Did the thought of eternity ever get you spooked? Does the phrase “one eternal round” sound static and lifeless? Have you ever wondered, “If I am resurrected to eternity, and already know all things, past, present, and future, how do I ever make choices or have a fresh outlook on life? I already know precisely how I will act tomorrow, and there’s no getting out of it.”

Something about the scripture “listen to the voice of the Lord your God . . . whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever” (D&C 35:1) incites a certain misunderstanding that God is in a state that is static and unadventurous—though perhaps blissful, it is an eternal sameness that never varies and never improves and never ends. Latter-day Saints believe that God changes not; even so, some have in the back of their minds a subtle nagging that becoming like God may not be all that they had hoped. The quiet, subconscious question arises, Will becoming like God be confining? Will it be devoid of progress?

Part of the philosophical difficulty lies in the fact that the impulse for improvement is at the very essence of human nature. We rejoice in learning some new and exciting thing. We love new books, new music. We are curious about the world around us. We want to know that we have choices and options. We seek to improve our condition. We view progress as the foundation of an educated mind and a civilized society. Take from a person all hope of progress, all hope that things can change and improve, and that person will likely cease to see any good reason for living.

In seeming contrast, Mormon 9:9 describes God as unchangeable throughout eternity, “and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing.” A few have been positively perturbed and petrified at the prospect of a “no variableness” existence. If interpreted in a vacuum, this scripture would appear on the surface to evoke images of a static life—eternal beings sitting in heaven, slaves to the dictates of eternal laws that do not allow for progress, liberty, agency, or variety.

Of course, God is not a curious trekker about to discover a galaxy far, far away; but Joseph Smith taught that God does progress in certain ways (i),  and a witty John Taylor pointed out that the next life will be much more interesting than the old Christian idea of heaven and hell, “where they have nothing to do but sit and sing themselves away to everlasting bliss or go and roast on gridirons.” (ii) 

Joseph Smith sought to change the religious world’s perspective of eternity: “When His commandments teach us, it is in view of eternity; for we are looked upon by God as though we were in eternity; God dwells in eternity, and does not view things as we do.” (iii) Joseph, who was acquainted with God, did not view things as we do either.

In defiance of the brightest religious thinkers of his day, Joseph established a new tradition of eternalism. In his eternity, all matter always existed, the soul’s intelligence has no beginning or end, and families continue forever. W. W. Phelps, drawing upon the ideas of eternalism that Joseph established, penned the lines that we now sing: “Do you think that you could ever, through all eternity, find out the generation where gods began to be? Or see the grand beginning, where space did not extend? Or view the last creation, where gods and matter end? Me thinks the Spirit whispers, no man has found pure space, nor seen the outside curtains, where nothing has a place.”
Such cosmic poetry may twist our brains into a pretzel temporarily, but the mental serpentine is worth it. Eternity is the realm where we begin to see our true nature. How enchanting to think: when in some future day all things to us are made known, we will find that God’s kind of life is a wellspring of eternal progression that is vastly more dynamic, enterprising, free, and creative than any measly “progress” we enjoy in this life. And for now, to catch even a small glimpse of eternity does wonders for gaining a proper perspective on life and all its little annoyances.

One place to glimpse eternity is with the mathematicians; they have been working to unravel the mysteries of eternity for millenia.

More than a century ago, George Cantor used number set theory to show that eternity is a strange realm that defies intuitive reasoning.

His number sets demonstrated that eternity comes in different sizes and that infinity can fit into small spaces. The math upholds the idea, for example, that God can possess infinite glory and yet still progress to a greater infinite glory.

Infinity is even less intuitive when introducing higher dimensions. But Latter-day Saints are not strangers to dimensional theory. For instance, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and other modern prophets infer that the world of the spirits is actually this world, occupying the same space, although in a spiritual dimension.

The concept of higher dimensions is intriguing, for with more dimensions than three comes greater freedom. The word dimension itself can mean many things, but in this case it refers to “freedom of movement” or “directions of movement.” To illustrate: suppose you were some sort of quantum fleck that lived in one-dimensional space, represented by a line. You have only two directions of movement: you can go left and right along the line. That’s it. That’s all the freedom you possess.

