Your Friday Firestorm #18

Sorry this one’s late. I deserve to be punished.

Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

(D&C 19:6)



  1. ah yes, it’s so clear to me now!

  2. It’s not written “eat all you can,” but rather all you can eat.

  3. Endless your torment will be.

    Hate leads to anger.

    Anger leads to suffering.

  4. I figured this would be case-in-point on overreliance on the KJV.

  5. Steve: It can’t be over relaiance on the KJV, as it isn’t in the KJV

  6. I believe the italics here identify words that are necessary in English to round out and complete the sense of a phrase, but were not present in the original manuscript.

  7. Nick Literski says:

    The revelation, of course, contains an explanation: “Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. . . . For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.”

    I must confess to some discomfort over this passage. On the one hand, it is comforting to be told that the sinner’s “torment” will not go on ad infinitum. On the other hand, this whole passage makes deity sound like some crafty lawyer (don’t take offense, lawyerly bloggers–I’m an attorney, too). The passage suggests that deity intentionally misrepresents the nature of punishment, for no other purpose than to scare people into behaving themselves. I don’t see this as an admirable quality. At best, it makes sense in the framework of certain “trickster deities” which appear in numerous polytheistic cultures.

  8. Steve,

    You’re quoting out of context. Starting in verse 10:

    For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
    11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
    12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

    Now, if someone can only explain the difference between Eternal and Endless.

  9. Nick,

    The passage suggests that deity intentionally misrepresents the nature of punishment, for no other purpose than to scare people into behaving themselves. I don’t see this as an admirable quality. At best, it makes sense in the framework of certain “trickster deities” which appear in numerous polytheistic cultures.

    Then again, God knows us far better than we will ever know ourselves. Perhaps because of the fallen nature of man, this kind of gentle trickery is needed. Heck, why doesn’t God just reveal all his secrets? Why doesn’t he just pull back the veil?

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Quoting out of context! Kevinf, you rogue, how dare you. Actually I’d say that for this verse context doesn’t matter all that much.

  11. That cat hates bog roll.

  12. Nick Literski says:

    Of course, the facile way out of this issue is to say that deity knows best, ergo if deity deceives mankind, the deception must be a good thing. I can respect that point of view, Dan, even if I don’t personally share it. What makes this “gentle” trickery, when it involves something so serious as the status of mankind in an afterlife which is supposed to be without end?

    I agree with your implication that deity shouldn’t reveal everything to mankind. I’m sure there are truths which, if known to mortals, could be quite destructive. There is a significant qualitative difference, however, between keeping information away from someone, vs. actively deceiving them.

  13. umm. I’m still trying to figure out the connection between endless punishment, cats, and toilet paper…

  14. Steve,

    Okay, I’ll take this verse at face value. Endless Torment is sitting through Stars on Ice. Endless Torment is a root canal. Endless Torment is the drive from Seattle to Salt Lake City with 5 kids.

    They all eventually have an end, but they sure do drag in the middle.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    meems, the interpretation thereof is not to be had here. But I suspect we are witnessing endless punishment of said cat (or of said TP).

  16. Steve Evans says:

    kevinf, then it’s just a dumb word play? “Endless” does not mean “without end”? That’s just dumb.

  17. In regards to the initial post, someone ate too much Mexican salsa the night before and wore their underclothes too tight. It will make you think of all kinds of wild things in the middle of the night.

    Perhaps some might think the same for the prophet Isaiah in chapter 34.

  18. Steve, not dumb word play. Omniscient word play.

  19. ahem, relativly omnicient.

  20. Pretty tasteless for Evans to joke about firestorms in light of Kaimi’s near evacuation in the face of a real one. For shame.

  21. Nick Literski says:

    Omnicient word play.

    So if deity uses language with the express intent to deceive, it becomes simply “word play?”

  22. Steve Evans says:

    Nick, “express intent to deceive”? Don’t get carried away, lest ye be banned.

