From the Ensign: What We Believe – God is Truly Our Father

I have been thinking of reviewing this section in the Ensign while it lasts.  I hope the Ensign continues this department.  This review comes from the January 2010 issue, and I will try to catch up as the year goes on.  I will mostly just cut and paste what I feel are key points and open it up for discussion if anyone is interested.  This particular article addresses the topic I am preparing my presentation for so it particularly caught my attention.  You can read this very short article by clicking the link above and then clicking on the ‘What we Believe’ bookmark on the side of this PDF file.

The article clearly states that God is the father of our spirits.  It clearly states that the beings of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles and are only one in purpose.  It briefly gives the basic claim of the First Vision, and provides a testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ.  The article then give an itemized list of beliefs regarding this topic which I will abbreviate here:

1 – We are created in God’s image.
2 – God is the Supreme Creator.
3 – God is our literal spiritual parent.
4 – God has a body of flesh and bones.
5 – Our Heavenly Father gave us the Plan of Salvation.

Those who know me and my recent interests would be able to predict that this article is right down my alley.  This is the type of article that I would have thought was boring and unnecessary a few years ago – but no more.  I would welcome your comments on this article or my simple review.

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35 Responses to “From the Ensign: What We Believe – God is Truly Our Father”


  1. 1 Matt W. February 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    “God is our literal spiritual parent.”- via adoption, sure :)

  2. 2 Eric Nielson February 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    The article goes out of its way to use the terms truly, father, literal, and parent. If there was no spirit birth, there would be little use in using of emphasizing such terms. It would in fact be misleading.

  3. 3 W. V. Smith February 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Can you say “cultural over-belief” 10 times really fast? ;-)

  4. 4 Eric Nielson February 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Yes I can. What would I be refering to?

  5. 5 Geoff J February 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    The article skirts the actual theological questions we have been debating. But that is probably good given the lack of clarifying revelation on this subject. The church is content to let people assume whatever they want on this in the meantime I guess.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson February 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Geoff:

    Seems to most of the debates have to do with the details and implications of the above. But sometimes it seems that some would dismiss even the clear (yes general) statements above. Which is their choice I suppose.

  7. 7 Clean Cut February 18, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Eric, there is no debating that God fathered our spirits. But naturally there is debate about how he did this/what the details are/how literal we take it.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson February 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I guess it is the literal part that is the kicker for me. It is either literal or it is not. Something can’t be 90% literal can it? Or sort of literal? If one does not take it 100% literal then one does not take it that God fathered our spirits. I can’t conceive of a middle ground or a compromise on the literal part. It is either literal or metaphorical.

    I can understand questioning how, or the details, but it seems that literal is either/or.

  9. 9 Michelle February 19, 2010 at 4:48 am

    I can’t conceive of a middle ground or a compromise on the literal part.

    Pun intended? ;)

    I tend to agree with Geoff that the ‘how’ ends up being a big question mark. But I love knowing that we really are literal spirit children of heavenly parents.

  10. 11 Clean Cut February 19, 2010 at 11:40 am

    A God who chose to adopt pre-existing (and uncreated) spirits, create a relationship, and become our “Father” is still literally our Father–he fathered and is still fathering us. Or are you wanting to prove that Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother had sexual relations to “create” a spirit? I get what you’re saying about “literalness” and I also understand that you’re a big proponent of spirit birth, etc. But a cultural over-belief does exist. For that very reason, I have reduced my use of “literal” language, because it’s not very helpful in clarifying anything.

  11. 12 Eric Nielson February 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Such a God would simply not be a literal father in any sence. Such a God could adopt spirit cats and dogs, create a relationship, and ‘father’ them. There is no literalness about it whatsoever. Such a God could be completely ‘other’ with respect to man regardless of a father metaphore describing the relationship. Such a relationship would provide nothing in terms of man’s identity. We could be anything.

    I am not trying to prove anything whatsoever. I am trying to communicate and defend what the church teaches on this topic because I happen to sincerely believe it and see no compelling reason to dismiss it. What is important is that there were divine characteristics and attributes transmitted from heavenly parents to their spirit children – regardless of the ‘birds and bees’ details.

