As a member of the LDS church, I thought I had a very good understanding of God and his character. He was simply an exalted human that perfected himself enough to become a god. He was human yet divine. He was everywhere at once however yet still physically on his eternal throne. He was essentially obeying his god so he could elevate the eternal ladder of advancement. Upward and onward forever. Once I started to really study things though, I came to realize that a lot of what I believed, based on my LDS upbringing, was actually false and not scriptural at all. A lot of it also didn’t even make any sense. It was mostly comprised of misinterpreted scriptures based purely on the philosophies of men.
The current LDS beliefs about God are based on purported statements from Joseph Smith that were never offered as revelations and were never canonized while Joseph was alive. For instance, D&C 130, is a merger of notes from William Clayton and Willard Richards who kept Joseph’s personal journal. However Willard Richards was not even present when D&C 130 was supposedly given by Joseph, so Willard constructed his notes from the William Clayton account. Therefore D&C 130 is really just William Clayton’s account of what happened. It also was canonized for some reason in 1876, without a vote of common consent, about 1 year before Brigham’s death. Joseph, of course, could have added it during his life however he chose not to.
D&C 130 itself is a conglomeration of multiple different concepts however at the end of the section it states the following:
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.D&C 130:22
The idea of God having a physical body was contained only in Willard Richards notes and is absent from the William Clayton account which Richards based his notes on. I would think since Clayton was actually there then the idea of God possessing a perfected body should be in his notes since it would have been a huge change from the common view of Christianity at the time. Both accounts themselves also seem to be composed of disjointed thoughts while D&C 130 reads as though it is a single revelatory statement. Therefore, D&C 130 is just a manufactured version of the two accounts merged together.
Teaching that God has a body seems pretty natural, since it makes God like us, and is certainly a bit easier to relate to than a pulsating field of light somewhere. This is one reason that throughout human history the manufactured pagan Gods have almost always been described using anthropomorphic representations. Thus, giving them human-like thoughts, passions, and concerns. However, of course that doesn’t make it true and random statements made during talks shouldn’t dictate the doctrines for an entire group of people. Today though that is exactly what is happening every 6 months.
The idea that God has a body has also influenced many other aspects of LDS doctrine. For instance, according to LDS doctrine, God needs a body so he can procreate spirit children with his innumerable wives. God also needs a body because there are things, which are always unspecified, that God can’t do unless he has a body. God lastly needs a body because it offers a more fulfilling experience than he could gain otherwise. Of course, this last one is not really specified either.
The beliefs of the early restored church were frankly quite a bit different than the beliefs the church holds today. This was very evident in Lecture 3, from the Lectures on Faith, that were, during the early church, held as canonized scripture.
We learn the following things respecting the character of God:Lecture 3:12-16
- First, that he was God before the world was created, and the same God that he was after it was created.
- Second, that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and that he was so from everlasting, and will be to everlasting.
- Third, that he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday today and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.
- Fourth, that he is a God of truth and cannot lie.
This description of God is certainly that of an eternal unchangeable being that was God before this world and will continue to be God after this world is long gone. If the LDS description of God is true, then there certainly was a time where God was a human and thus was literally changed. His nature, disposition, and very being was changed therefore I have a hard time understanding how he “changes not” according to Lecture 3. Would God describe himself as unchangeable knowing he went from raw intelligence, to spirit, to human, to God, to whatever is after that? That sounds like a lot of changes to me.
This idea is also echoed in numerous placed such as Moroni 8:18 where Mormon states in a letter to his son Moroni:
For I know that God is not a partial god, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.Moroni 8:18
This is certainly a bit of a conundrum, of God being unchangeable, considering the LDS understanding of God is that he is always changing to a degree. He is progressing constantly and is on an eternal ladder of progression which of course would be change.
Scholars have addressed this by redefining things by saying eternity doesn’t mean forever it just means some point in time thus God is locked during this world, but is free to change afterwards. Another rebuttal is that God is not a person but a title, thus the title is unchanging. A last rebuttal is that sometimes the concept of “God” in the scriptures is actually just the plan of salvation which never changes. The scriptures can certainly be twisted to mean anything however that doesn’t make it true. God is not bound by the muddy philosophies of men, no matter how many people state they are true. If God says he was God forever, then didn’t he lie according to LDS belief?
Lecture 3 continues by stating why it is so important to understand the character of God. It states:
An acquaintance with these attributes in the divine character, is essentially necessary, in order that the faith of any rational being can center in him for life and salvation. For if he did not in the first instance believe him to be God, that is, the creator and upholder of all things, he could not center his faith in him for life and salvation; for fear there should be a greater than he, who would thwart all his plans; and he, like the gods of the heathen, would be unable to fulfil his promises; but seeing he is God over all, from everlasting to everlasting, the creator and upholder of all things, no such fear can exist in the minds of those who put their trust in him, so that in this respect their faith can be without wavering.Lecture 3:19
That statement is clear that if God changes then it would be like placing our trust in a sandy foundation. We would never know what the future might hold because everything could change in an instance. It is also very interesting to note the statement also describes how a belief in a being greater than God would undermine our faith in God. However, according to LDS belief, there are many beings greater than God who in theory could change things at any moment. This is actually one of the chief complaints made in the Nauvoo Expositor against the church and is totally true. It is hard to see how a belief in an eternal ladder of Gods does not undermine faith in the true God like Lecture 3 says it would.
