One Love

September 16, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 3:56 pm   Category: Theology

Our speculative discussion in the last post has me thinking about the implications of total unity vs. individuality. This is a doctrinal question that touches most every important part of our spiritual and religious lives. It is at the heart of the tension between our unity as a community striving to become a Zion people and our individuality, our unity as couples or families vs. individuality, and the unity of the Godhead vs. their individuality. If we are to become one with God then what becomes of our individuality?

I suspect that most of us disregard this Oneness talk as purely figurative and really imagine ourselves as individuals that will happen to agree with God on all things if we are exalted. I think this assumption might be a mistake. It seems to me that the unity God wants with us is more literal than that. Some religions believe the righteous will be completely swallowed up in a Oneness with God and lose any individuality in that oneness. This concept is distasteful to most people I think. And in Mormonism it just doesn’t work (at least on a physical level). Our modern scriptures just won’t allow for it:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.
(D&C 130: 22)

With separate physical bodies there is no claiming that The Godhead is “one in substance” for us. But they insist that they are One in very real ways. They are One Eternal God without end after all.

I recently cooked up an analogy that I think might help here. It is comparing the individual members of the Godhead to cells in a person. Each cell in our bodies is individual after all, but they are all part of the (emergent?) One that is us. In a perfect body (like a perfect resurrected body for instance) each cell works in perfect unity for the purpose of the entire body. If we compare the Godhead to that one body and the individual members to the parts that make it up then we have multiple that parts that are One God. This works especially well with the common Mormon belief that our Father in Heaven also has a Father who has a Father going on for who knows how long. All could be part of the One God in this scheme I think.

This may not be an earth-shattering idea, but I think it could help provide a foundation to answer other questions that come up as we unpack the concept of spiritual progression from where we have come from to where we can eventually go. Plus, it might help help us better understand the eternal struggle we face in mortality between the group and the individual.

(Note: Check out my comment #4 below. I’ve decided it is more interesting than this post. I think I’m on to something… G)


  1. Sorry dude, I fail to see how this rectifies your equivication over animal exaltation. Moreover, it quelches the concept of agency. The cells in your body are not agents, they are simply machinery. It sounds like you are trying to riff off of Orson Pratt and Skousen (who had their own particle based theologies), but I don’t see it resolving any contradictions. It seems to raise more.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 16, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

  2. J,

    It is definitely riffing on Orson Pratt’s theme. I think he was on to something with that. It sounds like you want to reject the Oneness idea and let individuality win out entirely. Is that your real intention? If not how do you account for our One God?

    It doesn’t deal with animals directly you are right. I am leaning toward animals having no individuality in the eternal scheme of things. (Sort of my spiritual frog ingesting a spiritual cricket thing and they becoming one). However I imagine a situation where self-aware beings do get to retain individuality. I can’t really figure out details (like when or where self-awareness emerges in intelligences throughout the eternities) but I like that idea in general. I think this idea I am presenting allows self-aware beings to retain a very real form of individuality while being a part of the One.

    In fact, it may be that the idea of “God ceasing to be God” is evidence that any specific individual within of The One can still reject the unity and be cast out of the One….

    Comment by Geoff J — September 16, 2005 @ 4:46 pm

  3. We are not the Borg. We will not be one. We choose to act as one. Christ chooses to act as one with God. Were it not so, It would not be amazing.

    Comment by Matt Witten — September 16, 2005 @ 7:05 pm

  4. We will not be one.

    And yet God tells us that the Godhead is One… How do you explain that?

    I agree with the other parts of your comment. The Borg is the very model of compulsion — the opposite of God’s methods and plan. The oneness of the Godhead is the result of the relationship of perfect unity they freely choose to remain in (I’m admittedly borrowing that language from Blake Ostler — I think he has it right).

    But to go further with the useful description Blake uses, he also describes a relationship of full unity where there is an “indwelling” that the Godhead shares together. Thoughts and emotions are shared. They all share in omniscience and immediate knowledge of all things in the Universe through their immanent spirit.

    If that is not “one”, I can hardly imagine what is. If we wish to share “all that the Father has” as He has promised, I believe joining that “oneness” of the Godhead is the way. I further believe that we would gladly forsake our solo (and perhaps even lonely?) thoughts for the shared, loving thoughts experienced through the unity in the Godhead. I believe our ultimate goal is to join that unified Godhead. I can imagine no other way we could share “all that the Father has”. But if so we will not be able to tenaciously hold to our current love for totally solo living and thinking.

