Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The temptations of Jesus and God’s knowledge of our minds and hearts

December 15th, 2017 by Bruce Charlton

The temptations of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness seems to have the implication that God did not fully know the mind of Jesus, and needed to test him before Jesus’s ministry could begin.

If so, this would seem to confirm what I think is implied by the (specifically) Mormon theology of the nature of God and of Men.

Because, by ‘mainstream’ Christian theology, God created everything (from nothing) and therefore knows everything – so (by this argument) our minds and hearts must be wholly-transparent to God; because there is nothing of us which is not made and sustained by God. Also, for mainstream theology Jesus is the same person as The Father, so from that perspective as well, there would be no need for testing.

But, according to Mormon theology, we are coexistent with God from eternity, there is something in us which is not of God, not made by God. This is (as I understand it) the basis of our genuine free agency.

All this perhaps entails that there is in-us that which is not accessible to God; which God can only infer and test by observation. My assumption is that there is always this hidden element about every personage (including Satan) such that God cannot and we cannot know-directly the innermost individual-eternal-being of any person.

Which is why tests, although fallible, are necessary.

Comments (21)
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December 15th, 2017 12:24:01
21 comments

Agellius
December 15, 2017

Just a correction: Jesus is not believed by traditional Christians to be “the same person as the Father”.


E.C.
December 15, 2017

It is also possible that God knows us perfectly, but tests us so that WE can see what we will do in a given situation. He may not have created us ex nihilo, but he did, according to Mormon theology, watch us grow from mere intelligences to what we are now, and shaped and taught us in all those eons of eternity before we were born. So he would know us very well indeed.
Alternatively, out of respect for the law of agency, God doesn’t force us to fully see and be seen until Judgment Day. This is all pure speculation on my part, though.


Bruce Charlton
December 16, 2017

@Ag – You know what I mean! Short of reciting the entire formula, I realise nothing short and simple can be said about the Trinity without being accused of misrepresentation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw


Fraggle
December 16, 2017

If true, it leads me to the conclusion that not even God understands me, and I actually can’t think of anything more disheartening.


Bookslinger
December 16, 2017

The Temptations have been discussed in conference talks, JofD, and several books — Millennial Messiah and Jesus The Christ come to mind.

I realize McConkie and Talmage have been somewhat “deprecated” (for lack of a better word, but more along the lines of given less importance as opposed to being considered less correct) in recent years, but they are a starting point.

My recollection of what McConkie and Talmage wrote, and conference talks, is that the Temptations were more of a teaching/experience thing than a testing thing. Their purpose being that we can know Christ suffered and experienced _all things_ for us, in that His compassion is based on experience, not just omniscience.

Heavenly Father actually _sees_ our future timeline, He does not have to use calculations based on the past in order to predict/”see” the future. This point has been made consistently by every prophet since Joseph Smith. So in that sense, our testing is not to show Heavenly Father what we are made of and what we can do, it is to discover it for ourselves. Thereby we _know_ that His judgement is just, and we don’t have to rely on what we hypothetically “would have” done. The actual experience is necessary.


Bookslinger
December 16, 2017

Bruce, your post has a hint of the tension between God’s omniscience/foreknowledge and man’s agency. Our agency does not require any absence of Heavenly Father’s foreknowledge of our choices.

Kurt Vonnegut gave a picture of a theory of additional dimensions of time in his novel Slaughterhouse Five. It was about a man on a railroad car looking through a pipe perpendicular to the track as rhe rail car traveled. And that’s sort of how I see the way astrophysicists explain higher dimensions too. If space and time are comingled in a relativistic “space-time” thing, Then higher/additional dimensions of space also require higher/additional dimensions of time.

thinking of our 1-dimensional timeline as a subset of higher dimensions of time goes a long way towards unraveling what “eternal” means. There’s got to be more to it than meaning an “infinity” along a one-dimensional line. IMO, Heavenly Father’s ability to perceive and interact with billions of people simultaneously is more likely a function of His inhabiting higher dimensions of both space and time, rather than an infinite multitasking ability along one axis of time.

When people ask if Heavenly Father is “outside of” time, I think that is the wrong question. There is no “inside versus outside”, rather there are several dimensions of time, just like there are several dimensions of space. Higher dimensions include lower dimensions, just as cubes include two dimensional and one dimensional things.

Our agency requires that _we_ don’t have access to those higher dimensions of time, otherwise our 1-D time-line would be “polluted” as Spock famously said. (I think that was ST:TOS.) But _our_ agency does not forbid God from having the ability to see further along our time-line.

But, yes, Heavenly Father already knows our future choices. And that presents a paradox when we try to imagine things from His higher viewpoint while we are stuck in a 3D + 1T world.

I realize your post was about more than that, but it evoked my memory of Slauterhouse Five, and “Flatland.”


Carter Craft
December 16, 2017

I don’t really see foreknowledge as part of Bruce is talking about. What’s being discussed is whether or not there’s part our souls that’s independent from God and thus unseen by God.

