In Blake Ostler’s seminal series on Mormon Thought, he proposes that the purpose of our existence is that God wants to have a peer-relationship with us. A relationship based on “love” in the truest sense of the word, where we and God are interdependent on one another for our mutual continued happiness and where we are not in a parent-child relationship, or a master-slave relationship, but a true peer to peer relationship.
There is a sort of Paradox to this. To achieve this peer-relationship, the ultimate step seems to be absolute submission.
In the Words of Neal A. Maxwell:
I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of oneâ€™s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on Godâ€™s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in Godâ€™s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then weâ€™ve really given Him the one final thing He asks of us. And the other things are not very, very important. It is the only possession we have that we can give, and there is no lessening of our agency as a result. Instead, what we see is a flowering of our talents and more and more surges of joy. Submission to Him is the only form of submission that is completely safe.
So How can this be? How is it that in order for us to have an equal relationship with someone, we must totally submit to them?
To explain my thoughts on this, let me first introduce another concept. In the late 50s, social psychologists developed what we now call the five bases of social power. These include, Legitimate, Referent, Expert, Reward, and Coercive (Please see the link for definitions, and sorry for using wiki. It is for expediency, I assure you.) I submit to you that all relationships depend on these forms of social power. As children, we defer to God for all five of the above reasons in our relationship, much like a child. In fact, we must defer to God in all these ways, just as a child must submit to their parents. Why? Because we do not have the capacity of self to be self-sufficient in these ways, either mentally, physically, or spiritually. But as a child grows up, and gains more self-sufficiency, enforced deference by means of coercion or rewards becomes less possible. Legitimate power also falls away, as the answer “Because I’m the mom” or “Because I’m the dad” becomes meaningless without the other powers to back it up. And eventually, we can know as much as our parents, and expert power thus also fades away. So we are left with referent power. There are two types of referent power, I would say. The one “based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder” and the other “based on a high level of identification with, admiration of, or respect for the power holder.” (see here) Or in other words, the one based on politics, and the other on integrity, trust, and love.
I propose that ultimately, this is the reason our Father in Heaven would have us submit our wills to him, and that he ultimately, is also submitting his will to us for the very same reason. It is, as Blake puts it, a “truly loving relationship where the happiness and growth of the beloved is the purpose and Goal of the lover.” (Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought Vol. 2, 3)
So the call for us to submit his will to God is not a paradox, but it is a reminder that he is already submitting his will to us.