363–364: Mormonism’s Wonderful, Vulnerable God

For many who find themselves in the middle of a faith crisis, casting about for new footing and ways of orienting to life and others, one of largest stumbling blocks is often their view of God. All of a sudden, as they find themselves far more aware of the confusion that marks life on earth, of the horrendous suffering experienced by so many, or the multitude of paths and choices we all must face, the idea of an omnipotent God who is also loving begins to crack. A frequent refrain we’ll hear is for the need to dismiss the idea of a God who regularly helps people with small things such as finding their lost keys yet who does not stop the terrible evils all around, such a that of people being sold into sexual slavery. Interestingly, for Mormons who encounter this disconnect between a God of power and God of love, already built into its theology—however, one that is too often overlooked—is a radically different view of God that mitigates some of this sting. This episode is designed to serve as a reminder of the fundamentally different view of God, God’s power, God’s life, God’s relationship with persons and other existents in this world that Mormonism holds.  And it is these views that, though they don’t make suffering go away, for many Latter-day Saints still allow them to have a deep and abiding faith in a God. For them, it is a wonderful God, even in this God’s vulnerability.

Fiona Givens, James McLachlan, and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon are three such Latter-day Saints who find the LDS framing of God to be rich, deep, and empowering. They find themselves drawn toward this God who is “in the fray” with the rest of creation rather than being outside it, a God who cannot, even if God wanted to, control what unfolds in life, yet who will always return love for hate, largeness whenever faced with smallness, and who suffers “with” us as we meet life’s vicissitudes. In this two-part discussion, they describe this God and why they are attracted to this Being. They also discuss God’s power and its limits, and how this affects their views of scripture (which often depicts an angry God who destroys cities and persons), and God’s ways of intervening in things like healing. In the final section, they argue as well for the superiority of time over eternity and why a God who exists in time alongside other free agents is the only one they could ever truly love.


Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormons Make Sense of Life (Deseret Book, 2015)

James McLachlan, “Of Time and All Eternity: God and Others in Mormonism and Heterodox Christianity,” Sunstone, July 2008

Daniel Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Resources in Mormonism for a Postmodern Worldview (doctoral dissertation, Claremont Graduate University, 1996)



20 comments for “363–364: Mormonism’s Wonderful, Vulnerable God

  1. James Crane
    January 21, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    What do you make of the recent emphasis oin conditional love

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 23, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      I can’t recall who it was lately that claimed God’s love is not unconditional, but I do recall it happening. In the most famous case, when Elder Nelson (before being president of the Q12) talked about it, his mistake was to equivocate on the word “love” to also mean “salvation/exaltation.” He seemed worried that people who talked about unconditional love of God thought that also meant everyone gets into the top heaven just because all are loved unconditionally. It was a terrible mistake playing ridiculous stretches on the word love. We all love our children unconditionally, but we don’t let them abuse us or others, have access to our bank accounts, etc. It’s simply common sense that the former doesn’t mean the latter.

      Let me know if the “recent emphasis” made that same mistake, or if it was someone declaring that even love is conditional. Thanks!

  2. Mark Crego
    January 23, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Regarding Dan’s comment, “God occupies a place in time and space, yet somehow can be everywhere.”

    I think we skirt around Joseph Smith’s ontology of God. We want to retain the idea of THE god, the omni-whatever, and reconcile the many scriptures that propose this to a vulnerable exalted parent who weeps. This attempt to reconcile scripture, to retain the idea that “Heavenly Father” is THE god over all the universe, while distinctly humanizing him makes God a logical impossibility.

    Sure, we can reconcile this as God being ineffable and therefore we cannot know the nature (ontology) of god, but I truly think that simply continues a kind of “god of the gaps” thinking.

    Tillich proposed something you mildly dismissed in your podcast, the idea that “God is the Ground of Being”. This places god outside of time and place, allowing “god” to be the source of all that is, yet fundamentally begs the question, is the “Ground of Being” conscious or capable of “will”? I think not.

    We must face that our ontology of god (“as Man is God once was, as God is Man may become”) is in no way possible as long as we retain any semblance of the idea that God the Father is THE god over the entire universe. We have to face the idea that there is NO single individual who governs or calls into being the entire universe. The God of the creeds does not exist, yet we Mormons equivocate on this point, holding onto the singular God of the Gods/Heavenly Father concept.

    Our first theologian, Orson Pratt, had a unique solution to this in the Seer (his publication). He proposed that the attributes of God (truth, life, power, intelligence, unity) are eternal, but the being of god is contingent upon possession of those attributes. Because these attributes are universals, then there is but one, unified God even if the beings we call god are infinite in number. This is a radical concept. The attributes, of course, are not personal, conscious, nor possessing of will, but when a being possesses them, that being is both God in attributes as well as being personal, conscious, and possessing of a will that is in perfect harmony with all that is.

    Because Orson, in his radical, disruptive, fiery discourses, proposed worshiping the attributes rather than the being of God, Brigham Young demanded that the Seer be destroyed, and that Pratt cease to teach the same under penalty of excommunication. He complied. From that point forward, Brigham strengthened his literalist interpretation of God, leading to a distinctly problematic ontology called “Adam-God”.

    I propose that we take Pratt’s comments seriously. When we view the “Ground of Being” not as God, but rather, the attributes of God: truth, light, intelligence, love…, then we can define god as “being one with these attributes”. Jesus proposed the same when he said, “I AM The Way, The Truth, and The Life”. He spoke of the Father as being One with him. When the disciples heard the father declare things, Jesus explained that this was for their benefit. To Jesus — within LDS theology — God was “Elohim”, a necessarily plural name that Joseph Smith translated in the Book of Abraham as “the Gods”.

    Jesus’ use of the term “the Way” was far more important than we realize. His followers consider the term definitively ontological: it defined who they were. They were “followers of the Way”, not “Christians” at first — and the distinction is radically important. There is little in western theology that comprehends the concept, but Jesus was not a student of western theology. There is much more thinking about the Way in the teachings of “Wise men from the East” — where in the writings of the Magi, the Way is expressed as “Asha” implying truth in action — the Way. In vedic religion, this truth in action is rta, and in china it was dao. That which is in harmony with the Way is life. For jesus to explain “I AM The Way, The Truth, and The Life”, he expressed the primary formulation of what God is: true oneness with the Way, the source of being, the IAM – being itself.

    Jesus did not teach that he was unique in this. While he declared definitively that he was the Son of God throughout John, he also equated himself with god, “Before Abraham was, I AM”. To Jews, the concept that a man could equate himself with haShem — the Name, was utter blasphemy, for God was forever ontologically the Other. Jesus categorically rejected such an ontology. He proposed that Man is ontologically God in stating explicitly in John 17 that we may be One in the exact same way Jesus is One with the Father (the Gods, the Way, the Ground of Being).

