Wednesday, December 12, 2007

God in a Box

My mind was wandering in my philosophy class a few weeks ago while we were discussing the attributes of God. The following argument popped into my head- feel free to hate it, but these are the kinds of things that I think about on a daily basis.

The Dragon’s Argument Regarding God’s Purpose

1) God’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (by “man” we can assume “humankind”).

2) God is perfect.

3) Since failure implies imperfection, a perfect being never fails to accomplish its purposes.

4) Thus God never fails to accomplish his purposes.

5) Not all humankind will achieve the immortality and eternal life contained in God’s purpose.

6) Thus, either God will fail in his purpose because he is not perfect (2-4 are false), premise 1 is not God’s purpose, or all humankind will somehow achieve immortality and eternal life (5 is false).

Draco’s objections:

a) God is bound by the laws of justice and agency. It is not he who fails, but humankind that fails in achieving eternal life.

b) “Man” does not refer to all humankind, but rather to all righteous people.

The Dragon’s Rebuttal:

Objection (a) is irrelevant; the purpose still belongs to God and so failure to bring to pass said purpose belongs, at least in part, to God.

Objection (b) is false. Purpose implies a desire to accomplish something, so objection (b) argues that God does not desire for all humankind to achieve immortality and eternal life. Further, the scripture does not say “righteous men,” but simply “man.” God loves all of his children equally and equally desires each person’s immortality and eternal life.

Wow- talk about philosophy mingled with scripture! Ever since I joined the LDS church, my mother has told me that she thinks we try to put God in a box by claiming we know more than we can know about the nature of God. Perhaps she is right; perhaps we limit God too much in our thinking which leads to problems and contradictions like the one above. I'm not saying that God is all mysterious and distant- I think He can be very personal and close. But sometimes I wonder if we don't try to put our thoughts into God's head.


Skyhawk said...

Objection to the Dragon's comment in B) - Purpose and desire are separate issues. Even the Lord Himself didn't desire to suffer as He did, but He knew what His purpose was: to save each one of us. That second desire outweighed the first.

Our belief teaches us that God is loving, and as such, would not desire our downfall. Yet, He would also know that creating One such as Himself brings Him glory, and such is His most prominent desire.

We know that as much as His salvation is universal, it depends on our acceptance of it. And, by the way, who are we to interpret what "man" is? Let's not is a singular noun listed here, not plural :) Perhaps there is only one person in all of history that chooses to accept it, and to God, it would be worth it. Or maybe He desires to save at least one, and completes His purpose by saving one, but also saves as many as He can along the way (which would be construed as overachieving, but nonetheless beneficial to each of us!). Case in point: we may not know its interpretation in it's entirety, but we do have something to rely on.

Once again, it jumps back to faith: Notice that every argument the Dragon comes up with usually is based on a different-than-the-mainstream interpretation of scripture. Every passage of scripture can fall back on the fact that correct interpretation of such comes through the inspiration of God, to those called by Him to do so. And, to know they were called of God would require a knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel, etc. etc., which boils down to the one and only: FAITH.

Funny, since that's the first principle of the gospel....I guess we really have to get that one down before we keep progressing :)

Peter said...

I feel that we put God in a box because of our exclusivity- It's us or no one!

In regards to God bring to pass the Eternal Life and Immortality of all people . . . I see within LDS doctrine a sort of spiritual Darwinism that comes from the idea that not all will achieve this Eternal Life. I think it starts for me even before birth when as spirits the Lord said, "if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after . . . These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all. . . I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all. . .over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. . .and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;" (Abraham 3:18-22).

Sorry for the long quote, but the point is, all spirits are eternal, but not all spirits are equal. Some are greater than others. Lately I've had a hard time with this concept. Aren't we all God's children? If we all have the same potential, does the greatness of some spirits enable them to achieve it differently? Is it ok if I am not one of the great ones? Does that mean I am forever damned?

I think that LDS doctrine implies, if not teaches, that only the greatest of spirits will pass all the tests (1st and 2nd estates) required to become completely divine and like the Father. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Peter said...

Just to play devils advocate here, maybe instead of worrying about the Lord accomplishing his work, you should worry about accomplishing your work . . .

"Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength" (D&C 11:20).

Skyhawk said...

Peter -

You are absolutely right on the last part: "...only the greatest of spirits will pass all the tests (1st and 2nd estates) required to become completely divine and like the Father."

But, don't forget the key factor in all of this: We choose to be the greatest of all spirits. It's all up to you and me and everyone else to make the choice on whether or not you will be such. How you feel about that doctrine can change based on that one fact.

Also, the scripture you quoted has a clarification point in verse 22: "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones."

