Our quest is seeking Eternal Life, life with our Heavenly Father. Let us gain a better understanding of our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ. In his intercessory prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion, Jesus explained the meaning of Eternal Life.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
Jesus said to know God is to have Eternal Life. What does it mean to know someone? It means we must understand all there is to know about that person. We must understand how he thinks, how he reacts, his priorities, his goals. To fully know someone, we must approach life from his viewpoint and see things as he does. We must become like him and do what he does. So it is with God. To fully know God we must understand him and become like Him. To do so is to have Eternal Life. Let us continue our quest to know God by studying his nature.
The scriptures teach that the Godhead consists of three personages, God the Eternal Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. These three Gods are separate beings but comprise one divine group, the Godhead. The term God is a title, and it is proper to use it to refer to each member of the Godhead; it is also proper to use it to refer to the Godhead as a group. Thus, the Father is God, Jesus Christ is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, even though the three are separate and distinct from each other. Because of this terminology, when the scriptures use the term God it is necessary to study the context of the passages to understand if a particular member of the Godhead is being referenced, or if the term refers to the Godhead as a group.
Jesus and the Father
As we study the Gospels, we realize Jesus had a close and personal relationship with his Father. As examples of this, consider the following passages:
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34)
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:46)
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30)
And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (John 17:5)
As we read these verses, it seems obvious that Jesus is talking to another individual, his Father in Heaven. This separation between Jesus and his Father in Heaven is made clear by the events that occurred when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Matthew described the baptism as follows.
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:16-17)
Notice that the separation of the three members of the Godhead was clearly recorded by Matthew.
The New Testament, however, does refer to Jesus and the Father as being “one”. Consider the following passage.
I and my Father are one. (John 10:30)
If we were to consider this passage without considering the context of the New Testament as a whole, we might conclude that the Father and the Son are one personage. However, if we consider John 10:30 in context with the Bible as a whole, we realize Jesus and the Father are one in ways different than person. Let us review that context. First, as discussed above, we have many references made by Jesus to his Father, references that only make sense if the Father and the Son are separate personages. Second, and this is a key scripture, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (John 17:21-22). It is ridiculous to think he wanted his disciples to merge into one body and become one in person. It is reasonable, however, to think he wanted them to become one in unity and purpose as he and the Father are one in those ways. Jesus described his unity with the Father.
Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:28-29)
Another Biblical passage that refers to one God is in Paul’s epistle to the disciples in Corinth. Paul referred to the many idols being worshiped by the pagans and reminded the Christians they worshiped one God.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
In verses 4 and 6 Paul referred to one God. However in verse 6 Paul clearly said this “one God” was actually two personages, the Father and Jesus Christ: there is but one God, the Father…and one Lord Jesus Christ. It seems clear Paul is using the phrase “one God” to refer to the Godhead; because of the unity between the Father and Jesus, Paul referred to them as “one God” even though they are separate personages. He emphasized the oneness of the Godhead in his epistles because he was dealing with people who worshiped many pagan gods, and he wanted them to focus on Jesus as the Christ. In a similar vein, Moses spoke of “one God”. He was dealing with people who were familiar with the many Egyptian gods, and he wanted them to focus on Jehovah. Even though the Godhead consisted of three Gods or personages, as far as the people living the Law of Moses were concerned there was one God, Jehovah. It is important to remember that since the three members of the Godhead are perfectly united, it is proper to refer to them as “one God”.
Persons who object to the Church say, “What about Isaiah 43:10 where it says there were no Gods before Jehovah and will be none after him? Jesus and his Father have to be the same, and there is only one God.” Let us look at that verse.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. (Isaiah 43:10)
In chapter 43, God is talking about the relationship between him and the Israelites. He uses the analogy of a trial in which he calls witnesses. In verse 3, he declares he is the God of Israel, and in subsequent verses he reassures the Israelites of this relationship. In verse 9 he challenges the nations of the earth to bring forth their witnesses of their gods, and in verse 10 he declares that the Israelites are his witnesses of his work and of the salvation which he is providing. Not only are they his witnesses but his servants because they do his work among the children of the earth. As his servants, he wants the Israelites to understand he is their God. In verse 10 when he said, “before me there was no God formed” he is saying he has always been the God of Israel. When he said, “neither shall their be [any] after me” he is saying he will always be the God of Israel. Thus, we see the context of that verse is that Jehovah always has been and always will be the God of Israel. That verse does not address the question whether Jesus and the Father are the same or are separate. As mentioned above, since Jesus and the Father are perfectly united, it is appropriate to refer to them as “one God”.
Those who object also ask, “How about Isaiah 44:8?” Let us look at that verse.
Hear ye not, neither be afraid; have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any. (Isaiah 44:8)
This verse is a continuation of the “trial” dialog we just discussed. Jehovah is the God of Israel, and “there is no God” besides Him. As with the other verse, this passage concerns the relationship between God and Israel and does not address the nature of the Godhead.
Joseph Smith’s Vision
When Joseph Smith received his glorious vision in the spring of 1820, he beheld two personages. Through this vision, the Lord revealed once and for all the truth about the nature of the Godhead.
It [a bright light appearing from above] no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other–“This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith–History 1:17, emphasis added)
The Form of God
We have seen that the Godhead is composed of three separate and distinct personages. Let us now look deeper into the nature of the Godhead and understand their form. We read in Genesis of the creation of man.
And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26-27, emphasis added)
Some members of the Church use this scripture in an attempt to show that God the Father has a glorified body of flesh and bones. However, I think they are distorting the meaning of that scripture. I say this, because I believe that God the Father was talking to his son Jesus Christ, and at that time, Jesus had not been born of Mary and did not have a body of flesh and bones. Thus, when God spoke of “our image” and “our likeness”, I believe he was referring to something other than flesh and bone.
What then can we learn from God’s statement that we are made in his likeness and image? We mortals have bodily form, i.e. we have heads, arms, and legs. Because we are created in the likeness of God, we realize that God the Father and Jesus Christ have bodies with heads, arms, and legs. Later in this chapter, we will understand the type of bodies those exalted beings have.
With this understanding, we realize the following references made by Moses about God are literal and have added significance because they refer to the form of God:
And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses.
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. (Exodus 33:9,11, emphasis added)
And they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land: for they have heard that thou LORD are among this people, that thou LORD art seen face to face, and that thy cloud standeth over them, and that thou goest before them, by day time in a pillar of a cloud and in a pillar of fire by night. (Numbers 14:14, emphasis added)
The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire. (Deuteronomy 5:4, emphasis added)
The Form of Jesus Christ
In trying to understand the form of Jesus Christ, we are fortunate because the scriptures testify strongly to his divine nature and to the fact he was resurrected with a body of flesh and bones, one that looks like our bodies but is glorified and perfect. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples who were traveling to the village of Emmaus. Even though he was a resurrected personage, Jesus looked to them like a mortal person, and they did not realize they were talking to the Lord. Later in the day, their eyes were “opened” and they understood they had been talking with the resurrected Christ (Luke 23:13-33).
After that experience, Jesus appeared to the apostles in the upper room. Luke recorded that the men were afraid and thought they had seen a spirit or ghost. Jesus calmed them by saying,
And he said unto them, Why are you troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (Luke 24:38-39, emphasis added)
To give them further proof of his physical resurrection, he partook of food (Luke 24:41-43).
After teaching his disciples for 40 days, Jesus ascended to heaven with his resurrected body, and two angels told the disciples Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11). He ascended with his resurrected body and will return with that same body, and I believe we can assume he has that same body today. In fact, if Jesus were to lose his resurrected body and be only a spirit, he would suffer another death, for death is the separation of spirit and body. Paul said Christ would not die again, so he must have today his resurrected body of flesh and bones.
Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. (Romans 6:9)
The Form of the Father
Now that we understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ was permanent, we are in a position to understand the nature of God the Father. While talking with Philip, Jesus said, he that hath seen me hath seen the Father (John 14:9). It is clear that Jesus did not mean he and the Father are one personage, because the context of the Bible teaches they are separate. He meant he and the Father are not only united in purpose but united in appearance. Even though he had a mortal body when he made those statements, he resembled his Father in Heaven. Paul referred to this resemblance when he said Jesus was the express image of the Father’s person (Hebrews 1:3). After his resurrection, Jesus more closely resembled his Father, perhaps even exactly resembling the Father. Thus, the Bible implies that God the Father has a glorified body of flesh and bones.
There are verses in the Bible, however, that say God is a spirit. For example, Jesus said the following.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
Some people use this verse to substantiate their claim that God is a spirit without a body. However, in so doing they use the verse out of context of the Bible as a whole. So, what did Jesus mean when he said “God is a Spirit”?
The context of that verse concerns a Samaritan woman who believed the Old Testament prophecies that Christ would come. Jesus declared to her that people would shortly worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus then said God is a Spirit and repeated his statement that people would worship him in spirit and in truth. If Jesus meant God was a only a spirit, he must have also meant people would leave their bodies and worship him with only their spirits, because the context of the word “spirit” is the same for both God and the worship of the people (same Greek word, pneuma). That meaning does not make sense. The context of the word “spirit” is that people would worship in the influence of God. Likewise, when Jesus said God is a Spirit he meant God fills space with his spiritual influence.
The Form of the Holy Ghost
The Bible speaks of the Holy Ghost in the context of both a personage and an influence. Let us examine a few of those verses. First as a personage:
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:11)
For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say. (Luke 12:12)
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; (Acts 15:28)
It is clear these verses refer to the Holy Ghost as an intelligent member of the Godhead, because of the personal attributes given to Him. Other verses, however, speak of the Holy Ghost as an influence.
For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15)
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, (Acts 4:8)
In understanding the difference between the Holy Ghost and his influence, we might consider an analogy of a light bulb. There is one light bulb having a distinct form and shape, but the influence of the bulb is without form or shape and fills the surrounding area. As we read the scriptures, we must depend upon the context of the verses to help us understand how the phrase Holy Ghost is being used in particular verses. The Bible also uses the name Holy Spirit to refer to the Holy Ghost and his influence. That name is synonymous with the name Holy Ghost.
True Nature of God
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed the true nature of God. Included in instructions given by the Prophet to the Church in 1843 was the following statement about God.
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (D & C 130:22)
Through latter-day revelation to a living prophet, questions about the nature of God are laid to rest. Both the Father and the Son have glorified bodies of flesh and bones. The Holy ghost is a personage of spirit.
In understanding that the Holy Ghost is a personage, we realize that even though he is a spirit, he has form and shape because he is a personage and is not just an influence. What is a personage of spirit like? First, we have Joseph’s statement that all spirit is matter.
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter. (D & C 131:7-8)
Next, from the experience of the brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon, we learn that bodies of spirit matter look like bodies of flesh and bone. The brother of Jared saw the spirit body of Jesus prior to Jesus being born of Mary, and he thought the body was flesh and blood; Jesus corrected him and explained it was the body of his spirit.
And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:7-10,16)
Earlier, we read in Genesis 1:26-27 that man was created in the image and likeness of God. At that time, the Father had a glorified body of flesh and bone, but Jesus had a spirit body. We have seen that spirit bodies look like bodies of flesh and bone but are composed of spirit matter that is more refined and pure than mortal matter. We realize, as we read Genesis, that we were created in the image and likeness of both the Father’s glorified physical body and the Savior’s spirit body.
The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Luke recorded that sacred event as follows:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among woman.
And the angel said unto her, fear not, Mary: for thou has found favour with God.
And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-28,30-35)
Those verses clearly state two important facts: (a) the conception of Jesus occurred through the influence of the Holy Ghost, and (b) “the Highest” (God the Father) was the father of Jesus. The scriptures do not give additional details about this sacred event, perhaps because it is so sacred.
Matthew recorded the following about the birth of Jesus.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:18)
We have seen that God the Father and the Holy Ghost are separate personages in the Godhead, and that God the Father was the father of Jesus. Thus, the phrase “of the Holy Ghost” can not mean that the Holy Ghost was the father of Jesus, as some people say. Instead, that phrase should be interpreted to mean “by the power of the Holy Ghost”. In other words, the Holy Ghost prepared Mary in some way we do not understand to become the mother of the Son of God. This was made clear in Luke 1:35 which was quoted above.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
Some critics of the LDS Church claim the Church teaches that Jesus was conceived through physical contact between God and Mary. As we have just seen, the Bible does not teach that, nor does, as far as I know, the Church. The Lord has not revealed and we do not know how the conception took place, other than God was the father of Jesus and the power of the Holy Ghost made it possible.
Many critics quote a statement by Brigham Young as evidence that the LDS church does teach that Heavenly Father had sex with Mary. Here is Brigham Young’s statement.
The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood-was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, p. 115)
Brigham Young said that the birth of the Savior was a natural event. This is taught by the Bible. Mary was pregnant. She carried the baby for nine months and delivered the babe in a natural birth. Brigham then said the Savior was begotten of his Father as we were of our fathers. That is the phrase that critics use to claim that the LDS Church teaches the Father had sex with Mary. There are tens of thousands of living people who were conceived in vitro without sexual contact between the parents. If we, with our primitive technology, can do that, certainly Heavenly Father with his infinite knowledge could do something similar. Critics say, however, that in vitro fertilization was unknown in Brigham Young’s time. They have a point. I don’t know what Brigham believed about the conception of the Savior, other than his statement that it was a natural process and that Jesus was begotten of his Father. He isn’t here to clarify his statement. The significance of that statement is that Heavenly Father was the literal father of Jesus, and Jesus inherited attributes from his Father, including the ability to be resurrected and to give all of us the resurrection. When critics interpret Brigham’s statement to mean sex, we need to understand that that is their interpretation and is not the interpretation of the LDS Church. Individual Mormons, including General Authorities, who may have made claims about physical contact are speaking with their own wisdom and not for the Church.
The God to Whom I Pray
Jesus taught the manner of prayer:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heavenb, Hallowed by thy name. (Matthew 6:9)
Jesus thus taught that we have a special relationship with God the Eternal Father: he is our spiritual father, that is, we are his spiritual offspring.
Paul, while at Athens, noticed the Greeks had alters to various gods, including one to the UNKNOWN GOD. Paul took advantage of these altars to teach them about the true God.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. (Acts 17:29)
In other words, because we are the living, spiritual offspring of a living God, we should not expect God to be made of gold or metal.
Thus, when I pray, I address my Heavenly Father using terms similar to “My Father in Heaven”, “Heavenly Father”, “Father”.
Jesus as Mediator
Christ is our Mediator. He is our Advocate, our Intercessor. He stands as the only Mediator between God and man. He seeks to turn us from our wayward state and to bring us into agreement with the Father. He pleads our cause in the courts above, intercedes in our behalf, defends us because of our weaknesses, and strives to lead us to be one with him and his Father.
In the garden prior to his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded for our behalf.
I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine….Holy father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they be one as we are….I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil….Sanctify them through thy truth. (John 17:9-17)
Paul expressed this beautiful concept in this way:
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. (Romans 8:34)
Pray in the Name of Jesus
Because Jesus is my Mediator, my Intercessor, I pray to my Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, grateful for his atonement and for his love to me!