For this month’s Ensign review, I have chosen to focus on an article entitled: “Worlds without Number” by R. Val Johnson. The tagline to this article is: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” which is a quotation from the first verse of Psalm 19. Sounds very Christian and something we should all be able to agree on, doesn’t it? However, as we dig deeper into the article we see that LDS teaching is rarely as straightforward as it first appears.
As if to prove this point, the first line of the article states boldly: “One of the great truths restored in our day is that we are literally spirit sons and daughters of God.” There are two points to be made in response to this. Firstly: the key claim of Mormonism that it contains ‘restored’ truth. Where is the evidence that anything uniquely identifiable as LDS doctrine was ever part of the early Christian church? Polygamy? Temple ordinances? The two priesthoods? And the doctrine outlined here: that we are literal ‘spirit children’ of God? None of these was ever taught or practiced by the early Christian church. There simply is no evidence of such things, so to claim that this is restored truth is not something that can be taken seriously.
This leads directly onto the second point: that we are literally spirit children of God. This teaching is not to be found in the Bible. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 15 we are taught that we are of the earth, and that it is this natural, earthly state that comes first, and the spiritual is second, through Christ. Galatians 4:4-7 helps to explain this point more fully: “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” So clearly, once we are redeemed by Jesus, then we are adopted as children of God, not before.
This claim to be literal sons and daughters of God is backed up in the article by a quote from LDS scripture, in this case the Book of Moses, which can be found in the Pearl of Great Price. Johnson says that Joseph Smith ‘brought to light’ these scriptures. The Book of Moses was written as part of Joseph Smith’s ‘translation’ of the Bible. (It is interesting to note that the only version of the Bible used by LDS members is the King James Version, with only selected verses from the Joseph Smith Translation being included in the footnotes. Why would the LDS church not use their own prophet’s translated version of the Bible as a matter of course? Surely the Joseph Smith Translation restores many ‘plain and precious’ parts to the Bible and corrects the problem of the Bible only being trustworthy ‘as far as it is translated correctly’?)
In the Book of Moses (which, as far as I am aware has no source material, as the Book of Abraham did with the papyri that Smith acquired, or the Book of Mormon which is claimed to be a translation of writings on gold plates), it is claimed that God created men ‘before they were in the flesh’. This directly contradicts the Genesis account of the creation which outlines the creation of the human race at a specific point in time after the creation of the world, in bodily form, rather than before the creation of the world in some kind of spiritual form. If God created man at that specific point in time, as a created being upon the earth, then He could not have also created men ‘before they were in the flesh’.
Johnson then tries to link the point he has just made to verse 28 in Acts 17, where Paul is addressing the Athenians. Paul quotes one of their own poets who wrote that “For we are also his offspring”. Paul is using this quote as part of a wider point he is making that God is so close to us that we do not need to use idols crafted by human hands, as the Greeks did, in order for us to be in relationship with Him, and that, in fact, such idols make intimate worship of God a much harder task. Paul was in no way teaching that God created us as spiritual beings prior to the creation of the world, as is claimed in the Book of Moses.
Johnson wants his readers to see that ‘our Heavenly Father, through His Son, is also the Creator and Ruler of the universe’ since people can sometimes simply focus on God as their Father and forget about the amazing universe that was created by Him, thereby not demonstrating sufficient reverence or awe at the majesty of God. It is important to note here that Mormons believe that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost make up three separate, individual ‘gods’ which form a ‘godhead’, rather than a Trinity of one God made up of three persons.
In LDS teaching, Jehovah and Elohim are the two separate gods (exalted beings) we know as Jesus and Heavenly Father. However, this teaching becomes tricky since the Bible contains numerous verses where it states that Jehovah is Elohim, such as: “Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him.” Deuteronomy 4:35. Here, ‘LORD’ is a translation of the name Jehovah and God is a translation of Elohim. Therefore it really isn’t possible to talk of a god who is Heavenly Father creating and ruling the universe ‘by’ or ‘through’ another god called Jesus. They are one and the same God. What is possible however, is to look at John 1:1-3 and see that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” And just to clarify that this ‘Word’ is referring to Jesus we have verse 14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”.
So, according to the Bible, Jehovah (or Jesus) is God and ‘there is none else beside him’, and Jesus was ‘in the beginning’, he was both ‘with God’ and ‘was God’ and all things were made by him. This points to the Trinitarian view, and not the LDS view. Remember that the Bible consistently teaches that there is one God and refers to Jesus as God on many occasions. Jesus even refers to himself as God: “Before Abraham was, I am” John 8:58
Johnson goes on to quote the Doctrine & Covenants in order to show the power of God. He quotes section 88 which describes the light of God which “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things” According to these verses, this light which proceeds from God is his power and it fills the immensity of space. This fits in with the LDS view that “He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe.” (From Mormon.org)
So logically, God can’t be omnipresent since he has a physical body, but his power can. This in conflict with the Bible: “Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” Jeremiah 23:24 and “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.” Psalm 139:7-10 In the Bible God fills heaven and earth, in Mormonism God has a body and it his light or power that fills the ‘immensity of space.’
R. Val Johnson then goes on to make an astounding, unsubstantiated claim: “That promised knowledge is being revealed to us by faith, foremost in the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Johnson is here referring to the knowledge of the workings of the universe. I am stunned that Johnson has made this claim. Please remember that, in the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith wrote: “And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” Is this quote really supposed to represent some development in our understanding of the workings of the universe?
Or consider Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, here talking about the Sun: “Do you think it is inhabited? I rather think it is. Do you think there is any life there? No question of it; it was not made in vain.” Journal of Discourses 13:271 I wonder if Johnson genuinely thinks that the LDS church has anything to offer the fields of astronomy and astrophysics. He swiftly adds that this growing knowledge ‘is also coming to us by study.’
There follows some interesting facts and statistics regarding God’s creation. Johnson suggests that as we know and understand more and more of the universe that surrounds us, we should express gratitude that the creator of it all is our ‘father’. This leads to the suggestion by Johnson that we should ‘gladly obey His counsel and, with eagerness, receive the ordinances and covenants that will guide us to eternal life with Him’. Mormons reading his article will understand that he is clearly making a strong allusion to the ordinances and covenants that take place in their temples. We know that these ordinances are essential steps on the path to becoming a god. See Chapter 47 of Gospel Principles
This leads on neatly to another issue raised by Johnson. Further into the article he says: “The universe, in fact, may be infinite in size. And God controls it all.” If God controls an infinite universe, where can other exalted beings have their own creations? Would they then have to share the universe that God controls? If so, how could they be an authentic god? Would they create a new infinite universe? Could it be possible to have more than one infinite universe? It is clear that Joseph Smith believed that there must already be many gods in existence: “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? … Hence if Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, section 6 p.373) So I wonder how all these exalted beings or gods can exist if there is only one infinite universe controlled solely by God.
Johnson continues his theme that Joseph Smith has added to our understanding of the universe by quoting D&C 76:24 which states: “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” Clearly, this is a statement that cannot be verified by science, and certainly, from a Biblical point of view, we know that inhabitants of this planet are not begotten sons and daughters of God. We are made or created in his image. We are not begotten, which implies the existence a literal child – father relationship. As stated above, the Bible makes it plain that we are only adopted as God’s children through the redemption of Christ.
There is an additional quotation at the end of Johnson’s article from Dieter Uchtdorf of the First Presidency, who says: “We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.” When I read these words, I cannot help but think of the words of the serpent (i.e. Satan) in the Garden of Eden when, in tempting Eve to disobey God’s command, he enticed her with the suggestion: “ye shall be as gods.” Genesis 3:5 God’s great desire is not, as Uchtdorf suggests, that we can be exalted or in other words become gods. That is the suggestion of the Devil in his encouragement to Eve to disobey God! God’s great desire is for us to have eternal life. Jesus has the power to grant eternal life. John 17 explains clearly how we may receive eternal life: “thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
So to anyone reading this, I ask, do you have eternal life? Do you know the only true God?