Prepare for the ultimate philosophical smack down between a David and a Goliath! In one corner we have our champ Craig L. Blomberg who I have been told is one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world. Simply put, he’s brilliant.
Our contender is my former missionary companion who was never anything but a junior companion.
Craig Blomberg comes out of his corner swinging, in How Wide the Divide? His upper-cut is the logical impossibility of the Mormon concept of becoming divine and having more than one Omnipotent “being.” He says,
Even simple logic should suggest that it is contradictory to have more than one omnipotent being; otherwise, for example, not only would God be able to judge me but I would be able to judge God. Both of us could theoretically destroy each other, and then there would be no eternally existing God. (How Wide the Divide? p. 212)
Well, spectators at home, Mormonism has taken a blow. It starts to fall and swoon. Blomberg may have just disproven Mormonism altogether using “simple logic.” So everyone on this website, please close up shop and go home, this show is over.
But wait, here comes my poor little companion out of his corner with a one-two punch response to Blomberg – and years before Blomberg ever tried his upper cut!
In passing my companion once mentioned to me that the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to disprove other Christians with the very same argument Blomberg uses. It seems the Jehovah’s Witnesses are fond of saying, “How can there be three Almighties? That’s a contradiction! All of Christianity is wrong, including Craig Blomberg’s form of it! [Note: okay, I admit I added that part.] Jehovah is the only Almighty and Jesus is not an Almighty! “My Father is Greater than I.” This is simple logic! All of Christendom should convert to the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses because we are the only ones being logical!”
“But Elder Nielson,” he said to me, “They are wrong. This isn’t logical. If multiple beings have the same purpose and will — if they never come into conflict over what they want — you can logically have an infinite number of Almighties.”
So there we have it: my former companion’s inadvertent response to Craig Blomberg’s “simple logic.” It would appear our Goliath is down for the count, logically speaking. He never made it past round 1.
The Aftermath: One Moral Will Theology
My former companion’s brief comment resulted into my additional scriptural studies on this topic. This proved a profitable approach to scripture study, particularly with the Book of Mormon.
I have named this doctrine: “One Moral Will Theology.”
At the same time my companion clarified for me the profound importance of Jesus’ teaching that He and the Father were one (John 10:30) and that He desired His disciples to be one with Him in the same way He is one with the Father. (John 17:11, 21) It turns out Jesus didn’t just want us to “be one” (D&C 38:27) because it’s unseemly when we don’t behave ourselves.
And it came to pass that I realized that in Mormon theology the Trinity Doctrine and Plurality of Gods Doctrine are really one and the same doctrine.
Logic and Reason: Are Human Beings Capable of Using Them Evenly?
All these years later, I am still dumbfounded at the ease with which my companion shunted aside such a logically “sounding” surface argument. It has made me question the purpose of even having logic/reason discussions such as this. If this is the best a massively brilliant person like Blomberg can do, how well am I doing?
But what really amazes me are the following three take aways from this match up:
Point #1: Even Really Smart People Are Incapable of Using Reason If It Goes Against Their Beliefs
How could someone as smart as Craig Blomberg not figure out that the Mormon view of Deity suffers no “simple logic” problem like he asserts? It’s certainly not a lack of familiarity with Mormon theology on this subject; his grasp of Mormon theology through out the book proves this.
And how could he not see that his “simple logic” could be – is — used against him just as easily and would mean little more?
Once we realize that to everyone in the world — save creedal Christians only — that “being” and “person” are synonyms, consider a slight rewording of Blomberg’s quote:
“Even simple logic should suggest that it is contradictory to have more than one omnipotent person; otherwise, for example, not only would the Father be able to judge Jesus but Jesus would be able to judge Father. Both of them could theoretically destroy each other, and then there would be no eternally existing God.”
Do you think Blomberg would still feel this is good logic? Is he ready to go join the Jehovah’s Witnesses now?
