For the past several months I've wanted to discuss one of the most important doctrines of the gospel: God's character (His divine nature).
No biggie, right?
It's easy for me to write about temporal matters and to critique the world we live in, but when I try to say something meaningful about the unseen (higher) reality of our spiritual world, I get tongue-tied.
Why? Because I don't want to serve you a metaphysical-word-salad. That's why I try to tie things back to the scriptures (which is our common, universal spiritual language) ― but hoping to see them in a new light.
So after several attempts at writing this Post, I scrapped the whole thing. Feeling my inadequacy, I turned to the Lord (thinking about it now, I probably should have started there) and threw my hands up in the air like Moroni:
I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words. And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands.
Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared.
(Ether 12:25, 24, 26)
I agree: Mahonri Moriancumer was lucky. He had a urim and thummim (Ether 3:23)!
So here we are: words are inadequate (and so am I); but I trust your intuition and soul-sight to fill-in-the-blanks.
What is God?
Who is God? Or should I ask, What is God? I don't mean to be impersonal, but the Lord said:
I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship.
So "what" do we worship?
This question is important because Joseph Smith taught that saving-faith requires "a correct idea (that's a relief: an "idea" means we don't need a perfect knowledge) of God's character, perfections and attributes." (See, Lectures on Faith, Third Lecture.)
The scriptures describe God's Spirit (i.e., His character, perfections and attributes) in a variety of ways:
- as a mind (Rom. 8:27) - as light (D&C 88:11) - as grace (D&C 93:11) - as power (D&C 88:13) - as 'the way' (John 14:6) - as truth (Ether 4:12) - as love (Moroni 7:47) - as life (John 14:6) - as priesthood (JST Hebrews 7:3) - as law (Romans 8:2) - as intelligence (Abr. 3:19) - as eternal (Alma 13:9) - as the Father (3 Nephi 1:14) - as the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 10:17) - as glory (Psalm 24:10) - as fire (3 Nephi 17:24)
Phew! And that is just scratching the surface. How can God's Spirit be described using so many different things? Why do we give it so many names? What do they all have in common? And most importantly, what is it? Can we put a finger on it?
All of these terms appear to refer to God's essence ― His nature or being ― which infuses all of creation (my friend Ben calls it "the divine matrix").
I think they're summed up by the phrase "the word of God" ― which is a pretty good descriptor since all these things are explicitly situated in the Personage of Jesus Christ (who is the Word of God).
For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
So whenever we talk of Christ, we might mean the Man or we might mean the Spirit. How are they different? What is Christ's Spirit actually composed of? Look at how He describes Himself:
I am the Father, I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.
But is He referring to abstractions, or is "Truth" actually something material (made of matter)? Does "Light" have heft and substance?
Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
You see, all these things I've described about God . . . also describe you.
Man was also in the beginning with God. For man is spirit. The elements are the tabernacle of God. Man is the tabernacle of God.
(D&C 93:29, 33, 35)
Notice it says the "elements" are God's tabernacle (or dwelling place)? What elements are we referring to? Hydrogen and Nickel and Beryllium?
This reminds me of something Joseph Smith taught:
"Chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory."
That's odd, isn't it? Why does the glory ("all" of it) dwell in elemental matter? Joseph continued, "Element had an existence from the time he [God] had. The pure principles of element, are principles that can never be destroyed. They may be organized and re-organized; but not destroyed."
But was Joseph Smith preaching pantheism? Pantheism is the idea that the whole universe is God; that God is the combined substance, forces and laws that exist across the cosmos.
That doesn't sound quite right. Or does it? Let's dig deeper.
Peeping Into Eternity
How does God's personal aspect (His Spiritual Being or Body) extend beyond His incarnate form (His perfected physical body) to "fill the immensity of space" (D&C 88:12)?
If we peered through heaven's microscope (seer stone - D&C 130:9) down to the molecular and subatomic levels, would we find the nanoparticles that compose our Savior's Spirit that reach into the nethermost parts of the universe?
Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.
How does one "discern" every particle of the earth, unless one's awareness (consciousness) expands to encompass all of it? Are we able to discern all things because the Spirit of God is in all and through all?
(And we want to use it to just find our lost car keys.) Look at how this principle is emphasized a second time:
And Moses beheld also the inhabitants thereof, [this is us] and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God.
Twice we're told the reason Moses was able to "discern" all of creation through the Spirit of God is because God's Spirit is in all of creation: "The day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him. Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me" (D&C 88:49-50).
So what does it actually mean for men and women to be called the "tabernacles" or "temples" of God? What does this say about our divine nature? What makes us "gods"?
Temporal/Natural vs. Spiritual
The scriptures spend an inordinate amount of ink on the creation of this earth. Which is fascinating, considering the fact that our "intelligence" was not created at all (D&C 93:29).
The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
Were our individual intelligences, in the beginning, separate from God (needing to unite with Him), or were they part of God's own intelligence originally, and spun off to become discrete intelligences, the way a tree casts its fruit?
Let us go to the beginning and see how this "thing" we're calling the "Spirit of God" created the earth:
And darkness reigned [what is "darkness"? Is it merely the absence of "light"? Or is it something material, too?] upon the face of the deep, [where are we? What is this "deep"?] and the Spirit of the Gods [ah, so we see the Spirit of God is also "the Spirit of the Gods" = plural] was brooding ["brooding"? Like Edward Cullen, the vampire in the Twilight series?] upon the face of the waters.
I've heard people say that the creation account in the Book of Abraham is a spiritual creation (prior to the temporal creation) because the Gods say: "We will do everything that we have said" (Abraham 4:31), suggesting a future work. Even the chapter headings say "the Gods plan the creation."
To better understand this distinction between a spiritual and a physical (natural) creation, let us go to D&C 29:
The first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things
No, this isn't speaking about gospel dispensations and Jews and Gentiles. Here, the Lord is teaching about the creation.
Since Christ was the "firstfruits of of them that slept" (i.e., the resurrection) (1 Cor. 15:20), does that imply He'll be the "last-fruits" of something?
Whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit
What is "the power of my Spirit"? He uses it synonymously with "the word of my power." That helps, because in the Book of Moses we learn that "the word of my power . . . is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth" (Moses 1:32), even Jesus Christ.
"The power of my Spirit" seems to be describing the grace and truth found in Jesus Christ. This is important because grace is a two-way street. If grace is the quality of creative action in-and-through Christ, does this mean being a "Creator" is having spiritual and/or temporal matter "respond" to you as you offer grace?
For by the power of my Spirit created I them; yea, all things both spiritual and temporal―
Remember, God does not create "ex nihilo." (TPJS p. 350-351). So when He says He "created them," that doesn't mean they sprang from nothing.
Instead, if we substitute "the power of my Spirit" with "Christ's grace," then we see that all creative (and redemptive) work is manifest in the spiritual and temporal ordering of things that are intrinsically connected to Jesus Christ. We call this the light of Christ (D&C 88:11-13).
This is the "power of God" which gives life to everything, and is the "law by which all things are governed" (D&C 88:13).
Let's pause and clear up a misunderstanding about what it means to "be governed." You know Joseph Smith taught we should "govern ourselves"; but rather than thinking of being "governed" as an oppressive thing, it's just the opposite: God's governance is the means of conferring life to all things. What is it about being "governed" by God that bestows life on us?
Think of gravity: we are governed by God in the way the planets are "governed" by gravity: our respective spiritual masses create life from that union, like the Sun and the Moon blessing the earth with life by welcoming earth into their orbits.
We find this symbolism in the Book of Abraham talking about the planets. That may sound confusing, so let me try again. To be governed, in this context, does not mean to "be ruled." After all, we are intelligences (which are self-organizing) and are independent; to be governed by God is to be placed (organized) in a relationship to Him.
What might surprise us is that we're not just talking about the spiritual world: this specifically identifies our "temporal" reality as being ordered (formed) by this power, too.
First spiritual, secondly temporal, which is the beginning of my work;
Notice the sequence, which introduces an element of "time" to creation. A time "before" and a time "after" we've responded to (united with) Christ's Spirit, having received His grace and entered into a relationship (orbit) with Him.
Like the movement of the stars and planets, creation is not one-and-done; creation did not end once the sun and moon were placed in sky. No, creation evolves and continues; it goes on and on and on, cycle after cycle, season after season, year after year, as the sun and moon continue to minister to the earth, giving it life and seasons.
Eternity, then, is a condition of continuous creation as celestial bodies (both kinds) exchange grace in a life-giving cycle.
What boggles the mind is to imagine countless worlds and children being organized in a manner that not only sustains life, but creates new life. For "the heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man" (Moses 1:37). The heavens are innumerable.
and again, first temporal, and secondly spiritual,
Now we see the order (the workings of creation) has reversed itself; the sequence has flipped.
which is the last of my work― Speaking unto you that you may naturally understand; but unto myself my works have no end, neither beginning.
