As I’ve been studying the “Come, Follow Me” material lately and talking about it with family, I’ve had a quote from Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park come to mind a few times. There are a few statements in this section of Alma that have brought it to mind.
The first is found in Amulek’s words to the Zoramites. He tells them to not delay repentance because: “Behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God’ yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). While I’ve discussed before that there are a few ways of viewing our ability to labor and repent in the afterlife, I feel like there is still a sense of urgency to actively shape our destiny and to learn and grow during this mortal life rather than letting too much of our time and energy slip away, thinking that there will always be more time. As President Lorenzo Snow put it: “Though we may now neglect to improve our time, to brighten up our intellectual faculties, we shall be obliged to improve them sometime. We have got so much ground to walk over, and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.” There do seem to be certain things that are best learned and experienced during this mortal life as we work to “brighten up our intellectual faculties,” making it an important time to prepare to meet God.
The second statement is found in Alma’s words to his sons. As he tells Helaman: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6-7). In the section, he is talking about the sacred records, and later on, Alma returns to the idea in a slightly different way, recalling the story of Lehi’s family crossing the sea. He notes that even though the Lord guided and helped them through miraculous means, “because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey” (Alma 37:41). Keeping mind that punctuation was added later on in the process of preparing the Book of Mormon for publication, the statement could alternatively read that: “Because those miracles were worked by small means (it did show unto them marvelous works), they were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.” What he seems to be getting at, if we read it this way, is that by following the small and simple things in the “words of Christ,” they will “carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise” (Alma 37:45). Yet, there is also a warning that we can sometimes lose sight of the things of God because we fail to see the small and simple ways in which He interacts with us in our lives and this, in turn, leads to forgetting and failing to observe the words of Christ.
Bringing these two thoughts together, we finally come to the quote I’ve had in mind. While the movie of Jurassic Park is a classic thriller, the book also engages in some interesting philosophical and scientific discussions that weren’t included in the film, including a discussion about fractals. A fractal is a repeating pattern that displays at every scale—a phenomenon that occurs in nature as well as mathematical sets. Think, for example, of using four triangles (three pointing up, one in the center pointing down) to create a larger triangle (something like the Triforce symbol from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series), and then imagine that the smaller triangles are, in turn, composed of other triangles in similar fashion down to the microscopic level. This sort of thing does happen, for example, in snowflakes and other crystals (hence the mention of them in Disney’s Frozen when Elsa creates her ice palace). Anyway, the commentary that stood out in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was the statement that:
A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there… And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the same shape as a single day.
Each day is important for us to “prepare to meet God” or “improve our time” because our life is, ultimately, built out of those individual days and takes the shape of how we use those days.
Now, I’ve probably only managed to put on display how much of a nerd I am rather than stated anything profound or particularly useful to everyone else, but it is a quote that has shaped how I view life. While I lose sight of it from time to time, the idea of a day being a smaller part of the fractal of life does motivate me to try to make the most of each day and to include things that keep my eyes open to the small and simple things God does for me and that help me remember the words of Christ as I prepare to meet God.
 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-lorenzo-snow/chapter-1-learning-by-faith?lang=eng.
 Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), 170-171
There is also another quote from Jurassic Park that bears remembering and that is ” Just because we can do something does not mean that we should”. I wish more people in many situations would take that idea to heart.
How about Bon Jovi: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just want to live while I’m alive”?
Last I heard, Mormonism still believes in Eternal Progression, and that we can take our knowledge with us into the great beyond. So gaining all measure of knowledge is critically important. BY even said that God is progressing. Although BRM and Pres. Hinkley are not so sure. When did learning “from the best books” degenerate into studying only the scriptures and church publications?
Having said that, raw intelligence is only one piece in the puzzle. I’m a firm believer in “works.” Is it more important to memorize a proof-texted scripture or help a neighbor dig a connection to his sewer line? Is it more important to read the latest mind-numbing book from Deseret Book or work for social justice. Is helping feed the homeless on Sunday a violation of keeping the Sabbath Day holy? You can guess where I stand on these questions (the questions are clearly bias toward my point of view).
The world, the whole world is open to us (even during the pandemic crisis). The Church and its member have an unlimited potential and the resources to help change the world. Let’s do more, much more. Let’s put our knowledge gained to assist our global neighbors in need.
To focus on one aspect of Roger D Hansen’s comment:
BY, James Talmage, Lorenzo Snow, all spoke in favor eternal progression. BRM and SWK opposed the idea of progressing between kingdoms. A recent post (W and T? T and S?) recounted a conversation the writer had had with Marion Hanks, who informed the writer that JFS had spoken against eternal progression at a meeting of General Authorities, only to have DOMcK remind him that other church leaders believed differently than JFS. I ascribe GBH’s statement to a PR-induced motivation to round the sharp edges of an unusual doctrine, in his interview with Mike Wallace, hoping to show everyone how normal Mormons were—not a rejection of the teaching.
Have there been any more recent statements from Church leaders? I don’t think the Church qua Church has ever made a definitive statement. I hope it won’t, because this to me is a beautiful doctrine. Some of Mormonism’s “strange” doctrines are among its most wonderful.
“I’ll tell you the problem with the … power that you’re using here: it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you want to sell it,” said Dr. Ian Malcolm to 90% of new missionaries.
Taiwan Missionary, I think that there most recent discussion on eternal progression and progression from kingdom to kingdom that the Church has had a hand in was when Fiona and Terryl Givens wrote The Christ Who Heals and wanted to say that we should believe in the idea, but were told by the powers that be that the Church has no official stance on the issue and they couldn’t use the platform they’d been given by Deseret Book without stating both sides of the issue that the Church has no definitive stance on the subject. My off the cuff recollection might be wrong, but that’s what I remember from the book and/or a podcast interview with them when it came out.
Chad, that’s one of my other favorite quotes/discussions from the book.
I believe we are here to ‘become’ the best we can be, given our circumstances. The person who does what rogerhansen above indicates. A person who strives to make the country/world, a better place for those in need. Those not in need can usually do it for themself.
A person who has the courage/confidence/ability to build things that others don’t, like houses out of unconventional materials. Or even conventional construction, but unique design
If you have no idea how to build a house, how would you create a world?
Perhaps you can create a world intelectually? Can you create a house intelectually? Perhaps thats what architects do? But architects create, drawings, not houses.
If you read your scriptures regularly, but can loose your temper at the drop of a hat? Scripture reading is something you do, unless it helps you become more celestial, what is the point? Or is reading the scriptures something that needs to be part of your character?
I believe there has to be eternal progression, in the eternities, including between kingdoms. I can’t imagine a God who has glass ceilings.
rogerdhansen and Geoff-Aus, thank you for bringing out aspects of what I was thinking about in the back of my mind while writing this post but failed to explicitly get at in writing it because of where I was focusing at the time. My personal version of Latter-day Saint theology is very much shaped by the idea of ‘becoming’ and learning through both intellectual study and through activities and experiences that shape and express our attributes in ways that help us become more like God. One of my favorite quotes from Dallin Oaks is that: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts?—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts?—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2000/10/the-challenge-to-become?lang=eng).
It makes sense to me, based on the words of Christ, that we are expected to be moved to action by them rather than only further study. I like what you said, Geoff, about scripture study–“Scripture reading is something you do, unless it helps you become more celestial, what is the point?” I do find, for me personally, that studying the scriptures on a regular basis does help ground me in gospel, which then leads to action. As President David O. McKay said: “The kind of life you live, your disposition, your very nature, will be determined by your thoughts, of which your acts are but the outward expression. Thought is the seed of action.” For me, regular study of the gospel helps direct my thoughts to where they need to go for good actions and development to follow (which was ultimately what was on my mind while writing this post).
As you both have indicated, however, the actual doing of things like helping neighbors, working for social justice, etc., in turn roots those things more deeply into who we are becoming as part of the process. One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith along the lines of what is being discussed here is that: “Righteousness is not that which men esteem holiness. That which the world call righteousness I have not any regard for. To be righteous is to be just and merciful. If a man fails in kindness justice and mercy he will be damned” (Joseph Smith sermon, 21 May 1843, in Cook, Lyndon W.. The Words of Joseph Smith [Kindle Locations 4052-4053]. Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition).
As far as eternal progression, I agree that it makes sense that we are always able to grow and that there isn’t a cap based on the choices we make during our short and confusing stay in mortal life. I personally tend to disagree with Amulek’s belief that there cannot be labor or repentance performed after death (hence the link to a previous post on the subject). I should clarify that my point in bringing up the Lorenzo Snow quote, with its explicit focus on intellectual development, was to say that even if you believe in eternal progression, there can still be the sense of urgency that Amulek is encouraging rather than complacency because of there being an infinite amount of time available (which, I find through experience, is the biggest concern members who believe in an afterlife more in line with BRM’s view of there being no real second chances tend to have about embracing the idea of eternal progression). What I was hoping to get at is that even if we believe in eternal opportunities for progression, we still need to actively work at learning to be like God on a daily basis through both intellectual study and doing good because it’s a long road to get to what we need to become, and “and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.”
So, again, thank you both for bringing those aspects up and covering the ground I failed to cover in the post.
The main article and the comments so far have raised several issues of great interest to me. In fact, I recently wrote a book about it, with a chapter on this topic.
