Mormonism and the nature of God/Deification of man/Gods of their own planets

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Questions


It is claimed that Mormons believe that they can push themselves higher in a type of 'celestial pecking order.' This is often expressed by the claim that Latter-day Saint men wish to become "gods of their own planets." One critic even extends this to our "own universe,"

Mormons teach that by obedience to all the commandments of Mormonism, a Mormon may attain the highest degree of heaven and ultimately become a god, creating and ruling over his own universe. Do you believe that? Is this your ultimate personal goal?

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org, (February 25, 2014)


Since human conceptions of reality are necessarily limited in mortality, religions struggle to adequately articulate their visions of eternal glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” These limitations make it easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture. For example, scriptural expressions of the deep peace and overwhelming joy of salvation are often reproduced in the well-known image of humans sitting on their own clouds and playing harps after death. Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.


A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, and most Christians would agree that inspired music can be a tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.

Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. They see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children, in the impulse to reach out in compassionate service to others, in the moments they are caught off guard by the beauty and order of the universe, in the grounding feeling of making and keeping divine covenants. Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated. As the scriptures teach, “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”

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Answer


Members of the Church—like early Christians—believe in human deification or theosis. They aver that this doctrine is taught in the Bible and by modern revelation. However, what this doctrine means or entails is beyond human comprehension anyway. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," taught Paul (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Most members of the Church realize that they have enough on their plates to do and become through Christian discipleship and keeping their covenants. They do not spend much time concerned about the details of their future state. They are simply confident that they will be happy, in families, and back in the presence of God where they will continue to do His will.

Certainly we can have the end in mind, remembering the relationship of Father to child is crucial. He will always, through all eternity, be our Father and our God. Still, it would be unwise to jump the gun and assume we are practically almost there; we have plenty to do in the meantime, and an eternal and abiding need for the grace of Christ to compensate for our manifest inadequacies.

The critics' accusations along these lines are a caricature of LDS belief, and omit virtually everything of importance in their discussion of this doctrine.


Common misrepresentation: Joseph Smith does not teach polytheism or "supplanting God" with his doctrine of human divination

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[1]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point....[The] [s]econd [is that] even though Smith says that believers will become gods, he also says that

they will be kings and priests to God, a phrase that qualifies his alleged polytheism. Clearly, the faithful are meant to share in the divine power and glory, and thus they too will have mastery over life and death, in the sense of being able to creatively participate in the creation, sustenance, and governance of life. Divine power seems to be the universal constant in this teaching, but it is not so diffuse that it has no source. God’s power will be shared, but it will still be God’s.[2]:96–97

Detailed Analysis

The caricature: Mormons wishing to "get their own planet"

Mormons, along with many other Christian denominations, believe in deification or theosis, based on the teaching that we can become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Little is known, though much might be speculated, about the specific details of our potential under this doctrine. Reducing it to ruling a planet caricatures a profound and complex belief. The use of the word “planet” makes Mormons seem more like sci-fi enthusiasts than devout Christians.

This isn’t just a quibble about semantics. Claims that Mormons hope for “their own planets” almost always aim to disrespect and marginalize, not to understand or clarify. The reality is that we seek eternal life, which we consider to be a life like that of our Father in Heaven. We consider our immediate task on Earth to learn to understand and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than speculate on what life might be like if we achieve exaltation. Specifics about the creation of worlds and the ability to govern them upon achieving eternal life are not clarified in Latter-day Saint scripture. Attempts to portray these concepts as simply wanting to “get our own planet” are a mockery of Latter-day Saint beliefs.

The reality: Latter-day Saints wishing to become like their Father in Heaven

Much criticism of Joseph Smith and the Church in general stems from a teaching regarding the eternal potential of mankind.[3] The Church believes that men and women are the "offspring" of Heavenly Parents (see Acts 17:28-29) composed of the same eternal substance (see DC 93:33-35) and hence we have divine possibilities through the grace of Christ. Latter-day Saints believe that they can achieve a life like that of our Father in Heaven. This implies that one can eventually participate in similar works, among which would be the creation of worlds. In 2001, Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted,

The real life we’re preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things “so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them” (Henry B. Eyring, quoting Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, October 2002.)

