For quite some time I have been fascinated with the heavens. I want to know more about what’s out there. I notice that in the scriptures we have some details about how Abraham got a guided tour of the heavens (Pearl of Great Price, Abraham, chapter three); I want one of those, too.
During our years in Chile I managed to get to the Atacama Desert (the driest place on earth, with one of the highest percentages of clear nights per year), where a host of astronomical observatories keep our lenses focused on parts of the universe. At Cerro Tololo, our guide, who was not a Latter-day Saint, told us in a reverential tone, “there’s no end” . . . and he repeated it, “there’s no end!” That’s what the hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob” also teaches: “there is no end to space.” Abraham talked with the Lord face to face and saw the works His hands had made. The patriarch reported his experience: “And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof” (Abraham 3:12).
When back in the western United States, my son and I drove to southern Arizona, to Kitt Peak, the sister observatory of Chile’s Cerro Tololo, where we meandered through the hills that host twenty-four astronomical observatories, more than any other place on earth. In the bookstore atKitt Peak I purchased a book entitled The Universe and Beyond, and soon devoured its contents (as much as I could understand).
I attended an astronomy class on Brigham Young University campus and perused the course’s textbook titled, simply, Universe. Then, last summer, I visited some friends in Puerto Rico and twice drove up into the thickly forested mountains to the Arecibo Observatory, the largest radio telescope in the world (in fact, it is the largest single-aperture telescope ever constructed-the largest curved focusing dish on earth, giving it the largest electromagnetic-wave-gathering capacity). I had seen it in an edited version of the film “Contact”years before. For decades Arecibo was a pivotal facility in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
My most recent adventure into outer space was twice viewing the IMAX film called “Hubble 3D,” featuring actual scenes captured by the huge space telescope that is still in orbit around the earth. The images were absolutely stunning! The expansive views of the heavens-even our feeble scientific attempts to catch glimpses of very tiny segments of the semi-organized chaos that is the universe-were virtually overwhelming in magnificence and grandeur. The Lord of the universe Himself has declared, “Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 88:47).
Many astronomy professionals and professors, along with astronomy enthusiasts, and even the United States government and the governments of some other nations, have intellectually and financially supported the idea that there must be other intelligent beings in the universe (the term “extra-terrestrial” means originating or existing outside this earth). Otherwise, as some great literary and scientific minds have hinted, if it is supposed that we are the only ones in all the universe, it would seem like such an awful waste of space.
“We do not worship a one-planet God!” declared Elder Neal A. Maxwell.1 And the Apostle Paul began a general epistle to Jewish Christians with these dramatic words: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Note the plural term “worlds.” Modern revelation confirms the doctrine Paul taught. Referring to Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father, the great Creator, the Vision of Glories attests: “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24). “Worlds without number” (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:33) have been created and populated with our Father’s children. In fact, “were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of [God’s] creations” (Moses 7:30).
It is important for us to point out that the inhabitants of those many other worlds are not little green men with antennae for ears, or any other fanciful life-forms such as those created in the minds of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. There must be an infinite variety of animals created by the God of Heaven, but His children (all human beings) are created in His image; they look like He does, with eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, fingers, feet and toes, and other body parts, just as the Bible and other books of scripture describe. The purposes of their creation and habitation in all these worlds is also the same: to temporarily leave the presence of their Heavenly Father and Mother, and secure a physical body, gain knowledge and experience, and prove themselves worthy to continue progressing-learning and doing the divine work of immortality and eternal life-forever and ever.
I propose that God caught up and transferred Enoch and his City of Holiness, as terrestrial-level beings, to reside for now on one of those other worlds-until our Earth shifts upward during the Millennium to a terrestrial-level condition (also called “transfigured,” “translated,” “changed,” “renewed,” “quickened,” “paradisiacal,” and other such terms in the scriptures), and then, as scripture also attests, they will be transferred back to this more glorified world to be part of the New Jerusalem from which Jesus Christ will rule and reign for a thousand-year period.2
So, yes, there are definitely intelligent, extra-terrestrial beings out there in deep space-and some of them have communicated with us here on planet Earth (though revelation also specifies that the beings who have communicated over the ages with man on this earth are those who belong to this particular world: “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” -D&C 130:5).
