Literary OTGD #03: Eternity of Matter

January 15, 2014 | 3 comments
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In our science-oriented world today, its hard to see the creation stories in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price as recounting actual events or having meaning beyond a simple myth explaining the origin of life. So when we teach the creation in classes like the current Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 3, I believe the best option is to put the story in a gospel context, and emphasize its meaning as part of our understanding of the purpose of life, rather than historical or scientific events.

Although written in the 1840s with a traditional view of the creation, the following poem does put the creation into a Mormon gospel context, placing the creation, as we understand it, as a necessary part of the plan of salvation and happiness; part of our eternal progression.

Unfortunately, while I’ve known of this poem for several years, I have no idea who the author is. Since Nauvoo had perhaps several thousand people in 1841, there were probably several people with the initials M.T. (assuming that these are initials and not psuedonymic somehow) in Nauvoo, and perhaps others elsewhere who might have submitted a poem by mail. Still, the poem is clearly Mormon, so the author is also likely Mormon. I would be indebted to anyone who could pass on a possible identification.

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Eternity of Matter

By M. T.

Six thousand years ago, we’re told,
Deep Darkness brooded o’er the world;
All matter in confusion ran-
Unorganized, without a plan;
In all the vast expanse around
Naught of created good was found.

 

But lo! Jehovah’s word goes forth;
Behold, the elements are earth!
Yes from invisibles appear
A sight most beautiful fair;
This glorious earth in order stood,
And God, the Father, call’d it good.

 

When every thing is formed complete,
When beast and bird in praise unite,
With plants and flowers, spread far and near,
And lofty trees their branches rear;
To rule, direct, and dress the same,
From earth, is framed God’s image-man.

 

He strew’d a calm, delightful place
With flowers, and fruits of richest taste;
Of all these fruits, did He declare,
Thou mayest freely eat, and share;
All, save one tree, the which, the day
Thou eat’st thereof thou’lt surely die.

 

Man now enjoyed a paradise,
And oft, with God, talked face to face;
With all he was not satisfied;
But, tempted, ate the fruit-and died.
Thus, death was brought upon us all,
And all things curs’d thro’ Adam’s fall.

 

But now, what mercy doth appear?
Jesus, the Christ, to earth draws near;
He takes upon him sinful flesh,
Endures the curse of sin and death;
“Just for the unjust”-lo! he dies!
And, thus, the law he satisfies.

 

This is the glorious gospel plan,
Which brought salvation down to man;
And from the curse of sin restor’d,
The earth and all things to the Lord—
Who will, in His own time, restore
Creation, as it was before.

 

And, as the Savior burst the tomb,
To flourish in immortal bloom,
So will the resurrection’s power,
To an unchanging state, restore
The elements of which the earth,
From chaos, first was called forth.

Times and Seasons, 1 July 1841

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I like the connection of the creation with the atonement, and the eventual “restoration of all things,” although I don’t think I’ve heard the latter talked about as much in recent years. It is clearly stated in the articles of faith (“the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory“), but other than the idea that the earth will be returned to the state when Adam and Eve were in paradise (something hard to pin down and reconcile with scientific conceptions of the history of the Earth) I don’t know what that might mean.

But, the purpose of the creation is fairly clear in this poem. The Lord creates the earth from chaos and peoples it; Man falls and needs to be restored by the atonement just as the earth itself will be restored.

Am I ending with too much of a pun if I just add that, well, the devil is in the details?

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3 Responses to Literary OTGD #03: Eternity of Matter

  1. Tim on January 15, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    You’re probably already aware of this, but Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was first published in 1859–18 years after this poem was written. Our understanding of biology and geology was extremely limited, and our scientific understanding of evolution and the age of the earth basically non-existent.

  2. Kent Larsen on January 15, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Yes. I wasn’t suggesting that the poem was somehow ahead of its time or that it doesn’t express the ideas prevalent when it was written.

    In case I wasn’t clear enough in my comments. I was suggesting that this poem focused on the role of the creation in the plan of salvation — which is probably the emphasis we should give today GIVEN current science and understanding of how the world came to be.

  3. Josh Smith on January 22, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    “[I]ts hard to see the creation stories in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price as recounting actual events or having meaning beyond a simple myth explaining the origin of life.”

    Because … well, because these books do recount a simple myth explaining the origin of life. They are not historical accounts.

    Is there a way to acknowledge and respect our hard-won knowledge of natural history and biology and still find meaning in scripture? I’d be interested in that lesson.

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