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The nature of God
Traditional teachings, philosophy,
and "Is God a Spirit?"

 

Left: Joseph Smith
knew God from
first-hand experience.
He did not need to
rely on
philosophy.

Introduction

This is based on http://www.equip.org/free/ - a page entitled "PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS WITH THE MORMON CONCEPT OF GOD." Apparently, these ideas have also appeared in print. I was very excited to see that someone has taken the time to look at this topic from a philosophical point of view. If there is one thing weaker than the Biblical interpretations of the traditional churches, it is their reliance on medieval philosophy. So it was very brave to put these ideas into print.. The traditional churches are at their strongest when people don't look at them too closely, so I salute the courage of those who stand up and speak clearly.

Quotations from that source are in green, followed by my response. Quotations form the Bible are in blue. I believe my responses are what the church teaches, but of course I take full responsibility for any errors.


Traditional Christian teachings on God, compared with the Bible.

"THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPT OF GOD"

Should be interesting. This assumes that Mormons are not Christians. So let us see what is proposed instead.

"Known as classical theism, this view of God has long been considered the orthodox theistic position of the Western world."

"Long been the position" is not the same as "the original position." The agreement of "the western world" is not enough. "Classical theism" is the position developed by the heavily Greek-influenced medieval scholars. The position is fairly easy to demolish, then perhaps we can get back to the revealed truth instead.

The article goes on to defend this medieval view of God

"Unlike humans, God is not uniquely associated with one physical entity (i.e., a body)."

Unlike humans? The Bible says the opposite. Humans, complete with bodies, were created in the image of God. (Compare Genesis 1:26-27 with Genesis 5:1-3 - "created in his image" is quite literal.)

"This is why the Bible refers to God as Spirit (John 4:24)."

That statement is not logical.

We may as well say, "God does not have any existence outside our emotions. That is why the Bible says God is love (1 John 4:8)". Or "God is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. That is why the Bible says God is light (1 John 1:5)". The fact is that John uses metaphors.

(Incidentally, if you look at the King James Bible, you will find that the word "is" in "God is a spirit" is in italics. That means it was not in the original Greek. This means the words "God" and "spirit" together could mean several different things. It seems that this whole house of cards rests on one word that was not even in the original text!)

We do not need to rely on such metaphors to determine the nature of God. When Jesus was resurrected, he made it clear that he had physical body. This did not seem to limit his power in any way. He did not die again, so there is no reason to suppose that he ever lost his body a second time.

Finally, we do not need to speculate on the nature of God. Joseph Smith saw him in a vision, in the spring of 1820. We have a recent, eye witness account. Joseph then knew more about the subject than any other person in the world. That is what revelation is like. When God reveals himself, the debate is over.

"Unlike a god who forms the universe out of preexistent matter, the God of classical theism created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing)."

This idea came from classical philosophy, and not from the Bible. The Bible uses the word create ("bara") in the sense of forming out of pre-existent substance. After all, when you were born, you were created. Did your atoms just suddenly appear in your mother's womb, ex nihilo?

Joshua 17:18 But the mountain shall be thine; for it is a wood, and thou shalt cut ["bara"] it down

1 Samuel 2:29 Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make ["bara"] yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?

Psalms 51:10 Create ["bara"] in me a clean heart, O God; and renew ["chadash" - repair] a right spirit within me.

Psalm 104:30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest ["chadash"] the face of the earth.

Isaiah 41:17-20 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, [and] the pine, and the box tree together: That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created ["bara"] it.

Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create ["bara"] evil: I the LORD do all these things. [So God creates evil out of nothing? How can he then be good? This medieval theory is crazy.]

Isaiah 65:17 I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. [Most Christians realise that this means re-organizing the present heavens and earth]

Ezekiel 21:19 Also, thou son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the king of Babylon may come: both twain shall come forth out of one land: and choose ["bara"] thou a place, choose ["bara"] at the head of the way to the city.

