Becoming Like God

By Eric Johnson

In its fifth essay of a series published on lds.org that is meant to explain hard teachings (for a list of other articles and podcasts from MRM, go here) , the Mormon Church is attempting to distance its theology from past leadership and make it appear that Mormon families will not be invited to their own worlds. We have reprinted the entire article, underlining it here, and have scattered our commentary throughout. Because we will try to be short and to the point as much as we can, we will reference a number of sites (many from MRM) to support our disagreement. We encourage interested readers to consider these sources. 

To hear a 10-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series on this essay that aired March 7-18, 2016, click these: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

One of the most common images in Western and Eastern religions alike is of God as a parent and of human beings as God’s children. Billions pray to God as their parent, invoke the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people to promote peace, and reach out to the weary and troubled out of deep conviction that each of God’s children has great worth.

But people of different faiths understand the parent-child relationship between God and humans in significantly different ways. Some understand the phrase “child of God” as an honorary title reserved only for those who believe in God and accept His guidance as they might accept a father’s. Many see parent-child descriptions of God’s relationship to humanity as metaphors to express His love for His creations and their dependence on His sustenance and protection.

Using “the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people” makes it appear that there is a common thread through the different religions. Certainly biblical Christianity does not consider all humans to be “brothers” and “sisters.” Contrary to the Christianity believed for 2,000 years, Mormonism accepts and dogmatically teaches the preexistence of all humankind. All people born on the earth are thus considered the literal children of God, born in the pre-existence, the offspring of Heavenly Father and one of his heavenly wives. However, the Bible says that the children of God are those adopted by faith. They are sinners who have trusted in Christ for their salvation. Galatians 3:26 says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” John 1:12-13 explains,

“To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Other verses support the Christian concept that this is a spiritual promise given to the believer:

Galatians 3:7: Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”

Romans 8:14: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

Romans 9:8: “That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”

Ephesians 1:5: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,”

Here is the question that the Latter-day Saint needs to ask: If everyone is considered to be a “child of God,” then why does the Bible state that believers “become” God’s children through faith? Being a child of God is not something every person on this earth has in common. It is only something someone becomes through faith.

Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.” Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father’s.

While the idea of glorification is certainly taught where believers will receive new bodies and live with God in eternity, Christianity has never taught the idea that humans can become divine like God. As Isaiah 46:9 says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.” The verse reads exactly the same in the Joseph Smith “Inspired” Version.

For an excellent rebuttal against Mormonism’s view of the preexistence, see here.

The desire to nurture the divinity in His children is one of God’s attributes that most inspires, motivates, and humbles members of the Church. God’s loving parentage and guidance can help each willing, obedient child of God receive of His fulness and of His glory. This knowledge transforms the way Latter-day Saints see their fellow human beings. The teaching that men and women have the potential to be exalted to a state of godliness clearly expands beyond what is understood by most contemporary Christian churches and expresses for the Latter-day Saints a yearning rooted in the Bible to live as God lives, to love as He loves, and to prepare for all that our loving Father in Heaven wishes for His children.

What must a person do in order to attain exaltation, which is considered to be this state of “divinity.” Work, work, and work, and then work some more.  For more, see here.

What does the Bible say about humans’ divine potential?

Several biblical passages intimate that humans can become like God. The likeness of humans to God is emphasized in the first chapter of Genesis: “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The reference here is to Genesis 1:26-27. This passage is not saying what LDS leaders are attempting to make it say. For a refutation, see here 

 After Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” God said they had “become as one of us,”

This is Genesis 3:22. As our friend John Divito writes:

However, Genesis 3:22 does not show that Adam and Eve will become gods as God is. The verse defines in what way Adam and Eve became “as one of us;” it was “to know good and evil.”  As shown above, the “knowledge of good and evil” was God’s wisdom that was obtained unlawfully. As a result, they were removed from the Garden of Eden (where God was present and where they would have lived forever). They were also punished in other ways. This is not something to celebrate but to mourn.

