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The Nature of God in Mormon Thought

Abstract and Keywords

Drawing on the scriptural canon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this chapter sets out ten distinctively Mormon teachings regarding God the Father and the Trinity. These include, among others, the Latter-day Saint concept of divine embodiment, creation, temporality, passibility, and God’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. The chapter further analyzes the theological and philosophical advantages of several of these doctrines while also addressing some common criticisms leveled against them. The picture of God that develops is not a deity resembling the God of Plato, Aristotle, or the early Christian fathers. Instead, the Mormon God is more akin to the biblical God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not the God of the philosophers.

Keywords: doctrine, God, God the Father, Trinity, passability, embodiment, creation, temporality

In the New York Times Magazine, Harvard’s Noah Feldman writes matter-of-factly: “a majority of Americans have no idea what Mormons believe.”1 This appears to be particularly true with regard to the Latter-day Saint understanding of God and the Trinity.2 Consequently we attempt to outline in this chapter the general Latter-day Saint doctrine of deity by briefly identifying the sources on which LDS theology rests, using these sources to set out ten distinctively LDS teachings regarding God the Father and the Trinity, and exploring the theological and philosophical advantages of these doctrines while also briefly addressing some common criticisms leveled against them. Throughout the piece we affirm that the God of Mormonism resembles the God portrayed in biblical scripture.

After experiencing a remarkable theophany, philosopher Blaise Pascal famously drew a distinction between the God of the Bible and the God conceived by theologians. Pascal called the former the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the latter the God of the philosophers. Though variously conceived, the God of the philosophers is usually portrayed as being beyond any possible comparison to earthly entities—an all-supreme, all-controlling, all-determining being that is wholly other, immaterial, immutable, impassible, atemporal, and nonspatial.3 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of Mormonism differ radically from the God of the philosophers.

The God of Mormonism is not all-controlling or all-determining; instead He endows mortals with agency, allowing them an important role in deciding morally significant outcomes. Additionally, the God of Mormonism is not wholly other, immaterial, immutable, or impassible, but is gloriously embodied, presiding over the Godhead (or Trinity) as a profoundly passible Father and loving God. Mormonism’s God is not the creator of all things out of nothing, but the organizer of the cosmos out of chaotic matter and other eternal realities. As Harold Bloom observed: “The Yahweh who closes Noah’s ark with his own hands, descends to make on-the-ground inspections of Babel and Sodom, and who picnics with two angels under Abram’s terebinth trees at Mamre is very close, (p. 247) in personality and dynamic passion, to the God of Joseph Smith, far closer than to the Platonic-Aristotelian divinity of Saint Augustine and Moses Maimonides.”4 This God is not the God of logical construct; rather He is the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to various latter-day prophets including Joseph Smith.

1 Sources of the Mormon Understanding of God and the Trinity

The LDS Church has no systematic or official theology as such.5 Its doctrines regarding God the Father and the Trinity are based not primarily on rational theologizing, but on what it believes to be divine self-disclosures. In modern times, these divine self-disclosures commenced with a personal visit by God the Father and Jesus Christ to the young Joseph Smith. Years later Smith taught: “Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam on the relation of man to God … we should know little about it. … Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.”6 Smith and other prophets have claimed many such gazes.

Thus the Mormon understanding of God is primarily derived from thoughtful reflection upon these revelations collected in the church’s Standard Works, which include the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Together with official declarations of the First Presidency of the church, the Standard Works constitute the principal sources for LDS theology. Additionally, members give significant weight to noncanonized discourses by Joseph Smith and other latter-day prophets and apostles.

2 God the Father and the Trinity: Mormon Understandings

Reflection on the Mormon canon and the wider discourse leads us to ten affirmations about the Latter-day Saint understanding of God the Father and the Trinity. With some exceptions to be noted, these affirmations are shared by the vast majority of reflective Latter-day Saints.

  1. 1. Mormons believe that God the Father is a temporally eternal, self-existent divine being. He has always existed and will always exist.7 He is not dependent on anyone or anything other than His own nature for His existence.

(p. 248) Scriptures in the LDS canon repeatedly declare God to be eternal or everlasting. From the prayerful psalmist we read, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2). Isaiah refers to God as “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isaiah 57:15), and the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi describes God’s course as “one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:19; see also Alma 37:12).