Point #2: We Don’t Differentiate Between “Logic” and “Assumption”
Perhaps more uncomfortable is the realization that Blomberg’s logic is actually sound; it’s just based on assumptions Mormons don’t hold. I will grant that his unspoken assumption plays to our intuition: the fact that no two persons on earth ever completely share one moral will and purpose. That is to say, we have no direct experience with people that share the same purpose and will so it’s hard for us to conceive. Blomberg’s “logic” is only “logic” if we start with the assumption that such a thing is impossible.
Worse yet, as per my reworded quote above, it would appear that Blomberg’s argument was based on an assumption that he does not himself hold to be true. What we have here is a double standard in his logic.
But this is only the beginning of my woes because:
Point #3: This Post is A Waste of All Our Time
Because either a) I think I’m being logical, but in reality I am just fooling myself to believe that I am because it’s convenient for my point of view (see point number 1); or b) I am being logical but it won’t matter because anyone that disagrees with me (including Blomberg if he were to read this) will fail to comprehend the logic presented because it’s convenient for their point of view.
Either way this post was pointless.
“Either way this post was pointless.”
This should be inscribed on the archway one passes under to enter the Internet.
I like the post, and I agree, but one question. How then do you interpret Jesus’ statement that the Father is greater than him? Perhaps in the sense that Jesus is Heavenly Father’s spirit child, so in a sense precedes him? Or because Jesus spoke this when he only had a mortal body, perhaps he was referring to God the Father having a more perfected tabernacle?
“we have no direct experience with people that share the same purpose and will so it’s hard for us to conceive.”
You’ve never met my parents. I have never had difficulty understanding the Godhead as separate but united, specifically because I’ve seen my parents in action. They truly are two in one.
Oh, and your post addresses perfectly many of the comments on the last few posts – even if it probably is a waste of time. *grin*
If we become one with the Father like the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are one, then we will no longer have the issue of someone having power and authority over the other. There is also still only one “God” no matter how many entities merge with this united being.
I suspect this is why “no unlcean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” If He/She merged to become one with an “unclean thing,” then logically they would also become unclean (whatever that word means).
5: This is another way of saying we cease to exist and separate conscience beings. We are subsumed into God. Otherwise how could we truly be one? Within one omniscient being how could you possibly distinguish between individual personalities?
Myself I don’t like the concept of omnipotence. Nothing to learn. Nowhere to grow. Stagnant. Boring.
>>> This is another way of saying we cease to exist and separate conscience beings
This is a matter of what you can imagine. I can imagine two beings (or multiple beings) that have separate personalities but that never come into conflict. To use a simple example, when I was a teen I wanted to listen to rock but my father didn’t. But I also wanted my father to not have to listen to rock music and he wanted me to be able to. So I got a walkman. Our wills never came into conflict and we wanted different things for ourselves but wanted the other to be happy. This does not strike me as being subsumed in the slightest.
>>> How then do you interpret Jesus’ statement that the Father is greater than him?
Austin, this is a good question that has many possible answers. So for the moment, let me just say that if two beings share each other’s best interests (see #7) and never have their wills come into conflict that it would be a minor matter to have one being be greater than the other in one sense (say because one is the father and one is the son) and yet have them be equal in power.
Here is the point of the pointless post that I thought was the most pointed:
“Point #1: Even Really Smart People Are Incapable of Using Reason If It Goes Against Their Beliefs”
This is proven on this blog, the radio and many other places time after time.
Thanks for this.
Bruce, I’m glad you brought this topic up, because I’ve been wondering about it too. What puzzles me is how the idea of perfect unity of moral will among all the members of the godhead jives with the belief that Jesus suffered to do the will of the godhead. If Jesus’s and the other members’ wills are in perfect consonance all the time, I don’t see how Jesus could have ever found it difficult to do as the godhead willed. I understand how a person can be torn, wanting to do two conflicting things, and ultimately choosing one over the other–and that does seem to be what Jesus was experiencing when he said something like “take this cup away from me; nevertheless thy will and not mine be done,” but if Jesus’s will was really in perfect unity with that of the rest of the godhead, then he shouldn’t have even felt a little bit torn; he should have willed his own crucifixion without even the slightest wish that things could be otherwise, not even the wish that comes naturally from having a body, experiencing pain, and wanting that pain to stop.
