Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Understanding the Body of God: One Place at One Time

My second source for understanding the body of God is the well-known doctrinal statement that God is "in one place at one time". Such a statement is very problematic to anyone who tries to reconcile mystical ideas with Mormon doctrine, mainly because is extremely alienating. If I am only one person among an infinity of people, places and things that exist throughout the universe, why would God ever choose to visit me? Obviously this is not much of a problem in this life, as next to no one here is blessed with a visitation from God's body. However, this is very much a problem when we consider Celestial existence. Consider the following image:

This picture is the quintessence of countless similarly schmaltzy pieces of art that all depict Jesus either hugging a person or exhibiting his love for him/her in another way.  However, these works of art reference a generally understood principle within the church that that we too will have such an intimate encounter with Christ. This idea is all well and good. There are even references to it in scripture (going back for the lost sheep, etc.). However, it seems to blatantly contradict the principle about which this post is concerned. How can a single personage who can only be in one place at one time connect so intimately with so many people? In the spirit of the holidays, this is essentially the same problem that makes the existence of Santa Claus impossible. Just like a single person cannot visit all of the houses in the world in one night, it is unfeasible that a Christ who is in one place at one time could meaningfully connect with every person. Of course, unlike Santa Claus, there is no time limit. But consider the following argument. If it takes about 30 minutes to make a meaningful connection with someone else (an extremely tentative assumption) and if the total population of people who have ever lived is around 100 billion (http://bit.ly/Y7d7E) and if the second coming were to occur tomomrrow, it would take 5.7 million years to get around to everyone. Needless to say, this is a very long time, longer than most people would be willing to wait. I don't know about you, but if I had to wait in line this long, constituting a mere 0.000000001% (an actual calculation) of Christ's attention, I would feel pretty unimportant.  Considering this feeling of insignificance, we must make a choice concerning our approach to God. The first option is to believe both that God is literally in one place at one time and that you will experience very little of him in the life to come. However, there is a second choice. It is to believe that God's being in one place at one time has a non-conventional meaning, and thus that we are able to experience him abundantly in the next life. Being an aspiring mystic, who actually seeks oneness with God, I naturally choose the second option. I expect that anyone who actively seeks to know God will do the same.

Consider the following passage:

"The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; but they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord." (D&C 130: 6-7)

To understand the above quotation, we must first understand that the term "place" has certain connotations. We can only say that someone is in a specific place because of the things that surround him or her. For instance, a person that is surrounded by trees is in a forest, while a person who is surrounded by buildings is in a city. Furthermore, we say that a person is in a specific location (e.g. England) because of its proximity to a given point. If that person is too far away, we say that they are somewhere else. This principle is so powerful that it is actually impossible to determine an entity's location without referencing something else. However, for this location to be at all meaningful the location must reference some things more than others. For instance, if we say that a person is "in the universe" we are no further to determining their exact location than we were before the utterance. So, if we take Joseph Smith at his word when he says that in the presence of God and the angels "[...] all things for their glory are manifest, past, present and future, and are continually before the Lord", and we also accept the principle that we came to in the previous paragraph to be true, then the natural conclusion is that by the normal definition God is not in one place at one time. My reasoning for this is simple. All things are before God. This means that everything that ever existed, exists or will exist is enjoys a presumably equal spatial relationship with him. Therefore, since the scripture makes no distinction  between the various places in the universe that are before God, we cannot meaningfully say that God is in one specific place.

The reader may protest that I am destroying doctrine. In fact, I am doing no such thing. I am merely claiming that this particular piece of doctrine (that God is in one place at one time) is not true as it is conventionally interpreted. In other words, God being "in one place at one time" is true in a sense. However, what most people fail to realize is that God never leaves this place, and that this place is simultaneously all places at once. This may sound insane, as it seems to suggest that, at least for God, all places are the same place. This is actually not as crazy as it sounds. To show this, I invite you to participate in an experiment. Look at something in your immediate vicinity. It could be a patch of wall, a Christmas tree or even your computer screen. Once you have picked something, contemplate what you are really seeing when you look at said object. After sufficient thought, the natural conclusion is that you are seeing this object through a variety of "lenses", by which I mean any entity through which the light from an object can pass. Among these lenses are the air that permeates the room, the surfaces of your eyes, or your brain. Thinking more will reveal that, simply because of the distance between you and any given object, it is impossible to see anything without some kind of lens. Now, I believe that an object is distorted by any lens through which it is seen. After all, magnifying glasses magnify, eyeglasses sharpen and even air reduces visibility. So, if that is true, then do we experience anything without distortion? I would say that we do. Right here and right now, inside your skulls, can be experienced directly and fully. In fact, I would say that this fullness of that experience actually defines the word "here". This point is crucial, so let me explain my reasoning. space itself is a lens, whose distortion results from perspective (like how a car gets smaller the farther away it drives from the observer). Therefore, if there was no space between you and an object, you would be able to observe it without distortion. In other words, at least for every person that lives on Earth, anything that one views without distortion (which admittedly isn't much) and the word "here" is synonymous.  

But how does this apply to God's being in one place at one time? To answer that question, let me pose another: what would happen if all the lenses through which you saw the world were perfectly transparent and didn't distort at all? I believe you would be able to see the entire universe. This is because the distortion due to space is the only thing that really stops you from seeing far away things.Furthermore, all things would be "here". This is understandably my biggest leap, but I think it is justified. As demonstrated above, at least in any situation we've encountered, "here" can refer to whatever you see without distortion. So, to tie it all back to my original point, this applies to God for the following reasons. God sees the world through a lens (the glass globe). Because he can see everything through the lens, he must do it without distortion. Furthermore, because he sees everything without distortion, everything must be "here" for him. So, because everything is "here" for God, we can justifiably say that the "one place" referred to by the "one place at one time" doctrine can definitely refer to all places at once. 

The previous two paragraphs (concerning lenses and whatnot) open up a philosophical can of worms that I can't explore here.It has implications with, among other things, the nature of the Self and the distinction between individuals. I'll explore that in another post, hopefully to come soon. That's it for my post. Please comment!

1 comment:

  1. I think you'll like this video: http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_o_connell_making_sense_of_a_visible_quantum_object.html

    It's my understanding that the idea of God being only in one place at one time came from the idea that God's body has to follow all the laws of physics. The latter idea is well and good, as far as I know, but the former idea doesn't seem like a valid inference once you see what Aaron O'Conell has to show you.