I like Roger Hanson’s comments. We ought to be doing much more, and we COULD be doing much more. The news about the $100 billion church rainy day fund is an interesting measure of what we could have done but didn’t do. I believe that the church’s near-zero growth rate is a function of the fact that we are doing almost nothing to help improve the world we live in. We are just enjoying the ride while it lasts. With our world crumbling around us, it may not last much longer.
“Taiwan missionary” notes the importance of the “eternal progression” version of the general concept, and also seems to give Gordon B. Hinckley a pass on downplaying the concept in a public interview..
Chad Nielsen seems to be saying that any publication that goes through Desert Book has to treat the “eternal progression” principle as controversial and unsettled.
He also tells us that it is the final result of the rules we keep, as opposed to the actual rules themselves, that determines our condition hereafter. Doing it now is usually better than doing it later.
I would like to restate the situation slightly. The public relations-induced reaction of Gordon B. Hinckley may seem momentarily prudent, but if we don’t support that basic concept of man being able to eternally progress until he becomes like God, and then does the things which God does, then we have become no more than standard Protestants, and that is a very bad situation. The Protestants, and so many others, have the idea of a static heaven, where, if you can just get through the door, by hook or by crook, including the added boost of the grace of Christ, then your troubles are all over, and you can live in that static world playing your harp forever. That seems like a very boring and unproductive situation.
If we are not devoted to eternal progression to the highest levels for ourselves, then we are also not interested in helping anyone else “eternally progress” to reach the same levels, and we have rejected the very ideas that made God who he is.
If indeed we are just another Protestant church, where we just happen to enforce the Old Testament payment of tithing, while almost no one else does, then we are just an interesting curiosity, nothing more. There is no reason for us ever to expect ourselves to be anything more than we are right now, or to have any more influence for good than we have right now. That makes me an unhappy camper.
“For Protestants … Salvation is not just an experience for the afterlife; it involves the “first fruits” of blessedness, that is, a proper relationship with God, a gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. This process will not be complete, however, in this life.” https://www.patheos.com/library/protestantism/beliefs/afterlife-and-salvation
I don’t know who wrote the foregoing or on the basis what protestant writings, but continuing the process of becoming Christlike in the next life seems a fairly attractive Protestant heaven.
You can find a clip of “The Simpsons – Protestant Heaven vs. Catholic Heaven” on YouTube. I suspect it may be no more a caricature than a “static heaven [where] your troubles are all over, and you can live in that static world playing your harp forever” or Samuel Taylor’s caricature of Mormon heaven in “Heaven Can Wait.”
Appreciate Kent W Huff’s re-statement of the question, and agree with his characterization of GBH seeking short-term gain, in a way that posed the danger of creeping Protestantism.
IMO, I think there has been a bit of conflict in the souls of Mormonism’s leaders: they crave the “respectability” that somehow seems only bestowed by Protestantism. They want others to accept our legitimacy. They want to keep Mormonism’s uniqueness, without having to pay the price that asserting unique Mormon doctrines of the Restoration entail.
Having come into the Church from Evangelical Protestantism, I can only say that I delight in distinctively Mormon doctrines. It would be nice to have cordial relations with evangelical Protestantism, and work toward worthy common goals of Christianity like taking care of the poor, but not at the price of throwing Joseph Smith under the bus.
I am glad to see that I am in sync with at least one person, “Taiwan Missionary,” although apparently I am not in sync with “Wondering.”
To “Wondering” I should say that it was not my intent to offend anyone. I would be the last person to discourage someone from raising their sights as high as possible, as high as Joseph Smith did, and hoping that every person had the “eternal progression” option. But there is a huge range of opinion in the Protestant world on this question, ranging from total reliance on grace, where good works are scorned (as a means to get you to heaven), to a much greater willingness to value works. And then there is the totally separate, total predestination paradigm where it doesn’t matter what you do or believe – it was all determined before this life. This also presumably means that “eternal progression” is short-circuited because that pre-determinism would mean that your final place in heaven, and everyone else’s final place in heaven or hell, was also perfectly determined from the beginning, making “eternal progression” not an option. And all of these ideas are “Protestant.” I can applaud the statement you quoted, but I assume it must be taken as only the preferred view of the writer of the article, since in the next few sentences, this huge range of opinions is recognized as being a part of the long and tortured Protestant continuum of beliefs.
In the cartoon clip, I thought it was probably significant that Marge thought her family should be with her there in Protestant heaven, but that is apparently not part of the particular Protestant view portrayed there. Do we have a version of Protestantism that says families can be together forever, but no eternal progression is intended? Is that where the LDS church has migrated to? Sounds like it. Presumably that would be a fixed family size, determined by our experiences on earth, not something that keeps on growing endlessly. I guess we can all mix up our own preferred brew of doctrines and expectations, since nobody seems to know the answer for sure.