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God's vast creations

Half way through the year 1830, mankind's knowledge of the universe was still fairly rudimentary, although dedicated astronomers were combining their knowledge of mathematics and their keen observations to lay the groundwork of modern astronomy.

People had been studying the sun, moon and stars for thousands of years. They tracked them to determine the advent of the seasons and to navigate the seas and deserts. Ancient stone alignments and circles found throughout Europe were in fact celestial observatories. But people were limited by what they could see and, at best, someone with very sharp eyesight could see only about 6,000 stars and five planets. Fierce debates, both theological and scientific, raged over where the earth stood in the cosmos.However, that was changing, though slowly. In the summer of 1830, it had been 49 years since the astronomer Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, and it would be 16 more years before the planet Neptune would be found. Photography, which would have a profound influence on astronomy, was yet to be invented, and no one could yet measure how far away even the closest star was. It was assumed that the solar system was at the center of the galaxy.

So it was in this setting, in June of 1830, that Joseph Smith began writing down a selection from the Book of Moses, a translation of Genesis as revealed to him. What emerged is a remarkably prophetic document that imparted knowledge far ahead of the scientific understanding of the time.

In the revealed translation, Moses stood in the presence of God, who said, "Worlds without number have I created; and I created them for mine own purpose. . . . But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. . . .

"And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens therof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words." (Moses 1:33, 35, 38)

All this comes to mind following recent news reports that today's astronomers, studying the light from stars that exploded before the earth was born, have determined that the universe is destined to expand forever. Indeed, today's astronomers plumb the skies with the aid of instruments and techniques that would have baffled the scientists of 1830, like radio and infrared measurements and telescopes that orbit in space.

Their discoveries are mind numbing. The latest estimate is that some 50 billion galaxies exist, and our own Milky Way galaxy is estimated to hold 200 billion stars. The distances involved are so vast that the lay person can scarcely comprehend them.

Moreover, we now know those stars and galaxies move in a grand pattern that we cannot see. Astronomers have now photographed both the birth and the death of stars. Theologians outside the Church are just beginning to grasp the concept of a God covering multiple worlds, and this comes more than a century and a half after the revelations to Joseph Smith. It's as if we are slowly awakening from a deep sleep, struggling to understand how vast the universe is and how varied are God's creations.

We should recall the Lord's explanation to Moses about the meaning of creation: "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.)

President David O. McKay stressed this point when he said that, "Inseparable with the idea of a divine personal Being is the acceptance of Him as the Creator of the world. True Christianity does not look upon the universe as the mere interaction of matter and motion, of law and force, but, on the contrary, it regards all creation as the product of a divine intelligence who made the world and all things therein."'

Then, President McKay added, "As one writer puts it: `This is what Christianity means by a personal God. It believes that all existence has its roots in a conscious and intelligent purpose and that this purpose is good.' " (Gospel Ideals, p. 46.)

It's at this intersection of faith and science that the long-ago revelations to Joseph Smith offer their great insights and comfort for us. With each new secular discovery - and there will be many more - we gain a greater appreciation of the spiritual meaning of our life and the greatness of God's works.

Seldom has it been said more poetically than in the revelation to Joseph Smith shortly after Christmas Day of 1832. "The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God. . . . Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power." (D&C 88:45, 47.)