Mormonism and the nature of God/Criticisms

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Criticisms regarding the character of God

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Elder Jeffery R. Holland: "it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much"

Elder Jeffery R. Holland,

Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. [1]


Question: Why would God send poisonous serpents to kill the Children of Israel?

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you."

In Numbers 21:5-9, God teaches the Children of Israel an important lesson not only about obedience, but about the future atonement of Jesus Christ.

5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

Jesus Christ actually used this story to foreshadow his own crucifixion John 3:14-15:

14 ¶And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

The moral of the story is that one who looks upon Christ will be saved from spiritual death, not "don't complain or God will kill you." The snake on the pole is a representation of Christ and the atonement. Those that simply looked at it were saved from physical death. Those that look upon and accept Christ are saved from spiritual death. What is amazing is that there were people who simply wouldn't look at it, despite how easy it would have been to do so. They simply refused to believe.


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a "part-time racist" and "psychopathic schizophrenic" god?

Latter-day Saints believe in a God who cares for His children

One critic of Mormonism mockingly describes the "God" that he claims that Latter-day Saints believe in:

God doesn’t like to hear whining and ingratitude so he sends out a bunch of snakes to kill the people. When the people had enough of the snakes, they ask Moses to tell God to quit it. God decides Moses is persuasive and tells Moses to put a snake a pole and tell the people to look at the pole and they won’t die. So, the pole is built, the people look at it and they don’t die. The moral of the story? Don’t whine or God will send in the snakes.

He concludes by stating, "I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well." [2]

Latter-day Saints do not believe in a "part-time racist," "psychopathic schizophrenic" god. Some Latter-day Saints do indeed believe that God has more than one wife, and some do not. There is no official Church position on this subject. Latter-day Saints are not "asked to believe" in a racist, polygamous or "psychopathic schizophrenic" god. Such hyperbole obscures and mocks the true nature of the God that we believe in. The sarcastic version of the story offered by the critic robs it of any coherent meaning.

The critic uses a variety of passages from the scriptures to portray God as capricious and uncaring. If the Children of Israel "whine," God will "send in the snakes." God is "psychopathic" and "schizophrenic." He completely misses the point of and the significance of the scriptural events described.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon refute Joseph Smith on the nature of God?

The term "unchangeable God" mentioned in the Book of Mormon is not referencing a physical state

The Book of Mormon never says God was once a mortal, and, in fact, it teaches that God was always God. Take for instance Moroni 8:18. It says God is "unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity." Joseph Smith, however, taught, "We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and take away the veil so that you may see."[3]

The term "unchangeable God" is not referencing a physical state. This can be shown from similar terms from the Bible about Jesus. Jesus is referred to as "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Yet we learn from the scriptures that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”(Luke 2:52) here is certainly a change in condition; here is succession of time with God, a before and after; here is being and becoming; for whereas, He was a spirit, He became man; and in becoming man, He passed through all the phases in life from infancy to manhood. It is significant also that it was not until Jesus had arisen from the tomb and stood in the presence of His disciples, glorified personage, body and spirit united, that He exclaimed, “all power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18) If “given”, there must have been a time when He did not possess all power in heaven and in earth; and hence, a change from possessing some power to the condition of possessing “all power”. So this term is not meant to mean His physical condition.

In context, no scripture tells us of God's physical change, but actually tells us that one can be eternal, unchanging, the same yesterday, today and forever, and still go through physical changes. Joseph however was contending against this false interpretation of scripture and was teaching the saints appropriately. In his lecture, he was talking about God passing through physical changes, even as Christ did, and as we must.

Here is a brief synopsis of scriptures that speak about this term, and possible meanings:

Scriptural Review

Hebrews 13:8-9

8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.
9 Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

Comment: The term here seems to say that God/Christ will not tell you one thing, and another, something different, when it comes to doctrine.

Moroni 8:12,18

12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!...
18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

Comment: This also seems to say the same thing. God will not tell someone that one doctrine is correct, in this case, infant baptism, and another it is ok.

Mormon 9:7-9

7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

Comment: Again, this agrees with the other scriptures. God, will not give tell/give the Gifts of the Spirit to one group, and tell another it is wrong.

2 Nephi 27:23

23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

Comment: Virtual agreement with our other scriptural references.

Psalms 102:24-27

24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end"

Comment: The Psalmist here, in context, is referring to the eternal nature of God. All things will pass away, but God will remain.

Malachi 3:4-6

4 Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.
5 And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.
6 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."

Comment: This is a reference to the promises God makes to His children, and his remembrance of those covenants.


Question: Did Elder Dallin Oaks say that "so-called Christianity sees God as an entirely different kind of being"?

Elder Oaks never said any such thing

Author Richard Abanes in his critical book One Nation Under Gods claims that Dallin Oaks told Mormons in 1995 "that so-called Christianity sees God as an entirely different kind of being." He cites Dallin H. Oaks, "Apostasy and Restoration ," Ensign, May 1995, 84. However, Elder Oaks made no such claim.

In the cited article, Elder Oaks says nothing about "so-called Christianity." The only mention of the phrase "so-called" in the article is the following:

The received language of the Bible remained, but the so-called “hidden meanings” of scriptural words were now explained in the vocabulary of a philosophy alien to their origins.

Elder Oaks' contention is not that the LDS God is not the Christian God, but rather that many Christian faiths have grafted non-scriptural ideas onto their conception of God

Elder Oaks does not deny the label of Christian to others who differ with us, or think that we do not also have many points in common.

In the cited article, Elder Oaks says nothing about "so-called Christianity." Instead, he uses such phrases as:

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches....
  • In common with the rest of Christianity, we believe in a Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • Like other Christians, we believe in a heaven or paradise and a hell following mortal life, but to us that two-part division of the righteous and the wicked is merely temporary, while the spirits of the dead await their resurrections and final judgments.
  • It is the reality of these glorious possibilities that causes us to proclaim our message of restored Christianity to all people, even to good practicing Christians with other beliefs.

Elder Oaks describes the differences between LDS belief and that of many other Christians as due to the influence of Greek philosophy after the loss of the apostles

We maintain that the concepts identified by such nonscriptural terms as “the incomprehensible mystery of God” and “the mystery of the Holy Trinity” are attributable to the ideas of Greek philosophy. These philosophical concepts transformed Christianity in the first few centuries following the deaths of the Apostles. For example, philosophers then maintained that physical matter was evil and that God was a spirit without feelings or passions. Persons of this persuasion, including learned men who became influential converts to Christianity, had a hard time accepting the simple teachings of early Christianity: an Only Begotten Son who said he was in the express image of his Father in Heaven and who taught his followers to be one as he and his Father were one, and a Messiah who died on a cross and later appeared to his followers as a resurrected being with flesh and bones.

The collision between the speculative world of Greek philosophy and the simple, literal faith and practice of the earliest Christians produced sharp contentions that threatened to widen political divisions in the fragmenting Roman empire. This led Emperor Constantine to convene the first churchwide council in a.d. 325. The action of this council of Nicaea remains the most important single event after the death of the Apostles in formulating the modern Christian concept of deity. The Nicene Creed erased the idea of the separate being of Father and Son by defining God the Son as being of “one substance with the Father.”

Other councils followed, and from their decisions and the writings of churchmen and philosophers there came a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine in which the orthodox Christians of that day lost the fulness of truth about the nature of God and the Godhead. The consequences persist in the various creeds of Christianity, which declare a Godhead of only one being and which describe that single being or God as “incomprehensible” and “without body, parts, or passions.” One of the distinguishing features of the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its rejection of all of these postbiblical creeds (italics added).

Notes

  1. Jeffery R. Holland, "The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship," April 2014 General Conference.
  2. Jeremy Runnells, "Letter to a CES Director" (2013)
  3. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 345. off-site