Reading this in context, it's clear that it does not insinuate in any way that the intelligences (spirits) were created unequally. It does say that the moment Abraham was shown these intelligences, and asked these questions of the Lord, was BEFORE THE WORLD WAS, not necessarily the beginning (or the organization of these spirits).
These spirits were already at a point where they had time to develop individually and exercise their own agency, increasing their own intelligence to different degrees.

Anyways, just my thoughts...take 'em for what they're worth (and they may not be worth much!)

Skyhawk said...

And yes, we should be focusing on our work of keeping the commandments. I agree with that 100%.

Of course, one of the commandments is "Learn of me and listen to my words" (D&C 19:23). I suppose our work does consist of learning the nature, purpose, and desires of God.

(FYI: This is me playing devil's advocate on the devil's does that make me an angel or something?)

Therapevo Ydata said...

This post reminds me of my freshman chemistry days and the theory of particle in a box. You can never find exactly where the particle is in the box because it could be anywhere and once you find it, it moves because you acted upon it. You can only have a probability distribution to guess where the particle is most likely to be. There is no way to know all that you can about that particle.

I think that the same goes for God. You can't put Him in a box and be able to describe Him. You could pick out some of the attributes that He has, but you can never fully understand Him, His purpose, His will, etc. They are mysteries. You only know so little about Him, just like the particle.

I agree with you when you say, "But sometimes I wonder if we don't try to put our thoughts into God's head." I think that a lot of people do this, mostly with God's will. I believe that people have such strong desires about something and they think that God told them to do this. So they do it, simple as that and they live their life.

Wow, this really reminds me of Joseph and Oliver Cowdry when they were praying about showing the manuscript to Oliver's wife. God told them, "No," but they kept insisting so God just finally gave in. Then Joseph and Oliver were in trouble with God.

Hmmm, I guess that means that we shouldn't mess with God's will or push our will upon God's...

Pan said...

That was Martin Harris.

And there's quite a bit more to the story than that.

If I may:

“Some time after Mr. [Martin] Harris had begun to write for me, he began to importune me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and show them; and desired of me that I would inquire of the Lord, through the Urim and Thummim, if he might not do so. I did inquire, and the answer was that he must not. However, he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should inquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be
contented, but insisted that I should inquire once more. After much solicitation I again inquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions; which were, that he show them only to his brother, Preserved Harris, his
own wife, his father and his mother, and a Mrs. Cobb, a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer, I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in a most solemn manner that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings, and went his way. Notwithstanding,
however, the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which
he had made with me, he did show them to others, and by stratagem they got them away from him, and
they never have been recovered unto this day.” (History of Joseph
Smith, pp. 128–29.)

Quite a bit more to the story.

draco said...

To skyhawk:
Purpose and desire ARE connected- in the example of the Atonement, you provided the answer. His greater desire was to complete his purpose.

I think the fact that God is a no-respecter-of-persons kind of God who is perfectly loving makes it clear that he desires the salvation of all mankind. Assuming any other interpretation of "man" leads to conflicting doctrines.

I agree- it comes back to faith.
"that's the first principle of the gospel....I guess we really have to get that one down before we keep progressing." First, you have to have faith that faith is the first principle of the gospel. And then all ideas of progression are only thought to be so because you have faith that they constitute progression. Faith is all that we have...which isn't a bad thing.

To Peter:
"Just to play devils advocate here, maybe instead of worrying about the Lord accomplishing his work, you should worry about accomplishing your work..."
I think that this is actually playing "God's advocate." And I think understanding my purpose requires understanding God's purpose which, according to The Dragon, is unclear.

Therapevo Ydata:
I agree completely :)
The trouble comes in differentiating between our will and God's will. And God's will can only be taken on faith.

Neal said...

Couple of thoughts:

1.) "This is my work and my Glory, to bring to pass the immortality and Eternal life of man".

First, this is a general mission statement, and excludes the details, mechanisms, extent and qualifications of the two components mentioned. Yes, two parts here. The first - immortality - is 100% accomplished. All will be ressurected because of Christ's sacrifice.

The second part is further clarified by other statements made by God:

" And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever."

Clearly the responsibility to keep our second estate and qualify for Eternal life is squarely on us.

2.) What is the definition of "man"? Interesting question indeed. In the creation story, God asks if man is found on the earth. Is man referring to human beings?
Christ most often referred to himself as "the Son of Man". We also know that Man is one of God's names, so what could the reference to us mortals as "man" then imply? Perhaps it is our divine potential and kinship with God.

3.) Intelligences - we don't know exactly what that is, do we? It says "they" were "organized" into spirits. It also says in the PofGP ALL things were created spiritually before they were naturally on the face of the earth. Joseph Smith said animals had spirits. So I think there must be a whole menagerie of intelligences or spirits - perhaps some lesser or greater than others. We really have nothing more than a few sentences to go on, so at this point its purely speculative. What we DO know is that we can expand our intelligence in this life, and that intelligence will stay with us in the next.



draco said...

I like your thoughts Neal-
I agree that "man" is an equivocal word, but in this case I think it has to refer to all of humanity. I can't imagine that God wouldn't want to bring all of his children home.

I admit that my argument has holes- the idea that I want to share is that I think we Mormons sometimes act as though we understand God and his purposes better than we actually do. We put him in a box, and since when has something infinite fit into something finite?

Neal said...

We don't have the capability to truly understand God in our present state. Indeed, no box designed by human minds could enclose that kind of infinite intelligence.

God DOES want to bring all of his children home. But its OUR choice whether we return or not. Remember, in the parable of the Prodigal Son (an allegory of the Plan of Salvation) his Father didn't go out to find him and drag him back, the PRODIGAL had to return! He had to come to the realization, make the choice, and then make the journey back himself.

Also consider what we know about spirit prison - even there the spirits of men are given a choice to accept or not to accept the Gospel and Christ. Clearly, God DESIRES all of us to return to him, but it is our choice - and ours alone - whether we will do so. He lost 1/3 of his children before this world was ever formed. I would guess another 1/3 or more of us will screw up our chances here in mortality. God knew the stakes before he ever placed the bet. Yet evidently it was worth it to Him and to us. We agreed to be dealt a hand.


draco said...

I think God is more loving and merciful than we give him credit for in the church. I think those that sin will have to pay a price for their actions, but something still doesn't click for me. I can't fathom how an all loving God would cast so many of his children from his presence for eternity. Can it be that all of eternity really hinges on one moment it time? Is that justice? Is that mercy?

I confess I have a hard time believing that our assignments after judgment are really final, despite what scriptures and authorities have said. I think it was Elder McConkie who said that belief in progression from one kingdom to another is one of the 7 deadly heresies. Is that how it will work? Will God say at that last day- "I really love you, but you messed up so I'm casting you out of my presence forever and you'll never see me agian."? Is that what perfect love is like? If I ever become a god one day, is that what I'm expected to do? Cast my misguided and naughty children away forever with no hope of change? And if the Atonement is infinite, why can't it atone beyond judgment- is it not powerful enough? Can something infinite have limitations?

I guess you can call me a heretic. I just can't believe that God's plan is as limiting and exclusive as the church teaches.

Neal said...


I don't consider you a heretic at all. I think its normal to want all our brothers and sisters to be saved. Maybe - eventually - all who choose to will indeed be redeemed as you suggest. But we just don't have the details yet, and there is no guarantee that what we want will in fact be the way it is. In the meantime, we are simply asked to walk by faith.

Despite what Bruce R. said, and I think he said a number of things that were his own opinion on this particular subject, we have been given precious little to go on concerning the hereafter. We currently look at eternity through human eyes and with human thoughts and perspectives. Right now we don't have God's point of view. We don't even know all the rules and laws he lives by or why he does so. I'm sure there are laws we couldn't even comprehend as mortals.

One thing we do know, however, is that 1/3 of God's children deviated so badly they were denied even getting mortal bodies. Evidently you can really screw up your Eternal life if you choose to.

I heard a talk once about no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. The thought was not that God didn't want us to be there with him, it was just that we COULDN'T endure or exist in his presence in an unclean state. Again, we don't know how all that works, but it may be less about judging and more about laws that exist of which we are unaware, but which govern such things.



draco said...

Thanks Neal :)

Jadon said...

"I heard a talk once about no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God."

The funny thing about that is that God's spirit fills the immensity of space and there is no place that God is not (cf. Psalm 139:7-12; D&C 88:6-7,12-13)

So the statement "no unclean thing can dwell [in His presence]" tells us something about the unclean thing--that it does not experience the presence of God. But it tells us exactly nothing about God. All things are present before Him.

Kind of sobering, no? no matter what you do, where you go, what you say, you are doing it, going there, saying it in the full presence of God. You just may not be able to experience that presence right now.

I say hold on to the promise of Roman's 8. Nothing can separate us from His love. I personally subscribe to something like C S Lewis's view of eternal damnation as expressed in the Last Battle--the damned are damned only so long as they refuse the grace of God. If they do it forever, they are forever damned. But the moment they choose to accept His grace, they return to His presence just like the Prodigal son.