  23. Nick,

    We’re trying to have fun with this, and you insist on taking it seriously. If that is the case, then God is using his name to describe his punishment, not playing “trickster god”, IMO. Somehow, I’ve never had much of an issue with this passage. Besides, I’ve had some glimpses of other word play in the D&C, so if it’s wordplay, it’s not out of character.

    KyleM, that’s inherent omniscient wordplay to you.

  24. Nick Literski says:

    Banned? Steve, please don’t think I’m being inflammatory or attacking the LDS church or its membership. That’s not my purpose at all. Rather, I am trying to explore the implications of the passage you quoted in the original post. Admittedly, I’m challenging the idea that those implications should be summarily dismissed, just because deity is the operator invoved. I would hope that someone would have a real insight on that issue, rather than simply avoiding it by calling it by another name.

    The passage specifically indicates that the wording, “endless torment,” does not mean “without end,” but is used anyway in order to “work upon the hearts of the children of men.” I think that’s a pretty clear statement that deity actually intends for “the children of men” (at least those who don’t read Section 19) to get the wrong idea, thus frightening them into obedient behavior.

    If someone wishes to believe, as a matter of faith, that the commandment against bearing false witness applies only to mortals, and not to an omnipotent deity, that’s certainly their right, and I’d hope that they’d say that. On the other hand, I think it’s simply avoiding the issue to dismiss the behavior as “gentle trickery” or “word play.” Surely there’s something more to the passage in question.

    If I engaged in this kind of “gentle trickery” or “word play” in a business dealing with you, I suspect you’d end up determining that I was a liar and a cheat.

  25. Name (required) says:

    So how does this verse apply to eternal/endless rewards? Eternal life ends after a while? Endless lives come to an end?

  26. Nick Literski says:

    Wow, Name….I hadn’t considered that, and it’s a very valid point!

  27. (required), that’s why it’s wordplay. Think of it as the ultimate (or Celestial) application of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The mere act of observing, or in this case, interpreting, the Lord’s words alters the meaning for us. We really don’t understand concepts like “eternal” or “endless”, so the words themselves become poor symbols of a poorly understood concept.

  28. (23) Since I can’t even spell, I think you’re right.

  29. Name (required) says:

    I wonder if leaders in other churches, when they get together in their equivalent of general conference, talk about how incomprehensible our scriptures are, just like we do about their creeds.

  30. Nick,

    If I engaged in this kind of “gentle trickery” or “word play” in a business dealing with you, I suspect you’d end up determining that I was a liar and a cheat.

    You’re an attorney and you said that? :)

    Actually, you all bring up a good point. Does the Lord deliberately make things obscure and hard to understand? I was being a little (but not very) facetious about the Stars on Ice comment, but if you take this scripture at face value, and imagine someone mostly worthy but not totally repentant, then the concept of being in seemingly endless torment over our sins is not a bad analogy. It is not Endless, but God wants us to know that it is just, so he gives it the imprimatur of his name.

    This also gets to the whole concept of words versus spiritual insight. I strongly suspect that the Lord’s native language is not English, let alone KJV English. He is reduced, as we earthly fathers trying to communicate with our children often are, to trying to get us to understand difficult concepts with our limited language. He also wants us to develop our spiritual abilities to communicate as well. All language is symbolic by nature, and we have learned how to associate these symbols to help us think. Wordplay seems to me to be a valid means of accomplishing that.

  31. umm, I meant to say “it is not endless (without end), but God wants us to know…

  32. S.P. Bailey says:

    I might be more worried about Divine wordplay if I could do something about it. The cool side of this scripture: God’s willingness to reveal the play to us puny mortals.

    I think of this scripture when I threaten my daughter with endless grounding. Or tell her that she is not allowed to be alone with a boy until she is thirty.

