In the Church we often hear statements that include the phrase “time and eternity.” Aren’t they really the same thing? Well, yes and no. First let’s look at what this life is like then we’ll look at each term to see the differences.
From the moment we are born everything we come to know and love changes and eventually vanishes. Our parents, eternally youthful in our childhood become thicker around the middle and slow down. Their hair begins to turn white and or fall out. Aches and pains set in, and where once they seemed to have so much energy to fix this or fix that, to play with us and drive us here and there, now Dad is in the grave from heart failure or a stroke, and mom is a widow and has a hard time standing on her own.
When we were young we played with the family dog. Now we look back and that was four or five pets ago. Each pet we have had has grown old and died or we moved somewhere and couldn’t keep our pets and had to give them away. We had our favorite blanket, but it developed holes and eventually mom threw it away. Still in therapy over that one …
The point is, everything we have or own, build or do is temporary in nature. Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are only as good as your last sale?” How many clothes do you still have that you wore in high school? Hmmm? For some of us the temporary nature of life is almost alluring, because you can always look forward to the next new thing. Life is like a haircut if you don’t like it give it a couple of weeks and try again.
When we talk in the Church about Time, we are referring to just the time here in mortality, the amount of time we are alive and kicking on planet earth. It may seem a little odd to have to find a word to describe the space between birth and death, but we actually need to have a word for it. We are, after all, not temporary creatures. Even though we wear out as quickly as our shoes, or so it seems, we really are not a throwaway commodity. We sometimes think of ourselves in that way, but we are not.
It is important for us to keep in mind that we are in the middle of eternity. By definition, to be eternal means that we have never had a beginning, and we won’t have an end. We have always existed in one form or another.
We are eternal beings. Just as a caterpillar may spend time in several stages of its life, but never stops being what it is, so too do we have stages, but we never stop being what we have always been and always will be. We are beings who pass through a mortal, a temporary, existence while we are becoming what we were meant to be. To be human seems to me to refer to our short little lives, but to refer to us as beings, lets us see ourselves as something more than just the 80 odd years between when we got here and when we leave.
When we go to the local minister or the Justice of the Peace and ask to be married, the ceremony that is performed is valid for only so long as both the man and the woman are alive. That whole “til death do you part” thing is really true. Ministers and Justices of the Peace have authority to marry people for only as long as they are alive and the laws of the land they live in are in place. Once one of the two in the couple dies, the contract is null and void. There is no more marriage. This is both a reality and a great source of sorrow. When we find someone we truly love then spend the next 65 years living with them and loving them more than life, the thought of losing them forever can be very painful. The thought of death is painful enough, but to think that all those years of commitment have come to a close and can never be gotten back, is just too painful to bear. But that is the nature of Time, it is temporary, non-binding, and everything gets reversed in the end. Build a building and Time tears it down. Paint a painting and Time will fade it. Build a relationship and Time will take the person away from you.
Now let’s look at our true nature and see what a difference a change in perspective can make. We have the priesthood, which is the authority from God to perform His work on earth. The priesthood is designed to bring us back home to live with Him forever. God has been through mortality before; he knows how fleeting it is, and how easily we can get distracted from what is most important. So here are some of the things that are real important, in no particular order.
1. God wants us to learn to think in terms of forever, not just in terms of our earth life (Time). We are eternal beings and need to learn to think like eternal beings. That is, without beginning and without end. It doesn’t matter what we decide we want to be when we grow up. He really doesn’t care if we are a brick maker or a candlestick maker. What is most important is what kind of man or woman we will become while in mortality. Remember, mortality is all about becoming, not doing.
2. God has certain things that we have to do in order for us to be able to come back to live with him, and he will only recognize them if they are done by someone he has given permission to perform those things. His priesthood holders are those who have his permission to do this work. The Lord has determined that He will work with us by way of covenants. Covenants are contracts of His design, where he tells us that if we are willing to make certain promises that he will perform certain things in our behalf. For example, God says that if we will make the covenant to listen to and live all of his commandments, repent of our sins and live the kind of life his Son demonstrated for us, that he will guarantee we can come home and live with him again, but this time it will be forever, never to be made to leave him again for any reason. He uses his authorized children (the priesthood holders) to teach these truths to the rest of his children. When we make and keep these covenants we are guaranteed the promised outcome.
3. God has some pretty amazing contracts waiting for us to sign. I had a practice with my children where I would tell them that I would make a deal with them if they would do such and such, something I wanted them to do, I promised that I would do the following things for them. I would then map out for them a long list of great things that they would benefit from if they chose to do what I asked. They could always turn me down and go without, but I figured, who in their right mind would turn this down? They win in every respect by just choosing to do what I asked them to do. It was always a really sweet deal for them. Believe it or not, sometimes they would choose not to do it. That always left me speechless. Even when they knew that I always kept my promise, sometimes they would choose not to accept my offer.
The Lord’s contracts are called commandments, and they are just like the promises I made my children, they are a win-win for us. Looked at from an adult perspective, my offers were always no-brainers. Looked at from an eternal perspective, the commandments are no-brainers. There is no downside to the commandments. The list of promises God makes for keeping the commandments comes without a Negatives column. All the reasons for accepting and obeying the commandments are in the Positives column. Yet we still sometimes have problems accepting and obeying the commandments.
4. He needs us to learn to trust him. God knows what is going to be expected of us in the future, meaning after Time, and into the next Eternity part of our lives. He needs us to be able to put complete faith and trust in what he tells us we need to do. For us to become like him we need this ability. The only way for us to be able to develop it was for him to temporarily place what we call a veil of forgetfulness over our minds. In Time, we have no memory of what went on before, and we have to learn to trust that when he says he will do something if we believe him and act accordingly, He will do as He promised.
This is a maturity that we couldn’t develop properly before we entered this stage of our lives. Fortunately, this stage only lasts a short time. Unfortunately, it only lasts a short time. This means that we need to learn to trust God, so when he tells us something we take it seriously because we are only here for a very short period of time. The lesson needs to be learned now, not later. The situation we call mortality is the perfect place and condition in which to learn to trust God the way we will need to be able to trust him for our future growth. We can’t afford to squander our brief time on earth. Waiting until later to try to learn this ability makes it much more difficult to learn.
The Lord thinks and acts in terms of Eternity. When he gives us commandments they are meant to aid us for the rest of eternity. To God, the time we spend here is part of that eternity. Eternity is not something separate that happens later, now is just a continuation of yesterday and last year. Our birth happened on the same day we left His side to temporarily change our residence to mortality. He knows we will be back, so everything we are told to do is meant to make us happy here as well as for the rest of eternity, not one place or the other. He wants us to understand that the principles of happiness can be had here and now. There is no reason to believe that we can’t have happiness until the eternities. The Lord wants us to be happy now. Even He states that happiness is the object of our existence.
When we are baptized, the behavior he wants from us is supposed to last forever. The blessings are meant to last forever, so why shouldn’t the behavior that brings those blessings? When we are sealed in the temple, the marriage lasts forever, meaning that as far as God is concerned, as long as we keep the covenants we just made, there is no reason to ever assume the marriage will dissolve. We are now permanent companions, for Time and Eternity. Our families are forever. Our love is forever. Our blessings and growth will be forever. He has promised us that as long as we keep his commandments while here in Time he will keep in force the blessings he has promised us for all eternity. He will never take away our reward. How can we say no to that?
So try not to think of your life as these little moments of temporary things. This life may be filled with all things being in flux and transition, but our mortal time is just part of the eternal development of our souls. We need to learn to see ourselves as beings that last forever. Time is just part of Eternity.