In 1840, Joseph Smith pronounced his own view: “I believe that God is eternal. That he had no beginning, and can have no end. Eternity means that which is without beginning or end.”8 Also, in his watershed King Follett discourse delivered just two months prior to his death, Smith explicitly affirmed, “We say that God himself is a self-existent being. … It is correct enough. God is a self-existent being.”9

Some LDS thinkers have suggested that Heavenly Father may be timeless, having no temporal location or duration. Taken together, however, scripture and datum discourse suggest that God is temporally rather than timelessly eternal. On this point, Latter-day Saints depart from classical Christian theology, but they are hardly alone. Increasingly, influential contemporary Christian thinkers reject the Augustinian, Thomistic, and Calvinistic conceptions of divine timelessness, and they do so on biblical as well as philosophical grounds. These scholars include Nicholas Wolterstorff, Stephen Davis, Richard Swinburne, Clark Pinnock, Nelson Pike, and Anthony Kenny, to name just a few.

Some of them, such as Richard Swinburne, find the doctrine of timelessness logically incoherent; he says,

The claim that God is timeless … seems to contain an inner incoherence and also to be incompatible with most things which theists ever wish to say about God.”10 Similarly, Anthony Kenny states: “the whole concept of a timeless eternity, the whole of which is simultaneous with every part of time, seems to be radically incoherent. For simultaneity as ordinarily understood is a transitive relation. If A happens at the same time as B, and B happens at the same time as C, then A happens at the same time as C. … [O]‌n this view, the great fire of Rome is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Therefore, while I type these very words, Nero fiddles heartlessly on.11

Others reject divine timelessness on biblical grounds. For instance, Nicholas Wolterstorff points out: “The biblical writers do not present God as some passive factor within reality but as an agent in it. Further, they present him as acting within human history.” Indeed, Wolterstorff says, if we are to accept the biblical witness of God as redeemer, we must conceive of him as everlasting rather than timeless, “This is so because God the Redeemer is a God who changes. And any being which changes is a being among whose states there is temporal succession.” Nevertheless, he continues, “there is an important sense in which God as presented in the Scriptures is changeless: he is steadfast in his redeeming intent and ever faithful to his children. Yet, ontologically, God cannot be a redeeming God without there being changeful variation among his states.”12

Some proponents of divine timelessness claim that the doctrine is necessary to preserve God’s absolute sovereignty and illimitability. But Stephen Davis persuasively argues that temporality in no way diminishes God’s status: “He can still be an eternal being, i.e., a being without beginning or end. He can still be the creator of the universe. (p. 249) He can still be immutable in the sense of remaining ever true to his promises and purposes and eternally retaining his essential nature. He can still be the loving, omnipotent redeemer Christians worship.”13

  1. 2. God the Father is the fount of divinity. Both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are begotten of Him, yet each is fully God, possessing all of the properties essential to divinity.

While God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are, like the Father, eternal, self-existent persons, Mormons also believe both were spiritually begotten of the Father long before our world’s beginning. The New Testament alludes to Christ as the firstborn of the Father in the spirit (see Colossians 1:13–15; Hebrews 1:5–6) and the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh (see John 1:14; 3:16). Inasmuch as God the Father begot the Son and the Holy Ghost, God the Father is, as Joseph Smith put it, “God the first”14 in the Godhead.

In a rare doctrinal exposition entitled “The Father and the Son” published in 1916, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the church declared that “Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim [God the Eternal Father] both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit body of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed his mission in the flesh.” These church leaders deliberately refrained from making any further claims regarding the process by which the Father sired the Son’s spiritual or mortal body, saying that “no extended explanation … seems necessary.”15 The Book of Mormon states that Christ would be born of the virgin Mary “who shall … conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10). While the LDS canon provides considerable detail regarding the Holy Ghost’s work and witness, it offers less insight into his intrinsic nature or origin.