Lecture 3 concludes with the following statement:
Let us here observe that the foregoing is the character which is given of God in his revelations to the Former Day Saints, and it is also the character which is given of him in his revelations to the Latter Day Saints, so that the saints of former days and those of latter days are both alike in this respect; the Latter Day Saints having as good grounds to exercise faith in God as the Former Day Saints had, because the same character is given of him to both.Lecture 3:26
If God is the same to the saints today as he was to the saints of biblical times, then it makes sense that we all would have sufficient reason to place our faith and trust in him. However today, according to the LDS church, we have further light and truth, and therefore God is a fundamentally different person. He is a changeable being that needs a body and interacts with his children indirectly through Christ. This God is not the same God described in the scriptures, yet according to Lecture 3 it should be.
Lecture 5 is by far the most important book of scripture to really help in understanding in our minds what God is. Lecture 3 described the character of God, while Lecture 5 describes what God actually is. I honestly want to quote the entire lecture since it is so important, however I will focus on the critical parts for simplicity. I would however highly recommend you read the entirety of Lecture 5 including the catechism at the end.
Lecture 5 starts off with this simple description of the Godhead:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things … They are the Father and the Son: The Father being a personage of spirit … The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. … And is called the Son because of the flesh. … And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fulness of the glory of the Father—possessing the same mind with the Father; which Mind is the Holy Spirit.Lecture 5:2
The first thing to note is the conspicuous absence of the Holy Ghost as a member of the Godhead. The Holy Ghost is no longer a god in probation, as believed by the LDS church, and not even a member of the Godhead at all. The second thing to note is the Holy Ghost is described simply as the mind of God or the very fabric of existence. It is not a separate entity that needs to be a spirit so that it can operate in unique ways. Lastly, the Father is described as a spiritual entity and the Son as a physical entity however they share the same fulness or Holy Ghost as the Lecture describes. Thus, the Son can be considered to just be a physical manifestation of the Father. The Father is certainly not described as a resurrected human with a physical body, the Son being a half God half man being, with the Holy Ghost as an unembodied spirit which the LDS church holds to be true.
This idea is honestly a little hard to grasp at first coming from an LDS background. We have been thoroughly taught, almost from birth, the current LDS beliefs concerning God and it is hard to fathom anything else. However, if we look at the Book of Mormon it becomes much clearer. Abinadi while teaching the priests of Noah. stated:
I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God.Mosiah 15:1
I think this statement is pretty clear. However, how can it be true if God himself didn’t come down, but Christ who is described as our elder brother and wasn’t even a god yet? According to traditional LDS belief he had to get a body, be resurrected, and atone for our sins for him to be classified among the gods.
Robert J. Matthews, a professor at BYU mentioned the following in a faculty lecture:
In the Book of Mormon, Christ is God. He is not simply a mortal, a great teacher, a Friend of Mankind. He is God. I have been surprised that the Book of Mormon never defines Jesus as the firstborn spirit, man’s Elder Brother. In the Book of Mormon, he isn’t so much man’s brother, he is man’s God.Robert J. Matthews – “Some Thoughts on the Atonement”
For reasons I can’t adequately explain in this format, in 1837 Joseph Smith started making key modifications to the scriptures that began a long road of separation between the Father and Son according to LDS doctrine. In 1837 he modified several verses in the Book of Mormon to indicate a separation that didn’t exist before. For instance, 1 Nephi 11:21:
Original: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!1 Nephi 11:21
Modification: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!
This is one of several changes he made and certainly alters our understanding of things. Anyone reading it may think things were always the modified way. However, the original text aligns much better with the Lectures on Faith which we looked at previously. The catechism at the end of Lecture 5 makes the meaning crystal clear:
How many personages are there in the Godhead?
Two: the Father and the Son
What is the Father?
He is a personage of glory and power
What is the Son?
First, he is a personage of tabernacle
Why was he called the Son?
Because of the flesh.
Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind?
What is this mind?Lecture 5 – Catechism
The Holy Spirit.
This idea was also reiterated in the Inspired Version of the New Testament. In Luke 10:22, Joseph altered the text to read:
No man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.Luke 10:22
This idea of course has been explained away by changing definitions. However, if we look at the entirety of things then it becomes clear what the scriptures are teaching about God, his character, and that he atoned for us not because he needed to for personal advancement, but because he knew it was essential for us.
The current beliefs of the LDS church are based on statements which Joseph never canonized or offered as revelations. They are disjointed statements that don’t even agree on critical points. However, from what we have analyzed it is clear that God was God from all eternity and will be God for all eternity. He is unchangeable and certainly didn’t advance from human to God as the LDS church claims. The Son is a physical manifestation of the Father in our world and took upon himself flesh to show us what we can accomplish with trust and faith in him. Christ is not our elder brother who needed to come to earth so he could personally advance. Christ is our God.
Today we have a vastly different understanding of God and we claim to be the enlightened ones while the rest of Christianity is in the dark. However, I think a scripture like Mormon 9:20 fits us perfectly.
And the reason why [God] ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.Mormon 9:20
We have created a different God and proclaimed this God to be the true God based on “further light and truth“. However, in order to have correct faith in God then we must worship the true God and understand what he has revealed to us. Anything different causes us to place our trust and faith in a false god which is a creation of the philosophies of men.