There is probably no question that is as common to man as that of who God is. You would think that after thousands of years, more people would have it right. So many books, essays and websites have been dedicated to the idea of God that one could spend a lifetime reading and still not come to a knowledge of the truth. That’s why it is important to find an authoritative source.
It seems that everyone at some time in their life goes through their own soul-searching to determine what they believe about God. Most inherit the traditions of their fathers and are content with the basic idea of faith in God and, if they grew up in a Christian nation, acceptance of the Bible and Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind, who redeems us from death and hell.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all my life, I have been blessed to have grown up with a different kind of knowledge about God. We proclaim to the world that we have been given a restored or revealed doctrine about God, our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. This knowledge through the prophet Joseph Smith we gladly share with the world.
Godhead not the same as the Trinity
Almost any child in a Mormon Primary class can tell you that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ are two separate and distinct individuals. We know this because Joseph Smith, a young boy from upstate New York, went into a grove of woods to pray and ask God which church to join. He shared his story at first with family and friends and later declared it to all the world.
A clear understanding of the nature of God is one of the most fundamental and important foundations we need in this life to be able to successfully exercise faith. Without knowing to whom we are praying, our minds will be filled with doubts. Doubt and faith cannot exist together at the same time. The one throws out the other. One is filled with light and the other darkness.
There is no confusion in our church about the nature of God. The doctrines are clear and always have been, at least they have been for me. However, for some who came into the church later in life, it can be a lifelong struggle, even after they are baptized, to put off their old and incorrect understandings about God. As one example, let’s consider the case of Paul Toscano.
Some struggle with basic doctrine
Paul and I grew up in the same city of West Covina, California. We went to the same elementary and high schools. When he joined the church, we attended meetings in the same building. He was in the Baldwin Park 2nd ward and my family was in the Covina 1st ward. Paul is a little older than me, but went to BYU about the same time as my sisters in the late sixties.
I bring up Paul because as a convert from Catholicism, you can imagine that the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith must have been very different from those that were familiar to him as a young man. Paul’s conversion story is featured in volume two of Hartman and Connie Rector‘s books, No More Strangers. After attending BYU, Paul served as a successful missionary in Italy.
Paul is an extremely intelligent and outspoken man. Although some do not agree, I find him to be enjoyable to listen to because he is not shy about expressing himself and has such a wealth of knowledge in his mind. You can find several videos of Paul on the Internet delivering Sunstone speeches, but these interviews from John Dehlin on Mormon Stories are the best resource.
When you lose sight of the basics
At one time Paul wrote, “Even if the price of conversion is painful, it is worth it. Not all the pain and tribulation in the world can be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in faithful members of the Church…” (Source: No More Strangers) Today he has lost his faith. He says that Jesus Christ, while an exemplary human being, may not have actually been the Son of God.
He also writes that The Book of Mormon is not really history, but an epic with some revealing truths. He has said that Joseph Smith meant well, but likely wasn’t inspired of God. Toscano, in his words, no longer considers Joseph a hero to him. He considers moral sins to be nothing compared to the greater sins of intellectual oppression he sees in the leadership of the church.
Because Paul is so gifted in intellectual ability, he can run circles around most of us when it comes to discussing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But Paul has lost sight of this basic doctrine of Salvation, that God the Father and his Son are two separate and distinct individuals. He seems stuck on the idea that Jesus is really the Father and claims that we should worship him as such.
Teachings of modern prophets
The First Presidency issued a statement on The Origin of Man in 1909 that is considered a classic in Mormon theology. Although not specifically addressing the subject we are considering, it contains much helpful information on the Godhead. And of course, there is this doctrinal essay on The Father and the Son that helps explain the concept of Divine Investiture of Authority.
President Hinckley gave a wonderful message on the distinct nature of the members of the Godhead in this First Presidency message in the July 2006 issue of the Ensign magazine. Elder Hales spoke with great spiritual depth in this April 2008 General Conference address entitled, “Gaining a Testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost“.
I can see how someone can arrive at a different conclusion as to the distinct nature of God and Jesus Christ by reading Abinadi’s words in Mosiah Chapter 15. I was confused the first time I read that as a youth. That’s another reason I am so grateful for so many years of Seminary, Institute and Gospel Doctrine classes, including several years of teaching the Book of Mormon.
How Christ is the Father
Jesus Christ is the Father as Creator. Christ is referred to in many scriptural passages as “the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth” (see Mosiah 15:4, 16:15, Alma 11:38–39, Ether 4:7). He created or organized the earth under the direction of God the Father. Referring to him as the Father of Heaven and Earth is very comforting but it does not mean that he is God the Father.
He is the Father of all who accept his atoning sacrifice and covenant with him to obey his everlasting gospel. There are numerous scriptural passages that express this relationship (see Mosiah 5:7, 15:10–13, Ether 3:14, D&C 25:1, 34:1–3, 39:1–4). In other words, he is the Father of all those who are saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
He is the Father by divine investiture of authority. This means that the Savior is the fully authorized and commissioned representative of his Father, and as such can speak and act for the Father. There are many examples of this in the scriptures. I encountered one in my studies this week in the Pearl of Great Price as the Lord was addressing Moses but speaking as the Father.
Summary and conclusion
When I kneel down to pray at night, there is no doubt in my mind to whom I am speaking. I am praying to a loving Heavenly Father who has all power to help me and wants to do so. I feel his encouragement and love through the gift of the Holy Ghost which has been bestowed upon me. I received it by the laying on of hands from those who are authorized to administer that ordinance.
There is no confusion in my mind as to who Jesus Christ is. He is God’s only Begotten Son in the flesh, meaning that he is divine. His Father was God and his mother was Mary. He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, My God and my King. I love Him. I worship Him. I serve him and I obey him. He is my friend. He suffered for me in the Garden of Gethsemane so I can repent.
The gospel is not complicated. We do not need to get hung up on intellectual pursuits that lead us nowhere. I hope I never lose sight of the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How grateful I am to a loving Heavenly Father who sent his Son to redeem the world. It is a miracle. All I know is that when I repent and strive to be obedient that I am happy. What more can I ask?