“As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” “Gods in embryo.” “God himself. was Once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.”
Has President Gordon B. Hinckley implicitly vetoed the use of these phrases by virtue of his famous Larry King interview?
The answer, superficially at least, is “no.” Here’s the transcript I had in mind, from several years ago:
Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don’t Mormons believe that God was once a man?
A: I wouldn’t say that. There was a little couplet coined, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” Now that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.
Q: So you’re saying the church is still struggling to understand this?
A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We’re trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can.
Note the use of half of the famous couplet in Pres. Hinckley’s second answer, which would seem to denote that at least saying “as God is, man may become” is permissible. The problem is not regarding man’s upside potential; rather, it is regarding God’s history. Do Mormons believe that God was once a regular human being like us?
First, I think we need to consider the circumstance in which the response was given — a televised interview with a secular news agency. I don’t think we can look to that circumstance as one particularly hospitable to pronouncements of deep doctrine, although much of our early presidents put forward tough doctrines precisely in such settings (witness the Wentworth Letter, for example). I see President Hinckley’s remarks as more geared towards public relations than bona fide doctrinal exposition.
Second, I think this may be a circumstance in which we need to ask ourselves whether a prophet is acting as such. Mormons don’t believe that every single utterance by the Brethren constitutes the will of the Lord; rather, we understand that pronouncements made under the influence of the Spirit by prophets acting as such are to be taken as true doctrine. Should the Larry King Interview be canonized? Is it entitled to the claims of scripture? In particular, do we dare afford it such weight that we excise much of the King Follett Discourse, etc.? These are open questions, folks.
Finally, it’s important to read President Hinckley’s words. Note that he does not rebut the couplet, nor does he debate its doctrinal explanations; rather, he summarizes the current status of our knowledge on God’s history: “that gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” It is hard to argue otherwise. President Hinckley could have taken a bolder stance one way or the other, to embrace or refuse the concept of God as an exalted man, but instead of explicating the doctrine he has described its status quo as part of the LDS belief system.
Nothing really new here, folks — this happened several years ago, but the doctrinal questions and the fundamental issue of “when is a prophet a prophet” are unresolved. Mostly, I wanted a chance to refer to Ghostbusters.