    It’s significant to realize that Jesus prayer in John 17 was not that the disciples could eventually *become* One, but rather, that they were to BE One: here, now, in this very moment. To Jesus, God was “Being One with the Way, the Truth, and Life”, and in our finer moments, we can BE One. In John 10, Jesus quotes Psalm 82 in challenging the Pharisees to understand: Ye (We) are gods, and all of ye are children of God most High”. This says that humans, when they act in compassion one with each other, are gods in that very moment. Yet, of course, we will die like men (Psalm 82) — our “godliness” is ephemeral in this life — we cannot possess the attributes of god, we cannot declare ourselves once-and-for-all gods in this life, even if there are those who claim such by virtue of their exclusive and secret anointing.

    To me, Joseph Smith was on a brilliant trajectory to realize this deep truth: we are gods in how we become One with the Way. He expressed in the King Follett Discourse that this is the great secret: god is an exalted man! Yet he fell short in using an article in this statement. The truth, as I see it, is that “God is exalted mankind”. God is emergent rather than apriori. God IS, not was, not will be.

    When Jesus was asked what was the great commandment, we often say, Love of god, followed by love of man. What he REALLY said was “Shema Ysrael, YHWH Eloheinu YHWH echad”, and THEN he said, as the Deuteronomist said, “And thou shalt love YHWH Eloheinu with all thy heart might mind and strength. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. If we ignore the first part of this, the Shema, and ignore the last part of this “As thyself”, we have ignored the ontological significance of this Great Commandment. Jesus is defining WHO GOD IS in the Shema. Properly translated, jews would NEVER say this, because it would be utter blasphemy: Hear o Israel, I AM Our Gods, I AM One”. Only when we translate YHWH as “I AM” does this phrase make sense. It chiastic, in that it starts with I AM and ends with “As thyself”.

    Mormons have unique theology that fully supports this ontology. Unlike any other Christian religion, we view our *being* as being ontologically equal to god: we are co-eternal with God from the beginning (Sec 93). Hinduism also proposes the same: in the Gita, “There was never a time when I was not, nor you, nor these lords, and there never will be a time when we shall cease to be”. But unlike mormonism, HInduism and Buddhism see the soul the atma, as being forever separate from prakriti/matter. To Buddhists, the idea of “oneness with god” is to completely cease being who you are: nirvana (nothing) is a release (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation. Even platonism proposes that matter is temporal, and that the ideal — the ultimate reality — is beyond matter. Origen understood pre-mortal existence in distinctly platonic terms, proposing that we humans, while we existed before, needed to go through material existence so that we could become ideal without matter.

    For Mormons to fuse bidirectional eternal life ontologically with materialism (“there is no such thing as immaterial matter”), we must embrace a unique theology — one which we have never yet embraced. We must realize that God is a being, any being, who possesses and operates in perfect accord with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And since being in perfect accord allows no disharmony, then we can say God is One: I AM Our Gods, I AM One.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 23, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      I like much of what you are saying here, Mark. First off, however, let’s address the mischaracterizing of my argument. I certainly don’t believe in a God who is also everywhere. Whatever phrase you heard me say to that effect would not have been an ontological claim that God IS everythere but more in line with D&C 88 early going that somehow God is “in and through” all things, all existence is open to apprehending God. In Whitehead’s process theology the term is “prehending”–which means “grasping” (coming from the same root as “prehensile” that we use to talk about a monkey tail’s ability to grasp) and responding to the calling and reaching that God has for each entity to know joy in its sphere.

      Also, with Jim in this podcast who articulated it several times, I believe in multiple Gods who collaborate to call existence into higher, richer forms. There is no sense from me in any of this where you should have thought that I believed (or any of us on this episode) claimed omnipotence–or omni-anything–for our view of God (and our claim that metaphysically ours is THE Mormon God) or that God the Father is THE God of the whole universe. With you, I also believe in emergent Gods. With Jim in this episode, I also find the concept of buddha-hood and godhood to be pretty close, at least in terms of the emergence of beings who share qualities of buddha- hood/godhood–enlightenment in the case of the first, full realization of (partaking in) the divine nature in the second. And, with you, I also find godhood superior to buddha-hood as I prefer continuation of individual personality over dissolution into the whole.

      My main objection to what you presented is in the near-affirmation of Pratt’s “let’s worship the divine attribute’s” stuff, which has always struck me a pragmatically untenable, and harmful to anyone’s ability to develop a genuine relationship with God. I’m a personalist through and through. You distanced yourself from Pratt enough for me not to fight on this, but it would have been good to leave that section out. Your takes on “the Way” and tying early Christians to Mormon approaches on this is terrific and didn’t need the Pratt distraction.

      Rest of your piece is fun. I don’t control the languages and haven’t done enough of a dive into the material you present, but I think I’m on board with it.

      • Mark Crego
        January 24, 2017 at 8:53 pm

        Dan, I apologize for being too lazy to write down your exact quote, but my point wasn’t to disagree with the quote, but rather, to note that much of the dialog lives within the paradigm that there is still some ontologically single concept of a personal god.

        Don’t get me wrong–the podcast was fantastic. Brilliant. Amazing as ever. But until we get the ontology of god and the Way right, we will do nothing but confuse and live in a world that retains vestiges of the creedal god of the omni’s in some form.

        My concern is that while all three of you explored how the Mormon God definition seems to allow a vulnerable god, none of you actually tackled who or what god is. I found no coherent ontology of god.

        The statement that god is physically present in space and time while somehow capable of “being” everywhere (I know you didn’t say that, but our scriptures do) leads us to distinctly illogical ontology: god cannot be both. Jim kept referring to multiple gods, which may help, but I think we need to go further.

        Section 88 speaks of the omnipresence of god, but equivocates in a very important and positive way. God’s power is everywhere, and that power is embodied and governed by eternal natural laws. To see the effect of natural law is to “see God moving in glory”.

        This suggests the need for a coherent ontology of both “God” as a being and what *is* god’s power. If god’s power is nothing more or less than natural laws and tendencies, then “god” the person is not the same as god’s power. Laws are inherently impersonal. They do not have consciousness.

        Yet your entire podcast kept speaking of “god” as if s/he is the same as the power of god. This, to me, is ontological mush.

        Process theology doesn’t help this. It does not offer a coherent ontology of god, it only can suggest how god expresses reality through the ongoing process of events in time. This ontologically convolutes process with god. I think for most LDS, process theology is a very foreign language, and in raising it, you raise as well this convolution of the implicit creatio ex nihilo and god as being outside of being — concepts completely at odds with the materialist (positive connotation) god of Mormonism.

        At the risk of complete oversimplification, I am going to suggest three ontological statements:

        1. The “Power of God” is the Way things work: the impersonal laws of the natural universe, pervading all that is, and from which all being arises.

