Mormon Innovations: the Pre-Mortal Life

Mormon Heretic LDS lessons, Mormon, religion, scripture 31 Comments

I’m teaching the Gospel Principles lesson #2 tomorrow.  I’m going to attempt to utilize proper sources, only utilizing personal experiences and church magazines.  We’ll see if I bore everyone to tears or if we can have an enlightening conversation.

The title of Lesson #2 is “Our Heavenly Family”, but I think it is mis-named.  Most of the lesson deals with the pre-Mortal life.  As I thought about this, I think this is one of the biggest theological innovations in Mormon theology.  I can remember teaching about the pre-mortal life as part of the plan of Salvation.  I also remember that missionaries are free to use A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards.  I loved this book as a missionary.  Elder Richards served as mission president to the Southern States Mission.  Since I served in the South, this book was a wonderful tool in the Bible Belt, and highlights many biblical scriptures in support of Mormon beliefs and doctrines.

The lesson starts off with a basic missionary principle:  We are children of Our Heavenly Father.  I do remember teaching a pastor on my mission.  When I stated this, he said, “Why do you say we’re children of our Heavenly Father?”  I replied with the “Sunday School answer” (which is backed up by the quote in this lesson from Joseph F Smith), that God created us.  His response was puzzling to me.  “God created the animals too, but he’s not their Father, is he?”  I was puzzled by his response then and now, and was not sure how to respond.  I felt he was toying with me, but I never understood his point.  Can anyone enlighten me and tell me what he was getting at?

The next paragraph in the lesson is something that we often say, and something that I think some members don’t fully appreciate.  “Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities.”  While most evangelicals generally agree that we’re all “trying to be like Jesus”, the idea of exaltation is repulsive to them.  I suspect most teachers of the lesson will gloss over this sentence of the lesson, but I think it is profound.  I do remember on my mission being accused that we don’t really talk about exaltation openly in missionary discussions or church lessons.  While I agree that Mormons are somewhat guilty, this is a place where we can discuss a “meatier” portion of the gospel.  So what do you think of this theological innovation of Mormonism?  Are you comfortable with the idea that we can actually become “like God”, or is this a real heresy of the LDS church?

There are those who claim that many ideas in the Doctrine & Covenants are not found in the Book of Mormon.  However, the pre-Mortal life is alive and well in the Book of Mormon.  The manual references Alma 13:1-3, as well as Abraham 3:22-23 from the Pearl of Great Price. Other Biblical scriptures from the lesson referencing the pre-Mortal life include Hebrews 12:9, Job 38:4-7, Jeremiah 1:5, 1 Corinthians 15:44, to go along with many sections from the D&C: 29, 76, 132.  When we look at the story in John 9 where the disciples ask Jesus,

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

This scripture seems to imply that the blind man could have sinned in a pre-earth life.  The disciples seemed quite comfortable with this idea of a pre-Mortal life, or why would they have asked the question?  Though I haven’t read the book yet, Terryl Givens has a history of the pre-Mortal life in his book, When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought.  Why do you think other religions don’t believe in a pre-Mortal life?  It seems pretty obvious to me that it is a biblical idea.  Givens says that the pre-Mortal life idea was created to fix many theological conundrums.

There is an interesting distinction between foreordination and predestination (as Andrew S commented on my blog.)  While Calvinists believe

“Everyone is predestined…but God doesn’t even make it so that everyone goes to heaven. Some people are predestined for hell and there isn’t anything they can do about their reprobation.”

Let’s contrast that with what the manual says (page 10):

“However, everyone on earth is free to accept or reject any opportunity to serve.”

So, while Mormon theology states that we’re all foreordained to our offices, we can still screw up.  Calvinism seems to imply that God plays favorites (at least according to Andrew.)  So, which theology do you prefer:  predestination or foreordination?  (Side note: Calvinism apparently refers to churches which belong to World Communion of Reformed Churches).

Finally, there is the council in Heaven, with lots of quotes from prophets and LDS scriptures in the manual.  I won’t go into that here, but Isaiah 14:12-18 describes the fall from heaven of one called “Lucifer” in the King James Version and the “morning star, son of the dawn” in the NIV.  Ezekiel 28 is another passage thought to refer to Lucifer/Satan.  Apparently, Lucifer/Satan had a position of guardian angel in heaven “among the fiery stones,” thought to be the shining precious jewels that are seen in other descriptions of heaven (Exodus 24:10; Revelation 21:18-21).

