Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Robbery: To Be Equal With God

A few weeks ago there was a discussion at Mormon Coffee, an anti-Mormon evangelical Christian blog, about the LDS doctrine of progression and the human potential to become gods.  I felt the doctrine did not differ excessively from the type of divine potential expressed by Christian author C.S. Lewis (our favorite dry-Mormon!):

“It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

A commenter named "Germit" told me that I was misquoting the best.  He said that in this quote Lewis IS talking about an eternal progression of sorts, but attaining to the status of any part of the Trinity is far from his theology. Aaron Shafovaloff  corrected me in my interpretation of Lewis by saying that Christians don’t believe that we can ever be equal with God in knowledge or power. We will always be inferior “gods”, learning, subservient, dependent under the one Supreme God who is Supreme over all “gods” and worlds and universes and reality.  From what I understand of Mormon doctrine, we believe this, too.  We certainly do not aspire to attain to the status of any part of the Trinity.  Brigham Young declared: "Intelligent beings are organized to become Gods, even the Sons of God, to dwell in the presence of the Gods" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.245).  In his view, mankind would remain the "Sons of God" and  always be beneath their Heavenly Father in an eternal hierarchy.

Now, I'm all for maintaining our distance from evangelical Christianity.  I believe we do have some very different ideas of the nature of God, and that our doctrines are not really compatible.  But on this particular point I felt unsettled because I feel we are being misrepresented.  An informal poll of a few mainstream Mormons has shown me that none of us think we will ever attain to the same status as God.  As far as I know, even our early authorities did not teach we would ever be equal with God the Father.  Am I wrong? 

Readers, what is your interpretation of eternal progression?  In what way will we always be inferior to our Heavenly Creator?  Do you know of any Mormon teachings which would suggest otherwise?

31 comments:

adam said...

I don't believe we'll ever be "equal" with God, because obviously, we're all a bit behind. I'm sure, however, there are plenty of LDS folk that believe otherwise.

Perhaps it comes down to whether one believes in a God who is progressing eternally, or in one who is not--both camps exist in LDS circles (Eugene England has a great essay on this).

Another problem with comparing doctrines like this at Mormon Coffee is the completely different meanings of words, i.e. "attaining to the status of any part of the Trinity" ... obviously if one believes in the Trinity, then becoming equal to God is a pretty far out there idea.

Mormon Heretic said...

BiV,

Great minds think alike! I just blogged on this topic too, although I have a slightly different angle.

If we are to become one with Christ, just as Christ became one with the Father, it seems to not be robbery to be equal with God. Perhaps we are a little behind at this point, but I think it is possible to "catch up" in the eternities.

It seems this idea is much more accepted in Eastern Orthodox churches, than Western Catholic/Protestant churches.

S.Faux said...

I have attended LDS churches all across the nation, and all I have ever heard is that God the Father will be our God the Father for all eternity. We are subordinate to Him.

I think the doctrine of eternal progression, exaltation, theosis, divinization, or whatever you want to call it, is something we will have to learn much more about in the next existence. Yes, we can become like God, joint-heirs with Christ, and in some sense crowned. Do those facts make us equivalent to the Father? Well, let me put it this way: No one has told me.

Rich said...

There's no consensus in Protestant circles. My dear Protestant friend once told me we are less than worms; in fact, we are like dead corpses floating down a river, and from time to time God wades in and grabs one of us and drags our lifeless body out and revives it "according to his good will and pleasure", so we are unable to even choose to be saved (his explanation of Grace).

Bizarre.

The scriptures (John 17) teach that we may become one with God and Christ, and that God will love us and be one with us as (s)he loves Christ and is one with Christ. This sounds like equality to me. As to the details, the student doesn't surpass the master until the master stops learning or dies, so in that sense, (s)he forever remains our master, unless (s)he decides (s)he's had enough and is ready for a break! ;o)

Zen said...

As Terrifying as it is to contemplate, I simply do not see where the scriptures agree with what you guys are saying. Both in the New Testament and the D&C, it tells us that "we shall be like him" 1 Jn 3:2 Section 88 goes further and says we shall be made equal with him.

I think we find the false doctrine of eternal inferiority to be comforting, because of what it demands of us.

Now, if any of you could correct and point to a defect in my reasoning, I am all ears.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

"Bored in Vernal", you can read more of my thoughts on eternal progression here:

Christians have a far greater view of eternal progression than Mormons do

Zen said...

Aaron, by what authority do you decide what Christians do or do not believe? Or are you just going with what statistically, most people believe? Because frankly, I don't give a !#$% what the majority says.

