“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temples in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death.”1
“In common with the rest of Christianity,” Elder Oaks continued, “we believe in a Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. However, we testify that these three members of the Godhead are three separate and distinct beings. We also testify that God the Father is not just a spirit but is a glorified person with a tangible body, as is his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. … In contrast, many Christians reject the idea of a tangible, personal God and a Godhead of three separate beings. They believe that God is a spirit and that the Godhead is only one God. In our view, these concepts are evidence of the falling away we call the Great Apostasy.”2
Not long after the deaths of the Savior’s New Testament Apostles, ideas from Greek philosophy began transforming plain and precious gospel truths. Conflicting doctrines regarding the nature of deity led Emperor Constantine to convene a churchwide council in Nicaea in A.D. 325. The resulting Nicene Creed eliminated the concept of deity as separate beings by declaring Jesus Christ to be “one substance with the Father.”
“Other councils followed,” Elder Oaks explained, “and from their decisions and the writings of churchmen and philosophers there came a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine. … The consequences persist in the various creeds of Christianity, which declare a Godhead of only one being.”3
The truth concerning the nature of the Godhead was restored in the spring of 1820 when Joseph Smith entered the Sacred Grove. As he prayed, a pillar of light appeared, which he described as being “above the brightness of the sun. … When the light rested upon me,” he recorded, “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!” (JS—H 1:16–17). Joseph learned during this vision, among other truths, that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate, glorified individuals and that we, as the Bible teaches, are created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27).
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “The experience of Joseph Smith in a few moments in the grove on a spring day in 1820, brought more light and knowledge and understanding of the personality and reality and substance of God and his Beloved Son than men had arrived at during centuries of speculation.”4
In 1843 Joseph Smith summarized what he had learned through direct revelation about the Godhead: “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).
Not only do we know that God possesses a glorified body of flesh and bones, but from this restored understanding of the nature of God flows the Latter-day Saint belief regarding our nature and potential. The Prophet Joseph Smith once taught: “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, … and that He was once a man like us. … When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them.”5
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) taught: “God the Eternal Father … is the literal Parent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and of the spirits of the human race. … We are God’s children.”6
The belief that we are created in the image of our Eternal Father “does not mean that we claim sufficient spiritual maturity to comprehend God,” observed Elder Oaks. “Nor do we equate our imperfect mortal bodies to his immortal, glorified being. But we can comprehend the fundamentals he has revealed about himself and the other members of the Godhead. And that knowledge is essential to our understanding of the purpose of mortal life and of our eternal destiny as resurrected beings after mortal life.
“In the theology of the restored church of Jesus Christ, the purpose of mortal life is to prepare us to realize our destiny as sons and daughters of God—to become like Him.”7