Why is it that evangelicals make such a big deal that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers?  Don’t they?  Where did Satan come from?

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Comments 31

  1. Interesting Post MH

    While most evangelicals generally agree that we’re all “trying to be like Jesus”, the idea of exaltation is repulsive to them.

    That was one of the great appeals that attracted me to the church. I still can’t imagine if their is a god that he wouldn’t want us to have what he has!! Maybe some evangelicals are really just jealous of our doctrine!!

    How can you be a god and not let others especially your children share in the power. If you don’t let them what you have its almost like communism!

  2. I’m channeling my inner Evangelical from a discussion on LDS Evangelical Conversations.

    But here’s what I think about the answer to that curious question:

    The lesson starts off with a basic missionary principle: We are children of Our Heavenly Father. I do remember teaching a pastor on my mission. When I stated this, he said, “Why do you say we’re children of our Heavenly Father?” I replied with the “Sunday School answer” (which is backed up by the quote in this lesson from Joseph F Smith), that God created us. His response was puzzling to me. “God created the animals too, but he’s not their Father, is he?” I was puzzled by his response then and now, and was not sure how to respond. I felt he was toying with me, but I never understood his point. Can anyone enlighten me and tell me what he was getting at?

    I think the understanding is that God is something different than us. This difference cannot be collapsed. It is as if we are different species (but then again, species is a distinction that only exists for the created).

    When we say, “God created us,” we say it with the idea, “God created us…so we are the same “species,” as him. We are his “children.”” The pastor brings up animals by saying, “Well, God created animals…does that mean they are the same species?” His point is that just as it is preposterous to say God is a “Father” to animals and animals are his children, so it is preposterous to say God is a “Father” to humans and humans are his children.

    This spills over into other areas. As you continue:

    “Because we are the spirit children of God, we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities.” While most evangelicals generally agree that we’re all “trying to be like Jesus”, the idea of exaltation is repulsive to them.

    Again, if I understand my conversation on LDSTalk, for an evangelical, it seems absurd to say “we have inherited the potential to develop His divine qualities.” At the VERY LEAST, one of God’s divine qualities, according to evangelicalism, is his uncreatedness. Since evangelicals believe humans are created, this is one area where logically, it is impossible that this aspect can be changed.

    Mormons have other theological inventions that assist. For example, eternal intelligences. Whatever the spiritual birth process was like (or the “organization” of other things was like), we do not affirm creatio ex nihilo, so it is possible that, in some way, shape, or fashion, *we* are uncreated too.

    Regarding predestination, as I said on your blog, predestination sounds like the adversary’s plan. The worst part is that whereas Satan said not a single soul would be lost, many Calvinists decidedly aren’t that universal in application.

    Regarding Jesus/Satan as brothers, I think the criticism would go back to the disagreement with us being God’s children. If Jesus is God’s only begotten, then I think this elevates him above us…which is what evangelicals want to do. Under a Mormon framework, Jesus doesn’t have any particular intrinsic elevation other than 1) going with the father’s plan, 2) actually carrying it out on this earth in a perfect way, and 3) being a bit ‘older’ than we are spiritually.

  3. Interesting questions. I hope an evangelical responds.

    About us being “children” vs. “creations” of God:

    I think that the evangelical view is that we can “become” the children of God, by accepting the gift of Grace. So, when others assert that they already are children of God, it takes something away from the language they use to describe the spiritual rebirth or regeneration that they have received.

    I think it also makes them feel concerned that we’re missing the point. Separation from God and the need for salvation is the foundational concept in Christianity. The movement from a creation of God to a child of God is part of the salvation process for the evangelical. If we think we’re already exempt from Hell and already children of God, (already saved) then we wont see ourselves as in need of salvation, and will miss out on true salvation.

  4. re 3:

    Ecumenigal, never saw/heard it that way, but that also makes sense.

    I wonder if we shouldn’t invite some of the people at LDS & Evangelical Conversations over here sometime?

