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?