Bodies All the Way Down, and Up
I hope that the Mormon belief that everything is material means that we understand the world that environs us as the same world inhabited by God, and that we respond to it accordingly. I hope that because we are materialists Mormons see the world as neither a fallen and depraved place nor a place that can be used and used up with indifference.
Perhaps the Mormon belief in bodies all the way down explains the tone of familiarity that inhabits much LDS talk about the Father and about the Son. God is not mysterious to Mormons in the same way that he is mysterious to many others, and that may allow us to more easily address him and think of him in familial terms.
Of course the differences between a divine being and a mortal one are enormous, and that is true whether one believes that the divine being is embodied or not. He is morally perfect; we are not. He is immortal; we are not. His glory is unsurpassable; to the degree that we have any glory at all, it comes from him. Nevertheless, it's bodies all the way down, for us. There is nothing metaphysically prior to or supportive of our material existence.
Consider one of the least consequential differences: we assume that the differences between his habitation and ours are immeasurably significant. In spite of that Mormons have the temerity (most non-Mormons would call it naïveté, at best) to give the place of God's habitation a specific location. It is "nigh unto Kolob" (Abr 3:9), a star in an undesignated location.
However, a little reflection reminds us just how little we know when we say that we know the name of a star near where God resides: not much. We don't know the location of either that star or his residence. That suggests that we have good reason to suppose that the revelation which tells us about his habitation is meant to remind us of our ignorance at least as much as it is meant to teach us about that habitation.
But even given the differences there are in location, glory, workings, power, wisdom, and whatever else one would wish to name, and even given our ignorance of how to make sense of those differences and similarities, we believe that God is like us in that he is a material being in a spatio-temporal location.
It is possible that developments in quantum mechanics or other theories of physics may complicate the picture of what it means to be material, and result in a more complicated understanding of the possibilities of God's embodiment. We cannot be certain that our present understanding of what it means to be material is good enough to help us understand what it means for God to be material. But whatever the word material ultimately means, we believe that it describes God as well as ourselves.
The consequences of that belief are multiple, but consider only one example. Though in Mormon thought God remains omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent, given his material existence most Mormon thinkers have said that we must rethink those omnis.
If God has a physical body, then he is limited at least in that there are beings that he must see from one direction rather than another. The form of his body gives him a limit, outside of which there are other beings, and that limit will necessarily change how we think about divine perfections. It will not mean the denial of his perfections, but it will require understanding them differently.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.