In 1962, during my missionary labors in Geneva, Switzerland, my companion and I were giving a missionary discussion to a man one evening. One of the major points of our discussion concerned the nature of God—that he is a physical being, in whose image we were created. Our host was fascinated by this concept and accepted it almost immediately. Our discussion was interrupted several times as his mind reflected on the doctrine and its many implications.
That experience was repeated many times on my mission and a number of times since. It is, in fact, an experience many missionaries have. Most Christian and Jewish sects believe in a God who is a spirit, devoid of passions and without form or body, who fills the universe and yet is not a part of it. Yet despite these official beliefs, our missionaries sometimes find that the “difficulty” in discussing the Godhead with other people is that they often agree so readily with the Latter-day Saint concept of God. Frequently, they are totally ignorant of their own churches’ teachings about God, and therefore do not see the necessity of the discussion. Their concept of God, it seems, comes from a reading of the Bible, together with basic logic.
This logic, however, can sometimes carry a person too far. It is only a few steps from the concept of a God with a physical body to that of a God lacking divine powers. This was the situation some years ago when it was proposed that God is a mere “spaceman” from another planet, whose fantastic space vehicle and other devices amazed the early Israelites and others. According to this scheme, there is no Creator, no divine plan, no Fall, and, of course, no Redemption.
We should be thankful, then, that the restored gospel, in harmony with the Bible, teaches us the true nature of our Father in Heaven, who loves us and wants us to become like him.
A few years ago as I was leaving Temple Square in Salt Lake City after a general conference session, I encountered a small group of people handing out anti-Mormon pamphlets. The leader of the group styled himself a “missionary to the Mormons.” I was interested to know why he spent his time in this way. Also, his pamphlets intrigued me, for they revealed that this man had very little knowledge of the Latter-day Saints’ true beliefs.
As I talked with him briefly, he pulled from his pocket a list of questions that he frequently asked members of the Church. “Is God a man?” he asked me confidently.
“You’re the only Mormon who believes that,” he said. “Your church teaches that God is a man.”
“That’s not correct,” I countered. “Let me read to you from the Bible exactly what my church does teach.” I then quoted from Psalms 82:6, which reads: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
“No,” I said, “God is not a man; man is a god—or, at least, so he may become. This is what Jesus said to the Jews in the tenth chapter of John when he quoted that very Psalm.” (See John 10:34–36.)
As I walked to my car after this unsuccessful encounter (the man soon left me to hand pamphlets to others), I thought of the many ways in which God’s true nature is distorted in the teachings of so many Christian churches. Joseph Smith taught that not only does God have a body, but that he “dwells in everlasting burnings.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938, p. 361.) (This idea is found in a number of ancient sources as well.) But many—perhaps the majority—of churches teach that it is the devil who has a body (often pictured with horns, tail, and cloven hoof) and dwells in everlasting burnings. How often I have thought that Satan must surely enjoy the visual irony that much of Christianity has reversed his position with that of God! For the truth of the matter is that it is the devil who is but a spirit.
Thank God—the real God—for the teachings of the restored gospel.