The Pearl of Great Price is one of the most wonderful and perplexing books of scripture in all Mormondom. Its origins are confusing! Its translation is a mystery! Its applicability is tentative! And yet from it, from the Book of Abraham in particular, we derive and flesh out some of our most interesting concepts: the Pre-existence, the War in Heaven, the nature of Godhood and more.
It’s also where we learn about Kolob.
I love to fixate on the trivia about Kolob: the great star nearest to where God abides, where a day lasts a thousand years. One of our more interesting (and repetitive) hymns uses Kolob as a point of departure to sound out the depths of eternity. Abraham 3 provides details of the eternal world that is only matched, IMHO, by John’s description of the pearly gates in Revelation. It’s wild and mystical and intergalactic and confusing, and I love it. It represents the apex of the free and fast revelation coming through Joseph Smith, and no matter how confusing or controversial I still find a real sense of the Restoration in it.
Sometimes, though I also get the distinct impression that Kolob is unimportant. It has absolutely no bearing on how I worship or act or anything else. It’s trivia, something odd from the Restoration that we don’t fully understand and are more likely to put up on the shelf than to lose our minds trying to scrutinize.
At the same time, Abraham 3 contains a principle which I consider to be more important — and I’m not talking about the description of the Council in Heaven. Instead, I find myself drawn to the principle repeated several times in slightly different formulations through the chapter:
v. 8: And where these two facts exist, there shall be another fact above them…
v. 16: If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them…
v. 18-19: …if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal. And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
Let’s call this, for wont of a better term, the Comparative Principle. This sounds interesting to me: if there are two things that invite comparison, and one is superior to another, then somewhere there is another thing superior to both. The Comparative Principle is applicable to many domains, and lately I’ve found it worthwhile to consider it in fields of human achievement: when someone is smarter, when someone is stronger, when someone is more wealthy. When I feel inclined to compare myself to someone else, either to crow my superiority or complain in jealousy, the Comparative Principle reminds me that there’s always someone smarter, someone stronger, someone better off — and that at the summit is God. Knowledge of a continuing hierarchy is part of what the Comparative Principle is about, but the capstone is the understanding that for us, God is at the top no matter how far up the chain we look. I’m no scholar, and I make for a weak scriptorian. I’m sure someone else has long ago thought of this and written something brilliant about it.
Robert Frank’s book Richistan looks at the wealthy in the United States and describes their lifestyle as if it were a different country with different foods, customs and an odd dialect. Its inhabitants, all of them with cash of at least $10 million, have their own health care system, their own transportation system, and their own middle-class protestations. But despite having anything in the world they desire, the uber-rich still complain of not having enough and of being relatively poor. Dan Gross summarizes the dilemma by saying, “what makes people unhappy is being around people who have a lot more than them. That forces us into this arms race — you see the big house next to yours, you want to put on an addition.”
These rich bastards are utterly insulated and are living lives of pampered delusion, to be sure; but how are they different than most Americans, or for that matter, most of Western civilization? We’re filthy rich, all of us, comparatively speaking, and we all live in self-imposed dreamlands of what our “wants” and “needs” really are. I don’t mean this to sound condemnatory, but simply to reflect the fact of our Western wealth in the face of global poverty. We’re also better educated, healthier and stronger that the rest of the world (chiefly thanks to our money). But think of the Comparative Principle; we are not really rich or strong or wise — there is always someone better off. No matter how bright we think our star is shining, we’re not the source of the light. Kolob would be just another ball of gas without God.