Thursday, October 9, 2008

God is Three. God is One. And We Can Be One With God.

I've learned a lot from my blogging interactions with people not of our faith, as well as from my recent reading of "How Wide The Divide?" by Craig Blomberg (an Evangelical scholar) and Stephen Robinson (a Mormon scholar). One of the biggest things I realized, and it's simply huge, is that the Latter-day Saints are unique in their understanding that we are of the same essence or species of God. Evangelical Christians believe we are a different species from God, who "chose at some point to make creatures distinct from himself--human beings--with the capacity to have a personal realationship with him" (Blomberg).

Thus, Stephen Robinson writes: "The real sticking point is not what the LDS think of Christ and his gospel, but rather the different ontological frame or view of the nature of the universe into which Mormons fit the gospel. For Latter-day Saints also believe in the literal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity. We believe that God and humans are the same species of being and that all men and women were his spiritual offspring in a premortal existence. The main purpose of the gospel of Christ is therefore not so much to get us to heaven as it is to get us home."

If people don't understand this, then no wonder why we don't understand each other or we talk past each other. No wonder why other Christians would be confused that we believe we can become like God. For us, we are literally His children and therefore want to grow up to be like Him. We have the seeds of divinity in us. But for them, we'll always be different than God. Because Plato and Greek philosophy said that the "created" must always be separate from the "Creator", or the divine separate from the non-divine, the common thought that went into the councils and creeds was how to reconcile the fact that Christ was divine but also became a created man on earth.

We may believe in the same New Testament teachings of Jesus, but we definitely believe differently about the nature of God. I happen to like our understanding of God much more. :) I would find it hard to have faith in a mysterious and undefinable God that created "human beings" and put them on earth as if we're some kind of pet in a zoo or fish in a fish bowl, yet capable of having some kind of "relationship" with God--our owner or creator. I have faith in God and relate to Him and love Him as my Father in Heaven, who I lived with before I came to earth and wants me to return back to Him, but having grown from my experience here. So this is a fundamental difference, and I believe it's key to mutual understanding.

Incidentally, isn't it interesting that both "sides" can read the same bible and yet come away with such a different concept of God? Yet we each feel adamant that our interpretation is fully biblical. To quote Robinson again: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We accept the biblical doctrine that God is three and that God is also one, but we reject the post-New Testament attempts to explain how these two truths are to be reconciled."

It has been helpful for me to think of the "Trinity" (three persons in one being) as a solution to this "problem", that people saw that the scriptures talk of "one eternal God", and yet also that not only the Father was God, but Christ was God and fully divine, as well as the Holy Spirit. It seems that the Trinity was simply a solution for people who were afraid that worshipping three Gods, when the scriptures also clearly say that they are, or there is, "one God", would be polytheism. But Latter-day Saints also recognize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as one "God"--or the Godhead--without feeling there is a polytheism problem. Since all three of them are united as one in practically every way (except physically), we have no problem in thinking of them as "one eternal God" in three persons.

We even take it one step further and really believe that the Bible means what is says when Christ prays to His Father for his disciples, that "they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). What mercy and blessed grace indeed! Through the atonement of Christ, He will make us divine and change our natures so that we can be at one again with God, just as Christ is one with God. Yes, the word gospel means good news, and this is most definitely "good news"! What a testament to the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ!


Kalola said...

This may not be on topic, but I have a few questions to ask.

What did we look like in the pre-existence? Did we have substance? I ask this question since we are taught that we came to earth to obtain a physical body. Do our Heavenly Parents have physical bodies? If they do, wouldn't we have had physical bodies as well?

If we were "spirits" in the pre-existence, what did we look like?

Also, I've heard reference to "intelligences." What is an "intelligence?" Does it have form?

Sometimes I get all confused. I'm hoping you can answer my questions.

Anonymous said...

NOYDMB writes...
Kalola, there are many things that we do not know about the premortal existence. We suppose that we looked a lot like we would like as adults.

Substance, depends on what your definition of substance is. Physical, no, spiritual yes. Some people describe spirit as unsubstantial, but LDS describe spirit as substance.

Scripturally, we know that Heavenly Father has physical body that is permanently connected to his spiritual body. We suppose our h.m. does too, but scripturally we do not know. But we also do not know anything at all about how spirit children are created in the premortal existence, and one couldn't say one way or the other that we would HAVE to have physical bodies. It would appear that we wouldn't.

Fianlly, re intelligences, there are differing opinions on "intelligences". Some church leaders believe that intelligences were a pre-spirit birth form of a person, in which case we have no idea what the form would be. Other leaders believe that the intelligences simply refers to a spirit, and therefore we would know the form. In any case, a lot of supposition. Incidentally, not much of this is important to know if we will repent and turn to Christ, and be sanctified to deification. I don't mind that we don't know so much, because there are much more important things that we DO know about.

Hope that helps.

NM said...

This book has had mixed reviews, but can I recommend a book titled, "The Shack", by William Young.

I've only recently read it, and I agree with some of the critics, that there are some major flaws, but if we keep in mind that the story is merely fiction, the book does a good job of explaining the Trinity =)

I hope you and family are all well =) And as always, I look forward to more of your posts!


J+C Wood said...

I imagine the 'Trinity-God to human relationship' more like a 'Master to dog relationship' than a zoo or a fish tank.

