Godhood and Theosis
By Bill McKeever
That mere mortal men have the capacity to eventually become Gods is a doctrine that has been defended by LDS leaders since the early years of the Mormon Church. At the root of this concept is the idea that mankind is the literal offspring of God. Speaking in the Tabernacle on August 8, 1852, Brigham Young stated,
"The Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself; when we have been proved in our present capacity, and been faithful with all things He puts into our possession. We are created, we are born for the express purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to become Gods like unto our Father in heaven. That is the truth about it, just as it is" (Journal of Discourses 3:93).
The Mormon doctrine of deification is fraught with biblical contradictions. If humans can, in fact become Gods, then it denies the monotheistic message of the Bible. To illustrate this point, take the current membership of the LDS Church and divide by two (assuming that half of the LDS membership is male). Though it is highly unlikely even by LDS projections that every male will qualify for godhood, it does offer the possibility of Gods numbering in the millions (and that doesn't even take into consideration all of the Mormon males who have died since this became a doctrine in the LDS Church).
Since defending this position is extremely difficult from the Bible, Mormon apologists have tried to compare their understanding of godhood with the doctrine of theosis found in Eastern Orthodox traditions. It is a horrible comparison, to be sure, but one that LDS apologists continue to make nonetheless.
In the 1998 booklet titled Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues, editors Robert Millet and Noel Reynolds quote several early church fathers and philosopher C.S. Lewis in order to bring some semblance of respectability to the LDS practice. They insist that the "doctrine of the deification of man is not exclusive teaching of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Rather, it can be found in early Christian history." They then proceed to quote several patristic writers (church fathers) as support for their conclusion.
Mormons can spin the statements of the past all they want, but the fact of the matter is that there is no similarity linking these statements with Mormonism. First of all, theosis, or "union with God," speaks in part of a desire or perceived ability to seek God's holiness. It never attempts to undermine the biblical truth that God is one nor does this teaching give hope to believers that they can expect to become ontologically a God. In other words, theosis does not support the notion that Christians will ever achieve the essence or being of a God.
In their book titled, The Power and the Promise: Mormon America, Richard and Joan Ostling spend several pages examining this alleged compatibility between Eastern theosis and Mormon godhood.
"Robert Millet, speaking at a 1998 Church Educational System Fireside, said, 'A study of Christian history reveals that the doctrine of the deification of man was taught at least into the fifth century by such notables as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, and Augustine.' Stephen Robinson in his books Are Mormons Christians? and How Wide the Divide? cites such patristic authors as Irenaeus ('Ye are gods; and all of you are sons of the Most High.' . . . For it was necessary at first that nature be exhibited, then after that what was mortal would be conquered and swallowed up in immortality') and Athanasius ('The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods. . .')." (312.)
In response, the Ostlings cite several scholars who are quite familiar with the teachings of the men cited by Millet and Robinson, as well as the doctrine of theosis. They do not draw the same conclusion offered by either Millet or Robinson. On page 311 the Ostlings cite Orthodox Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, Bishop of Diokleia. His comment is of particular importance because he specifically refers to the positions of C.S. Lewis, the Greek Fathers, and that of the LDS Church.
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.
On page 312 of Mormon America, the Ostlings write:
"... the basic theological assumptions that lie behind those quotes-the assumptions of the patristics and of Mormon theology - are radically and fundamentally different. Millet's Fireside address, for example, expressed standard Mormon orthodoxy when he said, 'God is not of another species.' Traditional Christian scholars say the God of the early church fathers is monotheistic, always the self-existent creator of another species."
Jaroslav Pelikan, the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University who is considered one of the world's leading scholars in the history of Christianity, stated,
"It was as essential for theosis as it was for the incarnation itself not to be viewed as analogous to Classical Greek theories about the promotion of human beings to divine rank, and in that sense not to be defined by natural theology at all; on such errors they pronounced their 'Anathema!'" (Mormon America, 312.)
After citing these and other experts in this field, the Ostlings concluded their chapter by saying,
"It seems clear that support for the Mormon doctrines of a corporeal and limited God, eternal progress, and deification cannot be found in Eastern Orthodoxy, the early church fathers, or the twentieth-century writings of C. S. Lewis" (Mormon America, 313).
Unfortunately, The Mormon Church and its spokespersons continue to make these erroneous comparisons. For example, in an essay posted on www.lds.org in February, 2014 titled "Becoming Like God," these faulty "similarities" are again repeated. It is interesting to note that in this official essay, the LDS Church allowed itself some plausible deniability when it said, "What exactly the early church fathers mean when they spoke of becoming God is open to interpretation." If that is really true, why use them as some kind of evidence for the LDS position? Are we really to assume that the author(s) of this essay, and the LDS leadership that obviously gave their permission to post it on an official LDS website, are completely ignorant of these rebuttals? If not, we can only conclude that the continued use of statements made by the early church fathers are meant to deliberately deceive.
How Can Being God Over Your Own Kingdom Really Be Heaven?
There is little doubt that the goal of every faithful male Latter-day Saint is to one day be elevated to the level of an infinite God and rule and reign over his own personal kingdom. Mormon Apostle James Talmage wrote:
"We believe in a God who is Himself progressive, whose majesty is intelligence; whose perfection consists in eternal advancement -- a Being who has attained His exalted state by a path which now His children are permitted to follow, whose glory it is their heritage to share" (The Articles of Faith, p. 430).
Since the Latter-day Saint male believes he is following the "same path" to Godhood as Elohim, he is really doing nothing more than repeating a process started by an infinite number of Gods aeons ago. The "exalted" Mormon male, like all Gods before Him, will supposedly go on to populate his world, just as the God of Mormonism populates this one. In turn, he will receive worship of his offspring just as Elohim receives worship. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratts explains:
"Each God, through his wife or wives, raises up a numerous family of sons and daughters; indeed, there will be no end to the increase of his own children: for each father and mother will be in a condition to multiply forever and ever. As soon as each God has begotten many millions of male and female spirits, and his Heavenly inheritance becomes too small, to comfortably accommodate his great family, he, in connection with his sons, organizes a new world, after a similar order to the one which we now inhabit, where he sends both the male and female spirits to inhabit tabernacles of flesh and bones. Thus each God forms a world for the accommodation of his own sons and daughters who are sent forth in their times and seasons, and generations to be born into the same. The inhabitants of each world are required to reverence, adore, and worship their own personal father who dwells in the Heaven which they formerly inhabited" (The Seer, p. 37).
Mr. Pratt's comments raise some interesting points. If a human-turned-God has the ability to procreate throughout eternity and organize a new one when the former is full, are we to assume that Elohim (the God of Mormonism) has other planets out there somewhere that he is in charge of? If not, and since this planet we call home is still far from being filled, would it not be correct to assume that Elohim hasn't been a God for very long?
Let us set aside reason (and scripture) for a moment and hypothetically assume that Mormons can reach Godhood and acquire the necessary attributes for such an eternal feat. Is such an eternity really going to be what most Mormons expect?
Though the Bible gives very few details of what heaven will be like, it is described as a real place so wonderful that our thoughts cannot imagine its glory:
"But as it is written, 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" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Revelation 21:4 adds:
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
Because of sin, man has proven to be the cruelest of God's creations. Through man's sinful acts he has brought suffering and pain upon himself and others. No human alive could ever honestly say that life here on earth does not have its share of heartaches, disappointments, and sorrow. All of us have seen the effects of a fallen race, and the view is often very unpleasant.
We hear of places like Auschwitz, Rwanda, and Tiananmen Square. Such names flash horrible pictures of the dead, in some cases tens of thousands of them, slaughtered as a result of human depravity. Historical figures like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and Mao Tse-tung prove to us that there seems to be no limit to man's inhumanity to man.
We see the effects of sin on God's creation and we ask ourselves, "Is God pleased with us? Is what takes place every day on earth really making God happy?" Remember, according to Mormonism, this is Elohim's "heaven." This planet was his inheritance and reward for a life of good works in a previous world and while it is true that Mormons do not believe their God is physically present, they do believe he is aware of what takes place here.
