perhaps God exists in such a way that he can express himself in the same manner. In the same moment, perhaps we could _all_ have that personal contact with God. I could throw in some rambling speculations about how (my limited understanding of) quantum mechanics might deepen these speculations, but I think that’s enough for now.

  16. Great comment Chris O’Keefe. Flatland is one of my very favorite books and I do think that our ability to comprehend the afterlife and how God can do things is very much analogous to A. Square’s inability to understand the Sphere while trapped in the perceptions of his two dimensional world. The author of Flatland was not a mathematician. He was a clergyman and literary scholar and his book was meant to discuss God and his interactions with man as much as it was meant to discuss mathematics and dimensions.

    The Lord was able to show Moses every particle of the earth and every soul on it in a very limited amount of time, and the brother of Jared was shown all things in a very limited amount of time.

    As another example of our limited understanding, I often wonder if God’s visible spectrum of light includes a greater degree of wavelengths of light than our limited spectrum. I almost think that it must. I once watched a nature video in which they were discussing the fact that they believed that bees could visibly perceive wavelengths of light outside of our own range. They used a specially designed camera that converted wavelengths of light that we are normally unable to see into colors within our visible spectrum. They used this camera to film flowers. It was amazing to see that many of the flowers that appeared monochromatic to us had fantastic patterns when viewed with these additional wavelengths of light.

    Like A. Square in Flatland, our perceptions and experience in this mortal existence are too limited to even comprehend much of the eternal.

    I think that Grasshopper’s solution #3 is the best approach of those he proposed, but frankly our perceptions are too limited to make any of our speculations worth while.

  17. The thing is that four dimensionalism is (to me) inconsistent with reality, and the gospel. The whole flat land analogy is paradoxical. In these cases, the past present and future exist concurently. We exist in the premortal, mortal and post mortal sphere, we are simply aware of the present. We are at one sinful and (hopefully) sanctified.

    Is Lucifer still in Heaven? if not, then time is linear.

    I wrote an extended take on this here.

    I will say however that Clark’s ideas on multiverses adresses some of these concerns; I am, however, to much of a wubus to fully comprehend them.

  18. The thing is that four dimensionalism is (to me) inconsistent with reality, and the gospel. In these cases, the past present and future exist concurently. We exist in the premortal, mortal and post mortal sphere, we are simply aware of the present. We are at one sinful and (hopefully) sanctified.

    Time can be viewed as a fourth dimension, it doesn’t have to be specifically the forth dimension. In Flatland, additional dimensions were merely spacial, not temporal; past present and future did not exist concurrently. Their was clearly a timeline.

    I don’t think that the analogy causes problems as long as you don’t impose the “additional dimension equals time” idea, which isn’t needed anyway.

  19. I don’t think that the analogy causes problems as long as you don’t impose the “additional dimension equals time” idea, which isn’t needed anyway.

    I see, you were argueing for an expended meteriality of God, not a expended temporality of God. My bad.

  20. I suppose that God could have extended, physical dimensionality, but that would mean that we would have to also become like him in the ressurrection–that our three dimensional “image” of God would be added upon as we received celestial bodies like his.

    I am not specifically arguing for that view however. I think that my major point is that our perceptions are so limited by this existence that what we percieve as logistical difficulties are probably not. Flatland demonstrates that point, though its particulars may not be directly analogous.

  21. Sorry for the delay. I think that if there are “bubble universes” that then you have a de-facto time travel possible between universes. Thus it may take millennia for God to meet everyone individually. But it could all “appear” to happen within moments of death, if necessary.

  22. There may be an imbeded presence of the Savior in each of us -

    To quaklify this I use the experience of Alma the Younger. He describes his experience in Alma 36 noting

    Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

    And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

    And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.

    Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of edeath.

    And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

    And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

    In my estimation, his own memory brought him to the presence of the Savior and he was, at least temprarily, judged and found worthy of redemption. Did he see Christ personally? I don’t think so, but that doesn’t negate the fact that after that experience, he knew Christ. Was he individually judged by the Savior and the Father? I would say yes, even though he was not physically in their presence, he had a face to face expereince, because we are made after God’s image and each of us has the light of Christ inside us.

  23. Hmm, why not? What if God is able to have the face-to-face with more than one person at a time.

    For example, Clark and I may be connected to the internet at the same time. The internet needn’t decide between connecting with Clark and connecting with me. It can do both.

    So perhaps God is conceptually like a big computer with thousands of different terminals that we can all plug in to. We all get our one-on-one, without necessarily denying anyone else her one-on-one.

    p.s. Bob, I had that same vision. And boy, was I worried about the whole room laughing at me when they saw some of my screw-ups. I had the belief that if I repented, it wouldn’t make the movie, however. I don’t know if that’s entirely doctrinally accurate, but it’s a view I held for years. I haven’t thought about it recently — who knows, maybe it’s a view I still hold (though I kind of doubt it).

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