Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is God Mindful of Us--The Mormon Perspective--Part I--George's Post

1.    The Mormon Perspective

Does the Mormon conception of God, and His relationship with men and women, support the belief that God cares about individuals, so that one can say the “God” is really mindful of each of us?    There is much about Mormonism that members find appealing.    But without question, one of its most appealing features is how Mormonism personalizes the relationship between God and men.   Mormons think of God as a loving Heavenly Father—much like a loving parent—who knows His children and cares about them individually.    This belief gives them great comfort, especially in times of trial, a sustaining power frequently not found with the same conviction among other Christians.    Many of the beliefs discussed below are unique to Mormons, and not shared by other Christian faiths.[1]

(a)  Man as the Center Piece of Creation

As we read in the Book of Genesis, man is not just a chance creation, a kind of chimera—a jumble of odd parts, much like the Africa wildebeest--conjectured up by God at the end of the sixth day, and then tucked away on this earth located in an obscure corner of the universe, and featuring a mixture of just the right conditions and elements to permit and sustain life.    The story of the creation as set forth in Genesis is intended to show the intentionality, order and will behind the creation.   The creation was not accidental.   God, when creating this world, had a grand design in mind governing all that He did.   God created the heaven and earth and then separated the lightness from the dark; after which He divided the waters from the firmament, gathering together the waters into one place, and permitting the dry land to appear.   He then caused the earth to bring forth all manner of plant life and afterwards all manner of animal life, each multiplying and replenishing after its own kind.   Man was the last of God’s creations, precisely because all things previously created were created solely for the use and benefit of man.    Man was God’s crowning creation, and indeed the prime reason for the creation itself.   Man was given dominion over all things-- fish in the sea, fowls in the heavens, and animals and beasts upon the face of the earth.[2]         

(b)  Unique Mormon Beliefs: Created in the Image of God

Why was it that God created man to have dominion over the earth?   What was it about man that warranted this special treatment?   Sometimes it is easy to gloss over the rather starting answer that God gives to this question.   “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[3]  He was pleased with what He had done, saying “And God saw every thing that he had made, and , behold, it was very good.   And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”[4]   So the final creation was an intelligent being crafted in the image of God and bearing His likeness.   The earth was created as a dwelling place for one related to God.
Mormons take a literal view of this language, and in doing so, freely admit to having a view of God (indeed of all of the members of the Godhead), quite different from that held by most of other churches, as evidenced by their various creeds or statements of belief.   Under Mormon doctrine, man is in the image and likeness of God at least four salient respects.   
First, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have perfected bodies, tangible, and of flesh and bones,[5] and while the bodies that men currently have are mortal, subject to pain, disease, corruption, and death, those bodies, when brought forth at the time of the resurrection, will be perfected bodies just like the bodies of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.[6]   Part of what is so startling about this belief is that it is so at odds with conventional Christian thought.   Often Christians[7] have thought of the “body” was sometimes evil, the source of the temptations of the flesh, diseased and corruptible.   Mormons acknowledge that this life is in part about learning to control and harness the urges of the body, bringing them in line with the boundaries the Lord has set, but part company with other Christian faiths in regarding the body itself as evil.   One of the primary purposes of this life is for men to obtain bodies, and in that way, become more like God himself.   It is not fanciful to see in Mormonism an acceptance of the body as something beautiful, much as the human figure and form were revered by the artists of the Western Renaissance.   But even more astounding is how this view of God diverges from the traditional one wherein God is a transcendent being, the “Great I Am,” so large as to fill the whole universe, so small as to fill the heart.   The Mormon anthropomorphic view of God is commonly derided as primitive, child-like, human centric.   God is infinite and omnipresent, and encapsulating Him in corporeal form, borders of blasphemy.
Third, man is kin to God in that man has consciousness (i.e., is self-reflective), is endowed with agency (the ability to make choices) and possesses the capacity to know the difference between good and evil.  Hence, man is a moral actor, here on earth to see if he will  do all that God commands him to do, or will be defiant, following his own will and not God’s.   While in the Garden of Eden, God told man that he might freely partake of the fruit of all of the trees herein, with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   But man had the power to choose for himself, even though God forbade it, warning him that were he to partake, despite of God’s commandment against partaking, he would surely die.[8]   The balance of the Garden of Eden story touches upon the predicament of all men in this life.   Satan came to the woman God had prepared for Adam, tempting her, saying that she would not die, but instead would become like the gods, knowing good and evil.   Satan, the father of lies, desirous of rendering all miserable like himself, understood not the will of God.   So when eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve did become mortal (as the Lord had forewarned), but at the same time they acquired the capacity to be moral agents, knowing good and evil, acquiring (as Satan had said) a godlike quality.   The story of Adam and Eve is, of course, richly symbolic, representing the journey of all men in this life, starting with the innocence of childhood, followed by the loss of innocence that comes to all as they grow older and are taught the difference between good and evil.   Mormons also consider the story to be literal—Adam and Eve representing in fact the first parents of all mankind—the first to receive the spirits God prepared to inhabit the bodies created for mankind.   Most Christian faiths accept Adam and Eve, as symbolic representative of all men and women, who acquired a god-like quality at the time of fall, but few think of the story as being literally true.

