Heavenly Father

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The very first Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes erroneously called the Mormon Church) is very definitive and quite simple in stating our belief concerning God:

We believe in God, the eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Joseph Smith offered a doctrinal clarification of this belief, which has been canonized in the Church's scriptures:

"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. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)

Latter-day Saints believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and that His Spirit can be felt by all people, everywhere. He possesses an absolute perfection of all good attributes; He is merciful, loving, patient, truthful, and no respecter of persons. While Church members look to the scriptures for instructive information about God, their primary knowledge concerning His nature is evidenced in Joseph Smith's First Vision and can be made even more individual through personal revelation to the sincere inquirer from God Himself. Through such personal revelation, individuals can move beyond debate and uncertainty to an absolute knowledge of God's existence and Being, as Joseph Smith did.

Father of Us All

Latter-day Saints believe that God, the Father, is literally that—the Father of all of us. We are His children, and as such we can learn of Him and from Him. We can strive to know Him and to be like Him. He loves us and knew us before we came to earth. He desires our happiness in this life, and wants us to return to live with Him in the next life. (Latter-day Saints believe that our earth life is only a small portion of our eternal existence. They believe that we lived with God before we were born and we can return to live with God after we die. This concept is often referred to as the Plan of Salvation.)

God's Relationship to Jesus and the Holy Ghost

Latter-day Saints believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings. Together they constitute what is referred to as the Godhead. The idea that all three members of the Godhead are separate and distinct was confirmed by revelation when Joseph Smith received the First Vision, but is also scriptural in nature. For example, at the baptism of Jesus, while He was in the water, the Father's voice was heard from heaven, and the Holy Ghost descended "like a dove" and rested upon Jesus. (Matthew 3:13–17) In this instance all three members of the Godhead were manifested separately and simultaneously. Jesus also stated his distinctness from God when He taught, "My Father is greater than I." (John 14:28) In another place Jesus declared, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." (John 5:22) On the Mount of Transfiguration God identified the mortal Jesus to Peter, James, and John as "my beloved Son." (Matthew 17:5) These are but a few of the many instances in the Bible where God and Jesus are shown to be separate and distinct from each other.

This idea of the separate nature of the three members of the Godhead has led some to contend that Latter-day Saints believe in more than one god. Yet Latter-day Saints do believe that, despite their individuality, the members of the Godhead are perfectly united (one) in mind and purpose. The way in which the Godhead is one is illustrated by Jesus' prayer that his disciples would be one, even as he and the Father are one. (John 17:21–22) Here Jesus was praying for his disciples' unity of mind, purpose, and testimony, not for the merger of their identities into a single indistinguishable being. He prayed that they would be one in desire, purpose, and objective, exactly as exists between Jesus and God.

History of God

It is a common Latter-day Saint belief that God the Father, was once a mortal, even as we now are. Some believe that He was once a man like us; others believe that He was once a man like Jesus Christ. This is found in Joseph Smith's teachings:

[F]or I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. [That he was not is an idea] incomprehensible to some. But it is the simple and first principle of the gospel—to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did . . ." (King Follett Discourse)

This quote is taken from a sermon Joseph Smith gave shortly before his death. The premature end of his life stopped him from discussing this theological idea in any greater detail. Other leaders and members have expressed much the same concept at other times, however. The belief that God was once as we are (or as Jesus was) is common among members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but it is not a "litmus test" of being Latter-day Saints. In other words, some members of the Church may hold differences of opinion on exactly what Joseph Smith meant in teaching this, or some may reject the idea completely; that does not preclude them from being members or from being of the same mind regarding core doctrines of the Church.

Some critics complain that believing God was once mortal means that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that "God has not always been God," but such is not true. Why? Because all men have an incomplete understanding of the nature of the eternities. Moses spoke to God face to face, being quickened to be able to stand in His presence. The Lord said,

Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless? And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease." (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:3, 4)
But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. . . . And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Emphasis added) (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1:35–39)

That God the Father has moved through stages of existence, yet has always been God, is easier to comprehend when those stages are explained. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who was taught constantly through revelation from On High, explained that we have all existed eternally, first as intelligences, then as God-fathered spirits, then as mortal beings, then as resurrected and immortal beings. Evidently, the intelligence of God the Father is so great, that He has been able to guide and rule all the other innumerable intelligences toward eternal glory. Joseph Smith explained these philosophies:

The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself. I know that my testimony is true; hence, when I talk to these mourners, what have they lost? Their [deceased] relatives and friends are only separated from their bodies for a short season: their spirits which existed with God have left the tabernacle of clay only for a little moment, as it were; and they now exist in a place where they converse together the same as we do on the earth.
I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it has a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven. . . .
The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with Himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits. [1]

In the Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, [2] it says—

Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

Latter-day Saints are accused of diminishing the greatness of God the Father by (1) introducing these elements of the Plan of Salvation, and (2) by stating that men and women can become like God. To the contrary, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ reveals that God the Father has dedicated all of His power for eternity to the single goal of bringing all who exist throughout the universe on a multitude of planets to a point where they can be equal with Him in glory and joy. Hence, Latter-day Saints claim a more expansive view of God the Father than any other religion.

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