Well, that was confusing! At least we can take comfort in the fact that the Lord does not seem worried about being hyper-technical about the mechanics of how this all works; He just wants us to "naturally understand."
But understand what, exactly? What is His point? Well, let me make it as plain as I can: every time the Lord gets philosophical about the creation, it is in relation to our agency.
Adam, your father, whom I created, behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself.
What does it mean for "intelligences" to become agents unto themselves? I thought we were supposed to be "one" with God; and now we're told the purpose of creation is differentiation?
The devil rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency.
Satan wanted to "destroy the agency of man," right? So look at how the Lord defines agency:
Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
That's curious: remember what we just read in the creation account about the "light"?
And the earth was without form, and void; and I caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep; and my Spirit moved upon the face of the water; for I am God. [Who is God? WE ARE. At least, if:] And I, God, saw the light.
A God is someone who, having agency, is able to perceive (discern) (see) the light, even the light of truth ― the same light that we call intelligence, which is the glory of God; they are Fathers and Mothers who see the Light not only in themselves, but in others.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Linear Thinking (2D) vs. 3D Thinking
We commonly view ourselves progressing along a continuum of spiritual laws, from a lesser degree to a greater degree (2D thinking).
Now, if we're picturing a straight line and us as a dot on that line, we'd represent advancement (progression) as moving along the line (up or forward vs. going down or backwards).
But that is not quite right; instead of thinking of progression as movement along a linear line (or "ladder") ― going from A to Z (from "one rung" to another) ― what if we imagined progression as a sphere expanding outwards, enveloping all things within itself?
Okay, you're envisioning an all-encompassing sphere ("consciousness"), and I bet you're picturing yourself as a dot somewhere in it. Am I right? Like we're tiny dots, or stars, against the dark night sky?
The problem is we're picturing ourselves as a dot somewhere in the cosmic plan. But what happens if we aren't the dot at all ― but are, in fact, the sphere itself? What if all that was within the sphere, became the sphere?
The apostle Paul taught that God ("the Father of glory") reveals the Lord Jesus Christ unto us (Ephesians 1:17). Well, the scriptures tell us that we see Him "not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual" (D&C 67:10). What does it mean to see God with our "spiritual mind"?
And [Father] set him [Christ] . . . to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Hmmm. How does Christ's "body" and His fulness "filleth all in all"?
He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him, and his is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things, and all things are by him, and of him, even God.
Nobody will argue over the fact God (Christ) has a physical body of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39). He's got two feet and ten toes, wounds in His hands, and weighs maybe 11 stone.
But! What about God's spiritual body? What is it that allows Him to be in all things?
The Mind (Body) of God
In Lecture 5:2 of The Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith (who edited them, if not authored them), said that Jesus Christ "received a fulness of the glory of the Father, possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit that bears record of the Father and the Son."
This statement explains, I think, what Paul meant when he said: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.
Now, I need to go on a brief tangent. Whenever anyone speaks about this passage in Ephesians 4, it is in terms of priesthood officers, used to bolster the authority claims of the Church ("he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists").
But Paul wasn't looking down the corridors of time, interested in what President Russell M. Nelson was doing in 2023; Paul was focused on Christ (if Paul knew how we misuse his words to fixate on mortal priesthood leaders, he'd probably have a spiritual stroke).
In Ephesians 4, Paul is telling us to "walk not as other Gentiles, in the vanity of their mind [as opposed to "the mind of God"], having their understanding darkened" (Ephesians 4:17-18).
How do Gentiles "darken" their understanding? Well, Joseph Smith alluded to this passage when he taught the Relief Society:
Prest. J. Smith rose, read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel -- said the Lord had declar'd by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men... applied it to the present state of the church of Latter-Day Saints, said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall -- that they were depending on the prophet, hence were darkened in their minds.
("Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book," p. 51, The Joseph Smith Papers)
On the other hand, Paul was saying we need to OUTGROW our dependence on others for our spiritual meat ("be no more children" (Ephesians 4:14)), foreseeing a day when the children of Christ would "grow up" (Ephesians 4:15) and receive the mind of Christ who "maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).
So bizarrely, we use the passage to focus on the grease monkeys at the pit stop (the prophets and apostles), who are only there to give us a change of oil so we can proceed on our journey to Christ, until we all arrive to become perfected in Him.
Missing Paul's point, we're parked at the lube garage, having forgotten where we were headed, engrossed in the costs of repairs to our car.
End of tangent.
Physics of the Spirit
What are we to make of dark energy (68% of the universe) and dark matter (27% of the universe)? Have we considered the fact that everything science has ever studied makes up only 5% of the known universe?
I mean, the atomic nucleus wasn't even discovered until 1908. Subatomic particles (pions) were discovered in 1947 (that was the year my dad was born; so the entire study of subatomic particles has occurred within his lifetime).
I feel humbled by our ignorance; by how little we know about the workings of the temporal and spiritual universe.
You've heard of Michael Faraday ("faraday cage"), who first realized that electric and magnetic fields are not only fields of force which govern the motion of particles, but also fields having an independent physical reality because they carry energy.
Today we call it the electromagnetic field. Electromagnetism is one of the fundamental forces of nature (a fundamental force is one that cannot be reduced to a more basic interaction).
There are only four fundamental forces that we're currently aware of:
We're all familiar with gravity, and perhaps electromagnetism. But what about weak and strong interactions? What are those?
The strong and weak interactions produce forces at minuscule, subatomic distances and govern nuclear interactions inside atoms.
A gravitational field (thanks Sir Isaac) is produced by any body that has mass (which is why some of us are so "attractive").
According to Wikipedia, a gallon jug of water contains an electrical charge; so if we take a second jug and place it next to the first one, the electrical charges of two jugs will repel each other with the force of:
[1 (2.1 x 10-to-the-eighth x C-squared, divided by 4-pie (1m)-squared = 4.1 x 10-to-the-twenty-sixth x N]
I have no idea what that means, but apparently it is a force many times larger than the weight of the planet earth.
So why don't those two jugs of water blow us to smithereens? Because the atomic nuclei in one jug repels those in the other with the same (proportional) force. They balance each other (no net force).
Anyone who has taken chemistry knows the size of an atom is determined by the electrostatic attraction between the positive nucleus and the valence electrons. The force of this attraction is proportional to the size of charge and inversely proportional to the distance between the charges.
And when atoms interact, they create something new; for example, hydrogen and oxygen will combine to create water (H2O).
The point I want to make is that the universe is comprised of reactions and counter-reactions; of forces and counter-forces. Energy is created from heat, light, motion, electrical fields, chemical reactions, nuclear and gravitational forces.
What's it all for?
Our bodies are bioelectromagnetic (say that three times fast). Every cell in our bodies is bathed in an external and internal environment of fluctuating invisible forces.
Take our heart's electromagnetic field: its energy extends about three feet outside of a person's physical body and can be detected in another person sitting nearby via an electrocardiogram (ECG).
Or consider our nervous system; it is well established by scientific studies that our nervous system acts as an antenna, which is tuned to and responds to the magnetic fields produced around us (including by the hearts of other individuals nearby). Synchronization can even occur between people and their pets!
Today we know DNA is a type of semiconductor. But did you know that DNA generates a longitudinal wave that propagates in the direction of the magnetic field vector? That's why DNA has a double-helix structure, to facilitate the conduction of energy.
But you might be wondering, why does DNA need to transmit energy? Well, waves connect our cells allowing them to "communicate." The cells throughout our bodies are not disconnected and alone; they are part of a beautiful biological network that works together to make . . . you.
Have you ever seen a picture and wondered if it was our brain or an image of the universe? How can two things so vastly different in scale look so similar?
I've introduced a lot of questions in this post, but few answers. But remember this: God is love (1 John 4:8). The loving interactions between God and us exert a force upon the world around us, creating a field to which glory is drawn, and in which glory becomes manifest.
I want you to read the following words in a new light; divorce them from your previous understanding, and do not relate them to the Church organization; do not associate them with the temples of stone and mortar we build with hands; no, instead, pretend these words speak of you: the temple of God.
An house shall be built unto the Lord, [our bodies?] and a cloud shall rest upon it, [our spirits?] which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house. [how does the the Lord's glory, his 'fulness', fill our bodies?]
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. [we know about outward ordinances, like baptism and the temple rituals; but what sort of inward, spiritual ordinances is this talking about?]
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, [not the Church's priesthood authority, but instead the power of something which is without beginning of days nor end of years (which sounds a lot like our eternal spirits)] the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; [although this power is ever-present and manifest in the spirit] For without this [what is the antecedent for "this"?] no man can see the face of God, [what exactly does this refer to, to see God's FACE (as opposed to his "back parts" (Exodus 33:23); and what happened for Jacob to say, "I have seen God face to face" (Genesis 32:30)?] even the Father, and live.
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence.
(D&C 84:5, 19-24)
As Paul said, so will I conclude this post:
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you; my love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (1 Cor. 16:23-24).