    I imagine that the togetherness and intimacy of the relationship experienced in the Godhead is only dimly shadowed for us in things like how much better being in a wonderful marriage is than being single is. Or in how much better having children is than being a childless couple is. I believe the loving and incredibly rewarding and enriching family intimacy we can enjoy on earth is only a type and shadow of the relationship the Godhead shares. That is the relationship they wish for us (and our families) to choose to join them in.

    Now that I think about it, I suspect that eventually joining with the the Godhead in total oneness and indwelling unity may be the very way that families can eventually be together forever. The togetherness there must be far beyond our togetherness here – and surely far more rewarding.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 16, 2005 @ 9:56 pm

  5. I’m interested in this question, but maybe from a more personal perspective. We are told that Enoch managed a Zion society, but how do we explain the “birds of a feather” behavior we see in our wards and even among LDS blogs? Do you even know anyone who has being one with others as a practical objective?
    And if we really did have Zion behavior as a goal, how would we act differently than we do know? It’s actually easier to imagine a post-earth life oneness than it is to imagine what it would take for that to happen here and now.

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 6:15 am

  6. Now that I think about it, I suspect that eventually joining with the the Godhead in total oneness and indwelling unity may be the very way that families can eventually be together forever. The togetherness there must be far beyond our togetherness here – and surely far more rewarding.

    I think you are on the right track here.

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 6:18 am

  7. Do you even know anyone who has being one with others as a practical objective?

    Yes, and I wish I were more like them.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 17, 2005 @ 8:09 am

  8. C Jones,

    Good questions and comments. I am starting to think that we are misunderstanding the commandment to be one. We try to be one as a ward, or be one as a stake — sort of a team spirit kind of thing. Now that is is not a bad thing — team unity can be very helpful. The problem is that as a whole it is still not one, but many teams (or wards/stakes in this case). I have come to the conclusions that there is only one that we must be. What I mean is we must become one with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost… the Godhead is The One.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 8:27 am

  9. I should add that it appears any other kind one oneness (including being one as husband and wife) is a temporary unity if we do not join The One.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 8:32 am

  10. So being one or joining The One could be described as membership in The Church of the Firstborn. Families would be together forever in that sense, plus marriage has to count for something. Those there would see as they are seen and know as they are known:
    “Blake … also describes a relationship of full unity where there is an “indwelling” that the Godhead shares together. Thoughts and emotions are shared. They all share in omniscience and immediate knowledge of all things in the Universe through their immanent spirit.”

    We also have some idea of the kind of work they will be doing.
    So is Zion the earthly equivalent or a kind of practice for membership in the Church of the Firstborn? And if so wouldn’t it have to start in families and also be present in wards and stakes as well as the saints as a whole, even if it is as you say it’s only temporary until we are one with God?

    It’s just easier, for me anyway, to imagine a happily united group in the eternities busily working away on their world-building projects than it is to imagine what an earthly Zion society would look like.

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 9:17 am

  11. “The oneness of the Godhead is the result of the relationship of perfect unity they freely choose to remain in”

    Joseph Smith mentions that the relationship between the members of the Godhead is the result of a covenant between them.
    Teachings p. 190

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  12. I don’t think that joining the oneness of the Godhead means I lose my individual identity characteristics. Yes, I want to be one with the Godhead, have the same goals, know the same things, do the same things, but I don’t know if it means I’d do them exactly the same as they would.

    I am a “red” personality…logical, businesslike, get-things-done, type of guy. I have a son who is a “white” personality…laid back, easy going, peace-at-any-price, type of guy. I don’t see a conflict in both of us becoming Gods, creating earths etc. A red would get the job done a little differently than a white, but the end results still could be the same.

    If God is a “perfect” blend of “Red, Blue, White & Yellow” personality types. And if we have to become like Him in that regard. And we must become one in thought, word, and deed with Him, then eternity seems pretty boring to me.

    Comment by don — September 17, 2005 @ 10:48 am

  13. When two people get married, each one has to submit a portion of his/her individuality to the whole. And those wonderful moments when they felt really connected to and in tune with another person were probably a factor in deciding to marry. So becoming one in that sense can be very pleasant.
    Then if children come along, there is a further surrendering of self (perhaps especiallly for women) that can be almost painful at times.
    Yet as Don says, there is value in our differences. We also love our spouse and children for their differences from us. We appreciate what is unique and good about them.
    Where this all breaks down for me is how to extend that submission of individuality out to others. And where does it end?

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 11:31 am

  14. C Jones,

    Amen and amen. I heartily agree with your insights. And thank you for those useful supporting scriptural references and the quote from Joseph. I am very pleased with the direction this train of thought is going. It seems that a lot of dots are connecting by looking at our relationship to Deity from this perspective (at least for me).

    I wonder if the troubles we have imagining a Zion society here has to do with looking through the wrong lens. It is very hard not to think of a team concept — but what is the unifying factor of “team Zion”? I submit it has to be centered on the Godhead itself. As support for this, see Abraham 3. There is a great deal of energy put into describing stars/planets/intelligences orbiting around the heavy center of the Universe — God. I don’t quite yet have the ability to put the concepts I am thinking of in words related to that Abr. 3 teaching, but can say I think that any Zion society would also necessarily be a nation of prophets. I think the only way we can have one heart and one mind here is by sharing one heart and one mind of God. That requires real personal revelation. That means we have to know God, not just know about him. But what becomes of a society where every person is directly connected to God through dialogic revelation? I believe all in that society actually could become of one heart and one mind. (See how the dots are connecting for me?)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

  15. Don,

    That complaint that greater unity with God would be boring used to make sense to me, but I am utterly unconvinced now. As C Jones hinted at already — your argument is essentially the same argument single people make against marriage. I know better than that from experience. The greater unity (though somewhat diminished individual identity) that comes with my marriage is far better than my single life was.

    Further, the person that we will become if we ever could join into a full and absolute relationship with the Godhead is a very different person than we are now anyway. In other words, the identity we have now and feel so defensive about protecting is the imperfect version of us we are really trying to replace anyway — that’s what repentance is all about.

    Last, I’ll have to put up a post on the subject of our ability to only think of one thing at a time here as mortals. Nibley talked about it in his famous “Zeal vs. Knowledge” essay. Sharing thoughts is nearly impossible to really conceive for us here, but it seems pretty clear that God is not limited in his thoughts like we mortals are. His thoughts are not our thoughts. Therefore, the entire concept of individuality will have different ground rules without some of the limitations our mortal bodies entail.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 1:07 pm

  16. The nation of prophets idea connects a pretty big dot for me! So the nation of prophets of an earthly Zion society would be magnified in the celestial kingdom into the full and absolute relationship with God that Geoff mentions in #15.
    And that along with the idea that the Godhead are in a covenant relationship with each other (and also with us…) still seems to leave a lot of room for retained individuality.

    But this:
    In other words, the identity we have now and feel so defensive about protecting is the imperfect version of us we are really trying to replace anyway-that’s what repentance is all about.”
    makes me wonder if retained individuality is not nearly as wonderful as the full-time oneness that exists in heaven that we get glimpses of in our relationships here.

    Comment by C Jones — September 17, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

  17. Joseph taught about the Lord raising up a nation of Priests and Brigham a royal nation of priests. I don’t see anyone disagreeing with these ideas, generally…we’re talking about Zion. But…

    the whole reason you put up this post, Geoff, was to clarify your position on spiritual evolution. We can get at these conclusions from a lot of reasoning.

    It seems to me that the heart of what you are saying is this:

    If we line up all eternal intelligences and assign them a IQ of 0 to 100. Zero would be a bacterium and 100 being God. All intelligences gain increase in IQ. beings with IQ >75 have some for of agency. Beings less than 75 are consumed in the eternities and constantly reborn as beings with higher IQ…until you hit 75, at which point a being is never consumed, it only grows until you hit 100. 75 = chimpanzee? All 100’s live happily together.

    There are several assumptions that seem untenable:

    Multiple (infinite?) mortal lives
    Spirit life consumed until it is sentient
    sentient life being non-consumable, if non-sentient life is
    sentients being an animal chimera

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 17, 2005 @ 6:16 pm

  18. …but I know there is support for the MMPs, so lets reserve that for other posts (past and future).

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 17, 2005 @ 6:32 pm

  19. Well, admittedly my thoughts on unity vs. individuality were spurred by the discussion we started in the last post on the viability of this “spiritual evolution” concept. You bring up some very good objections to the overall idea and I am not prepared to respond to them. I am certainly not sold on the idea myself, though I have been willing to consider it. I’ll have to think about the valid objections you bring up here. If I can think of no way around them perhaps I will abandon the idea myself. I could easily be convinced that human spirits are eternal as spirits… I’ll keep you posted. (However I feel quite confident that there is no ontological divide between humankind and God as you assert. The evidence seems overwhelming to me that we are of the same “species” as God.)

