Posts Tagged ‘God was once a man’
I was looking for a quote today that goes something like this: “The only beings to visit our planet are those who were once inhabitants here” (Update: Jeremy at the Seerstone provided the scripture as D&C 130:5). My search landed me on an article in the New Era from 1971 by Kent Nielsen. Like Truman Madsen who just passed away, Dr. Nielsen is an emeritus professor of philosophy from BYU. The article is entitled, “People on other worlds,” and is still fascinating although it was written almost forty years ago.
After a brief review of the basic cosmological configuration of our planetary neighbors, we are introduced to the simple math calculations used to deduce that we are not alone in our universe. There are uncountable billions and billions of stars and galaxies throughout space. If only one star in a million should have inhabitable planets, that would give us over 100,000 systems in our galaxy alone. Galaxies like ours exist in the billions. We are not the only life in this universe.
People on other worlds
Even with the advances of science in discovering planets around other suns that conceivably could harbor conditions favorable to human life, we simply have no way of knowing that there are any people out there besides us. Or do we? Latter-day Saints have known for over 170 years about the existence of people on other worlds. In fact, we also know that people from other worlds visit the earth and have been doing so for many years to deliver important messages.
Can you imagine the impact it would have upon civilization if our scientists announced that they have detected an approaching spacecraft from outer space? How would we be prepared for the visit of extra-terrestrial beings? I suspect that Latter-day Saints would take it all in stride. After all, we claim to have been the recipients of such visits for a long time. No, the visitors did not require the use of a spacecraft to reach our planet. Their method of travel is currently beyond us.
Prophets taught of other worlds
Brigham Young said, “…there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.” The Apostle Paul knew that God had created other worlds. He wrote, “God…hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…by whom also he made the worlds.” Moses and Enoch revealed more in the Pearl of Great Price:
The Lord said to Moses, “The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works.” Enoch said, “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations…” Joseph Smith’s witness is similar.
God created countless worlds
“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” What an amazing testimony! But wait, there’s more.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man. … he was once a man like us … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth. …If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and … God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. … And where was there ever a father without first being a son? … If Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” Now that is deep doctrine!
Purpose of all these worlds
We don’t seem to talk much about this doctrine any more – that God was once a man as we are now. We tend to focus more on the idea that man can become like God. We are not alone in this teaching as it gives hope and motivation to many people besides Latter-day Saints who believe it. But the idea that God was once like us and passed through a period of mortality and testing is a bit much for some people to accept. President Hinckley even downplayed it in a news interview.
Nevertheless, as far as I know, it remains a basic fundamental doctrine of our church that helps to explain the purpose of life and all the potential inhabitable worlds that have been created. The worlds were created specifically to provide a home on which the posterity of the Gods could be tested and proven. Yes, we believe in multiple Gods, but limit our worship to our own Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ his son. We just do not teach about other Gods in our curriculum today.
Believed but not taught
I have often wondered about this unique way we have of doing things in our church. There are many things which we believe and are written about in historical sermons of former priesthood leaders. And yet, we do not include them in what we teach to investigators, new members, or even long-time members for that matter. However, just like the idea of a mother in heaven we do occasionally sing about our distinctive beliefs. A favorite hymn contains these words:
“If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
D’ye think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?”
We are Gods in embryo
We are of the race of Gods. We are of his species. God looks likes us. We look like him. He has two arms, two legs and a head with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. As Jesus said, “If ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father.” We are his sons and daughters and he loves us. The people who populate the other worlds out there are also his sons and daughters and look just like you and me. There are no green, bug-eyed monsters. They are also of the race of Gods.
The people who are out there are in different stages of their existence. Like us, some are passing through a temporal period. Others are living in worlds that have been celestialized and yet others inhabit a lower kingdom of glory. This process of living and dying and being resurrected has been going on forever. I can’t fathom that with my limited mortal brain but I know it is true. You and I are a part of that process of seeking to be like God and to inherit a glorious exaltation.
Space travel to the earth
Could a person from outer space ever come to visit the earth? Any Latter-day Saint knows the answer. Of course, visitors from outer space can come to earth! They’ve been doing it for many thousands of years. God and angels visited Adam. They visited prophets in the Old Testament and Apostles in the New Testament. The Book of Mormon has numerous accounts of angelic visitations and of the visit of Jesus Christ to the ancient American people. It is quite common!
