God as a Person

May 30, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 12:23 am   Category: Eternal Progression,Theology

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man,
and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.

There is no debate over whether or not God is a person. On that point everyone agrees. The trouble begins when we try to pin down what it means to be a person and whether or not God can have all the characteristics we attribute to him and still be personal.

The Setup

The “otherness” of God so commonly stressed in traditional Christian theology creates problems in this regard. Our notions of what it means to be a person are derived from our experiences with other people. If God is radically unlike us, it becomes difficult to explain how he is still a person. It is no good demoting ourselves from personhood to say that God is the only true person and we are all sub-personal. This maneuver has certainly been tried, but it is an abuse of language. It is impossible to divorce the word “person” from the source of its meaning, which is quite clearly our experiences with one another.[1] Thus, I contend that we (you and I) are indisputably people; if God is a person too, then we must have some things in common with God. Namely, the things that make us all people.

The debate over God’s personhood is old and complicated and frequently involves attempts to “boil down” personhood into a list of must-haves. So, we end up with lists that try to capture the essence of personhood:

(1) rational consciousness
(2) self-consciousness
(3) self-determination
(4) the capacity to have relationships with other persons.[2]

Given such a list, we argue about whether or not God, as we’ve described him, can have all of these things. As an example, one such question which comes up frequently is: Can a being who lives outside of time form relationships with other persons?

Many questions like this have been asked and they have all received a fair amount of attention–all except those which are unique to Mormon theology. The idea that man can become like God greatly complicates the problem of God’s personhood and this gets almost no attention in Mormon theological discourse, as far as I can tell.

The Uniquely Mormon Angle

With that in mind I would like to propose an additional requirement for personhood:

(5) distinguishing characteristics (i.e. personality) which allow for each individual person to be distinguished from all others

In traditional Christian thought, this requirement poses no difficulty whatsoever. There is only one God, and everything about him is unique. Nothing threatens his individuality because there can be, by definition, only one such being. By contrast, Mormon theology must accommodate many gods. Traditional Christianity, bound to a God of absolutes, are left to argue about the definition of a “person.” They have the difficult task of formulating a definition of “person” that is compatible with a timeless, passionless, immutable God in which three persons share one substance. The result is typically a redefinition and/or pairing down of the word “person” to conform to a pre-existing concept of God.

In my view, Mormon theology must take the opposite approach. If we are serious about our doctrine of deification, we must redefine God, as necessary, to accomodate his personhood. If God is an exalted man, then he must be a person in essentially the same way that we are persons. Most importantly, he must be a person in all the ways I expect to be a person if I am exalted. (Pause for added emphasis.)

If God’s existence is the kind I aspire to, then it must promise nothing short of a full manifestation of personality. I feel justified demanding the preservation of my individuality and personality because I’ve been taught to prize them by Mormon theology itself. As Joseph Smith said, “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” (D&C 130:2). The sociality we now enjoy cannot exist without differences between individuals.

I’m guessing there is not too much disagreement yet. The controversial part comes when we start checking to see if individuality and personality are compatible with the God we have accepted. But I’d better leave some controversy for a follow-up post.

Do we agree so far? What are your thoughts on my proposed (5)? What kinds of differences do you imagine existing between deified people?


[1] Incidentally, it is equally useless to try to get around the problem by saying that God is super-personal, because we can think of nothing for “super-personal” to mean that “personal” does not already mean. As Blake Ostler said: “Personality, however illusive its definition, is the highest attribute we know.” (Blake Ostler, The Mormon Concept of God, Dialogue Vol 17 no. 2) Blake used a nearly identical line in his first book, but I can’t recall the page number.
[2] From http://allanturner.com/ss01.html, quoting Jack Cottrell, What The Bible Says About God The Creator pg. 237.

47 Comments »

  1. On the one hand, this goes very well with the concept of godhead over Trinity, on the other, it utterly destroys Geoff’s HM/HF literal unity idea. That said, I like where you are goig so far, though I am having a hard time defining these distinguishing characteristics (personality), I mean we aren’t talking about a freckle or a favorite color, and if there are an infinite number of beings, then there must be an infinite number of distinctive characteristics…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 30, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  2. Jacob,

    I would agree that there must be distinguishing characteristics? How significant can these differences be and how much do they need to be, I don’t know. Maybe some God’s are more violent than others. Maybe some feel that a more hands off approach is better, maybe some aren’t as excited about this whole creation scheme. Maybe some are very creative with their world decoration and animal creation.

    Obviously there must be certain characteristics we have that make us like God, but beyond that I would imagine infinite variety.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 30, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  3. I don’t know that a fifth requirement is necessary. I mean, don’t the four must-haves, by definition, require a base personality? It seems redundant to highlight the personality since it’s necessarily implied by the other four.

