Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heavenly Parents in the Scriptures and in our Prayers

Joseph Smith brought the attention of his followers to the plural nature of the Hebrew word "Elohim," which is variously translated in the KJV of the Bible as "God," "gods," and even "angels." It was likely that Joseph wished to promote the idea of a council of gods. But to me, the plural nature of the word Elohim signifies that the God of the Bible is simultaneously both God and Goddess. Some have conjectured that the plural ending for God is used to augment its meaning, rather than to indicate plurality. I believe that the word Elohim both amplifies and multiplies. It is unfortunate that the "-him" ending of the word is confused in the English-speaker's mind with a masculine connotation, rather than the actual Hebrew plural ending "-im."

The word Elohim is a plural formed from the singular 'El (or perhaps 'Eloah) by adding -im to the word. This results in indeterminacy in both number and gender. Elohim is used in the Bible for both male gods and female gods. For example, 1 Kings 11:5 and 33 refer to the "goddesses (elohim) of the Sidonians." An unusual and startling grammatical feature of the word is that it is sometimes used with a plural verb form, in which case it is translated "gods." But other times Elohim is accompanied by a verb in the masculine singular. Translators have become accustomed to rendering Elohim in this case as a singular noun denoting the God of Israel, a singular Deity. However, I advocate the view that this single God consists of a unified male/female aspect. Thus we have verses such as Genesis 1:26: "And Elohim said, Let us make man in our image." I contend that the best explanation for the use of Elohim as the name/title of God is to indicate Divine duality of male and female.

Genesis 1:26 also argues against the conception of Elohim as an all-male, priesthood-holding Council of the Gods. Mankind was made in the image of Elohim, male and female. So this verse speaks either of a Divine Father and Mother, or else a Council consisting of both priests and priestesses.

In LDS theology the Godhead consists of three parts: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In my view what we speak of as "the Father" is in reality a Father/Mother God. I do not advocate the idea that the Holy Spirit is the feminine aspect of the Godhead. Having this conception of Deity, I believe that when we pray to God, we are actually praying to both Father and Mother, though convention dictates that we address prayers to a "Father."

One week ago in Church, my eyes flew open when I heard an opening prayer addressed to "Our Heavenly Parents" in Sacrament meeting. I glanced quickly around the room, but no one seemed to notice. It's the third time I've heard a reference to a Heavenly Mother in public prayer in three months (ok, so two of them were at the Sunstone Symposium :)) This interests me in light of an article written by Margaret Toscano and entitled "Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology?" Margaret writes of the role that the general Church membership plays in authorizing Church policy. She gives as an example the many conservative Mormon career women who are reshaping the way the Church views women in the workforce.

In Margaret's paper, she concludes that there is no place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology. The weight of Church practice and authority, she says, are against it. But when I sit in a Church service in a villa in this far-off country, and hear a Filipino priesthood holder pray to his Heavenly Parents, I wonder, and hope.


JohnR said...

My experience was that it was safe to mention Heavenly Mother as long as she was always paired with Heavenly Father. Back when I had a little bit of belief, I made it a point to always mention Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Parents, or Jana as my goddess, and the bishopric always gave me a thumbs up (sometimes literally).

J G-W said...

Fascinating... I've heard many mentions of "Heavenly Parents." I frequently make such mentions. But I've never, ever heard a prayer addressed to our Heavenly Parents. Are you sure this individual didn't get a talking to by the bishop afterwards? (Or maybe the bishop was afraid to make an issue of it.)

The official policy seems to be occasional mention of Heavenly Mother in the context of the eternal pattern which we are to follow through eternal marriage is about the extent of discussion allowed. (And singing of the hymn "Oh My Father.")

Your conception of the Council of the Gods would seem to fit... Joseph's "Quorum of the Anointed" in Nauvoo apparently consisted of priesthood holding men and women. Had Joseph not been martyred in 1844, it is possible he would gradually have moved toward this model of leadership, and Mormon women would have been the first in modern Christianity to hold priesthood permanently. And this theology, of a Heaven ruled by Gods and Goddesses, might have become official.

Now we may have to await the millennium for that to come to pass...

Anonymous said...

Hi: just thought you might like another bit of Hebrew: the word translated in Malachi 4:6 as "fathers" - as in "turn the heart of the children to their fathers" - is ABOT. That is AB, the masculine word for 'father'(as in the name ABRAHAM - father of many nations), with the FEMININE PLURAL ending = OT. So you have both masculine AB and feminine OT which join to create, not FATHERS , but PARENTS. Just try to do genealogy and ignore the women!