    The fact is that this post has headed in a direction that I find much more interesting and exciting than that “spiritual evolution” concept anyway. The ideas we are discussing show a potential way how we, as the literal children of God, can attain all that the Father (and Godhead) has. That way is by accepting the invitation to join them as a member of the Godhead through entering into a full and complete loving relationship with them. I am starting to realize that the scriptures seem to be rife with evidence to support this theory we are discussing in this thread (see John 17 for example).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 7:01 pm

  20. (#4) “Thoughts and emotions are shared”

    Can an all-knowing God have emotions? (I realize that O.T. has many emotions describing God, but perhaps those words are really for us and don’t really describe Him). “Hmmm, tomorrow Joseph is going into the grove – I’ll schedule my Love emotion from 11-11:15 AM.” Can God really be angry or jealous?

    (#4) “share all that the Father has”.

    How much of the Universe does the Father ‘own’? How much does His brothers own? How much does His Father own? Is it possible that the only thing He owns is knowledge?

    I’m struggling to understand your justification between “our Father has a Father” and “we become multiple parts of One God”???

    Does our Father’s Father become more massive (heavier, larger) when we become Gods or rather One with God? What kind of glue is there in “One God”?

    If for some weird reason (after we become Gods) our Father (or Father’s Father) “ceases to be God” what becomes of us (if we are just a multiple part of God)?

    Comment by Daylan Darby — September 17, 2005 @ 8:37 pm

  21. Daylan,

    Can an all-knowing God have emotions?

    Yes. (Some may disagree with my opinion, though) And he does not have exhaustive foreknowledge so the scheduling emotion point you made is moot.

    Does our Father’s Father become more massive (heavier, larger) when we become Gods or rather One with God? What kind of glue is there in “One God”?

    Bodies remain separate but those bodies have brains far beyond ours. We can only think of one thing at a time with these brains, they can be aware of everything in the Universe at once — including their own thoughts (and of course our thoughts). Therefore they share One mind, a omniscience, and omniscience (or maximal power as Ostler calls it) because they freely choose to remain in that absolutely loving relationship together. They share an intimacy and union that the best marriages or families here only dimly shadow.

    And yes, any individual could logically choose to leave that perfect unity. It seems that no rational being would ever do that though so it becomes only a logical possiblility, not a feasible one.

    (I am borrowing heavily from Ostler on all of this — especially his Christology chapters at the end of his book. I think he is right on most (not all) counts. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring Mormon theology.)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 17, 2005 @ 9:50 pm

  22. Geoff again, as before, great post. It is this type of tinking that confirms my testimony of the gospel. I went to several (all) churches as a child. Most often I was confused and frightened of death because the way heaven was presented. (funny I never assumed I would be anywhere else) My M-I-L believes the way most people believe that they will inherit a mansion from on high, yet become one with the body of Christ and cease to exist as a person in the resurrection. I can’t imagine it.

    This discussion has meandered about and discussed important theories. I have enjoyed the reading of them all. My responses are sound bite versions rather than adding to the discussion: 1. Of course we are spearate beings, if not, what is the purpose of eternal marriage and family, if not? 2. Why are we taught that we can become as God if it were not so? 3. God definitely has emotions, if not, than why is blood red (see spectral analysis laws)?

    My compliments to you are not to show I am in lock step with your thinking; rather it is to help me confirm my own theories a bit and begin a new journey through the thought process. Thanks!

    Comment by chronicler — September 20, 2005 @ 11:27 am

  23. Thanks chronicler. I’m not sure I am in lock step with my own thinking as laid out in this thread either — but I am confident that we are on to something here. With any luck I’ll be able to further refine my thoughts on these subjects in the future (as I’m sure we all would like to do).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 20, 2005 @ 11:41 am

  24. Geoff: Thanks for your kind words. I believe that the unity of the Godhead as indwelling sharing of life, light, intelligence and love is the key to the gospel of Christ. It seems to me to be the unifying strand necessary (pun intended) to bring together all of the doctrines of soteriology. Thanks for the great discussion.

    Comment by Blake — September 24, 2005 @ 8:58 pm

  25. I’ve struggled with this issue my whole life, especially, for some perverse reason, the references in the Book of Mormon to the oneness. It seems like the Book of Mormon should emphasize the seperateness of the bodies of God and Jesus.

    There is some famous line about the simplest solution probably being the right one. And so I have to go back to them being one in purpose. Joseph Smith says the truth tastes good. And that has an off taste to me. I don’t understand it.

    But I sure don’t believe we all meld back into one great big one. That tastes awful.

    Comment by annegb — September 26, 2005 @ 7:57 am

  26. Blake – I’m glad you stopped by and caughtsome of this post. Thanks for the great ideas that inspired it.

    Anne – You are not alone in finding traditional notions of completely losing personal identity distasteful. I sort of feel like we are on to an explanation in this discussion that rejects the distasteful aspects of that doctrine but embraces delicious alternatives.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 26, 2005 @ 10:55 am