As humans we can have a real relationship with the family dog. I can love my dog even though he is a different species. My dog has different emotions and much less capacity than a human, but my dog loves me in his sphere and I love him in mine. We have a relationship. I can never make a dog a human. A good dog is loyal, trusting and faithful to his master (not to mention lovable). God is good so the idea of toying with an inferior species doesn't enter the picture.

That is the type of relationship I imagine evangelical Christians have with God. Perhaps it would be better to say that most people are sheep, the prophets are the dogs, and God is the Good Shepherd. This make some intellectual sense but, how much can you love a sheep? I mean really? I'm hoping we're dogs, but ... <sigh> ... we're probably more like ants.

I definitely agree with you, that the LDS view that mankind are the children of God is much better. It brings light to a dark universe. Imagine God alone in the universe with his house full of well loved cats ... or God surrounded eternally with his beloved children.

Yes, we are God's children just like the Bible says we are.

-Jared W

Clean Cut said...

Nat, thanks for the recommendation. I have, indeed, tried recently to understand the Trinity better. I do understand it BETTER than before, but, as Traditional Christians admit, it is a mystery and for me it's very mysterious to understand. But that's okay. We all have things we believe in that aren't particularly easy to describe. Do you mind giving a brief summary as to how you understand the Trinity?

Clean Cut said...

Jared, I'm so glad to see you've started a new blog! Your comment is very insightful and it is probably a lot better for me to also think in terms of "master to dog" relationship than a zoo or a fish bowl. There's hardly any interaction with the animals in a zoo or a bowl. So thanks for sharing that.

This past Sunday as the primary children presented their Sacrament Meeting presentation, they started by singing "I am a child of God", and it was quite a poignant moment to contemplate what exactly that means to me personally, and also to us Latter-day Saints collectively.

I love what you said: "Imagine God alone in the universe with his house full of well loved cats ... or God surrounded eternally with his beloved children...Yes, we are God's children just like the Bible says we are".

Is it any wonder why we place such an emphasis on the family? That's what we believe God's plan is all about for us as His literal children! "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). And I look forward to quite a family reunion.

NM said...


Spencer, I honestly wouldn't know where to start =)

I know there was a guy/guyette who was on here recently who made some interesting points regarding modalism (which, it seems, how the LDS view trinitarianism). Hmm, I've recently noticed that someone has uploaded an interesting youtube video of Mark Driscoll. I personally, do not know what to make of Mark; I find his talks very interesting, but I do find his comments a little off-the-wall and sometimes a little insensitive. This clip shows Mark discussing some of what Christianity would label as heresies to others who do not hold to trinitarianism....he mentions LDS as a heresy - because he states that LDS are polytheists...

Seriously though, can I recommend 'The Shack' to you? I'm be willing to buy it for you, if you would so let me =)

Clean Cut said...

Mark does seem to articulate what my co-workers tend to believe about Mormons--the misrepresentation that Mormons believe we can "become God". It's simply not true, and it's misleading. However, I can see how a misunderstanding of Mormon doctrine would lead people to believe that. It's just sad that that which gets perpetuated about "what Mormons believe" about God is not what we actually believe.

However, in the end, Mark essentially states the LDS view when he clarifies that the Trinity is not Modalism: "They're distinct. They work together. The Father sent the Son. The Son died on the cross". We believe this too.

We both believe in the distinctness and oneness of God. We believe in the biblical threeness and oneness of God. So it appears that most of the time we speak past each other and probably misrepresent each other more often than we truly understand how we each believe these truths.

Probably, as you say, many Latter-day Saints falsely believe that Trinitarians believe in Modalism. At least I know I used to. I now know that there are true descriptions of the Trinity in which Mormons would have no problem agreeing with, including the Apostles creed and even much of the Nicene Creed. I would venture to say that the only part of the Trinity that Latter-day Saints don't share with other Christians is the ontological oneness of God.

You might be interested in reading The Mormon Trinity, at Mormon Matters--an LDS group blog.

Clean Cut said...

Please share what you find so intriguing about "The Shack"--especially since Mark tears it apart in that clip. What was your experience reading it? Did you feel it represented the Trinity properly? Why or why not?

Clean Cut said...

One more thing I forgot to mention. Mark says that Mormons believe that "Jesus was a man who became God", yet this too is misrepresentation. Our Standard Works/the scriptures make it very clear that He was "from everlasting to everlasting" and part of the "one Eternal God", so Mark's not giving the full story there.

In terms of what I said earlier about the Trinity, I need to make one more clarification. I recognize that I was limiting the Trinity to just one aspect of the Trinity. Taken in its entirety, I feel like I understand well the Trinity in that there are three distinct persons yet one God, cause I, as a Mormon, believe that too.

Obviously Latter-day Saints rarely use the term Trinity, although there are many interpretations we actually agree with. We prefer the title "Godhead" to refer to the three divine beings who govern our universe in perfect oneness.

So the mystery of the Trinity to me--what I can't comprehend--is how those three distinct persons are are understood to be one being, and how Christ's resurrected body is part of that being.

NM said...

Hello again Spencer,

AaronShaf...(something or other), has just uploaded a youtube video( part 1) of a really interesting debate between a LDS and an Evangelical Christian =)

I'm sorry I haven't replied, but I'll get back to you soon! Take care,