We may conclude, then, that if anyone believes in visitors from outer space the Latter-day Saints do! Over the ages there has been frequent contact between Heaven and Earth. God has communicated directly with his spokesmen, His prophets, or He has sent an authorized representative in the person of an angel or messenger (the Hebrew term, malakh, meaning both angel and messenger).
For a span of four decades while the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence program has tried to make contact with other parts of the universe, during those same four decades I have been teaching about extra-terrestrial communications to earth. Numerous angels have come to visit our physical earth. Following is a fairly comprehensive list of those who have come, along with scriptural references.
The Old Testament contains at least 108 references to angels:
angel appears and talks with Hagar (Genesis 16; 21)
angels talk with Lot (Genesis 19)
angel talks with Abraham (Genesis 22:11, 15)
angels appear to Jacob (Genesis 31:11; 32:1)
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angel went before the Israelites in Sinai (Exodus 23:20)
angel appears and talks to Balaam (Numbers 22)
angel talks with Gideon (Judges 6)
angel talks with Manoah and his wife – Samson’s parents (Judges 13)
angelis sent to destroy Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:16; 1 Chron. 21:15)
angel accompanies Elijah talking tothe king, also to Sinai (2 Kings 1:15; 19:5-7)
angel decimates the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36)
angel rescues Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego (Daniel 3:28)
angel rescues Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:22)
angel talks repeatedly with Zechariah (Zechariah 1; 2; 4; 5; 6)
The New Testament contains at least 175 references to angels:
angel appears to Zacharias in the Temple (Luke 1:11-20)
angel appears to Mary in Nazareth (Luke 1:26-38)
angel appears several times to Joseph (Matthew 1:20-24; 2:13, 19)
angels appear to shepherds near Bethlehem (Luke 2:9-15)
angels minister to Jesus in the Judean Desert (Matthew 4:11; Mark 1:13)
angel strengthens Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43)
angels appear at Jesus’ sepulcher (Matthew 28:2-5; Luke 24:23; John 20:12)
angel releases Apostles from prison (Acts 5:19)
angel talks with Philip (Acts 8:26)
angel appears to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-7; 11:13)
angel appears and rescues Peter (Acts 12:7-11)
angel kills Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23)
angel appears to Paul on Mediterranean Sea (Acts 27:23)
+ 72 references to angels in John’s Revelation
The Book of Mormon contains at least 135 references to angels:
angel talks, forcefully, with Lehi’s four sons (1 Nephi 3:29-30; 4:3; 7:10)
angel guides Nephi through panoramic tour of centuries (1 Nephi 11 – 14)
angels minister to Nephi (1 Nephi 16:38; 2 Nephi 4:24)
angels minister to Jacob (Jacob 7:5)
angel teaches King Benjamin (Mosiah 3:2; 4:1)
angel appears, changes Alma’s life (+ friends) (Mosiah 27; Alma 8:14-15; 36; 38:7)
angel appears and teaches Amulek (Alma 8:20; 10:7-11; 11:31)
angels appear and talk with many people (Alma 9:25; 10:20; 13:24; 19:34; 32:23)
angel teaches Alma doctrines (Alma 40:11)
angels minister to Nephi and Lehi (+ 300 others) (Helaman 5; esp. vv. 48-49)
angel appears to Samuel the Lamanite prophet (Helaman 13:7; 14:26)
angels appear daily and teach Nephi (3 Nephi 7:15, 18)
angels minister to Jesus’ disciples (3 Nephi 17:24; 19:14-15)
The Doctrine and Covenants contains at least 75 references to angels:
angel Moroni appears at Manchester and Cumorah (D&C 2; 128:20)
John the Baptist appears to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery (D&C 13)
Moses, Elias, and Elijah appear to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110)
Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and others appear (D&C 128:21)
The Pearl of Great Price contains at least 17 references to angels:
The Father and the Son appear to Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith-History 1:17)
angel appears to Adam (Moses 5:6-8)
angels are seen by Enoch (Moses 7:25, 27)
angel rescues Abraham (Abraham 1:15; 2:13; 3:20)
Thus we see that God is not an absentee God; he is very present and active in watching over the probation-education of His children. He and His Son do have many worlds to care for, so it is understandable that they use authorized messengers to represent them-to appear and speak Their very words (we call that “divine investiture of authority”).
When heavenly beings come from the presence of God to visit the earth, what mode of travel do they employ? That is, how do they get here?