        2. A “god” is a being who *is* one with (in perfect harmony with) the power of god, through whom the power of god operates.

        3. Being is emergent: All things, including consciousness, will, goodness, power, life, truth, love, etc., emerge from oneness with the power of god.

        When we lay out a coherent ontology of god, many of the questions of whether god chooses to sacrifice his son and so many of the questions pondered from our exegesis of scripture simply don’t matter any longer. We begin to understand that our journey is to be god, not in the arrogant sense of the other, but to strive to comprehend the Way and to harmonize ourselves to it.

        You mentioned Tillich’s ground of being, which he, too, also conflates as god. In so doing, he makes God impersonal as a logical outcome.

        I suspect that this is why you apparently dislike Spong’s approach to theology. Spong appears nearly as an atheist as a result of labling an impersonal ground of being as god. Convoluted ontologies create mush and confusion.

        Pratt created a different kind of mush by worshipping his attributes. While he clarified the ontological distinction between “a god” and the attributes of god, the moment he “worshipped” the attributes, he made them god. By my second ontological statement, the attributes–the power of god– the Way–IS NOT GOD. Yes, this is worthy of shouting. It’s the fundamental flaw of Tillich, Whitehead, and the way much of the podcast went.

        To me, we have the makings within our Mormon ontological musings to construct a far more coherent theology and ontology of god.

        The Power of God is beautifully laid out in Section 88. The ontology of god and man can be grounded (pun intended) in Section 93. When we embrace that god is exalted humanity, that is, to BE in space and time, present, personal, loving, conscious, and individually aware…then we can properly ascribe this BEING to the emergence of god’s power expressed through home teachers, loving bishops, friends, and all those who love. We can embrace that our god is often the personal nonconscious mind that lives within us, striving with us, weeping with us, and connecting us to all that is. The Gods (Elohim) appear everywhere as we embrace that I AM (YHWH, Jehovah, Jesus Christ).

        Who then was Jesus Christ? A man who became One with God’s power, marking the path and leading the Way.

        What does it mean to follow Christ? His followers got it right, they called themselves “followers of the Way”.

        What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ? His name, by LDS revelation is “jehovah”, “YHWH”, “I AM”. To take upon ourselves the name of Christ is to realize that I AM god.

        What is the Atonement? To become One with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is the process of becoming One each and every day.

        To me, the gospel becomes totally coherent when we have a coherent ontology of god that defines with clarity the Way and what it means to be god and human.

        We have the means whereby we can achieve this. As long as we retain any vestige of orthodox creedal ontology, we will fail to achieve a coherent Mormon ontology.

        • dannyk
          January 25, 2017 at 11:53 am

          Love this too Mark. And I agree with you about LDS theology supporting such a thing. Not only the sources you mention, but also interesting parts of King Follett Discourse and other teachings of Joseph Smith.

          One of my favorite books on the sayings and teachings of Christ, “The Fifth Way” from non-denominational pastor David Brisbin, dives a bit into this concept of “the Way” of Christ, and highlighted early church fathers and the “followers of the way”. I find these statements of yours very compatible with things I most enjoyed learning in that book.

          Thanks for taking the time to articulate them so clearly.

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          January 26, 2017 at 1:32 pm

          Hi Mark, Glad to continue the discussion.

          You say that “much of the dialog lives within the paradigm that there is still some ontologically single concept of a personal god.” I’m not sure which dialogue you mean? In Mormonism, or in our discussion in this episode? If that latter, I disagree. All of us hold to “godhood” as an achievable state of being, with many Gods out there and perhaps influencing our lives.

          I get the sense from most of what you wrote, however, you really weren’t responding to the podcast as much as to wider Mormonism and its ontological “mush.” You were wrong, however, when you thought the three of us were conflating the “power of God” with “God.” That, to me, is far from what I think I do.

          Here is your ontology:

          1. The “Power of God” is the Way things work: the impersonal laws of the natural universe, pervading all that is, and from which all being arises.

          2. A “god” is a being who *is* one with (in perfect harmony with) the power of god, through whom the power of god operates.

          3. Being is emergent: All things, including consciousness, will, goodness, power, life, truth, love, etc., emerge from oneness with the power of god.

          Here is my (first-time attempted to articulate this way) ontology:

          1. Everything is eternal. Nothing “arises” but only emerges in complexity or decreases in complexity.

          2. Everything is personal, including what you call “(impersonal) laws of the natural universe.” All things that seem law-like are only so because of agreements between individual agents. All entities agree to their state of being. Agreements can change, and an entity can agree to become more or less complex as it desires.

          (A term like “agreement” can seem like I’m talking conscious processes, which I’m not. Many things enter into agreements that do not have sufficient complexity to be self-conscious. Hence my saying on the podcast about my using terms like one entitiy “reaching and calling” to others who might be “hungry” or “thirsty” for pattern. I got this language from Orson Scott Card, and I share where and how it works beginning on page 122 of my dissertation, which I’ve attached in links to the podcast write-up).

          3. Everything that exists is internally interconnected. God as well as all of us are in and through all other things; we co-constitute each other.

          4. Complexity (joy) is gained by heeding more and entering into positive relations with other things. Single-cell organisms unite with others to become multi-cell, which unite to become part of organs or other things that begin to unite in purpose/function, which then choose interaction with other such things to perhaps form full bodies, etc. Disease and other forms of dis-integration (sorrow) are this process in reverse.

          5. A God is a being who keeps all her/his/its/their agreements and who is continually acting in ways that seek greater complexity (joy) for all other entities with whom she/he/it/they has agreements. As (a) far more complex being(s) who understands the wider, more enriched life of full connectivity, this/these being(s) continually offer guidance (modeling an existence of wholeness and integration and sharing options for each existent) to every other entity in the universe.


          Jim McLachlan may go your direction a bit more in his willingness to talk about Mormonism’s “personal” and “impersonal” absolutes, but I’m not. My sense is that mine is a coherent and consistent ontology of being and one that matches well with Mormonism, presenting an approachable and emulation-worthy God who, along with us, is fighting for greater and greater joy for all that exists. I can get behind this God.

          (I’ll respond to your Taoist view of God below your comment to dannyk)

  3. Andy Anderson
    January 24, 2017 at 12:20 am

    Loved this discussion! As always, a great analysis brings up more questions, and one person I’d have loved to hear weigh in on the subject is Jared Anderson. I don’t know, but from what I’ve heard of him I believe he would have a “less believing but still hopeful” perspective. I think that would have enriched the conversation immensely because I find the doubtful but open approach to be very empowering, and very aligned with my way of thinking.

    One question I have, that I’m not sure you addressed (sorry, I usually run while listening, and I’m easily distracted anyway) is the idea of whether God needs us. I believe that Fiona would have said that God needs us because God loves us, but I wonder if there’s more utility to our diminutive little selves than just the fact that we’re cute and cuddly and there is a soft spot in God’s heart for us. What if we actually fill a purpose? What would that purpose be? Does Mormonism allow for that?