  33. Brad Kramer says:

    My 2 cents:
    the significance of this passage is not the wordplay or the implications regarding God’s willingness to trick or deceive or anything of the sort.
    The real significance is that this marks the beginning of an astonishing revelatory intervention that culminates in D&C 76: the deconstruction, demolition, and unceremonious casting out (pun intended) of Protestant/Catholic hell.
    Of course, since the semi-Protestantization of Mormon beliefs that accompanied the accommodation (that likely enabled our very survival a century ago), Mormons have furiously attempted to resurrect hell from the ashes, by trying to enlarge outer darkness and convert the Telestial Kingdom into a hell of its own.

  34. Why does the intent to deceive have to be attributed to God himself? The verse only says that “it is written” in the passive voice. Does God ever actually write anything in the scriptures?

    So what is the text referred to here? Is it the Old Testament, the New Testament? Maybe this is a case of the Lord outing those tricky Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles in their tricky lies.

  35. JKC, the chapter seems pretty first person to me.

  36. Brad,

    Your 2 cents worth? That’s a pretty good $5 comment if I ever saw one! Mulling it over, endlessly….

    I am intrigued about your last sentence, about trying to enlarge outer darkness and convert the TK with Hell. Do you mean Mormons as a people, or do you see that happening by way of our GA’s?

  37. Everyone seems to think that the main relevant context for D&C is the verses before and after. That’s a pretty limited view. There are a few currents important to understanding this.
    1) raging debates about the relevance of philological theology (doctrines that depend on one particular reading of one particular word, a common complaint about aspects of high Calvinism) and the nature of fallen language among Smith, his peers, and his followers. This kind of exegesis is seeking to liberate scripture (not God, necessarily,
    scripture) from the vagaries of philology.
    2) the death agony of high Calvinism for populist Protestants then. Calvin’s harsher views had lapsed by 1830, but somehow the memory of them continued to haunt even the most post-Calvinist of the populist sects. This seeming nod to Universalism (indeed, some Universalists made something like this argument) was a response to Calvinism
    3) Joseph Smith’s love of pure language and desire to wring from scriptural texts their true (spiritual, not “spiritualized”) meanings.
    4) The fact that endless and eternal and perfections were names used by a variety of Protestants to describe and even name God the Creator.

    In shorter terms, I see this not as a Loki or Hermes figure (pace Nick) but Joseph Smith uncovering, through revelation, a spiritual truth obfuscated by fallen human language.

  38. SE, i botched italics somehow. I meant to italicize just the word scripture at the end of the italicized section.

  39. Re: eternal rewards as temporary (#25), Smith’s hermeneutic makes the question not particularly relevant, as eternal rewards would be God’s reward, which is elsewhere defined as assimilation into his being (or in Mormon terms, into his family).

  40. Last Lemming says:

    Mormons have furiously attempted to resurrect hell from the ashes, by trying to enlarge outer darkness and convert the Telestial Kingdom into a hell of its own.

    Didn’t you get the memo? The Terrestrial Kingdom and the lower tiers of the Celestial Kingdom have been demoted to hell as well.

    I’m serious. I’ve heard this comment in priesthood.

    And while I have the floor, let me commend Name (required) for his or her insight in #25. Saved me some time.

  41. Brad Kramer says:

    I’d say a degree of both. The ascendancy of Smith/McConkie style neo-Orthodox (yes, I know, an overused term) Mormon theology was a process in which the GAs involved and the masses who purchased and imbibed their ideas were both complicit. The problem (at least A problem) here is that JFS/BRM sotereology isn’t any more compatible with the earth-shattering (albeit complex and nuanced) universalism of section 76 than the “Seven Deadly Heresies” is with Brigham Young’s condemnation of Orson Pratt’s All-Knowing God.

  42. Brad, a fascinating point, but one that I think contemporary evidence would not fully support.
    a) a graduated heaven characterized both Protestant and Catholic visions of heaven (not universally, but with a substantial following)
    b) Mormons and non-Mormons saw a hell in The Vision (DC 76) in the earliest period. Underwood argues that they saw it in exclusively dualist terms (ie heaven vs. hell) for over a decade. While there are outliers, Underwood’s conclusion is reasonably well supported by the data. In particular, Mormons saw the terrestrial kingdom (reserved for kindly Protestants and lukewarm Mormons) and the telestial kingdom (reserved for Protestant ministers and murderers) as no afterlife worth considering. Not an Edwardian lake of fire and brimstone, but no heaven either.
    c) outer darkness was fairly large, if the versification of DC 76 that Phelps ghostwrote for Smith (and published with his approval) is to be believed.

    Incidentally, I agree with Brad that the quest for hell feels in the twentieth century like an accommodation to Protestantism that is foreign to my understanding of the Gospel. My point is merely that the historical basis for Brad’s comment is shaky.

  43. 25 – In seminary we always said that Eternal life is God’s life, which fits in pretty well with Joseph’s later sermons and teachings.

    And I second the last sentence of 37.

  44. re 41, I’m pretty Universalist by conviction, but I think it’s difficult to define The Vision as Universalist in a meaningful sense at the time of its promulgation. To the end of his life, Smith clearly preached that there was a hell and that an afterlife outside his celestial family was a punishment.

    I see the Vision as a complex compromise between competing visions of heaven (Calvinist vs. Universalist, theocentric vs. domestic).

  45. Kevin Barney says:

    I think the wording comes not directly from the tongue of God, but from Joseph himself, and it is simply an attempt to harmonize the pro-Universalist, anti-Calvinist and anti-Hell impulses of the Restoration with the proposition that there is such a thing as eternal or endless torment.

    As such a harmonization, it is pretty ungainly, and no more elegant than the kind of things we get in GD class to this very day. But look at the sentiment that underlies the particular harmonization–that is great, old-time Mormonism, and it is a beautiful thing.

  46. Brad Kramer says:

    I admittedly cast my comment in perhaps indefensibly broad terms. But I also don’t find Underwood’s locating of widespread metaphysical dualism in early Mormonism particularly convincing (this, however, is a debate hashed out in entire dissertations by historians and linguistic anthropologists). I see much clearer dualism in the LoF than in section 76, and Smith’s Nauvoo-era theological innovations do to mind-body dualism what 76 did to hell. In other words, that contemporaneous Mormons initially understood 76 in relatively dualistic terms is not especially surprising; but I suspect that those who were closest to Smith during the Nauvoo period (Pratt bros, Young, Woodruff) would scoff at typical present-day Mormons notions of hell. There’s a reason Phelps was disturbed by Nauvoo Mormonism, and it extended well beyond PM.
    I locate the break with mind-body dualism in Mormonism (here I go again with my overbroad generalizations) roughly with the Nauvoo period. I see its re-uptake into Mormonism as coinciding with the belief/action distinction that both imposed the abandonment of PM while simultaneously opening up the possibility of interiorizing PM by converting it into a salvific belief rather than an exalting practice.

  47. Ok, to follow up on my comment #5, endless torment, eternal torment, endless punishment, and eternal punishment are all never used in the KJV bible*, but are used in the revelations and translations given to or through Joseph Smith. So, I personally see this as an instance of God giving a corrective to a single man (and his constituents) who has been doing his best to interpret the words of the Lord as best he can through the means he has.

    That’s my apologia, anyway…

    *- The closest we get is one instance of “everlasting punishment” in Matthew, which I believe is beyond the scope of discussion here.

  48. In his Death and Immortality, D.Z. Phillips argues that the sense of eternal life being of endless duration is confused and that the eternal of eternal life must be understood as the type of life that one ought to attain, and not necessarily one of endless duration. To live eternally is to live as God, for eternal life is God’s life.

    In the same way, I think we should understand eternal punishment and endless punishment to be descriptions of the type of punishment and not necessarily the duration of the punishment. This does not necessarily even mean the intensity of the punishment, but rather punishment as God would experience punishment. Perhaps something along the lines of ‘Godly sorrow’ or divine torment.