(c)   Kinship With God the Father; Relationship with Jesus Christ

Fourth and last, Mormons see men and women, not just as Godly creations, endowed with some God-like qualities, but as the literal spiritual offspring of God, possessing divine characteristics, and vested with a glorious potential barely seen in this life, cluttered as it is with trials, human weakness, and frailties.   God is the father of our spirits and all are his children, and related to one, whatever their ethnicity, nationality, or race, as brothers and sisters.   All, despite their flaws and weaknesses of the flesh, carry with themselves divine potential, so that the statements of being in the image and likeness of God are more than figurative.   Men have the potential to become like God the Father and like His Son Jesus Christ.   God expects men to strive for perfection, recognizing it will not be achieved in this life.   “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”[9]   Men should consider this admonishment to be directional.  
Not only do Mormons consider God the Father to be the Father of their Spirits—entitling them to claim kinship to God—they also see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their elder brother.   How these relationships were established, and fit in God’s eternal plan, is not comprehensible without understanding what Mormons call the “pre-existence,” referring to a long period, though one of indeterminate length, before this earth was created.    The pre-existence includes the period before the foundations of this earth were laid, and the time needed to create the world as a proper place of habitation for Adam and Eve and their prosperity.   During the pre-existence God the Father organized the “intelligences,” an eternal material, into his spiritual children; and, as such children, they have a form, were visible, looked like men and women, but did not have a body of flesh and bone as did God the Father.   The spirit children had agency, made choices, resided in the presence of God, and developed their capacities in order to become more like God himself.   The time however came when, in order for God’s spiritual children to progress further, they needed to leave God’s presence and to see “if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”[10]
In order to organize how to proceed, God convened a great council in heaven, and all of his spirit children were gathered together to consider how they might progress further.   The scriptures have several references to this council in heaven, rich with imagery, but scant in details.[11]    Those spirit children participating in that great council are sometimes called the “stars of heaven,”[12] “angels,”[13] and “the sons of the morning”[14]—and, prominent among those were Michael, sometimes called the “archangel;” Lucifer or Satan or the Devil, also called a “son of the morning,” and Jesus Christ, also called a “son of the morning,” and described as “one among them that was like unto God.”[15]  Jesus Christ said: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [the spiritual children of God] may dwell.”[16]
Little is known of the council in heaven, apart from a few sketchy, but suggestive points.   Two plans were apparently the chief focus of attention, and presented to the host of heaven for consideration: one advocated by Christ, favored by God the Father; the second by Lucifer, a “son of the morning,” an elevated status.    Christ’s plan preserved men’s agency, accepted the inevitability of sin, and provided for the propitiation of sin through sacrifice.    In contrast, Lucifer’s plan trample agency, forced compliance, and undermined men’s ability to progress on their own.   It was further tainted by Lucifer’s insufferable vanity, and his insatiable desire to take the glory to himself.     In the end, Christ’s plan was approved by two-thirds of the hosts of heaven.   Lucifer, together with a one-third of the hosts,[17] rebelled and were cast out of heaven and thrown upon this earth, where they became intent upon spoiling God’s plan by misleading and seducing men, causing them to choose evil over good.   The rest of the spirit children of God were to wait their turn to come to earth, where they would receive bodies and be tested.   They played a vital role in preparing the earth to receive those who kept what is called their “first estate.”
The pre-existence reshuffles our understanding the relationships between God, Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, pre-mortal spirits, angels, the hierarchy of high ranking angels mentioned in the scriptures, resurrected beings, and great and noble ones foreordained, before the foundations of this world were laid, to serve rulers and prophets and as the Lord’s anointed.   While some may see it to diminish Christ as the Savior and as the only begotten of the Father, others may regard it as clarifying precisely how Christ fits in God the Father’s plan.  

[1] Traditional Christian beliefs about God are codified in several well-known creeds, confessions and statements of faith.   Among the most famous early creeds are the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Anthanasian Creed, adopted by various ecumenical conferences convened between the third and sixth centuries A.D.   Many denominations had also adopted more recent versions of their statements of faith.   The orthodoxy of their members is tested against their adherence to these statement of faith.   Mormons have little trouble accepting some of the statements of faith, but find their beliefs sharply at odds with others.
The following is an current translation of the Apostles Creed:
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.   On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the died.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic and apostolic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
As written, Mormons are in alignment with the basic tenets of the Apostles’ Creed, adopted in the third century A.D., with the exception of the statement of a belief in the holy catholic and apostolic church if that is intended to mean the Catholic Church.   Were the statement to be revised to read “a belief in the original apostolic church, as established by Christ, and holding the priesthood keys he bestowed” – or something like that-- Mormons would give whole-hearted support.   But, the doctrinal differences are more graphically brought to the fore when reviewing other statements of faith, adopted in later centuries.    Mormons, for example, find little to support in the following text from the Anthasian Creed, adopted in roughly ____:
[Insert Text]
Apart from the possible criticism that the statement itself is almost “incomprehensible,” it does not represent the Mormon’s concept of the Godhead.   In Mormon theology, the Godhead consists of three separate beings: God the Father; Christ, the son of God, and the only begotten of the Father; and the Holy Ghost.   God the Father and Christ have bodies of flesh and bone, while the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, but appearing in the form of a man.  
[2] Gen. 2: 26: “…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”   See also Psalms 8: 4-9.  “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that you visitest him?   For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and has crowned him with glory and honour.   Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of they hands; thou has t put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.   O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.”
[3] Gen. 1: 26.  
[4] Gen. 1: 31.
[5] See D&C 130: 22:   “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.”  
[6] See D&C 131:
[7] Mormon and Pauline views.
[8] Gen. 1: 16-17.   “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
[9] Matt. 5: 48.
[10] See Abr. 3: 25.
[11] See, for example, Isa. 14: 12-21; Rev. 12: 3-17; and Abr. 3: 22-28.
[12] See Rev. 12: 4.
[13] See Rev. 12: 7, 9.
[14] See Isa. 14: 12.
[15] Abr. 3: 24.
[16] Abr. 3: 24.
[17] See Rev. 12: 4.   “And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to  the earth and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.”