Like, taking the example of God being able to see Jesus resist the Temptation before it happens, that’s not the issue, the question is if God would know what Jesus would do if he were never tempted at all.

If the answer is no, that means there’s something essential in the human mind that is invisible to God. In Mormon parlance we would call this Intelligence. The Book of Abraham says that Intelligence is eternal and unmade; this has implications that are unexamined within our faith. The ‘old school Mormon’ formulation that I was taught as a child is that soul consists of three elements, the Intelligence, the Spirit body, and the Mortal body- the uncreated man, the spiritually created man, and the temporally created man. As Books mentioned with Talmage, this tripartite soul concept has also lost some of it’s currency among the Saints in recent days, though the alternatives are vague and unsatisfying.

WRT the Trinity: Classic Nicean Christianity is straightforward that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate persons possessing one uncreated divine substance. Mormonism defines Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as separate persons without reference to a shared substance or separate substances. In neither teaching is the hypostasis, the personhood, conflated between any of the three divinities; when persons are conflated you get Modalism.  The function of the one substance in the classic formulation is simple enough: the Trinity is eternal and uncreated, and everything else is created and dependent on the Trinity to exist, the unique essence of the Godhead sets it apart from nature and establishes its ontological priority. Mormonism does not employ the distinction between created vs uncreated, so the concept of “substance” is absent from LDS thought, there’s only personhood (what we call Intelligence).

Now here’s the interesting part, in the creeds the Trinity is described as being eternal, but the Father is supposed to have Begotten the Son, and the Holy Spirit Proceeds from them both (unless you’re Eastern Orthodox, then it Proceeds from the Father). How is the Son Begotten yet uncreated? The way that is actually resolved is an open question, as the Trinity is a mystery, but it’s not insurmountable; the Son was Begotten outside of time, so he is eternal, the Holy Ghost shares the Father’s uncreated essence, so the Procession is not the same as creation, or the terms Begotten and Procession are figurative descriptions, and so on.

In Mormonism on the other hand, the tripartite soul is basis for understanding the relationship between the persons of the Godhead. Jesus is a unique Intelligence, unconditionally eternal, self-existing as a distinct being. Jesus was Begotten when the Father conceived his Spirit body, making them literally Father and Son; so also the Holy Ghost. What makes this theogeny radically different from the Nicean doctrine is that it applies to all of humanity. Since all men and women possess a self-existent essence they are eternal beings, and since they all possess a Spirit body they are the Father’s children.

Bruce highlights here the implications this notion carrys. If Jesus is simultaneously a self-originated and a spiritually begotten being, then while he is fully God’s son, his most interior self is totally outside of God’s organized creation. He is his own uncaused cause, a free agent capable of original action. The knowledge that *every* human being is also like this very important.

Stuff like this has been the subject of theodicy, knowing that evil is indeed our own doing, since we’re all sources of original action- however, in most ways this doctrine has been neglected. Bruce raises the possibility that our self-existing nature masks certain inner aspects of our person, and that necessitates we face trials and temptations to disclose those hidden features. In the Book of Abraham it says that God sent us to this Earth “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them”, and indeed this is the case.

Abraham’s unique ontology differs from that proposed by the other religions that bare his name, which hold that one universal cause underlays all of reality, and suggests instead that each person is their own cause. “If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits have no beginning, they existed before; they have no end, they shall exist after”. The Lord defines his glory as possessing greater intelligence and perfection relative to all other beings, thus he is Lord. Yet our potential to emulate him is without limit because at the core of our being we are like him and he strives to make us more like him. This much we do understand, but that is only scratching the surface, there is so much about identity and consciousness that our faith has left unaddressed.


Wm Jas
December 16, 2017

Books, the theory of multiple dimensions of time is developed with great precision in J. W. Dunne’s books An Experiment with Time, The Serial Universe, The New Immortality, Nothing Dies, and Intrusions. (Only the first is easy to find, but unfortunately it is also the most difficult to read.)


Bruce Charlton
December 17, 2017

Thanks for all the great comments! – and I endorse Carter’s characterisation of the point I am trying to make.

The metaphysical theology that I believe to be intrinsic to Mormonism was derived from the work of Sterling McMurrin (then Blake Ostler, and Terryl Givens) – and this perspective would disagree with Books’s descriptions of God fore-knowing our future choices in the manner of classical (neo-Platonic) theology derived from Boethius.

McMurrin is crystal clear that Mormonism entails Time as being real, irreversible, sequential: qualitatively (although not quantitatively) the same for God as for Men.

That is, (the Mormon) God creates ‘inside’ time, space, and matter/ ‘stuff’ and the ‘laws’ or relationships-between these things.

For McMurrin, (writing sixty-plus years ago) the philosophical implications of Mormonism were latent but unnoticed within the religion, due to the lack of this kind of reflection – and focus on other matters (such as doctrine and church organisation).

