6 January 2013 (updated 1 October 2016)
“Why does the Holy Ghost not have a body?” Someone raised this question in my son’s class during church meetings, and the instructor asked the students to think about it at home during the week. Some of us are repulsed by such questions, either because we consider all theology to be a waste of time or because we consider speculation to be spiritually dangerous. Although I agree that speculative theology (is there any other kind?) presents the risk of superstition, I generally value and enjoy it for the opportunity it presents as an illuminator of our posthuman projections. As I’ve mentioned before, God always has been and is at least a posthuman projection. When we improve our understanding of each other’s conception of God (or whatever else we choose to call our posthuman projections), we improve our understanding of each other’s deepest motivations and aspirations, which of course presents substantial practical value in our relations with each other. The question raised in my son’s class is no exception, so I share with you some of the thoughts I shared with my son.
In Christianity, the Holy Ghost is generally understood to be part of the Trinity or, as it’s usually called by Mormons, “Godhead”, along with the Father and the Son. Most Christians have adopted the description of the Trinity found in the Nicene creed. Mormons, however, have not adopted the creed. While we still describe the Godhead in terms of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”, most of us consider the Godhead to consist of three (or more, as I’ll contend) distinct beings, reflecting ideas in Mormon scripture such as the following, which inspired the question in my son’s class:
“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)
Consequently, you might think Mormon scripture, compared to the Bible, would downplay the unity of the Godhead. However, it does exactly the opposite, generally emphasizing unity even more. Here are three examples from the Book of Mormon:
“this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” (2 Nephi 31: 21)
“sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God” (Mormon 7: 7)
“every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God” (Alma 11: 44)
In addition to emphasizing the unity of the Godhead in terms of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”, Mormon scripture strongly associates the united Godhead with Jesus individually, explicitly identifying Jesus as the Eternal God (2 Nephi 26: 12), as well as the Father and the Son (Mormon 9: 12). The Book of Mormon even goes so far as to state its purpose to be “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God” (title page).
How do we make sense of this? How do we reconcile the idea that God is one with the idea that God is many? More importantly, how does our reconciliation of these ideas matter? What practical consequence does it make in our lives?
Most Mormons will tell you that God is one in purpose and many in person. Although three distinct beings, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost work together, we say. I like that, so far as it goes, particularly when we combine it with the doctrine of theosis. As Jesus is one with God, so we should be one with God (D&C 132: 20), that all may be perfect in one (John 17: 21-23), or in other words that all may be atoned. Although many in person, God is one in purpose. Again, I like this so far as it goes. It idealizes unity among persons without resorting to the nihilistic escapism of disembodiment, immaterialism or supernaturalism.
The scriptures, however, go farther. In the Bible, Jesus teaches us to be immersed in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28: 19). Echoing the Bible, the Book of Mormon teaches us to immerse ourselves in the one God (3 Nephi 11: 25-27), which the Doctrine and Covenants describes as “infinite and eternal, without end” (D&C 20: 28). We read that Jesus is Christ the Son “because of the flesh” (Mosiah 15: 1-4), and that we too should be Christ the Son or the children of God (1 John 3: 1-3, Galatians 3: 26-27, and Colossians 1: 26-27). We read also that Jesus is God the Father “because [the Father] gave [Jesus] of his fulness” (D&C 93: 1-4), although “he received not of the fulness at the first” (D&C 93: 14), and that we too should become God in fullness (3 Nephi 12: 48, D&C 76: 95-96, and D&C 93: 19-20). In other words, as Jesus is the Son because he is an embodiment of God, as Jesus is the Father because he gains the fullness of God, and as Jesus is both the Father and the Son because he becomes a full embodiment of God, so we will become both the Father and the Son as we become full embodiments of God. We are invited not only to become God, one in purpose with the Father and the Son, but also to be the Son and become the Father, that they may be one in us, the embodied fullness of God, as exemplified by the resurrected and glorified Jesus.
When I think of these passages of scripture, a few connections come to mind. As “God the Father” and “Christ the Son” are titles or types that may be applied to us, so “Holy Ghost” is a title or type that may be applied to us. God the Father is postmortal Godhood, the fullness of physical and spiritual Godhood, or even posthuman Godhood. Any number of persons can be one in God the Father. Jesus invites us to follow his example of becoming God the Father. Christ the Son is mortal or human Godhood, or the beginning of physical Godhood. Any number of persons can be one in Christ the Son. Jesus invites us to follow his example of being Christ the Son. By implication, the Holy Ghost is premortal or even prehuman Godhood, or the beginning of spiritual Godhood. Any number of persons can be one in the Holy Ghost. Jesus invites us to follow his example of having been the Holy Ghost. God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God in Jesus; they should be one God in each of us; and together, we should be one God.
What does it mean to have been the Holy Ghost? When we think of becoming God the Father, we trust in and work toward a sublime future of radical creativity and compassion beyond human abilities, spiritual and physical. We set our future apart as holy and even divine. When we think of being Christ the Son, we speak and act in a sublime present, following Jesus’ example of love and imitating his sacrifice through forgiving and helping each other. We make our present divine. Accordingly, when we think of having been the Holy Ghost, we make the past divine, reflecting scriptures that describe our past as that of the “church of the Firstborn”, “in the beginning with the Father”, uncreated intelligence, and “the light of truth” (D&C 93: 21-40). We raise our esteem and reverence for our past, to strengthen our trust in present capacity, thereby to facilitate and expedite our sublime future. If we are the children of God, we are reassured of our capacity to become as our parents.
Why do we say that the Holy Ghost doesn’t have a body? I say it for the same reasons that I say God the Father is posthuman Godhood. I say it for the same reasons that I say Christ the Son is human Godhood. I say it because it’s a definition, a title or a type, applied as a description or part of a description of a person. The Holy Ghost is prehuman Godhood. We should have been the Holy Ghost. It should be descriptive of our spiritual beginnings, as individuals and as a species. We should revere our origins as sublime, and this esthetic should abide with us, inspire us and even provoke us, strengthening our trust in Christ the Son and God the Father, our present and future as they should be.
Among Mormons, we sometimes remind each other to beware the philosophies of men, which I understand as a warning against any Humanism that would condemn us in present limitation. In its stead, may we embrace the philosophies of Gods, or a Transhumanism that would inspire us with a sublime past and provoke us to a sublime future of radical flourishing in creativity and compassion. May we realize our posthuman projections so that it will be said of us, as it was written of Jesus, that in us dwells the fullness of Godhead bodily (Colossians 2: 6-12).