Immortality AND Eternal Life: the Difference

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I want add a brief but essential addendum to my post about LDS cosmology. I quote God’s conversation with Moses, where He reveals to his prophet the meaning and purpose of all that He does.

Moses 1:39:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Too often in Christian rhetoric the term “eternal life” is the same as “immortality.” It’s understandable given that the New Testament is all most Christians have, and the two terms are used, or at least interpreted, interchangeably. And that’s why I’m so grateful for modern revelation, and especially for the awe-inspiring Pearl of Great Price.

The scriptures never actually lay out the difference between these two concepts in clear terms. I think that is perhaps because the concepts are too sacred to be frank about. God only ever differentiates between immortality and eternal life indirectly, and only in the above verse. That keeps it hidden away for those who desire to know, to know. Christ used parables for the same purpose, so only those who were really listening, those who truly wanted to know, would understand.

Well, there are in fact two other places in the scriptures where God really defines “eternal life” as different from “immortality,” and one of them actually is in the New Testament. It is in the great intercessory prayer.

John 17:3:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

But even this is not laid out in a clear way. That’s obviously because this wasn’t meant to be a sermon or even a parable. This was an ultra-private moment between Heavenly Father and His Son that we are privileged to get a glance at.

D&C Section 132 offers a stunning parallel version to this verse in the middle of a mind-blowing explanation of the true scope of marriage and family and what the eternal potential of mankind really can be if we enter into and abide by the new and everlasting covenant.

The clarifying callback comes in verse 24 (emphasis is mine):

This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.

Look at that. Why “lives”? That construct is almost nowhere else in scripture. Eternal lives? I thought we were talking about eternal life. I understand eternal life. What’s eternal lives?

If you read Section 132 you get a pretty good idea of what that is. I’ll try and condense it with a little commentary here and there.

To state what should be obvious at this point, eternal life is different from immortality. Immortality means never dying, never being extinguished. We are all immortal, in a way. Some form of us will persist through all eternity. But this is not what is meant by “eternal life.” Eternal life is more than never-ending. Yes, yes, we have the typical primary explanation that eternal life is life with Heavenly Father, and when we die we get to go back and live with Him again. But that’s not really much of an explanation, is it? Because we were with Him before we came to Earth, too. So why leave?

Eternal life is not merely a never-ending length. It is also a never-ending quantity. It is life stretched out not just forever in one direction, but forever in ALL directions. What do I mean by this? Keep in mind that the context of this doctrine is in the definitive section on eternal marriage. That isn’t just marriage forever, but generations forever. We obviously have a mortal version of this—your kids have kids, and theirs eventually do too. That chain goes on and on. But we all die before we see more than a few generations pass by. And we only ever make minimal progress in this life. It’s all mortal, and we separate, and bodies and relationships decay. That is life. That is lives.

But eternal lives is as different as a sphere is to a circle. Eternal lives, as Christ has revealed, is to “know” God. Well, to know God isn’t just to say, “How do you do?” and “What’s your major?” like you would to get to know a date. To know God is to know what it is like to be Him. It is to experience His life.

And what is His life?

“To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

His driving purpose is to, as a deity, have children. Kittens grow up to be cats, and puppies turn to dogs. So what do children of a god turn into?

That’s right.

So what God is trying to do—what “eternal lives” really means—is continue the everlasting generations of gods. Create an unending chain of celestial life. Because when we’ve achieved what He’s achieved in terms of righteousness and knowledge, we will be heading the same work He heads now. We will be just like Him, “which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:19-20).

Wow.

You could say Christ died to give us immortality. But Christ atoned for us to make it possible to truly know God and thus have eternal lives. That’s God’s purpose and I think it should be our purpose to. Kind of throws a new light on, well…

Everything.

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One thought on “Immortality AND Eternal Life: the Difference

  1. Pingback: What the God of Nature Tells Us About the Nature of God | A Mirror, a Sword and Shield

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