The final chapter in Blake Ostler’s new book is titled “God the Eternal Father” and is his treatment of two seminal sermons by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the final months of his life; the King Follett Discourse given in April 1844 and the Sermon in the Grove given less than two weeks before his death in June of 1844. Since these sermons have been the topic of discussion here as of late I am skipping ahead to cover chapter 12 now. Blake’s interpretation of these sermons is quite unusual and controversial I think. His conclusions include the following:
1) God did not come to be a God but has been divine and in the Godhead forever. This applies to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost according to Blake.
2) While God, the Father of Jesus, did condescend to become a mortal on one of the innumerable previous inhabited planets, he is the ultimate Celestial Monarch and has no “Eternal Father” of his own. Further, Blake holds that the Father was not a Savior to the world to which he condescended.
I will address 2) in the next post and focus only on 1) here. Here are the arguments Blake uses to defend 1).
A.) Blake first points to several scriptures that indicate God has always been God. His assumption is that these scriptures apply to the persons in the Godhead for our world.
“from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Ps. 90: 2)
“The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end” (D&C 20:28)
“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?” (Moses 1:3-5)
“By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them” (D&C 20:17)
B.) Blake points to the evidence in the King Follett Discourse that the Father was divine prior to the mortal probation which Jesus’s mortal probation here mirrored. He quotes the following passages to show that Jesus did just what the Father did:
It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible… The Scriptures inform us that Jesus said, As the Father hath power in Himself, even so hath the Son power-to do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious-in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again.
What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.
Blake seems to believe that if the Father was divine prior to doing everything that Jesus did here on another planet that means there was never a time prior to his becoming God.
C.) Blake acknowledges that some passages of the KFD directly contradict his theory so he strains to overcome that hurdle. He quotes these passages from the amalgamated version (emphasis mine):
Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. … it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
First, Blake rejects the idea that God the Father was a non-divine person who became a God because he claims that such a notion “assumes the classical notion of perfection as an absolute upper limit beyond which it is impossible to progress.” I have no idea why Blake would conclude that just because a non-divine person could progress to the point of being divinity that it assumes that further progression from “one exaltation to another for all eternity” would not be possible. He asserts this but does not adequately explain or defend it in chapter 12.
Next, Blake attempts to discredit that troublesome quote from the amalgamated KFD which clearly refutes his position. To do so he claims that the amalgamated version must be wrong and that even though the Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff diaries support the quote in the amalgamated version and the William Clayton supports it too though less clearly, the Thomas Bullock report has Joseph saying the opposite (though as you will see, that is debatable). Here are the quotes (emphasis mine):
“Is a man like one of yourselves.-should you see him to day. you would see a man in fashion and in form. Adam was formed in his likeness.5-refute the idea that God was God from all eternity-Jesus said as the father had power in himself even so hath the son power6 to do what the father did. Lay down his body. & take it up again.-you have got to learn how to make yourselves God, Kings, Priests, &c.7-by going from a small to great capacity”
(Willard Richards Diary)
“I want you to understand God and how he comes to be God. We suppose that God was God from eternity. I will refute that Idea, or I will do away or take away the veil so you may see. It is the first principle to know that we may converse with him and that he once was a man like us, and the Father was once on an earth like us”
(Wilford Woodruff Diary)
“1st God that sits enthroned is a man like one of yourselves. That is the great secret. If the veil was rent to day & the great God who holds this world in its sphere or its orbit-the planets-if you were to see him today you would see him in all the person image, very form of man, For Adam was created in the very fashion of God. Adam recieved instruction walked talked as one man with another. In order to understand the subject of the ded for the consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends necessary they should understand Going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity-These are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle of the gospel-to know that we may converse with him as one man with another & that he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh-If I have the privilege could tell the story in such a manner as persecution would cease forever. Said Jesus (mark it Br. Rigdon)”
(William Clayton Report)
“friend it is necy. to understand the char. & being of God for I am going to tell you what sort of a being of God. for he was God from the begin of all Eternity & if I do not refute it-truth is the touchstone they are the simple and first princ: of truth to know for a certainty the char. of God that we may conv[erse] with him same as a man & God himself the father of us all dwelt on a Earth same as Js. himself did & I will shew it from the Bible”
(Thomas Bullock Report)
So the Thomas Bullock report leaves open the slim possibility that Blake’s position is right. Of course the problem with that claim is that Joseph lived another 2 1/2 months after the KFD was given and from what I can tell, all of his closest friends and confidantes understood his actual position to match the report that we get from Wilford Woodruff. The notion that God came to be God is certainly the understanding that Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Lorenzo Snow, and seemingly all of his companions in church leadership shared. For Blake’s position to be accepted, we have to accept that this was a colossal misunderstanding and that none of the top leaders of the church bothered to confirm what the prophet actually meant in the nearly three months after this astonishing sermon was given. If you can’t tell – I think the chances of that being true are essentially zero.
Now Blake does have a back-up argument:
Moreover, even if Joseph Smith did state that he intended to refute the idea that God had been God from all eternity… The assertion that the Father is not divine from all eternity entails only that there was a period of time during which he was not divine – it does not require that he was not divine before that period of time. (441)
So while it is quite a stretch, I guess Blake does have that to cling to. One problem he faces with this is trying to show that the Father did not serve as a savior when he was in mortality as Joseph very clearly seemed to teach. If he was a savior then it would be somewhat difficult to defend the idea that he was not divine in mortality as well. We’ll deal with that in the next post, though.
I think that Blake’s A.) is his strongest point. It is an interesting challenge to explain how God could be God for all eternity while at the same time say he became a God. The solution is in the equivocal nature of the term “God”, though. The term “God” can refer to the individual divine persons that make up the Godhead, or it can refer to the entire Godhead as a cohesive unit. Simply because God, the father of Jesus, has a beginning as a God does not mean that God the unity of divine persons (however many there may be) that make up the One God must have a beginning. Blake tries to use this equivocal nature to show that the person who is the father of Jesus has no beginning as a God and that just does not work in light of the KFD and Sermon in the Grove. Therefore, his B.) has no real value in proving his point in my opinion. Every model of eternity I know of makes room for the idea that a person could grow to the point of becoming exalted and thus divine prior to a mortality in the role of Savior. We have discussed that here at length recently. Last, as I have already noted, Blake’s C.) is a massive stretch to say the least.
I have made it no secret that I think Blake is usually right in his theology. This is one instance when I think he is just plain wrong. It seems to me that he is trying to force the teachings in the KFD to fit into the theological mold he already has in mind. As I mentioned in the last post, I think the proper approach is to take a plain and intuitive reading the KFD and Sermon in the Grove and use that as the lens through which we read all previous revelations about God and all reality. Trying to fit the sublime teachings from the KFD into a theology based on a pre-KFD paradigm just doesn’t work.
So what do you think? Did God the Father progress to Godhood from a non-divine status or not?
[Associated radio.blog song: Madness - Yesterday's Men. I love this song and it seemed to be a good fit considering the historical focus of this post.]