Doctrinal Questions from the Youth II
October 30, 2005
Always remember that the best answers to gospel doctrine questions come from the scriptures – the four “standard works” – The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. I also prefer The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith.
The next best source is from the writings and sermons of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. All other sources, while they might be enlightening, should only serve to confirm the answers you have obtained from these primary sources. Brigham Young once taught, “Study the word of God, and preach it and not your opinions, for no man’s opinion is worth a straw. Advance no principle but what you can prove, for one scriptural proof is worth ten thousand opinions.” (History of the Church, vol. 3, 395-96).
The Doctrine of Deity:
If we will become gods, then did God live in a previous world just like we do?
Joseph Smith answered this question directly in his famous King Follett Discourse, which can be found in The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 342–362, (hereafter “TPJS”). “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! . . . It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” (TPJS, 345-346, emphasis mine).
Lorenzo Snow penned a couplet, which has become familiar: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Not until after Joseph Smith taught the King Follett Discourse in 1844, did Lorenzo Snow feel at liberty to teach the doctrine of his little couplet, because he felt it was so sacred when it was first revealed to him in 1840, he dared not utter it publicly.
Later, Lorenzo Snow, a modern Apostle, wrote a poem (I quote only one verse) to his ancient counterpart Paul, who taught: ". . .[Christ] thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (see Philippians 2:5-8):
A Son of God, like God to be,
Would not be robbing Deity,
And he who has this hope within,
Will purify himself from sin.
(Improvement Era, June 1919, 661.)
The most distinctive doctrine we teach that sets us apart and makes us unique among all Christian denominations is this idea that someday we may become like God. It is true, and the scriptures are full of proofs of this doctrine, often referred to as the “plurality of gods.”
We are created in “God’s” image – Mother or Father God. Why don’t we hear more about Her?
Why we don’t hear more about our Mother in Heaven is a matter of pure speculation. The General Authorities rarely speak publicly of our Mother in Heaven, and we in the Church would do well to follow their example, not because it is not a correct doctrine (it is), but it seems to be more a matter of propriety since the doctrine is so sacred. The temple provides the perfect pattern and foundation for understanding this sacred doctrine, and we are cautioned not to speak publicly about things we learn in the temple.
Since the 1980s, when the failed Equal Rights Amendment was proposed to change the Constitution, and a small minority of women protestors within the Church demanded priesthood ordination, the topic has mostly been quieted. There was widespread confusion then, some advocating that women be given priesthood authority to perform ordinances and to offer prayers in the name of our Mother in Heaven, and so forth.
That said, this concept of a Mother in Heaven is one that women especially and rightfully may cherish. As to Her reality and Her rightful place in the crowning doctrine of the Church there can be no doubt. Eliza R. Snow, a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, penned the famous words to “O My Father,” the popular hymn we sing regularly in the Church. The third verse teaches:
“In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal,
Tells me I’ve a mother there.”
There is little doubt that Joseph Smith taught without question that we have a Mother in Heaven:
"An interesting sidelight is given to this time through a possible glimpse of the thought-kernel which grew into such fragrant bloom in the full-voiced poem of Sister Snow. It was told by Aunt Zina D. Young to the writer as to many others during her life. Father Huntington lost his wife under the most trying circumstances. Her children were left desolate. One day, when her daughter Zina was speaking with the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the loss of her mother and her intense grief, she asked the question:
" 'Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over on the Other Side?'
" 'Certainly you will,' was the instant reply of the Prophet. 'More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven.'
" 'And have I then a Mother in Heaven?' exclaimed the astonished girl.
" 'You assuredly have. How could a Father claim His title unless there were also a Mother to share that parenthood?'
"It was about this time that Sister Snow learned the same glorious truth from the same inspired lips, and at once she was moved to express her own great joy and gratitude in the moving words of the hymn, 'O my Father.' " [Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from November 1869 to June 1910 (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Y.L.M.I.A., 1911), 16, footnote, emphasis mine.]
When did it all start?
Great question. I like the answer Joseph Smith gave us to this question. He learned a lot about the order of things throughout the universe by studying the writings and revelations that were given to Abraham (see Abraham 3:19-28; read the whole chapter). Joseph said:
I learned a testimony concerning Abraham, and he reasoned concerning the God of heaven. "In order to do that," said he, "suppose we have two facts: that supposes another fact may exist — two men on the earth, one wiser than the other, would logically show that another who is wiser than the wisest may exist. Intelligences exist one above another, so that there is no end to them."
If Abraham reasoned thus — if Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor? And everything comes in this way. Paul says that which is earthly is in the likeness of that which is heavenly, hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also? I despise the idea of being scared to death at such a doctrine, for the Bible is full of it.
I want you to pay particular attention to what I am saying. Jesus said that the Father wrought precisely in the same way as His Father had done before Him. As the Father had done before? He laid down His life, and took it up the same as His Father had done before. He did as He was sent, to lay down His life and take it up again; and then was committed unto Him the keys. I know it is good reasoning. (TPJS, 373).
We could say it all started for us when we were born. Or maybe it all started when the earth was created. But for us it really started as spirit children in the pre-existence even before the creation, and before that according to Abraham we were something called “intelligences.”
But where did Heavenly Father come from? And did He have a Father in Heaven before Him? Joseph Smith certainly believed it, but wasn’t prepared to go any further back into the eternities that preceded this one. This is one of those fabulous questions to which there is no revealed answer, and you can quote me on that.