This video discusses the doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (otherwise known as the Mormon Church or LDS Church) of becoming like God. History of the belief in this doctrine (known as deification) from early biblical scriptures, the early Christian Church and up to even modern-day are covered, which can then lead to the question why are Latter-day Saints persecuted for belief in this doctrine – the focus of the second half of the video.
So, in this video I want to talk about the doctrine of deification or becoming like God, what the history of it is and the meaning and some of the challenges that we face as Latter-day Saints in this doctrine. I want to give some historical background from the scriptures, from the early Christian Church, the Church Fathers, even now, many still believe in this doctrine, and so why we have many challenges with this as Latter-day Saints from our fellow Christians or from others of different faiths.
First of all, if you look at this page here, the biblical scriptures discussing deification, both the Old and the New Testament, tremendous number of scriptures. And I want to share a couple of my favorites from here. If you look at this next page, Psalms 82:6, “I have said to your gods and all of your children of the most high.” John 10:34-36, “Jesus answered them. Is it not written in your law? I said, ye are gods.” Romans 8:16 and 17, “And if children, then heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” Galatians 4:7, “And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Revelations 3:21, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in his throne.” And then Revelations 21:7, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
And if we look at some of the early Christian Fathers, who believed in deification. Saint Irenaeus in second century, “Do we cast blame on him [God] because we were not made gods from the beginning, but were at first created merely as men, and then later as gods?”
Saint Clement of Alexandria, second century, “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god. So Heraclitus was right when he said, ‘Men are gods and gods are men.'” Saint Justin Martyr, second century, “In the beginning, men were made like God and that they are deemed thus worthy of becoming gods and of having power to become sons of the highest.” Saint Athanasius in the fourth century, “The Word was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods. Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh and henceforth inherit everlasting life. He became man that we might be made divine.” And then Saint Augustine, considered by many the greatest of the Christian Fathers said, “But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God, for he has given them power to become the sons of God. If then we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”
Now, if you think about it, these are not just Christians. They’re not just Orthodox Christians. They’re Orthodox Christian Saints, canonized saints, and three of them lived within a hundred years of the apostles, and all five of them believe in deification. This was a part of historical Christianity until relatively recent times and still is an important doctrine in some of the eastern Orthodox churches. In fact, here’s the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology. “Deification, or Greek theosis, is for Orthodoxy the goal and every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is made in the image and likeness of God. It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.”
Then even amongst some conservative Protestants, the doctrine of deification is still occasionally found. Here’s a couple of examples. Paul Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. “I am a little god. I have His name. I am one with Him. I’m in a covenant relation. I am a little god. Critics be gone.” Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, “You don’t have a god in you. You are one.” And then the famous C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian writer who died in 1963, he was a member of the Church of England. Some famous quotes from him, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest the most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
“Christ came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men, the kind of life he has by what I call good infection. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” And lastly, “He said, in the Bible, that we were gods, and he is going to make good his words if we let Him, for we can prevent him if we choose. He will make the feeblest and filthy of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly, though of course on a smaller scale, His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said.”
Now in the book by Stephen Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, He has a chapter on this topic and he says, “Actually, the real objection in modern Christian churches to the doctrine of deification is often that it implies the existence of more than one God. If human beings can become gods and yet remained distinct being separate from God, it makes for a universe of many gods. Surely C.S. Lewis realized this implication, so did the early Christian Saints. Yet like the Latter-day Saints, they did not understand this implication to constitute genuine polytheism.”
Let me actually share two lines from the Gospel Topics Essay that was written on becoming like God, that you can find on lds.org. It says, “Latter-day Saints believe that God’s children will always worship Him. Our progression will never change His identity as our Father and our God.”
And back to the book by Stephen Robinson. He says, “So let’s be clear on what Latter-day Saints do not believe. They do not believe that humans will ever be equal to or independent of God. His status or relation to us is not in any way compromised.” He says, “That even as we would sit on thrones, exercising the power of gods, those who have become gods by grace remain eternally subordinate to the source of that grace. They are extensions of their Father’s power and agents of His will. They will continue to worship and serve the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost forever, and will worship and serve no one and nothing else. If the Latter-day Saints had chosen to refer to such glorified beings as ‘angels’ instead of ‘gods’, it is unlikely anyone outside the LDS church would have objected to the doctrine per se. It seems that it is only the term that is objectionable. And yet the scriptures themselves often use the word god in this limited sense.”
Now, there is a great podcast on this topic that I’ll link in the program resources. In the LDS Perspectives Podcast, episode 63, an interview with Terryl Givens on becoming like God. I just was fascinated by this snippet here. Nick Galletti’s interviewing him and in this interview he talks about what Terryl Givens shares this story.