    Comment by Adam — May 30, 2007 @ 8:15 am

  4. Hi Jacob, I read your post on “time” to catch up. Thanks for the link.

    I think God is timeless and yet still able to be everywhere in the temporal, time-constricted world that is created.

    And because of biblical text, I don’t know how theologians can express God is passionless. I believe God reflects both absolute immutability and relational mutability (I have been reading Bruce Ware, lately. He is a breath of fresh air).

    As far as your number (5), are your trying to explore how each god can be unique in the biblical sense?

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 30, 2007 @ 8:24 am

  5. Thanks for the thoughts so far.

    Adam, while I can understand reading the first four and thinking they are redundant with (5), I have learned that you can’t take anything for granted. There are definitely people who will agree with the first four and not with (5).

    All the same, I’d be interested which of (1)-(4) you see as necessarily implying (5). The most obvious to me seems like (3) self-determination, but it is not logically impossible for two people with free-will to choose the same thing in every situation. In fact, many people would argue this is the case with God the Father and God the Son. Where is the necessary redundance?

    Todd,

    I think God is timeless and yet still able to be everywhere in the temporal, time-constricted world that is created.

    This sounds a bit like saying, “I think God can create a round square.” Or, “I think God is a married bachelor.” Saying that God can do nonsensical things does not make those things coherent. The meaning of the word “timeless” is that God does not exist in time, just like the meaning of “bachelor” is that the person is not married.

    And because of biblical text, I don’t know how theologians can express God is passionless.

    Agreed.

    As far as your number (5), are your trying to explore how each god can be unique in the biblical sense?

    I think so, but I am not certain what you mean by the “biblical sense” in that sentence. From a Mormon perspective, in which my potential exaltation is described in terms of becoming like God, the question arises of what I will be like if I make it. Will I become exactly like God in every way? Will I retain something of my individuality? If so, what part? Because of our view of exaltation, these questions about me are directly applicable to the nature of God today. That is what I am trying to get at. For an example of the kind of view that worries me (theologically) see this post and note my comment #2.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 30, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  6. Hmm. I’ll amend my comments and say that while each of the characteristics require some kind of base, some thinking personality or cogito or whatever, none of them, as currently defined, appear to necessitate a unique and individual personality. On the surface, 2 and 4 seem to require a distinct identity where the personality distinguishes itself from others, but I guess there’s still room for a collective identity of sorts like the one you mentioned with regard to the godhead.

    As to the differences between deified people, that’s a tough one. In some respects, there will be a great deal of unity and sameness. Take the godhead, for example, or the City of Enoch where the citizens were of “one heart and one mind.” Where does the sameness end and the uniqueness begin?

    Comment by Adam — May 30, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  7. I hope God has a personality or we’re all screwed.

    Comment by annegb — May 30, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  8. Ha ha, well said annegb.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 30, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  9. Hmm. Why can’t we say that personhood=being a spirit? And if spirits are material in some sense, then shouldn’t it be possible for God to be identical to another being while still remaining a person? After all, if we have two identical tennis balls, we wouldn’t say that we only have one tennis ball.

    Of course, you might argue that the tennis balls have at least one property that isn’t shared, which is their physical location. If you widen your definition of distinguishing characteristics to include whatever the analog of physical location is for spirits, than I think you are right that God must have some distinguishing characteristics. But I don’t think that different personality traits are necessary to have distinguishing characteristics.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 30, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  10. Adam G.,

    I don’t think the idea that spirits are mere assemblies of amorphous spirit matter is very plausible. Joseph Smith taught that spirit-intelligences have no beginning or end (cf. Abr 3:18). That clearly would not be the case if it were possible to construct a new one. It would also beg the question of why not construct spirits in an exalted celestial state instead of a fallible pre-mortal one.

    The scripture says this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That doesn’t seem like much of a project unless there is something everlastingly eternal about each person – what we usually call the intelligence.

    I agree with Jacob. Personality without identity seems like an oxymoron to me.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 30, 2007 @ 9:37 pm

  11. I just can’t believe God is a lemming nor would he want to be. Individuality and Personality seem essential.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 30, 2007 @ 11:48 pm

  12. Jacob,

    I don’t see any inconsistancy between my Mormon-influenced view of God and any of the 5 points you listed. To me, your #4 is explained quite nicely with the JS view of eternal sociality (it allows that God has brothers and sisters to socialize with in a celestial way). Rather than complicating things, as you suggested, man becoming like God and the subsequent plurality of Gods part of mormonism makes it easier to see God as a person, I think. It makes the whole thing more personable.

