A visitor to the blog who is investigating the Church posed the following question over on the “Submit a Question” tab:
“One of the more complicated questions I have asked in my 2 1/2 years of being an investigator is one I’ve been convinced has no answer (at least for now). And yet, still, the thoughts linger at the back of my mind and the difficulty in understanding the concept is quite possibly what prevents me from gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I’d be interested to hear your theory…
The concept of exaltation ultimately means that Heavenly Father, Himself, went through the process to obtain godhood. My questions about this are two-fold…
First, the Bible (and the Book of Mormon for that matter), describe Heavenly Father as “eternal” and “the same yesterday, today and forever”. If Heavenly Father went through a process of exaltation himself, that leads to the conclusion that He Himself had a god, and a creator. So, my question is, how can Heavenly Father be both created and eternal?
Second, as a Christian the difficulty I have with this belief that Heavenly Father was a man like you or I that went through an exaltation process to obtain godhood seems to (and I’m not saying it does) diminish His divinity. If there is a god who created Heavenly Father, is that god not more grand then our Heavenly Father? ….How does a Mormon reconcile the belief of exaltation and still maintain that this Heavenly Father is supreme and divine, greater than all other gods, as the Bible describes Him?
Sorry for the length. I’ve come to understand that I probably won’t ever get a complete answer to this question. But I really appreciate your thought and sincerity in the way you answer other hard questions, so, I thought I’d pick your brain a little bit. Thanks!”
Both are great questions. Part of the problem with these concepts is that members of the Church, especially those who were raised in the Church and therefore might not understand how unique their theology is in this respect, talk about this issue too casually and too superficially. They will repeat the oft-quoted couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man might become,” and think that’s all you need to say.
We have to start with what we know (assuming for the sake of argument that Mormonism is true and therefore we “know” these things):
1. We know that God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone. This was one of the most important aspects of the First Vision, as it dispelled conventional Christian thinking, developed from Greek philosophy, that physicality is inherently corrupt and evil.
2. We know that Christ was mortal, died, and was resurrected as a perfect and glorious being.
3. We know that all mankind will be resurrected and that we have an opportunity to be “joint heirs” with Christ.
Those core doctrines carry with them certain principles. For example, since Christ is perfect and is deserving of our adoration and worship, then passing through mortality does not necessarily diminish one’s divinity. Second, the physicality of God the Father and the potential for us, His mortal children, to become joint-heirs with Christ form the framework of the LDS doctrine of “eternal progression.”
Beyond these accepted doctrines, we actually know very little from any of the scriptures about what eternal progression means on either end of the infinite line. We have only glimpses and ideas about the origins of Man or God. We teach that God is the Father of our spirits, and that before that we existed as “intellegences,” but our cosmology does not go farther back than that. The Father promises that all He has will be given to us, but I think we delude ourselves to imagine that we understand the scope of that. I accept the apostle Paul’s description of God as “him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” (Eph. 3:20). I do not believe that we can even conceive of the blessings our Father is waiting to give us in the eternities.
Because of our limited hindsight and foreknowledge, we are left to speculate. However, we should be careful about the assumptions that we use to bolster our speculation. For instance, we may be going too far in asserting that our Father in Heaven was once a “man like us.” While he must have been mortal, that does not necessarily mean that he was “just like us,” any more than Jesus Christ was like us: Similar in many respects, but decidedly different in others.
As to how we reconcile the doctrine of eternal progression with what is (or isn’t) in the Bible, I have several thoughts on the matter (aside from citing passages that most certainly do support the notion).
First, it is important to remember that most of the Bible was written during periods of limited spiritual understanding. From the middle of Exodus on, the Old Testament addressed a people who were either living under the limited light of the Law of Moses or who were completely apostate. The Gospels focus on the life and ministry of Christ,with the doctrinal depth of the New Testament coming from apostolic letters written to first-generation Christians. The apostles had their hands full with keeping new disciples centered between the theological tug-of-war between reversion to the law of Moses and submission to outside pagan influences. Dealing with much more than maintaining the purity of essential doctrines was a luxury they didn’t have. Simply put, the Bible is true, but few of the inspired writers were in a position to teach deep doctrine.
Second, it is a mistake to take the “I am a jealous God” edicts of the Old Testament and try to apply them to the doctrine of eternal progression. In the Old Testament, God was warning the Israelites not to worship the gods of the nations around them, nor to worship gods made of their own hands. Those injunctions have nothing to do with man’s divine potential. Keep in mind that nothing in Mormon theology suggests that we will ever be equal to God. We have no justification in even entertaining the thought that our Father in Heaven ever will be anything other than God to us.
Third, we do believe that God is eternal and everlasting (as, indeed, we believe that everything is eternal). But aside from such a literal view, it is also true that he is everlastingly “our” God. It was He that organized us as intelligences, fathered our spirits and created the heavens and the Earth. He will eternally be our God, as it is to Him that we must answer in judgment. To us, there is no other God, and therefore He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Fourth, there is probably good reason that God has not revealed more on this subject. It may be that the fullness of the truth is something that we could not comprehend with mortal minds. Or, perhaps, He simply wants us more focused on our becoming like Him than on deconstructing His nature. I assume that no matter how much God revealed about His nature or our destiny, there would still be an infinite amount for us to learn, and therefore He reveals enough for us to understand those things essential to our progression right now. What God was like 500 billion years ago makes no difference to my immediate discipleship. It will not impact my decisions about living a virtuous life, loving my neighbor, or having faith and hope in Christ. We cannot know everything now, but we can know what matters.
What matters is that we are literally the children of our Father in Heaven; that He has a plan for our happiness; and that He will hold no blessing back from us if we strive to obey to His commandments. What matters now is that we follow what light He has provided to us and trust that it leads to the best possible destination.