    I think one way Mormonism could explain it is in the premortal battle we are supposed to have waged with Satan and the faithless third of the spirits that followed him. I don’t really subscribe to this doctrine, at least not to the way it is currently purposed, but could God actually need us to fight against that army when the time comes? Is Satan (don’t really believe in Satan either) really so stupid as to think that he can actually win this battle against an omniscient and omnipotent god? Even though he’s done this very thing in other worlds? Doesn’t he know how all of this goes down by now? You could argue that he’s been through this an infinite amount of times, but you couldn’t well argue that he hasn’t learned his lesson by now. Why doesn’t he just give up and be righteous already?

    I’d answer that question by postulating that, if all this is true, God does need people to fight the battle against Satan, that he can’t do it on his own (sorry, giving up on not assigning gender to God). God needs us because there is risk in the eternities, and he needs our minds and muscle in order to mitigate that risk.

    This may be a silly example, but the point is worthy of consideration. Could there be an element of selfishness in why God has so much interest in us? Is there evidence of this? If so, what does it mean?

    Anyway, as always, loved the discussion. Thank you so much, Dan, for stimulating my mind and giving me a place to expand my thoughts!

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      January 24, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks for joining in the discussion, Andy! I’m glad it stimulated your thinking!

      I’m on record not believing in Satan or epic battles in heaven, so the direction you took this (a thought experiment on your part, it seems you are saying as you, too, at least aren’t sure there is a Satan either) isn’t one I’ve ever considered.

      The question of whether or not God “needs” the rest of us is not one I’ve really played with, as my sense is that the rest of us are givens. We’re facts of the universe. We’re in God’s world and this universe no matter what. We’re free no matter what to do whatever we want, to expand and grow or to remain small and less powerful. The way that God became “God,” however (in my sense of things), is through choosing to be in affirming and enriching relationship with all the rest of us, to offer ideas and lures to a higher form of existence if we’d but go down the suggested paths. As we chose to respond to those lures, we find greater capacity and joy. If no one would have chosen to go down that path, then God would not have been “God” as there’d be no context in which a term like “God” would make any sense. So, I guess we are “necessary” for God, but is that the same thing as God “needing” us? I don’t think it is, at least in the possibility you are presenting.

      Without my holding to the idea of the forces of Satan (and therefore no army needed to defeat it), I can’t really respond super well to the rest of your proposal about a way that God might “need” us. For me, Satan is just a name for the fear and uncertainty and desire to avoid risk that is inherent in all of us. It is the voice that tells us to keep our heads down, be small, stay safe. God is the opposite, and the beings I call God are those who choose to take those risks (and endure those pains and disappointments) and create ever new relationships and higher qualities of (eternal) life.

      My two cents, anyway. Let’s keep talking!

  4. dannyk
    January 24, 2017 at 10:53 am

    I really enjoyed listening to this most recent post on a Vulnerable God. But found myself surprised about the conversation regarding “miracles”.

    If I understood correctly, Dan Wotherspoon and the panel guests seemed to side with the idea that God can certainly comfort and heal on an emotional and spiritual level…but that God does not work miracles on a physical level. The reasoning for this seemed to be (and please forgive me if I’m oversimplifying) that the idea of a God that can cure cancer (or whatever else) but doesn’t, it’s just too terrible to believe in.

    I understand the hesitancy to place too much emphasis on the God of “Lost Keys” first hand. Friends of mine have lost family members in a way so potentially preventable, and it makes them hesitant to hear of a God that finds keys but doesn’t save lives. In fact, attending church and hearing of “Lost Keys” found can make them angry. Understandably.

    But I’m not sure the answer to that philosophical or theological dilemma is to suggest that God does not ever intervene in any physical way.

    My guess is some here have seen first hand that which is truly miraculous and unexplainable that suggests there is indeed a God that intervenes. I feel I’ve witnessed the miraculous a number of times. Some could understandably be explained away, and I’m not bothered that someone would object to my belief in a “miracle” in that moment. But others are somewhat undeniable to me. I’ll share one below, after the questions this subject in the podcast raised for me:

    Q1 – Are there others here, who even with faith transitions, have experiences seem truly unexplainable but by a God who does have the power to intervene in the physical world, and does at times?
    Q2 – For those who agree with Dan’s position, what is your response to the existence of those moments so many people share, people who are first hand witness to some “intervention” in the physical world?
    Q3 – Why is the only (or at least preferable) way to resolve the theological distaste of a God who can help but doesn’t – to suggest that maybe God can’t? Aren’t there other ways to do so?

    Before I share my example, I will say this. I’ve learned for myself that the most consistent miracle available, is the one that involves a change of perspective and of the heart….that brings peace to what felt like an inconsolable moment. It’s the Mosiah 24 miracle…where God perhaps does nothing to change your circumstances, and yet peace reigns in your heart because of “Atonement” with the principles of Deity. Belief in and experience with that consistently available miracle led me to pen a maxim for myself:

    “The miracle of faith in God is not that God changes the circumstances of your life, but that God changes you and your heart.”

    That is the miracle, the one of personal deliverance no matter the circumstance, that I will always emphasize to others and also seek for myself. It’s seen me through infidelity, separation, and divorce. It’s seen me through frustrating moments of being single, it’s seen me and my lovely wife through years of infertility, and doctors calls saying IVFs were not successful. I’ve dedicated much of my last 7 years to teaching others the nature of how that miracle is obtained and experienced, and I do it in a universal manner (regardless of religion or philosophy). It’s one of the greatest joys I have.

    But that doesn’t mean I’ve dismissed the idea of a God who can also work mighty miracles in the physical realm. I’ve experienced that God too.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    A quick example.
    My wife and I were preparing for a trip abroad, we needed some vaccines. I got them and felt totally fine. My wife sat down to get them, and within 1 minute had terrible reactions. I don’t use the word “possessed” to say I think there was an evil spirit…but merely to describe how violent her reaction was. It was like watching a horror movie. She was writhing in pain, stripping off her clothes (because everything suddenly felt too tight and restricting), vomiting and the like (you know what that means), and experiencing intense cramps….and was generally “not there” mentally, so powerful was the pain. I couldn’t hardly even get a straight answer from her. The frightened doctor left to go get help, and while she was gone I laid hands on her and blessed her. My wife says the minute I spoke the pain and nausea ended. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to see her connecting with me, present, smiling, relaxed, in a state of disbelief…..healed.

    The doctor came rushing back in with nurses and was equally surprised to see the turnaround. After checking her for a moment, they released her. Still somewhat disbelieving, I asked if she wanted us to both take the day off in case she was worried about a recurrence. She laughed and said she felt like she could run a marathon.

