Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Friendship with God

What we think about god matters a very great deal.  It affects our relationship not only with god, but it affects how we act towards others.

I think to almost all religion, God is the infinite “other” -- superior in every way to humanity.  To suggest that mankind is in any way equal to god is the ultimate in blasphemy.  There is always a difference between fallen mankind and the all-powerful, all-knowing, and in every way good god.

How can I relate to that?

Our LDS faith helps us a little in this.  We think of God not as the “infinite other”, but rather, as an exalted human being -- a Heavenly Father and Mother.  This is not a metaphor to Mormons.  Like many things in Mormonism, we are literal in our beliefs.  Joseph Smith proclaimed most adamantly, “God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like us.  That is the great secret” (King Follett Discourse).

Yet in our same LDS beliefs, we distance ourselves from this radical definition.  We preserve the hierarchal relationship of us to God: God is the Parent, we are the Child.  God is the Master, we are the obedient Servant.  God is creator, we are creature.  God is infinite, we are finite.  God is exalted, we are fallen.

We believe, from our Christian background, that God created a perfect world, a literal garden of eden, and based upon mankind’s disobedience, things are fallen.  Yet, in believing this, we create a kind of nostalgia inherent to most religion.  God, and our first prophets, always get it right, and we screw things up -- we apostatize from the true faith, and thus god needs to come back through his prophets to restore things again.  This justifies our worldview that the world is inherently evil and fallen, and we should go back to the good old days when God revealed the truth to his prophet in perfect, pristine form.

Because we are so fallen, so depraved, our only hope is to obey god through his earthly servants the prophets.  Everything in our relationship with God is hierarchical, and in consequence, our earthly religions, based upon this hierarchical relationship, are also hierarchical. “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same”.

I have come to realize, in my faith journey, that this definition of god -- that of an infinite superior -- is a human creation, and harmful doctrine.  By creating a distance between us and God, we create distances between each other.  By thinking of God as infinite creator in the beginning who got everything right, we deny our own journey of eternal progression.  By preserving a master-slave relationship between God and us, we preserve master-slave relationships in this world, creating inequalities and injustice.

I think that if there is any value to the First Vision and to Joseph Smith’s last major “King Follett” discourse, it is to fully humanize god.  To almost unanimous rejection by theologians and mainstream Christians, I believe that Joseph was on to something more important than any other of his doctrines.  To define the identity of god as an exalted man has devastating implications to Christian theology, but more than that -- this is not an exercise in theology.  To think outside the traditional god box has deep implications for how we relate to one another, how we view the Church and its male priesthood hierarchy, how we address science and knowledge, and how we assess all things we do.

Yes, who we think god is has that much impact in our lives -- it’s a total impact.  This impact comes down to four questions, which are simply answered in our doctrine, if we look for them:

1. Who is God?
A: God is an exalted person.

The moment we suggest that God is an exalted person, every aspect of the traditional god definition must be set aside.  While we speak of the power of god as being everywhere, God the person is in place and time.  God is a person!  What a glorious thought.  And not only that, God is not just one person, but many -- any person who is exalted is god.

To many, this is mumbo-jumbo.  God cannot be a person because…. ….because we have already defined god as the infinite other.  We must lose any preconceived notion of god as infinite other if we are to believe that God is an exalted person.  We take this definition of God as an exalted person as THE DEFINITION of the word “God”.

2. Who are we?
A: We are unexalted gods.

The moment we suggest that mankind is co-eternal with God, every aspect of the Fall becomes irrelevant.  ALL Christian theology disappears -- the gulf of separation between god and mankind is eliminated.  There can be no pristine former condition that we return to. Instead, we recognize that we are on a journey of eternal progression -- the process of discovery to become gods -- not in the sense of becoming “infinite others”, but rather, exalted people in every way we can be.

3. What is the difference?
A: Atonement -- oneness.

Our current doctrine suggests that exaltation is a future “point in time” event, that occurs as a result of resurrection and final judgment.  At that point, we become gods, to rule and reign over worlds without end. I am going to suggest that this definition of exaltation is only one way to look at it, and one which defers the idea of exaltation to a later date.  As well, it proposes that once we’re “perfect” as it were, then we no longer progress.  In his talk “Seven Deadly Heresies”, Bruce R. McConkie condemned any notion that God is progressing.  McConkie was thus tied to the “infinite other” definition of god, and thus creates a logical impossibility: God cannot have once been man, and also be unchanging from everlasting to everlasting.

I personally reject the notion that the only valid definition of God is that of an “infinite other”.  So, what, then, is “exaltation”?   What does it mean to be an exalted person?  What does it mean to be “perfect”?  Surprisingly the answers are in our scriptures: it means to be One -- united in love and purpose with each other, with god (however we define god), and with all that is.  Scripture after scripture, particularly in the Gospel of John, describe how humans, acting in the place of god in loving and blessing others are Gods, even if they die like people in this life.

4. What is our relationship?
A: Friends.

Consider Jesus’ last commandment in John 15:
9. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
How often we misquote these verses!  We think they are a justification of the hierarchal model of God and Church, that “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven”, and that we must obey those who are Called and Ordained.  Context is everything.  His commandment is love.  You are to obey *THAT* commandment.  He’s saying, “keep my commandment.  And this is my commandment: that ye love one another as I have loved you.”

Yet what kind of Love is this?  Is this the kind of love between Master and Servant?  Absolutely NOT.  He is telling us, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.”  Of all the kinds of relationship in this world, friendship is the only one that is not hierarchical.

The love of a master to a servant, a parent to a child, a king to a subject is one of condescension not friendship.  In return, the servant, child, or subject is loyal and obedient, love is expressed as adoration and worship.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with this kind of love, but unfortunately, it’s neither friendship, nor is it immune from abuse.  There is always a power dynamic at play, restricting the freedom of the servant, and empowering the abuse by the master.  While we may suppose that an “infinitely other” god is immune to such abuse, mankind is not.  Thus, in our religion, if we adopt the hierarchal model of relationship, we result the an inherently abusive situation found in all religion today.

Instead, the Love Jesus commands is that of perfectly equal friendship -- something completely impossible when we think of God is any kind of “infinite other”.  This unequal relationship extends to our Mormon definition of God as Heavenly Father.  Yes, I understand the ideas behind the thought, but a relationship between father and son is not friendship, although later in life it can be to an extent.

I am suggesting that when we think of God as an exalted person, and ourselves as unexalted gods, then what makes the difference is equal love, one for another.  When we look at another person as being an enemy to god, but we are God’s friends, then we justify our dehumanization of others. When we realize that God is fully human and we are fully gods, then our relationship between each other demands respect, equality, and friendship to all.

To be a friend to god is to be friend to others.  To  love god is to love others, to see the divine within each person and fundamentally change our relationships from unequal hierarchies to mutual respect and empowerment.

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