In the twentieth century, leaders of the Church didn’t like to discuss the history of the God the Father. Their nineteenth century counterparts, however, weren’t so hesitant. Joseph revealed part the temple in May 1842 and then all the ordinances of the House of the Lord in the fall of 1843. 1844 brought schism, contention and grave accusations that Joseph was no longer in God’s favor. At the General Conference in April, Joseph addressed the Saints and defied them: “Would to God I had 40 days & nights I would let you know that I am not a fallen prophet.”
This discourse, frequently bearing the name of King Follett, emboldened detractors and was a source for much of the infamous Nauvoo Expositor. Joseph did not back down. A month and a half later, on June 16, Joseph delivered his Sermon in the Grove, which he had spent days preparing. He was killed the following month. These two discourses represent our best accounts of Joseph’s vision of God, humanity and the Temple.
Joseph had already taught the Saints that in order to be a justifiable recipient of our faith, God must be perfect for all eternity. But here discussing the history of God, Joseph was rather explicit about how “God came to be God,” or rather, how God became the Father:
These are incomprehensible to some but are the first principle of the gospel-to know that we may converse with [God] as one man with another & that he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh…What did Jesus say – as the father hath power in himself even so hath the son power to do what why what the father did, to lay down his body and took it up again. (1)
George Laub’s account was even more explicit:
Jesus Spake in this wise, I do as my Father before me did well what did the father doo why he went & took a body and went to redeem a world in the flesh & had power to lay down his life and to take it up again (2)
Joseph further emphasized Christ’s relation to the Father:
What did Jesus do[?] Why I do the things that I saw the father do when worlds came into existence. I saw the father work out a kingdom with fear & trembling & I can do the same & when I get my Kingdom worked out I will present to the father & it will exalt his glory and Jesus steps into his tracks to inherit what God did before.(1)
This obviously poses problems for modern conceptions that the Father was once a man, but Joseph was clear: “he was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh.” (1) In the Sermon in the Grove, Joseph distinguishes the future of humanity. Brigham, with his own innovations in theogony kept Joseph’s teachings on God the Father’s history. While Brigham and his compatriots did believe that humanity could attain the status of God the Father, it appears that they also believed it would require being a Savior at some point. (3)
Most popular conceptions of theogony can be traced back to Brigham’s no-longer-favored ideas, including ideas about women in the eternities. From what I gather from discussions like the recent T&S thread, there is a strong movement to reason that God is married and that there is a Mother in Heaven because of that. In light of Joseph’s teachings, the idea that Heavenly Mother is Heavenly Mother simply because she happened to marry God the Father while he was mortal yields the exact situation that the proponents try to explain away. In a Universe where we worship a being who was God from eternity to all eternity, who is greater than all, who was God before his mortal probation, who was sinless and had the capacity to atone for the world, why would we ever acknowledge the run of the mill human, fallen and sinful, that he happen to marry in mortality?
- William Clayton Report, Words of Joseph Smith, pg. 357
- George Laub Account, WoJS, pg. 362
- Heber C. Kimball, “Wonderful Counsel to All,” in N. B. Lundwall, ed., Masterpieces of Latter-day Saint Leaders (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1953), 131. It appears that this is one of the many sources of disagreements between Orson Pratt and Brigham Young, see minutes of meeting of the Twelve and First Presidency, April 5, 1860, in Fred C. Collier, ed., The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863, Book D (Hannah: Collier’s Publishing Co., 2006), 437.