Monday Midday Theological Poll

How does Heavenly Father progress?
[poll id="119"]

Please explain your choice in the comments.

Comments

  1. Well, Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” He didn’t say, “Be progressive even as your Father in heaven is progressive.”

    I realize it’s a matter of semantics, but I think we need to differentiate between “learning more stuff” and being perfect. Perfection, I think, comes not from learning more things, or even what Jesus did in his mortal life, which was to learn line upon line, precept upon precept. We don’t say that Jesus was not perfect. He was. Throughout his whole life, at every stage of his life, he was perfect, regardless of the overall knowledge and experience that he had.

    So basically I think that God Our Father is both perfect and progressive, frankly.

  2. I want to know how God can be God and not be omniscient. If he doesn’t know everything, how can we trust him? What if he discovers that his doctrine is wrong somewhere down the road? So if everyone who voted for ‘constantly personally progressing and learning stuff’, I’d really like to know where you’re coming from.

  3. Dan,
    But how is he progressive? Specifically?

  4. mmiles, I think the argument goes that like all of our perceptions of God, our concepts of His omniscience are relative to our current limited mortal state. Therefore God may indeed know everything there is to know within our hamster-brained concept of the notion, but the ‘reality’ is something greater.

  5. Both, sort of (if you stick with JSJ).

  6. Without getting to bookish on this, let’s just say I’ve never read anything from a reliable source that would jibe with the notion that God is partial (I define “learning more stuff” as not currently “comprehending all things,” which I see as defining a partial God.)

    Everything I’ve read or learned from the scriptures points to God being eternally at the 100% percent level of understanding and power. At least to my children, I describe God as an eternal being in the sense that time is meaningless to him — he’s looking at the past, present and future all at the same time and those three states are meaningful only to us. In this model (I don’t think I’m making this up), he can’t ARRIVE at a point where he knows more than he does now — it’s all present to him.

    His creations constantly increase and His children constantly progress, which is His work and glory. But I don’t believe He is reaching further out toward the outer limits of knowledge. I believe He IS the outer limit and is eternally expanding it.

    No, I don’t have any references.

  7. StillConfused says:

    I checked that I think he is progressing. If nothing else, he is progressing by watching what we all do.

  8. I checked that I think he is progressing. I think God can be surprised. Otherwise, eternity sounds oh so boring.

  9. A better question to ask would be “Does God know the future in exhaustive detail?”. If he does, then it is hard to see in what sense he progresses personally.

    However, immaculate foreknowledge tends to lead to all sorts of theological issues about free will, repentance, petitionary prayer, and so on. It is similar to the issue about omnipotence. If God is strictly omnipotent, the idea that a suffering atonement was necessary is untenable. If he was omniscient, he certainly wouldn’t need to suffer to be filled with compassion either.

  10. Douglas Hunter says:

    Some teachings of JS suggest that there is a sense in which God changes, or progresses. This is from lesson 17 in the JS manual:

    “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.”

    “FINDING he was in the midst . . .” and
    “privilege to ADVANCE like himself” Are interesting expressions.

    I don’t think it’s problematic to say that JS thought of God as progressing, what ever that might mean.

  11. If becoming like God means ceasing to progress personally, I say send me to hell and I’ll progress in my dislike of it.

    I think the idea of non-personal progression is rather senseless. It may look great on paper, but has no application in reality.

  12. Adam Greenwood says:

    A lot of it depends on what relationship eternity has to time. In time children of his are always entering into, leaving, or changing their relationships with Him. I believe that this is new experiential knowledge, though it doesn’t reveal any new information or new principles. So the question is whether God is poking along in time like we are, getting new experience like we are, or whether all of time is somehow everpresent with Him in eternity. I don’t know.

  13. If eternal progression for God means nothing but expansion, or increase in progeny, then I’m with The Narrator–count me out. It sounds pointless.

    I’m not saying it makes sense–I agree that God should be/IS omnipotent and omniscient. I’m just saying it doesn’t sound like anything I want, if it means what it sounds like.

  14. I want to know how God can be God and not be omniscient. If he doesn’t know everything, how can we trust him?

    Speaking only for myself, as a person who believes God is progressing in knowledge, I can say that my trust does not depend on God knowing everything. Rather, it depends on my belief that God is Good, and that he is the most knowledgeable person I have access to. In fact, he may be the most knowledgeable person who exists, but I don’t take a definite stand on that.

