Strangers in Paradox
by Margaret & Paul Toscano
Divinity and Humanity
Orthodox Christianity teaches that each individual was created from nothing, probably at conception or birth. There was no pre-mortal existence for us. Because God creates us ex nihilo, we are entirely contingent upon God. Popular Mormonism teaches that we are co-eternal with God. The word “co-eternal” comes from B. H. Roberts’s interpretative footnote to the King Follett discourse (TPJS, 353), considered to contain Joseph Smith’s most powerful discussion of the doctrine of human self-existence. This discourse was transcribed by a number of individuals as it was spoken. In none of these variant transcriptions does the word “co-eternal” appear. What Joseph Smith said was that spirits were “co-equal” with God, that is equal in age or extent (ibid., 353; WJS, 341,346, 352). Roberts preferred the word “co-eternal” because it avoided the connotation that humans were co-extensive with or part of God.
Traditional or progressive Mormonism has by and large accepted Roberts’s view that the irreducible seed of each individual’s personality always existed independent of and side by side with God. Thus progressive Mormonism has taught that we are not dependent upon God for our being. Ultimately God cannot be blamed for our failings; nor can God take the credit for our goodness. In Mormonism human self-existence is seen as the foundation of free agency. Self-existence is what keeps us from the grip of the divine determinism that would be inevitable had God created us to be what we are. For to have been created out of nothing would be for God to have encoded into us from the start all that we could ever be. And we could never escape that encoding no matter what we did. In addition, traditional Mormonism insists that people are not only self-existent, but innately good. Evil exists as a cosmetic affair, resulting from ignorance, fear, and desperation. Remove [p.108] these by education, kindness, and prosperity, and the deep down forever goodness in people will emerge.
In our view, the revelations of Joseph Smith contradict the orthodox view of ex nihilo creation. But they also contradict the traditional Mormon view that humans existed independently of God and that they are innately good. Our view, we think, is supported by the following statement on the nature of God and humanity: “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be …. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence” (D&C 93:29, 30). This means that until we were made independent, our self-existence or intelligence was merged with God’s self-existence. At some point God put our intelligence in a separate state where it could act for itself. Without such a sphere we could have no self-awareness and no existence except as part of God. The revelation goes on to say: “Man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy.” This suggests that the independent sphere in which God placed us was the sphere of our spirit bodies and later our fleshy bodies. Our bodies function as veils obscuring the essential connectedness of the universe. This is what God intended for us. God gave us our bodies so we would become independent from God. Our bodies allow us to have our own awareness and consciousness independent of God’s. As mortals we lack the fullness of divine glory, intelligence, or divine consciousness, so the universe appears to us to be discontinuous. We are trapped temporarily in the illusion that we exist as entities entirely separate from all other living things including God. But when our spirit and fleshy bodies are inseparably joined and we receive a fullness of God’s glory, we shall perceive that though we are independent of God, we are one in glory. This complicated situation is the essential paradox of being: to be and not to be a part of God simultaneously. This paradoxical state is possible because our bodies make us independent and God’s glory makes us one.
Section 93 further states that “The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God.” We are part of a universe saturated with God’s mind or intelligence. Thus the whole of creation, including mankind, is an extension of the person and being of God. This is how Christ can be all knowing and all powerful in his kingdom. But his kingdom (at least the actualized portion) is not infinite. Though it is large beyond human comprehension, it has its limits. It is [p.109] contained within the larger kingdom of that God who is the father and mother of Jesus Christ. The text of the Book of Abraham states: “If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them” (3:16).
The revelations of Joseph Smith present God’s body and God’s glory as equally essential to divinity. God’s body constitutes an independent sphere allowing God to have self-awareness and self-existence independent of any superior God. The body of God provides the focal point of all the levels of the divine consciousness and intelligence. God’s body is where his/her glory is centered. It proceeds forth from them to the uttermost verges of their creation. God as the union of actual and potential, of time and eternity, of flesh and glory, does not stand outside the creation but is a part of it. God not only observes the cosmos but participates in it. The furthest reaches of the cosmos are as much a part of God as his and her fingers and toes. Thus in relating to mankind or to nature, God is self-relating. For God the universe is continuous, organic, and conscious. The “continuation of the seeds,” we are told, is synonymous with God’s “eternal lives” (D&C 132:19). This means that God lives our lives. God not only lives an independent life, but being present in us in spirit, the divine mind also simultaneously lives in each of us.
In other words God is pregnant with unborn kingdoms. We are part of those kingdoms. There is locked in God the Father and God the Mother something not quite their own, something yearning for birth, maturation, and equality. We are part of that something. In a parallel way, there is locked within each of us some part of a potential kingdom, something not quite part of us, something which can through a divine union be born, mature, and become our equal. Just as the intelligence of God includes our intelligences, so our intelligence includes the intelligences of others. These intelligences are not created. They exist as infinite potentials which can be liberated or actualized. As celestial beings we may participate with others in unleashing these intelligences into their own independent spheres of existence.
In light of these ideas, it is possible to say that without God we could not exist and that without us God could not exist as God. We are both necessary. And we are both contingent on each other, like mother and fetus: the fetus depends on the mother for life, and the mother depends on the fetus for her identity as mother. Because we always existed in God as an independent potential we always had an independent will; therefore, God did not create our freedom from nothing. [p.110] Though we always existed in God, this freedom was always ours. But until we were given an independent sphere of action, our freedom existed only in a latent or potential modality. The work of our divine parents is to free us by giving us our bodies and to make us equal to them by filling us with their glory. From this perspective the traditional Mormon notion of eternal progression gives way to the more complex concept of eternal egression: an eternal unfolding from infinite potentiality to finite actuality in which kingdom emerges from kingdom and universe grows out of universe.
Just as time and eternity are intertwined, so God and humanity are interdependent. The scripture teaches that the work and glory of God is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). In our view, God grows in light and truth because God is involved in the dynamic process of bringing individuals to physical, intellectual, and spiritual maturation. Thus, God’s existence and growth depends on our existence and growth. This means that neither we nor God is self-sufficient. We need each other. We are bound together with hoops of steel. We are part of God’s body as much as God is a part of ours. The ultimate divine purpose is to unite us all without obliterating our individuality.[p.111]