Mormon Beliefs: Godhead
The Bible dictionary says that God is “The Supreme Governor of the universe and the Father of mankind. We learn from the revelations that have been given that there are three separate persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. From latter-day revelation we learn that the Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bone, and that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without flesh and bone (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22–23).” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that these three gods—”separate in personality [but] . . . united as one in purpose, in plan, and in all the attributes of perfection” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 317)—are the partnership which rules the universe, with God the Eternal Father the controlling and governing power. Apostle James E. Talmage states it this way: “These constitute the Holy Trinity, comprising three physically separate and distinct individuals, who together constitute the presiding council of the heavens” (Jesus the Christ, p. 32). This belief is distinct from the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which generally maintains that they are three persons but one in essence. All three members of the Godhead are eternal and equally divine, but play somewhat different roles.
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ posits most of the same attributes to the members of the Godhead that Trinitarian Christianity posits to the Trinity: omnipotence, omniscience, omni-benevolence, endlessness, immutability, immortality, and immanence in the universe but not transcendence of it. However, the meaning held for some of these attributes differ significantly. For example, members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that God, as creator, is actually the organizer of the universe because they believe that all matter has always existed and will always exist. In other words, God did not create the world "ex nihilo," from nothing. God's omnipotence does not transcend logic or the basic laws of physics, though mankind may not necessarily understand those laws fully. God is “the framer of the heaven and earth, and all things which are in them” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:17). Latter-day Saints believe that Heavenly Father directed Jesus Christ to form the earth on which we live. In that sense, both the Eternal Father and Christ created this world, though Christ is believed to have done the actual act.
Joseph Smith pointed to the New Testament as one proof of the physical separateness of the members of the Godhood. “Peter and Stephen testify that they saw the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. Any person that had seen the heavens opened knows that there are three personages in the heavens who hold the keys of power, and one presides over all” (Documentary History of the Church 5:426). Joseph F. Smith explained how these three work as one. He said, “This oneness in the sayings and writings of prophets and apostles [were] in order to guard against the erroneous idea that these three may be distinct and independent deities and rivals for our worship. The stress is laid upon this unity in the Bible has led to the error . . . that there is only one personage, manifesting himself in three different ways” (Improvement Era, 4:228).
Members of the Godhead
God the Father
Our Heavenly Father, also called Elohim, stands in the exalted position above all beings. However, Joseph Smith said that “he is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!. . . . If you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, form, and image of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked, and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another” (Documentary History of the Church, p. 305). Brigham Young told members of the Church of Jesus Christ: “If we could see our Heavenly Father, we should see a being similar to our earthly parent, with this difference, our Father in heaven is exalted and glorified. . . . While he was in the flesh, as we are, he was as we are. But it is now written that our God is as a consuming power, that he dwells in everlasting burnings, and this is why sin cannot be where he is” (Journal of Discourses 4:54). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that God is similar to their earthly father in appearance, except that he has more light, glory, beauty, and power. They also believe his body is formed from a higher, finer matter than regular human flesh. The fact that God has a resurrected body of flesh and bone does not diminish His glory:
- Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth (Moses 1:5).
- And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
- For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live (Doctrine and Covenants 84:21, 22).
“We believe God to be a person. We believe absolutely that we are made in the image of God. We believe that Jesus Christ was actually the son of his Father, as I am the son of my father, and as you are of your father, and we believe they are personages” (Heber J. Grant, Deseret News Church Section Sept. 3, 1938). While some friends of other faiths view God as a spirit who is distant and unknowable, Latter-day Saints do not think of Him that way at all. Latter-day Saints seek to understand the attributes of God and strive to become more like Him. They believe that when and if they attain eternal life, they will know Him as He knows them, having been perfected by His grace:
- They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace (Doctrine and Covenants 76:94).
Brigham Young voices it this way: “If any of us could now see the God we are striving to serve—if we could see our Father who dwells in the heavens, we should learn that we are as well acquainted with him as we are with our earthly father; and he would be as familiar to us in the expression of his countenance and we should be ready to embrace him and fall upon his neck and kiss him, if we had the privilege” (Journal of Discourses 8:30). Latter-day Saints believe that a veil of forgetfulness comes between man and God when men are born on earth; they forget their premortal existence in the heavenly realm, to the end that they can be tested here and learn to develop faith.
Latter-day Saints solemnly avow that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, was and is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, and Savior of Mankind. They claim him as the literal head of their Church, the one who directs its functions on an on-going basis by revealing to its prophet and apostles (also prophets) what he wants. Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus was born to a mortal mother and an immortal Father. They believe that Jesus obtained the mortal quality of being able to die from his mother, and godly quality of being able to take up his life again from his Father, Elohim. They believe He atoned for their sins, giving them the opportunity to do two things: be resurrected after death—that is, regain their perfected, physical bodies; and to qualify to live with Christ and Heavenly Father eternally. They believe that Jesus was and is a God. They also believe that their debt to him can never be repaid, and that their only hope for salvation lies in following His commandments laying hold upon His atonement through repentance. He is known as the Second Comforter.
The Holy Ghost
Less is known about the Holy Ghost, also a God, but Latter-day Saints know that he has no physical body, only a spirit body, and that he, like God the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, is male. He is known as the Comforter or First Comforter, which Christ promised to send to his disciples after his death. He is a testator of Christ, as evidenced by his appearance (symbolized by the dove) at Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. He also testifies to modern man when they hear Christ's words, and is the principal reason the Church of Jesus Christ has grown so much and so quickly. Joseph Smith taught that “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” Since Christ's church has always been built on revelation, the Holy Ghost is very vigorous and active in it today. A former prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, said that “The Holy Ghost is a Testifier of Truth, who can teach men things they cannot teach one another” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 51). The Holy Ghost testifies to those considering joining the Church that it is, indeed, Christ's church.
Even though members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe in three members of the Godhead, they still view such belief as a belief in a single God. Though the existence of other gods or divine beings is acknowledged by the Church and its members, this fact is considered almost irrelevant to salvation: the other gods—which Latter-day Saints would refer to as exalted beings—have no impact on this earth, are not worshipped by members, nor is their eternal role defined. The Lord has promised to reveal eternal knowledge about godhood to the worthy at the end of the earth:
- For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
- Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
- And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
- Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
- And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
- For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man (Doctrine and Covenants 76:5–10).
- A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest (Doctrine and Covenants 121:28).
- Former president of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley testifies of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost