Tuesday, September 13, 2005
My Religion and Me
What Is My Relationship with God?
What Is My Relationship with God?
God revealed to Moses:
I am without beginning of days… thou art my son;… I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands… they never cease… thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten… the Savior… (Moses 1:3-6)
President Joseph Fielding Smith has stated our concept of who God is, what he was, and what he has done as follows:
"It is very evident that in the days of the apostles of old the true knowledge of God was fully understood. These apostles never confounded the separate entities of the Father and the son. Jesus on numerous occasions taught them the true character of his Father. He taught them to pray to his Father, and if they forgave not others their trespasses the Father would not forgive theirs. He taught them that those who deny him he would deny before his Father… He also declared that no man “knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him,’ and that “as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man."1
TWO WORLDLY THEORIES OF CREATION
In the orthodox tradition of Christianity, there are two leading theories about God’s creative role in the universe.
- 1.The ex nihilo (ne hi lo—“from nothing”) theory of creation, dominant among creedstoday, holds that god brought all that is into being from nothing. In other words, man and everything else is made out of nothing. Catholic doctrine indicates that the soul (what we call the spirit) is created at the instant of mortal conception. Protestants have no official dogma about the time of soul creation, but they affirm the belief that such creation is, indeed, from nothing. Both, of course, take no official stand regarding the preexistence of anything, or anyone, except god. Such a theory extends to everything that is tangible and real.
- The ex Dei (di—“from God”) theory of creation is often associated with a theory of emanation and is based on the idea that the perfect God, without changing or losing anything, shone forth and these degrees or waves of light hardening into the reality with we call the material world, so that everything is literally part of God himself. The farther the process leads from god, the less perfect and more fallen everything becomes.
Such is the panoramic view we are given of the works and purposes of the God of traditional (historical) Christendom. No matter how it is improved in an effort to make this “God” less of a monster, the chasm between him and man remains.
GOD AS REVEALED THROUGH THE PROPHETS
Modern revelation raises us from this hopeless condition and spans the gap Christians have made between man and his God.
One of the most constant and repeated themes in the life, ministry, and sayings of Jesus is that God is our Gather and is close to his children. The Savior spoke frequently of Father using the expressions, “our Father,” “your Father”, and “my Father”, affirming a shared relationship for all mankind, including himself. He walked, talked, lived, prayed, and manifested this relationship. It is untrue to him, as to the father to “water down” that relationship into anything less personal and less intimate than those close ties between parent and child.
Both of the creation theories outlined above and the conclusions consequent to them confirm through their many discrepancies that creation is impossible under either theory. A living person is organized from existing matter and not made from nothing. God is the organizer. He acts as architect and designer to construct and reconstruct suitable worlds and world systems for his children. To create (as the Bible suggests) does not mean to bring into being, but to bring into order. This is like a contractor who requires brick, cement, steel, and all manner of other materials for the construction of a building.
In relation to man, God’s additional role is that of parent. As he expands his power in the cosmos, he singles out the intelligences we know as men and women and stamps them with his own divinity. He is parent and progenitor—the majestic Father who stands at the head of his divine family of spirits.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD
The doctrine of pre-existence… pours a wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a Spirit, was begotton and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality…
The Church… proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity.2
The prophets have given us inspiration to understand what this sonship really means. The ties between parent and child are much more sacred and binding than those which unite master and servant.
Someone may be said to have a face that “only a mother can love”. An element of truth exists in the implication that the child is hers and that she loves him. He may be born with defects—deformity, deficiency, palsy, blindness, etc.—but still she rejoices in the privilege of motherhood and nurtures him. If “mother love” seems stronger than “father love,” it may because she has labored, served, and suffered more in the child’s care. Both parents, though, share a great love for their children.
Contrast that to the felling of being merely a cog in a vast machine where, if conditions change or you fail to perform, you are finished. Such is not the characteristic feeling of sonship! Our home and our parents give us the “we” feeling—we belong to each other; this home is ours; our feelings are soul to soul. Spirit ties are the unbreakable ones which become eternal when spirituality infuses them. We can do nothing to destroy the loving concern of the Father for us. Even those who “hate their own blood” (Moses 7:33), as the prophet Enoch put it, are still loved of God. None is written off and none is a tool to be used or exploited and then cast away.
A son inherits his father’s property but a servant does not. Having received his wages, the servant has no further claim. In other words, sonship involves heirship. A son or daughter who upholds holds or her father (and sometimes even one who does not) has a legal and time-honored right to inherit the father’s property.
So it is in the eternal worlds. Because of our birthright as spirit children of God, we are his and his heirs—“join-theirs with Christ”. (Romans 8:17) The earth with all its fullness is to be given to the faithful sons and daughters of God. All will have an inheritance. How can that be?
