Coming Into The Presence of God
Like the patient master of the vineyard in the Zenos allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, God’s hand is always stretched out to wayward Israel bidding them to return. (See Jacob 5). He is the “certain king” who made a marriage for his son, and sent his servants throughout the land to extend the wedding feast invitation to all who would come. Sadly, as in the parable when we receive the invitation to come we too often “make light of it.” (See Matthew 22:1-14).
Once fallen mortals have obtained the knowledge of good and evil (the knowledge of the gods) for themselves by experiencing the vicissitudes of mortality, they desire full fellowship with the gods. They would literally want to become one with the Eloheim (the Gods) who rule and reign in eternity. How does fallen man do this? Through use of the priesthood keys.
What does it mean to dwell in God’s presence? Many imagine in elementary school fashion what it will be like going back into the presence of God or dwelling with God. Some may suppose we are all going back to live in his house or his neighborhood, his community or his planet. Such an idea does not seem very practical. He would have to have a very large house, or neighborhood or planet to house billions of children from worlds without end. Besides, we have a clue that our celestial kingdom will be right here on planet earth when it is glorified. (See D&C 88:17-26; 130:9). We are going to stay right here, but “this earth is going to be rolled back into the presence of God and crowned with celestial glory.” (TPJS, 181).
What does it mean, then, to regain God’s presence? If not all will be living in God’s living room how will we be in his presence? To be “in God’s presence” means to be “in the spirit” -- his spirit. Remember light? This is the glory of God. He is filled with it. He is not just another resurrected being. He is a God. He is a glorified resurrected being filled with a fulness of light. This among other things is what makes him God. Many other resurrected beings are only filled with portions of glory, and are telestial or terrestrial instead of being exalted to the “highest degree of glory,” or light.
God is a resurrected being of flesh and bone. His body can only be in one place at one time. Like a magnet, however, that can also be in only one place at one time, God has a “magnetic field” filled with and influenced by the presence of its electro-magnetic force. This force fills his kingdom with the power of his light. (See D&C 88:12). This glory that proceeds forth from his presence is as much a part of him as his hand or foot is. When his light is with us, he is with us.
Obviously, Joseph was not asking that God’s resurrected body come down and sit continually in the temple. God cannot be confined to one little building on one little planet. Clearly, it is the presence of his glory Joseph is requesting. We see, then, the presence of God is the glory of God.
Degrees of Glory
Most Latter-day Saints have heard and used the phrase “degrees of glory.” Few, however, have really begun to understand the scope and magnitude of the ramifications connected with this phrase. Degrees of glory are degrees of God’s presence. The greater degree of glory we obtain, the greater the portion of God’s presence we receive. What degree of God’s presence do you wish to obtain? A telestial portion? A terrestrial portion? A celestial portion? A full portion (also called eternal life) or exaltation?
Here in our mortal fallen condition we have lost the presence or the spirit of God. We have virtually no fellowship with God. We are spiritually dead, having spiritually fallen because of personal sin. The scriptures attest throughout we must be born of the spirit again.
Telestial beings enjoy the first portion of God’s presence, having access to the light of the Holy Ghost, the First Comforter, and least of the members of the Godhead. (See D&C 76:81-86). Imagine a fulness of the presence of the Holy Ghost. What a marvelous gift!
Terrestrial beings enjoy a greater degree of God’s presence, having access to the blessings of the fulness of the presence of the Second Comforter, even Jesus Christ, the second member of the Godhead. (D&C 76:71-77). Imagine the blessing of being the presence of Christ continually.
Celestial beings enjoy an even greater degree of God’s presence. They enjoy the glory of the Father, the head God. (See D&C 76:54-62; also TPJS, 371). Those who have obtained the highest degree of this kingdom (D&C 131:1-4) enjoy a fullness of Godhood. They have full fellowship with the Gods, being like them and one with them in all things.
A Degree at a Time
Fallen man cannot come into the full presence of God all at once. We would be consumed by God’s glory. Remember, “Our God is a consuming fire.” (TPJS, 367; Hebrews 12:29). He lives in everlasting burnings in a perfect society and state, where no imperfect and corruptible thing can come or dwell. Joseph said, “This is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment.” (TPJS, 51).
Man must come into the glorious presence of God by degrees, beginning at the first and so on to the fullness. Joseph reminds us we must learn line upon line, and grow precept upon precept:
The Lord deals with this people as a tender parent with a child, communicating light and intelligence and the knowledge of his ways as they can bear it. (TPJS, 305).
It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it. (TPJS, 297).
We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. (TPJS, 256).
Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. (D&C 50:40).
We sometimes equate the word “grace” only with the word “love,” but love is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), a property of light. To fully understand what it means to grow in grace, we must understand that “grace” is yet another term used synonymously with light. A careful reading of D&C 93:11-40 reveals that grace clearly equates to truth, light, spirit, intelligence and glory. To grow in grace by degrees is to grow in glory by degrees, as beautifully illustrated in D&C 93. To grow in glory by degrees is to grow in godliness, to come unto God by becoming one with him and to be filled with his presence, glory and light.