Additionally, holy writ does not fully explain how or why Jesus and the Holy Ghost are divine beings—perhaps divinity is intrinsic to their self-existent natures, comes from their begotten enlargements, is somehow acquired developmentally (see Doctrine and Covenants [D&C] 93:14), or some combination of the three (see John 5:26). Yet, scripturally it does appear that they, in some way, derive their divinity from God the Father (see John 5:26).

  1. 3. God is also in some literal sense the Father of the human family and the husband of a Heavenly Mother.16 Men and women are “begotten sons and daughters of God” (see D&C 76:24; Hebrews 12:9). Spirit bodies, though invisible to ordinary human perception, are nonetheless material and in the form of our bodies of flesh and bones (see D&C 131:7–8).

While the how of human spiritual generation from the Father has not been revealed, Latter-day Saints understand human beings, qua spirits, to be “offspring” of God the Father in some genetic or quasi-genetic sense. We read in Hebrews: “we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9). The 1916 (p. 250) First Presidency statement adds, “God the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title ‘Elohim,’ is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the spirits of the human race.”17 More recently, an official proclamation from the First Presidency of the church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995, affirms that “all human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such each has a divine nature and destiny.”18

It must also be noted that the Latter-day Saint conception of “spirit” is nontraditional. In canonized revelations we read, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7–8). In other words, spirits are materially embodied persons, humanlike in form, though invisible to ordinary human perception. In the Book of Mormon, the preincarnate Christ appears to the brother of Jared and says, “Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:16).

  1. 4. God the Father is the creator from chaos, not from nothing. God the Son was His active agent in this creation process, and it was He who created our world and worlds without number. Their most fundamental purpose in creation is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of the human family (Moses 1:39, Pearl of Great Price [PGP]).

The LDS canon clearly teaches that God’s creations are formed with material from an extant chaos and not ex nihilo (see Abraham 4:1, 7, 12, 14, 16, 25, 31, PGP). The First Presidency has said that “the Creator is an Organizer. God created the earth as an organized sphere; but he certainly did not create, in the sense of bringing into primal existence, the ultimate elements of the materials of which the earth consists, for ‘the elements are eternal’ (D&C 93:33).”19 Latter-day Saints find themselves in accord with the views of prominent Catholic scientist and philosopher Stanley L. Jaki, who writes:

The caution which is in order about taking the [Hebrew] verb bara in the sense of creation out of nothing is no less needed in reference to the [English] word creation. Nothing is more natural, and unadvised, at the same time, than to use the word as if it has always denoted creation out of nothing. In its basic etymological origin the word creation meant the purely natural process of growing or of making something to grow.20

For Mormons, creatio ex nihilo is a postbiblical intrusion into Christianity. Nonetheless, they unequivocally affirm that God the Father is the ultimate creator and organizer who provided the possibility and context for our earthly experience. Latter-day Saint discourse also allows for some to believe that God is the author of (p. 251) natural laws (see D&C 88:7, 36–38, 42), while others believe that God understands a priori laws and employs them with perfect mastery (see Alma 42:13, D&C 82:10). No prophetic statements to our knowledge have definitively settled this issue one way or the other, but some have offered the possibility that God creates some laws while obeying and mastering others.

As mentioned earlier, Latter-day Saints do not believe God the Father acted alone in creating the world(s); Mormons believe that Jesus Christ worked under the direction of God the Father as an agent in bringing about the creation of the earth and of worlds without number: “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. … And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them” (Moses 1:33–35, PGP).

Beyond such brief descriptions, Latter-day Saints believe God remains taciturn regarding the nature of His work elsewhere in the cosmos. Mormons only speculate that His creative works are similar in nature and purpose to those involved in the creation of our earth.

  1. 5. God is a morally perfect person who is unchangingly loving, just, merciful, veracious, and faithful.

With the possible exception of the view that love is necessarily responsive, LDS understanding of God’s perfect goodness does not differ significantly from more mainline Christian views.

  1. 6. Consistent with His perfect love, God is profoundly passible.

Mormons view God as their loving Heavenly Father. As their Father, they believe He is at times moved with compassion and is profoundly affected by mortal actions. For example, Enoch, an antediluvian prophet, became an eyewitness of the Father’s sensitive and responsive nature:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept. … And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? … The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them … but behold they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.

