I’m going to swim out into deep waters in this post. Stand by with lifesavers.
Joseph Smith taught that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” Gnomic, and knowing the context doesn’t change that much. But he seems to mean that you can’t understand a reality without knowing its opposite. “The opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.”
This sounds like advice for intellectual inquiry. But the revelations Joseph Smith received make the principle bigger than that.
The principle explains why there has to be suffering in this life. Eve declares that without knowing suffering, one can’t know healing and the good. The Lord declares to Adam:
Thy children are conceived in sin,. . . and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.
So the need for opposites is theodicy and the reason for mortal experience.
But Lehi also taught that the principle is a foundation principle of reality. Without an opposite, nothing can exist:
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
No manhood without womanhood, no success without failure, no learning without ignorance, nothing deep without superficiality. This teaching gets down to the core of things.
One of the themes of this blog has been the idea that eternity is not the endless succession of time like most Mormons think, but stepping outside time to integrate all time periods of one’s life into one ever-present whole. I came to the idea through wrestling with some problems related to identity, memory, and loss. But once I came to it I saw that it resonated with the scriptural data (see here, e.g.), dealt with the problem of divine foreknowledge and free will, reconciled libertarian free will with true certainty of God’s character, made promising make sense, and generally “fit.” I later discovered that the idea I had stumbled on was basically traditional Christian metaphysics, though most traditional Christians weren’t aware of it.
Bruce Charleton has been wrestling with traditional Christian and Mormon metaphysics (a pair of his latest entries on that theme are here and here. I followed his wrestlings with considerable interest but without much personal illumination. That recently changed.
If Lehi is right–if Joseph Smith is right–does it not follow that time cannot exist without eternity? Similarly, that eternity–unchanging, perfect–cannot exist or be meaningful without its opposite in a world of time and change and imperfection? I think it does. Traditional Christian and Mormon metaphysics must both be true. Eternity would be meaningless unless it had the experiences of time to integrate. Time would be meaningless if each moment irrecoverably dropped off as if it had never been.
We are amphibious creatures, partly mortal, partly immortal, partly eternal, partly ever progressing, because we must be. It is the deepest law.