One of the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that seems to offend the most people is one of the most amazing doctrines of the LDS Church. While there is plenty of Biblical support for the doctrine, it is most clear in the teachings of modern-day prophets. But first, let me tell a parable.
Many years ago there lived two kings. Both were goodly kings but both had differing styles of ruling. The first king had a large family and was growing old. Before he died he wanted to pass on his kingdom. His oldest son was a wise and just man who was ever faithful to the commands of his father. He was the obvious choice to inherit the kingdom. The king, however, loved all his children and wanted all to give them the same opportunities that the oldest son had. So the old king gathered his children together and proposed a plan. He told his children that if each of them could demonstrate their loyalty to him, like the oldest son had, then they each would inherit a kingdom. “I will give you everything that I have. I will even give unto you my title,” he told them. “We will expand the kingdom and give each of you a part equal to mine. There is plenty of space outside the bounds of my kingdom, enough space to support a kingdom for each of you. Because I love all of you, my sons and daughters, I want you to become like I am.” Some of the children made poor choices, lost their kingdoms, and were cast out; others were faithful and inherited their kingdoms. To this loving king, each child was precious and each could inherit what he had and become like him.
The second king was also a goodly man. He grew old and wanted to pass on his kingdom. However, he decreed that only the eldest child could inherit what he had. He gathered his children together and said, “I know I have called you my sons and daughters; I know that each of you is born in my image. However, only the eldest will inherit what I have. None of you will have what I have; you will be servants to me and to your elder brother. From henceforth you will no longer be sons and daughters; you will all be servants, at least those of you who are faithful to my decrees. Those who do not what I ask will be cast out.”
Is one of these kings more deserving of love? Is it really loving for the second king to keep his children as servants instead of heirs? Are they really their children if they cannot become like him? Now let’s suppose that the king is immortal but still wants to bless his children. The first will allow his children to become like him, the second will not. Which king then, is really good?
As a father I want my children to grow up and have all the opportunities that I had (and more!). Their growth and success will in no way diminish mine. My children are in my image (“my” being inclusive of my wife). They can grow up and become like I am.
If I plant an acorn and nurture it, I expect it to grow into an oak tree. A kitten will grow into a cat, it will not become an okapi or an emu. We are children of God and can grow up and become like Him. We don’t grow up into something else. Our glory will not be like God’s if we are unfaithful, but we at least will be co-eternal with Him. If we are faithful, we have been promised that we can become like Christ, and thus like our Heavenly Father.
This is a doctrine that receives a lot of animosity from many of those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why is this? Before I answer that, let’s look at the doctrine a little more closely as found in the scriptures.
There is no shortage of scripture verses both ancient and modern that establish that God is the Father of our spirits. I recognize that LDS doctrine differs from most other churches’ doctrines in the understanding of the nature of our spirits but that’s only part of this broader doctrine. If God is the Father of our spirits, then we are His children. Father is not used metaphorically. Why would so many of the authors of the scriptures refer to God as our Father if they really did not mean it? I know that was an appeal to the majority fallacy (i.e., X number of people believe this so it must be true) but why, if we are not really God’s children, why is not He referred solely as Creator or Master or Potter or Shaper or Maker or something like that? Why is there the touching familial title of “Father”? Are we nothing more than God’s creations, made just to worship Him? Or, are we really His children with part of Him in us?
Now on to the scriptures.
Deuteronomy 14:1: “Ye are the children of the Lord your God”
Psalm 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
Hosea 1:10: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.”
Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Acts 17:29: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”
Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
I want to comment on the verse in Romans. Could it be any more clear? “We are the children of God.” What does this mean? “If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” This is a simple syllogism.
All humankind are children of God.
All children of God are His heirs.
Therefore, all humankind are heirs of God.
There is a condition set on being an heir, namely, faithfulness to God (“suffer with [Christ]”) but it doesn’t change the simple logic and truth. What is an heir? It is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person’s death” (Source). In the case of God, who cannot die, an heir is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another upon the bestowal of the property or rank at a set time.” As far as I can tell an heir has always meant that. Further, that particular verse of the New Testament is translated virtually identically across all major, reliable, Biblical translations; “heirs” is always used. There is no other word that describes what is meant. So right there we are told that we can inherit what Christ inherited. Christ is God’s Son and is God; if we can become like Christ, the logical implication is obvious. There is no usurping God’s power and authority, it is all divine investiture of His power and authority.
So, either the authors of the scriptures mean what they wrote, or they didn’t. If we actually are not God’s children, then why are we called His children? If we cannot inherit (notice – not usurp, just inherit; if you have infinity and give away infinity, you still have infinity), then why are we called heirs?
I know that some might argue that it’s not supposed to make sense because our ways are not God’s ways but that is the influence of Greek philosophy into the interpretation of Christian doctrine. We can know God, it was the Greeks who argued otherwise. This belief then crept into Christianity after the death of Christ’s original apostles. We can all know God, just as Christ pleaded in John 17.
So what is the great LDS heresy? We believe that we are spirit children of God and can become like Christ, and thus like our Father. We believe that through Christ’s Atonement we can be purified and then blessed with glory and power like unto Christ’s. We believe that it is God’s nature to bless His children so. For those who still balk at this, let me ask a question, “Does God not have the power to give us power and authority similar to His?” In other words, is God able to allow us to inherit what He has; does He have that power? If not, then is God not all powerful? Which God is more loving, one who makes creatures (us) to worship Him forever, or one who has children who can grow up through Christ’s Atonement and become like Him?
We are God’s children; he loves us and wants us to return to Him. He wants us to live worthily and partake of Christ’s Atonement and become joint heirs with Christ. Is this a great heresy? If it is, it’s one that prophets have taught from Biblical to modern times. Really the great heresy is not that LDS Church doctrine declares the theomorphic nature of humankind but that members of the LDS Church actually believe the doctrines contained in the scriptures.