EcumenismTheology & SpiritualityWorship

Sects Positions: How God Became God

“What kind of being is God? Does any man or woman know? Have any of you seen Him, heard Him, or communed with Him? Here is the question that will, peradventure, from this time henceforth occupy your attention.”1

Thus begins the King Follett Discourse, one of the most famous sermons delivered by Joseph Smith, the Prophet and first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Over the course of this article and the rest of the series, we will be examining how Mormons understand and worship the God(s) who reveals himself to a new Prophet in the 19th century, with different and exciting revelations, scriptures, and theologies. My goals in this detailed study of a deviant tradition are three-fold. First, if Joseph Smith is correct that God has restored an apostate Christendom and the fullness of the gospel through the LDS Church, then we must listen intently to their theology to see if it is true.2 Second, and possibly more difficult, we must listen to see if their critique of historic orthodoxy has any validity. Third, my primary goal in all of this is for Christians to come away with a more clarified worldview and a more awe-inspiring worship of the God who is true precisely where Mormonism believes him to be false.

How God Became God

“I am going to tell you how God came to be God. 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

In order to begin to understand Mormon thought, you must grasp the coherence of Mormon cosmology in the principle of “eternal progression.”4 You and I, before we inherited our mortal bodies here on planet Earth, were once “intelligences.” This is not eternal-immaterial-soul language, for intelligences are “refined matter.” As Joseph Smith taught, “The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.”5 In Mormonism, there is thus no creation ex nihilo, all of us and all of the universe, in some sense, have existed from eternity past.

From the first stage of intelligences, you and I progressed to become “spirit children,” through the procreative process of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Bruce R. McConkie, one of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church during the 20th century, wrote, “All men were first born in pre-existence as the literal spirit offspring of God our Heavenly Father. This birth constituted the beginning of the human ego as a conscious identity. By the ordained procreative process our exalted and immortal Father begat his spirit progeny in pre-existence. “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.””6

Heavenly Father then devised a plan for his procreation to inhabit human bodies upon the planet Earth, thus completing the third stage of eternal progression.7 The Pearl of Great Price, one of the four Mormon scriptures, describes this creation with two fascinating clarifications to the Genesis account. When it was proclaimed, “Let us make man in our image,” the “us” refers to a plurality of Gods and the “image” refers to the human body of the Gods creating them.8

The grand purpose of progressing into human bodies, as an early Mormon catechism for children states, is such that, “[The spirits of men] may be educated, developed, and perfected, that they may enjoy a fulness [sic] of knowledge, power, and glory for ever, and thus increase the dominion and glory of God.”9 For those that are faithful to the end and follow the principles of the gospel, we are able to attain the celestial kingdom, becoming exalted as our Heavenly Father is exalted. We will then “have the character, possess the attributes, and enjoy the perfections which the Father has. [To become a God] is to do what he does, have the powers resident in him, and live as he lives, having eternal increase.”10 The Mormon worldview11 is thus one that comes full circle, as Heavenly Father begat us in pre-existence, so can we have eternal procreative increase for eternity. Just as Jesus was once a spirit child of Heavenly Father, obtained a human body, was obedient to death, and “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness [of divinity],”12 so might we “attain Godhood.”13 Fifth President Lorenzo Snow’s famous quote summarizes the beginning and end of eternal progression, “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”14

To Mormons, these truths, revealed to Joseph Smith and restored by the LDS church, unveil a beautiful God and a wonderful future for humans. For one, Terryl L. Givens extols the God who is passible, who can relate to humanity in their suffering (one wonders if this would also entail death and sin). As one who inhabits a human body, this God is able to experience the full range of emotions alongside of his children. Givens writes, “the Father is in no way immune to the vicissitudes entailed by his immersion within a web of human relationships, rather than position outside them. He participates in rather than transcends the ebb and flow of human history, human tragedy, and human grief.” Citing a scene in the Book of Moses in which Enoch is surprised at the literal tears flowing from God, Givens writes, “[God’s] distress at the predicament humans have brought upon themselves clearly evidences a disappointment, a regret, at the course of events—which can only mean they are not consistent with his will.”15