Now suppose you were a very flat organism living in two-dimensional space on a flat plane, like a piece of paper. You have only four possible directions to move, backward/forward and left/right along the plane of the paper. You could not leap up off the paper or dive down below it, because in a two-dimensional world, up and down do not exist. In the three-dimensional world where you live today, you have more freedom of movement: left and right, forward and back, up and down, and all their combinations. Now imagine higher dimensions: What sort of movement exists there? We already have up, down, left, right, forward, back. How about through? The fourth dimension might involve movement through time or movement through solid objects or movement through a spiritual realm. What about five or ten or fifty dimensions? BYU-Idaho mathematician Kent Bessey observes:

In 53-dimensional space, instead of having just forward/backward, left/right, and up/down, you have 50 additional choices of directions. Talk about freedom! But even 53 dimensions would seem restrictive compared to still higher-dimensional spaces. Freest of all, one may surmise, is a countably infinite dimensional space, where you have a countably infinite amount of directions to choose from.(iv)

Now suppose you were a messenger on an errand for God, living in these infinite dimensions. To deliver a message to people in a two-dimensional world, you might press yourself against their flat, paper-like world so they can see you. To them, you suddenly appear from nowhere, because anything above the paper doesn’t exist for them. You disappear just as quickly when you lift up off the paper. Likewise, as a being of a higher dimension, people in a three-dimensional world (us) are equally struck with wonder as, just like countless angels before, you mysteriously appear and then disappear after delivering your message.

As a messenger in eternal dimensions, you can streak across the firmament, the whooshing sound of your flight echoing off planets as you lithely bend space to shorten the journey; galaxies are measured in a span and navigated in an instant; you dance atop pillars of eternal fire and happily fly to the throne of God instantly, for time is no longer. You swoop, you soar from spiritual realms to physical realms and back to spiritual. Worlds within worlds within worlds, dimensions within dimensions.

Such musings about the freedoms and powers of God’s messengers are not merely fanciful dreams. Jesus was a messenger, and he again and again defied our three-dimensional concepts of space and time. He performed an infinite atonement in a garden—imagine it!—an infinity of suffering compressed into the space of about three hours. He healed others in an instant, walked on water, traveled through walls, stood in the air, dwelt in burning fire, turned a ration of fish into a feast for thousands, traveled to a spirit world, and suddenly appeared to his disciples and disappeared again. Sounds like extra-dimensional activities to me. And it sounds like greater freedom than anything we enjoy today.
It is a well-established teaching that Christ and his Father are whole, completed beings, and there is no need for them to improve in character. They are the embodiment of perfection and have no need to change. This does not mean, however, that there is not an infinite variety involved in that state of perfection.



The word variety is not found in the standard works; the word is reserved for our most sacred houses of worship. We learn there that the Creator glories in variety. This little detail speaks volumes. It practically opens up a whole new subclass of theology. It takes God from the realm where nothing is authorized except strict adherence to narrow and unyielding law, to a realm where anything good and beautiful is possible and permissable.

I like to think, for example, that the Creator had an infinite variety of possible choices in how to fashion, say, the lilies of the field. Innumerable choices were sufficiently good and righteous. He simply chose how to form the lily according to what gave him joy. Having a perfect command of all eternal laws and possessing an infinite creativity, his palette was endless. Goodness and beauty was the only requirement. And looking at slugs and grubs and houseflies it’s obvious God’s idea of beauty is infinitely more expansive than mine. This idea of creative process makes perfect sense when we observe the universe around us—every planet,  star, and galaxy have some eternal law in common, yet all are different in form and all possess their own distinctive beauty. In describing God’s life, the words unchanging and immutable are perfectly appropriate. Having learned a little more about infinity, I have a new appreciation for the words variety and liberty in describing that life.

Hopefully anyone finding the subject of infinity spooky will throw open the windows of the mind and consider the infinite liberties of the godly life in higher dimensions: here is chaos to bring into order; here is wild cosmic nature to subdue; here are raw materials of immense variety to fashion into something appealing and sublime; here are seeds of all kinds to nurture and grow; and here is diverse intelligence to organize and breathe into it the breath of eternal lives.

If we can catch even a tiny glimpse of eternity’s true nature, as prophets and poets and mathematicians have done before, we will stand in silent awe of God and his wonders. And finally, in the day when we first come to see it all, to see the whole plan and scope of things, our shoes will come off, we will draw in the breath and simply utter:


James T. Summerhays is the editor of BYU Studies.  Subscribe to BYU Studies or learn more about it click here

i. Larry E. Dahl, Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 517.
ii. John Taylor, Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, G. Homer Durham, ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 2002), 17.
iii. Larry E. Dahl, Donald Q. Cannon, eds., Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 608.
iv. Kent Bessey, “To Journey Beyond Infinity,” BYU Studies 43, no. 4 (2004) 30.