I am not trying to be contentious, but it sounds like you are trying to put your interpretation as the only and definitive one.

Sometimes God does not give the full answer and expects us to think it through. But that does not make that interpretation authoritative.

Lucy said...

But...this earthly learning experience we chose is only a moment in a huge span of time for a purpose not fully known to us. We only have a glimpse. Do we not have the opportunity to learn and grow more in the times of eternity?

Bored in Vernal said...

Mormon Heretic, Thanks for the link. That was very interesting.

...in the eastern expression of theosis, it is stated so strongly that Christ became man, that we might become God that most western thinkers pull back from that. It sounds like a kind of heresy of some sort.

Yes, it does seem like heresy, and I guess that is what the Christians are objecting to. But there is plenty of scriptural support for divinization.

Bored in Vernal said...

Aaron, thank you for your link. I would like to respond to your thoughts but it will take me some time. Please check back!

mormongnostic said...

I agree with Adam that you can find both positions defended within mormon theology.

But is the issue really equality with God? Or is it apotheosis itself?

I mean because on the Brigham model we become, on t2, what God was at t1, and we become at t3 what God was at t2, and so forth. Its just like being 5 years younger than another person, you eventually reach their past ages.

But orthodox Christians would deny that creatures can ever be what God was at t1 regardless of how much "progression" we attain. So it seems to me that the question of whether we are equal with God at a certain time seems somewhat besides the point.

Last Lemming said...

I believe that there is not knowledge or power that the Father currently has that we cannot eventually obtain. In that sense, we can become his equal. But there is a status the Father has that we can never achieve; namely, he is the being who brought to pass our immortality and eternal life. Nothing we can ever do will change that, so in that sense we can never be his equal.

Doc said...

BiV,
No less a conservative uberMormon that the critics love than Bruce R. McConkie had something I think rather profound in this matter. He stated that God can be both perfect and progressing by gaining glory through his creations, even as they gain glory through their creations. In otherwords, God is glorified by what we achieve, so instead of rank and power being hierarchical in the mortal sense of the world, the hierarchy is something completely different.
I have a LOT of disagreements with Bruce R. McConkie on a lot of subjects, but this one really does resonate with me. Far from being blasphemous, understood this way, deification really points out the ultimate miracle of the atonement. It allows all of us to progress and become something greater and makes God that much more miraculous in the process.
I don't think it so radical to say that limiting our potential as children of God is the real heresy here. We stunt the power of the atonement when we deny our origin and potential. When we recognized what has made it all possible, of course God always remains much greater than we are, but is also greater because of what we are.

ama said...

This is awesome! I was just preparing a post on this topic and I'm glad you bring this up. I'll be posting it later this week.

If you read just the scriptures it is conflicting because there are a lot of scriptures that talk about how if we're faithful we'll receive a crown of glory on the right hand of God and be equal with Jesus. Other scriptures say that Jesus is equal to God so therefore we would be equal to God if we're faithful. For references look up D&C 88:107; 1 Peter 5:6; Revelation 3:20-21.

On the other hand, other scriptures talk about how we will not be equal to God but kings and priest unto God. See DC 76:56-58; 1 Cor 8:5-8 says there is only one God and we won't be gods, but Psalm 82 says we are gods.

It can get confusing.

My personal take on it is that since God created us and both Jesus and Heavenly Father are Gods that created us, we will never be "equal" with them, but similar to them. It's impossible to be equal with them because Jesus was part God and part man. We're all human...no god.

www.graceforgrace.com

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

"Bored in Vernal",

Please gives me a heads up via e-mail me when you respond to my thoughts on eternal progression.

aaronshaf[at]gmail{dot}com

SilverRain said...

God is our Father and will always be our Father. Nothing we accomplish lessens that in any way, rather anything we attain or are given only increases His glory as well as ours. It glorifies Him for us to become equal with Him, much as it "glorifies" a mortal father when his child becomes a happy, well-adjusted, contributing member of society.

I would also have to say that when a person becomes one with God, any concept of a hierarchy becomes utterly meaningless. I suspect there is no subordination or dominance in a divine life. Arguing about whether or not we'll ever be equal with God, whether or not God is progressing and whose doctrine is right is rather like sitting in Plato's cave, arguing about the sun. Our world right now is the cave, and we can't even see out of it without God showing us the way. Even when He does show us, some things are beyond our ability to bring back and describe or explain. We are far too bound in mortal concepts of hierarchy and power to truly communicate the beauty and glory of eternal life—of God's gifts to us.