    Just because you say there is a cultural over-belief on this topic does not mean that there is one. That is a lazy, insulting accusation. I could just as well say there is an evangelical envy under-belief, or an internal apostacy which would not be very helpful either. I only say this for illustration.

    Literal language can be very clarifying and helpful if it communicates important ideas. This literal heavenly parent idea is clearly what the church currently teaches. The real question is why we should dismiss the idea in favor of other ideas, especially if those ideas are inferior. The literal language clarifies the nature of God, the nature of man, man’s relationship to God, where we came from, why we are here, where we are going. It is a fundamental theological building block to nearly everything Mormonism stands for. It provides meaningful clarity to every aspect of our theology. It is incredibly helpful – and even vital.

  12. 13 Michelle February 20, 2010 at 2:04 am

    The literal language clarifies the nature of God, the nature of man, man’s relationship to God, where we came from, why we are here, where we are going. It is a fundamental theological building block to nearly everything Mormonism stands for. It provides meaningful clarity to every aspect of our theology. It is incredibly helpful – and even vital.

    I’m liking these thoughts a lot, Eric.

    Can you remind me when and where you will be speaking (or have I missed it already? — kind of out of it these days, ‘nacle-wise).

  13. 14 Eric Nielson February 20, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Thanks Michelle. I will be speaking at the annual SMPT conference at UVU during the last week of March. I have not received a specific time slot yet.

  14. 15 Matt W. February 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Eric:

    If we accept Abraham as correct, our spirits are eternal.

    then we have the option of whether these eternal spirits were always god’s children or not. My reading of the scriptures implies we were not always God’s children. I believe you agree with that.

    So if we already existed, and became God’s children, then we wonder if God specifically selected us based on some sort of criteria and desire to be a father on his part, or if it was random chance.

    The former would be adoption, I’d say.

  15. 16 Eric Nielson February 20, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Something about us is eternal, this is usually called intelligences. I do not believe Abraham said that our fully formed spirit bodies are eternal.

    I believe I am okay with your second paragraph.

    I sort of guess there was some sort of criteria, in which Christ was the first spirit child.

    I don’t get the fourth paragraph. I am guessing you are saying there was some sort of adoptive choice involved in the sequence of intelligence/spirit body transition. But that says nothing about the process of spirit body creation.

  16. 17 Matt W. February 21, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Abraham uses spirit and intelligence interchangeably, as I am sure you are aware, so there really is no argument there for any sort of intelligence/spirit body distinction. I’m not saying no such distinction exists, just saying it is not there in Abraham. Anyway, I think we are in line to what I was saying. I just wanted to make sure we are in agreement on that before continuing.

    Anyway, God chose us to be his children. He adopted us to him. You say it is very important that we are literally his children, and by this, If reading posts by you for the last 4 years about this is any sort of indication, you mean that it is very important that god infused into us some of his own divinity. I do not deny this, and agree there may well have been some sort of infusion, but I don not think such an infusion would require sexual spirit reproduction nor vaginal spirit birth to bring about. I do not believe being a “literal” father requires either to be true. You say it does require this literal infusion to take place. I’d like to challenge that in two ways.

    First, and in all sincerity, What is this infusion you speak of. What traits did we not have prior to the infusion that we picked up therein? I have searched for examples, but have found nothing in the scriptures or teachings of the church that answers this question. I think this is a fruitful area of pursuit though, and would love your opinions and theories as to what God infused us with.

    Second, to be a paternal father requires that my genetic material is in my child, normally via insemination (though this does not require sex) . But I can be a literal father without such occurring, possibly.

    Clean cut- interesting to see you disagree with Stephen Robinson on <a href="http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/basic/godhead/god_father.html"this one. Usually you line up with him.

  17. 18 C Jones February 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Matt W says:
    “Abraham uses spirit and intelligence interchangeably, as I am sure you are aware, so there really is no argument there for any sort of intelligence/spirit body distinction.”

    Joseph Smith occasionally uses “intelligence” to refer to mortal men. That doesn’t necessarily follow that there is no argument or distinction between spirit bodies and mortal bodies.