(Moses 7:28–29, 32–33, PGP)

Additionally, both the Book of Mormon narrative and the Bible portray the tender and profound passibility of God the Son, who Mormons believe is the express image of his Father’s person (see Hebrews 1:1–3). And, as such, Mormons accept the doctrine that as Christ is, so also is God the Father (see Matthew 11:27). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, suggested, “Jesus did not (p. 252) come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them.”21 Therefore, Mormons believe in the tender passibility of God the Father, who loves each of His children profoundly. Additionally, for Latter-day Saints the Father’s passibility is directly linked to his embodiment.

  1. 7. God the Father is a gloriously embodied person.

Mormons believe God the Father has a body precisely because He has revealed himself as an embodied being—most clearly for Latter-day Saints during Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The fourteen-year-old boy met with the Father and Son and saw them as separately embodied beings. Smith later expressed this to his followers, teaching that the Father possesses an exalted body similar to that of the Son’s. “If the veil were rent today,” he proclaimed, “… you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves.”22

Today, there is considerable evidence that Hebrew prophets and the earliest Christians also believed in an embodied God.23 For this reason, and on philosophical grounds, an ever-increasing number of mainstream Christian thinkers are open to the idea of divine embodiment.24

Of course, for Latter-day Saints, God the Father does not possess a body in the image of “our vile body,” but has a “glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:21). Some critics have argued that, in affirming God’s embodiment, Latter-day Saints must necessarily conclude that God’s body is subject to the same limitations as our own “vile” mortal bodies. Holland clarifies,

If the idea of an embodied God is repugnant, why are the central doctrines and singularly most distinguishing characteristics of all Christianity the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the physical Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? If having a body is not only not needed but not desirable by Deity, why did the Redeemer of mankind redeem His body, redeeming it from the grasp of death and the grave, guaranteeing it would never again be separated from his spirit in time or eternity? Any who dismiss the concept of an embodied God dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ.25

Indeed, as Holland points out, the argument by natural theologians that God must be incorporeal, without body or parts, contradicts the common Christian affirmation of God the Son’s birth, death, and subsequent resurrection with a fully glorified body. This contradiction is best expressed in the following inconsistent triad:

  1. (1) Jesus of Nazareth exists everlastingly with a resurrected body.

  2. (2) Jesus of Nazareth is God.

  3. (3) N (if x is God, then x is incorporeal).

(p. 253)

  1. 8. God the Father is the presiding member of the Godhead or Trinity, which consists of three separate beings who are one in thought, will, action, and love.

LDS doctrine does not fully accept the view of the Trinity outlined in the Nicene, Athanasian, and other classical Christian creeds. Mormons believe strongly “in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1:1, PGP), but unlike creedal Christianity, Mormons reject the notion that the Godhead comprises a single indivisible substance. Joseph Smith stated: “I have always and in all congregations … declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.”26

Though the above passage is often cherry-picked by polemicists to accuse Mormons of tritheism, polytheism, or even atheism, Latter-day Saint scholars, including Robert Millet, Blake Ostler, Daniel Peterson, and David Paulsen, argue that on the whole Latter-day Saint doctrine teaches that the Trinity consists of three distinct persons, who form one mutually indwelling divine community—one Godhead. Though not a single substance, the Mormon Godhead is perfectly united in will, action, thought, and love. Therefore, the Mormon conception of the Godhead is more akin to what contemporary Christian theologians call Social Trinitarianism.

A Social Trinitarian might describe the union or indwelling oneness of the members of the divine community as perichoresis. Perichoresis seeks to explain how the Father can be “in” the Son and the Son “in” the Father (see John 10:30, 38; 14:10–11; D&C 50:43; 93:3). Cornelius Plantinga described it thus: “Each member is a person, a distinct person, but scarcely an individual or separate or independent person. For in the divine life there is no isolation, no secretiveness, no fear of being transparent to another. Hence there may be penetrating, inside knowledge of the other as other, but as co-other, loved other, fellow. Father, Son, and Spirit are ‘members one of another’ to a superlative and exemplary degree.”27

Restoration scriptures further solidify the view that Mormons are Social Trinitarians in the sense outlined above (see 2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:44; 3 Nephi 11:36; D&C 20:28; Joseph Smith—History 1:8–20, PGP). The Book of Mormon describes, “the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7). In explaining this passage, LDS philosopher Blake Ostler observes:

There is only one God because the will of the Son is “swallowed up” in the will of the Father. There are clearly two wills, for the Son has a will that is distinct from the Father’s will, but he willingly subordinates his will to the Father’s will so that only one will is actually expressed in the divine relationship, i.e., the Father’s. In this sense, by completely subordinating his will to the Father’s will it follows that the Father’s will is always realized and thus the one God is, in this sense, both the Father and the Son.28

Thus, while the Son and Holy Ghost possess distinct minds and wills, and exhibit distinct actions, the Godhead thinks, wills, and acts ad extra as one. This is shown (p. 254) explicitly in Jesus’s preincarnate declaration in the Book of Mormon: “Behold, I come unto my own … to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son” (3 Nephi 1:14). As explained above, it is the will of the Father that both the Son and the Holy Ghost freely choose to take the Father’s will as their own will—this loving and free choice to unite divine wills is expressed in Joseph Smith’s revelations that there is only one doctrine (see 2 Nephi 31:21), judgment (see Alma 11:44), baptism (see 3 Nephi 11:27), and record (see 3 Nephi 11:36) of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As Elder Holland put it, “I think it is accurate to say we believe [the Godhead is] one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance.”29

  1. 9. God the Father is almighty, all-knowing, and omnipresent. His power, knowledge, and presence are sufficient to insure the fulfillment of all his purposes and promises.

Mormon scriptures repeatedly affirm that God is almighty (see Genesis 18:14; Alma 26:35; D&C 19:1–3), all-knowing (see Matthew 6:8; 2 Nephi 2:24), and everywhere present (see Psalm 139:7–12; D&C 88:7–13, 41). Yet, as we read these relevant scriptural passages pertaining to God’s power, knowledge, and presence, they appear more as pastoral-like assurances intended to shore up faith that God can and will fulfill all of his purposes and promises. For instance, in the New Testament we find the assertion, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” in conjunction with God’s miraculous powers and abilities to fulfill His purposes (Luke 1:37).

While Mormons believe that “For with God nothing shall be impossible,” they do not believe, for example, that God can create a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift. Mormon leader and thinker Brigham H. Roberts noted:

The attribute ‘Omnipotence’ must needs be thought upon also as somewhat limited. Even God, notwithstanding the ascription to him of all-powerfulness in such scripture phrases as ‘With God all things are possible,’ ‘Nothing shall be impossible with God’—notwithstanding all this, I say, not even God may have two mountain ranges without a valley between … even he may not act out of harmony with the other eternal existences which condition or limit even him.30

Yet, in a series of 1834 lectures on faith, early church leaders taught that if one is to have saving faith in God, she must (among other things) have a correct idea of God’s character, perfections, and attributes. She must not only understand that God is unfailingly loving, gracious, forgiving, merciful, just, no respecter of persons, and veracious, but she must also understand that God has power over all things. Similar reasoning may be given for why each person must understand that God is not only almighty, but also all-knowing and omnipresent, in order for each person to trust in God’s ability to fulfill His promises unto salvation.31

  1. 10. With respect to divine perfections that do not admit of a ceiling or upper limit, God the Father is eternally self-surpassing but unsurpassable by others.

(p. 255) This doctrine is known in the church as the doctrine of “eternal progression.” Joseph Smith envisaged God as eternally self-surpassing many years before Christian process thinkers began to even glimpse this idea.

Unlike the other declarations on Mormon theism, this one has scant basis in canonized scripture. Joseph Smith, however, taught it as have many of his successors in prophetic and apostolic offices. In Joseph’s King Follett discourse, he declared:

What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself.32

Notice that Smith’s statement implies that divine persons progress. Obviously, he did not see divine perfection as a state of static completeness, but as a dynamic life—one of unending growth and progress. God, qua God, is eternally self-surpassing.