In the spring of 1820, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ visited the boy prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Angels came to deliver keys of the priesthoodto Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple in 1836. In our temporal existence we may not be able to travel to worlds beyond out own solar system but other beings in advanced phases of existence are not so limited. When Moroni appeared to Joseph, he saw “a conduit open right up into heaven.” Awesome!
Communication from space
Scientists have been listening for communication from space for years but they have yet to hear anything to indicate intelligent life. On the other hand, Latter-day Saints are very familiar with the process of receiving messages from outer space, transmitted by means that transcend beyond the normal method of communication. This is more than a future possibility. It is a present fact! Beings from outer space have been making great efforts to communicate with us every day.
They have been sending messages that are filled with wisdom and great intelligence. These are messages that come from superior beings, who have evolved way beyond our limited mortal capacities to think and to understand. They live in dimensions that we cannot begin to fathom. But they are willing to share with us knowledge that will transform our lives if we will just listen and apply what they say. Their intelligence is far beyond ours and yet is beneficent and kind.
They are coming to visit us
What’s even more astounding to realize is that these same intelligent beings will be visiting us very soon. The millennium is simply a period of time when earthly civilization will be brought under the government of superior beings from another world who will visit earth frequently to direct our affairs. “Christ and the resurrected Saints will reign over the earth during the thousand year period. They will not probably dwell upon the earth but will visit it when they please…”
But these beings who come from outer space, or another world, will not be aliens. They will be our brethren, who have lived upon this earth in mortality. What’s more, we expect a return of portions of this earth that have been broken off in times past when cataclysmic events sheared off that portion of the earth on which they resided. First the Ten Tribes, then the City of Enoch and last the portion that contains the Garden of Eden. Don’t believe it? Look it up in our history!
Summary and conclusion
The earth has received many visitors from outer space over the years. They do not come in spaceships and they do not wear spacesuits. They come from a plane of existence that we can only dream about and not yet comprehend. These are intelligent and magnificent beings that are glorified and exalted in their appearance and in their character. They love us. We are their children and their brethren. They have come to bring us messages of great joy if we but listen.
Visions of angels and Gods from other worlds are not something that I have experienced but I know such things have occurred. The influence of these beneficent beings fills the immensity of space and dwells here among us. These Gods have given us gifts that help us communicate with them. One of these gifts is the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is real and is the means by which God reveals truth to the mind and heart of man. Of this I and millions of others are unique witnesses.
In our last Institute class we learned about the reality of Satan and the evil spirits in the world around us. That was Moses chapters four and five. In tonight’s class we covered Moses chapter six in which we learned about the priesthood, the prophet Enoch and the Plan of Salvation. In this essay, I would like to focus on one single verse which teaches us so very much about God.
57 Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must arepent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no bunclean thing can dwell there, or cdwell in his dpresence; for, in the language of Adam, eMan of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the fSon of Man, even gJesus Christ, a righteous hJudge, who shall come in the meridian of time.
If we all spoke the Adamic language, when we called upon God in prayer, there would be no confusion about who it is that we are addressing. Man of Holiness is his name. That phrase tells us succinctly that God is a man, albeit a perfect and holy man. He is a glorified and exalted man. He looks like us. We look like him. He was once a man like us. He passed through a mortal life.
God is an exalted man
Joseph produced chapter six of Moses in November and December of 1830. This was after the Book of Mormon had been translated and published. This was after the organization of the church. Joseph was living in Fayette, New York. Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge had just been converted. Sections 35 and 36 of the Doctrine and Covenants were received for them.
Thus we see that the phrase “Man of Holiness” was known to Joseph early in his work. The knowledge of that phrase includes an understanding of the exalted nature of God and that he was once a mortal man. Joseph’s understanding of this doctrine was not something that needed the King Follett discourse in 1844. That was when he taught it clearly to the assembled saints:
“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,–I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him in the form of a man–like yourselves in all the person, image and very form as a man…He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did.”
Witnesses of other prophets
Brigham Young taught (JD19:64), “Our Father in heaven is a personage of tabernacle, just as much as I am who stand before you today, and he has all the parts and passions of a perfect man, and his body is composed of flesh and bones, but not of blood.” This was also taught clearly by Joseph Smith in D&C 130:22 – “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”
Orson Hyde said (JD1:123), “Remember that God, our heavenly Father, was perhaps once a child, and mortal like we ourselves, and rose step by step in the scale of progress, in the school of advancement; has moved forward and overcome, until He has arrived at the point where He now is.” God our Father in heaven, passed through a mortal experience just as we are doing.