The sort of God men create for themselves in their own image is the sort that would create inferior creatures to rule over forever. The sort of God who would send His beloved Son to redeem those fallen creatures and lift them to a status equal to His, should they be willing—that wishes to surround Himself with children who can grow to become as He is, not subordinates who will never be anything but servants—that is the sort of God which no mortal mind can comprehend. How many of us, given all power, would have as the prime desire of our hearts the sharing of it? When (or if) we become equal to God, it will be because He made us so, in His own image. How, then, could it be anything like robbery? No, I believe in a Christ who has the power to purify me, even me, a lost and sinning soul, so I might be worthy to study in the halls of heaven until I can grow to be as my Father is, and please Him. If the belief in such an infinitely encompassing and uplifting atonement expels me in the eyes of some from the ranks of the "Christian", then so be it, but this is what I believe. This is what the Holy Spirit has confirmed in my heart.

Crusty said...

"From what I understand of Mormon doctrine, we believe this, too."

Who cares what mormon doctrine says, and why would you ever look to official doctrine to find out what you (as a part of "we") believe? Mormon doctrine is always changing, depending on who's disseminating it and when it's disseminated. It's definitely not as God is, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why not use mormon doctrine as a possible suggestion rather than fact? Why not let the religion have its beliefs and then figure out what YOU personally believe? Why should there ever be a question as to what "we" believe? Be in the religion but not of the religion.

President Monson told me yesterday that if you believe in eternity, then you have to believe in eternal progression and unlimited growth potential. He further said that this applies to all eternal beings, regardless of their place in eternal progression or their standing after "final judgment."

He asked me, "how can you possibly believe in eternity and also believe that an eternal being might be limited to one level of progression or another (for example, the telestial or terrestrial kingdoms)...it's not logical. Furthermore, where would a merciful and just God draw the line between one person and the next, when there are infinite variances between the infinite numbers of God's children?" He said he thinks that all eternal beings will progress at infinitely varying paces, in infinitely varying ways, to infinite levels of progession.

President Monson and I think that a person could progress to a level similar to God's and beyond, depending on God's level and pace of progression. We believe the student COULD possibly become the master. Why wouldn't that be possible? There are infinite possibilities.

Note: I didn't really talk to President Monson (yesterday or ever). I just figured y'all would agree with me more if you thought my ideas came from THE prophet, which shouldn't be the case. You are your own prophet.

Bookslinger said...

It looks to me like our Heavenly Father will (or maybe has) become a Heavenly Grandfather when His children become Heavenly Fathers-and-Mothers.

So that then begs the question: Do we have a Heavenly Grandfather? I can't seem to escape the obvious answer.

Clean Cut said...

This was a fascinating post. I've been wondering why we don't see more of this kind of discussion in LDS blogs. It's interesting that we know some things, but there are disagreements over other things. Such is the case with this situation. But it's great to read other's thoughts. I appreciate you for originally posting this, and I appreciate the comments--especially SilverRain's. I feel so much truth in the statement that whatever we become only adds to God's glory, and that as we become one with Him, hierarchy becomes meaningless.

I remember hearing, as a kid, about "becoming a god of my own planet"--but not from official sources. I wasn't appalled by that idea then, but I've also come to know that that is not "Mormon doctrine" and not something I really believe, but not something I can totally disbelieve. But there is not way I'm going to think myself so important and great that I would never cease praising and worshipping the Godhead for eternity. There is no way I could ever get over all that has been done for me. No matter what I become in eternity, I will will always (eternally) recognize I was completely and utterly dependent on God and the merits, mercy, and grace of His Son.

So I"m just not going to spend much time or put any stock into things we just don't know beyond my current covenants. There are some "far out there" statements that some people have made, and some suckers both in and out of the church make the mistake of thinking that's what all Mormons must believe.

What I do believe is that we can and need to strive to become like God--not become Him or replace Him--but become LIKE Him and one with Him. That, too me, is the plan. I don't have any greater ambition than that. So that's what I say when I go onto other blogs and try to clarify those common misperceptions--sometimes intentional misperceptions about us that are taught more in other churches about us than we teach among ourselves! But I realize that I can only speak for myself and not all Mormons as a whole since there isn't a standard or defined understanding.

On the other hand, I'm not going to rule something out if He has greater plans for us than we even realize. But I'm not one to dwell in speculation.

I tend to think that it would be better if more of us Latter-day Saints would more often celebrate our ignorance rather than pretend we have all the answers to the complexities of this life or eternal life.

