Selected Teachings on
Time

Neal A. Maxwell (Quorum of the Twelve)

Eventually, the veil that now encloses us will be no more. Neither will time. (D&C 84:100.) Time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course, but whereas the fish is at home in water, we are clearly not at home in time--because we belong to eternity. Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here. (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, p. 11)


Within mortality's carefully fixed parameters ... which are shared by all [there is something] which impinges on us constantly. We call it time. Because we are eternal beings, time is not our natural dimension. Hence, we cannot help but notice its constant presence; it is part of the brief and narrow mortal framework within which we are to overcome by faith, including faith in God's timing....

Life is so designed that we constantly feel time, for it encloses the cares and anxieties of the world. In fact, we must use much of our allotted mortal time to do the necessary and worthy work of the world. Furthermore, some of the cares of the world do require some caring about.

Nevertheless, such cares and chores can come to dominate life. We can easily find ourselves anxiously engaged in doing these lesser things, so that too little of ourselves and of our time are left over for the things of God. Our management of our time tells us so much about the management of ourselves....

We really feel time and its prickly presence. Unlike birds at home in the air and fishes in the water, we in time are not in our natural dimension. No wonder the passage of time seems to go too slowly or too rapidly.

Life itself provides us a decisive experience with time and mortal momentariness, situated as the second estate is between a lengthy premortal and an everlastingly postmortal existence. Compared to the first and third estates, the second estate is a mere afternoon. Yet, it is within temporal brevity that we now exercise our eternal agency to choose.

No wonder the mortal curriculum often seems so compressed!...

One's mortal life, therefore, is brevity compared to eternity--like being dropped off by a parent for a day at school--but what a day!

Unsurprisingly, we ponder over how, with a later mere flick of the Divine wrist, "time is no longer" (D&C 84:100; 88:110).

Does "no longer" mean we will have passed through our own experience in the second estate, so that time will be over--but only for us? Will time still be needed for all those yet to pass through the second estate? We do not know the details, but the perspectives will be vastly different from those of the present in ways yet to be understood and experienced. In any case, working out our salvation in this elusive dimension--time--is unavoidable. Besides, we cannot fully understand time while we are in it....

The scriptures, without elaboration, say that time is measured only to man (Alma 40:8; D&C 84:100; 88:110).... The revelations tell us that in the presence of God "all things ... past, present, and future, are continually before [Him]" (D&C 130:7)--a condition which Joseph Smith called "one eternal 'now.'" (The Promise of Discipleship, p.80-84)


Time is of this world; it is not of eternity. We can, if we are not careful, feel the pressures of time and see things in a distorted way. How important it is that we see things as much as possible through the lens of the gospel with its eternal perspectives.

I should like, if I may, to share with you on this point the fine writing of your own A. Lester Allen, a dean and scientist on this campus. This is what I have come to call the "Allen Analogy" about time. Let me read you these lines, if I may. Their application will be obvious. Dean Allen writes:

Suppose, for instance, that we imagine a "being" moving onto our earth whose entire life-span is only 1/100 of a second. Ten thousand "years" for him, generation after generation, would be only one second of our time. Suppose this imaginary being comes up to a quiet pond in the forest where you are seated. You have just tossed in a rock and are watching the ripples. A leaf is fluttering from the sky and a bird is swooping over the water. He would find everything absolutely motionless. Looking at you, he would say: "In all recorded history nothing has changed. My father and his father before him have seen that everything is absolutely still. This creature called man has never had a heartbeat and has never breathed. The water is standing in stationary waves as if someone had thrown a rock into it; it seems frozen. A leaf is suspended in the air, and a bird has stopped right over the middle of the pond. There is no movement. Gravity is suspended." The concept of time in this imaginary being, so different from ours, would give him an entirely different perspective of what we call reality.

On the other hand, picture another imaginary creature for whom one "second" of his time is 10,000 years of our time. What would the pond be like to him? By the time he sat down beside it, taking 15,000 of our years to do so, the pond would have vanished. Individual human beings would be invisible, since our entire life-span would be only 1/100 of one of his "seconds." The surface of the earth would be undulating as mountains are built up and worn down. The forest would persist but a few minutes and then disappear. His concept of "reality" would be much different than our own.

That's the most clever way I have seen time and intimations of eternity dealt with. It is very important that we not assume the perspective of mortality in making the decisions that bear on eternity! We need the perspectives of the gospel to make decisions in the context of eternity. We need to understand we cannot do the Lord's work in the world's way. ("But for a Small Moment," Brigham Young University, 1 September 1974)