I’ve been thinking recently about how to reconcile the two ideas of the perfection of God and the principle of eternal progression. We read that God is perfect; and therefore we may think that he has reached some end point or finish line in his progression. At the same time, we read that as God is now, man may become, and we are told that our exaltation will involve eternal progression; these two ideas, read together, suggest that God continues to progress. (Query: Does this refer to the Father? The Son? Both? Since we believe that the God we generally deal with is Jesus, this post will relate mostly to Jesus in his role as God, but many parts can apply to both). How can we reconcile the ideas of a perfect God and a God who continues to progress?
One potential resolution that I like is to suggest that God has perfected himself as an individual, and is now in the process of perfecting himself as a God. In this respect, he may be like a parent who has achieved life goals of his own, and is now turning his attention to helping his children. And this may suggest that like all parents, God loves his children, and may try out different ideas to see what best helps them — in essence, becoming better as a God.
The thought that God progresses by helping us progress is consistent with many scriptures, for example the statement that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
As God progresses in his godhood, he becomes a better God, just as parents become better, more experienced parents as they progress. I make fewer mistakes with my third child than I did with my first. Is God the same? (Like parents, church leaders experiment with ideas to try to aid members. Perhaps God is a little like the Elders Quorum president, who says “I think if we put Brother Jones and Brother Smith together as companions, they will work well together.” And sometimes, despite all we do, that companionship doesn’t work, and has to be re-done.)
Last month on a comment over at Sons of Mosiah, I suggested that the progression of God may explain the apparent change in God’s behavior between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, God is quick to punish; in the New Testament, he preaches love and forgiveness. (The discussion was quite good, and I was critiqued by some other commenters including T & S’s own Kristine).
God’s progression may explain the relative progressiveness of some church doctrines and beliefs. I have been told by educated non-member friends that much of LDS doctrine is very progressive. (One friend said that he thought the doctrine of baptism for the dead was among the most progressive in Christianity). Some of the ascribed progressiveness cannot be viewed as modern development; we believe that the doctrine of baptism for the dead has been known for millenia. On the other hand, ideas like the abolishment of race in the priesthood are relatively new developments. God may indeed be modifying his parenting strategies, seeing what works best, all with the same end in mind: How to best ensure that his children receive salvation.
A few final thoughts on this topic:
1. While modern changes are evident, it seems clear that the biggest shift in God’s treatment of men comes at the line between Old and New Testaments. I wondered earlier at Sons of Mosiah, whether or not “Jesus was learning as he went along, just like everyone else. He was a little more prone to lose his temper early on, and a little less tolerant of human imperfection. His own experience in a human body changed his perception.” I still think that may be the best explanation.
2. If God progresses, then perhaps we can ponder about what direction he is likely to progress in next. We may think about commandments that seem like failed companionships, and wonder if he is going to revisit them. (Examples might be the race restriction on the priesthood, or the doctrine of polygamy). However, our own speculation that a commandment may be a failed experiment does not excuse us from obeying that commandment.