D&C 19:7 endless DOES NOT EQUAL having no end?
Posted by Matthew on September 18, 2007
A lot can hang on the meaning of a single word. Suppose I’m leaving a child with a baby sitter and I tell her she has to be in bed by 8. In my mind that means lights out, in bed trying to go to sleep. But the child agrees to “being in bed by eight” and intends to read in bed until just before we get home.
When trying to get agreement between two people with a different perspective, what is the role for reaching agreement by agreeing on words we interpret differently? And how does the parties knowledge of the different interpretations change things?
Which brings me to D&C 19.
What does it mean to say endless doesn’t mean not having an end? I’ve been thinking about that question and posting my muddled thoughts on the wiki. Please take a look and help me out by editing that or feel free to respond to anything there on this thread.
Moving beyond that question, why did the Lord use the word “endless” if he didn’t mean “without end”? Or to ask the same question in succesively more general ways: why use a word he knows we will interpret differently than he means it? why purposefully hide what he is saying?
I see verse 7 as addressing these questions in relation to the specific case of endless/eternal:
Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
I propose that this verse is saying that God used the word “eternal” and “endless” as in “eternal punishment” or “endless torment” as description of the punishment those who don’t repent will receive because those words suggest that there is no end to the punishment and torment. As is explained in verse 6 and then 10-13, in fact, the punishment does have an end (or might anyway). Endless and eternal don’t mean not ending. Instead they are referring to God, i.e. eternal punishment mean’s God’s punishment. But, as this verse 7 explains, God used these words so that the impact is bigger on the reader. This is what the Lord means when he says the words are more express and what he means when he says that he did this that “it [the relevant scriptures] might work upon the children of men, altogether for [his] name’s glory.”
Do you accept this interpretation? If so, how do we explain how or why the Lord tells us things that mean one thing to us and another thing to him? How do we explain how that is different than dishonesty?
Backing up, consider three types of ambiguity: (a) both parties agree to something knowing that the meaning of what is agreed on is ambiguous (b) both parties agree to something knowing that each is interpretting it in a way different from the other (c) both parties agree to something; one party knows that the other party is interpretting it differently than they are.
I propose that the above example using endless falls in this bucke (c) as does the bedtime example above. How do we distinguish dishonest examples of (c) from good uses of (c)?