This post is my personal favorite. It is also a bit deep. It is my best understanding to date and is the result of decades of study. I feel joy and gratitude writing it up, but also feel very responsible to communicate it in wisdom, balance and truth. This is possibly my magnum opus…because it took a lifetime of learning curves to even compose this.
Perhaps one of the most inner, main components of our religious experience is rooted in our individual perception and understanding of “God.” Not just who God actually is for us specifically, but also how connected we feel and can relate to Him.
But when I say God or Lord…am I referring to Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ? Or does it matter because “God” is really kind of a fuzzy composite of both of them in our passing thoughts? We often merge Heavenly Father and Christ into One within our scripture readings and Sunday lessons, and do not make a distinction between them. Which is in fact, somewhat similar to the Trinity doctrine of most of the Christian world.
Heavenly Father and Jesus are one in purpose anyway and therefore interchangable…right? (It was certainly that way for me for at least a couple of adult decades.)
Trinity; one God manifesting himself in three Persons.
Although, we don’t adhere to the pure Trinity doctrine even in our heads, it seems we’ve developed a “Divinity” doctrine. We combine Heavenly Father and Christ into one “God” among our inner perceptions and don’t often stop to identify the One from the Other.
Perhaps one of the most elusive concepts in Mormon doctrine is the Godhead. Not the actual definition of the Godhead because we can cite the Article of Faith #1 readily enough:
“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”
Intellectually, we know they are three distinct personages and we mostly grasp our official belief in a Godhead. The real question is how much of that is clear in our heads real-time among everyday thought processes? Such as when reading scriptures or listening to General Conference? When the word “God” or “Lord” is used, do we know which of the Godhead is actually speaking or being referred to? Whose inspiration are we getting? Who is that voice in our heads? Do they mean God the Father or Christ, the true and living God?
May I suggest it does matter, and your own spiritual experiences will be deepened and heightened when you consistently reflect to make the distinction between the Father and the Son? Pausing to study, ponder and discern between them both individually as I study scriptures and other material has made a wonderful, noticeable difference to my sense of inner gospel understanding, well-being and confidence. They have different roles and even a different part in our lives. Taking the time to know just Who is talking or being pointed at is worth the trouble. I can share firsthand how much the clarity has lifted me closer to both God the Father and to Christ the Savior.
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. John 17:3
Just a few days ago I shared with my dearest friend how we can have a very connected relationship to both Heavenly Father and to Jesus Christ separately and distinctively. LDS members often perceive or sense that to adhere to, or worship one Being is to disrespect the Other. We sometimes subconsciously feel we have to make a choice between them. Some actually silence and mute Christ as if He had no ability or right to speak or to be spoken to. That somehow Heavenly Father would be insulted if you worshiped or praised or even talked to the Savior. Or, we decide we’re close enough to either the Father or the Son but not really so much to the other. Where do those beliefs come from? Why do so many of us experience them? It’s still a mystery to me!
We have a repeating type on earth which helps us visualize that we can indeed have two relationships. Also, the two relationships don’t have to be merged nor occur at the expense of each other. The family is the central pattern of relationships both on earth and in eternal life. In fact the Family Proclamation states:
“…the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
In a healthy, happy earthly family you have a relationship with your father, and you have a separate relationship with your brother. They are both strong bonds, and they are both rooted in fondness, familiarity and loyalty to each other. Yet you have a different relationship with your father than you do your brother. You often have different kinds of conversations and experiences with each. And neither relationship threatens nor cancels out the other relationship. In the same way you can have a great relationship with both your parent and your brother simultaneously, and in the same way they are different styles of relationships from each other — you can have a relationship with your Father in Heaven and with your Elder Brother. They’re different relationships yet also quite similar in some ways too. They both intend to exalt you.
I love the way Brigham Young puts it:
“But the greatest and most important of all requirements of our Father in heaven and of his Son Jesus Christ, is, to his brethren or disciples, to believe in Jesus Christ, confess him, seek to him, cling to him, make friends with him. Take a course to open and keep open a communication with your Elder Brother or file-leader–our Saviour.” (JD 8:339)
Maybe part of the dilemma is most of Christianity believes in the Trinity (three-in-one) and that concept has some carry-over on through adult LDS conversions. So we have a tendency to merge them in our own mind without meaning to. Second, most teachers and members don’t stop to make the distinction between Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ when they use the word “God” or “the Lord” and may not know themselves which one they really refer to. It’s not always clear. Or, they use Heavenly Father when they should have used Christ and vice versa. That just happened in the last General Women’s Conference (Sept 2017). I have chosen not to isolate which particular talk.
Perhaps the other MAJOR part of it is we run into verses which seem to contradict each other or state competing ideas about “God.” Even in our own modern scriptures! Here are some examples:
“And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.” Moses 1:6
“God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.” Mosiah 15:1
Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.” Mosiah 5:15
“And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.” Mormon 7:7
I used to think these verses were all stating a contrasting or competing definition of “God,” but at some point I realized they were all expressing different sides of the exact same concept.
Each of the members of the Godhead represent the same entity. What is often expressed as “one God” or the “only God” is equally expressed as one “Godhead.” Orson Pratt says it beautifully:
“There is no God besides me. (Moses 1:6) In these expressions, God has reference to the great principles of light and truth, or knowledge, and not to the tabernacles [personages] in which this knowledge may dwell…but the truth or knowledge which is often personified and called God, is one, being the same in all, God is one, being a unity, when represented by light, truth, wisdom, or knowledge.” Orson Pratt JD 2:345a
In other words, “God” is often a reference to THE only system of Light and Truth which is the moral authority. Each member of the Godhead (the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost) embodies and represents the same moral authority of Light and Truth. No other legitimate system of Light and Truth exists outside of them…there is only the ONE.