    Just because we may want it to turn out that there is zero risk in the universe, that doesn’t mean that the universe is the way we want it to be. What if there simply is no being that knows everything? Does that mean we can’t have faith in anyone? For me the answer seems obvious.

  15. I think we have to be very careful that we not imbue God with our own limitations. Just because nothing surprises or stumps him doesn’t mean his life is somehow less meaningful than ours. After all, he’s living way more than any of us vicariously through billions of spirit children, and comprehending all of that just fine. How can we be sure he needs any of those set of feelings about his own life? We ARE his life.

    Rather than figuring out what’s going on like the rest of us, he gets to keep creating new worlds and children and watch them reach their potential. I think it’s a real stretch to imply that he’s ever bored or not satisfied with the level of challenges he gets to handle in his job.

  16. Adam: “I don’t know.”

    Say those sweet, sweet words for us again, O vested one!

  17. Adam Greenwood says:

    Steve E., you don’t know.

  18. Adam Greenwood says:

    I don’t know why Mormons are so chary of a lack of novelty. I think it might be an American quirk.

  19. Adam Greenwood says:

    If God is good, but fallible, he wouldn’t make the promises he does.

  20. Adam (#19), I see you are back to knowing. For clarity, which promises would he not make if he were fallible?

  21. Adam Greenwood says:

    Promises he couldn’t be sure of fulfilling.

  22. Adam, by that logic, no one on earth should ever make a promise (which is absurd). Thus, I would suggest that by saying God should not promise anything if he is fallible, you are simply restating your assumption that God has infallible knowledge. You have assumed something about what God’s promises entail, and you are stating that they should imply what you have assumed them to imply. I have different assumptions, so it doesn’t trouble me.

  23. I don’t understand space, time, or the nature of God well enough to be confident about either answer or to know what either answer would really mean. To my mortal human mind, it seems that exhaustive knowledge of the future would prove that life was meaningless. For my own life to seem meaningful, I need to believe that the personality of a human being can be stable and persistent without being completely predetermined or fixed; that free will exists and is something more than random chance; and that God has enough knowledge, power, and righteousness to be worthy of my faith.

  24. If one believes what JS said in the King Follett Discourse (14th article of faith says that we believe in the King Follett Discourse, so far as it is transcribed correctly), then God the Father has not always been God, but was once as we are now, and learned how to be God. So, if not a changing/progressing God, then a changed/progressed God.

    On the other hand, the Lectures on Faith, and most current neo-orthodox LDS theologians accept the Protestant God: omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. Unchanging and unchangeable. Makes missionary work easier, but isn’t in accord with late-19th century doctrine.

    JS’ theology clearly evolved from what he wrote/preached in the Lectures on Faith (unchanging, omnipotent God, 2 personages in the Godhead-only one of whom with a physical body, etc.) to what he preached at Br. Follett’s funeral.

  25. This point has been confirmed by a whole generation of of the brethren that God is only progressing “in the sense that his kingdoms and dominions are multiplying”

    His attributes are perfect and hence cannot be improved upon.

  26. This definitely is a question of semantics. I am still not sure where I fall on this one. Hyrum Smith said: “I would not serve a God that had not all wisdom and power.”

    But Brigham Young says in 1867, “According to [some men's] theory, God can progress no further in knowledge and power, but the God that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children.”

    I like the spheres metaphor, that God is perfect in his own sphere where he is perfect, but he may progress to another sphere. He is all-knowing when it comes to the Plan of Salvation.

  27. Catching up.

    #1 – Jesus wasn’t perfect during his mortal life – as defined in Matthew 5:48. That means “complete, whole, fully developed”. Based on that definition, it’s hard to imagine a Being who continues to create spirit children ever being “complete” in an expanding-of-influence sense, so I define perfection as internally complete, whole and fully developed.

    With that foundation, Heavenly Father was perfect the moment He qualified to be called “God” – just as Jesus was not called perfect in Matthew 5 but was qualified to be called perfect in 3 Nephi 12. His death completed him, made him whole and left him fully developed.

    Due to that status, I see their “progression” as the sharing of their perfection with other beings – their “spirit children”, whatever that means. Being perfectly complete personally, the only “growth” available is as creators.

  28. Gilgamesh says:

    Brigham Young and the early leaders easily thought of God as progressing. Gene England’s paper “Perfection and Progression: Two Ways to Talk about God” Clearly notes that early church leaders saw God as progressing.