My impression is that the escalation and escalation of increasingly secular and anti-Christian pressures on Mormonism are (perfectly understandably!) still serving to delay and suppress appreciation of some important deep implications of Mormon metaphysical theology – implications which, as a believer but an outsider to the LDS church, seem fairly obvious to me!


Carter Craft
December 17, 2017

McMurrin presents one perspective on God’s relationship to time, but his is not the only interpretation that can be derived from LDS scripture. There is also substantial precedent for the view that God exists beyond time, and this is arguably the prevailing notion in Church. Both interpretations have been supported by statements from the Prophets. A Mormon can reasonably align with either teaching.

I suspect that neither idea is fully accurate of the Lord’s situation in space-time. The Book of Abraham says that God measures his time by the passage of the first star he created, as we measure time by the rising and setting of the sun. The scriptures also say that he dwells in the bosom of eternity and that all of human history is as one day to him.

My inference would be that God and man are both subject to time, but each experiences time differently. That is what I take away from Abraham, that God is within his material world witnessing the passage of time, but in our world under our own stars time moves in such a way that he can perceive it in ways we cannot. The Doctrine and Covenants says that those who are resurrected in the celestial kingdom will be able to see all that goes on in the lower kingdoms. This then is how God watches us, heaven is a Urim and Thummim through which all events in our world play out before his eyes, and if we were there with him we could see in the same way.


Agellius
December 18, 2017

Bruce:

You write, “You know what I mean!”

Actually I didn’t. To say that two of the Persons are the same Person gets the Trinity essentially wrong. I don’t know whether you know the doctrine correctly but are merely expressing it wrong, or have a misunderstanding of it, but either way you were stating a heresy as the belief of traditional Christians.

What can be said short and simple about the Trinity is that there are three persons who are one God but who are not each other.


Bruce Charlton
December 18, 2017

Ag – Sorry, by ‘you know what I mean’ I just meant that in that sentence I was using ‘persons’ in the usual, everyday sense of referring to distinct, discrete, fundamentally-different beings (ie a person is a being; a being is one person).

I did not mean ‘persons’ in the specific technical theological sense of the creeds; and you are absolutely correct that I do not understand that, and cannot make sense of those words; but in that context ‘person’ is clearly intended as a contrastive term to being.


Agellius
December 19, 2017

In the usual, everyday sense “person” refers only to a human being in a living body. Do you mean that you can’t make sense of the idea of a person without a body? Because that’s all that’s referred to by that term in the context of the Trinity. “Person” and “being” are contrastive in the sense that they refer to different aspects of the same thing, but that’s true of ourselves as well as God. As when referring to ourselves, each Person of the Trinity is said to be the being: The Father is God, the Son is God, etc. The Father is not a third of God, he’s the whole God. And so is the Son, etc. Yet there is only one God. Comprehending how all these statements can be true, I grant is not easy. But making sense of the terms “person” and “being”, in themselves, is not difficult.


Andrew
December 19, 2017

Ag – I thought it was wrong to say each person was an “aspect” of God as it seems to suggest each is just a way God manifests Himself? Like a quasi-Hindu belief?


Bruce Charlton
December 19, 2017

Ag – I’ll just leave this debate aside, if you don’t mind. Such discussions are frustrating and never seem to get anywhere useful.


Agellius
December 19, 2017

Andrew:

I didn’t say that each person was an aspect of God. I said that “person” and “being” are different aspects of a thing. My personhood and my being are two aspects of Agellius, though both refer to the same thing, Agellius. If personhood and being were the same thing then every being would be a person, which is absurd. So my personhood refers to something other than my being, and my being refers to something other than my personhood, even though both refer to me; thus, two aspects of me.


Agellius
December 19, 2017

Bruce:

Well, you started it! : )


Carter Craft
December 19, 2017

Agellius:”If personhood and being were the same thing then every being would be a person, which is absurd.”

At the risk of creating a debate on the subject, I ask why?

I understand the distinction you’re making, but why do you feel equating being with personhood would be absurd?


Agellius
December 20, 2017

Carter:

Heaven forbid we should debate. : )

It would be absurd because as I said, if “being” and “person” referred to the same thing then every being would be a person. That is, whenever you said “being” you would mean “person” and vice versa. It’s true that every person is a being, but it’s not true that every being is a person. Therefore the terms are not equivalent but must refer to different things.


Andrew
December 20, 2017

Agellius – I’m not following you at all. Could you define being? I assume it’s a philosophical definition, not the dictionary’s “the nature or essence of a person” which I can’t differentiate from personhood.


Agellius
December 20, 2017

Andrew:

It’s nothing esoteric. What does “being” mean in the context of the term “human being”? It’s a being that is human. Which implies that there are beings that are not human. What are those non-human beings? Pretty much anything that exists: Cats, trees, boulders, angels (“angelic beings”), you name it.

A being is a thing that exists. My being is my existence.

Merriam-Webster gives better definitions of “being” than Google: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/being

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