Even if Genesis 3:22 did mean that Adam and Eve were to be gods, there is still a problem with this text. In Genesis 3:22, God gives this statement as a completed fact. In other words, they had already become “as one of us.” As a result, according to what Mormons claim this verse teaches, Adam and Eve became gods at the Fall. However, this would mean that they never went through the deification process, they did not obey the eternal celestial law, and they did not need Christ’s atonement for this to occur. Mormons cannot, with consistently, admit that this text teaches what they say it does.  Their argument would prove too much. One must remember that the passage itself defines how humans are “as God” — to know good and evil. Mankind obtained wisdom that God had reserved for Himself. This is the only way it can be said that people are “as God.”

suggesting that a process of approaching godliness was already underway. Later in the Old Testament, a passage in the book of Psalms declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” New Testament passages also point to this doctrine. When Jesus was accused of blasphemy on the grounds that “thou, being a man, makest thyself God,” He responded, echoing Psalms, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” 

Here are references to Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34, covered here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples to become “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

For a refutation of Matthew 5:48, go here.  And though it wasn’t cited here, here is a rebuttal of Matthew 19 used in a similar context.

 In turn, the Apostle Peter referred to the Savior’s “exceeding great and precious promises” that we might become “partakers of the divine nature.”

See our rebuttal to 2 Peter 1:4.

 The Apostle Paul taught that we are “the offspring of God” and emphasized that as such “we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”

The “offspring of God” refers to Acts 17:29, which is answered here. And Romans 8:16-17 is answered here.

The book of Revelation contains a promise from Jesus Christ that “to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” 

As with the passages from above, Revelation 3:21 is referring to glorification, a concept much different than deification and which is clearly taught in the Bible.

These passages can be interpreted in different ways.

This is true. There is one interpretation that is true. All the others are false. If you are a Latter-day Saint, how do you know the LDS interpretation is correct?

Yet by viewing them through the clarifying lens of revelations received by Joseph Smith, Latter-day Saints see these scriptures as straightforward expressions of humanity’s divine nature and potential. Many other Christians read the same passages far more metaphorically because they experience the Bible through the lens of doctrinal interpretations that developed over time after the period described in the New Testament.

Presuppositions do matter. We must either defer to Joseph Smith and other LDS leaders–as this paragraph seems to do– or we can go straight to the scripture and, by using proper hermeneutical tools and procedures, determine what exactly the passages mean.

How have ideas about divinity shifted over Christian history?

Latter-day Saint beliefs would have sounded more familiar to the earliest generations of Christians than they do to many modern Christians. Many church fathers (influential theologians and teachers in early Christianity) spoke approvingly of the idea that humans can become divine. One modern scholar refers to the “ubiquity of the doctrine of deification”—the teaching that humans could become God—in the first centuries after Christ’s death. The church father Irenaeus, who died about A.D. 202, asserted that Jesus Christ “did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be what He is Himself.” Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150–215) wrote that “the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God.”  Basil the Great (A.D. 330–379) also celebrated this prospect—not just “being made like to God,” but “highest of all, the being made God.”

I find it fascinating how Mormonism teaches that there was a “Great Apostasy” soon after the death of the apostles, and yet this article quotes Irenaeus, Clement, and Basil as somehow supporting the Mormon doctrine. If these Christian leaders–all of whom held to the traditional views of Christianity still held by Christians today–were part of the Great Apostasy, then why even bother quoting them?

Regarding Irenaeus, Richard and Joan Ostling explain how unfair it is to use this church father:

Irenaeus (second century A.D.) also writes that God is uniquely self-existent, the one who created ex nihilo. “The rule of truth which we hold,” he writes, “is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist.” God “commands all things into existence.” Irenaeus teaches that “God is always the same and unbegotten.” He stresses that “in all things God has the preeminence, who alone is uncreated, the first of all things, and the primary cause of the existence of all,…being in subjection to God in continuance in immortality, and immortality is the glory of the uncreated One.” The Uncreated One is perfect; man makes progress “approximating” to God. But man remains a contingent creature; he does not in essence become God, and God in the patristics writings has never been a man. (Mormon America, p. 313)

What exactly the early church fathers meant when they spoke of becoming God is open to interpretation, but it is clear that references to deification became more contested in the late Roman period and were infrequent by the medieval era. The first known objection by a church father to teaching deification came in the fifth century. By the sixth century, teachings on “becoming God” appear more limited in scope, as in the definition provided by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (ca. A.D. 500): “Deification … is the attaining of likeness to God and union with him so far as is possible.”

