I thought it would be interesting to place the three main definitions of “what and who God is” next to each other. As I read and reread the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith, it occurred to me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have an official statement of what and who God is. We have a few general statements, but beyond that all we know about Him comes from descriptions given to us through those who have seen him, most notably Joseph Smith in his account of his First Vision.
I encourage you to read through each of the definitions and descriptions of God. Compare them in your own mind for differences. A single word in a definition can make a big difference in meaning. Which of these three descriptions makes the most sense to you? Which of these most closely matches what you personally feel. Don’t go by what your church teaches you, listen to what your heart whispers to you. All three of these descriptions are about as official as you can get anywhere.
The first description is the Nicene Creed. This was taken from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The second description is the Westminster Confession of Faith from 1646 for the Church of England. This is the definitive definition from the website for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Most of Christianity believes in one of these two descriptions of God. And even though they are materially very different in their description, each group still considers the other “Christian.” The final entry (and the rest of the article) is from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which is not official LDS Church doctrine, but is well regarded by the Lord’s restored Church.
Because our definition of what and who God is varies so dramatically from standard Christian definitions, many do not consider us to be true Christians. We are the only ones who declare that God is a real, tangible being, completely separate from Christ, each having a resurrected body of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, and the three of them together form the Godhead, united as one in their purpose to bring about our salvation and return us home to God, who is our father.
At the end of the last definition of who and what God is, are links to other articles for you to read. Enjoy.
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Westminster Confession of Faith, A.D. 1646
OF GOD, AND OF THE HOLY TRINITY
1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.
3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Definition of God
See this page in the original 1992 publication.
Author: Yarn, David H.
Latter-day Saints declare, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (A of F 1). Joseph Smith offered the following clarification: “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” (D&C 130:22; see God the Father; Holy Ghost; Jehovah, Jesus Christ).
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings who constitute one Godhead. Generally speaking, the Father is the Creator, the Son is the Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost is the Comforter and Testifier (cf. MFP 5:26-34; TPJS, p. 190). Many scriptural passages illustrate the distinct character of the members of the Godhead. For example, at the baptism of Jesus, while he was in the water, the Father’s voice was heard from heaven, and the Holy Ghost descended “like a dove” and rested upon the Son (Matt. 3:13-17; see Jesus Christ: Baptism of Jesus Christ). All three persons were manifested separately and simultaneously. Also, Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), and in another place declared, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Further, Jesus pointed to the Father and himself as two separate witnesses of the divinity of his work (John 5:32-37;8:12-18). On the Mount of Transfiguration the heavenly Father identified the mortal Jesus to Peter, James, and John as “my beloved Son” (Matt. 17:5). Moreover, the Son often prayed to his Father. In Gethsemane he prayed to the Father while in deep anguish (Mark 14:32-39; cf. Luke 22:40-46; D&C 19:16-19), and on the cross he cried out to the Father, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; cf. Ps. 22:1). All of these passages clearly show that the Father is a being distinct from the Son. Although they are one in mind and purpose, they are two separate individuals and bear testimony of one another (cf. 3 Ne. 11:7-11).
The way in which the Godhead is one is illustrated by Jesus’ prayer that his disciples would be one, even as he and the Father are one (John 17:21-22; cf. 3 Ne. 11:27, 32-36;28:10-11). Here he was praying for his disciples’ unity of mind, purpose, and testimony, not for the merger of their identities into a single being. He prayed that they would be one in desire, purpose, and objective, exactly as he and his Father are (TPJS, p. 372; see Unity).
The Father, as God, is omnipotent, omniscient, and, through his spirit, omnipresent (see Light of Christ). He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness. His course is one eternal round. He is a God of truth and no respecter of persons. He personifies love.
Though Latter-day Saints extensively use the scriptures to learn about God, their fundamental knowledge concerning him is based upon the Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision, the Prophet’s subsequent revelatory experiences, and individual personal revelation. While mankind may reason or speculate concerning the existence of God, and his nature, the principal way by which they can know about God is dependent upon his revealing himself to them (see Testimony of Jesus Christ).
Before A.D. 325, the date of the first Christian ecumenical council at Nicaea, the nature of God was debated by philosophers and people of faith. Since then, the concept of God has been the subject of ecumenical councils, philosophical discussions, and creeds. None of these is the source of the LDS understanding of God. To be sure, many classical arguments for the existence of God have been advanced, including the ontological arguments of Anselm, the five “proofs” of St. Thomas Aquinas, the teleological argument of Descartes, the ethical argument of Leibniz, and the postulates of practical reason of Kant. As impressive as any of these might be as achievements of the human intellect, none of them is the source of faith in God for Latter-day Saints, whose faith is based upon personal testimony grounded in personal experience (see Epistemology; Faith in Jesus Christ; Reason and Revelation).
The last chapter of the Book of Mormon records this promise: “And when ye shall receive these things [of God], I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:4-5). The personal witness that one receives in answer to prayer is called a testimony. Latter-day Saints teach that through this source a person can receive a sure witness that God lives, a confirmation regarding the various principles that the scriptures teach, and clarification where it is needed.
Belief in God, or a measure of faith in him, is essential to finding the reality of his existence. Inasmuch as God exists, and human beings are his children, it is important for men and women to know these facts because such knowledge is a component of eternal life (John 17:3). Individuals need to know that they are themselves eternal beings, that they are dependent upon God for their earthly existence (cf. Mosiah 2:21), and that their future condition depends on how they relate to God and keep his commandments (see Commandments; Obedience).
God loves his children and has provided the means for them to realize their divine potential (see Godhood). God has given humankind the program for his children as a whole (see Plan of Salvation, Plan of Redemption), and through the gift of the Holy Ghost he gives special guidance to individuals as they seek it (see Inspiration). God revealed his will to prophets in ancient times and to apostles in the meridian of time, and he continues to reveal himself to living prophets and apostles in the latter days.
Learning of God’s existence creates the desire to know him, and know what he would have one do or be. As one’s faith and knowledge of God increase, one desires more and more to keep God’s commandments and feel close to him (see Faith in Jesus Christ). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that knowing the true character of God forms the basis for the faith that leads to salvation (Lectures on Faith 4:1; see Lectures on Faith). Jesus promised that the Comforter, or Holy Ghost, would be sent to one who keeps God’s commandments (John 14:26). The ideal is to enjoy that influence continuously.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us: yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (TPJS, pp. 345-46). Further, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,-I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form-like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another” (TPJS, p. 345).
Thus, all humans must learn from God who they are, where they came from, why they are on earth, where they are going, and what their eternal potential is, by studying the scriptures and receiving personal revelation. All things center in God.
For a more complete discussion of the LDS belief of God, you can reference these articles on this website:
Godhead – Part 1 of 4 Definition of God
Godhead – Part 2 of 4 God the Father
Godhead – Part 3 of 4 Jesus Christ
Godhead – Part 4 of 4 The Holy Ghost