In our last article we discussed recovering the true doctrine of the Trinity.  Most Latter-day Saints may be quite unaware of the uniqueness of our doctrine compared to the mainline Trinitarian view. We also tend to be unaware of the implications of this difference. 

A Different Creation

Consider the doctrine of creation. The common Christian belief is that God created us ex nihilo—out of nothing. According to that view, aside from the self-existent God, there was nothing. He spoke and things came to exist where there was no matter before. Latter-day Saints believe differently. We understand that God organized already-existent matter (Ehat & Cook, 1994, p. 359). He did not create the world out of nothing. This belief is, of course, more compatible than mainline views with the law of conservation of matter and energy that is now considered axiomatic in the scientific world.

A different understanding of creation has implications for our continuing relationship with God. In the mainline view, God placed the spirits that he created for us into the bodies that our parents created for us sometime between conception and birth. In the mainline view, He created us out of nothing so we are not really His children, only His creations. We only become His children if we are born again; at that time we become His sons and daughters. If we are never born again, we are everlastingly strangers to Him. We are only flawed projects.

Consider the effect of this doctrine on our agency and accountability. If God made our essential natures out of nothing then He is responsible for our goodness or badness. If we act badly throughout life, God should be punished; after all, He made us bad. If we act nobly throughout our lives, God should be rewarded since He is the one responsible for our goodness. We are merely His shop projects. We cannot be held accountable for our actions if we had no effect on our fundamental natures.

This is in stark contrast to LDS doctrine. While God has always acted to advance us, He did not make us out of nothing. We are eternal beings. In fact we take the New Testament description of Him as the Father of our spirits (Hebrews 12:9) very literally. Through all of eternity we had some reality and identity. God, our Perfect Father, helped us grow and develop (See Givens, 2010). At some point He advanced us from our primitive natures to something we call spirits. We do not know the process He used, but we know that He is literally our first parent; He is literally the Father of our Spirits. Every single human being is already one of His children. He is already committed to our growth and advancement. While an artist may forget a bad shop project, God will never forget us because we are literally His children!

The Children of God

So we start with Fatherhood. We are a vital part of His family. He cherishes each of us. He wants us back with Him.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; (Isaiah 49:15-16)
The next vital understanding of God is His reality. He is not an ill-defined rumor floating through the immensity of space. Adam and all of His children were created in His image. His image. Just as literally as Seth was created in the image of his father, Adam (Genesis 5:3), we are created in the image of God. We are like Him and He is like us in form and fundamental nature.

From the account of the creation, we read that God commanded all His creations to reproduce after their own kind. In the same breath, He says that we are created in His image. He is real, tangible, and corporeal. We are like Him.

Of course He is NOT limited and weak like we, but we are the spitting image of Him. And, when He is through helping us learn and grow here on earth, we will be even more like Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The Effect of the Doctrine

But the debate about God must extend beyond His descriptions of His physical being. The Good News is that He who commands us to love is the most loving being in the universe. He is also the pleasantest.

Heber C. Kimball provided a wonderful window on the soul of God:

Often when I have been in the presence of brother Brigham, we would feel such a buoyant spirit that when we began to talk we could not express our feelings, and so, "Hallelujah," says Brigham, "Glory to God," says I.  I feel it and say it.

Some of the brethren kind of turn their noses on one side at me when I make such expressions, but they would not do it if they knew God.  Such ones do not even know brothers Brigham and Heber; if
they did they would not turn a wry face at us.  I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being.  Why?  Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit.  That is one reason why I know; and another is–the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, "I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance."  That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.4, p.222, emphasis added).

Was there ever a more ennobling and encouraging doctrine than the reality and goodness of God? Regularly each Latter-day Saint sings glibly that “I am a child of God.” When the significance of that truth settles into our hearts, it changes everything. We travel life’s byways under the watchful eye of a Father who understands us, loves us, and wants us home with Him. 

Knowing the character of such a Father, helps us progress. We are never more like our Heavenly Father than when we love others as He loves us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (I John 4:11). 

Alma takes this doctrine to its logical conclusion when he says, “…and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.” (Mosiah 18:8-9.) When we feel our brotherhood and sisterhood and the watchful care of Father, we love each other with all our hearts.

In order for us to truly love God two things need to happen: First we have to know who He really is. I hope we will appreciate the remarkable latter-day insight we have into His availability, reality, and character. We must know that we are made in His image rather than making Him in the image of our doubts, fears, and uncertainty. Secondly, we must build a relationship with Him. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
 
I have no doubt that I will receive angry messages from indignant Christians who think that I have diminished and insulted God. I understand that our LDS view seems hopelessly unsophisticated and eccentric. I hope they will consider that making God more real does not necessarily make Him less divine, eternal, or powerful. I hope that, even if we do not agree on the details, we can be united in our awe for the Father in Heaven who oversees us all.

If you are interested in books, programs, retreats, or cruises by Brother Goddard, visit his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Wally/178676491370

References:

Ehat, A. F., & Cook, L. W. Cook (1994). The words of Joseph Smith. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University.

Givens, T. (2010). When souls had wings: Pre-mortal existence in Western thought. New York: Oxford University Press.

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