On becoming gods
August 17, 1856
Brigham Young demonstrated great confidence in the church and people he led, but admitted that at times he too lacked confidence in God for himself:
After all that has been said and done, after He has led this people so long, do you not perceive that there is a lack of confidence in our God? Can you perceive it in yourselves? You may ask, “Brother Brigham, do you perceive it in yourself?” I do, I can see that I yet lack confidence, to some extent, in Him whom I trust. Why?Much criticism of the LDS Church in general stems from the doctrine regarding the eternal potential of mankind, godhood. The gospel teaches that men and women are the "offspring" of Heavenly Parents (see Acts 17:28-29) composed of the same eternal substance (see D&C 93:33-35), and as such, have divine possibilities. Regardless of those possibilities, however, Brigham emphasized that our future would never surpass that of God our Heavenly Father, and the only way to fully progress was to actually become one with Him. Without an eye single to the glory of God, there will be no fulness. We have "no other interest" in time or eternity. What is God's interest? We know his work and glory "—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).
Because I have not the power, in consequence of that which the fall has brought upon me. I have just told you that I have no lack of confidence in the Lord's sustaining this people; I never had one shadow of doubt on that point. But through the power of fallen nature, something rises up within me, at times, that measurably draws a dividing line between my interest and the interest of my Father in heaven—something that makes my interest and the interest of my Father in heaven not precisely one. I know that we should feel and understand, as far as possible, as far as fallen nature will let us, as far as we can get faith and knowledge to understand ourselves, that the interest of that God whom we serve is our interest, and that we have no other, neither in time nor in eternity.
If I have an interest in any object, but should not live to enjoy that object, you can perceive that it is cut off from me, and that my interest and my hopes are gone, so far as worldly things are concerned. If anyone has an interest in an object that is changeable, in anything of an earthly nature, and is separated from it, it can be of but little use to him, and should cease to be an object of great care or desire. Any object or interest that we have, aside from our Father in heaven, will be taken from us, and though we may seem to enjoy it here, in eternity we shall be deprived of it.Compare the words of Brigham to those of Christ:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:19-21).
Christ prayed that his followers may be one with Him as He is one with the Father (see John 17). Otherwise, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated in his Conference address of October, 2000, "hearts set so much upon the things of the world may have to be broken." Elder Maxwell warned the Saints against holding the wrong interest.
For true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world--including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence--have always been there. Now, however, many once-helpful support systems are bent or broken. Furthermore, the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet. All this when many are already tuned out of spiritual things, saying, "I am rich, . . . increased with goods, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). Contrastingly, the perks of discipleship are such that if we see a stretch limousine pulling up, we know it is not calling for us. God's plan is not the plan of pleasure; it is the "plan of happiness."In heavenly things, as in earthly things, God's interest is the interest of His children. Without those wills becoming aligned, Brigham emphasized, there was no exaltation:
...Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus waste 'the days of [their] probation' (2 Ne. 9:27).
Consequently, I say that we have no true interest, only conjointly with our Father in heaven. We are His children, His sons and daughters, and this should not be a mystery to this people, even though there are many who have been gathered with us but a short time. He is the God and Father of our spirits; He devised the plan that produced our tabernacles, the houses for our spirits to dwell in.
Meek followers of Christ, destined as they believe for godhood, are not preoccupied by cosmic power. They recognize that apart from God their interests would be corrupted by moth or rust.
Typical of Brigham Young, he emphasized the necessity of the temporal; the gospel isn't to encourage passive pie-in-the-sky idealism. In pursuing the things of God, food must be placed on the table, dishes must be done. Still, in pursuing the things of God we pursue our own advancement, and vice versa:
…Still there is a feeling which has come by the fall, by transgression, in the heart of every person, that his interest is individually to himself; and that if he serves God, or does anything for Him, it is for some being for whom he has no particular concern.
This is a mistaken idea; for everything you do, every act you perform, every duty incumbent upon you, is solely for your interest in God, and nowhere else, neither can it be. When you promote His interest, you promote your own; and when you promote your own interest, you promote His.
When you gain a title of glory, or any good thing, you gain this to your Father in heaven as well as to yourself. And every object you are in pursuit of, should be that which will pertain to eternity, and let time take care of itself, only be sure to do the duties pertaining to it.
Even in encouraging "doing the duties pertaining to life," Brigham warned the Saints to overcome an attitude of strict self dependence:
If we can see and realize that our interests are hid in God, and that we can have no interest anywhere else, perhaps we can learn obedience faster than we now do. Many think, “Well, I am an independent character; I do not like to be counseled, governed, or controlled; I wish to do as I please.” That feeling, in a degree, is in every person. There is an impulse in man that separates his interest from the interest of his God, and the interest of our Father in heaven from ours. This must be learned so that you can discern it in yourselves, so that you can apply all your efforts, every act of your lives, to the interest that pertains to your eternal exaltation.
Probation, then, is calculated to test loyalties, to prove contraries, to forge a unity of will to ensure an eternal family of those progressing toward the same fulness of glory; godhood. Latter-day Saints cannot rightfully be called "henotheistic" or "polytheistic," as there is belief in only one God in the ultimate sense. As Paul wrote, "For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him" (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).
