Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.
I readily confess that I have grown into a thoroughly Nauvoo cosmology over the years. I believe in a cosmology based on the teachings that Joseph Smith delivered in his King Follett Sermon, subsequent Sermon in the Grove, and other temple-related documents. Namely, I believe that spirits were never created nor made, and that “God never did have the power to create the spirit of man at all.” I believe that God the Father was once a man in the same way that Jesus was a man on earth (seriously double check the KFD if you don’t believe me). And I believe that through Christ’s atonement we can be made queens and priests, kings and priestesses to God in eternity, and that the sealings of the temple are real. I’ve chased the theological rabbits down their various holes and this is where I have emerged. I consequently believe that Jesus has, as has the Father, always been God, and that per Abraham 3, they truly are greater than all.
As I thought about my conversation with my friend, I retraced the development of popular Mormon deification beliefs. Brigham Young’s radical (and subsequently rejected) Adam-God teachings. Orson Pratt’s similarly rejected transcendence. It is pretty easy to identify the lines of evolution (hint: a major theme rhymes with Birit Spirth). Still I had to conclude that I actually have no idea what those Mormons who currently believe that God was at some point some random fallen dude in his distant history actually believe about the history of Jesus. For these folks (I presume they exist), is Jesus exalted above the Father, because he not only had the capacity to atone, but because he bears the eternal consequences of that empathy in his soul? Or is it just penal substitution all the way down? Is it just coincidence that Jesus was the first born of God the Father? Was Jesus always God (assuming some sort of spirit creationism) but the Father not? Brigham Young solved the problem with impermanent resurrection, but subsequent church leaders rejected that with extreme prejudice. I must confess that I am at a loss. There aren’t many topics in Church history and belief where I just have no clue. Seems this is one.
As a bonus, I recently reread these posts on Mormon Trinitarianism that are great: