The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

I think one of the most important steps Mormons and Evangelicals need to make in order to have a productive dialogue is to come to terms with what appear to be radically different views of God.  The more I revisit LDS scripture on the subject, the more I am convinced that in the best understanding of Joseph Smith’s conception of the cosmos that thing which traditional Christians call “God” is actually what he termed the “Light of Christ.”

Joseph Smith envisioned God as an exalted and perfected man.  For many reasons, this vision is the foundation of the Restoration.   To Joseph, God became God through intelligent obedience to the laws of the universe, a universe which necessarily was not created by him, but organized by his manipulation of the universe through faith and righteousness. This earth was formed to provide a place for lesser spirits, humans, to do the same by agreeing to become children of God and come to earth, suffer, and die, and then be redeemed by Jesus, who volunteered to be the Christ.   According to the Book of Mormon, the law is the foundation of God’s godhood and all reality:

“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.”  (2 Nephi 2:11)

God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are bound by the law,i.e. they are not the law, they are outside of the fact that is the source of the way things are.  The question remains: Why does there need to be a Christ? Why is their law in the first place?  Why is the universe the way it is?   Why is the world comprehensible at all? What is the source of God’s intelligence? These questions cannot really be answered in any intelligible or scientific way, these are the ultimate mysteries, they cannot be understood or even spoken of, because these mysteries are what allows for all order and intelligence. As Einstein said: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”

For traditional Christians, these questions are answered by pointing to an God that is outside the universe, that is the incomprehensible ultimate cause of the laws of the universe, the ultimate source of the mysterious orderliness and intelligence within the way things work in the universe.   God “is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will.”  (Westminster Confession, chapter 2)

Joseph’s Smith rejected that this mystery was our Heavenly Father, but the religion he envisioned still had to account for the source of the law and the necessity of Christ.  There must be some other mystery that allowed our Father to be God, the fact that required that there be opposition in all things.  Protestant’s call this fact “God,” Joseph Smith called this fact the “Light of Christ”

It was revealed to him that the Light of Christ “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12-13; see also D&C 88:6-11).   This Light is not compound, nor is it a being, nor does it have parts or passions, it is the simple fact that allows all things to exist as they do, it is the source of the law, and the source of whatever facts that allow for salvation from the law.  To Mormons, the Light of Christ defines what it is to be God, what it is to be Christ, and the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of.  The LDS term “Light of Christ” must be that fact that Evangelicals call “God.”

Seeing the God of the Nicene Creed of the Light of Christ might make the creed comprehensible to Mormons.  Translating the Nicene Creed into Mormon terms might look like this:

I believe in one God, the source of the Light of Christ, the source of the Godhood of our Heavenly Father, the source of  the substance of all things in heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; in Him alone shone the Light of Christ that the Father has: revealing the God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,in the Light of Christ, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, from whom also shines the Light of Christ: Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


24 thoughts on “The “God” of orthodox Christianity is the “Light of Christ” of Mormon Christianity

  1. Do you think Mormons fail to understand what The Gospel of John means when it describes Jesus as the “Logos”? Based on your description is seems like Logos and “light of Christ” are the same thing.

  2. I think that is a reasonable deduction. Parley Pratt, one of most theologically influential the first apostles of the LDS Church, described it:

    “It comprehends the past, present, and future, in all their fulness. Its inherent properties embrace all the attributes of intelligence and affection.

    It is endowed with knowledge, wisdom, truth, love, charity, justice, and mercy, in all their ramifications.

    In short, it is the attributes of the eternal power and Godhead.

    Those beings who receive of its fulness are called sons of God, because they are perfected in all its attributes and powers, and being in communication with it, can, by its use, perform all things.”

    Oddly enough, I cannot find one reference to logos in LDS conference talks. I think the LDS should recognize that the Logos is the Light of Christ given Pratt’s description.

  3. In LDS thinking, all things are eternal and have always had existence in some form. The Light of Christ has always existed, but the being Jesus became Christ in time.

  4. Well, what, precisely is eternal? Have there been other Christ’s? It seems the concept you are describing is that there is a force out there that has been called the Light of Christ, but to me it seems the name is not quite accurate.

  5. In previous conversations I think I’ve said that if I were Mormon I would seek to worship whatever Heavenly Father is submitting to (be it a god, a law, a priesthood or a power). It sounds like the Light of Christ is the thing in Mormonism that I would be seeking.

  6. Tim, right. I think I agree. There is a higher power, above God, in Mormonism. There is some force or principle that God had to submit to in order to become a god himself. It makes sense to worship that.

  7. “I believe in one God, the source of the Light of Christ, the source of the Godhood of our Heavenly Father, the source of the substance of all things in heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

    How can God be “the source of the Light of Christ” if the Light of Christ is what “allowed our Father to be God”?

  8. If it has a beginning, it has an end. If it does not have a beginning, then, it does not have an end and it will not have an end. Therefore, it is eternal, it always existed, it exists and it will always exist forever and ever. The nature of God is eternal, as the essence of man is eternal, it did not have a beginning, it will not have an end. In the same way, matter is eternal, it was never created, it will never be destroyed. It can only be transformed.