    The distinction between preexisting intelligences and spirits has been mentioned all through the history of the church. Since this has been such a discussed topic in the Nacle, I’ve tried to pay attention whenever it’s discussed in RS or SS, and I would have to say that it seems to be the general understanding of rank and file members also.

    And sorry for all the quotes but what can I say:

    We were in the beginning with God. In the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that we are begotten sons and daughters unto God. I am not going into the details of how we emerged from intelligence to spiritual beings, LeGrand Richards

    There is something that is not created or made. The Scriptures called it ‘intelligence,’ which at a certain stage in the pre-existence was organized into a ‘spirit.’ After that spirit had grown to a certain stature it then was given the opportunity by an all-wise Father to come into another stage for its development. Harold B Lee

    They also teach that individual “intelligences … were organized before the world was.” (Abr. 3:22.) Russell M Nelson

    Scriptures embodying the ordinary signification—literally that of Parent—are too numerous and specific to require citation. The purport of these scriptures is to the effect that God the Eternal Father, whom we designate by the exalted name-title “Elohim,” is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of the spirits of the human race. Elohim is the Father in every sense in which Jesus Christ is so designated, and distinctively He is the Father of spirits. Thus we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9). In view of this fact we are taught by Jesus Christ to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9).
    Jesus Christ applies to Himself both titles, “Son” and “Father.” Indeed, He specifically said to the brother of Jared: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son” (Ether 3:14). Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior. No extended explanation of the title “Son of God” as applied to Jesus Christ appears necessary.

    The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    Salt Lake City, Utah, 30 June 1916

  18. 19 C Jones February 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    OK, so that last quote doesn’t explicitly say that intelligences and spirits are different. But clearly *something* happened that made God the father of spirits. For example we could say adoption, organization, or spirit birth.

    But then why all the parenthood language: Father, child, begotten, Firstborn Son, parent, sons and daughters?

    Speaking only for myself, although I know other women who feel the same way, carrying and bearing children has been the absolute highlight of my life- nothing would make me happier than to be able to do it for eternity. I don’t know will happen or who is right in this debate, I only know what I am hoping for.

  19. 20 Eric Nielson February 21, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Matt:

    I would like to address your two challenges-

    First, I would say that what was ‘infused’ (although I don’t particularly like the term) is the capacity to become like God. It is my feeling that without the Plan of Salvation, we could not become like God. And an important first and foundational step is a literal spirit birth. I think you could see that if something like spirit birth was dropped, then the idea of our ability to become like God would be compromised. The two ideas are linked.

    Second, I don’t know for sure what you are getting at there. If there is a human being, then there must have been some genetic material passed on some way. An important part of your literal child is the capacity to become like you as a parent. So I go back to the answer in the first.

    So in summary I would say that the important thing passed along is the capacity of the child to become like the parent. A capacity that would not be available otherwise. Spirit birth seems like the most natural thing here, and matches what the church teaches. Why should we try so hard to wriggle out of it?

  20. 21 Eric Nielson February 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    CJONES!!!!

    Always good to hear from you. Thanks for the quotes and the perspective. I am glad you felt comfortable enough to post it here. Opponents of spirit birth are quick to say that JS isn’t officially recorded directly as teaching spirit birth, but often don’t mention that nearly every prophet since has taught this.

  21. 22 Matt W. February 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Cjones: thank you for your response. I think it is important to note that different general authorities have used the term intelligence in different ways. I think Truman Madsen has popularized a current view where intelligences where thinking conscious entities prior to receiving spirit bodies. This view goes back to B. H. Roberts. However, before Roberts developed this view, Brigham young had a different perspective.

    For example:

    This element of which our tabernacles are organized is calculated to decompose and return to its mother earth, or to its native element. This intelligence, which might be called divine intelligence, is implanted in mortal or human beings; and if we take a course to promote the principles of life—seek unto our Father and God, and obtain his will and perform it, the spirit will become purified, sanctified, cleansed, and made holy in the body, and the grave will cleanse the flesh. When the spirit overcomes the evil consequences of the fall, which are in the mortal tabernacle, it will reign predominant in the flesh, and is then prepared to be exalted, and will, in the resurrection, be reunited with those particles that formed the mortal body, which will be called together as with the sound of a trumpet and become immortal. Why? Because the particles composing these bodies have been made subject and obedient, by the law of the everlasting Priesthood, and the will and commandment of the Supreme Ruler of the universe, who holds the keys of life and death. Every principle, act, and portion of the lives of the children of men that does not tend to this will lead to an eternal dissolution of the identity of the person.