For an excellent off-site article from Alpha/Omega Ministry to debunk this, see here.

Why did these beliefs fade from prominence? Changing perspectives on the creation of the world may have contributed to the gradual shift toward more limited views of human potential. The earliest Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Creation assumed that God had organized the world out of preexisting materials, emphasizing the goodness of God in shaping such a life-sustaining order. But the incursion of new philosophical ideas in the second century led to the development of a doctrine that God created the universe ex nihilo—“out of nothing.” This ultimately became the dominant teaching about the Creation within the Christian world. In order to emphasize God’s power, many theologians reasoned that nothing could have existed for as long as He had. It became important in Christian circles to assert that God had originally been completely alone.

Creation ex nihilo widened the perceived gulf between God and humans. It became less common to teach either that human souls had existed before the world or that they could inherit and develop the attributes of God in their entirety in the future. Gradually, as the depravity of humankind and the immense distance between Creator and creature were increasingly emphasized, the concept of deification faded from Western Christianity, though it remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodoxy, one of the three major branches of Christianity.

Let’s debunk this unfounded idea that theosis (which means “union with God,” as taught in Eastern Orthodoxy) is the same as Mormonism’s version of exaltation. While speaking about a desire or perceived ability to seek God’s holiness, this idea never attempts to undermine the biblical truth that God is one or to give hope to believers that they can expect to become, in an ontological sense, a god. Theosis does not support the notion that Christians will ever achieve the essence or being of God. Still, this has not stopped Mormons from misusing the writings of some early church fathers,  as well as Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis, in an attempt to give Smith’s teaching a bit of historical authenticity. Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, refutes such a comparison:

It is clear to me that C. S. Lewis understands the doctrine of theosis in essentially the same way as the Orthodox Church does; indeed, he probably derived his viewpoint from reading such Greek Fathers as Athanasius. On the other hand, the Mormon view is altogether different from what Lewis and the Orthodox Church believe. Orthodox theology emphasizes that there is a clear distinction—in the current phraseology “an ontological gap”—between God the Creator and the creation which He has made. This “gap” is bridged by divine love, supremely through the Incarnation, but it is not abolished. The distinction between the Uncreated and the created still remains. The Incarnation is a unique event. “Deification,” on the Orthodox understanding, is to be interpreted in terms of the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies. Human beings share by God’s mercy in His energies but not in His essence, either in the present age or in the age to come. That is to say, in theosis the saints participate in the grace, power, and glory of God, but they never become God by essence. (Quoted in Ostling and Ostling, Mormon America, 311)

Though some of the language used when speaking of exaltation and theosis may sound similar, the concepts are not. It is misleading, if not outright deceptive, for the Mormon Church to continue making this comparison.

As far as creation that originated out of nothing (ex nihilo) rather than out of preexisting matter (ex materia, as taught in Mormonism), an overview of this subject in included in this article. Another article I recommend is located here.

How were ideas about deification introduced to Latter-day Saints?

The earliest Latter-day Saints came from a society dominated by English-speaking Protestants, most of whom accepted both ex nihilo creation and the Westminster Confession’s definition of God as a being “without body, parts, or passions.” They likely knew little or nothing about the diversity of Christian beliefs in the first centuries after Jesus Christ’s ministry or about early Christian writings on deification. But revelations received by Joseph Smith diverged from the prevailing ideas of the time and taught doctrine that, for some, reopened debates on the nature of God, creation, and humankind.

