by Sharon Lindbloom
5 February 2018
An interesting article appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune recently with the intriguing title, “Humans can become like God? Mormons say Orthodox Christians have similar belief — but that’s news to Orthodox Christians.” In this article, Bob Mims presents an overview of both the LDS concept of “deification,” and that of the Eastern Orthodox Church, while noting that Mormonism is looking to Eastern Orthodoxy as Mormons try to figure out what “godhood” means within the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
LDS Scholars (and by extension, LDS members) have long suggested a connection between Orthodoxy’s doctrine of “theosis” and Mormonism’s doctrine of “Exaltation” (i.e., worthy people becoming Gods). But there really is little connection beyond the nomenclature used by both traditions. After clearly demonstrating the incompatibility of these two views on “deification” in a blog post, Christian author Fred Anson concluded,
“The Mormon assertion that Mormon Celestial Exaltation is in any way derived from or related to either the Patristic Fathers and/or modern Eastern Orthodoxy’s Deification doctrine is pure fantasy. There simply is nothing in Orthodox theosis that asserts that men can become gods – and thereby take on God’s nature as the modern LdS Church teaches. Further, Orthodox Christianity, just like Catholic and Protestant Christianity, considers Latter-day Saint Celestial Exaltation heretical.” (“Eastern Orthodoxy v. Mormon Deification.” For more information on this topic, also see Rob Bowman, “The Mormon Doctrine of Becoming Gods: What about the Early Church Fathers?”)
Nevertheless, BYU assistant professor J.B. Haws sees a “likeness” between “theosis” and “exaltation,” and a “potential for doctrinal parallels.” According to Dr. Haws, the Salt Lake Tribune article notes,
“Orthodox Christians and Mormons also sound similar in their aspirations to the divine nature, he adds, and agree that while they may become ‘gods,’ they will ‘never cease to worship God, nor somehow replace him as their God.’”
Keep in mind that the use of undifferentiated words can make Orthodox beliefs and Mormon beliefs “sound similar” in certain ways. The above assertion that people who become gods will ‘never cease to worship God, nor somehow replace him as their God’ is certainly true of Orthodox doctrine. But I am less convinced that this is strictly true of Mormonism.
According to Mormonism’s overarching plan of eternal progression, what we experience and live out here on earth, is the same thing that our God has experienced and lived out on another “earth” before He became our God. The God of this world, the Being Mormons call Heavenly Father, worshiped His own God — His own Heavenly Father — who had also once lived as a human being on yet another “earth,” a repeating scenario that, according to Mormonism, continues back throughout eternity. The tenth prophet and president of the LDS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, taught,
“Our Father in heaven, according to the Prophet [Joseph Smith], had a Father, and since there has been a condition of this kind through all eternity, each Father had a Father, until we come to a stop where we cannot go further, because of our limited capacity to understand.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation , 2:45)
Consider also, the LDS Church’s 1945 Melchizedek Priesthood manual, The Gospel Through the Ages, which taught:
“The first question that may arise in one’s mind is, ‘How can mortals ever become Gods when there is already a supreme being?’ As it is possible for several sons here in mortality to eventually become fathers, so it is just as possible for the sons of God to reach the station of perfection that He has attained. Of course, at that time He will still be God, and even a greater Deity than He is today. This is the doctrine of the plurality of Gods.” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, 107)
So, in Mormonism, this earth’s Heavenly Father (we’ll call him God B) was once a mortal man who worshiped a different Heavenly Father – his own God for his world (we’ll call this one God A). By obedience, God B achieved Godhood and became the Heavenly Father of this world. According to J.B. Haws and other Mormons as they describe Mormonism’s doctrine of eternal progression, the people of this world, as we become Gods ourselves, will forever worship Heavenly Father. Placing that doctrine back a God-generation, this earth’s Heavenly Father (God B) will never cease to worship His God (God A). Okay, but in practical terms, is it true within Mormonism that God B continually worships God A? There doesn’t seem to be any real evidence that this is the case.
When we look at Heavenly Father as Mormonism presents Him, we never find Him in prayer to His God. We don’t see or hear Him praise His God. Heavenly Father never voices acknowledgment of His God. In one book that Latter-day Saints accept as scripture, God B actually denies that His own God A even exists! Isaiah 45:5-6 says:
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
(See Isaiah chapters 45-48 for many more God-declarations that ignore and shun God A.)
Joseph Smith taught that though there is a vast plurality of true Gods, “The heads of the Gods appointed one God for us,” (i.e., for this earth; History of the Church, 6:476). Latter-day Saints attribute Heavenly Father’s denial of His God (God A) to the fact that we, God B’s children, have nothing to do with God A and therefore need not know anything about Him. But does that really explain God B testifying to His children that no God was formed before Him, that no God will be formed after Him, and that He doesn’t even know of any other God — His own Father — at all (Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:8)?
Another book of Mormon scripture states that after this earth life, in the celestial kingdom, all will bow before God B’s throne “in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever” (Doctrine & Covenant 76:93). Going back a God-generation, this should also be true of God A’s children. Therefore, God B, a child of God A, should be bowing in humble reverence before God A, giving Him glory forever and ever. But it’s pretty hard to see how God B’s denials and shunning of God A fits into this description of worshiping God forever.
Following Mormonism’s doctrine of eternal progression and celestial exaltation forward, a current mortal who eventually achieves Godhood (God C) will create his own world and populate it with his own children, just as Heavenly Father (God B) has done. God C will falsely testify to his children that he is the only God; he will pretend that no other Gods exist. The magnificent God B, described by the LDS Church as our “all-powerful Creator and Ruler of the universe… patient, paternal, merciful, and devoted to our eternal progression,” will be of absolutely no consequence to God C’s children (God B’s grandchildren). Heavenly Father (God B) will be completely irrelevant in and on God C’s world (and every other subsequent world throughout all eternity).
A few years ago, in an email discussion on this topic with a Latter-day Saint, I wrote,
“I honestly cannot understand how this seems good to you and others of your faith… For me, I could never comfortably deny my God; I could never comfortably instruct my children to love and worship me and ignore my God. He is everything to me and I want nothing more than for others to know Him and His love, too.”
Maybe I feel this way because my God is such an awesomely great God. He’s not like the LDS God — just one in a hierarchy of Gods, displaced and set aside as the next God comes along. My God, as He reveals Himself in the Bible, is the only true God. He’s the only one; past, present, and future. He is the ultimate source of all that is: “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36). He is “the only wise God [to whom] be glory forevermore” (Romans 16:27). He is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). Therefore, to Him, “the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 1:25).