Saturday, March 27, 2010

Believing We Can Become Like Our Father is NOT Vaunting Ourselves

Introduction: One of the core complaints I have heard from many who claim Mormons are not Christian is that our belief in exaltation as a state of godhood (the belief that, as literal children of God, we may become like Him) is a blasphemous conceit - the ultimate example of vaunting ourselves and being puffed up.

To wrap up this month's resolution, I want to post here something I wrote at another site almost two years ago - a post that deals directly with one of the core differences between our conception of our relationship with God and that of most other Christians. For this post, however, I would like it to be read in light of the idea expressed in the title of this post - with the understanding that we posit exaltation as being available to ALL who will turn to and accept God, the Father, AND Jesus, the Son. There is no "vaunting" and "puffupedness" - since there is no hint of superiority in the pure teaching I am addressing herein.

With that introduction, here is the post ("Praise, Honor & Glory Be to God"):

I have been struck for a long time by the different ways that people interpret and speak of praise, honor and glory – particularly how they use these terms to describe our relationship with God. Each has a distinct meaning, separate from the others, but they get conflated and used interchangeably all the time. First, consider the following foundational facts:

1) “Praise” occurs in our scriptures 188 times. (Interestingly, this word appears in the D&C only three times, in the BofM less than 20 times, and in Psalms nearly half of the other times.) In every instance, it means nothing more than its standard dictionary definition: (n) – “expression of approval or admiration; commendation; laudation.” (v) – “to express approval or admiration of; commend; extol.”

2) “Honor” (“honour” in the Bible) is found 123 times – with 105 of those times being in the Bible and the other 18 times split almost evenly between the D&C and the BofM. The dictionary definitions all focus on “respect” – but the scriptural references add an element of obedience to those verses that deal with honoring God. They carry the distinct implication that those who “respect” God will submit to what he asks of them. (Much like John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”) There is another fascinating implication – that of “honoring” God by “bringing honor to” Him.

3) “Glory” is far more common, as it is found 352 times throughout our canon, with “glorify” occurring 27 more times. In my opinion, the most interesting thing about these words is that “glorify” is used EXCLUSIVELY in reference to God and His name, but “glory” is used to describe many things – God, man, and the creations of both.

In the dictionary, “glory” is defined as: “resplendent beauty or magnificence; a state of great splendor, magnificence, or prosperity; a state of absolute happiness, gratification, contentment.” “Glorify”, on the other hand, is defined as: “to elevate or idealize; to cause to be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” The first is understood to be a positive thing, while the second is seen as a negative thing.

Why do I go through this exercise in this way? Simply to illustrate the unique place these words hold within Mormonism – distinctly different than within most, if not all, other religious traditions and the dictionary itself. Mormonism has added something fundamental to the religious lexicon by claiming a distinctly different aspect to glorifying – and it is not a trivial addition.

When praise, honor and glory are used within orthodox Christianity, they are used to mean simply what the dictionary itself states – namely, the utmost admiration, respect, splendor and magnificence. “Giving glory to God” generally can be summarized as praising Him (e.g., “Our God is an awesome God.”) and recognizing that He is so far beyond us that it is impossible to make Him “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” Therefore, we “glorify God” by “elevating or idealizing” Him, but we are not to “glorify” others (including ourselves) by making us “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.”

This is the heart of the charge of blasphemy leveled against Mormonism – that in its presentation of the doctrine of exaltation and Celestial Glory, it elevates and idealizes humanity beyond what is actually the case to a state that should be reserved only for God. Since God alone is elevated above us, anything that *appears* to place us as equals is considered heretical – an act of “glorifying” man and not just God, as they believe the Bible so clearly states should be.

How do Mormons reconcile this dilemma?

Ironically, Mormons do so by keeping the basic definition of praise and honor in place but changing radically the overarching (or underpinning, whichever seems more apt) principle of glory to fit more closely the differing degrees or applications in our canon – specifically the Bible. (That is truly ironic, since the Book of Mormon says next to nothing on this topic.)

Mormonism takes the basic concept of “glory” being applied to God and all His creation and focuses on the concept of growing through glories taught most directly in a few NT passages:

1) 2 Cor. 3:18 says:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

2) 1 Cor. 15:40-41 says:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory."

3) John 17 contains some fascinating verses, including the following:

a) verse 4:

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."

b) verses 10-11:

“And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."

4) Matthew 5:48 says:

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

By citing these verses and many others like them, Mormonism places “glorifying God” in a different light. It posits that “this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) – in practical terms, defining the process of glorification as the accomplishment of Matthew 5:48 and John 17:11, among many others. Within all of Christianity (including Mormonism), praising, honoring and glorifying God are used to elevate and separate Him from us, but within Mormonism, His praise and honor and glory is defined as flowing from His grace and mercy in changing us to become like Him and His Son – in truly making us “perfect, even as (He) is perfect” and “one, as (He and His Son) are one”.

What separates Mormonism at the most fundamental level from the rest of Christianity is that we take these and other similar scriptures literally – and that literalness changes the very core of our view of God’s glory. We don’t praise and honor His glory; we praise and honor him by realizing that we are His glory, unworthy though we are and everlastingly “below Him” though we also ever will be. We give glory to God, our Eternal Father, in the same way that my children give glory to me – by becoming what I hope and pray they become, NOT by telling me how wonderful I am.

I believe the following is a false dichotomy, but If I had to choose between my children praising, honoring or glorifying me (as I believe each is defined and laid out in our scriptures), I would choose glorifying every time. I can live happily without verbal expressions of praise and honor (“admiration and respect”); frankly, I don’t really care what is said nearly as much as what is done. What I really care about is what my children become – that they maximize their glory (“beauty, magnificence, splendor, [spiritual] prosperity, absolute happiness, gratification, contentment”). If that happens, I truly will be glorified myself; if not, no praise or honor will make up for it – and my Mormon self simply can’t picture God being any different, given what I believe is taught in the New Testament.

Postscript: Thus, I am not vaunting myself through being puffed up; God is lifting me as He has promised to do for ALL who will allow Him to do so.


Seth R. said...

You might find this article from an Eastern Orthodox writer on the topic of theosis relevant:

Nice big list of New Testament scriptures supporting the idea that men may become divine.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Seth. I'll look at the link tonight.

I could have used hundreds of verses and passages, but I really didn't want to write a thesis. I understand why people deny it, but it still amazes me that they claim this concept is non-Biblical. Imo, it's one of the central, core, fundamental Biblical principles.

Anonymous said...

Magnificent Ray,perhaps the core principal that has kept me hanging in there is our concept of a God who wishes us to enjoy the same joys and priveleges as Himself.The only definition of God worth having i think.

I don't really feel too much of a responsibility to justify my beliefs to anyone,but I do rejoice in this clarification.Thankyou.