The universe is infinite. Even within reach of our telescopes, it contains three billion planets, one for every human being in this world. There is enough and more to spare.
A father reveals unto his son his purpose and designs, but he does not acquaint his servant with them. Hence the reason for our Savior’s remark:
Henceforth I call you not servants but friends (they were his brethren, and God their Father) for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you. (John 15:15)
I have revealed it, I have obtained revelations from the Father because I am his son: I have revealed them unto you because ye are his sons also; and my brethren and friends; “no longer strangers, nor aliens, but fellow citizens.”… thus we see that a Son of God has revelation, a servant has not, and this is the grand difference between sectarians and the Latter-day Saints.3
By reason of our sonship (the characteristics of the Father in our very nature), we have inherited the capacity to understand, however incompletely, the nature and will of the Father. To a modern-day Twelve the Lord said, “Behold ye are little children and yet cannot bear all things now.” (D&C 50:40) If they were thus still in their spiritual infancy, so are we. We are children, true children of the Father, and we do but glimpse his purposes. His voice speaks to us and we recognize it.
Look now at the glorious picture painted by the prophets:
God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge.4
Here a motive is revealed that matches a majestic divinity. God’s goodness and love were such that “in the midst of spirits and glory” he “saw proper” to bring us nearer to him. How far did he will that the rest of us should advance? To a position “like himself”.
The traditional idea that God, being perfect, wanted others to adore and love his perfection is outstripped by the revelation that he wants to share and to help his children achieve perfection too. He, being “more intelligent,” deemed it proper to ennoble, enlarge, and expand the power of all other intelligences in order that his love for them might lead them to a like perfection. He did not create from nothing inferior human beings, but he procreated (produced offspring) potential creators from intelligence. By what possible logic could anyone claim it is a “higher motive” to create men as everlasting inferiors?
The promise presented by the prophets is one that causes rejoicing, for the decision of aid, knowledge-giving, and privilege-giving (without any limits except those we impose on ourselves) was made from the beginning. Indeed, the revelations state that we shouted for joy at the prospect, for we had come far enough in our eternal journey to recognize the glory of the possibilities. (Job 38:7)
Lorenzo Snow has written:
In our spiritual birth, our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers, and faculties which He possessed, as much as the child on its mother’s bosom possesses, although in undeveloped state, the faculties, powers and susceptibilities of the parent.5
Therefore we all have the embryonic capabilities of God himself, and we should so act that each may be developed to the utmost.
Parley P. Pratt stated that related truth that the capabilities include the personality traits and the spectrum of feelings and affections that God has:
An intelligent being, in the image of God, possesses every organ, attribute, sense, sympathy, affection, that is possessed by God himself. But these are in embryo, and are to be gradually developed.6
From this it follows that self-knowledge, if it goes deeply enough and brings into action the perceptual abilities of our spirits, is not only knowledge of self but is knowledge of God. Charles W. Penrose puts it this way:
To know God we must know ourselves. All the personal attributes which are ascribed to God by inspired men, we find in ourselves in an imperfect, undeveloped state, But Mormonism… does not tend to debase God to the level of man, but to exalt man to the perfections of God.7
Hence the Prophet said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”8 To this the traditional reply would be, “A God who had equals would cease to be God and cease to be worthy of worship.” To the contrary, the prophets teach that a God who would oppose the coming of such a fullness of his sons, a God who did not encourage all, would cease to be a God worthy of our worship and love. It is not a denial of his perfection and love to say that he shares his nature, but it is an affirmation of it. Perfect love is perfect willingness to share.
One observer of religion has said that he sees two motives at work in all that men feel about God: One is the quest for an “ultimate,” someone more and higher and better than anyone else, and the other is the quest for an “intimate,” for someone with whom one can have deep, rich, powerful personal relationships. These two motives have often worked against each other. God is defined as ultimate but is duly unreachable, and the intimate is lost.
In Mormonism the two motives merge. The ultimate reality is an intimate reality—a person, a Father who has power over all and loves each one. Our relationship need not be, unless we make it so, a subservient one. It should and can be the most intimate possible. In the end, the King wants not slaves nor subjects but princes and princesses who, if they will, may share the kingdom.
1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Man, His Origin and Destiny (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954), p. 88.
2. Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13:80-81 (Nov. 1909).
3. “Sons of God,” Times and Seasons 4:75 (Jan. 1843).
4. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith) Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 354.
5. Lorenzo Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co. Printers, 1884), p. 335.
6. Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965), pp. 100-101.
7. Charles W. Penrose, “Our Relationship to God,” Millennial Star 23:181 (Mar. 23, 1861).
8. Teachings, p. 343.