In my last post which outlined the newly named Royal Empathy theory of atonement I mentioned that one important assumption of that theory was the notion taught by Joseph Smith that our Father in Heaven was a savior on a previous world. J. Stapley chimed in with support for the theory and also provided some of the quotes from Joseph Smith that teach the idea that Jesus only became as the Father is by performing an atoning work for us as the Father did before him on a previous world. Here are the key quotes as Stapley presented them in that thread:
“What did Jesus do[?] Why I do the things that I saw the father do when worlds came into existence. I saw the father work out a kingdom with fear & trembling & I can do the same & when I get my Kingdom worked out I will present to the father & it will exalt his glory and Jesus steps into his tracks to inherit what God did before.” (Words of Joseph Smith pg. 357)
The kicker is the Laub account:
“Spake in this wise, I do as my Father before me did well what did the father doo why he went & took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh & had power to lay down his life and to take it up again & this is the way we become heirs of God & joint heirs of with Jesus” (Words of Joseph Smith pg. 362)
Later at the Sermon in the Grove he repeated the sentiment:
“J. sd. as the Far. wrought precisely in the same way as his Far. had done bef “as the Far. had done bef.”he laid down his life & took it up same as his Far. had done bef”he did as he was sent to lay down his life & take it up again” (Words of Joseph Smith pg. 380)
Of course if Jesus only became like the Father by doing on this world what the Father did before him on a previous world some obvious theological questions arise. The most important of these questions a Mormon might ask is how then can we become like the Father is? (Our ability to progress to become like our Father in Heaven is a well known Mormon teaching after all.) As I understand it there are a couple of viable answers to this question. One is: We can’t. The other is that we can but doing so requires multiple mortal probations culminating in a role as a savior. I suspect that neither solution is particularly appealing to most members of the church. I’ll explain both in a little more detail below.
The Two-Track Model
One way to look at this issue is to assume that it is simply impossible for humans to become as the Father is. This is the model that J. Stapley prefers. As I understand it, the model is something like this: There is an ontological gap between humankind and the Godhead. They are eternally divine and we are eternally, well, less divine. There is a race of Gods and they watch over the likes of us and help us meet the measure of our existence. The pinnacle of our existence in this model is to become “gods” or rather kings and queens or priests and priestesses to God (aka the extended Godhead). As Joseph Smith said:
Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests (or “Queens and Priestesses”) of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. (TPJS 322)
Those who like the idea that God is a different species or kind than us will find this model appealing. Those who believe we are the same kind of beings as God and have the potential to become exactly like Him will not like this model at all. One strength it has is a clear picture of where women end up in the final picture — even if it is lower than the capacity of the race of Deity.
Multiple Mortal Probations
This model assumes that humans can become as the Father is but that it requires us to live multiple mortal probations (MMP) or at a minimum it would require at least 2 mortal probations (2MP) culminating in a role of savior just as our exemplar and adoptive spiritual father Jesus did before us. I have spent a lot of time on this subject here in the past — it was fairly popular among 19th century church leaders but has fallen on hard times among Mormons as of late. I have made it no secret that I lean toward this solution over the 2-track model.
Those who think that we are the same kind as God and that God was once a man like us will appreciate that part of this model. Of course the notion that we must live more than one mortal probation often elicits an unfavorable knee-jerk reaction and many people will reject this idea on that alone. The other weakness of this model is that it leaves a major question about the methods women become as the Father (or more specifically Heavenly Mother) is since we only have indications of Fathers and Sons in our records. There are certainly ways that such a problem could be worked around but it requires a lot of gap filling and speculating.
So there you have it. Joseph Smith taught that Jesus became as the Father is only by treading in the same footsteps the Father did before him in the role of atoning savior for a world. He further implied that such has been the pattern of Fathers and Sons worlds without end. I suspect that this probably puts a lot of you between a rock and a hard place theologically speaking, but as far as I can tell we are left with only three choices on this issue:
1.) Claim Joseph was wrong (or as Blake does, assume the records or interpretations of the sermons must be inaccurate)
2.) Go for a variation on the 2-track model
3.) Go for a variation on the MMP model
What do you think? Is there another route that can be taken that I missed? If not, which solution do you prefer and why?