How much of me is not-me? How much of my own flesh is dark? How much of my own mind is a black box?
How much of me is broken and passed around like bread for others to live on? How much of me is gathered from the multitude like leftover loaves they were too full to eat?
It’s this kind of thinking that gets Mormons pinched as “not really Christian.” The problem for Mormons is that we think this margin of error may itself be made in the image of God.
As Blake Ostler points out in the first chapter of the first Exploring Mormon Thought:
Perhaps the greatest distinction between Mormonism and the Christian tradition is that for Mormons the persons of the Godhead are genuinely “other” even to each other. That is, they are “distinct” and “separate” in the sense that they have unique personalities. They are persons having full cognitive and conative faculties. They are separate “wills” and “centers of cognitive awareness” who do not reduce to just one will or one personality; rather, they are genuinely separate with respect to their persons. They have distinct spatio-temporal identity – they are not identical in substance to the extent that the substance referred to is something they are made out of. The bodies of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are distinct from one another. (7-8)
There are thirty fingers and thirty toes. The divine plurality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost cannot be reduced. No matter how penetrating their union, there is always a remainder that cannot be assimilated, a remnant that cannot be incorporated, a chased-tail that cannot be caught. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are translucent but not transparent. “The persons of the Godhead are genuinely ‘other’ even to each other.”
Ostler, however, does also claim that, for the members of the Godhead, their divine interpenetration is still
so profound and the unity so complete that the persons who share this unity have identical experiences, know exactly the same things, agree perfectly with the decisions by all others sharing this unity and always act in complete unison. This unity is so perfect that it is improper to think of one person in this unity acting without the others. In this sense, there is a single agency exercised by these beings. (10-11)
These two claims seem like a poor fit. How, given their (±) personhood, can the Godhead’s unity be “complete” or their experiences “identical”?
I don’t know what Ostler has in mind, but I will speculate that part of what they share involves the margins themselves. Their inassimilable remainders do themselves circulate.
Part of the Father is indigestible by the Son, part of the Son is indigestible by the Holy Ghost, part of the Holy Ghost is indigestible by the Father. Fine. But we must also remember that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are only Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in their divine relationship with each other.
Part of them remains withdrawn from absorption in their divine dance but part of them is constituted by that same perechoresis. Part of each is given to them by what is other than them. This is a gift they can absorb in part, but not in whole.
The Father gives all of himself to the Son, even the parts that the Son cannot receive. And the Son gives all of himself to the Father, even the parts that the Father cannot receive.
The Son is constituted as a son by what the Father gives him – perhaps especially by the given parts he cannot digest. The Son bears within him the whole of the Father and the character of his sonship hinges on how he will bear within himself those parts of the Father that will always remain “other” to him. The Father, likewise, bears within himself the whole of the Son and the character of his fatherhood hinges on how he will bear within himself those parts of the Son that will always remain “other” to him.
Father and Son, bound to one another in an eternal embrace by their willingness to share what they cannot give and by their willingness to bear what they cannot receive.
(Forgive me. I am writing, of course, about my own father and my own son.)
What makes their relation divine is not the absence of this margin but their faithful relation to it. They do not save each other by mastering it, but by pledging themselves to caring for it. They don’t erase the margin of error, they live in it.
The Father: always ± the Son.