  49. Here’s my question. Why does God say that endless is His name? Is He like (forgive me for saying this) Austin Powers (“Danger’s my middle name!”)? Is He so eternal as to own Eternalness by having it as one of His names? Is this just a way of saying that He is beyond the concept of endlessness? I’m not quite wrapping my head around the whole issue of God using His attributes as names.

  50. KyleM,

    Of course the chapter is first person. But the speaker, who has identified himself as Christ, says “it is written.” That isn’t first person.

    So is he the one who wrote what is written? If so, why doesn’t he just say “I have written” instead of speaking with a third person passive voice?

  51. I think it’s a good example of the danger in believing that any verse *obviously* means one thing and only one thing.

  52. Sorry, my point is that since the chapter is first person, and he is explaining the point and not contradicting it, the phrase “it is written” doesn’t matter. Jesus Christ is essentially stamping approval on “endless torment” and explaining it’s meaning.

    I also believe that “it is written” simply means “the scriptures say.” Someone can correct me if I’m wrong.

  53. The passage specifically indicates that the wording, “endless torment,” does not mean “without end,” but is used anyway in order to “work upon the hearts of the children of men.” I think that’s a pretty clear statement that deity actually intends for “the children of men” (at least those who don’t read Section 19) to get the wrong idea, thus frightening them into obedient behavior.

    You don’t have to take a reading of intentional deceit. The deceit can be self-deceit by our sad love of retributive justice where we seek desire punishment as a means to justice. Along with my previous comment, the intent of eternal/endless punishment/damnation to ‘work upon the hearts of the children of men’ could be to change our hearts into something more divine and godly.

  54. Brad, I agree that Smith’s heaven, particularly as interpreted in later 19th century was quite complex. By dualism in this case I merely meant heaven vs. hell and not the mind:body or spirit:flesh dualism. Underwood somewhat overstates his case, but even in the radicalization period (Nauvoo), early Saints emphasized a dramatically complex heaven with little emphasis on hell, which spanned the gap between terrestrial and outer darkness.

    I have come to wonder whether the primary relevance of The Vision to hell is its way of ensuring that the God of Mormonism is kinder to infidels than the reputedly malign God of Calvinism. But the Saints didn’t want to enjoy the glory of infidels, and though they recognized a difference between infidels and apostates (whom they placed in actual hell called perdition), they believed that outside their complex heaven there was no meaningful salvation, just a general limit to punitive maleficence.

    As far as The Vision on heaven, it is permuted and expanded by DC 132 but I agree it’s the beginning of a dramatic heaven doctrine that is far from dualistic internally.

    Also, which dissertations are you thinking of? I don’t follow Mormonism much between 1844 and 1990 and am interested in slowly expanding my exposure to the middle years.

  55. #25

    So how does this verse apply to eternal/endless rewards? Eternal life ends after a while? Endless lives come to an end?

    This results from the same confusion. Endless/eternal say nothing of the duration of the rewards and life. They qualify the type of rewards and life. Perhaps they last an indefinite duration. Perhaps not.

    I know I’m not the only one however who fears living forever. Sure, another hundred years might be great, but a thousand, million, billion, trillion, …. centillion more years? By then I may be praying to dissolve my existence.

    If any of you have seen Darron Aronofsky’s The Fountain, perhaps desiring immortality is more destructive to our lives than embracing and accepting our mortality.

  56. Nick Literski says:

    I actually tried to look at the passage in the sense of self-deceit. For me, that simply doesn’t work with the actual wording of the revelation. Such a condition would entail deity claiming that mankind misunderstands the words of deity, but deity thinks that’s really a great thing, since it “works upon their hearts” that way. The result is a strange idea that deity would approve of confusion and misunderstanding. If that was true (and I don’t believe it is), why would deity suddenly decide to tell Joseph that it was a misunderstanding, thus eliminating all those “good side effects?”

    Also, according to Alma, there can be no faith in a falsehood. Believing in a false concept of punishment “without end” cannot, in Mormon theology, engender faith, yet faith is precisely what changes “hearts into something more divine and godly.”

  57. Nick,

    I agree that self-deceit is not the intent. “Word play” is not necessarily a good description here either. I think in terms of “metaphor” or “allegory”. To use your starting point, in order to work upon the hearts of men, He says, I want you to consider a punishment that will seem endless to you, but really won’t last forever.

    I submit that the Lord is really trying to teach us, as Brad indicated earlier, that our conventional visions of Hell as endless burning and punishment is not accurate, that justice and mercy are in play, and that we do have to pay for the sins we have not repented of in this life. So much the better for the progress we make here, but if not, “endless” is used to force us to consider the consequences, identify it with his implementation of justice and mercy, and that it meets with his approval and is in accordance with “eternal” principles.

    Call it a figure of speech, word play, or trying to reach us with our fallen language, but don’t call it a willful deception by a capricious and unknowable God, because I don’t think that is what it means.

  58. So, If Endless Torment is a Root Canal
    and I happen to be a dentist, what can I go home and tell my wife about myself?!

  59. Brad K. (#33),

    I don’t think this chapter or D&C 29 or D&C 76 are asserting that there isn’t such a thing as hell, but rather that hell generally has an end.

    2 Ne 9:12 implies the same thing:

    “And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits,”

    D&C 76:106 describes a temporary tenure in hell for those who shall be heirs of the telestial:

    These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;

    So it seems to me, that what happened is not the elimination of hell, but rather explaining it as largely a temporary state.

    I agree completely that the twentieth century trend to regard the telestial as hell with a few feature upgrades has no basis in the scriptures. D&C 138:58-60 implies that one cannot be redeemed and receive an inheritance in any degree of glory until he repents and obeys “ordinances of the household of God”.

    I don’t know where the contemporary conception came from, but scripturally speaking it seems that (eventual) repentance and baptism are the gateway to the telestial kingdom.

  60. All your base are belong to us.

  61. Now take off every ‘ZIG’ at the troll in #60, for great justice.

  62. Endless is my name…
    Endless punishment is God’s punishment.

    am I the only one who wonders about punctuation here? if Endless is a proper name, why not “Endless’ punishment” ?

  63. RLDDS in # 58,
    You’re just playing your part in the Eternal scheme of things.

    Just for comparison, though, I had one root canal done a few years ago, and got it all done, in one visit less than three hours. A second root canal, different dentist, two years ago, took five visits, 8 novacain shots, three molds, and more compresses than I could spit in a year. Now that’s “Endless”.

  64. It has always seemed to me that God could have meant a few things by these verses – possibly even all these things.

    We always seem to think of “Endless” as a measure of duration or length, but we forget that there are other dimensions to punishment. I have thought that “Endless” probably means depth of punishment, since I imagine that length has little meaning to eternal beings as we all are.

    About deception, Nick, it seems to be a bit of a logical leap to infer that “work upon the hearts of the children of men” means deception. When something works upon something else, I get imagery of a smith or a potter working on their craft. To me, it seems God is saying that He used the term “Endless” and “Eternal” to give us something to ponder in order to shape us. That is not deception, it is guidance

    Is it deception to tell my 15-month daughter not to run out into the street rather than to explain to her that she might be hit by a car? I haven’t told her about death and cars because she can’t understand more than that I want her to stay out of the street. But, as she gets older, I would hope she ponders and thinks about why I don’t want her in the street. Then, eventually, she’ll be old and mature enough to understand the finer points, including how to avoid being hit while walking in the street.

    To liken that analogy to “Endless” and “Eternal”, it is as if God is telling us that it will be sufficiently bad and sufficiently long, but that the punishment is of Him. As we know God to be merciful as well as just, this serves to both put us at our ease and to caution us, both emotions necessary to reach understanding.

