The Progression and Perfection of God

March 9, 2004 | 48 comments
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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.

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48 Responses to The Progression and Perfection of God

  1. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 11:51 am

    I prefer to think that God’s progression is the progression of a rich man who becomes richer. He is what he is, but progresses by adding to his stock of children and creation, thereby adding to his store of love and joy.

    I recognize, though, that your approach has a good pedigree. In both cases, we largely don’t know what we’re talking about, really, and God still stands in the same relation to us worms in either view–your concession that modern revelation is binding on us even if not the last word is key. I think one difference might be the way it allows us to treat prior revelations like the Old Testament. If we dismiss some of the more unsettling parts of the OT as a mistake I think we miss the challenge it presents to us and our assumptions.

  2. Charles on March 9, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    If God is already perfect, can he progress to any greater degree of being more perfect? Is it possible to be in a race, be in first place then overtake the person in first place? The simple answer is no.

    But there is a way to expand perfection. I agree with adam that if you were in that race and in first place, you certainly could run faster and beat your previous time.

    I think I would disagree with the idea that God was still learning in the old testiment. Just like parents are more apt to punish younger children as they are to love and support thier older children, I think God understands when humanity was to immature to understand anything besdies punishment.

    We are taught that God is perfect. Perhaps his perfection is limited to his individuality and his progression is based on his family. Many of the saving ordinances are aimed at perfecting the individual, but as that individual progresses they are commanded to serve others. That service not only helps to perfect the individual but also to perfect the others.

    God may have reached his nigh perfected state then began to help his children reach thiers. As an individual God is perfect, as he helps us become perfect and as we perfect our selves we help him to become more perfect. Kind of in the sense that he is perfect, but now his family can be perfect, a slight distinction.

    Just a thought.

  3. andy on March 9, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    As some philosophers of religion have noted (Thomas Morris, perhaps?…memory fails me on this one), some of the attributes we can associate with God “have no ceiling.” For instance, creativity has no ceiling in that no matter how much you have created, you can always create something more. Maybe some of God’s attributes can be viewed in this way.

  4. Bob Caswell on March 9, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    Kaimi, very nice post. I’ve wanted to post on this same subject for quite some time, but you saved me the trouble.

    I don’t have the answer, but I feel it lies somewhere in the definition of “perfection”. We mere mortals have a hard time grasping the concept of “no beginning or end” and/or “time being temporary”. I think “perfection” falls into the same category.

  5. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    Kaimi,

    In context of this discussion, I wonder what your take is on what Blake Ostler’s insights bring to this issue? I’m not sure I can completely agree with his idea that God does not “know” the future, but only knows all the possibilities and has planned for them. Is it possible that God’s progression is in seeing what he has planned for each of His children come to fruition? If (a big if) God does not “know” whether each of us will in fact ultimately choose to follow Him or not, could His progression consist in His coming to know the final result of each one of us. Again, I don’t completely agree with Blake Ostler, but his ideas are interesting here.

  6. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    Andy just touched on some of what I mentioned with regard to Blake Ostler’s views. On the other side of the coin, I have to agree with Bruce R. McConkie, that if you believe that God is still learning new ways to save His children and experimenting with same, you have to accept that He could make mistakes, and it would be impossible to have saving faith in such a being. Some would argue then, that while God knows all the possibilities of interaction with His children, that does not mean that he has actually ENCOUNTERED every possibility, so His progression could consist of actually encountering each new possibility, and seeing that His plans adequately deal with these. One thinks of the statements from the Book of Abraham, “…and the Gods saw that they would be obeyed.”

  7. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    I’m on Brother McConkie’s side of this perennial debate but I think his particular argument can be got around. One needs to posit that God is powerful enough–that the atonement is infinte and powerful enough–to make up for any mistakes.

  8. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Adam,

    yes, and Bruce R. McConkie would probably argue that even that believing that the Atonement overcomes God’s “mistakes” still won’t “cut it” as once which encourages faith. I don’t think there’s anyway LDS theology can be made to posit that God, as God, makes any “mistakes”. Still, I don’t think that alone dismisses everything Kaimi is saying about God’s progression. At the very least, God must know all possibilities, and God must have planned for all eventualities, but a case may still be made that this does not necessarily mean that God doesn’t face something he’s not faced before. It would just mean He’s not surprised, having ANTICIPATED such an eventuality, and having planned for it, “the great caravan rolls on”. I think I could live with such an explanation, but then there are those nagging prophecies in the Scriptures, that end up being fulfilled so exactly! Hmmm…

  9. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    I think you could still have faith in God. You would trust him to either (1) know what he was doing or (2) have the ability to make up any mistakes to you and the inclination to do right by you.

