Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Evolution of Judeo-Christian Views of God

Last Sunday we went through a condensed overview of how God has been seen throughout Judeo-Christian history, with a focus on how our view of God, within that tradition, has evolved over time. We read from and discussed the following passages:

1) Genesis 1 and the other chapters describe God exclusively in terms of being the Creator. Thus, the earliest records have no real detail about God - certainly not the kind of detail we now preach. I also told the students that, although I almost never talk about scientific or political stuff in class, I believe it is important to realize that there is absolutely nothing in our scriptural accounts of the creation that would force us to believe God literally created the earth in six days as we measure days now - that "days" don't even get mentioned until the third day - that the Pearl of Great Price talks instead about creative periods (that could have lasted for millions of years or more each) - that there is absolutely no reason why we need to fight or reject scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and insist that it was created in six thousand years (or, for example, that God put dinosaur bones on earth as a test to see if we would have faith despite that type of evidence, as I've heard some evangelical friends claim) - etc. I told them that putting limits like that on God is silly when our theology explicitly says God has "all eternity" to accomplish His work. They all got it, and we moved on

2) Genesis 28 describes Jacob's journey during which he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels descending and ascending, and with God talking to him. We read the verse that relates how surprised Jacob was that God would be in that place and that God would promise to be with him wherever he went, and we discussed the traditional view of that time of territorial, warring Gods (somewhat similar in that regard to the gods of Greek mythology, but tied to specific locations and peoples).

3) We read in Alma 18 the account of Ammon teaching King Lamoni - with a focus on how Ammon approached teaching about God and what their view was at the time. We talked about asking first what others believe and about using their terminology, whenever appropriate, to highlight similarities and shared beliefs. We talked about the time frame of the discussion (about 90BC) and how that would be considered the Old Testament period if it was in the Bible (although it was in the time of silence between Malachi and Matthew). Within Mormon theology, that would mean the God they were discussing was Jehovah (the pre-mortal Jesus), so "the Great Spirit" would be a perfectly accurate description of their God at that time.

4) We read the verses in Luke 24 that describe Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to his apostles and talked about how this was the first time in our religious heritage that God having a physical, tangible body enters the picture. We talked about the story of Jesus' walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and I mentioned the explanation I have heard from other Christian friends that says Jesus merely took a physical body temporarily so his disciples could see him - and how that view doesn't work for me, given how much care Jesus took in Luke 24 to say he wasn't a spirit and then to prove it to them. I mentioned that the belief that Heavenly Father has a tangible body is derived from the account in Luke 24, since Jesus said he was and would be the express image of his father - meaning that if Jesus' resurrected body was tangible and capable of eating with his disciples, Heavenly Father's body must be tangible, as well. There really isn't any account in all of our scriptures that demonstrates Heavenly Father having a tangible, physical body without the connection to Jesus and the resurrection.

5) I then asked the students when in our modern Mormon history we can point to an event that showed us Heavenly Father and Jesus have physical bodies, "as tangible as man's". I was proud of them for not saying the First Vision (and I mentioned specifically that there was nothing physical about that vision). Instead, they mentioned the Priesthood ordinations by John, the Baptist, and by Peter, James and John - since a "laying on of hands" was recorded as part of that process. Again, the inference is that if Jesus, John (the Baptist), Peter, James and John had physical, tangible bodies, so must Heavenly Father.

[As an aside, the Priesthood lesson included a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith about how the Fist Vision teaches us that God, the Father, and Jesus have physical, tangible bodies. I didn't challenge that openly, but I did mention it in a whisper to the man sitting next to me(who is a wonderful scriptural scholar), and we both kind of shrugged and smiled at that assertion.]

Tomorrow,  we will be talking about Jesus and his status as part of the Godhead.


Richard Alger said...

I like this progression of teachings. Thanks for sharing.

Richard Alger said...

I forgot to check the email subscribe box

Anonymous said...

If several prophets have taught that the First Vision proves that Heavenly Father has a body, perhaps they are not the ones in error....

For instance, President Hinckley in 2007: "And so in 1820, in that incomparable vision, the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph. They spoke to him with words that were audible, and he spoke to Them. They could see. They could speak. They could hear. They were personal. They were of substance. They were not imaginary beings. They were beings tabernacled in flesh. And out of that experience has come our unique and true understanding of the nature of Deity."

Papa D said...

symphonyofdissent, I understand what prophets have taught, but I also understand retrofitting current understanding onto past events. I believe, deeply and passionately, that Heavenly Father has a physical body, as tangible as man's - but there is nothing in the First Vision that proves that belief. Seriously, it's not there.

Disembodied angelic visions have happened throughout our scriptures, and there was nothing about the First Vision that was objectively different than those visions. The angels "appeared" to people; they "spoke to (them) with words that were audible (to them), and the people who received those visions often "spoke to them"; they "could see"; the "could speak"; they "could hear"; they "were personal"; they appeared to be "of substance"; they "were not imaginary beings".

Again, I believe in the physical resurrection and that Gods have tangible bodies - but there is nothing in the First Visions that "proves" it. The wording I used is important to understand what I mean.