    I personally feel that God, with an amazing foresight based on eternal experience, can more or less guess what I will do. However, I am a unique individual that is “co-eternal” with God, and therefore God has never encountered a “me” before. I have agency which gives me absolute freedom to choose. My choices and actions, while most likely predictable, are still unique to “me” and offer God an education for future creations that may be similar to me.

  29. There is a large gap between having the ability to accomplish a righteous objective instantaneously and having the ability to accomplish a righteous objective in the process of time.

    I think we can be confident that certain unrighteous objectives are not accomplishable. i.e. you can’t make sufficiently wicked people truly happy. Wickedness never was happiness, etc.

    That implies something about the nature of God’s power – i.e. that his power is ultimately a consequence of his righteousness – which is what D&C 121 implies as well. Which further implies that if God resigned the work of salvation would continue.

    I certainly would rather have faith in a being who might take a detour here and there (usually due to agency) than some sort of incomprehensible statue. And I certainly would rather less aspire to be such a statue myself. All this divine incomprehensibility stuff is tends be a rejection of Restoration Mormonism in favor of the pre-Restoration (i.e. “apostate”) consensus. Maybe the divide isn’t so wide after all.

  30. Interesting discussion. I’m not sure where I fall yet, hence I didn’t vote, but perhaps someday I’ll know?

  31. No choice for Nietzsche?

  32. Hellmut, that sounds like the title to an amazing seminary video from the 50s.

  33. I agree with John A. Widtsoe that Heavenly Father is progressing. (Rational Theology)

    To Paraphrase:
    1. God may knows everything that is knowable.
    2. What is knowable perpetually increases as the universe goes from a less complex state to a more complex state.
    3. Therefore God is progressing in Knowledge

  34. Ray,

    #1 – Jesus wasn’t perfect during his mortal life – as defined in Matthew 5:48. That means “complete, whole, fully developed”. Based on that definition, it’s hard to imagine a Being who continues to create spirit children ever being “complete” in an expanding-of-influence sense, so I define perfection as internally complete, whole and fully developed.

    Is that really the definition that Jesus was referring to?

  35. He’s so far advanced compared to us that he might as well be perfect, from our point of view, that is. From his own point of view he is still progressing. There are ever higher degrees of glory, and each new achievement only opens more vistas, more scope, more ability to learn and grow. Eternal progression means just exactly that. It doesn’t mean progressing a long time then becoming perfect and never changing again.

  36. I voted that God continues to progress, and not just through progeny. That being said, I am not sure I know what that means, or really what the question means, any more than a baby human might know what it means for an adult human to progress (or for a fish to know what it means for an elephant to progress).

  37. Kevin Harker says:

    There’s an excellent article on this topic in the new issue of Dialogue: “‘The Grandest Principle of the Gospel': Christian Nihilism, Sanctified Activism, and Eternal Progression” by Jacob T. Baker.

  38. #1 and #27: what?

    And how again is the context of the line upon line and precept upon precept in Isaiah connected with Jesus?

  39. Gilgamesh says:

    I think it is interesting that most of the comments are from those that believe God is continually progressing. I am wondering why there are so few from the majority of voters that have commented.

    Matt W. you stated my view better than I did. Though back to my earlier comment – the universe becomes more complex when you add a number of intelligences entering the progressive process into the mix. As an educator I look forward to meeting the student that breaks the mold and can teach me as much as I can teach them. I think God is just as excited when one of us, his children, give him an opportunity to learn.

  40. I like the “god is progressing” option. One of the few times I choose Brigham over Orson.

  41. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    Our Heavenly Father grows in greatness and glory through the growth, progress and perfection of His children. As they reach perfection, i.e. godhood, they establish their own kingdoms which progress into the further creation of their own galaxies and universes all of which are an extension of the continually expanding realm of the First Patriarch, our Heavenly Father. The only impedance our Heavenly Father ever suffers is because of willfull, errant, recalcitrant children who allow pride, arrogance and selfishness to interfere or thwart their eternal progress to godhood. He who knows the end from the beginning simply has nothing left to learn. He allows the results of our mortal choices play out so that He is fully acquitted of any implication of unrighteous influence or domination of our free agency, and we are rightly condemned without excuse for our poor (unrepented of) choices.

