Complicated Characteristics of a God

We’re going to dive into what some would dismiss as a “deep doctrine”—what exactly do we need to be a god? It may seem like we have pretty clear and easy answers to this question, but I think if we actually dive into some of our theology (as much as you can term anything that we Mormon-folk have a theology) that picture gets pretty complicated pretty quick. (And therefore, for people like me, infinitely more fascinating, if also somewhat frustrating.) Throughout most of the post I’ll be working through ideas, taking my understanding of a basic Mormon cosmology and some of the theological components of that as literal (other possibilities exist that may further complicate or potentially alleviate some of the confusion that I’m trying to work through and we might get there, we’ll see, but generally I’ll be taking some of those basics as givens to explore the ideas I’m playing with).

I’m working under the assumption that all members of the Godhead (and a potentially bonus member depending on how you understand those members) qualify as gods (which I feel like is a fair assumption to make, though not an uncomplicated one). This makes us sound polytheistic (and there’s an interesting case to be made for that, but not one I’m particularly interested in today), but a more accurate (probably) label would be monolatrous (though good ol’ Bruce R. McConkie fiercely resisted that label in adamantly arguing for our monotheistic status). Anyway, let’s get to the meat here.

So, we’ve got:

  1. God the Father (Heavenly Father/Elohim, the one usually referred to as “God” I think, but that’s contestable).
  2. God the Son (Jesus Christ/Jehovah, with loads of other titles that definitely muddy the waters in trying to parse who is being described scripturally).
  3. God the Ghost (I’ve never heard anyone actually use that, but for parallelism I couldn’t resist. This is the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit, obviously).
  4. God the Mother (Heavenly Mother, though there are some interesting arguments from some early Church leaders that she is one and the same as the Holy Ghost. I also typically think of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother united under the title “God”, which is why I do my He/She/Them dealio for referencing God).

Typically, we talk about God being an exalted human (building on the ideas expressed in the couplet by Lorenzo Snow “As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may be”), but that seems to break down pretty quickly once we actually look at the people we call God and who have acted as God historically. Before breaking that down, our path to godhood is fairly clearly charted (at least in broad strokes of ordinances): baptism, confirmation, priesthood ordination for men, initiatory and endowment, and finally temple sealing.

However, if we believe that Christ as Jehovah was the God of the Old Testament (which there’s some compelling scriptural evidence for and a strong tradition in our faith community of accepting), we cannot also believe that to be a God you need a body (not to mention the bodiless Holy Ghost). From the very outset, our idea of what’s necessary for godhood crumbles. At least 2/4 beings that we call God served (or continue to serve) in that capacity without meeting this most basic of requirements. What do we do with this?

Are Christ and the Holy Ghost just two exceptions? Are their roles necessary for the order of the universe? Were those of us “destined” for exaltation and the godhood that comes with it already acting as Gods and Goddesses before coming to Earth? Do you have to be extra awesome as a spirit to become a God “early”? Is that actually the norm? Do bodies matter? Is Christ a better god once he gets his body?

How does all of this relate to the omni’s (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent) that we frequently attribute to God? Also, how can omniscience co-exist with the idea/doctrine/belief of eternal progression? If we are constantly growing and learning and progressing, can we ever be at a place where we know everything? How do the Holy Ghost and Christ fit into the omnis? We’ve got scripture talking about Christ learning from grace to grace while on earth, after He has been God for thousands of years. Did He forget everything? Is He learning new things? If the latter, how was He omniscient before?

Things are already pretty messy and we haven’t even touched Heavenly Mother. How does She fit into this scenario? Is She only a Goddess because She married into it, like some old-school royal line? What does Christ’s pre-body God status suggest for the necessity of marriage and partnership to attain godhood? Is it ok because Christ is like super-spirit? Because chief-God (God the Father/God the Mother) knew He’d marry eventually?

The idea of marriage being necessary for godhood complicates things. If a man needs to marry a woman for them both to attain this exalted, god and goddess status, that cements a heteronormative view of heaven (which is undeniably the view promoted by the Church, but one that I struggle with for all sorts of reasons). I don’t know what the solution to this is because I think allowing for celestial same-sex marriages introduces new conflicts over what the role of women is in the eternities (there’s again probably enough material for another blog post or more on this itself, so I’ll probably just leave it there for now).

So, where does that leave us? No idea. I don’t have a good sense of what God is (which you know, feels pretty fundamental), but I think I’ve got a better idea of what’s not or at least not essential. I tend to downplay the omni aspects of God, particularly the omniscience and omnipotence because it makes it easier to believe in that sort of God, but also brings God closer to me, which brings up questions of why we should worship Him/Her/Them.

I’ve raised a lot of questions here and don’t really have answers (obviously), but I think they’re questions worth considering. And I believe in God, in a God that loves and cares about each of us, a God that I can work with to create meaning in this chaotic universe, a God that sacrificed Himself, who had all power and gave it away (more on that later probably on my blog with friends that you should check out if you haven’t). So yeah. Share thoughts please.

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2 thoughts on “Complicated Characteristics of a God

  1. Four points:

    1. With regard to the Christ’s pre-mortal vs post-mortal godliness, I’ve heard some folks argue that He does indeed become “fully” exalted, or “more perfect” (or, as you’d put it, a “better God”) after the Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection have all taken place. The arguments in favor of that interpretation sometimes point to the differences between the Sermon on the Mount (as recorded in Matthew) vs the Sermon at the Temple (as recorded in 3rd Nephi). When visiting the Nephites, instead of saying “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father,” he says “be ye therefore perfect even as I, or your Father.” This subtle difference in word choice may imply that Jesus had become more perfect somehow in between His Israelite ministry and His Nephite ministry. (Of course, when dealing with scripture, choosing to pay extra attention to subtle differences in word choice may be a dangerous path to head down, given how many paradoxes and bad doctrines arise from an overly literal approach to an old and flawed [read: any] sacred text.)

    2. With regard to the “omni’s” paradox, that’s a doozy. There’s been debate for a long while about omniscience vs. eternal progression in Mormon rhetoric (which often occurs between the strongest voices in LDS leadership and the leading voices in LDS scholarship, e.g. Bruce “Echo What I Say [Or] Remain Silent” McConkie vs. Eugene England, etc). It seems if we are to take omniscience seriously, eternal progression is impossible (unless, like B. H. Roberts, we are to redefine “knowing everything” as simply “knowing all that is knowable”). And likewise, it seems if we are to take eternal progression seriously, omniscience is impossible (unless, like Bruce, we are to redefine “progression” as simply “kingdoms increas[ing and] dominions multiply[ing]”).

    3. With regard to the heteronormativity of LDS conceptions of Heaven, I think that such a doctrine will inevitably change someday (though I admit I don’t know what that change will look like, because Mormon cosmology is inherently heteronormative; Mormon ideas of eternal and exalting procreation are deeply rooted and cannot be reformed without serious difficulty, revolutionary revelation, and a more nuanced/detailed/comprehensive understanding of both earthly and celestial sexuality). In the meantime, before such a change occurs, Mormonism’s inherently divisive/exclusive heteronormative cosmology is a hell of a mess to deal with. In Mormon culture, I believe people’s lives and identities will continue to be marginalized, ostracized, demonized, and politicized until something radical happens. I don’t know what that radical moment will be or what its own harmful ripple effects might entail, but I think it’s only a matter of time.

    4. This blog is great and you’re great. ❤

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