If there is something truly unique about Mormon doctrine, it is the image of God. I agree with Sterling McMurrin, that its not always easy to tell these days what the mainstream LDS church really teaches, or at least how much it actually resembles the church Joseph Smith founded. Nevertheless, there was a time in our past when leaders were much more willing to voice their opinions and theories, especially Joseph himself. The nature of God was no exception.
Lately in General Conference, I get the impression that the canonized First Vision is the official standard for the nature of God. If that account is accurate, it tells a little about what God looks like, or at least what form He took when talking to Joseph Smith, but it doesn’t say much about the nature, or character, of God. But this was definitely not a silent issue for Joseph Smith.
The opening paragraph of James Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian : Adult Development and Christian Faith begins:
The shorter Westminster Catechism begins with this question: “What is the chief end of man?” Its answer, learned by twenty generations of the theological heirs of John Calvin, states: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
To the best of my knowledge, this concept of God is not strictly Calvinist, but is actually quite common across many denominations and into other faiths. It is a picture of God as both a sort of cosmic zoologist, and a bottomless void of need for man’s worship. This image of God as the Ultimate Codependent defines the purpose of human existence to be for God’s amusement and self-gratification.
I don’t buy it. My resistance to that image is not just out of my own admittedly peculiar sensibilities, but it was also completely dissolved by Joseph Smith. It is Joseph’s revolutionary concept of God that I personally feel was his greatest contribution to humanity.
In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith re-painted God as a being much more consistent with the character of charity and unconditional love that Jesus demonstrated in His life. A Christian has to be able to reconcile the character of Jesus Christ with the God they worship from the Old Testament, since Jesus himself said that He could only do what He had seen the Father do. This reconciliation becomes even more necessary if you believe that Jesus is the Father incarnate. Why suffer so much, why teach us so much about loving each other, if our whole purpose is just to worship and glorify God?
We could split hairs about how Joseph explains that as we are saved and exalted we glorify God. Something he says later demonstrates that there is more to God’s motive than simply to be glorified. I interpret it that God’s glorification is a bi-product of His actions in pursuit of His primary motive. The primary motive being our glorification, not His. In Joseph’s words:
The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. God Himself found Himself in the midst of spirits and glory. Because He was greater He saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest, who were less in intelligence, could have a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him, so that they might have one glory upon another in all that knowledge, power, and glory. So He took in hand to save the world of spirits.
Its odd, considering the other heretical views I hold, that I take such comfort in that statement. Here is a God that my logical mind can understand and love. I am no longer a pet or a hobby or worse. God’s interest in man makes much more sense and at the same time provides an ethical standard by which to we can judge other teachings attributed to Him. When someone claims that a principle is from God, does it contribute to our advancement? Perhaps this sounds humanistic to some, but in my view I more completely love a God whose entire work is His love for me, rather than a god whose work is making me love him.
For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)