It seems to me that there are several possible responses to this puzzle, but I don’t really like any of them.
First, we could say that Jesus’s experience of pain and suffering was special–for people, it doesn’t count as pain and suffering if we don’t, at some level, want it to stop, but Jesus was able to experience the pain and suffering without wanting it to stop, not even a little bit. This response leads to two problems, though: first of all, that feeling of kinship we have with Jesus (the one we get when we recall that he understands our pain and suffering because he experienced it himself) is going to be weakened because his pain and suffering weren’t really the same as ours; and second, we still have to explain what he meant when he said “take this cup away from me”. Was he only pretending to not want it?
Second, we could differentiate between basic desire (e.g. I want to avoid pain) and moral will (e.g. I want to do as God wishes, even if it means frustrating my basic desire for pain-avoidance) and say that when we say the godhead is united in perfect unity of will, we mean that their moral wills are united, but that their basic desires aren’t necessarily so consonant. However, if we take this tack, we’d be giving up a significant aspect of the idea of unity of will. If the different members of the godhead have basic desires that sometimes conflict, but they’ve made a firm agreement to always come to an agreement even at the cost of frustrating those basic desires, then they don’t seem to be much more united than, for example, the twelve members of a jury, and then the concept of unity-of-will seems to lose much of its force and beauty.
Third, we could say that Jesus is only a member of the godhead inasmuch as his will agrees with the godhead’s, and thus in the moment when he was torn and almost-halfway-wished to escape his fate, he was less fully a member of the godhead. If we say that, though, then we’re calling Jesus’s absolute godliness into question–if he was less godly in the garden of Gethsemane, then when else in the documented history of his life might he also not have been speaking as a member of the godhead?
Fourth, we could say that Jesus’s possessing a physical body and thereby being able to experience physical pain was what led him to have the desire to avoid his fate, and since his essential nature is not physical but spiritual, then it wasn’t really *Jesus* who had that moment of weakness in Gethsemane; it was just *Jesus’s temporary physical body*. But that response collapses back onto the problem we had in #3–if Jesus’s physical body messed up the consonance between his will and God’s, then what else in his life and ministry did it mess up?
So I’m not sure any of those responses is really satisfactory, although at the moment #2 is looking the least bad. Is there a way out of this puzzle that I’ve missed?
Miriam, I don’t think this is as complicated as we tend to make it.
My mother and father were united in every way that mattered. They wanted the same things for their children; they were united completely on every decision of significant import, because they were willing to discuss anything and not act until they reached a consensus. They were distinctly separate and unique “beings”, but they functioned in every important way as a one united couple.
Jesus’ experience in the Garden – and on the cross – illustrate the same process, I believe. Prior to the creation of the world, the Godhead reached a unanimous plan in which each had a role but all functioned together to fulfill it. At the apex of practical difficulty, the Garden and the cross, the one experiencing the **physical** suffering turned to the one experiencing the **observational** suffering (the one who suffers specifically because he can’t “take the pain away”) and said, in essence, “Is there any other way to do this? If so, let me know.” The Father responded, essentially with either a “No” or with silence – an effective “No.” Given the lack of an alternative, they agreed to continue in the predetermined plan – even when that plan included the Father eventually stepping away and leaving the Son to finish it all alone.
I don’t see a conflict of will in this “big picture” view. It only is a conflict if the plan had not been worked out collectively beforehand – if it was one Being bowing to the will of another Being without full choice and original input into the solution.