Though the Bible denies such a teaching, Mormonism teaches that every human being is a literal child of God. (The Bible declares we become children of God only through faith in Christ.) Given this LDS premise, it is fair to ask, "Does God overflow with joy watching His children stumble through life? Does He bubble with pride as He witnesses His children killing each other in war, aborting their babies, overdosing on drugs, and stealing from each other?" Only the most sadistic of creatures would define heaven in such a disappointing way. Yet, if Mormonism is true, the Latter-day Saint who hopes to one day obtain Godhood can expect no better. Second LDS President Brigham Young made this clear when he said,
"Sin is upon every earth that ever was created, and if it was not so, I would like some philosophers to let us know how people can be exalted to become sons of God, and enjoy a fulness of glory with the Redeemer. Consequently every earth has its redeemer, and every earth has its tempter; and every earth, and the people thereof, in their turn and time, receive all that we receive, and pass through all the ordeals that we are passing through" (Journal of Discourses 14:71-72).
If Brigham is telling the truth--and Mormons have no reason to doubt it--then every earth ever created, including the one they hope to eventually inherit, will be infected with sin. Every Mormon couple who obtains Godhood has no choice but to look forward to the day when one of their own children will cause the other family members to rebel (tempter) and fall into sin, thus making it necessary to sacrifice another one of their children to die for the sins of the rest of the family (redeemer). "All the ordeals that we are passing through," death, sorrow, failure, etc., will be experienced again and again, only this time, the Mormon, as "God," will be in charge of the mess.
Since the Bible teaches such sorrows will be "passed away" in heaven, the LDS version of heaven is hardly that which is described in Revelation 21:4. In fact, it isn't really a heaven at all.
Christianity Has a Far Greater View of Eternal Progression than Mormonism Does
by Aaron Shafovaloff
I think Christians see eternal progression with bigger potential and glory than Mormons realize.
Let me explain.
Traditional Mormonism has followed Orson Pratt's model of eternal progression, which holds that when we achieve full godhood we will cap out in knowledge and power, having become equal with God in all divinity, subsequently only progressing in the worlds and progeny under us. This view reminds me of a flat plateau.
In contrast, Brigham Young held the view that all gods continue to progress in all divine attributes, including knowledge and power.
"All organized existence is in progress, either to an endless advancement in eternal perfections, or back to dissolution... Nothing less than the privilege of increasing eternally, in every sense of the word, can satisfy the immortal spirit. If the endless stream of knowledge from the eternal fountain could all be drunk in by organized intelligences, so sure immortality would come to an end, and all eternity be thrown upon the retrograde path." (Brigham Young, "Life and Death, Etc.", Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 349-353, July 10, 1853.)
Wilford Woodruff write in his journal:
"I attended prayer meeting in the evening Circle. President Young asked Elder Orson Pratt what He thought of his preaching that intelligent beings would continue to learn to all Eternity. O. Pratt said that He believed the Gods had a knowledge at the present time of evry thing that ever did exhist to the endless ages of all Eternity. He believed it as much as any truth that he had ever learned in or out of this Church. President Young remarked that he had never learned that principle in the church for it was not taught in the Church for it was not true. It was fals doctrin For the Gods & all intelligent Beings would never scease to learn except it was the Sons of perdition they would continue to decrease untill they became dissolved back into their native Element & lost their Identity." (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 4, pp.401-402, February 17, 1856).
This view holds that everyone is, with respect to knowledge and power, on a sort of divine escalator. In other words, we will reach God's current level of knowledge and power someday (if we are found worthy and meritorious unto godhood), but by that time God will have advanced.
To approach this issue with clarity, Mormons should indicate which view they take. With either position one takes, there are hurdles to overcome. Brigham Young officially rebuked Orson Pratt in a First Presidency statement for taking the following view, which in the letter was called "not true":
"But when they (the Saints) become one with the Father and the Son, and receive a fullness of their glory, that will be the end of all progression in knowledge, because there will be nothing more to he learned. The Father and the Son do not progress in knowledge and wisdom, because they already know all things past, present and to come." [Aaron's note: this is an unfavorable quotation of Pratt as found in the FPS]
Hence, if you take Pratt's view, you need to explain why you feel the freedom to take a view denounced in a First Presidency statement.
