mormontimes mormontimes
Print this page
E-mail this page

In The Village Home
About Orson Scott Card
Message Forum

Past Columns

We don't know the Lord's time
By Orson Scott Card October 7, 2010

When I was young, I remember getting mixed messages about the doctrines of creation.

I knew my share of "'seven days' is 'seven days'" Mormons, as well as Mormons who found no difficulty believing in divine creation with evolution and natural geological processes as the likely method.

I also read some books in my teenage years that seemed almost like a compromise, based as they were on the premise that "a day to the Lord is as a thousand years to man."

There was such lovely symmetry in this interpretation, for they taught that not only did the creation take exactly seven thousand years (including the rest day), but also human history could be divided into seven one-thousand-year "dispensations," with the Millennium to be the seventh.

There was such precision about this notion that one book called for the Second Coming of Christ in 1996 (taking old Bishop Usher's date of 4004 BC for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden).

A few years ago, I had an encounter with someone who was absolutely committed to the seven-thousand-year idea, not as a theory, not as one interpretation among several, but as firm, settled LDS doctrine.

Because I try to be as annoying to my friends as possible (thus keeping the number to a tolerable number of the tolerant), I pointed out to this friend that I knew many very good Latter-day Saints who leaned toward different interpretations.

"The official position of the Church is that the Lord has not told us how he created either human beings or the Earth," I said. "The only firm doctrine is that the Earth was created for us, and we were created in order to earn happiness by following God's plan."

"In your opinion," said my friend.

"It's not my opinion that that's what the official position of the Church is," I said. "I've read it in several different forms."

"Besides," I added, "there have been prophets, seers, and revelators who accepted the notion of geological time and the use of natural processes in creating human beings, and prophets seers and revelators who rejected both."

But my friend did not relent from that "in your opinion" answer. There would be no compromise. The message was clear: The mere fact that I thought it was possible to be a good Latter-day Saint who believed in anything but the thousand-year-day, no-death-of-animals-before-the-eating-of-the-fruit-in-the-Garden version meant I was simply not in tune with the gospel.

Here is the statement of the First Presidency from 1931, partly in response to years of controversy that had divided the Brethren in sometimes-public debate:

"Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

This statement was repeated in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on evolution, along with these words: "Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes.... The scriptures tell why man was created, but they do not tell how, though the Lord has promised that he will tell that when he comes again (D&C 101:32-33)."

It worries me when members of the Church become so wedded to this or that interpretation of scripture that they begin to act pridefully toward those with different opinions, as if people who do not have the "correct" view are not really Saints.

But I do understand that the thousand-year-day camp has a basis for believing they have scripture on their side.

Chapter 3 of the Book of Abraham is talking about astronomy, and in that context says of Kolob "that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that [world] whereon thou standest" (v. 4).

What could be clearer than that?

But the precision of the astronomy evaporates very quickly. For one thing, the scripture states that this is the revolution of Kolob, which is a star that is "nearest to the throne of God," and not a world.

It is not clear here whether Abraham has a full understanding of the Copernican solar system; the discussion of the Moon leaves that question ambiguous. (It refers to the Moon being "above" the Earth and governing its time in the same way the Sun is "above" the Earth.)

Remember that what the Lord showed Abraham was received by the mind of a man in an era when the Earth was seen as the center of the universe; he wrote it down as best he understood it.

How shocking this revelation must have been! It turns everything upside down, with worlds governed by stars, with the Sun as a star among many, and with the star nearest to God the "greatest of them all."

Still ... if a "day" to the Lord meant the rotation period of the world where he dwells, relative to the star Kolob, it is hard to understand how it could take that planet 365,247.5 days to rotate on its axis.

If that planet is not locked by tidal forces with one face always towards Kolob (the way the same face of the Moon always faces Earth), it might as well be. The rotation rate approaches imperceptibility.

But the scripture says that a thousand years is how long it takes Kolob to revolve. Even that is a shockingly slow rotation rate for a star.

Look at the scripture in context. The Lord tells Abraham that he is telling him him all this astronomy, not to give him mathematically precise data, but to make a moral point: That if there are two similar things, one will be greater than the other.

The Lord is putting the Earth into context. He is declaring that Earth is not the center of the universe. When he tells Abraham that "a day to the Lord is a [really long time] to man," the clearest lesson is that we mortals should not use our own reckoning to confine God to timetables that work on our scale.

Am I saying that the thousand-year-day folks are wrong? Of course not. How would I know? I'm saying only that the scripture leaves plenty of room for other interpretations and uses.

It's like the time when Nephi needed to build a boat. He knew that when the Lord gave a command, he'd prepare a way for it to be obeyed. And sure enough, the Lord led him to ore so he could make tools, and then taught him how to make a boat.

But those instructions aren't included in Nephi's writings. Why? Because we don't have to build a boat.

Likewise, I'm sure if the Lord ever needs someone to build a world, he'll provide the necessary instructions. Until then, we know no more about the Lord's processes of creation than we do about Nephi's ship.

If I find out eventually that the a-day-is-a-day people are right, or the thousand-year-day people, or the natural-processes people, I'll rejoice at the new knowledge.

Meanwhile, I have my opinions, but I have no testimony of them. I'll keep them till I have better information, but I won't disdain anyone for having different ones.

Isn't there enough to worry about among the Church's settled doctrines -- the atonement of Christ, living prophets, the Book of Mormon, the plan of happiness, and a long list of commandments that actually matter in our daily lives -- that we can safely set aside purely academic issues?

If someone is coming to Church, doing his callings, keeping the commandments as best he can, and yet he disagrees with me about a question that the First Presidency has specifically asked us not to argue about, I dare not climb up on a rameumptom to look down on him.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

  Copyright © 2023 Orson Scott Card. All rights reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by