  65. Nick Literski says:

    SilverRain, your car analogy doesn’t fit. A proper analogy would be if you told your three year old not to run into the street, because a car would run over her forever, when you only really meant that “Forever” was the name of the car.

    Frankly, a better analogy would be deity allegedly telling Moses that he yanked a rib out of Adam and turned it into a woman named Eve. We don’t see that revelation as a deception, but rather a purely figurative way of describing to Moses things that Moses may not have been prepared to understand at the time.

  66. Dostoevsky, through his character Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov offers what I think is the best description of what eternal/endless must be…

    Fathers and teachers, I ponder, “What is hell?” I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his coming to earth the power of saying, “I am and I love.” Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous. Such a one, having left the earth, sees Abraham’s bosom and talks with Abraham as we are told in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and beholds heaven and can go up to the Lord. But that is just his torment, to rise up to the Lord without ever having loved, to be brought close to those who have loved when he has despised their love.

    Punishment need not be seen as duration and intensity. Those are just modes of our ungodly system of retributive justice. Can’t God be more than a prison warden with a stick?

  67. Brad Kramer says:

    The best writing I’m aware of (aside from what I’ll be publishing in article form some time in the next year or so) is Daymon M. Smith’s 2007 dissertation from Penn’s ling-anth program: “The Last Shall be First and The First Shall be Last: Discourse and Mormon History.”
    Not sure on availability–I got mine via email from Smith himself. He’s teaching right now at UA Birmingham.

  68. Brad Kramer says:

    Mark D.,
    I certainly don’t need convincing that the Nephites and their prophets shared a relatively robust belief in/vision of hell (though, as a committed Ostlerite, I tend to attribute this as much to Joseph’s undeveloped theological vision circa 1830 as to anything Alma or Nephi may or may not have actually believed). I also agree that what we’re really talking about is a temporal shrinking/limiting rather than wholesale elimination per se. Thing is, in any _eternal_ scheme of things, reducing anything via temporal boundaries, relegating anything in the infinity of time to the finite, is a reduction to comparative nothingness. It’s basically a way of tossing out the dirty bath water of eternal damnation without the baby of just consequences.

  69. God is eternal because He has existed forever (as has our own intelligence)and endless because He will never cease to exist (and neither will we).

    The laws He operates on are also eternal and endless-they have existed forever and will never cease to exist.

    The consequences of breaking eternal laws are eternal-as are the rewards for keeping and honoring them-they have existed forever and are endless, because there will never come a time when they cease to be the results of obedience or sin.

    There will come a time when the price for all of our individual sins has been paid-so there will be an “end” to the punishment for each of us. But the price will be the same for the next spirit/mortal/being who practices the same sins-so both the laws and their consequences will go on…eternally and without ceasing.

    I think what God wants to “work upon the hearts of the children of men” is our/their eternal and endless natures. I think He wants us to recall and remember where we came from, who we are, and what we promised regarding His plan. He says that it works “altogether for [his] name’s glory”-and I cannot imagine that punishing those He loves brings Him glory-exalting and rewarding does. I do not believe this scripture was intended to strike fear into our hearts or to intimidate us into “being good”. But rather to bring remembrance to us that we ARE part of the family of deity…that we are also endless and eternal…and that this life and all of it’s loss and tentativeness is temporary for a reason.

  70. Well, Nick, I was attempting to illustrate why God might use language that does not explain the whole of something, not to come up with a perfect analogy for that particular verse.

    Though I’m astonishingly sleep-deprived and head-coldy, so I can understand that my intent may not have been apparent.

  71. Perhaps some traditions can only die if God first meets us where we are at and then gains our trust, turns our world upon its ear and then opens the eyes of our understanding.

  72. Brad Kramer says:

    Well put, Doc.

  73. smb (#44): re 41, I’m pretty Universalist by conviction, but I think it’s difficult to define The Vision as Universalist in a meaningful sense at the time of its promulgation.