    Why am I arguing with you, I don’t even buy this line of reasoning myself.

  10. Kaimi on March 9, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    It may make sense, as Ostler has suggested, that God does not actually know the future, just the possibilities.

    In fact, part of his learning to be God may be a better judge of possible future events.

    I’ve made (what in retroepect appear to have been) both good and bad choices in making some callings as an Elders Quorum presidency member. I don’t have a view of all of the possibilities, but I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes. It seems possible that God operates in the same way (albeit with infinitely more knowledge). Perhaps he assesses his decisions ex post as well — “I didn’t do so well with Balaam, perhaps I should have done that differently.”

  11. brayden on March 9, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    I’m not sure I completely buy Kaimi’s story, although it is argued well. It’s not that I don’t think God is progressing. As Kaimi says, God’s work and glory is fulfilled through the salvation of his children, but I’m not sure that God learns through experience as is suggested here. How do we reconcile this with the idea that God is all-knowing?

    I like to think that God knows exactly how best to organize the Church, but he allows us to screw things up quite often because he values moral agency over discipline. That is, the mistakes that we make (including church leaders’ mistakes) are the result of imperfect knowledge and imperfect tools to accomplish His objectives. But that’s okay. Although He expects us to learn from our mistakes, He doesn’t expect us to do it right all the time, even though he knows exactly what is right for us all the time.

  12. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 2:02 pm

    The attractive part of Kaimi’s view–that God himself continues to learn and progress–is that it helps explains intuitively why God has set up a mortal probation with so much uncertainty and trial by error. In this view, being like God would not only mean learning to know what God knows, but learning to learn like God learns.

  13. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Could I possibly have said learn more times?

  14. Nate Oman on March 9, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    McConkie’s argument is incoherent. Boiled down here is how it goes.

    1. There is some class X of things that God does not know.
    2. The plan of salvation is true.
    3. 1 implies that the plan of salvation might be false.
    4. Ergo, 1 is false.

    The problem is that 3 is a non-sequitor. There is nothing about the fact that there is a class of unknowns that implies that the class of knowns is necessarily empty. For example, I do not know all of the stats of every pitcher in the history of the New York Yankees. It does not follow from my ignorance of these stats that I might discover that Antonin Scalia is not really a justice of the United States Supreme Court.

    McConkie’s position is based on an ARGUMENT and it is a transparently invalid one.

  15. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 2:15 pm

    Adam,

    We’re not arguing, just discussing how someone could make that argument work. I’m on McConkie’s side too.

    Kaimi,

    I just can’t buy the “mistakes” idea with God. Part of the reason for that is that I do not believe that God the Father became what He is because he got into a laboratory and figured out a bunch of stuff that we don’t know yet and one day discovered, “Hey! I’m a god now!” (And I’m not saying that you believe that either.) The best way I can conceive of how God the Father became God is related to Paul’s sermon on spiritual gifts in Corinthians. Paul spends a whole chapter telling the saints to seek earnestly the best gifts, essentially encouraging us to experiment with them, study them, gain them…then he says, “but ya know, there’s a better way…” And then he proceeds to talk about charity, which directly links to the BoM’s discussion in Moroni 7. I think God became what He is because he grew more and more to love completely and unconditionally, day by day, until one day He obtained a perfection that caused all Light and Knowledge to burst upon Him, so that He at last could see as He is seen, and know as He is known, becoming like HIS Heavenly Father. Love is the key, not gaining knowledge and experimenting. I think each one of us starts off this way, wanting to learn and grow, but then eventually thinking less and less of our own progression and more and more about other’s needs. My mother, when I was a little boy, ALWAYS knew what I was thinking, and what I was up to, and it was so uncanny it just flabbergasted me. It wasn’t because she could read minds, but just because she knew me completely, and she knew me that way because she loved me so much. I think the Father loves us so much that He knows all things about us, including our future, and while there may be times that He looks at me and says, “Well, that’s a new one, Gary! Why on earth did you do that?”, He’s not surprised, and He’s planned so that I can still repent and be saved. (By the way, Blake Ostler rejects the idea that God the Father even had a Father, just one of a number of holes in his theories, but I still like his writings.)

  16. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    Let me just add, as per Nate Oman’s comment, that clearly God’s knowing all things CANNOT be taken literally, since the Scriptures plainly teach that when we repent, God not only forgives, but that He remembers the sin no more. So, clearly there are least some things God chooses not to “know”. Nevertheless, I think Elder McConkie’s argument is valid if it is limited to knowledge of the Plan of Salvation and how that interacts with each of us. Brayden probably sums it up best, in that God isn’t making the mistakes, we are, but he permits that and can overcome that. We have to believe that, or otherwise what do we do with Brigham Young’s “Adam-God” ramblings?!

  17. Nate Oman on March 9, 2004 at 2:57 pm

    Gary: Explain the link to Adam-God. I am lost here.

  18. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Why choose to take God knowing all things as a metaphor and God not remembering our sins as literal, instead of the other way around?

    And, yes, please explain about Adam-God.

  19. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Gary:

    Besides Adam-God stuff you’ve stirred up (thanks!), I’m not so sure that God LITERALLY remembers the sin no more — it’s a little too much like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

  20. clarkgoble on March 9, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    I tend to differ with Blake regarding foreknowledge. But the other part of his argument on the issue I agree with. I think the issue of foreknowledge is unduly limited because we think *solely* in terms of propositional knowledge. I think there are lots of other kinds of knowledge that God may be progressing in.

    The issue of possibilities vs. actualities gets more complicated than I want to get into here. If we’ve existed for all eternity (an infinite amount of time) and there are an infinite number of things, then clearly our assumptions regarding knowledge don’t apply. Most arguments assume in some since *finite* knowledge. I think McConkie’s does, for instance. Those who’ve worked with infinities though recognize that infinite sets and the like can be very unintuitive. It may well be that God can know all things and be progressing in knowledge at the same time with the apparent paradox only being a paradox due to how we view infinite sets.

    For an analogy consider knowing about a line. That entails knowing all the points on the line. Yet if one were to ask about any particular point one could ask forever, with ther person progressing in their knowledge of the line. Thats a kind of contrived example with lots of problems, but it gets at what I’m getting at.

    Infinities take a lot of work to deal with.

  21. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    Okay, okay, let me explain about “Adam-God”. I was simply using that as an example, related to the earlier comment by Brayden, that is God is not learning new ways to run the Church, etc., but he does permit even Church leaders, ancient and modern, to make mistakes based on their imperfect knowledge. So, if Brigham Young actually believed and taught that Adam the husband of Eve and father of Abel was God the Father, I can live with the idea of God permitting that kind of mistake and being able to overcome it. That’s all! I love Brigham Young, even if he said things I can’t understand!

    Now, with regard to God’s literally not remembering our sins, I can believe that God could literally choose to forget them. I am sure God can be aware of exactly how much bacon I have for breakfast, but I suppose He might choose not to be aware of that, so that if I asked Him, “How much bacon did I eat yesterday?” he could say, “I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention to that; but I did see that you didn’t play with your children when you had the chance!” Have I clarified?

  22. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    But since sin leaves an imprint, you’d then be saying that God didn’t know you perfectly. He might lead you into temp-bacon not realizing that you’re liable to pig out.

  23. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 3:35 pm

    How can God be perfect if he can’t remember the past?

  24. Brent on March 9, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    Kaimi, some of your pondering seems contrary to scriptural commentary. For instance, the idea that God progressed from the Old to the New TEstament doesn’t take into consideration scripture and commentary about why the lesser law was given. It also doesn’t account for scripture about God being all knowing, all powerful, etc. While Christ fulfilled the law, I don’t know that God, in some instances was any less quick to punish in the New Testament. Remember the man and wife who withheld funds from the church were struck dead.

    I would ascribe any perceived changes in the manner in which God deals with man to mankinds progression, or digression. This also seems to comport more fully with scriptural teaching. Numerous prophets, including Joseph Smith, have said that they were stopped from teaching all that they knew because mankind was not prepared for the truth. Thus, I do not believe God progresses in light, truth and understanding how to deal with man. Rather, his truth’s and dealing are revealed and become better understood by us, as we progress.

  25. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:39 pm

    Adam,

    My, how humor sometimes brings hitherto obscure issues into focus. Alright, maybe I don’t understand the ‘forgetting of sins” as much as I thought I did. I’ll have to mull this some more. I mainly just want to be sure that everyone at T&S doesn’t get mad and send the Danite Bands after me to inflict blood atonement on my house for bringing up the dad-burned “Adam-God” mess in front of mixed company! (Sorry, but here in Oklahoma, we hear the same old tired anti-Mormon garbage on a constant basis that we can’t help but joke about it.)

  26. Brent on March 9, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    To piggy back, if you will, on what Adam is saying, and what the scriptures teach, it is not that God cannot remember our sins, but that he will not remember them. We can do this in our own lives. When we truly forgive and forget, we consciously forget what wrongs others have done us, even though we capable of remembering.

  27. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Brent,

    Right, that’s what I (imperfectly) was trying to say, that God is capable of choosing what He knows, to some extent, and that “all-knowing” if taken literally, can lead to absurd and even anti-scriptual conclusions. In any case, God knows everything He needs to know to save us, and God does not make mistakes.

  28. Grasshopper on March 9, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    I don’t think it follows from the idea that God knows all possibilities (but knows actualities only as they happen) that he is never surprised. In fact, I think it means he is quite often surprised. As an analogy, I know all the possibilities involved in flipping a coin: heads, tails, or edge. But I would be quite surprised if a coin landed on its edge! For that matter, I’d be surprised if it landed on heads ten times in a row. That doesn’t mean that I would have no idea how to react, though.

    There may be an additional difficulty with the idea that God has pre-planned his reaction to every contingency, and that is that at some point, it seems that he is no longer responding to me as a person in a relationship, but merely as a set of possibilities. It may be that there is something of value in his response to my actions *as they happen* rather than in a precalculated way.

    But neither a surprised God nor a God who chooses his response in the moment necessarily diminishes faith. All that is required is the faith that God has the power and desire to save us.

    Now, it is true that Elder McConkie’s argument could be refined to be valid as follows:

    1. There is some class X of things that God does not know.
    2. The plan of salvation is true.
    3. 1 implies that there is a possibility that the plan of salvation is false (due to some unknown factor).
    4. If we believe there is a possibility that the plan of salvation is false, it is impossible for us to exercise saving faith.
    5. (From 2) We can exercise saving faith
    6. Ergo, 1 is false.

    The problem in this refined argument is in step 4. I believe it *is* possible to exercise saving faith, even while acknowledging that there are no ultimate guarantees.

  29. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Grasshopper,

    Whoa! How could it be, “…possible to exercise saving faith, evenb while acknowledging that ther are no ultimate guarantees.”??? By definition, isn’t “saving faith” a belief, and the actions that follow that belief, based on the promise of an ultimate spirtual guarantee? I can tell you right now I seriously doubt that I, or anyone else, could maintain faith in God if I thought for one minute that my obedience and faithfulness might NOT result in the blessings of exaltation after all. is that how you meant for that to come out?

  30. Grasshopper on March 9, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    Yup, that’s how I meant it to come out.

    Is it possible that we are all totally wrong about the gospel? Is it possible that we are simply collections of molecules acting out our little dance according to the deterministic laws of nature, to be no more after death? Sure, it’s possible. But my acknowledgment of this as a *possibility* does not preclude my faithful affirmation that this is not actually the case, and my acting as though it were not the case.

    Similarly, I can acknowledge the possibility that there are no ultimate guarantees without being prevented from exercising faith unto salvation, IMO.

  31. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    Grasshopper,

    Now I get your point. In fact, that is a good summation of how many of my Christian friends, quite devout, of other denominations would express their faith, and I have no doubt that they will be blessed for it. This brings up the logical point: How does a testimony move us beyond such faith, to actual knowledge that the Gospel is true, and hence the certainty that there is an ultimate guarantee, depending on our choice to follow God? Sounds like this should be a whole new post. It would be an interesting one!

  32. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    Grasshopper,
    Once again, I got to disagree with you. My faithful moments are also the moments when I answer ‘No’ to your question. No, there is no possibility that God doesn’t exist. I have my doubts, of course, but I return to faith not while acknowledging them but while rejecting them.

  33. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 5:06 pm

    Adam,

    Right on. If testimony means anything, it is CERTAINTY. It is KNOWLEDGE. Faith can accomplish great things, but faith combined with testimony, ultimately, is what moves us from terrestrial living to celestial living. That is why testimony is an anchor, a foundation. I admire members, and I know a few, who don’t have a testimony, but continue Gospel living because of sheer faith. But, testimony is something we need, and have a right to gain, if we pay the price for it. Once gained, and sustained, it helps us look the world in the face and say, “God is, and he is what He says He is, and I can rely on His promises!”

  34. Kaimi on March 9, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    Adam, Gary,

    I disagree. It may be a matter of semantics, or a matter of differing personal experiences, but I think that faith always has an element of doubt, of wondering whether what one believes is really true.

    Strong belief, a willingness to sacrifice for a belief, even to die for a belief, can be found in members of nearly all religions. Yet I don’t think all religions are true.

  35. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 5:39 pm

    Kaimi,

    I don’t think we’re really disagreeing. What you are saying about faith is entirely true in your last thread. The point I am making is that testimony takes us a step beyond faith. Other religions have faith, too, and that faith is helpful to the extent that it is centered in what is true. But it is possible to have knowledge–in fact the whole theme of the Restoration seems to be that one can actually commune with God directly and gain that knowledge. Once gained, faith seems to take on a new role. Once we have a testimony of God and the Restored Church, faith now seems to move from, “Is there a God? is this church really His?” etc., to: “Can I prove faithful? Can the Atonement really change me?” etc., and this progresses on. I don’t mean to say that faith is no longer needed after you gain a testimony, only that the doubts that faith works with change as we grow. I hope I’m making sense here.

  36. Brent on March 9, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Let me also say that Kaimi has raised an important issue and some of us seem to have a fundamental differences of opinion regarding the nature of God’s progression. It is not a trivial matter to arrive at a proper view of this attribute of God. Joseph taught that three things are essential for being able to exercise faith unto salvation, and one of them was to have a correct understading of God, his character and attributes.

  37. Greg Call on March 9, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Those interested in this topic may want to check out Eugene England’s essay “Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways of Talking about God” (BYU Studies, 29, 3 (Summer 1989):31-47), which is not online, and his “Weeping God of Mormonism,” which is: http://www.nd.edu/~rpotter/england_element1-1.html

  38. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 7:08 pm

    Greg,

    Thanks for the link to Eugene England’s article. I actually found it disturbing, and I’ve been worried about the issues he raises for some time. I’m sure future posts at this site will continue to touch on those issues.

  39. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 7:13 pm

    Greg, I’m glad you brought up prof. England’s perspective b/c he seems to harmonize, to a certain extent, some of the ideas brought up on that thread.

    I really miss that guy.

  40. Clark Goble on March 9, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    Grasshopper, your (3) is still very problematic to me. I don’t see how it follows that some class of things is unknown that it follows that (2) can’t be known.

    There is an unstated premise in Elder McConkie’s logic. Mainly that there is no knowledge of universals. (And presumably that there are no real universals) If one adopts the presumed nominalism Elder McConkie embraces, then his conclusions follow. It one rejects nominalism then I think the reconciliation is quite easy.

    Not that I want to turn this into a medieval theological debate. But a lot of this issues have been discussed historically.

  41. Logan on March 9, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    I hate it when I see an interesting thread just to find that it already has like 40 million comments . . .

    I just want to say that I don’t think there’s any contradiction at all in God being perfect and in His still progressing. Where did we get the idea come from that “perfect” equals “never does anything that isn’t the absolute best choice”? (Sorry to go Hugh Nibley on us here, but . . .) both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “perfect” in our Bible could perhaps be better understood as “complete.” The word is also used to describe both Noah and Job — they were “just men made perfect.” The best way I’ve been able to understand that is to think along the lines of saving ordinances and covenants. Job and Noah must have had all their temple work done (maybe including their calling an election made sure), as I’m sure God has. In that sense they are all “perfect”, but not necessarily at the end of their progression.

