Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"As God Is, Man May Become" Is a BIBLICAL Concept

Personally, I think the doctrine of becoming like God is one of the central tenets of the Bible.

It is taught in one way or another over and over and over again there - in both the Old and New Testaments. It is my absolute favorite teaching of the Restored Gospel - and, ironically, it is one of the core ties we have to many Eastern religions.

I wrote a fairly long paper about this topic long ago for a divinity school class, but here is the bare-bones, stripped down, bullet-point version - to the best of my memory, and not taking the time to quote actual scriptural verses (since they are so numerous as to be over-whelming):

1) It is clear that the Bible teaches we are created in the image of God.

2) It is clear that the Bible teaches that we are to become like God.

In the OT, this generally is phrased as follows: "Be _______, because God is _______." The direct line reasoning is that we are to develop a certain characteristic specifically because God has that characteristic. The penultimate statement of this is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus laid out traits that make us "blessed" and then says, "Be ye therefore (by the pattern laid out in the previous verses) perfect (complete, whole, fully developed), even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (I believe the ultimate statement of this is the Intercessory Prayer recorded in the Gospel of John.) In the Book of Mormon version, when Jesus appears to the Nephites, he makes it even clearer that this is a final state of progression, by adding himself to the injunction.

3) The NT takes the OT admonitions and actually adds a stated reward. The joint-heir change to the inheritance custom - the "see him as he is, for we shall be like him" - the "one as we are one" - etc. all provide context for the command.

Interestingly, the Book of Mormon says exactly nothing about becoming like God, except in 3 Nephi. I think this is for two primary reasons:

1) The basic teaching is almost omnipresent in the Bible, and Mormon and Moroni made it perfectly clear that one of the core purposes of their record was to inspire those who would "believe this" (the Book of Mormon) to "believe that" (the Bible). (Note: It's not to believe IN the Bible, but to actually believe what it says. - hat tip to Robinson's "Believing Christ") If the concept of becoming like God is central to the Bible, it wouldn't be necessary in the Book of Mormon abridgment to "waste space" detailing it.

2) If it were taught in the Book of Mormon, it would be much easier for non-Mormon Christians to dismiss it as a uniquely Mormon heresy. They still can reject it as such, but the fact that it's not taught in the Book of Mormon means they are rejecting the Bible, not the Book of Mormon, when they reject the concept.

Summary: I see the concept of becoming like God to be a core Christian doctrine - in fact, THE core Christian doctrine of the Bible. I see the rejection of it as THE core abomination of the Great Apostasy.

One more thing: I personally have no problem questioning / putting on a shelf / not accepting right now the first part of the oft-quoted couplet - that as man is God once was. I know Joseph taught it in one sermon, and I know others extrapolated on it, but there is only one small verse in the Bible from which it is intuited - and Joseph himself attributed the idea to that verse. Pres. Hinckley said in his TV interview years ago that we don't "teach or emphasize" it anymore.  If it ends up being wrong and going the way of other speculation, I'm fine with that. If it ends up being right, I will tip my hat and be fine with it.


ji said...

The idea of being sons, and not servants, is made very clear in the New Testament -- and of being joint heirs with Jesus Christ in receiving all that the Father has. The teaching is true, but another teaching is also true -- that is, the way we become a joint heir with Jesus Christ is to follow the example Jesus Christ set for us -- we look to Jesus for our example and our salvation -- if we take care to look to Jesus, then everything else will follow -- but we cannot look past Jesus, even in looking to the Father, as exemplified in Luke ch. 14 ("show us the Father"). Thus, the Book of Mormon reminds us that we teach of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, and so forth all in Christ.

So for me, I do not want to over-emphasize the become like God thought even though I believe it -- for me, it works better to emphasize the joint heir with Jesus Christ thought. Even though I believe it is our destiny to become like God, I am unsettled and uncertain regarding the explanations some Latter-day Saints have offered to explain what it means to become like God. Indeed, I reject some of those explanations as looking beyond the mark (at best) or even wholesale and untrue speculation (at worst). For me, in my life's season and circumstance, I am satisfied with the promise to become a joint heir with Jesus Christ in receiving all that the Father has -- if there is more to learn about what this really means, I am satisfied to wait and learn from the Lord Jesus Christ himself when the time comes. And for me, as so powerfully expressed in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, Jesus Christ is my God.

Anonymous said...

The concept that our conception of God is of a Father who wants to give us all that He has,contingent on our having achieved the level of growth that will make us safe to have such power,moves me deeply and bares witness with my spirit that this is His gospel,perhaps more than any other teaching.I'm not sure what extreme positions have been taken as a consequence of this teaching,but it bares witness of a loving Father to me.

Gwennaƫlle said...

I find funny that you have written a post about this because I have come to this realization myself a little while ago.
If you have a problem with this teaching of ours it is actually with the Bible you have a problem with and not our theology.
I know you can't say things this way to Americans. This is why I love to live in France. You are allowed to have the craziest belief as long as you keep it to yourself and don't bother people with it :P

Papa D said...

Sorry, I've been traveling this week and unable to respond sooner.

ji, I understand what you are saying, and I do believe we sometimes devalue Jesus a bit in our focus on Heavenly Father - but I think we do it because Christianity essentially killed the Father in its focus on the Son. Worshiping BOTH of our Gods is important to me - as it is to you, I know.

Anonymous, this is THE grand belief of Mormonism, imo. My testimony is summed up quite well in the idea, "I am a child of God."

Gwen, Joseph Smith once said that the major difference between Mormons and other Christians is that we actually believe the Bible and they don't. I'm not willing to go quite that far, but I appreciate what he was saying greatly. There's a difference between believing IN something and actually believing it in real, practical terms.