Elder's Eyring and Kimball are not the only ones to make such references. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Fielding Smith all associated becoming like our Heavenly Father with the creation of worlds, and the populating of these worlds with spirit children.

However, there are many names for (and many interpretations of) this belief in and out of the Church. There are various schools of thought on what it might mean for a person to become a "god" after this life. On this view, Brigham Young didn't teach of countless gods doing their own thing in countless universes, each out for their own concerns. According to Brigham, there will be no such separate kingdoms of personal power

...to yourself, by yourself, and for yourself, regardless of every other creature.
But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead...If we fancy that we have an independent interest here and in the world to come, we shall fail in getting any of it.
Your interest must be concentrated in the head on the earth, and all of our interest must center in the Godhead in eternity, and there is no durable interest in any other channel.[4]

Along these lines, consider the interesting sermon by Heber C. Kimball from 1856. In this discourse, President Kimball tangentially referred to deification, not as a glorious declaration that we will become gods or godlike, but to remind his listeners not to put the cart before the horse. We ought to consider becoming true "Saints" before focusing too much on being gods.

Heber said:

Many think that they are going right into the celestial kingdom of God, in their present ignorance, to at once receive glories and powers; that they are going to be Gods, while many of them are so ignorant, that they can see or know scarcely anything. Such people talk of becoming Gods, when they do not know anything of God, or of His works; such persons have to learn repentance, and obedience to the law of God; they have got to learn to understand angels, and to comprehend and stick to the principles of this Church.
…I bear testimony of this, and I wish you would listen to counsel and lay aside every sin that doth so easily beset you, and turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart.</ref>

Similarly, during the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith is said to have taught:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel--you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.[5]

The need for divine grace

Main article: Neglecting grace?

Christ said "be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect" (see Matthew 5:48) and members of the Church tend to take that charge literally. The trouble is, some Saints might feel they can or even must achieve this impossible goal through their own efforts. In conversations about grace and works Mormons are quick to quote: "faith without works is dead," (see James 2:20), often in reaction to extreme conservative Protestantism's claims that one can be saved by faith alone without a concurrent change in behavior and life wrought by that faith. In this respect, the Latter-day Saints share far more with the early Christians than they do with modern conservative Protestantism.

Members must also remember, however, that works without faith is also dead, and Heber seems to be trying to express that message.

Here we see an early example of a Church leader discussing "grace," though he still maintains a perspective in which works are essential. It is for us, today, to focus on today, and retain a remission of sins relying on Christ, as the light grows brighter and brighter until the perfect day, when the rest of this doctrine can be figured out more clearly. In the meantime, our probation continues, and Heber had a few pieces of advice to impart:

We cannot become perfect, without we are assisted by our heavenly Father. We must be faithful and of one heart, and one mind, and let every man and woman take course to build up and not pull down. See that you save your grain, that you may save yourselves from the wicked of the world. Try to take care of every thing that is good to eat, for this is the work of the Lord God Almighty, and we shall have times that will test the integrity of this people, that will test who is honest and who is not.
Omitting prayer is calculated to lead the mind away from those duties which are incumbent upon us; then let us attend to our prayers and all our duties, and you will know that brother Brigham and his brethren have told you of these things...
There are trying times ahead of you, do you not begin to feel and see them? If you do not, I say you are asleep. I wish that the spirit which rests upon a few individuals could be upon you, everyone of you, it would be one of the most joyful times that brother Brigham and I ever saw with the Saints of God upon this earth.[6]

Notes

  1. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  2. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).
  3. This article was based on a blog post, Blair Hodges, "Becoming Saints before gods," lifeongoldplates.com (8 February 2008), last accessed (28 December 2008) off-site (used with permission). Due to the nature of a wiki project, the text may have been subsequently modified.
  4. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:26-28.
  5. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:306–307. Volume 6 link
  6. Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 4:1-7.



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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