I really, really enjoyed Krista Tippett’s latest interview with (perhaps) the LDS Church’s arch-theologian: Dr. Robert Millet. I have about 4 or 5 posts in me (at least) about this interview — and here is the first.
Towards the beginning of the interview, the following conversation ensues about the nature of God:
Krista: And Elhohim (God the Father) you understand to be a corporeal being, who was once a man? Like us?
Robert: Yeah….uh…..yeah…let me address….
Krista: Correct me when I need correcting.
Robert: No. What I want to do is I want to address what we know and what we don’t know.
Robert: I think many people, in an effort to try to bring some kind of image in their minds to deity…no one wants to fell they’re praying to a force
Krista: Imagine a person.
Robert: Yeah. A gas. They imagine a person, of course. And so the notion that we teach that God is corporeal or physical….it doesn’t strike an interested, curious seeker, uh, as overly odd, because they often comment, “I think I’ve sort of anticipated that.
Krista: But I mean my sense is that this understanding of God is a product of something like a spiritual evolution of God who was once a man and moved into this very different kind of being.
Robert: Well Joseph Smith taught that in 1844, and uh, other presidents of the church like Lorenzo Snow, uh, taught about it. But you know it’s talked about so little…um…so infrequently…I hear much, much more of that teaching from those who are outside the LDS faith than I do from people within. And I guess the answer is for this….do I believe that? Yes. Because I think it’s part of the faith, but it’s rather theologically tangential, in the sense that we believe he’s a man. What went on before he was God we just have no idea. In other words, that lies in the realm of the mysterious for us, just as the final explanation for trinity would with traditional Christians. And I don’t have difficulty with that at all. What I think that creates with Latter-Day Saints is a feeling of closeness.
Two things struck me as interesting about Dr. Millet’s responses:
- Dr. Millet calls the “God Was Once a Man, Man Can Become a God” doctrine “Theologically tangential.” This is interesting to me, because most of the devout Mormons I know consider this doctrine to be absolutely central to their belief in the LDS Plan of Salvation — that God was once like them, and that they, too, can become like God someday. Based on what I hear each Sunday — this is something Mormons are counting on in the hereafter — and almost drives their devotion to the church.I guess I still am amazed that even one of our chief theologians doesn’t stand up boldly and say, “Absolutely! That teaching is central to our Plan of Happiness doctrine!!!”Let me be clear, though — I don’t think he’s being dishonest here — I just think that he’s showing some discomfort, and maybe even some confusion about the teaching that feels dissonant to me having been raised in the church.
- Dr. Millet emphasized how “infrequently” this doctrine is taught, yet just last Sunday (surely right around the time of the interview) it was THE topic in Relief Society and Priesthood across the world for Mormons. From the manual as taught last week in LDS Churches around the globe:
“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another. …
I’m not really breaking new ground with this post, since we know that President Hinckley made similar comments back in 1998 — and we discussed it “ad nauseum” in Clay’s post.
Still — it seems to be another step towards distancing ourselves from this (what I once considered to be) fundamental Mormon doctrine.
Not that this is good, or bad mind you — just very interesting to me.