  5. I also think the Evangelical vs. Mormon concept of God comes into play when talking about children vs. creations and about becoming “like God”.

    For evangelicals, it’s important that God is the creator of EVERYTHING. There is nothing “above” him or “beyond” him, and he is everywhere. He is the life force that animates everything that is, out into infinity. Humility is very important and I think the idea of becoming “like God” or “a God” disrupts the structure of one divine presence, eternally over and in everything, and then us creatures praising and working with the will of that one presence. How could there be room for more than one “I AM”?

    My answer is the collective consciousness concept — becoming “one with” God. Not so much becoming “a God”.

    I have a little trouble with the Mormon God concept, because it’s hard for me to shrink “God” down into a finite location with flesh and bones. If our Heavenly Father is locatable in one place, then what is the name for the power that is everywhere and infinite? If Heavenly Father has to follow Natural Law, what created Natural Law? If God is not the concept of “I AM THAT I AM”, or “pure consciousness”, then what is the name of those concepts?

    My answer is once again, the concept of the collective consciousness. If Heavenly Father has a body and is only one in a progression of Gods, and yet his consciousness is eternal and limitless, then he and the Gods before him must be part of a collective consciousness. When we “become Gods” we also enter this collective consciousness, in the paradox of individuated oneness.

    The ideas fit, but I can just never get my heart interested in the idea of praying to an individual rather than to the whole, even if he is plugged into the whole. I just don’t get it. My God concept is essentially the concept of the Holy Spirit.

  6. Andrew, thanks for shedding light on that pastor’s point! It has been elusive to me for 20 years!!!

    If you know any nice evangelicals, please feel free to invite them. In my internet dealings, there aren’t many nice evangelicals–they usually end up picking fights by telling Mormons we’re all going to hell, and we’re a bunch of deluded idiots. I’ve tried having respectful conversations with them, but have been unsuccessful so far. I’d like to be introduced to a nice evangelical along the likes of you, Andrew (a nice atheist.) You’re the most respectful atheist I’ve ever come across, and you speak Mormon lingo eloquently. (My hat goes off to brjones and Cowboy as well for their respectful disagreements). So, if you can find an evangelical with your (Andrew) personality, they are more than welcome to join the conversation.

    The distinction between evangelicals and mormons (not same species vs same species) is a very interesting point. I talked previously about how similar theosis is to exaltation, and I love the idea that the Orthodox Christians have a similar belief to Mormons. While Orthodox believers are much smaller here in America, I think this is a cool similarity between our belief systems. The Book of Mormon idea that this is a probationary state seems so natural to me, that I have a hard time understanding why evangelicals fight so vigorously against the idea. What do evangelicals believe will happen in the next life? Will we just sit around on clouds, strumming harps, praising God? That’s got to get old after a few thousand years. I’ve never received a satisfactory answer from them–I don’t know is the most common answer.

    Ecumenigal, thanks for your insights. Your “concept of the collective consciousness” sounds very much like the Orthodox idea of theosis (which I posted on previously). But if God created everything, where did Satan come from? He’s either created by God, or he is not. I guess this “different species” idea comes into play, and I guess I understand better why they are repulsed by this “Jesus and Satan are brothers” idea, but it still seems quite silly to me. Once again, it comes back to the nature of God, and whether “trying to be like Jesus” should be taken literally or not. This seems to be one place where literalist evangelicals take a non-literal interpretation to being like Jesus.

  7. Thanks for this post. I am also teaching the same lesson tomorrow. I just wanted to comment a little on the discussion, “God created the animals too, but he’s not their Father, is he?”

    The Bible states that we are the offspring of God (Acts 17:28-29), but it doesn’t say the same thing about animals. Besides being our Creator, I guess you could also say he is our Progenitor. Then it wouldn’t seem like such a big stretch to say we are children of God.

  8. MH, I read your link on theosis. Fascinating! Thanks for doing homework and giving us a book report.

    About Satan’s relationship with God: I guess there is ultimately a dividing line between dualists and non-dualists. Evangelical Christians seem to stick with dualism, that there is and always will be Good and Evil, and that there is no ultimate redemption or reconciliation.

    I’m a non-dualist. I would say that we’re living in a land of contrast, but that the ultimate underlying reality is one-ness, like the yin yang symbol. Day + Night = the 24 hour cycle. Man + woman = humanity. Good & Evil/Light&Darkness/Creator&Destroyer are necessary components of this physical reality that allows us to live in bodies, experience ourselves as individuals, and grown in discernment and compassion.

    If there was no force of destruction, nothing would decompose. Disease could not be destroyed. Injustice couldn’t be stomped out. Fire from burning wood could not keep us warm. We couldn’t digest food. If there were no opposition, plants would not grow strong from resisting the wind. We would not grow strong or explore our characters through adversity. If there were no darkness, how could we learn to discern darkness and light? If there were no suffering, how would we learn deep compassion? How would we be jolted out of complacency to seek spiritual growth?

    So, yes, I think God essentially created Satan. He is playing an important and valued function. In Mormonism, Satan’s plan was that we would all return, and there would be no way to get totally lost. To my way of thinking, that plan would be one where there was only light, so we couldn’t get lost. So, ironically, Satan voted for pure light. (“Angel of light”?)

    Jesus, on the other hand, voted for the chance for us to develop skills of discernment, faith, repentance, humility, and for us being separate enough from God that it would be possible to get lost, but we would be much wiser for the struggle. His plan required opposition. I wonder why Satan go chosen for the job?

    I think evangelicals hold on to keeping things simple and clear, less paradoxical, and that has an important function. There is real power in clearly declaring yourself the victor over darkness, no ifs ands, or buts.

    But… the Christian concept of the “Refiner’s Fire” brings back the paradox. When is adversity caused by Satan, and when is it caused by God, for our good? In the end, God wins the war. Isn’t this similar to saying that God is the ultimate reality? They also say “Satan is the ruler of this world.” Isn’t that similar to saying that darkness is just part of the grand dualism experience we’re all going through, but that when ultimate reality sets in, light is all there is?

    I believe that adversity or “the adversary” makes us stronger and so is ultimately here for our good also. (Like a martial arts teacher who throws you to the ground.)

  9. MH–

    Thanks for the post.

    I have been trying to understand a statement about satan that is recorded in the D&C.

    23 Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth;
    24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
    25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 93:23 – 25)

    Question: What does it mean in verse 25 that the wicked one was a liar from the beginning? Is this referring to his existence as an intelligence? As a young spirit? What’s up?

  10. The explanation of your teachings gives light and brings wisdom to the ignorant. Psalm 119:130. By (God’s)his wisdom he made the heavens; his love is eternal; he built the earth on the deep waters; his love is eternal. He made the sun and the moon; his love is eternal; the sun to rule over the day; his love is eternal; the moon and the stars to rule over the night; his love is eternal. Psalms 136:5-9 I face your holy Temple, bow down, and praise your name because of your constant love and faithfulness, because you have shown that your name and your commands are supreme. Psalms 138:2-3 You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because you are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful. I know it with all my heart. When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there–you saw me before I was born. The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book, before any of them ever began. O God, how difficult I find your thoughts; how many of them there are! If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:13-18

    Lord, what is man, that you notice him; mere man, that you pay attention to him? He is like a puff of wind; his days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:1-4 The Lord is loving and merciful, slow to become angry and full of constant love. He is good to everyone and has compassion on all he made. All your creatures, Lord, will praise you, and all your people will give you thanks. They will speak of the glory of your royal power and tell of your might, so that everyone will know your mighty deeds and the glorious majesty of your kingdom. Your rule is eternal, and you are king forever. Psalm 145 145:8-13. The Lord is righteous in all he does, merciful in all his acts. He is near to those who call to him, who call to him with sincerity. He supplies the needs of those who honor him; he hears their cries and saves them. He protects everyone who loves him, but he will destroy the wicked. I will always praise the Lord; let all his creatures praise his holy name forever. Psalm 145:17-21

    Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, shining stars. Praise him, highest heavens, and the water above the sky. Let them all praise the name of the Lord! He commanded, and they were created; by his command they were fixed in their places forever, and they cannot disobey. Psalms 148:3-6

    Let them all praise the name of the Lord! His name is greater than all others; his glory is above earth and heaven. He made his nation strong, so that all his people praise him–the people of Israel, so dear to him. Praise the Lord! Psalms 148:13-14

  11. “Are you comfortable with the idea that we can actually become “like God”, or is this a real heresy of the LDS church?”