    “Why,” some say, “we thought that the wicked were to be sent to hell to dwell with eternal burnings for evermore.” They go to hell and will stay there until the anger of the Almighty consumes them and they become disorganized, as the elements of the fuel we burn are disorganized by the action of fire and thrown back again to their native element. (JD 7:287)

    and

    Something or other will divide this intelligence or spirit from the body which it inhabits; and the tabernacle will go down to dust. Our spirits will not sleep an eternal sleep, but our bodies will be resurrected, and our spirits and our bodies will be reunited; and all who believe to the contrary are in a state of darkness, wretchedness and unbelief. (JD 13:316-317)

    From here we see that Young viewed the mind of man as not being eternal. (Contra Smith’s King Follet Sermon, which Young was not familiar with, having been on a mission at the time)
    Harold B. Lee and Bruce R. McConkie typically follow this point of view. From your quote above, it seems Legrand Richards takes this same approach.

    I can tell nothing from the Nelson quote, as he is merely quoting Abraham. I do believe Elder Scott is a proponent of the B. H. Roberts view, based on this quote-

    You can live a virtuous, productive, righteous life by following the plan of protection created by your Father in Heaven: His plan of happiness. It is contained in the scriptures and in the inspired declarations of His prophets. He clothed your intelligence with spirit and made it possible for you to enjoy the wonder of a physical body. When you use that body in the way He has decreed, you will grow in strength and capacity, avoid transgression, and be abundantly blessed.

    (Richard G. Scott, “How to Live Well amid Increasing Evil,” Ensign, May 2004, 100)

    I don’t know your opinion on the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, but here is what it says on the matter:

    Intelligence, however defined, is not created or made (D&C 93:29); it is coeternal with God (TPJS, pp. 353-54). Some LDS leaders have interpreted this to mean that intelligent beings-called intelligences-existed before and after they were given spirit bodies in the premortal existence. Others have interpreted it to mean that intelligent beings were organized as spirits out of eternal intelligent matter, that they did not exist as individuals before they were organized as spirit beings in the premortal existence (Abr. 3:22; JD 7:57; 2:124). The Church has taken no official position on this issue.

  22. 23 Matt W. February 21, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Eric: So if we are what Abraham 3:18 calls spirits that “have no beginning” and “have no end”, then I would argue that what God infused us with could simply be knowledge, so that we could become like him. I am not saying it is only knowledge, as there is a possibility it is more than that, and i honestly don’t know. But I have no recollection of any teaching of spirit birth as essential to the plan of salvation.

    As to my second point, even humans, with our crude science, have figured out how to “clone” animals. If we can do that without requiring sex, I am sure God can to.

  23. 24 Eric Nielson February 22, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Matt:

    I believe that the sons and daughters of God are the only beings who are eligible for exaltation and eternal life. It is only available to His children.

    Just because He can ‘clone’ doesn’t mean he does. But the central point would still hold. We would be the same type/kind/species of being that God is with the same eternal cpacities (probably). Given the options of sharing together with a glorified, resurrected spouse to bring forth spirit children on the one hand, and running a spirit cloning lab on the other, which would you choose?

  24. 25 C Jones February 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Matt W- Well if Truman Madsen said it, I will probably like it. And thanks for the quotes.

    It seems to me that pretty much everyone agrees that there is something- native element, intelligence- that is uncreated. Some say that it had individual identity in that form and some say not until it was organized into spirit beings. Am I wrong here? Anyway that is a lesser concern for me.

    So the big question is *how* does that organization into spirit beings happen. It could mean a lot of things- from actual spirit birth to being lined up in rows like soldiers :-) I’m wondering how you understand that term (organized) as it is used in Abr 3:22?

    Not to turn all mommy blog on everyone or anything, but I usually get the impression in these discussions that the female perspective is glossed over a bit. Our mortal experience of parenthood is intensely physical- vastly different that that of males. It’s impossible for me not to wonder how that translates into the eternities.