Early revelations to Joseph Smith taught that humans are created in the image of God and that God cares intimately for His children. In the Book of Mormon, a prophet “saw the finger of the Lord” and was astonished to learn that human physical forms were truly made in the image of God. In another early revelation, Enoch (who “walked with God” in the Bible) witnessed God weeping over His creations. When Enoch asked, “How is it thou canst weep?” he learned that God’s compassion toward human suffering is integral to His love. Joseph Smith also learned that God desires that His children receive the same kind of exalted existence of which He partakes. As God declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

In 1832, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon experienced a vision of the afterlife. In the vision, they learned that the just and unjust alike would receive immortality through a universal resurrection, but only those “who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” would receive the fulness of God’s glory and be “gods, even the sons of God.” Another revelation soon confirmed that “the saints shall be filled with his glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him.” Latter-day Saints use the term exaltation to describe the glorious reward of receiving one’s full inheritance as a child of Heavenly Father, which is available through the Atonement of Christ, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

To  illustrate the impossibility of doing everything required to attain exaltation, consider:

Celestial Law 

The Impossible Gospel 

Six Verse Method

Our chapter 20 in Answering Mormons’ Questions (“Isn’t it arrogant to think that you already have forgiveness of sins?”) has a succinct overview of this issue.

For a 5-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series on this topic, please visit:

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

This striking view of each human’s potential future was accompanied by revealed teachings on humanity’s past. As Joseph Smith continued to receive revelations, he learned that the light or intelligence at the core of each human soul “was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” God is the Father of each human spirit, and because only “spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy,” He presented a plan for human beings to receive physical bodies and progress through their mortal experience toward a fulness of joy. Earthly birth, then, is not the beginning of an individual’s life: “Man was also in the beginning with God.”

Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote in a manual used as a Melchizedek Priesthood manual:

Life, intelligence, mind, the ‘light of truth,’ or whatever name one gives to the center of the personality of man, is an uncreated, eternally existent, indestructible entity. “He–for that entity is a person–… is eternal as God is; co-existent, in fact, with God; of the same kind of substance or essence with Deity, though confessedly inferior in degree of intelligence and power of God.” The Lord called this eternal entity an ‘intelligence,’ which quality is its chief characteristic. “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (The Gospel through the Ages, p. 126).

 The verse quoted by Hunter in the end is D&C 93:29. To suggest that man is somehow “eternal as God is” and “co-existent. . . with God” is not a biblical teaching:

John 1:3: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

Colossians 1:15-17: Referring to Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

The teaching advocated in this Gospel Topics essay is blasphemous, through and through, and is not related to either biblical and historical Christianity.

Likewise, Joseph Smith taught that the material world has eternal roots, fully repudiating the concept of creation ex nihilo. “Earth, water &c—all these had their existence in an elementary State from Eternity,” he said in an 1839 sermon. God organized the universe out of existing elements.

Nobody has tackled this issue with more success than philosopher William Lane Craig. Consider two important resourses that are located offsite:

The Cosmological Argument (video, 4 minutes)

A Critique of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation

Joseph Smith continued to receive revelation on the themes of divine nature and exaltation during the last two years of his life. In a revelation recorded in July 1843 that linked exaltation with eternal marriage, the Lord declared that those who keep covenants, including the covenant of eternal marriage, will inherit “all heights and depths.” “Then,” says the revelation, “shall they be gods, because they have no end.” They will receive “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”

The following April, feeling he was “never in any nearer relationship to God than at the present time,” Joseph Smith spoke about the nature of God and the future of humankind to the Saints, who had gathered for a general Church conference. He used the occasion in part to reflect upon the death of a Church member named King Follett, who had died unexpectedly a month earlier. When he rose to speak, the wind was blowing, so Joseph asked his listeners to give him their “profound attention” and to “pray that the L[ord] may strengthen my lungs” and stay the winds until his message had been delivered.

“What kind of a being is God?” he asked. Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him.

Joseph told the assembled Saints, “You have got to learn how to be a god yourself.” In order to do that, the Saints needed to learn godliness, or to be more like God. The process would be ongoing and would require patience, faith, continuing repentance, obedience to the commandments of the gospel, and reliance on Christ. Like ascending a ladder, individuals needed to learn the “first prin[ciples] of the Gospel” and continue beyond the limits of mortal knowledge until they could “learn the last prin[ciples] of the Gospel” when the time came.“It is not all to be comprehended in this world,” Joseph said. “It will take a long time after the grave to understand the whole.”

That was the last time the Prophet spoke in a general conference. Three months later, a mob stormed Carthage Jail and martyred him and his brother Hyrum.

Here is Joseph Smith’s Sermon in the Grove as well as the King Follett Discourse. We must understand that Joseph Smith’s view of God radically changed over time. For more information on this, see the offsite article  Also, see here.

What has been taught in the Church about divine nature since Joseph Smith?

Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” 

Interestingly enough, Gordon B. Hinckley said this statement–known as the Lorenzo Snow couplet–is something that “we don’t know very much about.”

Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?

A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about. Source

For a rebuttal against the Snow couplet, see here. Also consider this rebuttal against chapter 5 of the 2012 church manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. Even the Book of Mormon disagrees with this assessment, as this short video shows.

Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” When asked about the belief in humans’ divine potential, President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.”

Eliza R. Snow, a Church leader and poet, rejoiced over the doctrine that we are, in a full and absolute sense, children of God. “I had learned to call thee Father, / Thru thy Spirit from on high,” she wrote, “But, until the key of knowledge / Was restored, I knew not why.” Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Expressing that truth, Eliza R. Snow asked, “In the heav’ns are parents single?” and answered with a resounding no: “Truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.” That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”

Interestingly enough, “Heavenly Mother” is not taught in the LDS standard works. If she’s not even mentioned by name and it’s nothing more than an “implied truth,” this seems curious if this idea is even true.

Humankind’s divine nature and potential for exaltation have been repeatedly taught in general conference addresses, Church magazines, and other Church materials. “Divine nature” is one of eight core values in the Church’s Young Women program. Teaching on human beings’ divine parentage, nature, and potential features prominently in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Divine nature and exaltation are essential and beloved teachings in the Church.

The biblical verses used earlier in the LDS article “Becoming Like God” are not good support for this crucial doctrine. It’s not a teaching from early Mormonism, as this has evolved over time. If God was always God (which is taught in the Bible), then how is it possible that God somehow became God? This makes no sense.

Does belief in exaltation make Latter-day Saints polytheists?

For some observers, the doctrine that humans should strive for godliness may evoke images of ancient pantheons with competing deities. Such images are incompatible with Latter-day Saint doctrine.

This is a straw man argument. Certainly we at MRM have never suggested that Mormonism advocated competions among the different deities. We have correctly reported what the LDS leaders have taught, which is there would be many worlds manned by LDS families, as I will document below. 

Latter-day Saints believe that God’s children will always worship Him. Our progression will never change His identity as our Father and our God. Indeed, our exalted, eternal relationship with Him will be part of the “fulness of joy” He desires for us.

Latter-day Saints also believe strongly in the fundamental unity of the divine. They believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost, though distinct beings, are unified in purpose and doctrine. It is in this light that Latter-day Saints understand Jesus’s prayer for His disciples through the ages: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”

Mormonism denies the concept of the Trinity, instead opting for a tri-theistic perspective, which is heretical. For a four-part blog series on the concept of the Trinity, start here.

If humans live out of harmony with God’s goodness, they cannot grow into God’s glory. Joseph Smith taught that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only [except] upon the principles of righteousness.” When humans abandon God’s selfless purposes and standards, “the heavens withdraw themselves [and] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved.” Pride is incompatible with progress; disunity is impossible between exalted beings.

How do Latter-day Saints envision exaltation?

Since human conceptions of reality are necessarily limited in mortality, religions struggle to adequately articulate their visions of eternal glory. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” These limitations make it easy for images of salvation to become cartoonish when represented in popular culture. For example, scriptural expressions of the deep peace and overwhelming joy of salvation are often reproduced in the well-known image of humans sitting on their own clouds and playing harps after death.

This actually has become the Mormon “cartoon,” as this idea of heaven is often thrown into the Christian’s face as rejection of a heaven without earthly families being together. Consider this Mormon Coffee blog for an example of what I’m talking about.

I maintain that Mormon 7:7 is not the goal of a temple-worthy Latter-day Saint. What does this say? Here is is:

And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

Latter-day Saints’ doctrine of exaltation is often similarly reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets.

The argument of “cartoon” is not a new argument, as the Mormon Church recently posted an article on its website called “Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will ‘get their own planet’?” The statement answered, “No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine.” The statement appears to use semantics to cover up teachings made by past LDS leaders who speak of Mormons making and ruling worlds and earths.

Instead of being a “cartoon,” the idea comes directly from the LDS leadership themselves. President Brigham Young delivered a message in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on August 8, 1852, affirming this teaching. He said, “The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself.” (Journal of Discourses 3:93) Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, declared at a general conference,

“While against the backdrop of infinite creation, we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it. ”(“You Matter to Him, Ensign, November 2011, 20)

Mormon leaders have offered many details as to what these “gods” will be doing. Young taught,

“All those who are counted worthy to be exalted and to become Gods, even the sons of God, will go forth and have earths and worlds like those who framed this and millions on millions of others.” (Journal of Discourses 17:143)

He added that these worthy members will create earths “like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our parents, by our Father and God.” (Ibid., 18:259)

Not only will exalted humans be forming and ruling over worlds, but they will also have the ability to procreate throughout eternity. This doctrine is known as eternal increase. A church manual declares,

Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers. (D&C 132:19–32.) Indeed, the formal pronouncement of the Church, issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, states: “So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents of spirit offspring.” (Eternal Marriage Student Manual: Religion 234 and 235, 167, quoting McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, 517)

Spencer W. Kimball wrote,

“Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.”(Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 345, 90)

A 2004 LDS student manual recounts a story about President Lorenzo Snow, who, while visiting a kindergarten class in Provo, Utah, saw several children making clay “spheres.” Snow told the school official accompanying him,

These children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods. (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 345, 90)

Citing Kimball, Apostle L. Tom Perry said,

Peter and John had little secular learning, being termed ignorant. But they knew the vital things of life, that God lives and that the crucified, resurrected Lord is the Son of God. They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creation of worlds with eternal increase. For this they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences . . . Secular knowledge, important as it may be, can never save a soul nor open the celestial kingdom nor create a world nor make a man a god. (L. Tom Perry, “The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” Ensign, August 2011, 51)

Despite the above references made by LDS leaders and church manuals pointing to the possibility of Mormons being able to make and rule over their own worlds, the Mormon Church posted a statement on its official Newsroom Web site relegating such comments to nothing more than mere speculation. Answering the question “Do Latter-day Saints believe that they will ‘get their own planet’?” the statement answered,

“No. This idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the Church. This misunderstanding stems from speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine.”

The statement appears to use semantics to cover up teachings made by past LDS leaders who speak of Mormons making and ruling worlds and earths.

It is not uncommon for a Latter-day Saint to tone down the impact of this teaching by emphasizing that Mormons can merely become “like God,” as if this somehow means there is a distinction between what the LDS God is now and what Latter-day Saints hope to become. Though Mormons assume that exalted humans will always be subordinate to God, to insist that exalted beings will be merely “like God” suggests there will always be, to a certain degree, a substantial difference in quality and attributes between Elohim and his offspring. If this is so, is the Mormon Elohim also dissimilar from the God(s) who preceded him? In other words, if every generation of gods lacks in any degree the power, might, and dominion of the gods who preceded them, then it must be assumed that the God worshipped by present-day Mormons is also lesser in power, might, and dominion than the myriad of gods who were exalted before him. This means that the Mormon God is subordinate as well as inferior to the gods who preceded him. For another look at this, see here.