Having said that, our theology does NOT place the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as true “equals” from the very beginning. It only posits such equality as an end result – that the Father allows equality to be gained, first by the Son and then by others. That is very different than the classic view of the Trinity and the primary reason we are not viewed as Christian by the mainstream Protestant majority.
I do wonder whether these quandaries of reason don’t reveal more about our discomfort with what we think it says about God if He were perceived to be “illogical” than reflecting more on what it may say about ourselves when we, essentially, try to create God in our image.
Imagine, from the Christian POV: God had enough power and knowledge, the Will, to create a creation so perfectly individual and sub-willed enough it could reject His will and thereby become imperfect. In order to fully redeem us, which brings Himself glory, He chose to become human. If he had to become human then that would question Himself as the authority, and place authority outside Himself. So if we agree that He chose to be human I think it’s exciting to consider what it says about us more than what it says about Him. Not the usual line of thought of what it means for humanity to become divine — because we were not divine who become human now seeking to become divine, or rather divine in the sense we equate with God. God was divine before becoming human. Being human did not make Him more divine. But it was a step to redeeming us. Why?
Therefore the interesting question to me is: what does it mean for God to be human?
Consider: Could Jesus be fully human and still possess the complete unified Will, foreknowledge and power of God in order to redeem mankind? If we say no do we not reject His power to completely redeem us, to perfectly interrelate with us before God? If we say yes must we consider that His becoming fully human is not the absence, or opposite, of real humanity. There is within the state of human existence to coexist with Godly Holiness. To ponder this, I think, invites us to consider what it means to be fully human. Instead we often get hung up on what we think it says about God.
Perhaps seeking God to reconcile like a mathematical equation is waste of time. But perhaps there is something beautiful that can come from the vibration of discord and “illogical-ness” that it may teach us about what it means to be human.
I think your option #2 is the closest to the way I think of it. However, there is an additional concept that helps it make sense. Jesus was, at the time of the passage you are quoting, in a moral and *fallen* body. (Just as we all are.) That is to say, Jesus’ spirit, at birth, was joined to a mortal body complete with fallen nature. Just like all of us, He had a spirit and body that sometimes wanted different things. But unlike us, Jesus always over came the temptations of the flesh and was perfect. (The bible makes it very clear that Jesus was in fact tempted.)
After His resurrection He no longer faced the temptations of a fallen tabernacle and presumably (this is just my speculation) no longer faces the pull of two wills and thus the ultimate state of the Godhead would not be a continual pulling in different directions like you describe.
I have to run… I’ll do a better job of explaining myself later.
As a member of the lds church, Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ (the only begotten Son) and the Holy Ghost are three separate personages, so differ in heirarchy. Scripturally being One, is in purpose and doctrine so there is no disagreement or negativity between them. To know their functions within the gospel is a matter of testimony and our love for them.
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I just came across this site and I realize my posting is therefore a bit late. Nevertheless…
I write from the perspective of a Disciples of Christ minister whose girlfriend is a devout Mormon. I am, therefore, very sympathetic and supportive of the LDS (I pray for your church daily) but embrace the theological position often known as Protestant Liberalism. In reading Mr. Nielson’s post two things jumped out at me. One is the issue of the relationship of Jesus and the Father and the other is the relationship of faith and logic. I will address the latter in this response and leave the former for another time. Before I begin, however, I want to say thank you for the opportunity to respond. I also want to say how impressed I am by the quality and tenor of the material I have found on this site. It provides a very appealing side of the Latter Day Saints and I wish you continued success in your endeavors.
Doctor Blomberg is but one of many highly intelligent Evangelical scholars. There are, however, many brilliant people in all the various religions, including those which tend to downplay the role of scholarship. Yet in spite of all this brilliance there is still considerable disagreement over many religious teachings. In the early 1800s this state of affairs led a number of individuals to conclude that there was something seriously wrong with this picture and that it needed to be fixed. Among those individuals were the founders of my religious tradition (Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell) and your Prophet, Joseph Smith. All of these folks felt the solution was to restore the Church to its pristine, original form. While they obviously disagreed on the path and shape of restoration, they nevertheless agreed on the need for it.
The result, ironically, was the formation of yet several more religious bodies that do not agree with each other even though all of them contain a number of pretty smart people. While members of these various churches are by and large convinced that they succeeded in restoring primitive Christianity, the problem of Christian unity has not been solved. A common response to this state of affairs from within the “restored” churches is that the people who stayed Catholic or Presbyterian or whatever are either mistaken or, less charitably, rebellious.
My take on this is that religion, by its very nature, precludes a great deal of unanimity in the field of doctrine. In the physical realm various measurements and observations can be made and the nature of a thing pretty well settled. (Though even here there are some mysterious phenomena that set scientists at odds with each other.) But what measurement can be taken of God? Even if God does have a physical body it is not visible to us, except in the world of dreams and visions (not exactly test tube material).
The end result is that all of us are reliant upon own experiences of the divine and/or the experiences of others. Some of these experiences have, for various reasons, become normative for certain groups of people. None has been compelling enough to capture everyone or even most everyone on this planet. Then within each religious (and non religious) group there is further reflection, teaching, revelation, and enculturation. The result is the establishment of certain presuppositions and beliefs that are extremely difficult to even see, much less question, from within one’s own tradition, regardless of how brilliant one might be.
In other words, while science has pretty well established norms and standards that almost every scientist accepts, religion has no uniform code, just a variety of traditions and tests that have grown up over time in different parts of the world. While one would think that this situation would make religious folk tentative in their beliefs, the fact of the matter is that religious people tend to be among the most certain, sometimes with devastating results, sometimes with remarkably healing results.
And therein lies the difficult thing about religion: it can give incredible levels of certainty to different people even though those certainties are diametrically opposed to each other. And what’s more, the same certainties can produce diametrically opposed results. My girlfriend, for example, is absolutely certain that the Book of Mormon is true and the result is a life of love. That same certainty in another person can produce a harsh and judgmental attitude that is at best abrasive.
So how do we proceed in an area of life that is so important, where there is so much certainty, and yet so little agreement? To put it personally, how do I respond to people who are certain that such and such is true even when I am just as sure it’s not?
The bottom line for me (for now anyway) is that I have to hold to my convictions while honoring the right of others to hold theirs. That means not only their beliefs but the means by which they come by those beliefs. For some, a revelatory experience is supreme; for others the dictates of logic; and for still others some sort of historical/scientific/archeological evidence. It is the combination and interaction of meaningful criteria and religious background that determine what makes sense to each person.
To illustrate, “I’ve read the Book of Mormon and God has told me it is true,” is very compelling for some people while for others (myself included) something a little less subjective is needed. This isn’t just a matter of religious belief; it’s also a matter of epistemology, of how someone knows something to be true. It was when this fact dawned on me that I stopped arguing theology with people and began to listen and discuss instead. The result has been most helpful and I am so pleased to discover other people, from other religious traditions, who are also willing to approach religious differences from a desire to understand rather than convert. (I am, BTW, not opposed to missionary activity. I just think it should take the form of invitation and development of thought and faith rather than, “I’ve got to convince you of this stuff.”)
To come back to Mr. Nielson’s article, I don’t think belief renders logic useless or irrelevant in the religious quest. I also don’t think logic should be the final arbiter of religion. Instead, I think logic should be seen as one tool in the human quest for understanding. Like any tool it has its place and will be used with different results and levels of effectiveness, depending upon who is using it and when and where they’re using it. I also think that encounters with people outside of our faith tradition, if conducted with respect and the desire to learn, can be a tremendous source of enrichment. At the very least these encounters will remind us that good and intelligent people can come to different understandings. At best they can give us deeper insight into how we understand ourselves and God.
David, excellent response. I agree with everything you said.
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