    If all that is happening in eternal “parenthood” is something like cloning, or the adoption of independently existing beings, or downloading information into some kind of matter, then why gender?

    Are women really necessary- I mean if cloning could work in mortality- why not go that way?

    And again, why all this family language- Parent, Father, sons and daughters?

    I am open to whatever the truth turns out to be, but for me, gender and it’s implications are extremely important to the discussion.

  25. 27 Matt W. February 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    C Jones and Eric- There is a big difference to me in whether the “Intelligence” as we will call it here had individual identity or not. If it did, then it had agency and had a choice in whether or not it would choose to be God’s child or not. If not, then it was just material from which my mind emerged at a given point of time. Going with this latter view seems to be contra Joseph Smith’s teaching that the mind/spirit of man is eternal, to me. (KFD)

    But when we look at Spirit Children vs. not Intelligence, it gets quite messy in trying to determine the difference there if intelligences are intelligent individuals. The only defining feature we have is that prior to that point they were not children of God, and potentially, we could say they were not “clothed with a spirit body”. We have no context with which to define what the latter means, and the former, while very important, also doesn’t give us to much to run with.

    So when Heavenly Father organized us in Abraham 3:22, this could be simply our being organized into a family unit, or it could be something more complex. But it must at least mean our being organized into God’s family unit, so I probably tend toward that “safe ground”.

    I would agree that these conversations on the blogs tend to be male-centric. (except when we’ve had them at ZD). But I find your take interesting in that many women are appalled at the second-class citizen status of being relegated to “baby-factories” while the Father does everything else. I am more partial to the two working in perfect unison and co-equally sharing the “Heavenly Father” role within the Trinity.

    But the challenge of the importance of gender is a tricky one, I will grant you that.

  26. 28 Matt W. February 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I want to add, C Jones, that I always enjoy these discussions with you.

  27. 29 Eric Nielson February 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Well, I suppose I will let CJones respond then….

  28. 30 C Jones February 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    haha Eric, I’m just happy that you let me chime in here while also refraining from pointing out the lameness of some of my comments :-)

  29. 32 Eric Nielson February 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Matt:

    Part of the reason I didn’t address your last comment earlier was a lame attempt at humor. The other part is that I am having trouble figuring out what you are saying and how it relates to spirit birth.

    If I were to attempt to summarize, it seems you are questioning the distinction between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ snapshot of the spirit birth event. I might hazard a speculative guess.

    After: We have a spirit body of godly/human image. We have a greater capacity to become like God. And I almost want to say that we have kept our zeroth estate.

    Before: No clue. Can’t really see the snapshot very well. Poor lighting, out of focus. Probably none of the above.

  30. 33 C Jones February 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Matt W , I agree that there really isn’t much to run with as far as pinpointing exactly what Joseph meant. I’ve always thought that his struggle to put the things that were revealed to him into understandable concepts for his audience runs like a current through the whole KFD. But I really appreciate your insights. More for me to think about.

    As far as women being baby factories, I don’t get that second-class thing at all. I don’t see the continuation of the childbearing role like that at all. Why would that be the only eternal role for females any more than it is here? Maybe parenting in the eternities will be fabulous in some other intensely intimate way that I can’t now imagine. But I feel real grief at the thought of never having that experience again.

    And while I wouldn’t turn it down, the idea of being absorbed into the essentially male role of Heavenly Father doesn’t necessarily appeal.

  31. 34 Matt W. February 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Sorry, I feel like I haven’t kept up my side of the conversation. All I can say is I appreciate your perspectives and they’ve given me something to think on. (Both Eric and CJones!)

  32. 35 Jared C January 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    It seems a misuse of the word “literal” here. I suppose a few believe that spirits are produced by sexual reproduction, grown in a spiritual birthed from a spiritual mother. But when “Father” or “child” are used in the scriptures, this assumption doesn’t seem justifiable.

    literally speaking don’t human beings only have one father, i.e. the one that provided the sperm to fertilize their mother’s egg?

    Any other reference to the word “father” must be at least somewhat figurative or metaphorical

    .


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