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 Pratt 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. 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.

For more on the topic of salvation, click here.