  5. dannyk
    January 25, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Perhaps a follow up question:

    Where does one draw the line on a non-interventionist God? If it’s too much for God to change the physical realm in a response to faith in a fashion we’d call miraculous…then what role does revelation play? Is that not God intervening? If information and inspiration is achieved that has an outcome in the physical world…is that intervening?

    For example, take the D&C 27, let’s assume there really were enemies of the church intent on poisoning the wine, and information comes not to purchase wine, but to make it yourself or use water. Did God intervene? If God did intervene, what’s the difference between information which potentially spares a life, and divine power which heals one already poisoned?

    What about the story we often hear about after the massacre, a woman prays and gets the idea for how to make a poultice that she applies to her son and it makes him well. Is that intervention? In this case it was information on how to use readily available herbs…but isn’t it still intervention?

    So, where does one draw the line on a non-interventionist God? Restoring health through a blessing may be out…but giving information to restore health isn’t? Or is it?

    And if it is out…then what is revelation anyways? Even if the revelation no longer affects the physical world directly or indirectly…but is simply exalting information that makes life and relationships deeper and more meaningful….isn’t that still intervention? Sure, in one example God mends a broken body, but is it really that different if information is given that mends a broken relationship or a broken psyche?

    I am curious….how far does the idea of a non-interventionist God go? Where does one draw their line? And why did they draw it there when it’s fair to say that any communication at all is technically intervention?

    • Mark Crego
      January 25, 2017 at 8:47 am


      What helps me understand the role of [a] god is to understand the difference between the “power of god”, being the totality of natural and spiritual law, and the “being of god”, the god with whom we develop a deep, personal relationship.

      An analogy may help. Let’s say that the power of god is like the Flow of a mighty river through a canyon gorge. We as humans are rafting on this mighty river. The person commanding our raft is God, who perfectly masters the river. In our metaphor, God is the “Master” of the river, and the power of god, the Way the universe and everything in it works, is the “Flow”.

      What does it mean to be “Master of the River”? Does the master intervene in the Flow of the river? does the Master cause the rocks to disappear? Can the Master change the Flow? Not at all. However, the Master can steer the raft to the course that best conforms to the flow of the river. The Master as well can listen to our concerns, and help us position ourselves to maximize our safety. The Master can guide us, informing us about the Nature of the Flow. As we learn to become river-Masters ourselves, we can pattern our understanding of the Flow of the river from the Master.

      We speak of “prayer” and “revelation”. This is our communication with the Master. I imagine myself in this raft, and in the process of going through some really serious category four rapids, I communicate with the Master. Being a novice at this rafting stuff, my first inclination is to ask the Master to intervene: I want him to change the Flow of the river — I am fearful, and I want the Master to calm the raging Flow. I want a miracle, but my “miracle” is what I want–a supernatural intervention. I beg and plead with Master to change the Flow. And he doesn’t. I become frustrated, I develop motion sickness.

      Meanwhile, the Master is calmly explaining the Flow, and advising us as to what to do. More, s/he encourages us to do things to help steer, paddle, or move in order to better balance the raft. But, because we are intent on demanding the miracle, we don’t listen to the Master. We think we know what is best, and we continue our one-way telling the Master what we want.

      Because the Master does not seem to be helping us, we are faced with a choice, either we can keep complaining and do nothing, resulting in catastrophe, or we can start taking the initiative and doing something. Most of us decide the Master is incompetent, so we ignore him or her and start paddling on our own. A few of us realize this is futile — it’s too hard work. We realize that the Master actually knows how the Flow works. So we seek the Master’s advise by asking questions — not demanding — but rather, seeking to learn from the Master. We listen to the master’s coaching, and by observing the Flow of the river, are able to better command the raft.

      As we learn from the Master, we become actively involved in managing the raft and journey. Because we started to naturally observe the Flow and follow it, we move down the river, navigating the rapids and smooth places without incident. We become one with the Flow, it becomes as natural to us as breathing. I am left to manage the raft with my brothers and sisters.

      After a while, we notice the Master is no longer there. We question whether the Master was ever there at all: “aren’t we navigating this raft by ourselves?” Some of us become arrogant, saying that there is no need of a Master. Others realize that the Master was deeply real, hidden deep within ourselves, as we observe, listen, and work together in harmony and love.

      In my opinion, Mormon theology, properly understood, realizes that the Flow is eternal: it cannot be created, nor destroyed. It cannot be violated or circumvented. The Flow is not the Master of the river. The Flow IS the Way of the river, and the Master is a being who is perfectly One with the Way, so that s/he can navigate the Flow in perfect harmony.

      • dannyk
        January 25, 2017 at 11:38 am

        Thanks Mark…that’s a very compelling analogy, and I think it helps me better understand the perspective mentioned in the podcast. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        January 26, 2017 at 2:51 pm

        Mark, your analogy is beautiful. I like it a lot.

        You and I have talked in person before, and I’ve mentioned on the podcast a few times, that I love Taoism. Philosophical Taoism would be my religion were I not Mormon. Your analogy is far more Taoist than Mormon.

        I don’t believe Mormonism posits a genuine difference between the Power of God and God. We speak that way at times, especially in reference to priesthood, but it breaks down with just a few follow-up questions.

        In Mormonism, I don’t think there is a teaching or hint that from the beginning there was a “Flow” (Tao). Everything that exists in this universe already existed but in unorganized form. God came along and called it into being. It could have gone any of many different ways. What happened here was a co-creation between God and the other existents. God wasn’t using any universal laws to do that. There are no universal laws. Existence might still go different ways; we need to help assist it in moving toward greater joy.

        The closest thing to laws that I think we can firmly acknowledge would be more statements we can make about the characteristics of matter/intelligence such as “light attracts light,” or to expand: “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue: light cleaveth unto light;” etc.

        From here on out, I think your analogy is helpful. My sense is that becoming a God is similar to becoming a Master of the flow (universe), moving within it, understanding how and why it works the way it does, aligning with its properties (of light, intelligence, wisdom, etc. and how they work).

        I also think it’s helpful as you talk about people in various stages of progression and how they relate to the flow (in my schema, the qualities of the things that exist) and whatever/whoever they perceive to be in charge of it. Ultimately, however, you have made the Master unneeded by the Flow. I don’t think Mormonism can accept that claim.

        Happy to keep talking.

        • Mark Crego
          January 28, 2017 at 10:11 am

          1. I don’t think there is a teaching or hint that from the beginning there was a “Flow” (Tao).

          Let’a leave Tao out of our discussion for now. Certainly you can recognize the concept from our discussions, but I do not want to carry with this any of the ineffable nuance associated with Tao. The Flow is simply the Way things work, in harmony with eternal law.

          So yes, law exists in Mormonism, very much so, absolutely, eternally, and without exception. There is no space without a kingdom and law, section 88.

          Importantly, the Way is not a thing. Flow is not a thing. If I have two things and add them to two things, I get four things every time. The Way/law of math says 2+2=4 every time.

          2. Everything that exists in this universe already existed but in unorganized form.

          Matter existed. Things are organized forms of matter. Form is organized matter, and it is logically contradictory to say “unorganized form”.

          3. God came along and called it into being.

          Sure, we Mormons say this, while declaring that God is a person in place and time. This is precisely the ontological mush I object to…and we can’t seem to avoid this kind of talk. The concept of a personal creator is a vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage. We had gods to explain the forces of nature, the gaps in our understanding. Intelligent design speaks to an intelligent designer. Yet the god of such gaps reveals the primitive understanding of natural law. Our forebears failed to understand emergence.

          Mormon materialism demands that we explain how things are. Unlike all other Christians, we humans are uncreated. We are self-existing beings. Our form–thingness–emerges from our intelligence. The doctrine that we self-exist demands that we embrace a distinct model from another being calling us to be (although such a statement may have normative/ethical value). Mormon materialism and self-existence leads us to distinct ontology.

          4. God wasn’t using any universal laws to do that. There are no universal laws.

          I adamantly and completely disagree with you on this statement. I simply couldn’t disagree with you more. Section 88, and the God would cease to be god says that god absolutely abides by eternal law.

          Without an agreement that there are universal, eternal, and impersonal laws, and that’s god is subject to them, indeed, the very *personification* of those laws, then I am not sure we can construct a meaningful ontology. A god that wills law and being is precisely the arbitrary and capricious god of the creeds we mutually reject.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            February 2, 2017 at 12:23 pm

            Mark, you write:

            So yes, law exists in Mormonism, very much so, absolutely, eternally, and without exception. There is no space without a kingdom and law, section 88.

            Importantly, the Way is not a thing. Flow is not a thing. If I have two things and add them to two things, I get four things every time. The Way/law of math says 2+2=4 every time.


            Mormonism can certainly be read your way. But I think also mine, with mine having the advantage of honoring agency even more robustly than yours. Why can’t “laws” in these cases be “agreements” that operate in this sphere? I read those passages in Section 88 as stating that we inhabit kingdoms of our own choice, that we enter into and live up to agreements and in so doing enjoy this or that possible type of existence. Kingdoms are not “places” so much as states of existence: is it a God’s existence we want, then great. If not, great. Our choice. And all of what you call “impersonal laws” can, to me, be easily read as free agents (all the way down) choosing this or that form of existence with the possibility every moment for saying yes or no to more. As they say yes, joy increases; no, then they decrease in complexity and empowerment and joy.


            You have a 2 and a 3 and a 4 that makes it seem like you’re quoting me. I can’t spot these statements of mine (though they do sound like things I likely might say. Is it in this thread of comments that I say these things?

            Either way, I’ll respond to your comments on the numbers 3 and 4.

            You write:

            3. God came along and called it into being.

            Sure, we Mormons say this, while declaring that God is a person in place and time. This is precisely the ontological mush I object to…and we can’t seem to avoid this kind of talk. The concept of a personal creator is a vestige of our Judeo-Christian heritage. We had gods to explain the forces of nature, the gaps in our understanding. Intelligent design speaks to an intelligent designer. Yet the god of such gaps reveals the primitive understanding of natural law. Our forebears failed to understand emergence.

            Mormon materialism demands that we explain how things are. Unlike all other Christians, we humans are uncreated. We are self-existing beings. Our form–thingness–emerges from our intelligence. The doctrine that we self-exist demands that we embrace a distinct model from another being calling us to be (although such a statement may have normative/ethical value). Mormon materialism and self-existence leads us to distinct ontology.


            I don’t see the mushiness here. Let’s say I’m an advanced enough entity to be called a God. I exist in space, and for me I exist in time with a past (however I came to be what I became), a present, and a future. By my brightness/my being full of light and intelligence (the complexity of me and all I am able to “hold” within me), I come upon other eternally existing entities which I am willing to attract to me and my way of being, or to come together in such a way as to create a world that is capable of helping these entities advance in complexity. They respond to me or not.

            I prefer that much more than “Here I come living my laws that all eternal entities must follow so as to make worlds and more complex entities that are exactly what these laws demand them to be.” Abrahamic creation talks about Gods watching to see what might happen, to what degree entities might choose the lure. I imagine delight and surprise to see the forms that have chosen to arise.

            You say, “Our form–thingness–emerges from our intelligence.” I say it is from our relationships, our willingness to be in relation with “free” entities who may choose this or choose that, choose more light or less, choose against their own possibilities for moreness being what make us lighter/brighter/more intelligent (able to hold more intelligences within us–even the tensions that come from agents choosing smallness). That’s what Gods seem to me to be rather than entities who cruise along with pre-written, exact, and impersonal laws. I LIKE my version of things more than yours, but I think both certainly are possible within the Mormon metaphysic.

            You rant about inheriting from our ancestors the idea of a personal God doesn’t scare me off. I have every existing thing being a “person” of some sort, so it would be pretty inconsistent of me to shy away from it because of suggestions of fear of breaking from past traditions. Clearly I DO break from them, just not fully here. 🙂


            4. God wasn’t using any universal laws to do that. There are no universal laws.

            I adamantly and completely disagree with you on this statement. I simply couldn’t disagree with you more. Section 88, and the God would cease to be god says that god absolutely abides by eternal law.

            Without an agreement that there are universal, eternal, and impersonal laws, and that’s god is subject to them, indeed, the very *personification* of those laws, then I am not sure we can construct a meaningful ontology. A god that wills law and being is precisely the arbitrary and capricious god of the creeds we mutually reject.


            My replies:

            Can’t “gods ceasing to be gods” be a matter of choosing out of their agreements rather than by their breaking “laws,” of no longer being willing to deal with the complexity and the disappointments of free agents choosing smallness? Scripture has words like “eternal laws” because this is complex stuff, and that seems easiest. But at times LDS scripture says things, as well. like “eternal is my name” and speaks of punishments and lives as being influenced by (a) being(s)/person(s) rather than impersonal law.

            All in all I tend to hesitate to embrace Platonic philosophy, especially the idea of eternal Forms. I certainly can’t personally fathom maths that don’t have 2 plus 2 equalling 4, or all internal angles of a triangle not adding up to 180 degrees, but I’m open to leaving that open. Some of the things I hear about multiple (is it 11?) dimensions being needed to make string theory coherent (just an example) make me less certain that “our” math is some eternal kind of math.

            Maybe we can’t construct a “meaningful ontology” with “persons all the way down.” But is “meaning” as important as “purpose”? What positively feeds my life purpose (pragmatically) is thinking about how my growth might be tied to embracing/entering more relationships with more persons–even if it means additional frustration as I must always honor their agency. This fires me up to do good things in the world and want to become bigger than does “understanding” the “meaning” of things. Get me off my ass, I say, rather than wondering about impersonal, eternal laws!