    I’m totally comfortable with this idea. I can’t imagine getting to a point where my progression stops anything short of perfect, otherwise it would be very frustrating. To know that I can improve and continue to do so for a long time is very motivating to me.

    “Why is it that evangelicals make such a big deal that Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers? Don’t they?”

    Yes they do and I have no idea why. I would like to understand what the big deal is.

  12. re 7:

    (meant to write this comment earlier…got halfway and had to leave…so yeah)

    MH, I like to think I’m pretty one-of-a-kind, so finding the evangelical me would seem pretty creepy, :D.

    I guess I have some similar reservations. For example, while I do like going to LDS & Evangelical Conversatioons (ldstalk.wordpress.com), and that’s where I got some of my thoughts about the whole “different species, uncreated vs. created), I dunno…I think there gets to be some tensions…it swings from friendly to…less friendly.

    I think Jack from clobberblog (clobberblog.com) is pretty friendly, so later on I might ask her about her opinions on the pre-mortal existence. She went to BYU, married an LDS guy, and has done some forays over at T&S, so she knows a bit of the theology.

  13. “Are you comfortable with the idea that we can actually become “like God”, or is this a real heresy of the LDS church?”

    I’m certainly not an authority on Evangelical Christianity, but having had some experience with them, I think Ecumenigal explanation (#05) reflects the understanding I have had on this sectarian disagreement. I think out of sense of justified ignorance, we Mormons tend to oversimplify our somewhat unique perspective on the Godhead as a distinction of deity quantity, and nothing more. To the contrary, the King Follet discourse was a major divergence from traditional Christianity. As I read this sermon all mystery seems to be resolved, except our limited mortal capacity to fathom the depth of Eternity and infinity. God, in a manner similar to us, was an Eternal intelligence who was tabernacled in a spirit body, kept a first and second estate where according to the Eternal Plan of Salvation, followed the pattern of his father, and his father before him to gain his Exaltation. In this sense God was limited, and grew and developed, but as Joseph Smith put it, God did not created himself. To the converse, the great mystery in traditional Christianity I believe is God, who he is, and what he does, and what his purpose is. For purposes unknown, he placed man in the Garden of Eden, who in his imperfection violated Gods law which brought about the fall, perhaps an unnecessary condition. Because God is perfect, and as the Bible says, God is love, he himself took mortal form in the figure Jesus, and gave us a gift we neither deserve nor can repay. His only condition, we accept his goodness and his gift by surrendering our grattitude and faith.

    I think we could go on, but I think it should be clear that there is stark theological contradiction between these points of view. To challenge the very nature of God is deny his grace and mercy, and speak blaspheme of his gift. Suffice it to say, President Hinckley nailed when he acknowledged that there is some merit to common criticism that Mormons do not hold a traditional view of Christianity.

  14. Andrew, you are one of a kind! It’s funny to me that Anna proved me right that nice evangelicals are few and far between. Her first sentence included this gem, “The explanation of your teachings gives light and brings wisdom to the ignorant.” I’ll just ignore her–I’m not interested in a fight. But, I’d love to see Jack here. She seems pretty respectful, and I’d love to hear her point of view.

    Jared, when God says “Endless is my name”, and “I am Alpha and Omega”, and God has no beginning or end, I find such things as “liar from the beginning” a little bit hard to interpret. Beginning can refer to many things. It could refer to the Garden story, where Satan lied to Eve. It could refer to the pre-Mortal life too. Frankly, I think both options are valid.

    Garold, thanks for the link. At 24 pages, I’ll have to check it out when I have more time, but I think this statement sums up Barney’s position: “In my view, the Bible as a whole is essentially neutral on the question of whether the soul had a preexistence, and how one reads the various biblical passages that have some arguable relevance to the question will unavoidably be heavily influenced by one’s preexisting theology.” I agree whole-heartedly.

