Thursday, January 8, 2009

Becoming Like God: some things I know and some things I don't

I think it's safe to say that various aspects of the gospel fall under differing degrees: interesting, important, and imperative. I usually spend most of my time and thoughts, as well as my gospel teaching, on the important and the imperative. Nevertheless, when I'm blogging I like to spend time on the "interesting" and even find those conversations beneficial; such as what it means to become like God. A month ago I took part in a discussion on a post at the Exponent entitled Becoming Like God and shared some of my thoughts on the topic there.

I certainly don't want to rule anything out that may very well be true, but I also try to be careful not to say more than we know. With that in mind, I feel clearly that the goal is not to supplant God or become God. The goal is to become one with Him--be like him, and share in "all that [He] hath" (D&C 84:38). This makes us gods by grace, and "partakers of the divine nature" in a most literal sense (see 2nd Peter 1:4). I do not see this as an issue of superiority/inferiority or hierarchy. I truly believe that as we become one with the Father and the Son, all hierarchy becomes meaningless. I'm open for new interpretations, but I feel pretty good about the conclusions I've come to after much reading and contemplation.

I think being "one" with Him (see John 17:21) has more to do with love, unity and relationships rather than not having any differences whatsoever in our roles. Although I do not think that we'll be as different from God as Evangelicals believe (since we believe we're of the same kind/species as God), I think it's safe to say that there will still be differences between us and God. My wife and I will be one, but we'll still be different, especially if gender is truly a part of our eternal destiny. I guess I hold the same for God's unique eternal destiny. However, even with some of those differences, as His "offspring" (and believing we're of the same ontological nature) we're already much more like Him than most of the traditional Christian world even recognizes.

One more thing is clear in my mind: sharing in "all that [the] Father hath" doesn't necessarily mean that we must do all that the Father has ever done. I certainly don't believe I'll need to perform an atonement, as did Christ. Would that mean that I'm not going to be sharing in all that Christ hath? Hardly. We don't have to have the same eternal experiences to be "one" eternally. I do believe that we'll share in a measure of creation and in eternal increase (whatever that means). And I have read the scriptures that talk about thrones, principalities, and powers.   But in my paradigm--all of that is but an extension of God and His power and dominion--not independent of Him. We know that as the children of God we will become "gods", but clearly there is a difference between exalted beings and the Exalted One we worship. Thus, for anyone to say that our Church teaches that we will fill the same "Godhead" role for other worlds as the "head God"/Elohim/Heavenly Father would be incorrect because it's not sound doctrine (not to mention saying far more than we know).

The analogy that the "child grows up to be like his father" is helpful to an extent, but it has limitations. As I mentioned on the Exponent blog, the fact that Christ is who He is (even the fact alone that he has 23 chromosomes from his immortal Father and 23 chromosomes from his mortal mother) makes him different--even preeminent over us. Because of all that the Savior has done (and does) for us, I feel that Christ will always be preeminent. Yet the marvel of it all is that he did what he did to make us divine and exalted beings like Him and the Father. I will always praise Him for this--permanently. Although my worship of Them might take on increased significance (for true worship is imitation/emulation), no matter what I become or do in the eternities, it will only be because of the grace of God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

However interesting it may be to think about and reflect on, it still remains a mystery to fully comprehend what it entails to be completely at one with God and live a life of exaltation; but I sure look forward to finding out.


Clean Cut said...

I'd love to hear the thoughts of other Latter-day Saints as well as those not of our faith. However, if you happen to be a traditional/orthodox Christian who think its blasphemous to even talk about becoming gods or becoming like God, I'd ask for you to read the following before commenting:

From the book "Are Mormons Christian?" by Stephen Robinson:

"Some believe that certain LDS doctrines are so bizarre, so totally foreign to biblical or historical Christianity, that they simply cannot be tolerated. In terms of the LDS doctrines most often criticized on these grounds, however –the doctrine of deification and its corollary, the plurality of gods–this claim does not hold up to historical scrutiny. Early Christian saints and theologians, later Greek Orthodoxy, modern Protestant evangelists, and even C. S. Lewis have all professed their belief in a doctrine of deification. The scriptures themselves talk of many "gods" and use the term god in a limited sense for beings other than the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost. If this language is to be tolerated in scripture and in ancient and modern orthodox Christians without cries of "polytheism!" then it must be similarly tolerated in the Latter-day Saints.

If scripture can use the term gods for nonultimate beings, if the early Church could, if Christ himself could, then Latter-day Saints cannot conceivably be accused of being outside the Christian tradition for using the same term in the same way.

I don't need to argue whether the doctrine is true, although I certainly believe it is. I am only arguing that other Christians of unimpeachable orthodoxy have believed in deification long before the Latter-day Saints came along, and that it has been accepted and tolerated in them as part of their genuine Christianity. Fair play demands the same treatment for the Latter-day Saints."

Think about St. Augustine himself, the greatest of the Christian fathers, who said: "But he himself who justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes Sons of God. If then, if we have also been made the Sons of God, we have also been made gods"

Clement, an early Christian leader in Alexandria, also taught the doctrine of deification:
"yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god."
…if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God…His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, "Men are gods, and gods are men."

Justin the Martyr said in 150 A.D. that he wishes
"to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons… in the beginning men were made like God, free from suffering and death, and that they are thus deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest…"
"[By Psalm 82] it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming "gods," and even of having power to become sons of the Highest."

In 347, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and participant in the council of Nicea, said:
"the Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods….just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through His flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life…[we are] sons and gods by reason of the word in us."

"For as Christ died and was exalted as man, so, as man, is He said to take what, as God, He ever had, that even such a grant of grace might reach to us. For the Word was not impaired in receiving a body, that He should seek to receive a grace, but rather He deified that which He put on, and more than that, gave it graciously to the race of man."

He also states that Christ "became man that we might be made divine."

"These are unimpeachable Christian authorities. No pagans. no Gnostics. All of them were not only Christians, and not only orthodox Christians, but orthodox Christian saints. The doctrine of deification was not only believed by them, but a part of historical Christianity."

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology–not an LDS publication–describes "deification" thusly:

"Deification (Greek "Theosis") is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God'…it is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Ps. 82: (81) .6; 2_Pet. 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Rom. 8:9-17, Gal. 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23)."

Joseph Fitzmyer wrote:
The language of 2 Peter is taken up by St. Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, 'if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods"; and becomes the standard in Greek theology. And St. Symeon the new theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, 'he who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face…'

"Deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian."

According to Christian scholar G.L. Prestige, the ancient Christians "taught that the destiny of man was to become like God, and even to become deified."

William R. Inge, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote:
"God became man, that we might become God" was a commonplace of doctrinal theology at least until the time of Augustine, and that "deification holds a very large place in the writings of the fathers…We find it in Irenaeus as well as in Clement, in Athanasius as well in Gregory of Nysee. St. Augustine was no more afraid of deificari in Latin than Origen of apotheosis in Greek.

"To modern ears the word deification sounds not only strange but arrogant and shocking. Yet, these "arrogant and shocking" doctrines were clearly held by early Christians!"

In the New Testament, at John 10:34-36, we read that Jesus himself quoted Psalm 82:6 and interpreted the term gods as referring to human beings who had received the word of God: "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

" In other words, 'If the scriptures [Psalm 82] can refer to mortals who receive the word of God as "gods," then why get upset with me for merely saying I am the Son of God?' The Savior's argument was effective precisely because the scripture does use the term gods in this limited way to refer to human beings.

According to J. A. Emerton, who is also not a Mormon, "most exegetes are agreed that the argument is intended to prove that men can, in certain circumstances, be called gods …. [Jesus] goes back to fundamental principles and argues, more generally, that the word 'god' can, in certain circumstances, be applied to beings other than God himself, to whom he has committed authority."
Paul Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network says: "I am a little god. I have His name. I am one with Him. I'm in covenant relation. I am a little god. Critics begone." Robert Tilton, a Texas evangelist, says that man is "a God kind of creature. Originally you were designed to be the god of this world." Kenneth Copeland, also of Texas, told his listeners, "You don't have a god in you. You are one!" He wrote that "man had total authority to rule as a god over every living creature on earth".

