There is no question that the earliest Saints held views of God and Heaven that were consistent with their protestant roots (1). Josephâ€™s visions continually transformed Mormon theology with the last months of his life capturing the most radical concepts in theogony and exaltation. He was martyred and his pyre was set against the creedal hall that enclosed God and His son. We are now left to search the Mississippi among the smoke and embers for the treasures he beheld.
In the 1844 general conference, his King Follet Discourse, Joseph used the voice Jesus Christ to outline the history of God the Father:
These are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle of the gospelâ€”to know that we may converse with [God] as one man with another & that he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the fleshâ€¦What did Jesus say â€” as the father hath power in himself even so hath the son power to do what why what the father did, to lay down his body and took it up again. (2)
Gourge Laubâ€™s account added the sacred sacrifice as part of the divine patern:
Jesus Spake in this wise, I do as my Father before me did well what did the father doo why he went & took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh & had power to lay down his life and to take it up again (3)
Joseph further emphasized Christâ€™s relation to the Father:
What did Jesus do[?] Why I do the things that I saw the father do when worlds came into existence. I saw the father work out a kingdom with fear & trembling & I can do the same & when I get my Kingdom worked out I will present to the father & it will exalt his glory and Jesus steps into his tracks to inherit what God did before.(2)
While later writers have deemphasized or obfuscated aspects of the Fatherâ€™s existence (4), Joseph Smith was unequivocal that God the Fatherâ€™s station is a result of an antecedent role as savior of a world. This is consistent with Josephâ€™s teaching that God has always been God and that Jesus Christ was wholly divine and God in his premortal and un-embodied state.
This theogony is problematic only as it relates to later exaltation theologies that state that every man has the potential of becoming a God qua the Father. While Joseph does state that all humans have the potential to become â€œgodsâ€?, it is evident from his discourse that the Godhead is not part of that progression.
One month later, on the morning June 16th, Joseph spoke again in the grove east of the Temple on the history of God. He reiterated that God the Father has a Father just as Christ is His son. He stated, as did Paul, that we can be joint-heirs with Christ. He then went on to state how humankind fit into the family of God:
now says God when visited Moses in the Bush – moses was a stutt[er]ing sort of a boy like me – God said thou shalt be a God unto the children of Israel – God said thou shalt be a God unto Aaron & he shall be thy spokes. I believe in these Gods that God reveals as Gods – to be Sons of God & all can cry Abba Father – Sons of God who exalt themselves to be Gods even from before the foundation of the world & are all the only Gods I have a reverence for -
John said he was a King. Jesus Christ who hath by his own blood made us Kings & Priests to God. Oh thou God who are King of Kings & Lord of Lords. (5)
This idea of godhood and exaltation is reiterated in the Holy Temple. The editor of the Millennial Star expounded on the doctrine in 1847:
The chosen vessels unto God are the kings and priests that are placed at the head of these kingdoms. These have received their washing and anointings in the temple of God on this earth; they have been chosen, ordained, and anointed kings and priests, to reign as such in the resurrection of the just. Such as have not received the fullness of the priesthood, (for the fullness of the priesthood includes the authority of both king and priest) and have not been anointed and ordained in the temple of the Most High, may obtain salvation in the celestial kingdom, but not a celestial crown. Many are called to enjoy a celestial glory, yet few are chosen to wear a celestial crown, or rather, to be rulers in the celestial kingdom. (6)
It is in this context that the revelation on the celestial society becomes coherent. And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy. (7) This doesnâ€™t make any sense with the folk ideas that we will be off creating worlds of our own, but it is perfectly compatible with Josephâ€™s celestial kingdom.
This society also adds a potential dimension to the doctrine of sealings. The promise of the Abrahamic order is the â€œcontinuation of the seeds.â€? The mechanics of spirit birth are debated but its existence is not. There is perhaps no other principle that promotes belief in the accessibility of the Godhead to general humanity than this aspect of eternal marriage. There is, however, nothing in the sealing ordinance that suggests access to the Godhead (8). A potential reconciliation of the concept of eternal fecundity to Godhead inaccessibility is that we are sealed as a grand family with Christ taking the place as the Father (9). This concept meshes quite well with the idea of the celestial society previously mentioned as we all currently raise our children together.
Another ramification of this view of exaltation is that any eternal disparity in the sexes is obviated. Many have questioned why Mother in Heaven is not visible. We see that God the Father and Jesus Christ are beings capable of atoning for worlds. They were Gods pre-mortally. We were not. We worship God and Jesus because of their unique capacity. Both women and men lack this together. We can, however, consider the inquiry of the apostle:
Have you forgot who you are, and what your object is? Have you forgot that you profess to be Saints of the Most High God, clothed upon with the Holy Priesthood? Have you forgot that you are aiming to become Kings and Priests to the Lord, and Queens and Priestesses to Him? (10)
Josephâ€™s immolation was not ignominious nor is his treasure cursed. Joseph liberated humanity and God from tradition and creed. While we remember the basic Gospel of our Lord, let us not forget the details that Joseph preached at the apex of his life.
- Two excellent articles that document the development of Mormon conceptions of Premortal life and consequently post mortal life are Ostler, B. (1982) The Idea of Pre-Existence in the Development of Mormon Thought. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought vol. 15 no. 1 pg. 59-78, and Harrell, C. R. (1988) The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830-1844. BYU Studies vol. 28 no. 2 pg. 75-96.
- William Clayton Report, Words of Joseph Smith pg. 357
- George Laub Account, WoJS pg. 362
- E.g., Joseph Fielding Smith noted in relation to the passage: â€œFrom this remark we gather that the Son was doing what the Father had done before him. However, so far as the Father is concerned, we will leave that until we receive further knowledge, when and if we become glorified in his kingdom. So we will deal with this subject in relation to the Son, Jesus Christ.â€? Answers to Gospel Questions vol. 2 pg. 127
- Thomas Bullock Report, WoJS pg. 381, abbreviations in the original being replaced with the full words.
- Millennial Star vol. 9 pg. 23-24
- D&C 130:2
- Millennial Star vol. 15 pg. 215
- Perhaps this relationship is reflected in the language in D&C 76:24, â€œThat by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.â€?
- John Taylor, JD 1:37