    Number 5, to me, seems like a no brainer, but maybe that’s just me. I don’t think that that weird painting of the identical Father and Son in the grove with Joseph means that all exalted persons are identical, without distinguishing characteristics, be they physical or personality-wise. Sure, it’s easy to imagine that the Gods have distinguishing differences in personality. They have individual preferences over harp music and which race of people they are going to make the chosen people this time. It may not be quite as anthropromorphic as the Greek pantheon, but strip away the human foibles and I don’t see a problem. So number five is fine.

    Why is it people have a hard time seeing God as a person? Is it the “mortal” implications that we naturally associate with the word person? You have these elevations like sub-person or super-person. Is that because it seems like we are deflating God to call him a person? I don’t know, it’s not a problem for me.

    You know, after that last go-around with Satan’s personhood I was all geared up to come over here and see some real controversy. Is this the best you’ve got? :)

    Comment by Glenn — May 31, 2007 @ 3:28 am

  13. Adam (#9),

    Just to choose a totally arbitrary number, let’s imagine that 1 million people from this earth are found good and faithful at the judgment day and are eventually exalted in the celestial kingdom. And, since you seem like a good guy, let’s say you are one of them. Are you okay with the idea that when you get there, the only difference left between you and anyone else is your physical location? One single personality shared by everyone? Never a difference of opinion between you and any other of your 1 million neighbors. Does anything about that image bother you?

    Glenn,

    hehe. Glad we agree so far. As I said at the end of the post, the real controversy starts when we check this against other assumptions about God’s existence. Working on that post now.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  14. Never a difference of opinion between you and any other of your 1 million neighbors. Does anything about that image bother you?

    Jacob: What kind of differences of opinion are we talking about here? If everyone in post mortality knows what God knows, a lot of things that are subjective to us are not subjective to him.

    For example, we could argue about the best way to discipline a child, because we can not really compute all the data to see what really is the best way. God however, could compute all the data and thus would not opine, but would know what is best.

    On the other hand, preference in ice cream flavours, musical selections, colors, and other mondane things I am sure will be completely left up in the air. (I guess if two forms of disciplining a child were equivilant, they two would be left up in the air.)

    But we will all know that the variety of opinion is not critical, so I don’t feel differences of opinion will escalate into passionate debates, etc…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 31, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  15. Matt,

    Your comment leads very well into the next level to which I plan to take this. The idea that God can “compute all the data” and thus know the answer to everything so that there is never a difference of opinion between divine beings is not an idea I sign up for. Your suggestion that divine beings may have differences in their favorite flavors of ice cream, but not on anything substantive or important seems almost as untenable to me as saying their only differences are in their physical location. I will concede that I expect there to be less subjectivism in the celestial kingdom than there is here, due to increased knowledge and understanding, but I won’t concede that subjectivism will be eliminated. Do you think that all the decisions made by divine beings are made computationally? Like a big math problem where you get to the one correct answer and that’s the decision you make? Such an idea makes God into a big computer rather than a person in my estimation.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  16. And, since you seem like a good guy, let’s say you are one of them. Are you okay with the idea that when you get there, the only difference left between you and anyone else is your physical location? One single personality shared by everyone? Never a difference of opinion between you and any other of your 1 million neighbors. Does anything about that image bother you?

    I’m ok with it, but that’s irrelevant. Whether you want to have a different personality and whether you have to have a different personality to have personhood are two different questions. I just haven’t seen any argument at all for the latter proposition. Whatever the nature of spirits and intelligences, I don’t see why the concept of two identical intelligences is non-intelligible. It seems quite plausible to me that if I were duplicated, the two of us would still be two beings and not one.

    Anyway, I think its probably possible to have identical personalities but to still have differences other than physical location. We could have identical personalities, for example, but different histories. We would be in the same place, character wise, but would have taken somewhat different paths to have gotten there. We could also have different relationships, different stewardships, and different obligations.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 31, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  17. Do you think that all the decisions made by divine beings are made computationally? Like a big math problem where you get to the one correct answer and that’s the decision you make? Such an idea makes God into a big computer rather than a person in my estimation.

    Why on earth would that be the true? In effect, the more I know and the wiser I become the less of a person I am?

    It seems to me that when I finally have a crystal clear understanding of my goals and a crystal clear understanding of how to achieve them, only then am I fully a person.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 31, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

  18. Matt,

    I don’t know why we have to assume there even is a “best” way for many things. Best is determined by a host of factors, principally what your desired result is. In addition, there are the additional factors of whether certain means to achieve that goal are allowable or not. This allows for a wide divergence of substantive opinions and ideas. I imagine when God’s council, they truly council. The idea that there is one way, one best way, is somewhat bothersome to me. I am much more fond of the idea of God and God’s trying their best and truly progressing in intelligence.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 31, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  19. Adam (#16),

    I’m ok with it, but that’s irrelevant.

    It is irrelevant to the facts of what the celestial kingdom is really like, but it is not at all irrelevant to what we choose to believe about the celestial kingdom. Since we don’t know the facts, it is entirely relevant to this discussion. The fact that you are okay with that idea almost certainly plays a part in your accepting it. The fact that I find it unacceptable is a big reason for my rejection.

    I just haven’t seen any argument at all for the latter proposition.

    If you read the post, which you did, then you have seen arguments for it, but you seem to be misunderstanding the type of argument I am putting forward. I am not saying it is a logical error to say two people could have the same personality. I am saying that a society in which every person has the same personality is not a society of “people” in the full sense of that word. I believe personality is essential to full personhood, and personality entails substantive distinctness.

    It is also not a logical error to believe we all lose our identities and become part of a universal oneness in a state of nirvana. However, I don’t find this concept to be compatible with scriptures like D&C 130:2. Same sort of argument as the one in the post.

    Why on earth would that be the true? (#17)

    It seems straightforward. If every one of God’s actions is determined by a computation, then this is the essence of a computer. In my view, the world is full of problems for which there is no one “correct” answer or solution. Gaining wisdom doesn’t change that, so I don’t think gaining wisdom makes you any less of a person.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

  20. Joshua (#18),

    Exactly. I’m glad you brought up the idea of a council in heaven. The idea of a council of gods doesn’t make a lot of sense if there is nothing to discuss.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 31, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  21. Questions of the same type (kinda): “Why did a 1/3 part of the host of heaven rebel”? The primary answer is, of course that they had their agency. The deeper question/answer is troubling (to me). Do all Gods “save” 2/3 of their children in the first estate (and ‘a million’ in the second estate)? What characteristics of God determined this number? Was He free to chose his kids, or were they assigned to Him, or did He scoop up a random pile of spirits? When did He know (or learn) who would make it and who wouldn’t? Once He learned who would fail did He use them as “stumbling blocks” against those who would succeed so as to provide testing?

    Comment by Daylan — May 31, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  22. Jacob J.,

    I don’t think we have anything to discuss. You take it as given that variation in characteristics is desirable. I do not. You take it as given that certainty as to the course one should take is undesirable. I do not. You take it as given that come questions won’t have optimal solutions. I do not.

    I had thought you were arguing from other aspects of personhood to the conclusion that “personality is essential to full personhood, and personality entails substantive distinctness.” Instead, it appears that you are simply defining personhood this way.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 1, 2007 @ 6:57 am

  23. Adam (#22),

    I appreciate your comments so far. I think you correctly highlight the fact that I am relying heavily on my own dislike of the idea that we all become indistiguishable. That is not the entirety of my argument, but I acknowledge that it is a big factor for me.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, we know almost nothing about what it will be like in the celestial kingdom or why we will like it best (in some ways, the telestial sounds more interesting). If I contemplate what it is I like about my current existence, it always seems to come down to relationships with family and friends. I have always loved D&C 130:2 and the doctrine of eternal marriage because they tell me that the one thing I value most here will continue in the eternities.

    However, if I believe that becoming celestial necessarily wipes out all distiguishing characteristics between me and my dad, or me and my wife, the whole promise of “family forever” seems like a fraud. I just can’t imagine how any of the things I value about my relationships can continue if none of the individuality continues as well.

    I do concede that if a person answers as you did in #16 that you don’t see any problem with everyone becoming just like everyone else (barring history, assignments, and locations), I don’t have any argument to say that you are wrong to feel that way. I can only try to describe why I feel differently. I have been glad to get your perspective.

    One last thing about my statement that “personality is essential to full personhood, and personality entails substantive distinctness.” I am arguing that according to their current definitions (not arbitrary ones I am creating, but their natural definition from what those words mean today), this statement is true. The word personality is obviously (by its construction: person – ality) referring to what it means to be a person. So, if someone wants to say we can be people without personality, they are the ones redefining words, not me. Furthermore, the idea that “personality entails substantive distinctness” seems to me to be a straightforward part of the meaning of personality according to the common usage of the word. Differences between people is simply a fact of our current existence, so it is natural that personality would come to mean something about these differences. I agree that it is not a logical error to say people could exist who do not differ, but this would be unlike anything we have ever experienced, and consequently, considering society like that involves a lot of imagination.

