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Godhood

K. Codell Carter
FARMS


by K. Codell Carter

Logically and naturally, the ultimate desire of a loving Supreme Being is to help his children enjoy all that he enjoys. For Latter-day Saints, the term "godhood" denotes the attainment of such a state—one of having all divine attributes and doing as God does and being as God is. Such a state is to be enjoyed by all exalted, embodied, intelligent beings (see Deification; Eternal Progression; Exaltation; God; Perfection). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all resurrected and perfected mortals become gods (cf. Gen. 3:22; Matt. 5:48). They will dwell again with God the Father, and live and act like him in endless worlds of happiness, power, love, glory, and knowledge; above all, they will have the power of procreating endless lives. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ attained godhood (see Christology) and that he marked the path and led the way for others likewise to become exalted divine beings by following him (cf. John 14:3).

The LDS conception of godhood is central to their understanding of why God creates and acts. Latter-day Saints believe in a God who "cleaves unto" other eternal intelligences (D&C 88:40) and wants to make them happy. Joseph Smith observed, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God" (TPJS, p. 255). Happiness is the goal of existence, and God created this world in order to promote happiness (2 Ne. 2:25). Because he loves the world, he gave his "only begotten Son" (John 3:16). God gives commandments to help mankind achieve happiness. Joseph Smith wrote: "In obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances" (TPJS, pp. 256-57). The Book of Mormon refers to God's Plan of Salvation as "the great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8). In this sense, God creates in order to increase the total happiness in the universe.

As the Supreme Being in the universe, God has the greatest capacity for happiness. Thus, to maximize joy in others, God desires them to be as much like him as possible. "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39; cf. Ps. 16:11). This latter-day scripture is understood to mean that God's goal is to help men and women share in the kind of eternal life he lives. Joseph Smith wrote: "God…was more intelligent, [and he] saw proper to institute laws whereby [his children] could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits" (TPJS, p. 354).

All of God's spirit children have within them a divine nature with the potential to become like him. To become more like God, individuals must gain increased light and truth and follow all the commandments that God has given. They must know God (John 17:3; D&C 88:49) and see him (1 Jn. 3:2). Those who achieve this level of perfection will become joint-heirs with Christ: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:14-17). "All that [the] Father hath" shall be given to them (D&C 84:37-38). In biblical terms, those who are worthy to share in all the power and glory that God himself has are called "gods": "Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High" (Ps. 82:6; John 10:34-38). Latter-day scriptures refer to several persons, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who once lived on earth and who are now resurrected beings and have become gods (D&C 132:37).

Most people are accustomed to using the term "God" to identify only one being, the Father. But the scriptures sometimes use the term to designate others as well. In this sense, while the faithful worship only one God in spirit and in truth, there exist other beings who have attained the necessary intelligence and righteousness to qualify for the title "god." Jesus Christ is a God and is a separate personage, distinct from God the Father (see Godhead).

People qualify themselves for this rank and degree of exaltation by bringing themselves fully in line with all that God has commanded them to do: "Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God,…namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power" (TPJS, pp. 346-47).

Joseph Smith also wrote, "Every man who reigns in celestial glory is a God to his dominions" (TPJS, p. 374). This does not mean that any person ever would or could supplant God as the Supreme Being in the universe; but it does mean that through God's plan and with his help, all men and women have the capacity to participate in God's eternal work. People participate in this work by righteous living, by giving birth to children in mortality and helping them live righteous lives, and by bringing others to Christ. Moreover, Latter-day Saints believe that those who become gods will have the opportunity to participate even more fully in God's work of bringing eternal life to other beings. God is referred to as "Father in Heaven" because he is the father of all human spirits (Heb. 12:9; cf. Acts 17:29), imbuing them with divine potentials. Those who become like him will likewise contribute to this eternal process by adding further spirit offspring to the eternal family.

Latter-day Saints believe that God achieved his exalted rank by progressing much as man must progress and that God is a perfected and exalted man: "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 like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another" (TPJS, p. 345).

Much of the LDS concept of godhood is expressed in a frequently cited aphorism written in 1840 by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church. At the time, Snow was twenty-six years old, having been baptized four years earlier. He recorded in his journal that he attended a meeting in which Elder H. G. Sherwood explained the parable of the Savior regarding the husbandman who hired servants and sent them forth at different hours of the day to labor for him in his vineyard. Snow continued, as recorded in his sister's biography of him: "The Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me…. As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be" (Eliza R. Snow, p. 46).

Bibliography

Snow, Eliza R. Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow. Salt Lake City, 1884.

Snow, LeRoi C. "Devotion to a Divine Inspiration." IE 22 (1919):653-62.

Widtsoe, John A. Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 65-67. Salt Lake City, 1960.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Godhood

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


by FARMS

Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that human beings can grow and progress spiritually until, through the mercy and grace of Christ, they can inherit and possess all that the Father has-they can become gods. This is taught in revelations given to modern prophets (see D&C 76:58; 132:19-20), as well as in sermons delivered by Joseph Smith.9 A couplet written by Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS Church, states: As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be.10

This doctrine is generally referred to as deification, and the LDS expression of this doctrine is often misrepresented and misunderstood. Latter-day Saints do not believe that human beings will ever be independent of God, or that they will ever cease to be subordinate to God. They believe that to become as God means to overcome the world through the atonement of Jesus Christ (see 1 John 5:4-5; Revelation 2:7, 11). Thus the faithful become heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ and will inherit all things just as Christ inherits all things (see Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Revelation 21:7). They are received into the "church of the firstborn," meaning they inherit as though they were the firstborn (see Hebrews 12:23). There are no limitations on these scriptural declarations; those who become as God shall inherit all things. In that glorified state they will resemble our Savior; they will receive his glory and be one with him and with the Father (see 1 John 3:2; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:21-23; Philippians 3:21).