  15. Jen, I think Andrew’s explanation regarding the idea that God created us and the animals but we’re essentially a different species than God is probably the best explanation of evangelical’s beliefs about Satan. I do wonder how they explain Satan’s existence. If God created everything, he must have created Satan too, right? Perhaps Satan is a different species than man and Jesus. I guess I just need to find a respectful evangelical to answer that question. I’m not sure the answer. I have heard of dualism (thanks Ecumenigal), but that concept still seems pretty abstract to me.

    Cowboy, your comment that “the King Follet discourse was a major divergence from traditional Christianity” is spot on. For those of us in the Wasatch Front, I don’t think we fully appreciate how different our theology is. Sure we understand the difference of protestant/catholic trinity vs mormon godhead, but those differences are much more profound, and it is much deeper. While I think it’s interesting that the church looks at this lesson as a basic Gospel Principle (ie going back to the basics), I think few people who teach Elder’s quorum will emphasize these theological differences from these simple statements. They are really profound. We are not a traditional Christian denomination, but more along the lines of a New Religion. As I said in my recent post on my blog, I think the transition between Judaism and Christianity is as stark as Christianity is to Mormonism. Terryl Givens even refers to the Book of Mormon as “The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion.” These basic gospel principles are very profound differences with traditional Christianity, though one can find pieces of them throughout the Bible too.

  16. There are other “Christian” religions that are as different from traditional Christianity as Mormonism is. I think that Mormonism should just agree that it is different from mainstream Christianity. On the other hand, the “Christians” just have to get used to sharing words. Words get co-opted and re-interpreted all the time. It’s immature to get so angry, as if someone else using “your word” can dilute your identity or offend the sanctity of your beliefs.

    For example, “sustainable” used to mean “able to be sustained”. Now, people throw it around all the time as a synonym for “green”. Oh well. It just means I have to define it whenever I talk about it. Fact of life.

    Mormons ought to be called Christians, IMHO, because Mormons believe that they are a restoration of the early Christian church started by Jesus the Christ. My Methodist/Atheist religion professor said that all the churches that call themselves a restoration of original Christianity may be right, because there were almost as many different versions of Christianity in the beginning as there are now.

    Evangelicals just need to get over it and go to the work of defining themselves regularly, or call themselves “Conventional” “Biblical” or “Traditional”. All religions have to do this. Jewish, Catholic..they all have qualifiers and subsets.

  17. MH:

    I think the LDS interpretation of God as lying within the realm of reality rather than outside as its Creator makes the question of the origin of Satan or the origin of natural law fundamentally the same type of question. If God is not the answer to why are things the way they are, why are things the way they are?

    Each way of looking for the relationship between God and reality brings its own special world view and theological questions. If God created everything, then why are things so “poorly made” that things like Haiti occur? That’s the kind of question that has troubled mainstream Christians for centuries, with various forms of monism and dualism waxing ang waning.

    My own personal answer is closer to Ecumenigal’s and relies heavily on collective properties (though with a much more nest-of-Russian-dolls and multiple descriptions of a single reality flavor to it. My denomination, which has already split theologically from LDS by Nauvoo, holds a much more mainstream picture of a non-anthropological God.

  18. I am going to jump in without reading all comments closely. Forgive me.

    I often sensed the areas of problem with the Jesus/Satan being brothers and us becoming like God are related issues. It is rooted in the idea of sacred distance and/or the idea of God.

    If Jesus is the brother of Satan then conceivable he could have been Satan and therefore this brings Jesus’s divinity into question and therefore his atonement.

    Further, God is considered to be radically other to humans, and it is this radical difference that enables God to atone for the sins of fifnite mortals. Question this otherness and it makes it seem less-likely that God atonement is eternal or real.

    As I recall it was a simlar debate (inspired by Arius?) that promoted the Council of Nicea and the homoousia (same substance) comment in the creeds which attempts to unify Christ with God.

  19. Sorry for not answering sooner. We had late church, and it was kind of a busy Sunday. I’d say the lesson went ok. It reminds me of when I taught Math 1010 at the community college. Some were excited to learn and contribute, others wished they were someplace else.

    Andrew, thanks for your explanation of the pastor from my mission. I think that really helped people understand the evangelical view better. We never got to the Jesus and Satan are brothers part of the lesson, but it went ok.