So all of these verses can be true statements without excluding or contradicting the other. I find 95% of the time you can insert the word “Godhead” in there somewhere and the meaning clarifies itself and makes all these seemingly opposing verses run together. Let’s test it out:
“And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no [Godhead] beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all.” Moses 1:6
“[A member of the Godhead] himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.” Mosiah 15:1
Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is [a member of the Godhead] above all. Amen.” Mosiah 5:15
“And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one [Godhead], in a state of happiness which hath no end.” Mormon 7:7
Occasionally we hear members of the church, even leaders state that only the Father is a true God. Perhaps they are influenced by singular verses like Moses 1:6. But to make that statement is to ignore hundreds of other verses. I can list for you probably 50+ scriptures from my notes which completely disqualify that statement. To this day, I cannot explain why some, even prominent leaders I respect, feel compelled to deny Christ his Godship. You certainly won’t find Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or Nephi doing that…ever.
Back to the Father and the Son. The Father is of one heart and one mind with the Son. He celebrates our relationship to Him, and it is of no disrespect nor neglect of Him to worship, praise and draw close to the Savior. Just in the same way I cherish my children’s better sibling relationships which each other. I love when they hang out and are great friends to each other. Their bonds do not diminish my role in their life nor lessen my relationship with each of them. Likewise Heavenly Father is not challenged by our closeness and communications with the Savior. The scriptures back that up repeatedly. It is with great, heartfelt awe and gratitude I tell Christ I love Him or I contemplate the wonder of His doings and send Him my respect and yearning.
We pray to Heavenly Father, hopefully three times a day, with our confidential and intimate reports about our mortal daily adventures (and misadventures).
However, we walk with the Savior in daily life, we are called by His name, we belong to the Church He started, and His role in our life is to return us to the Father. Jesus purchased us with His blood. Of those magnificent, extraordinary prophets who conversed with Christ and know Him well – this is what they say about Jesus. See if it matches your own understanding:
“And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.” 2 Nephi 25:29
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” 2 Nephi 31:20
“…and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” 2 Nephi 31:13
Read what Christ says about himself and about you:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;” D&C 93:1 (Christ fully identifies Himself as the one addressing you in verses 2-6)
How about the Young Women theme for this year (2018)?
“Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. (D&C 19:23)
But they don’t include the next verse which I feel is important here:
I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will.” (D&C 19:24)
Of course we have to include the Sacrament prayer we hear almost every Sunday:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. Moroni 4:3
How can you have Christ’s Spirit to be with you, yet refuse to experience mutual communion with that Spirit?
Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I Am, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins;
“Who will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer. (D&C 29:1-2)
Here is one of my very favorites:
And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. D&C 88:62-63 (The speaker identifies himself as Christ in verse 64 and in several other places in section 88).
I’ll end with this one (sorry for listing so many, I have many more too…)
“But behold, verily, verily, I say unto you that mine eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and ye cannot see me;“ D&C 38:7 (Christ specifically identifies himself as the one speaking in verses 1-6)
Jesus is quite personable, isn’t He?
There are a fair number of members who would suggest there is to be no communication addressed to Christ himself or that He doesn’t communicate with you literally. Yet I can point you to many explicit examples in the scriptures where we clearly have a line open directly to Him. Christ is the one who leads this Church and the one who speaks one-on-one to our prophets and apostles. Who in turn, speak right to Him. Christ was also Jehovah, God of the Old Testament who did most of the talking back and forth with the ancient prophets.
As a resurrected Being in the New Testament, Christ is the one who talks directly back and forth to the apostles after His death. And the Doctrine and Covenants? There must be at least 50+ verses which model to you to speak to Jesus straight out. If He is speaking to so many others, then why not you? Or how is it you can have permission to speak to Heavenly Father, the greatest of all, but must not speak to Christ as if He is unapproachable or off-limits? How is it Christ was so willing to talk and connect to all who would listen to Him while on earth, but once He resurrected He no longer converses with you or others? How did He become the obselete Being who cannot be communicated with…but we can converse and commune with Heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost? It’s kind of like Christ is the odd God out for some people. Do you sense the irony or the conflicting pattern of those beliefs? The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Bible…not one of these sacred texts supports Christ going silent or our going silent with Him. In fact, quite the opposite.
Of course developing a relationship with the Savior doesn’t exclude nor diminish from our commandment to pray to the Father daily and often. Both relationships play an important part in our attaining eternal life. We have a Father and a Brother – both with the love and desire to our souls. Both with the repeating tendency to connect and commune with us.
Bottom line: as you study scriptures, always know which “God” or “Lord” is speaking or being referred to. Read the surrounding verses for clues. You will become more familiar with their individual roles and patterns and your closeness to them will be greatly enhanced. Allow the Savior to be a full part of your life and awareness.
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen. D&C 6:36-37
For me it is breath-taking to realize I have three Magnificent Beings who even notice me or yearn for me in any way. Really?? How could I refuse them in any way they are willing to be involved in my life? How could I not reach back? I love the Father. I love Christ. I love the Holy Ghost. Sending my deepest, heart-felt awe and humility to each of them.
(Hebrew for “thou mayest” and possibly one of my most expressive, favorite words ever!)