Of course, this prompts the question whether God is eternally self-surpassing in all respects. On this point, faithful Latter-day Saints sometimes disagree. Most would no doubt concur with what Smith clearly taught, that God is eternally self-surpassing in glory, dominion, and kingdoms. Likewise most would probably agree that God is eternally self-surpassing in creativity and creative activity. Some influential LDS thinkers, including Presidents Brigham Young (who served from 1847 to 1877) and Wilford Woodruff (who served from 1887 to 1898), even considered God eternally self-surpassing in both knowledge and power.

Brigham Young said, “the God I serve is progressing eternally [in knowledge and power], and so are his children; they will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful.”33 In agreement with Young, Wilford Woodruff stated, “If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting mind. God himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge, power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end. It is just so with us.”34

Yet, other church leaders, including President Joseph Fielding Smith and Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, have passionately denied that God can surpass himself in knowledge. Joseph Fielding Smith asserted, “Do we believe that God has all ‘wisdom’? If so, in that, he is absolute. If there is something he does not know, then he is not absolute in ‘wisdom,’ and to think such a thing is absurd.”35 It is enough to point out the nuanced views on this issue and state that we believe the stronger arguments favor the view of God as ever-increasing.

3 Conclusion

God’s personality and attributes merit deep theological exploration. But, as Pascal understood, His sublimity is often best expressed through a personal testimony. (p. 256) Elder Holland delivered just such a witness in a 2003 address, capturing the ethos of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and Mormonism):

I bear personal witness … of a personal, living God, who knows our names, hears and answers our prayers, and cherishes us eternally as children of His spirit. I testify that amidst the wondrously complex task inherent in the universe, He seeks our individual happiness and safety above all other godly concerns. We are created in His very image and likeness, and Jesus of Nazareth, His only begotten Son in the flesh, came to earth as the perfect mortal manifestation of His grandeur. In addition to the witness of the ancients, we also have the modern miracle of Palmyra, the appearance of God the Father and His Beloved Son, the Savior of the world, to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. I testify of that appearance, and in the words of that prophet I, too, declare: “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views and boundless in His mercy and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”36


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                                                                                              (1.) Feldman, “What Is It about Mormonism?” Survey data show that despite extensive coverage of the LDS Church and its beliefs during Governor Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run, the vast majority of citizens “learned little or nothing about the Mormon religion during the presidential campaign.” See Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Americans Learned Little about the Mormon Faith.”

                                                                                              (2.) Pollster Gary Lawrence finds that only 23 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify the Mormon understanding of the Trinity; Lawrence, How Americans View Mormonism, 49. See also, Lawrence, Mormons Believe.

                                                                                              (3.) Although Christians added the Trinity to this depiction, they did not alter its fundamental features. Indeed, some might say that the Christian thinkers reinforced this depiction, insisting that God is so absolutely transcendent that he created the world out of nothing.

                                                                                              (5.) Some LDS thinkers, most prominently James Faulconer, argue that because Mormonism has no official systematic theology, Latter-day Saints are “atheological.” While intriguing, and in some respects persuasive, this view inadequately addresses the long-standing and continued influence of reason-based theologizing on LDS Church doctrines and revelations. See Givens, Wrestling the Angel. For more discussion on this topic, see also Faulconer, “Rethinking Theology”; Faulconer, “Why a Mormon Won’t Drink Coffee But Might Have a Coke”; and Baker, “Shadow of the Cathedral.”

                                                                                              (7.) Some have speculated about whether God always existed as God or became God. Recent church leaders have stressed the scripturally based teaching that God is the one and only true God, who has always been our God and will always be our God.

                                                                                              (16.) Though we do not explicate the attributes of Heavenly Mother in this chapter, or extensively explore Her relationship to Heavenly Father, these topics are addressed in Paulsen and Pulido “A Mother There.”

                                                                                              (20.) Jaki’s analysis of the etymology of creation inclines to the “natural process of growing”; this complements but is not identical to Joseph Smith’s interpretation that the Hebrew creation meant to organize or fashion. Jaki, Genesis 1 through the Ages, 5–6.

                                                                                              (28.) Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, 3: 258–59; emphasis added.

                                                                                              (31.) See Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God, and Compiled by Joseph Smith Junior. Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Frederick G. Williams, -[Presiding Elders of said Church.]-Proprietors.; Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams & Co., 1835.!/paperSummary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835&p=13.