Feast upon the Word Blog

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“One in us”: implications of John 17:21

Posted by BrianJ on September 14, 2007

There has been something itching in the back of my mind for some time, and I finally discovered what it was (I only hope I can articulate it). In LDS doctrine, there is the belief that people, through Christ’s atonement, can become exalted as God himself. But just how that works is not always (or ever?) spelled out. Here are some possibilities:

1) Power from an Unlimited Bank: God bestows upon the faithful the same infinite power he possesses by transferring that power from some undefined but infinite source. Thus, his own power is not diminished as result of our exaltation.

2) ∞/2 = ∞ : God can divide his power with us and still remain infinite because that is the nature of eternity and godhood.

3) Gods Serving a God: You can be made a god, but you will always be subservient to that being which exalted you; i.e. you are like God, but not exactly like God.

Okay, so those are rough and incomplete, but at least they expose my thinking. But let me quickly say that I think all of them are wrong—dead wrong—and my ‘discovery’ is in seeing how they are wrong. In other words, I’ve been thinking all wrong about this scripture:

…and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things…. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. (D&C 132:17-20)

This is a case for “the problem isn’t with the answers, it’s with the question.” In asking how a person is exalted, I think I’m missing the point about why a person is exalted—or better yet, what exaltation actually is. To answer this (I think), I turn to (and add emphasis):

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 17:21)


I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one.(D&C 35:2)

I think the key is that exaltation is not the receipt of “all power”, but is rather being received by him who is all-powerful. Thus, my three “possibilities” above are all wrong because they view exaltation as an increase while maintaining distance: we are like God—even equal to him—but we remain separate.

On the other hand, if my new thinking is correct, exaltation is a state of oneness with God that is equivalent and identical to the oneness already shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The infinite nature of the atonement takes on a new meaning, as well, because it is no longer about taking someone low and making him high; it is about taking someone who is ungodly (i.e. not a god) and not just making him godly, but making him—and you, and me—one with God (“…that we [all of us together] may be one. D&C 35:2).

11 Responses to ““One in us”: implications of John 17:21”

  1. Robert C. said

    Brian, I’m not sure I understand the sharp contrast you are suggesting. Why does the “one with God” view you describe undermine the other views (I’m thinking of your #2 esp.)? I think you are very much right that we must think of exaltation in terms of being one with God, but why can’t we think in terms of this increasing God’s glory and/or power?

    I tend to think that becoming one with God means that we are righteous enough that we can live together peaceably (an not just in terms of absence of war, but in love and harmony and all that). To put this in very crass economic terms, I guess I think of this as a production economy rather than an exchange economy—that is, there is no finite amount of “stuff” in the universe that must be divided up; rather, there is an infinite amount of chaotic matter that we, as gods, continually learn to organize in a way that “builds the kingdom.”

    I worry, however, that this way of thinking that I’m proposing sort of leads to a rather imperialistic view of God’s kingdom. But I’m not sure if, ultimately, this is really avoidable—the word kingdom itself is so imperialistic, and yet it’s used so often, that I can’t help thinking that in terms of establishing order in place of chaos. (And, obviously, I’m thinking here in terms of creation motifs throughout scripture, as they frame the way we might think about exaltation….)

  2. BrianJ said

    The sharp contrast, dulled by my mediocre prose, is this: options 1-3 each ask how God can give something to me; i.e. take something from himself, divide his power, separate a piece of eternity for my use, etc. But I’m realizing (I think) that exaltation should be viewed as how God can join me to him; i.e. get rid of some hindrance within me, open eternity for my use, etc.

    To use your economic model, it’s the difference between a communal (I hope that word isn’t taboo) production economy, where we all work as one forever, and a colonizing production economy, where the resources are limitless and so God says, “You’re a big boy now, so move out of the house and go do your own thing.”

  3. Robert C. said

    That makes more sense, Brian, thanks. I think this is importantly related to the attraction of the idea of an eternal family—it seems a bit pointless if we’re going to be moving out on our own, so-to-speak.

  4. Todd Wood said

    Hi guys. Do you believe that you will exactly judge and give life like what we see in the oneness of the Father and the Son in John 5?

    And I don’t think I have ever seen Jesus contend for his own robust libertine free will. How come?

  5. brianj said

    Todd, you’ll have to explain your questions a bit more, or wait for someone other than myself to answer, because I just don’t get what you’re asking. Is it possible that you meant to ask on this thread?

