Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The God I Worship, Part II

The day after my last post, I was teaching Sunday School. The lesson covered Mosiah 1-3, which includes King Benjamin's initial sermon to his people on the occasion of him passing the crown to his son, Mosiah. In this sermon, he says, "..that with power, the Lord Omnipotent, who reigneth... ".

I was, of course, aware of this verse before, but it is good to see that not only does the Lord has an ironic sense of humour, but His timing is spot on as well. ;-)

My wife told me that the last post seemed a little too lob-sided, and that the ending insufficient to balance it back. Lincoln's comment online seemed to reconfirm this. Hence the Part II.

First, I believe God to be powerful. I believe God to be the Creator of Heaven and Earth. I believe God to be powerful enough to both organize and govern the universe and comfort the distraught heart of a single soul. I believe there is nothing more powerful than God.
So why did I post with such emphasis on God's limitations?

Frankly, because we don't like to admit that He has any, despite the fact that God's limitations are important - important to our salvation.

In the Council in Heaven, Christ and Lucifer offered to become our Saviours - our God. God our Father chose Christ. Lucifer refused to cede the debate, rebelled, and was cast from Heaven. We chose to follow Christ. Many chose to follow Lucifer.

In Moses Chapter 4, the Lord quotes Satan as offering to save all mankind - that not one soul should be lost. It’s clear that this is the selling point of Satan’s plan and thus equally clear that inherent in God’s plan is that some will be lost.

So let’s be serious. On the face of it, how is this not the better offer? Plan A – some are lost. Plan B – none are lost. A third of the hosts of heaven sided with this idea. So why did God (and the other two-thirds of us) disagree.

Now, God doesn't give us the details of Satan's plan – but He does give us the two reasons why He cast Satan down – why his plan was rejected.

One reason is because Satan sought to destroy the agency of man. The other reason was rebellion – rebellion in that Satan said that since his plan would save everyone (and God’s plan doesn't), that God should give him his throne.

We learn three things from this. First, God is willing to share his power, but not give it up. That sounds almost petty at first glance – I mean, if Satan’s plan were better, wouldn’t ceding the throne be the right thing to do? Clearly, not or God would have done so. So why not?
Option one is that the part of Satan’s plan that entails destroying mankind’s’ agency is not doable. That God and/or Satan literally cannot take away mankind’s agency. Essentially, nice idea Satan, but we really can’t do it. And then Satan just doesn’t believe him and rebels anyway. In this case, of course, God is limited. Limited, that is, by His inability to actually accept Satan’s plan.

Option two is that the agency destruction is entirely possible (which is more strongly attested to when God says “the agency that I gave him”). Ah, so God is not so limited after all…

But not so fast, because He still didn’t choose Satan’s plan. He didn’t want to. He chose not to. He made a value judgment and decided that His plan, including some being lost, has an end result that is more valuable than Satan’s plan in which none are lost. As Mormons we are all familiar with the agency thing - the idea expressed repeatedly in scripture in different ways (I think most eloquently in 2 Nephi 2 and D&C 121), that we are to experience opposition and to grow and learn, and that this things we suffer will both be for our good and our exaltation if we bear them well; that we need to learn for ourselves and choose the good and reject the evil. The end result of the process being our progression and eventually our exaltation. It also means He still has a big limitation.

Put another way, God either a) couldn’t choose Satan’s plan because it was no within His power to do so, b) didn’t choose Satan’s plan because it was incompatible with His desires.

Either way God is limited because the one thing that is clear is He couldn’t choose to both exalt his children and save all of them.

I return to where I ended my last post, I believe God is mighty to save.

This is the power of God that I care about the most. I believe in the mighty powers of a marvellous God, but I also experience a world in which many people do not. They don’t for a variety of reasons, often involving the suffering and pain in the world, the death and destruction, and/or the God’s hiding – the fact that God is not evident in the same way tangible things like the sun, the moon, mountains, etc.

To say that God chooses not to do something about those things to me is equivalent as saying God cannot do something about them. Whether He lacks the power or chooses not to because He has other ends in mind is not the point, because clearly He cannot bring about His ends AND resolve all of our pain, sorrow, suffering, etc. The only other option is that He could do so and just doesn’t care enough about it to worry about it.

As I taught in the aforementioned Sunday School class, King Benjamin teaches us quite clearly that God does care. He was willing to come down, make flesh his tabernacle, and suffer the pains of this life to save us. To have his reaching out to us in love be responded to with hate. I believe He would only do so because He both loves us and because doing so was a necessary part of His desired ends.

As I said hinted at last time, I believe that in part it is because we have a co-eternal core – our intelligence - that God is seeking to empower and assist to progress. And that progress is something God can only bring about via our own choices, individually and collectively. Becoming one of us, so that we can become one with Him.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The God I Worship

I don't like the omnis. Not omni-present, not omni-scient, and least of all, omni-potent. I don't believe God to be any of those things - at least not in any traditional sort of way (and possibily not even in untraditional ways). I believe in a God that, while eternal, is also finite, or limited.

The key scripture for my dislike is Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, which reads "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." The idea behind this verse was also taught more explicitly in the King Follett discourse where, in discussing the eternal nature of our souls, Joseph said we were "co-equal" with God. "Co-equal" in the sense that neither we nor God were created, at least in the sense of "from nothing".

I believe that you, me, and everyone else have always existed. And that existence has always included some degree of freedom and choice. Now, a freedom and choice that could and can be oppressed and controlled, but nevertheless, at our core we are eternal beings and God respects that. In fact, the verse says that God can't do anything about it, at least in the sense that God cannot make us. Cannot. So much for omni-potent.

If you, me, and everyone else have always existed and have always had and still have some degree of freedom, of power of choice, than God is not omni-potent. God does not have all power, because you, me, and everyone else has some power. Either you have power or you don't. The power you have is power that God doesn't have. Put the other way, if God truly has all power, than you have none.

Omni-scient I dislike because I fall into the "If God already knows what I'm going to do, I have no choice not to do it" understanding of agency. That's probably best saved for a separate post sometime. But the idea is the same. If I have choice, if a point I really can choose A or B and it is not already determined by my background, upbringing, past choices, etc. - if, for example, I really can choose to repent (or not repent), I really can't see how God can know in advance. I've heard the arguments, I just don't buy them. That and I believe God is progressing. And that I think eternal existence would be profoundly boring if I knew everything. But for another post.

Omni-present is the easiest. I believe that God has a body (either flesh and bone or spirit, depending on what member of the Godhead we are talking about), but either way, a body. Which means quite simply if God is here he is not there. Ironically, this is also the one I am most comfortably understanding in non-traditional ways. Doctrine and Covenants 88 talks about the light that radiates from God to fill the immensity of space. I don't take issue with God having impact, influence, awareness, etc., thoughout the universe. I just think if we, as Mormons, are going to believe God has a body we should keep terms like "everywhere present". God is present where God is.

At its core, I believe God is part of the universe. While I believe in God as the Creator, I do not believe God to be the creator of the universe. Not in the "ex nihilo" fashion, from nothing. Me, you, God, matter, spirit, etc., have always existed. As Joseph phrased it once, "God, finding himself among...". God found himself in a universe. God then set about "creating it". Organizing the chaos. I happen to believe that the "ex nihilo" doctrine is one of the worse doctrines ever developed; an idea ripe with destructive potential. God is a great craftsman. An artist. He is working with us to make the universe, including us, a better place. He calls us to be craftsmen an artists with Him.

I do not believe that He is all-powerful, but I do believe, as the scriptures phrase it, that He is mighty to save (D&C 133:47).

And that, in the end, is what is important to me.