Friday Morning Theological Poll: Temple Sealings

During our Stake Temple Day the other night, our Sealer posed the following question:



  1. FIRST!!!!111!!ELEVENTY!!!

    Seriously. I voted other because I believe we theologically and physically conceptualize time equally. Time represents our duration on earth, but we are still sealed after our earth tenure is over. Since that state never ends, we are sealed for eternity. I think the phrase is supposed to get us to realize that we transition from one mortal state to an eternal state, but the sealing transcends both states.

  2. Time is not theologically different from eternity, but it is different legally, and in other ways. You can be sealed for just time, or for time and eternity. And your local courts can rightfully become involved in obligations contracted for time, but all they can do about obligations contracted for eternity is gnash their teeth and make snide remarks.

  3. Is time really eternal?

  4. As an open theist, I posit that God reckons time and is a “fellow-traveler” chronologically with us.

    “For time and all eternity” is simply a fancy way of saying “for this earth life, as well as forever beyond it.”

  5. I don’t think time actually exists.

    Sure, it’s a useful measure of seemingly repetitious events. We say that everything you can do in between one vernal equinox and the next is a “year,” but really it’s not like anything has come around full circle. The Earth may have made one whole revolution around the Sun, but the Solar System itself is a long way away from where it was last time the Earth was in relatively the same place (as compared to the Sun).

    Time doesn’t exist as an entity–it’s just our subjective perception of sequential events.

    God knows everything: everything is always before his eyes. Thus sequential events might as well be simultaneous–he would understand them the same. Eternity isn’t like time marching on forever. It is just the nature of existence. Eternity is just the ways things are.

    If you marry just for “time” you are making a bond as a distinct event in your mortal life (one that will come to an end).

    If you marry for “eternity” you are making a bond that becomes a new state of being (one that, by definition, doesn’t end–if all goes well).

    Which is to say, “Because it sounded better than just ‘for Eternity.’ “

  6. Nick Literski says:

    I think the “time” vs. “eternity” distinction is pretty clear in Mormonism, with “time” being a measured portion of “eternity.” The real question is why they say “all eternity.” Since eternity is understood as without beginning or end, it’s not as if you can say “half of eternity!”

  7. Daniel, time is actually a sinister and unconstitutional government program instituted during the Bush years. Bush colluded with Big Time to monopolize and control everyone’s schedules. I heard a rumor that Condi Rice actually waterboarded a Seiko watch that would not cooperate.

  8. “All eternity” was a popular expression in Joseph Smith’s . . . time . . . which writers applied with equal ease to past or future eternity: to all that had already transpired throughout eons of the past, or to all that might happen throughout future eternity.

  9. Time = finitude
    Eternity – infinity

    I never quite get the whole “time isn’t real” mentality. But that’s me. Why pick on time but not space? There’s just as compelling an argument to say space is equally unreal.

  10. Nick, half an eternity would be the present to the past but without the future.

  11. I think “all eternity” does not denote one period of infinite length, but that Eternity is being given as God’s time. An “eternal round” is an eternity, with cycles going on completing one eternity and beginning a new one.

    Time is a subset of one eternity. Some can be married for time. Some are married for time and all eternity. And there will be some who will be married for all eternity, as they will have died prior to having the opportunity to be married for any length of time.

  12. In the original sense of the term, eternity is a timeless state. “Time” and “temporal” refers to everything that changes, and the “eternal” refers to everything that does not. This usage still prevails in Catholicism for example, where eternal life is generally conceived as a timeless state, a beatific vision of eternal glory.

    Everyone else uses the term as some mixture of “timeless”, “everlasting”, or “pertaining to God”, depending on context. Certainly Mormonism does – and which sense is used in any given case is not always obvious.

  13. The last paragraph of 12 refers to “eternal” in case it isn’t clear.

    11: The idea of “an eternity” as finite length of time is one of the most peculiar suggestions anyone has ever come up with. I would be curious to know which (apparently) early Mormon author invented the idea.

  14. I’ve never really thought deeply about the words “all eternity” in particular. Upon first reflection, it makes me wonder if the sealing is retroactive, if it’s for *all* eternity. Our pre-mortal existence is certainly part of that eternity. Once we are sealed, does that mean we become sealed in the existence before our earth life as well? Isn’t the whole idea that the sealing applies only in the portion of eternity “after” earth life sorta thinking about a non-temporal thing within the confines of time?