  42. Aaron Brown says:

    Adam Greenwood:
    “I don’t know why Mormons are so chary of a lack of novelty. I think it might be an American quirk.”

    I hate the word “chary”. Why does English need a word like this, when we have “wary”? Seriously, just say wary.

    AB

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    I reject classical omniscience for the kinds of reasons alluded to in #9.

  44. Not to be rude, but I consider the polled question to be approximately equivalent to this one: Can God gain weight by eating more?

    It seems to me that to the exact extent that we believe in a physically-embodied God, we believe in a God that is defined (at least in some way) by the limitations of physical embodiment.

    It is only if God is not already something that God can become that thing.

    Or else we’ve uprooted the term “becoming.”

  45. #9 and #43,

    I disagree. Theological issues of free will, repentance and petitionary prayer are reconcilable with the foreknowledge of God in my view.
    How would his foreknowledge change our actions and our repentance? As far as prayer is concerned, can’t God know what we will ask for beforehand?
    Not does his omnipotence mean an atonement was unnecessary. I guess it would be easier for me to argue if I knew exactly why you both see omnipotence incompatible with the expediency of an atonement.
    As far as the necessity of his suffering, I guess I’m not really sure that was necessary, but was done despite his omniscience. That’s how I read Alma 7:13.

  46. nasamomdele says:

    C. None of the above

  47. Just wanted to thank everyone for an interesting read. I’m glad we belong to a church where we are able to have different views on subjects even as important as this one. Not bad, for a bunch of brainwashed cultists.

  48. Which version of God the Father do you mean John C?

    This one (multiple divine persons):

    And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth. (Mosiah 15: 4)

    Or this one (single divine person):

    The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s (D&C 130: 22)

  49. #45: The scripture (Matt 6:8) says “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Knowledge of what you need does not entail perfect knowledge of what you will ask.

    As far as the atonement goes: something is only necessary if it out of one’s control, either absolutely or in the context of some objective. Alma 34 teaches the necessity of a suffering Atonement for all mankind to be saved. Mosiah 15 teaches the necessity of the Atonement for Christ to be filled with compassion.

    The existence of any necessity implies that God’s power is not absolute in some respect. Joseph Smith said that “God himself could not create himself”. D&C 93 states that the “elements are eternal”, i.e. cannot be created of nothing. No ex nihilo creation.

    If God’s power were absolute, he could snap his fingers and save all of his children in the celestial kingdom instantaneously, with all the character traits we would need to succeed there. So we are here either because God is toying with us or because there is some unavoidable process of repentance and character development that this life is an instantiation of. Same deal.

  50. Latter-day Guy says:

    I have recently come to feel a bit more (now, don’t freak out) trinitarian in my views about God; that is, that He is different from us ontologically (rather than only different in degree or progression). So, I am more comfortable with the idea that God progresses through his children, rather than the idea that he progresses in knowledge on his own. If the latter is the case, one could envision a God that could be surprised — I certainly would be unnerved to hear God say, “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that,” or “Gosh, I dunno.” (At the same time, I am drawn to a relatively low christological reading of the NT.)

  51. Geoff,
    The second. In other words, the Father understood as separate from Christ.

  52. The way I see it, Heavenly Father was once a man, became God andnow is a God of Gods. Sounds like progression to me.
    Besides, isnt saying that God can’t progress or get more powerful saying that he can’t do something thus making him less than omnipotent?

  53. Last Lemming says:

    The second. In other words, the Father understood as separate from Christ.

    How about separate from the Holy Ghost? Seriously. I voted for “not progressing” in part because I was envisioning Geoff’s first option, with emphasis on the contribution toward perfection of the noncorporeal Holy Ghost.

  54. Adam Greenwood says:

    “Adam, by that logic, no one on earth should ever make a promise.”

    Agreed. Swear not at all. In my mind our promise making is one of the things Christ atones for.

  55. Adam Greenwood says:

    I.E., it is almost always an act of presumption and arrogance, unless so caveated as to be almost meaningless.

  56. Adam Greenwood says:

    Yet it is also necessary in a fallen world. This is one meaning I see in the story of the Fall and of the contradictory commandments: assuming obligations we cannot be sure we can keep is necessary for progress. Christ is the one sinless man because, Son of God that he was, he knew he could ultimately keep all his promises and make up to everyone the effects of his acts. We cannot, unless he intervenes on our behalf.

  57. I would just like to note that it’s very, very nice to be in a Church that will not throw you out on your ear for picking the wrong survey answer.