Second, Givens argues that only a God who experienced this eternal progression, who is “good by choice,” can be worthy of our worship. Since God has chosen to do good and to be our God, and he could’ve done otherwise, we can therefore be truly loved and trusted, and can give that back in return. Givens quotes a church leader who once proclaimed, “trust presupposes the ability to refrain from doing as trusted.”16

Third and finally, Givens argues that a material pre-existence, an embodied God, and an embodied eternity allows for true celebration of the material. Givens sees in the “tide of Christian history” a “prejudice against the body.”17 Citing the historic practice of dancing within Mormon courtship ritual, Givens revels, ““In what Time magazine called “the danciest religion,” such church-endorsed bodily expressiveness becomes an emblem, if not a direct outgrowth, of a longstanding commitment to righteous reveling in physicality”18. In summary, for Mormons, experiencing the highs and lows of human emotion, adherence to a moral law, and experiencing the goods of bodily existence are all grounded in the beautiful truth that we are a child to an exalted Father who was once a child himself.

As a Christian, I believe that the beauty of Mormon thought as explained by Givens is met and exceeded by historic Christian orthodoxy. Further, Christian orthodoxy rightly orders our worship toward the true God, rather than ourselves. I will explain using two doctrines of Christianity, Creation and Incarnation.


In Christian orthodoxy, everything that is not God depends on God for its existence. Nothing but God is eternal and self-existent. In the creation of the world, there is a giftedness to it, an undeserved grace that could not exist. Every experience of eating good food, the warmth of the sun, singing and dancing in response to music, are all contingents that could have never come to exist. More fundamentally, we owe God our worship not only in response to every good thing we experience, but our very lives. Contrary to the doctrine of eternal progression, there is no constraint set upon God to act in response to how his parents acted. God could’ve decided to be completely content in the self-giving love of the Trinity, never deciding to bring others near. Instead, we are called into that fellowship out of pure gift, not out of a past-eternal scheme of intelligence-spirit children-mortal bodies-exaltation.

As a result, materiality and embodiedness are instrinsically related to worship. The very reality of existence prompts us to worship the creator. Moreover, how we utilize our own materiality and embodiedness is related to the worship of God. Dancing, for Givens, can always only be a “righteous reveling in physicality,” never an expression of worship for the God who gave us this gift of expression.


In Christian orthodoxy, the Incarnation reveals a God who enters into the history that he created, bringing the human and divine together in the very body of Jesus Christ. Again, to respond to Givens’s second point, this is something God could’ve done otherwise. God could’ve both 1) left a distance between the immaterial and the material and 2) never chosen to redeem a fallen world. In the Mormon scheme, Heavenly Father only reacts to how his parents gained exaltation, and how their parents gained exaltation, and on and on for eternity. For all of Givens’s concern for God’s free agency, he neglects the fact that the principle of eternal progression leaves Jesus impotent to choose otherwise. He must attain Godhood through obedience, he must take on human flesh to progress, he must rise from the dead to exaltation.

Most importantly, God is not unique in Mormon thought. Heavenly Father, though he begat us as children and has shown us love and mercy, is one among a past and future eternity of Gods. If we are faithful, we can become just as exalted as Heavenly Father is, and can form new worlds and be worshiped by our spirit children. Worship in Mormon theology is thus temporary, for our ability to become Gods and receive exaltation levels the playing field entirely. Ultimately, if I were to become a Mormon and achieve exaltation, the only difference between Jesus and I is that he is 2000 years ahead of me in the process.

In the Christian scheme, God enters into a broken world, revealing his heart towards a fallen people. Freely choosing not to leave humanity in their sin, Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”19 This is amazing grace, a God who enters into the human experience in order to reconcile it, leaving behind a redeemed and renewed physicality in the process.

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George Aldhizer

George Aldhizer

Raised in North Carolina, George works as an accountant and lives in New York with his wife and son. His writing is animated by Abraham Kuyper’s exclamation, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

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