    I’m interested in further thoughts you might have. I always enjoy bouncing things off people with a different view, which is why I enjoy blogging.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 1, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

  24. Jacob J:

    if I believe that becoming celestial necessarily wipes out all distiguishing characteristics between me and my dad, or me and my wife, the whole promise of “family forever” seems like a fraud

    Are there not enough distinguishing characteristics inherent in different histories, different tastes in regards to subjective issues, and in situations and perspectives to make us all individual? For me God must know what is absolutely the best way in certain circumstances, becauses otherwise the the whole premise of “the plan of salvation” seems like a fraud.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 1, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  25. Matt,

    In what way does the plan of salvation rely on there being one absolutely-best-way in any circumstance? As far as I can tell, the plan is not presented to us in that way. From the very beginning of the story, the way the plan unfolded depended on the choices of the participants (e.g. Adam and Eve). Every step of the way we see that God works his plan out in the midst of key players who screw things up and cannot be completely relied upon (e.g. Joseph Smith). Now, obviously it is possible that God is doing the absolutely-best-thing in every situation, but if He can get the job done when many other key players screw things up, then the implication is that the plan can still work without the absolutely-best-thing being done in every situation. It is possible that God doesn’t always have access to an absolutely-best-way and it is also possible that an absolutely-best-way simply doesn’t exist. Thus, I don’t think it would make the plan a fraud. “Might to save” does not, of necessity, require there to be one perfect way to get us there, just that he can do it.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 1, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

  26. I find that alot of issues come down to people’s own personalities. There are those who need certainty and those who feel constrained and shackled by it and quite frankly feel liberated by not have “best” or any definitive answer.

    For myself, I find the concept of “best way” bothersome.

    If God truly is on the same page as all other “gods” and there is a best way then isn’t he somewhat of a robot without parts or passion. I like the idea of a God who can fall or at a minimum not always know whats best.

    Maybe this is my rebellious part that hasn’t reached the faith of Abraham, willing to submit to things I find absurd.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — June 1, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  27. Jacob J, you seem to be confusing the plan of salvation with it’s components. Not only does the plan seem to me to be the best way, it seems the only way. THere must be an atonement, there must be a period of mortal probation which seperates the pre-mortal state from the post-mortal. There must be a judgement, etc.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 2, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  28. Matt,

    It is a gigantic leap to go from the claim that there must be probation/atonement/judgment/etc to the idea that in every moment there is one “best” thing to do. I am not opposed to the idea that in certain limited circumstances the way to act is clear to all divine beings, but I think it is problematic to the idea of divine individuality if there is always one best way to act. I’m still not sure which thing I said which suggests to you that the plan of salvation is a fraud. Can you help me see where I made my mistake? (Obviously I don’t think the plan is a fraud, so I’m interested)

    Comment by Jacob J — June 2, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  29. Jacob, if I can just slip in for a moment. Perhaps this extended post can explain a little bit of my earlier comment on this thread. Thanks.

    Comment by Todd Wood — June 2, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  30. Jacob J:

    originally, you stated:

    In what way does the plan of salvation rely on there being one absolutely-best-way in any circumstance? As far as I can tell, the plan is not presented to us in that way

    then you said:

    I am not opposed to the idea that in certain limited circumstances the way to act is clear to all divine beings, but I think it is problematic to the idea of divine individuality if there is always one best way to act.

    THis two statements seem to contradict one another to me, so I am not sure I am reading you right. It is porbably my error in reading you.

    I am agreeing there is not always a best way to act, but I believe God would have the capacity to know what the best way is if there were a best way.

    The reason the opposite is problematic to me is that if the atonement were only the best God knew, and not really the absolute best way, then there is a chance that there is a better way waiting to be discovered, and to me, this seems to undermine the value of the atonement, plan, and authority of God.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 2, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  31. Matt,

    Okay, thanks for the quotes. The misunderstanding is my fault. I accidentally used the word “any” where I meant “every” in the first quote. It sounds like we agree that there may be no best-thing-to-do in some situations.

    That said, I feel confident there is still some room for discussion between our two views. In #24 you responded in much the same vein that Adam Greenwood has been. You asked if there is not enough difference in history, tastes, situations, and perspectives. I think it is a fascinating question worth more consideration. Here are my first thoughts, maybe you’ll want to respond:

    history – differences in history don’t seem very substantive to me if all the affects of those differences have been eradicated. I asked in #23 if there is any meaning to family in the eternities if every person is the same. Knowing that my dad used to be different and unique, and that my wife used to be different and unique doesn’t seem to help me have an interesting relationship with them once they have become identical for all intents and purposes. Usually, historical differences are very substantive because they help to explain the differences in people who we know. If you take away the current differences and keep only the historical ones I don’t see how it helps.

    tastes – I suppose we can say that there is no “best” color, or “best” flavor of ice cream, so people could continue to have preferences for these types of things in the eternities. I think this could provide some genuine help to the problem I am proposing. At least there could be differences in what people do during their “hobby time” if there is such a thing. One question is whether differences in taste would continue if everyone had the exact same abilities, talents, and knowledge.