President Lorenzo Snow coined the famous couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God is, man may become. We are the offspring of God, begotten by Him in the spirit world, where we partook of His nature as children here partake of the likeness of their parents. Our trials and sufferings give us experience, and establish within us principles of godliness.” (JD 26:368)
Was God once a sinner?
Theologian W. John Walsh explained, “The critics argue that since we believe sinful men can become gods, it is a natural conclusion to say that our God was once a sinful man. However, they conveniently twist our theology to meet their reasoning. Their reasoning presupposes that when faithful Latter-day Saints become ‘gods, even the sons of God’ (D&C 76:58), they become beings equal and independent of our Heavenly Father. However, this is incorrect.
“While we believe that the faithful will enjoy a life similar to our Heavenly Father, we also believe we will still be subject to and worship the God of Heaven, which is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We will never be at the same level as them or stop worshipping them, but we will be like them and enjoy a quality of life similar to theirs.”
“In no place does the Prophet Joseph argue that our Father in Heaven ever sinned. He simply says that since Adam had a body fashioned after the image of God, then God’s body must be like Adam’s or his descendants (us). Likewise, he says that our Heavenly Father once ‘dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.’” We do not teach that God was ever a sinner.
Summary and conclusion
When Joseph Smith went into the grove to pray on that spring morning in 1820, he declared that he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Critics and historians have argued that he did not make that distinction clear for many years. I have written previously about the multiple versions of the First Vision. I concluded that I found no discrepancy in their content.
Did Joseph teach from the beginning that God was once a man and that he passed through a mortal existence the same as we are doing? I don’t know how early he taught this truth, but it is evident from his translation of Moses chapter six in December of 1830 that he was familiar with the phrase, “Man of Holiness” and all that implied. Joseph knew then that God was once mortal.
I learned these truths as a child and have taught them all my life. This knowledge of His true character enables me to exercise greater faith in God. Joseph told the truth about what he said he saw and I believe him when he taught that God was once a man. I also believe than man can become like God and achieve exaltation, but that’s a subject for an essay at some other time.
In case you don’t recognize the title of this post, it is part of President Hinckley’s answer to a reporter’s question that appeared in the August 4 1997 issue of Time magazine. The reporter referenced the King Follett discourse. The answer supplied and the manner in which it was delivered caused the reporter to draw some false conclusions about a very important doctrine.
In that discourse, the prophet Joseph Smith said, “If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man.” (See also D&C 130:22)
The article referred to Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man is now, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” The reporter said, “God the Father was once a man as we are. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing.” President Hinckley was then asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?”
The bothersome reply
“I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don’t know a lot about it, and I don’t think others know a lot about it.”
The reporter wrote, “On whether his church still holds that God the Father was once a man, he sounded uncertain.” That’s an unfortunate conclusion. Of course I wasn’t at the interview and neither were you but I’ll bet the reporter mistook careful thoughtfulness for uncertainty. This doctrine is indeed deep territory and not something that is taught outside the LDS Church.
An earlier and similar interview
The San Francisco Chronicle, published an interview with President Hinckley in April of 1997. The reporter asked, “There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormon’s believe that God was once a man?” President Hinckley responded, “I wouldn’t say that. There is a little couplet coined, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.’”
He then said, “Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” The reporter pounced on this. “So you’re saying that the church is still struggling to understand this? ” President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.”
President Hinckley’s response
President Hinckley said in October 1997 General Conference: “I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine.
“I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.” And there lies the whole point of my post today. Some members did indeed become a little concerned by the exchanges they read in the press reports of those interviews.
Does the Church still teach this?
I know this is old news but it still bothers some people when they discover the anti-Mormon attacks floating around on the Internet. President Hinckley was right. We really don’t know much about how our Heavenly Father became a God. The idea that he passed through a mortal probationary state like you and me is certainly not documented in any scripture of which I know.
However, it is still taught. In the Gospel Principles manual in the chapter on exaltation we read, “Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. . . . He was once a man like us; . . . God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46).”
Summary and conclusion
I don’t know why this should bother anyone. The doctrine is true. Joseph Smith knew a whole lot more about this than I do. President Hinckley also knew a whole lot more about this doctrine than he was willing to share with reporters who did not have the background to understand it. It must have been difficult for President Hinckley to hold back and not teach it in those interviews.
It didn’t bother me when I read the interviews back in 1997 and it doesn’t bother me today. However, I know it does bother some people. We each have trials of our faith. I have never depended on an intellectual understanding of the gospel in order to accept it and live it. There are some things that just can’t be fully comprehended without the temple, prayer and faith.