    Can we understand that God always existed and that we also always existed? In Mormon theology we say that God is the Father of our spirits or in other words, He gave a spiritual body to our entities that the Mormon canon names “intelligence” but those “intelligence” were not created by God, they always existed and they will always exist. Since they were not created, they cannot be destroyed. Therefore they are eternal or in other words: We are also eternal beings that are going in an evolution process to obtain perfection, holiness and power.

    What is called the Light of Christ is what put judgement and order to everything and give us sense of direction and judgement. It comes from God, but it does not mean that He created it, since it is also eternal, it did not have a beginning and it will not have an end. The Light of Christ was not created, it cannot be created, it cannot be destroyed.

  9. Carlos, my objection is not that the Light of Christ may not be eternal, its that God is subject to it. This is a problem when you think about it. It means that God is not in ultimate control, something else is in control, which appears to be some principal that seems to be fairly described as the Light of Christ.

  10. @agellius

    The LDS apply the title “God” to both the source of the Light of Christ and God the father, an exalted man, Father of our spirits, and Father of Jesus. The God that is the source of the light of Christ is not the same as God the Father, and the light of Christ is not the same as Christ.

    There is not a clear explanation of the multiplicity of godlike beings vs. that fact of the universe that allows for godlike beings.

    I think the clearest Joseph Smith God might be Doctrine & Covenants section 121:

    “26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;

    27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory;

    28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.

    29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—

    31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—

    32 According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.”

    Wilford Woodruff, the 3rd President of the Church said of the ambiguity of the multiplicity of Gods and the Eternal Council of the Gods:

    “I want to say this to all Israel: Cease troubling yourselves about who God is; who Adam is, who Christ is, who Jehovah is. For heaven’s sake, let these things alone. Why trouble yourselves about these things? God has revealed Himself, and when the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants is fulfilled, whether there be one God or many gods they will be revealed to the children of men, as well as thrones and dominions, principalities, and powers. Then why trouble yourselves about these things? God is God. Christ is Christ. The Holy Ghost is the Holy Ghost. That should be enough for you and me to know. If we want to know any more, wait till we get where God is in person.” (In Millennial Star, 6 June 1895, pp. 355–56.)

    There has been no further revelation on the subject, and Mormons generally ignore it because of that.

  11. @slowcowboy,

    I think the LDS would avoid calling the Light of Christ a principle, it designates the fact that gives power to any exalted man. This is why I think it most closely resembles the orthodox understanding of God, it is not a thing with parts and passions, but a fact that is absolute, omnipresent, all powerful, etc.

  12. Slowcowboy, apparently, it looks like that God is subject to it, but that is not what it is stated in Mormon theology. In D.&C. 132:20 talking about those who reach exaltation it says:

    “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then SHALL THEY BE ABOVE ALL, BECAUSE ALL THINGS ARE SUBJECT UNTO THEM. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

    Then, in the condition of Godhood, Gods are above ALL things, and all includes universal laws, principles, etc. including the what is called the Light of Christ. And to add emphasis it continues to say: “All things are subject unto them”; and again all things means all things including the Light of Christ. Therefore, there is no such a thing like “a higher power above God in Mormonism. There is no such a thing as “some force or principle that God has to submit to in order to be or to exist as a God”.

    He may have been subjected to laws and principles to become a God, but after reaching his exaltation, now, all things are subjected to him. He stands by himself all powerful, holy, wise and perfected in celestial exaltation.

    Jared, the word “God” is not only title but also a condition and a nature. I guess you already know this but just you were not more specific.

  13. Wow. Frankly, bizarre logic there, carlos. I don’t mean to be harsh, but how can something be subject to certain rules and them come to have power over them? Further, how can the ultimate power be the thing rather than the principles that allow the thing to become elevated? The way I see it, there is an easier answer: God is the principle to which all are subject.

    It occurred to me this morning that a way to resolve the question of the Light of Christ is simply to acknowledge the Trinity, that is that the light of Christ is God, just as the Father and Christ are God. This seems to reconcile the very real problem of how to define the light of Christ, which as far as Mormonism is concerned, it seems to be something out there that no one can clearly articulate its power, genesis, or importance. It is reconciled in Trinitarian terms as it, ‘The Light of Christ’, is God, all powerful and able to assert power and influence over everyone and everything. Everything is subject to it, but nothing can become it.

  14. Slowcowboy, obviously the meaning of terms in Mormon theology not only are different than the ones in traditional Christianity, but also they may have different meanings. The term “God” is not an exception. I could give you several meanings for the term “god” and also for example, I could also give you at least seven different meanings for the term “angel” according to Mormon theology, but that is the matter of another discussion. So, terms in Mormon theology not only are different than in traditional Christianity but they work also different in different contexts.

    The Light of Christ is not God according to Mormon theology and it will never be.

    About the “bizarre” logic, first, it is not mine, I just quoted Mormon a verse from the Official Mormon Canon (D&C 132:20). It is not what I said, but what the canon says. So, no offense at all. Also we are having a respectful and intelligent discussion so far, therefore, I found no offense in your words.

    Having said that, let me elaborate a bit on the “bizarre logic”. “how can something be subject to certain rules and them come to have power over them?”