    situations – I am not sure how this helps. If swapping any two people’s assignments makes no change because everyone acts identically when presented with the same situation, this seems to boil down to the same sort of thing as saying they differ in physical location. I’m here, but you’re there, that sort of thing. If there is no difference when I’m there and you’re here, then who cares that we are in different situations. Can pawns on a chess board have a meaningful personal relationships simply because one is threatening a knight and the other is not?

    perspectives – if you accept all the standard things about all divine beings having the same knowledge (i.e. all knowledge), then how can there be different perspectives?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 3, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  32. Jacob J:
    history: since we perpetually carry our history with us in our memory, and this memory informs us of who we are currently, I think it is still viable even if we have arrived at the same point. Although I am now in San Antonio, I was born and raised in Indiana, and I will always be “born and raised in Indiana”. Now, my wife and I may both drive the same roads in Texas, taking the shortest distance from point A to B, but what I’m doing right now does not change who I am, which includes every instant of my history. (I hope this conveys what I am trying to say.)

    tastes It seems like we are in total agreement here. By same abilities, talents and knowledge, I assume you are getting at the “omni”s here. I’m not sure we will have all the same abilities, talents and knowledge in every category across the board. I think there are certain categories where we will be equal, but I can’t say every category will be. But for the sake of argument, I will take the omniscient stance. In any case, I think a lot of our tastes are informed by our past memories, and not so much by our current abilities. I like certain music, for example, because of my positive memories which I associate with that music.

    situations I am not sure what you were meaning about personal relationships here. What I was thinking of was that if I am surrounded by good people, I am more likely to be a good person. My actions are informed by my environment. Perhaps this is irrelevant in the celestial kingdom, however, as we are with Christ and Heavenly Father there. (How exactly that works, I am unsure.)

    perspective You bring up a good point here. I guess this raises the question of what having “all knowledge” means. I guess I rely on history and taste here, as my history and taste will help to inform me on the prioritization of my knowledge.

    I think we aren’t too far from one another in opinion, the more I think on this. I guess my point is that in any area where there is a best way, we will have the capacity to discover it.

    This leaves two other areas for differentiation open, I think (and these two ways may be the same thing.) subjective areas, where what is best is informed by personal preferences, and areas where one can always get better, and thus there can be no best. (some area where we can always practice more and get better at. The example that oddly comes to mind is sword fighting or playing basketball. I guess there are other examples as well.)

    Comment by Matt W. — June 4, 2007 @ 7:42 am

  33. if I believe that becoming celestial necessarily wipes out all distiguishing characteristics between me and my dad, or me and my wife, the whole promise of “family forever” seems like a fraud

    I think I understand your point of view. I’m going to sound harsher than I mean to in criticizing it, so hopefully you can take what I say in the spirit I mean it.

    There are lots of reasons we can think of for wanting to remain bound to family members forever. Because I think it most relates to your concern, lets limit our discussion to the fact that we love and enjoy our family members. Why do we love and enjoy them? One reason is a shared history–my mother bore me, and so it doesn’t matter if she’s no better or worse than other women, she’s still my mother. Another reason would be that they are more congenial to us than other people are–their particular set of attributes is the kind that we most enjoy. Another reason is that there is no reason–we love because we love and love that only exists if there is a reason isn’t worthy of the name.

    I think shared history would still exist and be important in the Celestial Kingdom even if we all grow to the point where we are the same in all essential attributes. Even if my mother has developed and developed into a queen and a goddess in the same mold and pattern as all the other queens and goddesses, she would still be my mother.

    Obviously the love that loves someone no matter what won’t change if that someone becomes like other people. In my mind this is the highest form of love, unconditional love, and is the kind of love that we only have imperfectly in this life but will probably develop in the next.

    Finally, there’s the love that based on congeniality, on someone’s traits or characteristics suiting us more than anyone else’s. In my mind, this is the most inferior of the kinds of love we’re talking about and the kind that’s least likely to last into the Celestial Kingdom, if for other reason that that we ourselves will be changing and progressing. Its therefore a very unstable basis for a relationship. I might also point out that it would really only apply to spouses, since we don’t pick our parents, our siblings, or our children. To the extent it applies to them at all, its only accidentally.

    In short, in my mind, God loves people for their own sake. His joy is not necessarily in variety but in existence and in goodness. It seems to me that there are probably a finite variety of possible personalities, but there is no end to the increase of his joy. When we are like him, we will love like he does.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 4, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  34. I disagree with you that when authorities state that God is a person, they necessarily mean that he has “personality,” where “personality” is defined as “having substantially distinct combination of traits from all other entities.” There are a lot of linguistic assumptions in your #23 that I think we shouldn’t read into prophetic and scriptural statements.