He says, “Years ago I had a colleague at the University of Richmond who just at the mention of the word ‘Mormonism’ would get hives. He was so hostile to the church and its theology. One day I pressed him to tell me what his real grievance against the church was. He said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell you. Do you really think a million years from now you’ll be creating worlds and peopling them with your own posterity?’ I said, ‘I’ll answer that question if you answer one first. What are you going to be doing a million years from now?’ He said, with great confidence, ‘Growing in the grace of Christ.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. That’s not fair. July 12th, four o’clock in the afternoon, one million years from today, I knock on your door. What will I find you doing?’ He thought a moment and all the air went out of his sails and he said, ‘I see your point. Anything I could say would sound absurd.'”
“I feel like I’ve discovered in the course of my study at the anti-Mormons of the last century and more the danger of heresy is not a particular belief, it’s the particularity of the belief. It’s not what it is that Mormons believe. It’s the specificity with which they make these claims. Mormons tend to be very specific, right?.”
“Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang in their book Heaven: A History, for example, have written that Mormons have a more fleshed out, detailed version of heaven than any other Christian tradition. Really all they mean by that is that Mormons populate it with humans and relationships and domestic kinds of interactions and many of the early saints, Parley Pratt and others, were quite convinced that we’ll have homes, gardens, and commerce, that life will carry on pretty much the same as it does now. There’s nothing really doctrinal that has been said along those lines, but I think Mormons kind of have the projection that God is just a perfectly benevolent and virtuous individual enmeshed in an endless web of beautiful human relationships.”
So in the Gospel Topics Essay on lds.org, I wanted to share two quick snippets. They said, “A cloud and harp are hardly a satisfying image for eternal joy, although most Christians would agree that inspired music can be of tiny foretaste of the joy of eternal salvation. Likewise, while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.”
“Latter-day Saints tend to imagine exaltation through the lens of the sacred in mortal experience. They see the seeds of godhood in the joy of bearing and nurturing children and the intense love they feel for those children, in the impulse to reach out in compassionate service to others, in the moments they are caught off guard by the beauty and order of the universe, in the grounding feeling of making and keeping divine covenants. Church members imagine exaltation less through images of what they will get and more through the relationships they have now and how those relationships might be purified and elevated. As the scriptures teach, ‘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.'”
But in reality we really don’t know a lot about what it means to be like God and we won’t know until much after this life, the specifics. A few last quotes here on this on the FairMormon website addressing this topic quote, “The reality is that we seek eternal life, which we consider to be a life like that of our Father in Heaven. We consider our immediate task on Earth to learn, to understand, and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, rather than speculate on what life might be like if we achieve exaltation.”
“Specifics about the creation of worlds and the ability to govern them upon achieving eternal life are not clarified in Latter-day Saint scripture.”
“Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.'”.
And one of my favorite quotes on this from Joseph Smith in the King Follett Discourse. “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top. And so it is with the principles of the gospel. You must begin with the first and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you pass through the veil, or die, before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world. It will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”
The last to talk about on this is part of the King Follett Discourse that Joseph said that, “God was once as one of us.” Lorenzo Snow expressed this famous couplet, “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.”
The Gospel Topics Essay mentions this, “Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, ‘That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.'”
And to conclude on this, I wanted to share one last piece from the interview with Terryl Givens on that LDS Perspectives Podcast. When talking about the King Follett Discourse being an official doctrine he says, “It depends what you bring to it. It also depends on what you consider to constitute official doctrine, because the King Follett Discourse has never been canonized, so there is no canonical expression of that idea. Over the years, one can track the history of the use of the King Follett Discourse, and it has fallen in and out of church manuals, and it has fallen in and out of the official history of the church. There seems to be kind of a recurrent uncertainty as to exactly how tightly we are going to bind ourselves, I think especially to the first half of that couplet, that God himself was once human. Most of us forget that the fact that God was once human doesn’t mean necessarily that He began as a human and progressed, but that’s the usual reading that we give it. But we believe that Christ was divine before He was human. There are other possible ways of of going with that.”
Remember Christ also said that He did nothing but what He saw the Father do, which gives more possibilities and mysteries to it. So I hope this helps. There’s a tremendous amount of speculation that’s often done on this topic, and I wanted to share a lot of the background and history with it, and I hope you found the video helpful. Subscribe for more content.
Gospel Topics Essays:
LDS.org Gospel Topics Essay – Becoming Like God https://www.lds.org/topics/becoming-l…
LDS Perspectives Podcast Episode #63 w/ Terryl Givens – Becoming Like God http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2017/1…
FairMormon website on this topic: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mo…
Are Mormons Christians? by Stephen E. Robinson
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.