God does not contradict, but operates through, universal law. But certainly He functions above and beyond our known, natural laws (and we generally refer to those phenomena as miracles). “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9). For example, we believe at present that there is nothing faster in the universe than the speed of light. But there must be something faster than that. The Gods, or the angels, for that matter, do not board a spaceship and journey millions of light years from the presence of God to earth. Somehow they transfer themselves here, as it were,in an instant-by, shall we say, “God speed”? Or, as the hymn suggests, they hie to earth “in the twinkling of an eye” and “then continue onward with that same speed to fly. . .”
There must be something faster than light. Perhaps there is some kind of material transfer, as the Star Trek series portrayed: “beam me up, Scottie!”(or a scriptural parallel, “beam me up, Enoch!”) Or, possibly the transfer of an image, with the actual personage far away on one sphere but appearing on earth asa sent image-as when our son is on assignment in the Near East we see and talk with him via webcam; his actual person is not physically before us, but the exact image of his person allows a very real, live communication.
Let’s back up a bit. Recall the item of instruction given by the Prophet Joseph Smith that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5). The Father or the Son, and some messengers sent from Their presence-especially before their entry into mortality, coming to this planet far from our heavenly Home, would have to make a very long-distance journey to visit the earth.
However, when those scheduled for mortality on this sphere finish their mortal probation, they remain right here, in this earth’s spirit world, until the resurrection.Therefore, many messengers could be on assignment to represent Heaven from a much more immediate proximity. Only those who come literally from the presence of the Gods, somewhere near Kolob, would have to make the trek from far distant space. So some messengers come from outer space, while others come from what we might call “inner space.”
Gerald Lund has toyed with thought-provoking ideas from Albert Einstein. Elder Lund believes that Einstein was onto something, what the theoretical scientist labeled as a special theory of relativity-that all time and space is relative. At the speed of light, space contracts and time contracts. To God, there is no “past” or “future”; it is all”one eternal now,” as the Prophet of the Restorationhas said (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 220). Maybe it actually does not take so much “time” to get here from distant worlds after all. It’s all relative. For us mortals such concepts can only result in a respectfulsigh and sense of awe.
The details of how divine communication occurs through time and space will remain elusive for now. And when answers come, they will probably not come through theoretical physicists hypothesizing over parallel universes, many simultaneous worlds, and other attempts of quantum mechanics and quantum computing to describe other realities beyond our reality. Eternal truths will come, as usual, from the Source of all truth in the universe-through His prophets and other messengers. And we will receive understanding of these eternal verities as soon as we are prepared for them. The God of Heaven and His prophets are anxious to reveal great stores of knowledge as quickly as His children can handle them.
As early as 1837 Joseph Smith admitted, “If the Church knew all the commandments, one half they would condemn through prejudice and ignorance” (History of the Church [HC] 2:477). And again in 1843, “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them. The Lord deals with this people as a tender parent with a child, communicating light and intelligence and the knowledge of his ways as they can bear it” (HC 5:402).
On March 7, 1844, three and a half months before he was martyred, the Prophet said in a speech at the Nauvoo Temple, “I know much that I do not tell” (HC 6:244). President Heber C. Kimball recorded the Prophet Joseph saying, “Would to God, brethren, I could tell you who I am! Would to God I could tell you what I know!”3 President Wilford Woodruff also testified concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith: “His mind was opened by the visions of the Almighty, and the Lord taught him many things by vision and revelation that were never taught publicly in his days; for the people could not bear the flood of intelligence which God poured into his mind.”4 For the righteous and valiant, understanding of “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9) and of eternity and the universe will come soon, during the millennial era, as the Lord has promised:
“In that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things-Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end there of-Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34; for further details, see also D&C 121:26-31). The time is coming when the “Millennial Library” will do brisk business, especially in its study rooms full of personal, hand-held versions of the Urim and Thummim, “where by things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known” (D&C 130:10).
For now we are left with lingering questions. We may not know from where numerous extra-terrestrial beings come, nor do we know exactly how they get here, but we do know that they come, and the veil is thinner between Heaven and Earth than many suppose. Simply by studying the Holy Scriptures we can learn much about extra-terrestrial visitors and especially about valuable messages from outer space.
- “Our Creator’s Cosmos,” in The Religious Educator, vol. 3, no. 2, 2002, 9.
- Cited in Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945), 322.
- Journal of Discourses 5:83-84.