Closer to the LDS understanding of this are the views of C.S. Lewis, who said: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember than the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship". (C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses").

We like, them, can claim this truth while also deeply claiming worship of the one true God. No contradictions here. We're not reducing or limiting the sovereignty of God. For Latter-day Saints the question "Is there more than one god?" is not the same as "Is there more than one source of power or object of worship in the universe". For LDS, and for all the other quoted and respected orthodox Christians, the answer to the former is yes, but the answer to the latter is no.

"The term "god" is a title which can be extended to those who receive the power and authority of God as promised to the faithful in the scriptures; but such an extension of that title does not challenge, limit, or infringe upon the ultimate and absolute position and authority of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

Clean Cut said...

PS: The LDS church further clarified the Church's position during a recent interview with Fox News:

""We believe that the apostle Peter's biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul's reference to being 'joint heirs with Christ' reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.",2933,317272,00.html

Eric Nielson said...

I think you have laid things out fairly well here. Nice job.

One point to pick at, when you say:

Thus, for anyone to say that our Church teaches that we will fill the same "Godhead" role for our "offspring" as the "head God"/Elohim/Heavenly Father has for us is not only incorrect, but it would be to say more than we know.

It seems a contradiction. If we do not know, then we do not know it is incorrect. Right?

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Eric. About the apparent contradiction, I agree I could have worded it better. What I meant is that it's incorrect to say that the Church teaches it, because it doesn't. It doesn't teach or delve into the "more than we know" stuff precisely because we don't know. Thus individual members may or may not believe it, but since it's more than we know, the Church doesn't teach it. I should have separated those thoughts.

SilverRain said...

I don't know if Christ will always be preeminent in the way we think of preeminence here in mortality, simply because we are, through His mercy, His joint-heirs.

In other words, because Christ is extending His salvation to us, we will be like Him, equal to Him, should we be willing to become what He asks us to become.

That being said, I believe we will always be filled with gratitude and honor Him for His role in our salvation. In that sense, He will always be preeminent.

Thanks for the nice post.

Doug Towers said...

Clean Cut

Interesting post.

You have stated that on the internet you wish to look at those ideas that extend beyond those you would discuss at church. Yet you also seem to be restricting your viewpoint to those things stated as church doctrine. That means those things stated at church.

In looking at such a subject I would be looking at what the Scriptures say and what personal revelation says. I would also be looking at what is logical.

The D&C tells us that our power will be there "without compulsory means." In other words the power will be in us, not coming from God.

While it is true that we come unto the Father through the atonement of Christ, we also are told that God is God because of his compliance with eternal laws that if he broke he would cease to be God. Therefore by compliance with these same eternal laws (to the same degree) we would also be able to do that which God does.

We are told that some of us came down and created the earth and planets, in Abraham. We are also told that we watched those things until they obeyed US. Christ taught that if you had enough faith you could tell a plant to uproot and be planted in the sea, and it would obey YOU. Note he hasn't said God will do it for you.

We are our Father's children. He was once just an intelligence, as we once were.

All these things may not be stated as church doctrine by the GAs. But they are stated as church doctrine by the Scriptures.

That having been stated, Heavenly Father will always be advanced beyond us, because he continues to expand as an individual as his family continues to expand.

Margaret said...

I love your new blog header!☺

Anonymous said...

Where have I read this before? *wink*

Seeing it here I have to say I disagree far more vigorously than previously. It's going to have to wait till I have more time, though. :) ~

Anonymous said...

With respect, I submit that Christ's preeminence will only be greater in the afterlife. I believe you are assuming that as we become more like Christ (thru grace) He becomes somehow less important. I assume the opposite, that as we become more like Christ, His importance only becomes greater to us, as we further understand Him, his uniqueness (in ability to grant grace) will only be highlighted. He's not a mystery to by demystified, rather a greatness to emulate, emulation that brings a greater understanding of His preeminence.