    Are you saying that the common folk didn’t read Universalism in The Vision or that Joseph and his inner circle didn’t see it there? It is hard not to assume that some significant near universalism was intended when considering this:

    88 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation. (Italics mine)

    Now I do agree that this is probably correctly read as an assault on Calvinism as much as anything else. But it is hard to imagine that nobody noticed that verse at the time and assumed that anything short of exaltation mapped most closely to the Protestant version of hell. Rather it seems that outer darkness mapped to Prostestant hell and the telestial kingdom mapped to the smallest “mansions” in protestant heaven. Are you saying that the early church members generally didn’t view these things that way or am I misreading you?

    BTW — This passage has also been discussed at some length in the past at the Thang and at Feast up the Word.

  74. Re: universalism, there were a few Mormon converts that embraced universalism as they saw it in Mormonism, but by and large they suspected U as a fancy new heresy. They still wanted consequences and the risk of punishment, by and large.

    I’m basing this claim on church organs, sermons, and diarizing for 1830s and 1840s Mormons. As I’ve confessed, I don’t follow Mormonism closely after Smith died.

  75. Interesting observations smb. Now that I think about it, it is not hard to imagine that many or even most of the lay members of the early church didn’t fully appreciate the near-universalism that The Vision really teaches. I like your description of their suspiciousness of it as “a fancy new heresy”.

  76. Chuck McKinnon says:

    The Book of Mormon has at least one concrete example, in Alma the Younger, of someone suffering ‘eternal torment’ for a fixed period of time, so this isn’t something we’re only taught in the D&C:

    “But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.” – Alma 36:12 (emphasis mine)

    “And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.” – Alma 36:16 (emphasis mine)

  77. The Mormon concept of hell means that a person who has died who is deserving of suffering (basically, a felon) and who refuses to repent, will suffer that condition until he is resurrected. Since the resurrection of the Unjust happens at the end of the Millenium of Christ’s reign on earth, the minimum sentence ot hell is at least 1000 years, plus however many years before the Millenium the person died (say, 1 to 6,000 years). Now, that may not sound like an eternity to you now, but if you are experiencing it, it certainly is long enough. It is hard to conceive of anything, even murder, that would justify a person suffering torment for an infinite period of time. How is it justice? Isn’t 1000 to 7000 years a long enough period of time to satisfy you?

    The Mormon belief is that those who are then resurrected will have reformed to the point of serving as God’s servants. They can be visited by the Holy Ghost, but not by the Son or the Father.

    In Mormon theology, the only way to be permanently punished is to become a Son of Perdition, but that requires you to be a Mormon in good standing who rebels in the face of knowledge of God, as Lucifer did.

    Additionally, the Mormon view of punishment is that, like Alma the Younger, the person has an unavoidable recollection of his sins, and cannot escape it. He knows that he had an opportunity to live righteously and be redeemed through Christ, but threw it away. Seeing the perspoectivew of reality, unable to lie to himself or justify his actions, he will be in anguish because his conscience will be eating away at him, and he will wish he could cease to exist, but will know that it is impossible to not remember the truth of what he did.

    Thus, Mormons don’t need demons sticking pitchforks into people in hell, or even think of God creating torture machines. People are forced to judge themselves, and have no drugs or alcohol to use to blot out the memory of their sins.

    On the other hand, Mormons believe that those who are good people on earth, even if they never heard of Christ before they died, have an opportunity between death and the resurrection to hear the gospel of Christ and exercise faith in Him and be saved. At the very least, those who acted justly in life will be resurrected at the beginning of the Millenium and live eternally in a condition of embodied immortality in which they can enjoy the presence of Christ and serve Him. It pretty much fulfills the expectations of most traditional Christians.

    Thus, Mormons do NOT believe that anyone is going to suffer the pains of hell for rejecting Mormon missionaries or teachings. Those who are good people, of any faith, will be resurrected and rewarded beyond their wildest imagination. Baptists will get all that they hope to get in the eternities.

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