  20. I believe that the farther our evangelical friends get from the seminary, the less offended they are by the concept that we and God are the same species. We both seem to take turns taking parts of the bible literal and complaining that the other side does not.

    I taught the same lesson today with no preparations (found out the teacher didn’t show up). Had an interesting discussion with the group when I asked, if you take away an understanding of the pre-existence, what would then be your explanation for our life’s purpose.

    If there are any Genesis scholars out there, I would be interested to know if there is a pattern that relates to the same species position. In versus 21-25, the term ‘after his kind’ is used 7 times. In verse 26, does he continue this literay pattern by saying, “Let us make man in our own image” – or am I misunderstanding what ‘after his kind’ means?

  21. I think the idea that we can become like God is central to Mormonism and if we ever really start viewing it as a heresy we might as well just become evangelicals.

    As for the Satan/Christ thing, it’s really quite simple.

    Jesus is God. Jesus, like God the Father, is uncreated. Jesus and God the Father (and the Holy Ghost) are one God and all three are uncreated. This is par for the course with other Christians. Satan, like the angels, humans, and everything else, are created. So us saying Jesus and Satan are brothers sounds like saying either Satan is God-like or Jesus is Satan-like. Neither sounds good. Basically, it’s a way to focus that we’re not Christians, so much so that we blasphemous idiots (in their eyes), equated the un-created Creator with a rebellious, fallen creature.

    Mormons also believe that Jesus is God and is uncreated. And while we give our own version of lip-service to Jesus being God, we really prefer saying he is the Son of God and tend to view God the Father as God. We also believe that we are uncreated, though we generally only believe it in theory and tend to believe in practise that we were created as spirit children. Jesus and Satan and us.

    But yeah, the two “problems” are very tied together. We make God, Jesus, Satan, angels, humans, into a single species, a species that can either become like God, like Satan, or a variety of steps in between.

  22. Andrew, so when you put on your evangelical hat to describe Satan and Jesus as brothers, do you get this “dualism” idea that Ecumenigal talked about? Do evangelicals have any explanation as to how Satan came into being? Does Satan also have no beginning and no end?

  23. I think #25 gets to the main difference. In historic Christian theology existence is essentially divided into two mutually exclusive categories: the uncreate and the created. The only thing in the category of the uncreate is God. Everything else that is not God, falls into the category of the created, because God creates all things (ex nihilo); this includes man and angels. Lucifer as an angel is a creation of God, man is a creation. The Son of God is not a creation. One of the debates in Christian theology was which category the Son of God belonged. If the Son of God is a creation then there was “a time when he was not.” This was essentially the position of Arius. The Church condemned this position because it meant the Son of God was a creation, meaning not God, which would mean that the atonement was not performed by God, and thus could not save. Thus to speak of the Son of God as an angel became heresy in the Church because angels are created beings. The point of all this is that to speak of the Son of God (uncreated) and Satan (created) as “brothers” doesn’t really compute from the standpoint of what developed in Christian theology.

    Even in Mormon parlance the notion of Jesus and Satan as “brothers” can be extremely confusing. Satan clearly has no brothers since he is unembodied and he wasn’t born of Mary so he cannot be a brother to Jesus qua Jesus. Many Christians dispute whether Jesus had other brothers in the flesh. What Mormons mean to refer to is not a relationship between Jesus and Satan, but rather between Jehovah and Lucifer in a premortal realm. Even phrased in this manner, it doesn’t make sense from what developed in Christian theology because Jehovah is God, uncreated and eternal and Lucifer is a created being, merely an angel. Obviously, many critics of Mormonism use the Jesus-Satan as brothers phrase for its shock value, but simply from the perspective of Christian theology (including those Christian theologians who are unfamiliar with Mormonism) it doesn’t compute given the underlying Christian understanding of the nature of God and creation.

  24. Thanks Aquinas. Still, isn’t it a problem in traditional Christian theology that God created Satan? If God is all that is good, how can he invent Satan who is the epitome of evil?

    While Mormon theology believes that there must be an opposition in all things, this seems to be a problem in traditional Christian theology, doesn’t it?