  6. John said

    My understanding of “kingdom” has changed recently. The truth is most certainly not what the English word implies, itself tainted with political and imperial overtones. The Kingdom of God is the sphere in which God rules by means of His sovereign power. It is not defined by its location, but by the activity of God within it.

    During the Talmudic period, the equivalent Aramaic phrase “malkuth shamayim” acted as a substitute for the name of God, which was not permitted to be spoken aloud. In this latter sense, when you enter God’s Kingdom are you not entering into (and becoming one with) God himself?

  7. Todd Wood said

    Brian, thanks for you patience.

    I was thinking of this statement in particular:

    “exaltation is a state of oneness with God that is equivalent and identical to the oneness already shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

    If we share the same oneness, will we be raising people from the dead and judging them, too? Brian, I know that when I eventually come to John 17 in my study, I will be carrying a whole host of amazing oneness descriptors of the Father and Son from John’s Gospel that I have already learned.

    And I also don’t know how we can have the same “equivalent and identical” oneness when there is the talk of John being of the earth and Jesus being from heaven

    On the topic of agency, thanks for the link to the other thread.

  8. BrianJ said

    Todd, thanks for the clarification. Your first paragraph actually made sense to me, but the second (“And I don’t think I have ever seen Jesus contend for his own robust libertine free will. How come?”) seemed like it belonged on the other thread, and so really threw me off.

    Now, for your questions.

    “Hi guys. Do you believe that you will exactly judge and give life like what we see in the oneness of the Father and the Son in John 5? … If we share the same oneness, will we be raising people from the dead and judging them, too?”

    It probably depends on what you mean. Will we be resurrecting people from this earth? I don’t know. My reflex is to say “no,” but then I have to ask, “why not?” Is that a power that God can delegate or share? Who parted the Red Sea, Moses or God? The answer is “both, sort of.” This is similar to asking, “Who caused the disciples’ hearts to burn on Pentecosts, the Holy Ghost or Jesus?” Of course, oneness with God and the oneness of God means that the distinction (“which one did X”) is meaningless.

    I realize that my answer creates all sorts of problems for a trinitarian who does not believe that we can become gods—I’ll just point that out without delving into it, since that is really a different discussion. Which is to say, I understand your reluctance to ‘accept’ what I’ve proposed.

    Now, will we be judging others from this earth? I also don’t know. I realize that there are statements that the 12 Apostles will judge the House of Israel, etc., but I confess that I don’t really know what that means. I sometimes picture it as a sort of “lesser court,” with Heavenly Father overseeing and approving (or not) every decision. Then again, I’m very uncomfortable with any kind of courtroom imagery when it comes to God and judgment.

    Note that when I say that we could share in God’s oneness, that does not mean that we must do exactly all of the things that each member of the godhead does. Jesus came to earth; Heavenly Father stayed in heaven; but they were still one God.

    So my short answer is: Mormons believe that we can become gods (that’s my premise), and I propose that that is possible by becoming one with God rather than becoming an equal-but-separate god. And I realize that you reject my premise.

  9. BrianJ said

    Todd, here’s my answer to your second question:

    “And I don’t think I have ever seen Jesus contend for his own robust libertine free will. How come?”

    First, I may be missing the exact philosophical definitions of your words (e.g. libertine).

    Anyway, I’m confused by your question because it comes across as a rebuttal, but I think it actually supports what I proposed. Jesus does not contend for his own free will—“freedom” to make “his own” choices—because Jesus wants to be one with Heavenly Father. This is perhaps the greatest “good example” Jesus ever set: do the Father’s will, become one with him.

  10. Todd Wood said

    Thinking for a minute on #9, BrianJ, I can’t reconcile that we are one with the Father exactly as Christ is because there have been many times I have done that which is contrary to God’s will by my own choice (and to my shame). Jesus says in John 5 it is impossible for the Son to do anything separate as an individual. This kind of statement will never square in an identical sense with my experience of oneness with God, because of what I have already done.

  11. brianj said

    Todd, I appreciate your sentiment in a personal sense, but I am proposing that Christ’s atonement exists for exactly this reason; i.e. to make us one with the Father and Son despite our current (and past) state. I realize that their oneness started out differently than any oneness I can hope to have with them (e.g. Jesus has always been perfect, whereas I have sinned), but I’m not sure that his (Jesus’) “being there first” really matters to him or to the Father (is the parable of the workers relevant…?).

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