    If its possible to speak of having identical personalities, and if its not redundant to refer to distinct personalities–and if, as you have already conceded, its not obviously logically fallacious to speak of two identical persons–then statements that God is a person don’t actually tell us much about personality differences in the hereafter. We’re just left with whether the idea “tastes good” to us, which is where you and I differ.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 4, 2007 @ 1:26 pm

  35. Jacob,

    I hate to be a killjoy but the notion of us retaining our current personal identity as we normally conceive of it probably doesn’t work to begin with. I posted in that subject here.

    To summarize that post: The issue is that we presumably had a certain personality and friends and associates for a really long time prior to arriving here. Upon coming to earth we experience complete amnesia so we start essentially a new life and develop and new personality and make new friends and get a group to call our family in our approximately 74.2 years of life here. But most people believe that eventually our amnesia will lift. So who will we be be then? The person we are here or the person we were there? The answer must be that we will be some of both and therefore neither who we are now nor who we were then. So the relationships we have with our parents would necessarily be very different anyway.

    I know this is a bit off topic on the “personality of God” question but the whole retention of our current personal identity idea (and thus retention of current relationships) is fraught with problems I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 4, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  36. I would just like to throw an idea into the fray.

    Do you think it is possible that god has all personalities?
    As an example some personality types could be zeolous, another thoughtful. One concerned with power and control, another with relationships. God would be all of them.

    Or by personality or we referring to likes. eg. Someone could like spiderman or coldplay a lot.

    Or by that do we mean habits and mannerisms. For example I have a peculiar habit of making noise in rythm to my walking sometimes.

    Comment by madera verde — June 6, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  37. Oh, I forgot. I was going to say something about the tendency of married couples to become more alike as they age -due partially to hormonal changes. It is clear children become a lot more like their parents in (if nothing else) that they become adults.
    Yet these increasing similarities don’t seem to neccesarily destroy or diminish these relationships.

    Comment by madera verde — June 6, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  38. Do you think it is possible that God has all personalities?

    If I had to speculate what the celestial personality was like, this would be my guess.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 6, 2007 @ 11:35 am

  39. I plan to respond to the last 7 or so comments tonight, but I just have to tip my hat to madera verde for introducing me to a new omni: omni-personality (does anyone know how to constuct that with the right part of speech?). This instinctive reaction to make make God all-everything to get out of every theological bind seems appealing, but it almost always turns out badly. For example:

    One concerned with power and control, another with relationships. God would be all of them.

    If one personality is concerned with power and another is not, then how can God be concerned with power and not concerned with power at the same time?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 6, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  40. Re #36 and #38

    I’m pretty sure Jacob would be asking this question if I didn’t beat him to it, but can someone please explain to me how the concept that “god has all personalities” is even coherent?

    Are you thinking of a pantheistic God that is somehow the emergent “person” from all existing personalities? Are you saying the Jesus currently has all personalities? What does that even mean? Surely you are not saying that Jesus has the personality of an evil child torturer in him along with the good personalities we admire, right?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

  41. I guess Jacob did beat me to the punch after all…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  42. Jacob J.,

    At least for me, its not a way of getting out of a theological bind. I don’t see that “omni-personality” means much to our discussion one way or the other.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 6, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  43. I don’t think evil is a personality trait, nor do I think personality is of itself good or bad.

    I see we three possibilities.

    1)Perfect man has no personalities.
    2)They have all personality traits or all good ones if we see personality traits as good/evil.
    3)People are perfected into a certian personality.

    In response to 39 I would not consider negative traits, i.e. lack of a trait a personality trait. Elsewhise, I have a rock with tons of personality.

    I think we need to agree on a definition of personality before we continue.

    Comment by madera verde — June 6, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  44. If we’re forever progressing, even in the sense of having our own spirit children, creating new worlds, exalting new spirits, etc., then it seems we could have unique personalities (in some sense of the word) by virtue of the fact that (a) we are constantly doing different things and interacting with different “people,” and (b) we will always be dealing with people who are at a different state of progression than we are. Isn’t that enough to grant some kind of “personality”?

    I think one of the challenges is an epistemological one. If we all become truly omniscient, then I worry there isn’t a way to distinguish us from each other. That’s because we’d all have to know and understand each other to such a degree that it’s just as good as being each other. That is, I’d have to understand your memories so clearly and distinctly that it would be the same as if they were my memories. If not, could I really be omniscient? But if I do understand and know your memories that well, how do you tell us apart? And if we all know what each other is doing all the time, and we know it just as well as if we were doing it ourselves, then how do you tell us apart? But if we have anything less than this, couldn’t it be argued that we’re not really omniscient?

    The same problem holds for “tastes.” If you love onions and I hate them, then it seems there is something I don’t really know or understand — what it is like to love onions. Thus, I seem to fall short of omniscience. But if I know what it’s like to love onions and what it’s like to not love onions, and you do too, then again, we lose that distinction. Of course, this breeds the problem of simultaneously knowing what it’s like to love and hate onions — knowing them both so well that it’s just like experiencing that reaction in the first place. Can that even happen? It really makes one wonder if omniscience (as we are accustomed to thinking about it) is coherent at all.

    Comment by Ben — June 9, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

  45. Good points Ben.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 9, 2007 @ 11:08 pm

  46. Matt (#32),

    If you define “who you are” by your history then of course we will always be different by virtue of our different histories. However, I don’t define it that way. Who I was is only relevant to who I am currently to the extent that it made me the way that I am. If everyone’s different histories leads them to become identical, then their differing histories do not make them different, they only mean that they used to be different.

    By the way, we were meaning different things by the word “situations.” I was thinking you meant the differences we could have in terms of position/responsibility.

    As Ben points out, the question of omniscience potentially taints tastes and situations as well as perspectives, but I am glad we found some common ground.

    Adam Greenwood (#33),

    I have read your comment several times, and the part that keeps sticking out for me is your claim that the highest kind of love is unconditional love (the kind God has for everyone equally). I don’t agree. I think unconditional love is excellent, but that higher manifestations of love are only available when both people meet certain conditions.

    I keep asking myself when I read your comment if there is any reason, on your view, for God to prefer his mother (or wife) over anyone else in the celestial kingdom. Is there?

    (#34) I looked back, but I cannot find anywhere that I made a claim about what “the authorities” mean when they say God is a person. I want to be clear that is my opinion I am expressing, and not that of any authorities. I don’t know what they mean when they say God is a person.

    Geoff (#35),

    First, you love to be a killjoy, so don’t lie. Second, I don’t know how to find any meaning in life without the retention of personal identity in the afterlife. Third, I think you have said previously that you regard the concept of eternal family to be a naive view of eternity, but I accept this concept and find it to be the only thing I have to recommend about heaven.

    madera: I think we need to agree on a definition of personality before we continue.

    A definition of personality is obviously hard to pin down (I quoted Blake saying this in the footnote of the post). The best I can do is to say that there are many characteristics, traits, propensities, ways of approaching things, tastes, and so forth that each of us has. When we talk about someone’s personality (perhaps we like them, perhaps we don’t) we often have in mind an encapsulation of all of these things, or a contour of everything that makes them who they are. The dictionary definition is actually quite useful.

    Ben (#45),

    Precisely, this argument is where I am headed. Thank you for commenting because now I know that you are out there thinking the same thing that I am and I find that strangely comforting (g).

    Comment by Jacob — June 10, 2007 @ 1:33 am

  47. I have read your comment several times, and the part that keeps sticking out for me is your claim that the highest kind of love is unconditional love (the kind God has for everyone equally). I don’t agree. I think unconditional love is excellent, but that higher manifestations of love are only available when both people meet certain conditions.

    I keep asking myself when I read your comment if there is any reason, on your view, for God to prefer his mother (or wife) over anyone else in the celestial kingdom. Is there?

    What distinguishes my wife from other women is (1) shared history, especially our mutual accomplishments and my knowledge of the sacrifices she’s made for our family and (2) the sealing. I think my wife and I would be much happier and much more in love if one of us had some personality changes but we retained our history and our sealing than if we wiped the past and our sealing away but we still retained the same personality.

    Let me talk about unconditional love for a bit and your claim that its not the highest kind of love. I’m not going to argue that point. But I am going to argue that unconditional love is superior to self-interested love, or the love we have for someone because their traits and behaviors and tastes are congenial to us. I argued this before back when I was still blogging, but to me the power of the marriage promise is that we agree to continue our relationship regardless of changes in congeniality. Even if I discover one day that my wife is no longer the person whose tastes and habits please me the most, I have sworn to cleave unto her and none else. This is my mind is what separates true marriage from cohabitation. In a kind of dominical paradox, making this promise to stick by someone regardless of our personal satisfaction in so doing appears to increase our personal satisfaction. The reason? In my view its because by making that kind of commitment, we start to develop unconditional love, which is the greatest of attributes and the foundation of all lasting joy. So in my mind, yes, loving your spouse because you love her traits is much inferior to loving your spouse’s traits because you love her. The latter means that you can continue to enjoy your spouse as she grows and changes.

    That said, its possible we do have a little common ground here: you might be right that unconditional love alone isn’t the greatest love possible. I would still argue, though, that unconditional love must be part of any great love. In my view, then, talking about the nature of love probably won’t help us resolve whether or not personality traits differ in the eternities.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 11, 2007 @ 8:51 am

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