I enjoy "marinating my mind" with questions a lot more than I enjoy feeling smug in thinking I have all the right answers. I take some gratification in all that I do know, but I think there should be a greater satisfaction, even an exhilaration, to realize how much potential we haven't even begun to tap into or understand waiting for us on the other side of the veil.

Mormon Heretic said...

Clean cut--well said. I really agree with your last 2 paragraphs. Sometimes I think that us mormons act as if we really know more than we do.

Bored in Vernal said...

Silver Rain and Clean Cut:
I love both of your comments, and I think they are also very representational of mainstream Mormon thinking. Thank you for your contributions to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

This is really just a semantics argument. Let me try to clarify it by using the words that work for me:

The way I understand it is "God" is, if you wanted to call it that, a rank. Once you have that rank, you have all the knoledge and power there is. In other words, our Father is not increasing in knoledge or capabilities, because he already is all-knowing and all-mighty.

He is, however, eternally increasing in dominion, in helping His posterity become like Him.

We are His children, and will always be His children. We will never be "equal" to him in dominion, because any increase we have is also His increase. If we become like Him, it is in Knoledge and Power. But we will remain subject to our Father, children of Him in an eternal family.

Carlos U.

Acolyte4236 said...

The difference between the LDS and the Eastern Orthodox ideas is this. For the Orthodox, we become partakers of the divine nature via the activities or energies of God and not the divine essence, which remains unparticipatable. What are the energies? They are activities such as knowledge, will, divine light, love, etc. We do not become another instance of the same kind of being God is.

On the LDS view humans become another instance of the same type of being.

Anonymous said...

The very nature of the concept of eternal progression is that some day we will be where God the Father is right now, but he will have progressed also and will not be where we are when we get there. Ain't gonna happen.

It is once again the Church's doctrinal greased pole.

I also want to point out about this word that is being thrown about a lot. Evangelism. In simple terms it means followers of the New Testament specifically the four Gospels.

To call people evangelists invokes the idea that they are weird BIble thumpers who take the scriptures out of context and preach fire and brimstone. That may cover some of us Biblical Christians but not most of us. I am a strict follower of the BIble as the Word of God, I recognize no other Gospel or anyone claiming to be a big (P) Prophet, because I know that although they may bear at times good fruit that they are seated in deception by their mere nature in how they proclaim themselves and how they Prophecy.

I recognize no other Testament.

I believe in the Gifts of the Spirit and in of which the most desirable is the gift of prophesy. But today we who have that gift, prophecy in part and it requires two or more with the gift to prophecy, because each prophet (and there are thousands) is only capable of getting one little piece of the puzzle. Therefore, true prophets "compare notes". Then it requires confirmation by the body of Christ. At the end if we are so directed we would say "so says the Holy Ghost" not "so says the Lord". That ended with John the Baptist, and is a dead give away of a false Prophet.

Christ sent the comforter to communicate to us until his return. No longer would we have a Prophet speaking for God. Those with the gift are to travel in bands when they prophecy. That special tool was changed and divided up and now requires confirmation so prophets are to cling together and to deliver the complete picture, never new scripture but only the revelation of the meaning of that which has been hidden in plain site.

That is the significant consequence of the veil being torn. The separation between man and God was taken away by the Son for the purpose of reconciling us back to God the Father. We are to be one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father. How is that for a Trinity.

When we come to know the bible, there is a clear picture that most have been blinded to because they insist on chasing rabbits down holes. True understanding makes the fodder produced by so called "Prophets" well...silly.

Although I do not care if someone calls me an evangelist, it would not be the whole description of who I am. I prefer Biblical Christian, but call me what you will.

David

Bored in Vernal said...

David,

Biblical Christian it is.
I have thoughts on Isaiah that I would like to discuss with you. Can you email me?
clbruno at hotmail

Anonymous said...

I sent my email. Let me know if you got it. I do not use it much anymore.

David

Anonymous said...

I was just reading in D&C 132 and as a person inclined to embrace feminism I thought is interesting that women can have multiple husbands. Good for them!

What do you think?

David

Bored in Vernal said...

a little light Sunday reading?

Anonymous said...

I like a good little fiction now and again.

David

Anonymous said...

Your not re-writing Isaiah are you?

David

Anonymous said...

Ok think of this from the human perspective. When your child is old and wise enough, you hope they have their own life. ie. Get married have a family and a job etc. Now if they have the knowledge of say God then will they not also have the knowledge to be subordinate to you out of love and the law that they will know? I really don’t see the complexity of this. After all it is natural so to speak.