Ezekiel 23:47 And the company shall stone them with stones, and dispatch ["bara"] them with their swords

"Consequently, it is on God alone that everything in the universe depends for its existence"

This is true, but it is not "consequent" on the false theory of ex-nihilo creation. The universe depends on God because he created it, not because he created it in a particular way. The word "consequently" is a sloppy attempt to sneak in "ex nihilo" under the guise of logic.

The article goes on to speak of God's infinite power and knowledge, which are subjects we all agree on. But then it departs from the Bible once more:

"Certainly it is the Bible's explicit teaching that God is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12; Jer. 23:23-24)."

Really? The Bible teaches that God's influence is everywhere, but that is a different thing. Let us look at the two scriptures cited.

Psalm 139:7-12: Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

Jeremiah 23:23-24 Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.

For the same reasons as just cited, the word "fill" must refer to God's influence, not his literal location. Jeremiah uses the word "fill" ("male" or "mala") in the sense of completing an action. Even when he uses "fill" in the sense of filling a container, he often uses it symbolically, or in an exaggerated way (such as filling the earth with dead bodies). Hence, Jeremiah 23:24 could be translated "Do I not create heaven and earth?"

How Jeremiah uses the word "fill"

4:5 Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather ["fill"] together

25:34 the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished ["filled"];

44:25 Ye and your wives have both spoken with your mouths, and fulfilled ["filled"] with your hand, saying, We will surely perform our vows that we have vowed

51:11 Make bright the arrows; gather ["fill"] the shields

51:34 Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon ... hath filled his belly with my delicates [gold and silver], he hath cast me out.

29:10 For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished ["filled"] at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.

This last verse is especially interesting. The Bible contains many examples of God visiting a place. How can the Lord visit someone if he is already there?

"God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:17; Isa. 46:10b)"

This must refer to his perfection and character. If it means he does not change in any way, it must mean that Jesus was not God. Because Jesus was born as a baby, "grew in wisdom and stature," and was eventually crucified and died. Clearly, birth, learning, growth and death are not the kind of changes meant in the scriptures.

"...and has always existed as God throughout all eternity (Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40:28; 43:12b, 13; 57:15a; Rom. 1:20a; 1 Tim. 1:17).6 There never was a time when God was not God."

This is just what Latter-day Saints teach. But unlike other Christians, we also teach that an unchanging God can be born and die as a mortal before ascending into heaven. That is exactly what happened with Jesus Christ. Perhaps other Christians do not believe that Jesus Christ should be called God?

"The Bible teaches that although humans at times worship some beings as if these beings were really gods (1 Cor. 8:4-6), there is only one true and living God by nature (Isa. 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5, 18, 21, 22; Jer. 10:10; Gal. 4:8; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:5; John 17:3; 1 Thess. 1:9)."

Rather than go through every single scripture cited, I will only point out that when Jesus was baptized, there was a voice from heaven. Before Stephen was killed, he saw Jesus on the right hand of God. Jesus prayed to God. Was Jesus schizophrenic? Was Jesus a ventriloquist? Was he a liar when he referred to his father in heaven? Was Stephen deceived? Clearly they are two separate beings. So all the scriptures about being "one" must refer to being "one" in purpose. This is confirmed in John chapter 17 (see below), when we see that Christians should become one with God in the same way that Jesus is one with God.

"And since the God of the Bible possesses all power (see above), there cannot be any other God, for this would mean that two beings possess all power. That, of course, is patently absurd, since if a being possesses all of everything (in this case, power) there is, by definition, nothing left for anyone else."

This is the same argument that children sometimes use. "That is MY toy, so HE cannot have it!" It is sad to see a grown adult appealing to the same logic. Have they never heard of sharing?

The nature of God, and our relationship with him, revealed in John chapter 17

1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

(Is Jesus talking to himself?)

3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

(Nothing could be more important than this)

4 I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

(Again, is Jesus talking to himself?)

5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

(Jesus, remember, is still unchanging)

8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received [them], and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

(Again, is Jesus talking to himself?)

