Flesh and bone. While many consider such to be the vulgarity of mortality, to Mormons, this is the substance of transcendence. Flesh and bone is but part of the iconoclasm that quickens the faith of Joseph’s followers; but, it is also from the corpus of the Prophet that the seed of controversy emerges. This uncertainty is nowhere more evident than when we consider our origin as children of God.
Many read the revelation that exaltation, in its “continuation of the seeds,” requires a corporeal union between celestial man and woman. They associate Abraham and the “promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins” with the idea that all humans are conceived by celestial sexual union. The difficulty is that we have no record that Joseph believed or thought that such a union was the source of our relationship to God. Moreover, I submit that the evidence indicates that he did not.
Joseph taught that we are children of God, that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. He also taught that the spirit and mind of man cannot be created. Later scholars and leaders have posited two primary hypotheses to rectify this seeming contradiction: tripartite existence as intelligence-spirit-soul; and the spiritual atomism of Orson Pratt.
With the tripartite model, we are, at a fundamental level, minds. By an act of creation (which some believe is sexual) we were clothed with a spirit body. Orson’s atomism posits that independent intelligent particles self assemble in the womb of the celestial female to a unified oneness. While many leaders have championed either of these syntheses (the former much more so than the later), these beliefs have no basis in revelation or the extant teachings of Joseph. Moreover, the tripartite existence is viewed by many to be antagonistic to Joseph’s teaching.
If then, the popular conceptions of our spiritual progeneration are, indeed, the fruits of cultural over-belief, what other options have we to resolve the tension between our eternal existence and our relationship to deity as children? We can only speculate; yet, there are significant precedents in scripture and the teachings of the Prophet.
Most obviously, through the atonement, we are made sons and daughters of Christ. The scriptures are unequivocal that we become His. Joseph taught that this relationship is contingent, emphasizing that, “the Lord loveth [whom] he chasteneth & scourgeth every son & daughter whom he receiveth & if we do not receive chastizements then are we bastards & not Sons.”
Joseph also taught that we became children of God by becoming heirs to Him in exaltation:
Those who keep no eternal Law in this life or make no eternal contract are single & alone in the eternal world (Luke 20-35) and are only made Angels to minister to those who shall be heirs of Salvation never becoming Sons of God having never kept the Law of God ie eternal Law The earthly is the image of the Heavenly shows that is by the multiplication of Lives that the eternal worlds are created and occupied that which is born of the flesh is flesh that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit (1). (Franklin D. Richards account, WoJS pg. 232)
This concept was presented clearly by Joseph Fielding Smith in the 20th century:
You know what it says about servants in the scriptures. Those who become servants are those who are not willing to receive these blessings in the House of the Lord and abide in them. They are not sons, they are not daughters. They are children of God, it is true, for all men are his children. But they do not inherit, and therefore remain servants throughout all eternity. (Doctrines of Salvation vol. 2 pg. 41)
It is powerful imagery and the feelings that parents have for their children, the flesh of their flesh, is easily translatable to our relationship with God. We are, indeed, sons and daughters of God (though how is speculative). We become sons and daughters of Christ through the atonement. And we have this hope, that in the end, when we stand arraigned in flesh and bone of our own, we will be sons and daughters anew, heirs, priests and queens to God.
1. Ehat and Cook note the following in a related footnote:
Joseph had previously taught that resurrected beings will have “spirit in their [veins] & not blood” (Wilford Woodruff account of 20 March 1842 discourse). The implication is that if your body is not resurrected, your children will be born flesh and bones, but that if your body is resurrected and has spirit in its veins your children will be spirits. (Note 9, WoJS pg. 269 – 270.)
This remark of the prophet would seem to be the source of the long related syllogism that because God has spirit in his veins, any progeny will be spirit. Whatever you think of it, you have to admit that the logic is horrible.