Among the differentiating doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our belief in what we call exaltation. In relation to this doctrine, I’m often confronted with questions like, “Do Mormons really believe that they can become gods? How is this true if the Bible says that there is only one God? And how can someone become as great, or greater, than God?”
“As Now God is, So Man May Be”
These questions, and others like them, reference a line in a couplet written by President Lorenzo Snow, the fifth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Portions of the poem are as follows, and they give some proper context for the discussion:
Hast thou not been unwisely bold, Man’s destiny to thus unfold?
To raise, promote such high desire, Such vast ambition thus inspire?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
As now God is, so man may be,— Which doth unfold man’s destiny.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The boy, like to his father grown, Has but attained unto his own;
To grow to sire from state of son, Is not ’gainst Nature’s course to run.
A son of God, like God to be, Would not be robbing Deity;
And he who has this hope within, Will purify himself from sin.
The criticisms for this teaching come in various forms, but most have to do with the fact that mainstream Christianity claims a belief in the deification of man is false, arrogant, and unbiblical.
Equal to God
What of the claim that this belief is arrogant?
To this criticism, the Church replied,
“Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.”
Boyd K. Packer, a current Apostle in the Church, echoed this thought when he said,
“The Father is the one true God. This thing is certain: no one will ever ascend above Him; no one will ever replace Him. Nor will anything ever change the relationship that we, His literal offspring, have with Him. He is Elohim, the Father. He is God. Of Him there is only one. We revere our Father and our God; we worship Him.”
With these and other statements, it is clear that Latter-day Saints do not believe that man will ever supplant God in his eternal station or position. Because of this, it is hard to consider this belief to be arrogant in any way.
Becoming Like God
So if not to supplant God, why would it be important to “imitate and someday acquire [God’s] perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes”?
Consider, for a moment, God. Infinite and eternal, perfect in all things, God has us call him, first, our Father. Latter-day Saints believe that it is important to become like God because doing so will allow us to have family relationships which will be perpetuated beyond the grave. In becoming like God, we are prepared ourselves to have families not only here on earth, but also in the hereafter. To those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, what thing could be sweeter than to continue the wonderful familial relationships after death?
Knowing that there is potential for this can motivate men and women to be more like Christ. As President Snow said, “He who has this hope within will purify himself from sin.”
And what of the claim that this belief is unbiblical?
In the same Church statement mentioned above, it was said,
“We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way.”
Those are not the only scripture references that refer to the divine nature of man (check out FAIR’s response for more). Remember, though, it is not the burden of the Church to defend itself Biblically, for the Bible is not its foundation.
What’s more, there is evidence recognized outside the LDS Church that the ancient Christian Church had beliefs in the deification of man. Ernst W. Benz said,
“One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin.“