9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

(Our Heavenly Father has all power, yet he shares it)

11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

(This is what the scriptures mean when they say the three are "one")

12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

(So Jesus is speaking about the apostles, and not Christians in general)

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

(Now he is talking about the Christians in general)

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

(Once more, we see what is meant by three - or three million- in one)

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

(We are to have Jesus' one-ness with God. We are to have his glory.)

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.


What Mormons really believe

It is always amusing to be told "you don't know your own doctrine - what you really believe is this..."

Most anti-Mormon tracts contain a section on "what Mormons really believe," and http://www.equip.org/free/ is no exception. I won't waste time commenting on their version of the teachings of the church. If anyone really wants to know what the church teaches, it is easy enough to find out first hand.

For the record, the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints, like the church in ancient times, is bound by the word of God. The Word of God is the living word.

"And whatsoever they [those called to preach the gospel] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation."

- Doctrine and Covenants 68:4

And how do we know when they are inspired?

"We can tell when the speakers are `moved upon by the Holy Ghost" only when we, ourselves, are 'moved upon by the Holy Ghost.'"

- J. Reuben Clark, Jr, Address to Seminary and Institute personnel, BYU, July 7, 1954

"President Brigham Young said something to the effect that 'the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.'"

- Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places, Pg.162

This may seem a difficult concept for other Christians who are used to basing their doctrine on some minister's or scholar's interpretation of written scripture. Now, the restored church also has authoritative scripture - the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. But since all written texts inevitably have to be interpreted, this comes back again to the living word of God. That is how it was in Bible times.

It is easy to find out what Mormons believe

Sometimes critics say that there is a wide variety of opinions in the church. Since all people are entitled to the word of God, we might expect the church to be in doctrinal chaos. After all, not everyone is in tune with the spirit all the time, and opinions on some matters are bound to differ. But the church is, as always, united. The same things are taught in all branches of the church around the world. The church believes the same things that were taught in Bible times (see the 101 prophecies for examples). Being a living church, there are minor changes from time to time (as discussed on the page on deep doctrine) but the church is always united. Jesus was very concerned that the church must be united, as one (see John 17, quoted above). That is why he organized his church with apostles and prophets.

It is easy to find out what the church teaches. For the current words of living prophets, visit the official LDS web site, www.lds.org. Critics who insist on going to somewhere other than the living prophet for their idea of "Official Mormon Doctrine" really do not understand anything about the church.

Critics do not make any effort to find out what Mormons believe

It is astonishing to see how critics, even those who present themselves as knowledgeable and well-informed, do not know the first thing about the church. Hence our current expert tells us:

"The dominant Mormon tradition teaches that God only knows everything that can possibly be known. But the only things that can possibly be known, traditional Mormons say, are the present and the past ... God does not know the future."

Yet every missionary I have ever met can find (and sometimes quote from memory) Doctrine and Covenants 130:6-7:

"The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord."

Never mind what planet the angels live on - what planet are the critics from????

Occasionally the critics can find some church ember who does not know the scriptures and then they quote from this member as if they represented the church! As noted above, it is so easy to find out what the church believes that there is no excuse for this sloppiness.

As another example, our author claims that, since God organized the universe, the universe existed before God. This simply does not follow. If I build a house, does the house exist before I build it? Whatever existed before the universe is not revealed, but it was not the universe that we know, because the scriptures clearly show that this was created by God.

"And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. ... For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. ... The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words."

- Moses 1:33-38 (in the Pearl of Great Price)


Some brave attempts to attack Mormonism with philosophy

Many problems arise when we arrogantly assume that we understand heaven - specifically, the concept of eternity and of being outside our concept of time. We are naive if we think we understand such things enough to draw logical conclusions. (Being "outside of time" is discussed on the page about free will.) Here are some of the arguments that are undermined by a poor understanding of eternity:

"There are several philosophical and scientific problems in asserting that the series of events in the past is beginningless.

"(Premise 1) If the Mormon universe is true, then an infinite number (or distance) has been traversed.
"(Premise 2) It is impossible to traverse an infinite number (or distance).
"(Conclusion) Therefore, the Mormon universe is not true."

