Saturday, February 10, 2007

Divine Motherhood

One of the unique doctrines of the LDS Church is the existence of a Mother in Heaven. It is more than a trivial speculative idea, but part of the foundational teachings associated with Exaltation. Although particulars are not available, the doctrine is enshrined in one of the most beloved hymns “Oh My Father” by Eliza R. Snow. It states, “in the heavens, are parents single?” and replies, “no . . . truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.” President Wilford Woodruff proclaimed the hymn a revelation. To add to that, it is impossible to fully comprehend the doctrines of eternal families without accepting the implications.

Yet, some are troubled by the lack of particulars. Usually those who would like women to have a greater role in the LDS Church, and especially would like Priesthood positions granted to them voice these concerns. The refrain to such requests is “the subject is too sacred,” or more forcefully, “God doesn’t want His wife mocked and ridiculed by the World as He lovers Her too much.” There is truth in this, but it doesn’t really answer the question of near silence. The Scriptures don’t even hint this. Prophets, if they have said anything at all, have not made that proclamation (although they have numerous times in relation to Temple ordinances) a central concern. There are some answers, but not ones that will either close off the discussion or be comforting to the critics of minimalism.

On Earth as In Heaven

What we know about our Heavenly Mother is perhaps more than realized. This is because most Mormons, both “progressive” and “traditional” are looking for things overly transcendent. The “Easy to understand” is seen as less worthy of respect then something that can be forever argued and dissected. Perhaps worse for some is that the conclusion of Her nature casts a shadow on certain aspirations.

The key to understanding Heavenly Mother is both in the name and a simple verse of the Doctrine and Covenants. It occurs in the famous “Civil War Prophecy” of D&C 130:

1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.

2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

Although it has more to do with the nature of God and our relation to Him than gender issues, the idea expressed of “that same sociality” has repercussions. There is not a lot of differences between what we observe here on Earth and human nature in the Eternities. It is true that we are perhaps more prone to sin, misunderstanding, lies, and mistakes in mortality. Yet, it is clear that mothers are a very important part of the social fabric of humanity. To understand motherhood is to understand Heavenly Mother, just as Fatherhood brings its own lessons. The recent Proclamation on the Family emphasizes the Earthly relationships of gender to Eternal truth:

We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children . . .

. . . By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

Therefore, we know that Heavenly Mother is just that; a woman who takes care of children. There is no pretence as to how that can be achieved other than through the known doctrine of Faith, Hope, and Charity or more succinctly Love. Learn how to cultivate those characteristics and the more the nature of Heavenly Mother will become clear. For those who believe that raising children is a disgrace or beneath a fully spiritual identity, Jesus had some choice words:

10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

11 For the Son of man is come to Save that which was lost.

-- Matt. 18: 10-11

Of course, not every woman has the opportunity to marry or raise children here on Earth. However, if Heaven is the ideal and families reflect Heaven, then Time only is of concern and not ultimate circumstances. There is much that we must, as religious people, hope for in the next life that cannot be attained in mortal probation. Marriage and children might be part of that anticipation for a better Eternal life. Creating a false Goddess figure only separates us from real Salvation through Jesus Christ.

Worship and Salvation

This possibility is not without precedent. Some scholars have seen within the Bible a fight for repressing a more female oriented worship. In other words, additional theology of a fertility Goddess that either goes with or usurps the male God that is accepted as the I AM that should have no other Gods before Him. Some would say the “go with” is not theologically unacceptable. However, Jesus warned:

17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.

18 so be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.

--Luke 11: 17-18

It would be near impossible not to develop two theological worship systems that didn't diverge. Like manna, a choice between one and the other would be inevitable when both insist upon our devotion. As is clearly taught in the Scriptures, Jesus Christ has already been established as the only Way to Salvation; and he does not give room for another deity beyond Father as the focus of our Prayers. It is true that he acts with God, but ultimately he gives the glory to God. There is an example of prayer to enhance this point:

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

12 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

13 For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

-- 3 Ne. 13: 9-13

The nature of Heavenly Mother is clearly defined, as is her role. Scriptures do not mention Her because she is not part of the plan of salvation beyond what we already know of motherhood. The deity we worship continues to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as One, and They have been consistent on who and what we must do to be saved. If honesty is important, those who want to “graduate” the female half of Heavenly Parents must acknowledge there isn’t much known about Father in Heaven either. We know as much as we do about Him because Jesus is His representative. Ultimately it is through Jesus Christ that we get near the Father, and it is through the Father that the Mother can be percieved.

1 comment:

Eric Nielson said...

You have made some bold statements here. Theologically speaking I am with you on the basics. And while I do believe in eternal families, just as mormon women on earth serve well and faithfully in other areas, in addition to the great and noble work they do as mothers, so will exalted women have great things to do in addition.