  25. If Heavenly Father has to follow Natural Law, what created Natural Law?

    This is an important question, because it seems to put Natural Law above God. Therefore, could it be said that the Law is ultimately God, for it is the highest, uncreated authority in the universe?

    If God is all that is good, how can he invent Satan who is the epitome of evil? While Mormon theology believes that there must be an opposition in all things, this seems to be a problem in traditional Christian theology, doesn’t it?

    The problem of evil is challenging in any theology that claims an all-powerful, all-good God, Mormonism included.

  26. Yes, it is a problem and Christian theologians have offered various explanations.

    Augustine explains that God created Lucifer with a good nature but it was the will that was the problem: “But God, as He is the supremely good Creator of good natures, so is He of evil wills the most just Ruler; so that, while they make an ill use of good natures, He makes a good use even of evil wills. Accordingly, He caused the devil (good by God’s creation, wicked by his own will) to be cast down from his high position, and to become the mockery of His angels, – that is, He caused his temptations to benefit those whom he wishes to injure by them. And because God, when He created him, was certainly not ignorant of his future malignity, and foresaw the good which He Himself would bring out of his evil, therefore says the psalm, “This leviathan whom Thou hast made to be a sport therein,” that we may see that, even while God in His goodness created him good, He yet had already foreseen and arranged how He would make use of him when he became wicked.” Augustine, City of God, Book XI, ch 17.

    Some have interpreted Augustine to support free will, others have interpreted him to support predestination. Most Calvinists would follow the later.

    As to the former, Gregory A. Boyd suggests that “Satan represents the paradigmatic case of a free agent turned bad. God created Lucifer free, for he created him with the potential to love . . . Unfortunately Lucifer chosen an evil course.” Gregory A. Boyd “Satan & the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” IVP, 2001.

    I must add that Boyd’s position may be controversial as he writes from an openness perspective and thus Calvinists may take issue with him and view him as deemphasizing the sovereignty of God. Essentially, Mormonism (along with Arminianism and openness theology) stresses free will while other traditions emphasize God’s sovereignty. But both traditions present serious challenges.

    One of the ironies of the Mormon tradition of the preexistence is that it has often been interpreted by Mormons in very deterministic and almost Calvinistic ways. Many have used preexistence to try to explain unfairness in life. For example, some have used the premortal existence to say that everything in this life was determined by our premortal actions, including where we are born, when we are born, our family, our race, almost all conditions in our life, and before the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, our prior actions determined whether a person would hold the priesthood or perhaps even be born in the Church. Some went so far as to say that our personalities here are simply mirror images of our personalities there, and thus in a sense downplay the role and purpose of mortality. Such interpretations tend to render mortality somewhat superfluous or redundant, and it also tends to problematically downplay free will in mortality. Those with this view tend not to see that they’ve merely pushed the problem back in time but haven’t solved it.

    Further complicating Mormon though is the notion that spirits are created by God. Joseph Smith in 1844 taught that spirits are uncreated “is a spirit from age to age & no creation about it.” “God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all.” Ehat & Cook, 360. Yet, later the notion that spirits were created became the dominant model. If God creates the spirits of man, even from preexisting eternal spirit element, then why does he continue to create spirits like Lucifer that he knows will wreak havoc, or why would he persist in creating a spirit he knows will end up a son of perdition? Wouldn’t that make God the author of evil? This falls into the same problem as Arminian and Calvinistic dilemmas. Even Mormon thought cannot get out of the problem of evil, especially with the notion of spirit birth or holding to the absolute omniscience of God. Mormon theologians have proposed various models but its important to realize that Mormon thought simply does not present a clean and easy solution for the problem of evil.

  27. Yes, I think there has been a bit of Calvinism built into Mormonism by people like Bruce R McConkie and the “fence-sitters” in the pre-existence. However, I think there is a realization that such ideas are wrong, and Joseph Smith certainly doesn’t seem to go along with this Calvinistic way of thinking.

    However, with Lehi’s “opposition in all things” and the idea of free-agency, it seems to me that Mormonism has a much easier way to handle the idea of Satan than other religions. God is all-powerful, but since this is a test, he chooses when and when not to exercise his power, in order that we will grow via opposition. I guess I’m not seeing as big of a theological problem here, especially when we shoot McConkie Calivinism down.

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