Ancient Doctrine

The doctrine of the deification of man is not an exclusive teaching of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Rather, it can be found in early Christian history. In the second century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (about a.d. 130-200), the most important Christian theologian of his time, said much the same thing as Lorenzo Snow: If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods.11

Further, Irenaeus asked:

At about the same time, Clement of Alexandria (about a.d. 150-215) wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god."13 Clement also said that "if one knows himself, he will know God, and knowing God will become like God. . . . His is beauty, true beauty, for it is God, and that man becomes a god, since God wills it. So Heraclitus was right when he said, 'Men are gods, and gods are men.'"14

Still in the second century, Justin Martyr (about a.d. 100-165) insisted that in the beginning men "were made like God, free from suffering and death," and that they are thus "deemed worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest."15 Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (about a.d. 296-373), also stated his belief in deification in terms very similar to those of Lorenzo Snow: "The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods. . . . Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh, and henceforth inherit everlasting life."16 On another occasion Athanasius observed: "He became man that we might be made divine."17 Finally, Augustine of Hippo (a.d. 354-430), the greatest of the early Christian Fathers, said: "But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. 'For he has given them power to become the sons of God' [John 1:12]. If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods."18

All five of the above writers were not just orthodox Christians, but also in time became revered as saints. Three of the five wrote within a hundred years of the period of the apostles, and all five believed in the doctrine of deification. This doctrine was a part of historical Christianity until relatively recent times, and it is still an important doctrine in some Eastern Orthodox churches. One writer states that a fundamental prin-ciple of orthodoxy in the patristic period was recognizing "the history of the universe as the history of divinization and salvation." As a result the early Christian Fathers concluded that "because the Spirit is truly God, we are truly divinized by the presence of the Spirit."19

The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology contains the following in an article titled "Deification":

Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God.'. . . It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; II Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9-17; Gal. 4.5-7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21-23).

The language of II Peter is taken up by St Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, 'if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods' (Adv. Haer V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century St Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons 'by participation' (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: 'Deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages,' . . . and St Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, 'He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.' . . .

Finally, it should be noted that deification does not mean absorption into God, since the deified creature remains itself and distinct. It is the whole human being, body and soul, who is transfigured in the Spirit into the likeness of the divine nature, and deification is the goal of every Christian.20

In short, whether one accepts or rejects the doctrine of the deification of man, it was clearly a part of mainstream Christian orthodoxy for centuries. Joseph Smith obviously did not make it up. Instead, Latter-day Saints believe, it is an eternal truth restored through modern prophets.

Modern Statements

In the LDS view, those who are worthy will receive the full divine inheritance only through the atonement of Christ and only after having received a glorious resurrection. Closer to the Latter-day Saint understanding of the doctrine are the views expressed by C. S. Lewis, whose genuine Christianity is virtually undisputed: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship."21

In a fuller statement of this doctrine of deification, Lewis explained:

God and Christ are the objects of LDS worship. Even though Mormons believe in the ultimate deification of man, nothing in LDS literature speaks of worshipping any being other than the Father and the Son. Latter-day Saints believe in "one God" in the sense that they love and serve one Godhead, each member of which possesses all of the attributes of godhood.

Since the scriptures teach that those who gain eternal life will look like God, receive the inheritance of God, receive the glory of God, be one with God, sit upon the throne of God, and exercise the power and rule of God, then surely it cannot be un-Christian to conclude with C. S. Lewis and others that such beings as these can be called gods, as long as we remember that this use of the term gods does not in any way reduce or limit the sovereignty of God our Father. That is how the early Christians used the term; it is how C. S. Lewis used the term; and it is how Latter-day Saints use the term and understand the doctrine.

NOTES

9. See Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 5:3; and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-48.
10. President Snow often referred to this couplet as having been revealed to him by inspiration during the Nauvoo period of the church. See, for example, Deseret Weekly, 3 November 1894, 610; Deseret Weekly, 8 October 1898, 513; Deseret News, 15 June 1901, 177; and Journal History of the Church, Historical Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, 20 July 1901, 4.
11. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. 5, preface.
12. Ibid., 4.38 (4); compare 4.11 (2): "But man receives progression and increase towards God. For as God is always the same, so also man, when found in God, shall always progress towards God."
13. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, 1.
14. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 3.1. See his Stromateis, 23.
15. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 124.
16. Athanasius, Against the Aryans, 1.39, 3.34.
17. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 54.
18. Augustine, On the Psalms, 50.2. Augustine insists that such individuals are gods by grace rather than by nature, but they are gods nevertheless.
19. Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980), 1:146, 156, emphasis in original.
20. Symeon Lash, "Deification," in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), 147-48.
21. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, Collier Books, 1980), 18.
22. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 174-75. For a more recent example of the doctrine of deification in modern, non-LDS Christianity, see M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), 269-70: "For no matter how much we may like to pussyfoot around it, all of us who postulate a loving God and really think about it eventually come to a single terrifying idea: God wants us to become Himself (or Herself or Itself). We are growing toward godhood."

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(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings the Godhead home page; The Doctrinal Exclusion by Stephen E. Robinson; Biblical Support for Deification)

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