    It is not what we do everyday as mankind?, we try to understand the rules and principles of nature, we are subjected to them, but we try to understand them, then, we come to understand them, to master them and to use them for our benefit or for our destruction.

    It is not true that there was a time when it was believed a machine could not fly? But by understanding the laws of aerodynamic and other physics principles, man could invent flying machines? There is a myriad of examples like this. We call it technology. We learn the rules and principles of nature, we master them, we use them and sometimes abuse them and it is not true that in some regards we can say, we have power over them and they are subjected to us?

    Therefore, How can Gods be Gods if laws and principles are not subjected to them? and how can Gods not to learn, master and subject to them the laws and principles of the universe when mortals, in some regards, can?

    But attaining godhood is not only a matter of knowledge or power, it is also a condition and a nature. We do not know everything. We don not have every answer. Mormon theology is not complete, it does not provide every answer. There are a lot of things that Mormons imply and speculate to fill up the gaps left in Mormon theology. It has been revealed how a man can become like God or a God, but it was never written exactly how our God became one. In other words, there is no word about the origin of God. We pretend we know, but we do not know.

    Going back to the Light of Christ. We know it is not an entity, it is not an intelligent being, it is not the Holy Ghost. We simply do not know everything about it. The few things we know are being discussed in here.

    At the end, Mormon theology says Gods are over all things and all means all, all does not leave room for exceptions, and the Light of Christ is not an exception, and all things are subjected to them. If it sounds bizarre or not, it is a matter of discussion. I only stated what is known to me.

  15. Carlos, what you describe is manipulation of what I call the principal, and in this discussion is the light of Christ. In the same way we manipulate the laws of physics, we can fly, is how I see your analogy. We do not master the wind. We use the wind. If the wind goes away, what we use it for has no value. We cannot fly and we cannot produce energy if we do not have some sort of wind. Boats won’t float if have no water. Batteries won’t work if there is no electricity or if a connection is not made via the various circuits. We don’t master these things: we utilize them. They exist independent of our actions. If they fail to exist, our technology is worthless. Technology is not the creation or mastery of anything, it is more efficient utilization of resources.

    In the same way, without the principle/Light of Christ, God could not have become a god. His learning it was not mastery over it, but manipulation of something existing apart from himself. It would exist whether God used it or not, and God would not have been able to do what he did without it. Exaltation is not the creation or mastery of anything, it is result the more efficient utilization of these ‘principles’.

    Perhaps that explains why I see your conclusions as bizarre. They simply don’t stand up to scrutiny and logic. And this explains why I say that God is subject to them. His only power over them was to use them to achieve his status.

  16. The desire to be like God…to know what God knows…is the essence of the first sin in the Garden.

    We are born creatures of God. And then by God’s grace in the hearing of His gospel…we become children of God. But not gods. Never.

    This is a huge chasm between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity.

  17. Theoldadam, I certainly do not agree with you. There is no part in the account of Genesis that says that to know what God knows is the essence of the first sin in the Garden of Eden. That is your personal interpretation of such account.

    Also about “…we become children of God. But not gods. Never” is also your personal conclusion. I have a total different one.

    Even though your personal interpretations of the bible deserve respect that does not mean you are right. I have a different personal interpretations of the bible as well and they are totally different than yours.

    The first sin in the Garden of Eden was not the desire to become like God, but simply disobedience. God told Adam and Eve not to partake of the forbidden fruit and they did it. That was disobedience.

    According to Genesis 3:6 Eve partook of the forbidden fruit because she wanted to be wise, because she realized the fruit “was good to make one wise” That was her motivation, at least that is what the Bible says it was her motivation. She took of the fruit because she wanted to be wiser than she was at that point. It is a sin to want to be wiser?

    Genesis 3:6: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

    On the other hand, it is also good to note that in the previous verse, the serpent told Eve: “…and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” He did not say: “ye shall be as God”, he said “ye shall be as gods” and gods is plural, at least a number of two of them, maybe even more, but at least he is referring to at least two gods. Eve did not tell him: “Hold on, that’s wrong, there are no gods, just one God”. Basically Eve agreed with the devil about the existence of gods. The plurality of Gods is a matter of another discussion, so I’ll leave it there.

    In conclusion, the Bible states that the exact motivation Eve had to partake of the forbidden fruit was the desire to be wise. Anything else is just personal interpretation or speculation.

  18. Jared,

    I have been giving your endeavor some thought. I don’t have a coherent theme just some random ideas.

    Mormons confuse the God of Christian orthodoxy with Pythagoreans’ monad. Anything that takes away from the personal nature of God will only confuse an already confused situation.

    Any idea will need to address the Mormon heavenly mother. Gender plays a critical role in Mormon metaphysics.

    Many Mormons with an ecumenical bent are focused on finding definitions that allow LDS to use orthodox sounding language. I have recently seen the suggestion that “substance” is such a broad idea that a truck can be driven through the ecumenical creeds and Mormons can easily just redefine the terms to be acceptable. I’m not sure this idea has any real merit.

  19. Pingback: (Not) Making Sense of Christianity | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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