A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, although most Christians would agree that inspired music can be a tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.

If a “planet” (or “world”) is not anticipated by many Mormons, then we must wonder why not if the LDS leadership has made this a teaching in official manuals and teaching materials.

Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. They see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children, in the impulse to reach out in compassionate service to others, in the moments they are caught off guard by the beauty and order of the universe, in the grounding feeling of making and keeping divine covenants. Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated. As the scriptures teach, “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”

In an effort to make this teaching palatable to those outside the church, this article—on an official LDS site, of all places—minimizes the teaching of planets and worlds, making it seem like a made-up concept. But this is not the case. For tons of more references, please see:

From MRM’s site

Offsite

How important are teachings about exaltation to Latter-day Saint beliefs overall?

The teaching that human beings have a divine nature and future shapes the way Latter-day Saints view fundamental doctrine. Perhaps most significantly, belief in divine nature helps us more deeply appreciate the Atonement of Jesus Christ. While many Christian theologians have expressed the magnitude of the Savior’s Atonement by emphasizing human depravity, Latter-day Saints understand the magnitude of the Atonement of Christ in terms of the vast human potential it makes possible. Christ’s Atonement not only provides forgiveness from sin and victory over death, it also redeems imperfect relationships, heals the spiritual wounds that stifle growth, and strengthens and enables individuals to develop the attributes of Christ. Latter-day Saints believe that it is only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we can have a sure hope of eternal glory and that the power of His Atonement is fully accessed only by faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in following the instruction and example of Christ. Thus, those who become like God and enter into a fulness of His glory are described as people who have been “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.”

An awareness of humans’ divine potential also influences Latter-day Saints’ understanding of gospel principles such as the importance of divine commandments, the role of temples, and the sanctity of individual moral agency. Belief that human beings are actually God’s children also changes Latter-day Saints’ behavior and attitudes. For example, even in societies where casual and premarital sex are considered acceptable, Latter-day Saints retain a deep reverence for the God-given procreative and bonding powers of human sexual intimacy and remain committed to a higher standard in the use of those sacred powers. Studies suggest that Latter-day Saints place an exceptionally high priority on marriage and parenthood,  a consequence in part of a strong belief in heavenly parents and a commitment to strive for that divinity.

Let’s me clear: We would never argue that Mormons cannot be moral people. And we think it’s wonderful that a people would make marriage and family a priority. This is not the point. After all, atheists and other nonbelievers can also live moral lives. Truth should not be judeged on its pragmatic benefits. Indeed, just because it can be argued that being a Mormon makes a person a better individual is not good support to show that this religion is true. Doctrine matters. See this blog on Mormon Coffee for more information.

Conclusion

All human beings are children of loving heavenly parents and possess seeds of divinity within them. In His infinite love, God invites His children to cultivate their eternal potential by the grace of God, through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The doctrine of humans’ eternal potential to become like their Heavenly Father is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ and inspires love, hope, and gratitude in the hearts of faithful Latter-day Saints.

While this article attempted to minimize the idea of “worlds” where families can reside—which is the second half of the Lorenzo Snow couplet that “as God is, man may be”—not much has changed here. What has been accomplished in the publishing of this article?

1)      Preexistence remains a solid LDS teaching

2)      Humans have divine potential to become like God, as taught regularly in church publications

3)      Creation ex nihilo continues to be denied while creation ex material is reinforced

4)      Sitting on a cloud for eternity (a “cartoon” view many Mormons have of Christian theology) is denied and becoming gods is reinforced

5)      While “worlds” and “planets” are denied as LDS teaching, the information supplied by LDS leaders over the years shows that this is actually accurate.

“Becoming Like God” is certainly not going to satisfy the Christian critics of Mormonism, and it will do very little for Latter-day Saints.


For more responses to the Gospel Topics Essays, click here.