In becoming gods, all interests must be one in eternity. Brigham didn't teach of countless gods doing their own thing in countless universes, each out for their own concerns. According to Brigham, there will be no such separate kingdoms of personal power "to yourself, by yourself, and for yourself, regardless of every other creature."
But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth. If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead. Why? Because everything else is opposed to that kingdom, and the heir of that kingdom will keep up the warfare with that opposing power until death is destroyed, and him that hath the power of it; not annihilated, but sent back to native element. He will never cease to contend with the opposite power, with that power that contends against the heir of this earth; consequently, if we fancy that we have an independent interest here and in the world to come, we shall fail in getting any of it.Brigham taught in order to understand the interest of God and closely align with it one should ponder exaltation. The new ideas are like new clay added to the old harder clay. Working over the whole lump will eventually allow the clay to combine and the lump will become passive; capable of being shaped by God:
Your interest must be concentrated in the head on the earth, and all of our interest must center in the Godhead in eternity, and there is no durable interest in any other channel.
I desire the people to consider whether they have any faltering in their feelings, any misgivings, or lack of confidence in their God. If they have, they should seek, with all the spirit and power they are in possession of, until they can understand the principle of eternity and eternal exaltation, and then apply the actions of their lives to these principles, that they may be prepared to enjoy that which their hearts now anticipate and desire.
If we will learn these things correctly and advance, and advance, and continue to advance, though the new clay may be continually thrown into the mill, we will bring it to the same pliability as the old, much sooner than if it was ground alone; for the old clay soon mixes with the new and makes the whole lump passive. If we apply our hearts to these things, we shall soon learn to have our interests one here on the earth.
Still, pondering the principles is no good unless they are applied:
The principles of eternity and eternal exaltation are of no use to us, unless they are brought down to our capacities so that we practice them in our lives. We must learn the principles of government, must learn ourselves, the eternal government of our God, the interest that the Father has here on the earth and the interest that we have; then we will place our interest with the interest of our Father and God, and will have no self-interest, no interest only in His kingdom that is set up on the earth; then we will begin and apply these principles in our lives (JD 4:26-28).In Part 3 we'll explore how Brigham Young brings in the concept of unity; how being one with God includes being one with others.
*I've been troubled by this particular sermon for weeks because it is both expansive and remarkable; difficult to break into pieces to analyze without corrupting the whole or leaving something important out. (I have been attempting to make my posts smaller, as I feel the average blogger looks for a quick read.) I was half-tempted to just post the whole sermon and leave it be (you can read it here) but there is too much in it for me to not make some comments. So I'm covering the sermon in a series called "Implicit Confidence in God." See Part 1 and Part 2.
Neal A. Maxwell, "The Tugs and Pulls of the World," Conference Report, Oct. 2000.
Heber C. Kimball emphasized focusing on "Becoming Saints before gods." Elsewhere Brigham gave more detail on godhood, the power over elements, etc. For example, he called these abilities "true riches":
Remember, that true riches—life, happiness, and salvation, is to secure for ourselves a part in the first resurrection, where we are out of the reach of death, and him that hath the power of it; then we are exalted to thrones, and have power to organize element. Yes, they that are faithful, and that overcome, shall be crowned with crowns of eternal glory. They shall see the time when their cities shall be paved with gold; for there is no end to the precious metals, they are in the native element, and there is an eternity of it. If you want a world of the most precious substance, you will have nothing to do but say the word, and it is done. You can macadamize streets with it, and beautify and make glorious the temples. We can then say to the elements, “Produce ye the best oranges, lemons, apples, figs, grapes, and every other good fruit.”Brigham Young touched on the subject again a month later as the "Mormon Reformation" got underway. He was frustrated, feeling that Saints had not yet understood the message:
I presume we do not draw a single breath that there are not particles of these things mingled in it. But we have not the knowledge now to organize them at our pleasure. Until we have that power we are not fully in possession of the true riches, which is the affirmative of the question, and the negative of the question is no riches at all in reality (JD 1:276).
Do you think the angels of the Lord lust after the things that are before them? All heaven is before us, and all this earth, the gold and the silver, all these are at our command, and shall we lust after them? They are all within our reach; they are for the Saints whom God loves, even all who fix their minds upon Him and the interests of His kingdom. Our Father possesses all the riches of eternity, and all those riches are vouchsafed unto us, and yet we lust after them (JD 4:44-45).For his rousing sermon, see "I will take you into the waters of baptism: Rebaptism and the Mormon Reformation," forthcoming.
Henotheism refers to the belief in many gods, but the worship of only one, polytheism refers to the belief in many gods. Latter-day Saints don't accurately fall under either category, as David Paulson argued in "The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon Modalism and Other Myths," FARMS Review of Books, Volume: 13 Issue: 2, pp. 109–69.
On a few occasions Brigham Young speculated on the "recycling" for lack of a better term of the intelligence of those sent to Outer Darkness. See "Spirit Recycling?" regarding Brigham Young's views on the topic. For an interesting debate, see Steve Evans, "Your Friday Firestorm #34," By Common Consent, February 15, 2008. For more on deification, see Robert L. Millet, Noel B. Reynolds, "Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?" Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues.