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Religion Library: Mormonism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Stephen Taysom

For Mormons, life on earth is the middle part of a drama that began long before the creation of the earth, and which will continue endlessly after death. Human beings once lived as spirit children of God. Before that, they existed as "intelligences," beings of undefined substance, that would one day be organized by God into sentient spiritual beings.

Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, taught that absolute creation and destruction were impossibilities, because the elemental substance at the heart of all things existed eternally, as long as God.  Mormons emphasize that God organizes things into increasingly complex and potentially glorious forms, but they reject the common Christian theological concept of creation ex nihilo, or out of nothing.

One key to understanding this idea is Joseph Smith's teaching that God was once a man. Smith taught in the 1840s that the "great secret" of the universe was that "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heavens." In other sermons, Smith suggested that God had at one time lived as a mortal being on an earth and, through faith and adherence to eternal laws, became exalted. God, according to the Mormon view, is a married man and inhabits a body of flesh and bone, but not of blood, a substance present only in mortal beings. This embodied God provides prophets to teach his spirit children, once they are born into a mortal body, the laws and rites that must be observed in order for them to become gods themselves. As gods, they will have the power to organize intelligences and populate worlds of their own, all with the goal of having these spirits become exalted and so on ad infinitum.

Thus, in Mormonism there exists an infinite number of possible gods, although Mormons only worship as their God the one who organized their spirits and created the earth upon which they live. Together with God the Father, Mormons also worship Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be the first spirit that the Father organized from the "intelligences," as well as the literal offspring of God the Father and the Virgin Mary. The resurrected Christ also has a body of flesh and bone.

Mormons also believe in the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost. This being does not yet have a body, and his exact nature remains somewhat mysterious, although his role as a comforter and testator of truth are clearly defined. Mormons also believe that there is a Heavenly Mother, but they are discouraged from speculating about the nature of this being and Mormons may face ecclesiastical sanctions if they offer public prayer to her.

Mormons view mortal life as a time of learning and testing, as well as an opportunity to develop the godlike traits that they will need if they hope to live as a god in the next life. Marriage is seen as an ideal place for the development of those abilities and skills. Thus, the notion that God is married, coupled with the belief that human beings may become gods and goddesses through imitation of the divine, explains why marriage in Mormon temples, for time and eternity, is so central to LDS soteriology.

Mormonism has no specific category of angelic beings separate from humans, although the term is sometimes used to describe beings that were or will be human beings, and as such are best understood as spirit messengers rather than angels as the term is commonly used in other faith traditions. Beings that once lived upon earth are sometimes given special missions from God to visit, teach, and sometimes punish humans. The most famous Mormon angel is Moroni, who told Joseph Smith about the existence of the golden plates, which Smith later translated as The Book of Mormon.


Study Questions:
1.     How does Mormonism understand humanity's relationship to God?
2.     How do Mormons view mortal life? How is this connected to marriage?
3.     How do Mormons understand angels?

 

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