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.