    And most importantly, does this prove Saturday’s Warriors right?!

    Ryan (#5), that sounds like Slaughterhouse Five.

  15. I’ll have to give it a read then!

  16. To suggest ‘time’ doesn’t exist just because we measure it in arbitrary ways, seems to little ridiculous. So long as there is a sequence of causal actions, there is ‘time.’ If it teaches us nothing else, the creation story informs us that there are sequences set in motion by an agent. So too, our actions ‘in time’ can set off reactions that reverberate through eternity. Clearly one of the most significant actions is having a covenant sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.

    Admittedly, I don’t believe the wording is meant to make an impact on our scientific understanding of the material universe but rather to emphasize that our willingness to enter the sealing will have efficacy today *and* forever.

  17. Mark D. (#13), there is a mathematical precedent for some infinities being larger than others (just ask Cantor [now _there’s_ a Converso family, Joanna]), so one eternity being a subset of “all eternity” doesn’t have to imply that one eternity is finite.

    I don’t know what “one eternal round” means, but it doesn’t sound too different from what Ryan (#5) said about cycles. Also, on time as an illusion, Julian Barbour’s The End of Time is next on my reading list. I’ll be sharing my thoughts over at M*.

  18. An easily understood illustration of Ben Pratt’s #17 claim that some infinities are larger than others is this: The whole numbers 1, 2, 3 … are limitless; there is an infinity of whole numbers. The even whole numbers 2, 4, 6 … also are limitless; there is an infinity of even whole numbers. There sure seems to be a lot more whole numbers than even whole numbers, nevertheless.

  19. Ardis, what can’t you do?

  20. I’ll just say briefly that time=quantity, eternal=quality.

  21. Time is a measure of movement. Thus the absence of movement equals an absence of time. Or are there other ways to measure movement?

  22. The Right Trousers says:

    I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen Ardis be wrong!

    The set of whole numbers has the same cardinality as the set of even numbers. Define a function f(x) = 2*x, and you have a mapping from every whole number to every even number. (For example, f(1) = 2, f(2) = 4, f(3) = 6, etc. The whole numbers are inside the parenthesis, and the even numbers on the right of “=”.) Therefore they are the same “size”.

    Now, the set of all possible outcomes from an infinite number of coin flips, on the other hand, is strictly larger than the set of whole numbers. There’s no function you can define that’ll map whole numbers to those infinite outcomes which will eventually output them all.

    This whole “mathematical infinity” = “eternity” idea kind of bothers me, though. In math, infinite sets are little lies we tell ourselves (“I can keep this process up ‘forever’ and name the result ‘N’!”) so that we can gain closure properties. We like closure properties. They allow us to say things like “if a and b are whole numbers, a + b is a whole number,” which seems like it should be true because we’ve never seen a real-life counterexample.

    Applying the little lie twice gets us the real numbers and complex numbers, for which a lot more closure properties hold. But nobody has ever *seen* one of these numbers, just like nobody has ever seen the entire set of whole numbers. Further, if you approach these numbers from a sound mathematical basis, it’s pretty obvious that any connection they have to reality is rather accidental. (The real numbers, for example, are usually defined as infinite sets or sequences of fractions!) We only think they’re intuitive and right because we’re used to them.

    They sure are convenient, though, and aren’t often wrong. Maybe that’s the miracle.

  23. The Other Bro Jones says:

    The problem is that we can only speak form our own experience and perception. None of us has had any experience or perception of eternity or eternal nature. Yet.

    In the end it is a silly question, because it does not matter to my current state of worthiness, and if time doesn’t really exist, then why was I late for dinner?

  24. Right Trousers, you’ve seen me be wrong lots of times, but this isn’t one of them. (Your argument against it, by the way, sounds a whole lot like the standard argument against evolution or the Big Bang — that because nobody has seen it, it just isn’t so.) But you’ll note that I didn’t quite say that one of my sets was larger than the other, only that there *seems* — in the emotional, instinctive way of humanity — to be a lot more numbers in one set than the other. That’s why it’s a good, easily understood illustration — illustration, not proof — of Ben’s point about different infinities. Like all analogies, when pushed too far it breaks down.

  25. 18, 22, 24: Oh dear, I hate being compelled into commenting on something. But we all have our little obsessive things….

