Yesterday, I had two LDS missionaries come to my door. These sisters have visited me before; they came to the door a couple of weeks ago asking me to sign a birthday card for a neighbor which gave me the opportunity to engage them in conversation. Both girls were in their early twenties and both had grown up in Utah. Each had at least one parent who was a multi-generational Mormon.
As we talked, I explained that I've spoken with Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have come to the house. These folks were very sincere in their beliefs, but I explained why sincerity isn't enough. I explained that there is only one good reason for believing anything, and that is it must be true. I then said that a lot of people trust their feelings as a guide to know what's true, but this is a terrible guide, for certainly the Muslims who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings are very sincere in their beliefs. I offered the tape measure analogy as a better way to discover truth.
Lastly, I said that for belief systems, the way one can objectively assess their truth value was to look for two things: external correspondence and internal consistency. That is any belief system or word view must be internally coherent and not hold to contradictory beliefs and its claims must match the way we understand the external world to really work. If a belief system is contradictory, then I cannot see how it can be true.
Up to this point, the ladies were following along pretty well and agreed with me. So I then raised the point of eternal progression. I didn't want to talk about ancillary issues but focus on the critical beliefs central to their faith, and eternal progression sits right at the center of Mormonism. They agreed and also agreed that the God we now worship had also progressed from being a man to a God. So, I said I had a difficulty here as the Book of Mormon states in Moroni 8:18 that God is eternal and unchanging (you can read the entire argument here.) The sisters were taken aback at this passage and said they would have to research it more. They took down my number and agreed to come back with an answer for me. I gave them my thanks and our meeting ended.
A Question, a Contradiction, and a ResponseYesterday, the ladies returned with a response. They told me that it was pretty difficult to get an answer to this question; they had to go all the way up to their mission president to find one. As they explained it, all human beings exist in a spiritual state prior to their earthy birth. (This I already knew.) Their president had told them that our God, Elohim, then had existed with his God attributes in this state and he still has them now. They pointed to the teaching of Joseph Smith's King Follett discourse where there was a council of the Gods called to create a plan of salvation for the people of earth and how Jesus existed as God there even before he was born on earth.1 They concluded that just like Jesus was considered God before his embodiment, so too was Elohim considered God before his embodiment and thus has been God forever.
The answer has several problems, two of which I pointed out immediately. The first was "If God existed as God before his embodiment, then why bother with the work of being embodied at all?" The whole concept of God means a perfect being. That's why we worship him. If Elohim had all the attributes necessary to qualify him as God, then he doesn't need to be improved through bodily experiences where he can be shaped and learn. Either he was something less than God in his premortal existence or He went through the exercise for no purpose. Notice this is Elohim, not Jesus we're discussing.
Why Worship God and Not the Guy Down the Street?The second reason is even more troubling. If their claim is true, that Elohim was God in a premortal state, and he retained that even when he was embodied and went through all the experiences and temptations, learning to resist them on his planet then it means that everyone who is in that embodied state now is also God right now! Mormon theology makes no distinction between Elohim's eternal progression and those Mormon missionary ladies who were standing in front of me. So I asked them, "Why then should I worship Elohim and not the Sister standing next to you right now if what you say is true? In fact why should I worship anyone if I'm a God in my earthy state?"
They countered that we worship God because he created us, but that isn't right as we existed as God prior to our embodiment. This is where Mormon theology becomes hopelessly confused. According to LDS thought, all spirits existed eternally in the past. There is no creation ex nihilo for the LDS. Elohim and his spirit bride gives birth to spirit children who are I guess formed into spiritual bodies (their understanding here was vague) just as earthly parents then give birth to physical children where that spirit joins with a physical body. But given this view, it's just as legitimate to worship our physical parents as it is to worship Elohim, who is our spiritual parent. Of course the sisters were not at all eager to believe in worshiping other people. But that's the logical conclusion if their explanation of Moroni 8:18 is right.
In order to get out of the quandary, they appealed to the mysteries of God, quoting article 9 of their articles of faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."2 They suggested that he may reveal more, but we just must have faith and approach God sincerely.
At this point I reminded them of my first conversation with them, that the truth is something more than sincerity; the 9-11 hijackers were very sincere. I said this is more than a misunderstanding; it's an internal contradiction in Mormon theology. And it isn't any little issue, either. It is the core of Mormonism! Why should I reject historic Christianity for a system that shows itself to be incoherent? (I didn't use those words, but that was the jist of my question to them.)
I then asked how well they understood historic Christian theology. They responded that they didn't know it very well. That gave me the chance to tell them the Gospel and how Christianity is never about works (article 3 of their Articles of Faith) but about a loving response to what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ.
I don't know if I'll see the sisters again. I hope I do. But I pray even more that those bothering contradictions that sit at the center of Mormonism will dog them. I pray that the Hound of Heaven will pursue these ladies and they don't find rest until they rest in the one through whom all real rest comes. Pray for them if you get the chance. I think God is on their trail.
2. Smith, Joseph, Jr. "Articles of Faith." Mormon.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. https://www.mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith.
Image courtesy More Good Foundation and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).