One of the benefits of attending the SMPT conference last week was that I was able to pick up a copy of the second volume in Blake Ostler’s series on Mormon theology: Exploring Mormon Thought (Volume 2) – The Problems of Theism and the Love of God. It was supposed to come out about this time last year so it was a welcome sight sitting on the table in the lobby (even if mine came sans the dust jacket). This post will be in the first in my series covering the book. If I can stay focused I will post on the entire book over the next several weeks.
Any theology that begins with metaphysical postulates make it difficult to speak of God in interpersonal terms. (pg.1)
The first thing Blake does is set the stage to speak of God in a different manner than the usual omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence terms. The purpose of chapter 1 is to speak of God as a person with whom we should have a relationship. He paints God as one who does the old “set them free and if they return they truly love you” routine with us here on earth.
Joseph Smith’s most breath-taking and frankly audacious insight is that God seeks a peer relationship with us! … God is not after the relationship of master-to-slave, of a designer-to-the-designed, of a human to a lower species of life; rather, he seeks our love in response to his. (pg. 3)
This view brings our relationship with God to something akin to toddler and parent it seems. Interestingly, while such a close proximity to God is uniquely Mormon (most of Christianity considers such talk blasphemy) it is even too much for many Mormons, some of whom have told me they prefer a parent to zygote analogy if we must be of the same kind. The problem with that notion is that parents don’t have relationships with embryos – they have relationships with children.
Ostler supports this point by reminding readers of the uncreated and beginningless nature of human spirits that Joseph Smith preached about and how these uncreated spirits have free will to choose with whom they will have relationships.
On this view, salvation is not a status one obtains but one that arises from enjoying a loving relationship with God; and conversely sin is not an evil status but an alienation from and breaching of this relationship. (pg. 4)
Well that is a new set of goggles to see the universe through isn’t it? I like it. Salvation is entirely a result of who we know (God). Sin is only sin because of the breach in our personal relationship with God it causes. But does that mean anything that does not breach our relationship with God is not a sin?
Blake goes on to explain that only through choosing to enter a relationship with God do we remain free and that remaining in a personal relationship with God is an ongoing choice. He explains that if don’t choose a personal relationship with God (and thus heed his instructions) we end up choosing Satan (or at least the natural man and the world I presume) and thus loose freedom:
The basic understanding is that, if we hold on to the past by refusing to forgive and be forgiven, then we are captive to our past and not really free. We can become stuck in our history and habits and addictions that remain in our flesh. (pg. 7)
Of course Blake still defends libertarian free will (which he calls libertarian free agency in this volume for some reason) and goes on to point out that “A relationship is “genuine” only when it is freely chosen in the sense that it could be rejected”. (pg.8)
In pages 9-15 he cites work by Vincent Brummer and a game theory thought experiment. My only complaint here is that while he refers to our choosing to love God a “win-win” scenario he call our choosing to reject God a “win-lose” scenario. I would think that our choosing to reject God would more aptly be called a “lose-lose” scenario – or at least just “lose” since God would hardly call our rejecting him a “win”. (Hey, I know my Coveyisms)
One might complain that there is a lot of talk of personal relationships with God but no instructions on how to enter and maintain such a relationship. But it appears that Chapter 2 is all about prayer so let’s hope Blake gives readers a little how-to instruction as well.
What do you think? Any “amens”, questions, or complaints so far? I think I’m buyin’ what Blake is sellin’ up to this point in the book.
Next post: The rest of Chapter 1