  58. Fascinating Adam. At least you are consistent in your view here, however crazy it seems to me. The idea that there is no basis for promises and trustworthiness outside of perfection and absolute knowledge seems hard to maintain given God’s system of saving us through covenant (i.e. promises we make to God without our being perfect or all-knowing). It sounds like you are saying that at some level Christ atones for the fact that we make covenants.

  59. #58 – or that we inevitably break covenants we make.

  60. Perhaps John C should collect 300 or so letters from By Common Consent bloggers and lurkers and deliver them to 50 E North Temple to get this question answered once and for all… Media optional.

  61. Adam Greenwood says:

    “At some level Christ atones for the fact that we make covenants.”

    Or put it another way–we wouldn’t be able to keep our covenants without his saving grace. Or, as Ray reminds us, have the covenant patched up and renewed when we inevitably break it.

  62. a random John says:

    I’m with Prof England on this one. God is perfect in all ways that matter to our salvation and can be progressing in other ways that don’t yet apply to us.

  63. Adam Greenwood says:

    Or to put it yet another way–given our limitations and our fallibilities, it would be unconscionable of us to make promises or otherwise put ourselves in a position where anyone was relying on us, if there were not an infallible and omnipotent God who was willing to make good the damage we’d do.

  64. random John (#62,)

    Paraphrasing Mary Poppins, was he?

  65. GEJ (#60), Any answer we might receive would not necessarily close the issue – it might not even be correct. We believe in continuing revelation after all.

    An answer, if there was one, would be an indication of the Church position on the subject, which appears to have changed twice in the past couple centuries already. I suspect the answer would be “that is a mystery about which little has been revealed, therefore the Church has no official position on the subject”.

  66. a random John says:

    David T.,

    I admit to having not the slightest idea what you mean.

  67. random John,

    “Practically perfect in every way.”

  68. I am so late in posting…

    The universe is full of infinities. Time, space, people, matter, energy, universes, knowledge.

    There are levels of infinity, some greater and some lesser, but still infinite. It is my opinion that knowledge is the highest level of all infinities. So, if you divide knowledge by anything else you still get infinity.

    Knowledge divided by an infinite number of infinite gods is still infinite.

    God can always progress in knowledge.

  69. #49 Mark D
    (If your still reading)
    The scripture (Matt 6:8) says “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Knowledge of what you need does not entail perfect knowledge of what you will ask.

    Why not? If God has a perfect knowledge of what we need, can’t he have a perfect knowledge of what we will ask for? I don’t think the purpose of prayer is to get things from God, but to put our will in accordance with his. If he knows what we need, even better than we do, can’t he tell us in prayer what to ask for? Even if we don’t ask according to his will, but our own, why wouldn’t he know, according to a perfect foreknowledge, what we will petition him for? That isn’t to say he will grant it necessarily, but he could.

    As far as the atonement goes: something is only necessary if it out of one’s control, either absolutely or in the context of some objective. Alma 34 teaches the necessity of a suffering Atonement for all mankind to be saved.

    If it’s for some objective, which is undertaken by God, and objective developed by God, is it really out of his control?

    Mosiah 15 teaches the necessity of the Atonement for Christ to be filled with compassion.

    I suppose you are speaking of the first 9 or so verses in Mosiah. I don’t read it as the atonement being necessary for Christ to be filled with compassion, just that he was filled with compassion—not as a sequence of events.

    If God’s power were absolute, he could snap his fingers and save all of his children in the celestial kingdom instantaneously, with all the character traits we would need to succeed there.

    Let’s suppose he could snap his fingers and save us all, that doesn’t mean he would. What if that was not his purpose; not because he is toying with us, but because it better serves his purposes for our own good to not snap his fingers and save us. But then again, maybe he can’t even snap his fingers?

    I find Alma 42 interesting. If there was no atonement, God would cease to be God. It makes me wonder what it means to cease to be God.

  70. From the perspective of a Kindergartner, the teacher knows everything, because the teacher is able to give an answer to any meaningful question that the K can formulate. However, as the child grows toward adulthood and learns more, then the child will be able to appreciate that the teacher is still learning.
    Likewise, from our perspective as human beings, God knows everything, because he is able to give an answer to any meaningful question that we can formulate. However, as we live worthy to grow toward godhood and learn more, then we will be able to appreciate that God is still learning.

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