    You can actually prove (not just fail to find a counterexample) that the number of integers and the number of even integers are the same, even though that result is very counterintuitive.

    There is a different infinity, the number of real numbers. You can also prove (not just fail to find a counterexample) that the number “infinity” of real numbers is more than the number “infinity” of integers. (one of my most favorite proofs ever)

    After multiple different infinities were discovered, they started giving them names based on the Hebrew character Aleph. Read more here.

  26. #21: I think we’ve all experienced that at least once in some meeting or other =)

  27. The Right Trousers says:

    24: My apologies. I didn’t know how informally you were talking about these things, and since Ben brought up Cantor I assumed you were talking at his (rather high) level of formality.

    “(Your argument against it, by the way, sounds a whole lot like the standard argument against evolution or the Big Bang — that because nobody has seen it, it just isn’t so.)”

    I’m fine accepting things on evidence. Mathematical proof, however, requires a higher standard of rigor to say that something is “true”. Either you prove it by sound reasoning or by exhaustively enumerating all the possibilities. In the case of infinities, there seems to be nothing to prove. Every formal system I’ve seen requires the notion or something equivalent to be an *axiom*. Its existence has to be assumed from the outset. In that sense, *mathematical* infinities are very different from physical theories of origin.

    Again, this has nothing to do with the real world. Mathematics doesn’t explicitly deal with the real world. We know of no way to prove anything about the real world without making some very un-math-y assumptions about it first. We believe something called “eternity” exists, but to work with it mathematically we’d have to make some very un-math-y assumptions about it, too. Since I don’t remember having any direct experience with it, I’m a bit reticent to try that.

    There are signs hanging all over the BYU math department that say “Truth is Power”. I cringe every time I walk under them. Math has no claim to universal truth. It *does* have a *very* strong claim to consistency. Proofs are nothing but convincing arguments that show that a statement is consistent with the system it is stated within. Reality is outside those systems.

    Sometimes I like to imagine variants of these signs hanging up in other departments. Philosophy might have “What is truth?” Statistics: “Probability is tractable.” Computer science: “Finite computation is realistic.” Physical sciences: “We accept that which is demonstrated.” Etc., etc., etc.

  28. Anyway, you guys get my point, that some infinities are larger than others.

    The Right Trousers, similar arguments were apparently made against Cantor’s ideas when he first elucidated them. I tend to believe that these objects have some form of independent existence whether or not a human mind can actually intuit them. I hold the same to be true of eternity.

  29. Uh, my 28 refers to The Right Trousers’ 22.

  30. I think it just sounds pretty. Which may be incorrect, but I didn’t have to do any math to come to that conclusion, either.

  31. Lapsed Mormon says:

    Time is part of creation, and God is independent of His creation. But as far as the temple liturgy making that distinction, ditto #30.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Believe it or not, what Cynthia mentions in 25 was actually a significant part of one of the presentations at the FAIR conference a couple of months ago.

  33. You can actually prove (not just fail to find a counterexample) that the number of integers and the number of even integers are the same, even though that result is very counterintuitive.

    Sure, under a certain method of counting. You can also use another, more common method of counting to prove they are different. No physicist would be caught dead assuming that the number of protons in an infinite universe is the same as the number of protons plus the number of electrons.

  34. I voted that it just sounded nice. I’m guessing that the mormon concept of being married for ‘time’ derives from the wording of the ceremony, not the other way around.

  35. No one has addressed what my wife I thought to be the most interesting part–that even the dead are sealed “for time” and “all eternity.”

  36. Scripturally speaking it seems that “time” lasts until the the Final Judgment, and “eternity” starts thereafter.

    e.g. – “And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, …, and the earth, … , that there should be time no longer” (Rev 10:6).

  37. …even the dead are sealed “for time” and “all eternity.”

    Good point.

  38. Neil A. Maxwell, used to write extensively on time ending and that time was something we experienced only in mortal probation. ‘We are not at home in time,’ he would write. Eternity was what we experienced when time was ‘no more.’ Don’t ask me what he meant, but he saw a clear distinction between time & eternity.

    Also, I vote for a countable infinity (maps to integers) in my eternity. I just don’t want to have to count to infinity between every pair of adjacent integers. That sounds so boring.

  39. I don’t know how the idea ended up in Revelation, but the idea of time literally ending doesn’t sound very attractive to me. Exaltation as a Greek statue? How boring.

  40. For those who say there is a theological distinction between time and eternity, if we are “sealed” for time, what is the difference between that time-sealing and a time-marriage?

  41. Earlyschmearly says:

    I have the same question as that posed in #40: What is the difference between a wedding for time only and a sealing for time only? Some members are not aware that there is such a practice in the temple: marrying *for time* instead of *for time and all eternity*.

  42. Earlyschmearly says:

    To clarify: why does someone get sealed/married in the temple for time only instead of either marrying in another venue or getting sealed for time and all eternity?

  43. I have the same question as #40-42!

  44. As I understand it currently, marriages for “time only” are performed in the temple only in cases where the couple were previously sealed to other people who have died.

    They do this to avoid getting married elsewhere, because then scandalous rumors of shotgun weddings for octogenarians would be rampant.

  45. I don’t think the distinction tells us anything about whether time exists in eternity, but the phrase “for time” in “for time and for all eternity” refers to this mortal life (only). If you search for the phrase “for time only” in GospelLink you’ll see lots of people using the phrase this way going all the way back to Orson Pratt and John Taylor. In the EOM entry on divorce, Ludlow writes:

    Without a cancellation of sealing, divorced members may remarry for time only (see Sealing: Cancellation of Sealings). (EOM Divorce)

    So functionally, “for time and for all eternity” means “for this life and the next.”

  46. Just a thought says:

    Let’s see…

    If eternal punishment is God’s punishment, etc. Could “eternity” be that part of our existence after which we are gods ourselves?

    Given that thought it would follow that if we do not achieve godhood, we would not be married. A sort of celestial equivalent of “until death do you part”, where the state of being married ends at the death of one of the parties. Except eternal marriage does not continue unless one achieves exaultation.

    Just a passing thought? What duh ya think?

  47. Re 44: I think that’s the question, though–

    WHY are divorced/widowed people allowed to be “sealed for time only” in the temple? Why are they just not married outside of the temple like anyone else who doesn’t want to, or can’t?

    What is the difference in character, covenant, and counsel between marrying outside of the temple and being sealed in the temple for time only?

    Is it just to exclude people (i.e. to have a intimate wedding inside the temple where certain non-worthies are disallowed)?

    Is it to prove to friends and family that they have been chaste while dating (yes, even septuagenarians and octogenarians have sex…)?

    Is there some kind of special seal that binds couples in this life that can only be obtained in the temple, by higher authority than a bishop or other marriage officer?

  48. I was told that a “marriage for time only” in the temple can only be done between widows and widows or never-marrieds (not divorced couples) and that it had something to do with the Second Anointing ordinance.

    If a widow is sealed for time only in the temple after having married a previous, now-deceased spouse in the temple, she has the chance to be sealed to someone else in the temple for time only, and then after all parties are dead, they can all be sealed for eternity as well.

    The sealing for time only is a sacred ceremony that must be approved by the First Presidency. They have to have special permission from their local leaders, Stake leaders, Area Authorities, and on up. They have to apply, be temple-worthy, and the whole nine yards.

    Every couple I know of who had their sealing for time only in the temple (six couples, all from the Intermountain West) were said to have their Calling and Election Made Sure later.

  49. My wife and I were married in the temple 10 years ago. I was never married before and she was divorced. She had to get her sealing cancelled before we could be sealed. Our Stake President urged us to set a date and get married at the date for time if she hadn’t received the sealing cancellation by then. We set a date with the temple for a Time marriage, and they allowed us to schedule it. 3 days before we were to be married in the temple for time, the tample called our bishop telling us Salt Lake had cancelled the previous sealing and were giving us permission to be sealed. So luckily we were able to be sealed, but that was an occasion when we would have preferred a marriage for time inside the temple rather than elsewhere. Also we were told that if we were married in the temple for time simply because we were waiting on a cancellation than we could be sealed immediately as soon as the cancellation came instead of waiting for a year.

    This was all ten years ago however and I believe the church has changed this practice completely since then.

  50. I always wondered if the term eternity meant from big bang to big crunch and that ‘eternity to eternity’ or ‘for all eternity’ somehow spanned more than one. It looks like science says there is no big crunch though so I have no idea based purely on the latest from science. I just go on the fact that it means a really long time that I can’t fathom.