            Always fun to spar with you, Mark!

  6. Dan Wotherspoon
    January 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Great to have you migrate your great questions here, dannyk! Thanks!

    I’m not sure we talked about “miracles” on the episode, but I may be wrong. I remember being prompted by Fiona as she talked about “healing” that was part of the high priest’s work in the ancient world to ask her and Jim what they thought about God’s role in healing. Is that the place in which this question was prompted?

    I don’t think any of the three of us said that healing was impossible or something that God can’t figure into, but we played a bit with “how” (and I can’t really recall if we ever satisfactorily ended that conversation).

    Regarding “miracles,” let me say that I, personally, never use that word. I am not a dualist (and I don’t think Mormon theology is dualistic either), meaning I am not someone who believes that there are two separate realms, a natural and a supernatural world, and that influence from one comes into the other (which is how I believe most folks see happening to be qualified as a “miracle”). Instead, my sense is that all existence is on a continuum, and that the things we can measure with our instrumentation or experience with our five senses being just part of that continuum but not all of it. God and all of us and everything else no matter how small exists in one realm. Any and all action and forces that lead to results exist in this one continuum. Hence anything that God does, within this ontology, can’t or wouldn’t be “miraculous” in a literal sense, though God is certainly influential. But so is EVERTHING ELSE influential; influence from anywhere within existence can be and is felt and responded in some way in everywhere else–an interconnected web of life (which, to me, resonates with D&C 88). So what I “think” I was saying (what I believe, anyway) is that whatever way God’s influence is felt or manifest in healing would be of one piece with however God influences in every other realm. And none of that involves coercion. God “can’t” heal unilaterally but only in cooperation with other entities–our ability and willingness, and the abilities and willingness of the parts of our bodies to respond to a healing call. As Jim said, however, damage from a bullet cannot simply be undone. Limbs blown off cannot be grown back. Diseases that have reached certain levels of development cannot be reversed. God is within this universe and does all God can as God sees best for us, but God is not fully in charge, cannot do all things.

    That’s the extent, I think, to which I may have commented on the show or can comment here. I certainly don’t deny healings happen and health reversals occur. I’m just saying that to the degree they do, they happen via the same methods as anything else happens: a message of wholeness is conveyed and responses in that direction are urged, and bodies respond or not the best they can.

    You additional question about revelation falls into the same ontology, but it is simpler. All information is available to all existents in the universe. Where ones keys are, how to make poultices, etc. Generally, we as conscious beings doing conscious things don’t recognize that everything is ours for discovering if we are open to it and willing to work to hone in on the questions we have, whether spiritual or physical. When in prayer one sees a vision of or recalls where the keys are or get images of plants to go pick followed by other steps to take (and I’m an Amanda Barnes Smith descendent from Wilbur, who is the brother of Alma who was healed with this poultice), it is because our “reaching out” leads to our opening a crack to something beyond the physical senses. The information is always available, but we aren’t. Hence the value of contemplative prayer and/or meditation, of participating in rituals that seek to silence our active senses and monkey minds with their non-ending streams of thoughts, etc. A patriarch senses he has the right to receive information about the spirit and gifts and possible futures of the person under his hands, so he opens a channel to that and learns to not block that flow (though certainly still uses his own particular turns of phrase, etc.). But nothing in this is coming from a “different” realm than the physical one he is in. All spirit is matter, so says Joseph Smith. Whatever happens in revelation and/or healing is of one piece with each other. That’s my take anyway! 🙂

  7. Mark Crego
    January 28, 2017 at 6:55 am

    Dan, thank you for your lovely, thoughtful response in the thread above. I am splitting this out of that thread, because it makes it more readable on my mobile device.

    You quoted my statement, “much of the dialog lives within the paradigm that there is still some ontologically single concept of a personal god.” And you responded, “You were wrong, however, when you thought the three of us were conflating the “power of God” with “God.” That, to me, is far from what I think I do.”

    Dan, I did mean that the podcast dialog resides within this paradigm, mainly because the language you and Fiona use to describe god implies a personal ontology of god that goes beyond a person or persons. In other words, you conflate the person of god with the power of god. My impression is that you speak from a panentheist ontology, whereas Fiona beautifully expresses the best of traditional LDS belief in a personal being of Elohim/God the Father personally is The God.

    How can you not? Jesus’ words imply that same conflation when he said “I AM The Way”. As well, much, but not all, of our theology creates that same conflation. It’s not wrong to do so, but the result is a lack of clarity.

    By proposing the three point ontology, I am seeking clarity and a logically consistent working definition of what “god” IS within Mormon theology.

    Simply put, Mormonism explicitly states that the power and laws of god are eternal, and immutable. I agree. Mormonism states that “a god” is a person whose body and spirit are One: inseparably connected. I agree to a point, because I see in scripture that mortal humans can be contingently gods, and god can cease to be god under certain conditions, ones you explored in the podcast.

    My points attempt to achieve a consistent ontology — definition of what IS god — and what IS NOT god within the possibilities of Mormon theology.

    Mormon theology that the power of god is everywhere, but the being of [a] God is constrained to a very tangible, physical person in place and time poses a specific logical problem if we in any way ascribe personal god-ness to the power of god. To say that God is a person in place and time is also to explicitly state that the things and people that are not that specific person in place and time are “not God”. Panentheism is explicitly not possible in Mormon theology.

    The ontological solution to this is to define god as the person, and that the power of god — independent of the person — is not god, because it is not a being, personal, or conscious. The power of god is law: natural, eternal, mathematical, logical law. NoTHING more or less than law.

    Yet, if I read your ontological points correctly, you strongly imply panentheism:

    1. Everything is eternal. Nothing “arises” but only emerges in complexity or decreases in complexity.

    Matter is eternal. god’s power is eternal. Our doctrine states that ontological existence of “god-as-person” is eternal. But every-*THING* is definitely not eternal. A THING is an organized construct of matter that can be created and destroyed. When a thing is created, it it is organized from eternal matter. When destroyed, the matter is usable for another thing.

    The term “emerge” does not mean “increase” as in the semantic sense of your statement. Indeed, emerge and arise are synonymous. Water molecules have a tendency (a Way–a law of nature) to attract each other at specific angles. Free floating water molecules thus coelesce at freezing in a structural form we call a “snowflake”. A snowflake is a thing. It does not exist above freezing point. The form of matter at any complexity, constitutes ontological thing-ness. Since forms can indeed be created or destroyed, instantiated things are not eternal.

    2. Everything is personal, including what you call “(impersonal) laws of the natural universe.”

    I am sorry to say this, Dan, but I truly believe that your statement here is complete ontological mush, or at least it is to me. By redefining the very nature of the term “personal”, evidently into a panentheistic paradigm, you are setting up a tautology: god is everything.

    Yes, Mormon scripture personalizes the world, beautifully so. Such a literary reference helps see the divine power infusing everything. But to impute “personal” to everything is to literalize a metaphor. It makes the term “person” into a “panenpersonality”. So yes, if “person” is not limited to the usual definition, then god’s “person” can be everything. Truth by tautology.

    3. Everything that exists is internally interconnected. God as well as all of us are in and through all other things; we co-constitute each other.

    I agree on the concept that we are all connected. It’s a beautiful concept. Wenzi stated that the space between heaven and earth (metaphorically everyTHING) is the body of a single being. If we call this monad “god”, then we do have a consistent panentheistic ontology.

    Except two parts of this don’t work: 1. it is not the definition of “person” by any sense other than metaphor, and 2. There is nothing that is “not God”. Mormon theology is quite explicit on these two counts: God is a person in the usual, accepted sense that such a being cannot be everywhere and everything; and there is the “not god” in terms of “things” that are not eternal. Panentheism does not work in Mormon theology.

    4. Complexity (joy) is gained by heeding more and entering into positive relations with other things.

    Beautiful concept, as long as we think in terms of joy. Increasing complexity, however, does not, in my impression, equate with increased joy. A better term would be “order”. The most divine and joyful things are often the most simple.

    >> Single-cell organisms unite with others to become multi-cell,

    Does size matter in terms of which *form* is joyful?

    5. A God is a being who keeps all her/his/its/their agreements

    So on one hand, in point 3 you propose a panentheistic ontology. Now god is a distinct being who keeps agreements. Which is it?

    Dan, your thoughts are beautiful and wonderful as always. I appreciate your time spent here in this, because it helps form ideas and discussion.

    God can be said to truly exist, depending upon how we define who and what god IS. Having a coherent ontology of god is thus imperative for our thoughtful faith to survive. To say that god is explicitly a person in place and time, but then to discuss god as the monad of all that is, is to create an inherent ontological conflict.

    I seek to clarify that conflict, not by dismissing you and Fiona’s beautiful thoughts and words, but rather, to distinguish between the impersonal and divine power of god, which makes the beings of god possible, present, and deeply meaningful.

  8. February 3, 2017 at 5:19 am

    I’ve started work projects where I’ve been doing 30 minute commutes (and that’s just one way), so I’ve been able to listen to great episodes like these.

    I am a nonbeliever, but what I’ve been reading up on more and more recently is precisely how different Mormon theology is from classical theology (especially in ways that Mormons may not appreciate because the church doesn’t typically teach the Christian theology that it is challenging all that well.) To me, the gap between creator/creature (as mentioned by Fiona several times), and the implications of omni/omni/omni (as mentioned by all participants) are really sinking in more and more.

    I appreciated the section of this podcast that attempted to explain why a limited God is “better” than the omni God…why the vulnerable God is more compelling, and so on…but I am not sure about that. Then again, as an atheist who doesn’t “believe in” either concept, I openly accept that I probably just don’t get the point.

    To me, when I see non-LDS Christian arguments against Mormonism now, I think that they have a point: We cannot say what Mormons believe to be God is in any way referring to the same thing as what non-LDS Christians believe in (although I guess we can bracket away the discussion of whether that jeopardizes Mormonism’s Christianity). And to me, I’m not sure if variants on the Problem of Evil is enough to justify giving the title “God” to what Mormonism is describing.

    I apologize because that doesn’t really engage with the substance of your discussion (since I’m not trying to hash out the boring topic of “are Mormons Christian” or anything like that)…but I do think that there are some implications of Mormonism’s view about God that could be discussed further.

    For example, I think that thinking about God as being an embodied/anthropomorphised person or persons gives fuel to essentializing certain human traits as more or less godlike: namely, gender, sexuality, and possibly race. I’m not saying that traditional Christian denominations don’t also sometimes have theological or experiential problems with these categories, but in those denominations, you have to work a little harder than “God is literally straight/male/white” to introduce those problems.

    But in Mormonism, the literal maleness of God seems to add more problems than it solve. I think it fuels (deeply, profoundly problematic) Mormon discussions about gender roles, exclusion of the priesthood, heteronormativity, and racism. Mormons may get a lot of things incorrect in speculating about God, but the emphasis on God’s embodiment makes it POSSIBLE to believe that God is a straight white man in a way that just doesn’t make sense with the amorphous/non-contingent God of traditional Christianity.

  9. LJae
    February 21, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I have a thought on the discussion on God giving Man their agency in the Garden of Eden. In Moses 7:32 it says “I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them and in the Garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency” So Man was given knowledge before they even entered the garden. And then in the garden, God gave man the opportunity to use his agency, based on the knowledge or understanding they had at that point. How can you have agency if you don’t have something to choose between? Like Jim so nicely quoted from 2 Nephi, “there must needs be an opposition in all things.” So God did give Man (in his physical state) agency by presenting a choice, just like we used agency as spirit children to choose the Father’s plan and how we used agency as an intelligence when God said come and help me make worlds and be part of my glory. That last part is how I read verses like D&C 93:36 “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” and also from D&C 93 verses 29-30 “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence” So if we existed with God as intelligence, and God’s glory is intelligence, then God’s power and glory is actually lots and lots of “light and truth” or intelligence who have made an agreement with God because they trust Him.

    Does that make any sense to anyone besides me? This also helps me understand what the “light of Christ” is that is given to everyone who comes to Earth. D&C 88:12-13 reads “Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.” God isn’t everywhere at once, but his “power” is if it’s true that this light fills the immensity of space (dark matter/energy? Zero point energy? I have no idea). The fact it’s called the “light of Christ” emphasizes the fact that these intelligence might not “trust” us or aren’t willing to make an agreement with us personally, but because they have watched Christ and his obedience to the Father, they trust him. So since we all had faith in Christ before we came to earth or we wouldn’t be here, we all receive some portion of this light. Our capacity for light can increase or decrease depending on our actions/trust in Christ. The goal is to become like our Heavenly parents and eventually be filled with light like they are. D&C 50:24 “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day”

    This is how I see life, the universe and everything, but I will admit, I’m still learning things line upon line and I may have different thoughts tomorrow. Adam and Eve, after they make that choice to have their eyes open to the knowledge of good and evil, stayed faithful to what they had received and waited for the “further LIGHT and knowledge” that they were promised. (And I don’t think they meant google fiber). We are promised the same and God keeps his promises! I really do see a flood of light and truth in this world, but to keep with the idea of “opposition in all things” there seems to be an increase in darkness and confusion too. Maybe Lehi’s dream can teach us something about that…

    I have so many more thoughts on this, but I’m horrible and communicating my thoughts to people and I feel out of my league commenting here, so I think I’ll stop. I just wanted to get those thought out there for some reason. More for me to mediate on, I think, than for anyone else.

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