    Oh, and Gary — don’t let Elder Nelson hear you say that God has learned to love unconditionally. ;)

  42. Grasshopper on March 10, 2004 at 1:40 am

    Gary,

    You distinguish knowledge (and testimony) from faith. I have my doubts about whether there is such a thing as knowledge that does not require faith at some level. As far as I can tell, radical skepticism cannot be refuted. Our most fundamental assertions (that we exist, that we interact, that we can observe, etc.) are unprovable in the face of skepticism. We cannot escape the need for faith (and neither can God, IMO).

    Clark, if I’m understanding you correctly, you believe that the problem of God’s knowledge can be resolved by claiming that he has knowledge of all universals, but not necessarily of all particulars. Yes? Can you phrase this in layman’s terms, perhaps with an example of what a universal might be and what a related particular might be, with respect to salvation and God’s knowledge?

  43. Clark Goble on March 10, 2004 at 2:52 am

    The law of gravity might be a universal, as is the color red. However I was more thinking of propositions. For instance the proposition “X saves everyone” is a universal. Particulars would be individuals things. Like at time t person x is saved.

    Some, like Dennis Potter, have argued that God might have incomplete knowledge of particulars but that knowledge of sufficient universals to guarantee salvation. i.e. he may not know who is saved but knows how to save everyone.

    As I said, I tend to differ from Blake and Dennis as I believe God has foreknowledge of many particulars. But I’m not committed one way or the other to exactly what God knows or doesn’t know.

  44. Steve Evans on March 10, 2004 at 10:43 am

    Logan: “both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “perfect” in our Bible could perhaps be better understood as “complete.” ”

    That’s a nice way of sidestepping the issue, in my opinion. Nobody in the LDS tradition has been acting upon that version of what “perfect” means. It’s easier (but not THAT much easier, IMHO) to reconcile progression and perfection when you change the definition of perfection, but I don’t think a lot of LDS doctrine is geared towards that lesser interpretation of what perfect means.

  45. Logan on March 10, 2004 at 11:12 am

    Steve, you may be right that most LDS doctrine doesn’t share my view of “perfection.” But I wonder how the more “mainstream” definition evolved then. It seems like we think of God being perfect from passages of scripture such as “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). If scriptures like that really are where we get the doctrine that God is perfect, then perhaps we have misinterpretted it (of course, perhaps not — I’m just saying . . .). What scriptural or revelatory support is there for the other view? I imagine there probably is some, but I think there may be just as much out there that hasn’t really considered what I think is the scriptural interpretation.

    Also, it seems like I’ve read something close to my view from either McConkie or Nibley (I don’t think I came up with it on my own). Maybe I’ll see if I can find it.

    Oh, and I don’t know that I want to say that it’s a “lesser” interpretation of perfection, but it is different in the scope of things that it tries to explain.

  46. Gary Cooper on March 11, 2004 at 2:14 pm

    Grasshopper,

    I’m not saying that we ever escape the need for faith, just that as our spiritual understanding grows, testimony, which involves knowledge of what was once held only by faith, becomes more and more important, and the nature of our faith, and what we exercise it on, changes. We always need faith, but what I accept now on faith, because I do not have knowledge of them, are not the same things I exercised faith about before I joined the church. Before I joined the church, I did not KNOW God existed, but believed. Now I KNOW that He lives, but every day I must exercise faith that I understand His charcter correctly, since I have experienced some things in my life (as probably all of us have), in which I cannot discern God’s justice, but I accept on faith the promises made to me by the Holy Ghost that, no matter how things appear to me, God is just. This is an example of what I am saying.

  47. Grasshopper on March 11, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Gary,

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear about what I meant by “we never escape the need for faith”. More specifically, I would say that anything that we claim to *KNOW* is inescapably based on faith. That is to say, it’s not only the case that there will always be some things that we need to exercise faith in because we do not KNOW them, but that knowledge *itself* cannot escape the need for faith, even in the thing known.

    Yes, I know that Alma 32 contrasts faith and knowledge like you do in your last post. But I submit that this is really a difference in our degree of confidence, not in the *kind* of belief we have.

  48. Gary Cooper on March 11, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    Grasshopper,

    I see your point now, and I think we can find ourselves in agreement now. I remember the point being made in the Lectures of Faith that faith is THE fundamental principle of action in ALL intelligent beings, which certainly backs up what you are saying.

WELCOME

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