This so-called proof is so silly as to be laughable.

First, all this talk of infinities is based on Biblical language, which is always adapted to its readers. The Bible is not a book of geometry, where infinity has a mathematical value. "Endless," in the Bible, simply means endless from our perspective.

Second, premise 2 is clearly false. Given an infinite amount of time, even if we traversed only one inch per million years, we would certainly cover an infinite distance.

Not surprisingly, philosophers have great problems when it comes to considering infinity.

"Here is the problem: if the past series of events in time is infinite, we should have already reached our final state by now. Yet, we have not reached our final state. Therefore, the Mormon world view is seriously flawed."

Any intelligent reader should be able to immediately see at least two flaws in this argument, and there are probably more.

  1. Flaw one: it assumes that our "final state" is a fixed point. This is not true, as you will recall that the whole concept is of eternal progression. There is no final finishing state, but simply a journey that gets better and better.
  2. Flaw two: it assumes that we only had a finite number of things to do in the past. But it seems reasonable to expect that we either had an infinite number of things to do, or else tasks that lasted for an infinite period. Hence the so-called problem of what we were doing disappears.

In reality of course, all talk of infinities is just arrogance. God uses the word "infinity" because it is helpful from our limited viewpoint. We are foolish if we think that we rely understand infinity. We would be far wiser to accept God's words as they stand, and be ready to listen to more light and knowledge as it comes. But medieval theologians long ago rejected all new revelation, and seem to prefer wallowing in their own vanity and ignorance. The really sad thing is that so many modern Christians blindly follow them.

Let us continue with our enthusiastic critic...

"I believe, however, that this view is incoherent. Consider the following inductively strong argument:

"(Premise 1) A being of limited knowledge gaining in knowledge entails the increasing of a finite number.
"(Premise 2) Starting from a finite number, it is impossible to count to infinity.
"(Premise 3) The Mormon view of eternal progression entails a being of limited knowledge gaining in knowledge until his knowledge is infinite (remember, the Mormon universe contains an infinite number of things).
"(Conclusion 1/Premise 4) Therefore, the Mormon view cannot be true, for it is impossible
given premises 1, 2, and 3 for eternal progression to entail that a being of limited knowledge gains knowledge until his knowledge is infinite."

This may be "inductively strong," but it is weak in a number of other areas. Can you spot them?

I will only point out one flaw. This proof assumes that knowledge is increased in finite steps. However, modern revelation teaches that our ability to learn is greatly increased when in a celestial state. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a person could reach a state where an infinity of knowledge could be gained in a finite time.

This is not as strange as it seems. It already happens in certain areas of knowledge. For example, when I look down, I see for a finite distance (to the ground). When I look up, I see for an infinite distance (the sky - assuming there are no clouds in the way!)

Also, since this universe is organized by God, everything operates according to fixed laws. Once we understand those laws, understanding everything becomes easy. For example, my daughter is aged three, and can only understand a finite quantity of numbers (currently 1 to 12). But there will come a time when she understands the theory behind counting, and suddenly she will understand an infinite quantity of numbers. There will be no limit to how high she can count! So the jump from finite to infinite is quite possible.

Our critic partly anticipated this response:

"Someone may argue that the Mormon God receives his infinite knowledge from his own "Heavenly Father" God all at once when he reaches a particular point in his progression. Although there are a number of replies to this argument, one is to point out that this response does not really explain how the Mormon God acquires his infinite knowledge. It merely places the problem on the shoulders of a more distant God, who acquired his supposed omniscience from an even more distant God, and so on into infinity."

But our critic has apparently not thought this one through. It is possible for an individual to achieve an infinite knowledge in a particular area - such as in the two example above - without any help. Mankind is sinful and impatient, so WE do need help. But it does not follow that others do. In principle a perfect being - such as our Father in Heaven - could have achieved infinite knowledge without any help.

In conclusion

 

The bottom line:

When Joseph Smith had his vision of the Father and the Son, he knew more about the nature of God than all the world's philosophers and Bible scholars put together.

 

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