If you take Brigham's view, there is the problem of Bruce McConkie having condemned your view as deadly, damning heresy. In his speech, "Seven Deadly Heresies", McConkie spoke the following:
Heresy one: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is leaming new truths.
This is false-utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression.
God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply-not in the sense that he learn new truths and discovers new laws. God is not a student. He is not a laboratory technician. He is not postulating new theories on the basis of past experiences. He has indeed graduated to that state of exaltation that consists of knowing all things and having all power.
The life that God lives is named eternal life. His name, one of them, is "Eternal," using that word as a noun and not as an adjective, and he uses that name to identify the type of life that he lives. God's life is eternal life, and eternal life is God's life. They are one and the same. Eternal life is th,e reward we shall obtain if we believe and obey and walk uprightly before him. And eternal life consists of two things. It consists of life in the family unit, and, also, of inheriting, receiving, and possessing the fullness of the glory of the Father. Anyone who has each of these things is an inheritor and possessor of the greatest of all gifts of God, which is eternal life.
Eternal progression consists of living the kind of life God lives and of increasing in kingdoms and dominions everlastingly. Why anyone should suppose that an infinite and eternal being who has presided in our universe for almost 2,555,000,000 years, who made the sidereal heavens, whose creations are more numerous than the particles of the earth, and who is aware of the fall of every sparrow-why anyone would suppose that such a being has more to learn and new truths to discover in the laboratories of eternity is totally beyond my- comprehension.
Joseph Fielding Smith, whom McConkie largely followed in theology, also took the side of Orson Pratt, even though this view was renounced as wrong in a prior First Presidency statement (as noted above):
"The Book of Moses informs us that the great work of the Father is in creating worlds and peopling them, and "there is no end to my works, neither to my words," he says, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man," and in this is his progression.
"Commenting on this the Prophet Joseph Smith has said: 'What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same [that is Christ must do the same]; and when I get my kingdom. I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I [Christ] will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.'
"Do you not see that it is in this manner that our Eternal Father is progressing? Not by seeking knowledge which he does not have, for such a thought cannot be maintained in the light of scripture. It is not through ignorance and learning hidden truth that he progresses, for if there are truths which he does not know, then these things are greater than he, and this cannot be. Why can't we learn wisdom and believe what the Lord has revealed? (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.7)
For further reading on the Pratt/Young controversies (which included the Adam-God issue), I recommend Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, by Gary James Bergera (Signature Books, December 2002, ISBN 1560851643). The book is so replete with primary sources it is almost overwhelming. It requires some patient reading.
The Christian view of eternal progression is astounding when one thinks about it. We will ever-increasingly grow in the knowledge and power of God for all eternity. For us, eternity is not simply a long amount of time with an ending point. It is eternity. Christians essentially believe in a true eternal progression more than traditional Mormons do. When Romans 8:17 speaks of Christians as "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ", it speaks of an infinitely large inheritance that will take eternity to appropriate. We will never get to the point where we can say we have fully appropriated and received the entirety of our inheritance in Christ. We will always grow in the knowledge and power of God, the God who is infinite and inexhaustible. Our God has full, infinite knowledge and power, and, contrary to Brigham Young, is in no need of progressing in any of his attributes. As John Piper writes, "In Christ the best is always yet to come. Always. No exceptions. Forever."
"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:11)
"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable." (Psalm 145:3)
"Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure." (Psalm 147:5)
- On January 8, 2008, FARMS apologist Daniel Peterson is quoted as promoting the Brighamite view of eternal progression in the LDS.com Newsroom: "[T]hose who depart do so into a very real and concrete world in which social ties and family relationships flourish even more richly than they do here, and where learning and growth continue into boundless eternity" ("A Mormon Worldview"; link, emphasis added). The context was a discussion on the broad worldview of Mormonism, which is not "just something that stands above Mormons, but is imbued into their minds".
- Levels of Happiness in Heaven - A seven-minute reading of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper (MP3)
- OrthodoxWiki - Theosis
- Perfection and Progression: Two Complimentary Ways to Talk about God, by Eugene England
- Eternal Progress vs. Eternal Increase: A Poll (Mormon Matters)
- How can God be all-knowing and still progress eternally? (LDS FAQ)