Afterimages of God

There is a visual phenomenon called afterimage where when looking away from an object (typically a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of the eyes. This image “burn in” is typically caused by an over-depletion of chemicals in the rods and cones of the eye (rhodopsin and color pigments, respectively). Normally, we compensate for this chemical depletion by rapidly and subtly moving the eyes around, changing where the fovea is focusing. Doing this gives the time for the pigments to replenish, allowing the rods and cones of the eye (warning: there is a video that auto-plays so turn down your speakers if needed) to work efficiently again.

To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds (not the sun – that will damage your eyes) or  stare at some of the images here (note: that Wikipedia post about afterimages is lacking but the images are useful). Afterimages work essentially because when you consciously stare at an object with high contrast (luminosity or color), the rhodopsin and color pigments do not replenish quickly enough to allow all your retinal photoreceptors to fire effectively. This usually results in a negative afterimage (red becomes cyan, white becomes black, and so forth) but lightbulbs, for example, can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the filaments is still bright when you look away. In other words, when staring at such brightness, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We basked in His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith said that this brightness and God’s glory were above that of the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). [As an aside, this is why the typical conceptualization of Hell as a hot place of “fire and brimstone” is misleading; yes, in the Book of Mormon we read of fire and brimstone (“And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.” {Jacob 6:10}) but that is because the punishment being meted for willful sin against God is God’s eternal punishment and His way to cleanse impurities is through fire (“For the day cometh that the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them who dwelleth thereon, by whom it is dressed, who now receiveth blessings from God, shall be cleansed with fire” {JST Hebrews 6:7}); those who are clean through the atoning blood of Christ and are sanctified therein can stand the fire of God’s glory, those who are not, will have to bear the cleansing of a scourge by fire but miss out on the sanctification that comes through the Atonement. Hell is really the separation from God, which means Hell is cold and dark and lonely.]

So, after that detour, we return to the track of this post. We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. I think the poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

We are not left “utter[ly] naked.” We have the afterimage of our life before in the light of Christ given to all humankind and in the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point but many do not recognize or are not willing to accept. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives.

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