“ETERNAL PROGRESSION”

PDF version

President Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1971, 4.

We know that our Heavenly Father is a glorified, exalted personage who has all power, all might, and all dominion, and that he knows all things.… We testify that he is infinite and eternal and that he ordained the laws whereby his spirit children might have power to advance and progress and become like him.

Harold B. Lee, Seminary & Institute, BYU, 18 July 1954.

There is no statement more destructive of faith than that God is a progressive God…

It has been more generally believed that the Latter-day Saints will progress in knowledge to all eternity: But when they become one with the Father and Son, and receive a fulness of their glory [D&C 109:77 refers to an infinity of fulness], that will be the end of all progression in knowledge, because there will be nothing more to be learned. The Father and the Son do not progress in knowledge, because they already know all things past, present, and to come.… (Orson Pratt, The Seer, 1:117, vs. 96–98.)\

God has reached perfection in knowledge. There is no great body of knowledge which God will never acquire.

Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, 6ff. (Emphasis added.)

Below the scripture that declares that God “knows all things” there is no footnote reading “except that God is a little weak in geophysics”! We do not worship a God who simply forecasts a generally greater frequency of earthquakes in the last days before the second coming of His Son; He knows precisely when and where all these will occur. God has even prophesied that the Mount of Olives will cleave in twain at a precise latter-day time as Israel is besieged. (Zech 14:4.)…

Mortals should not aspire to teach God that He is not omniscient by adding qualifiers that He has never used in the scriptures. Job rightly asked, “Shall any teach God knowledge?” (Job 21:22.)

There is simply no way to reconcile the doctrine of the omniscience of God with the notion of a god who is something less than that.

Unfortunately, the omniscience of God in the minds of some well-meaning Latter-day Saints has been qualified by the concept of “eternal progression.” Some have wrongly assumed God’s progress is related to His acquisition of additional knowledge. In fact, God’s “eternal progression” (if one is nevertheless determined to apply these two words to God) is related to the successful execution, again and again, of His plan of salvation to redeem billions of His children throughout His many creations. President Brigham Young said there are “millions of earths” like this one. (JD 11:41.) Of this marvelous recurring and redemptive process that rolls forth on such a vast scale, God has said that “his course is one eternal round.” (D&C 3:2.)…

Those who try to qualify God’s omniscience fail to understand that He has no need to avoid ennui [boredom] by learning new things. Because God’s love is also perfect, there is, in fact, divine delight in that “one eternal round” which, to us, seems to be all routine and repetition. God derives His great and continuing joy and glory by increasing and advancing His creations, and not from new intellectual experiences.

There is a vast difference, therefore, between an omniscient God and the false notion that God is on some sort of post-doctoral fellowship, still searching for additional key truths and vital data. Were the latter so, God might, at any moment, discover some new truth not previously known to Him that would restructure, diminish, or undercut certain truths previously known by Him. Prophecy would be mere prediction. Planning assumptions pertaining to our redemption would need to be revised. Fortunately for us, however, His plan of salvation is constantly underway — not constantly under revision.

Joseph Fielding McConkie, “A Scriptural Search for the Ten Tribes & Other Things We Lost,” BYU, faculty lecture, June 1987.

Do we commonly teach as doctrine things for which there is not a shred of scriptural evidence? I am fearful that we do.…

My first illustration is what we have come to call eternal progression. The phrase “eternal progression” is not found anywhere in the Standard Works, and we have no evidence that the phrase ever fell from the lips of Joseph Smith. When it first appeared in our conversations and literature I do not know. The scriptures do explicitly state that all who are exalted will enjoy the “fulness of the Father,” be “joint heirs” with him, and be equal with him in power, might, and dominion (see D&C 93:5–17; Rom 8:14–18; D&C 76:94–95; 84:33–41). Scores of scriptural passages attest that God has all wisdom and knowledge, both in heaven and on earth (see Mosi 4:9; 5:15). His knowledge is spoken of as being “infinite” (Psa 147:5). The only sense in which the scriptures sustain the idea that God progresses is in bringing to pass the exaltation of his children (Moses 1:39; D&C 130:4; 132:63).

Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrine of Salvation, 1:5–10. (Italics in original.)

HOW GOD PROGRESSES. GOD HAS ALL POWER AND WISDOM. My grandfather, Hyrum Smith, at the conference of the Church, April, 1844, in the course of his remarks said: “I want to put down all false influences.… I would not serve a God that had not all wisdom and all power.”

Do we believe that God has all “wisdom”? If so, in that, he is absolute. If there is something he does not know, then his is not absolute in “wisdom,” and to think such a thing is absurd. Does he have all “power”? If so then there is nothing in which he lacks. If he is lacking in “wisdom” and in “power” then he is not supreme and there must be something greater than he is, and this is absurd.

JOSEPH SMITH TEACHES OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD. In the Lectures on Faith, which appeared in the earlier editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, we find the following which was prepared by Joseph Smith:

“There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible, whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space. They are the Father and the Son — the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or rather man was formed after his likeness and in his image; he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father, possessing all the fulness of the Father, or the same fulness with the Father.”

“God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all the fulness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that is him every good gift and every good principle dwell.”

“Without the knowledge of all things God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life; and if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men that God had all knowledge it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him.” [Lectures on Faith, 4:43.]

PROGRESSION BY INCREASING HIS CREATIONS. The Book of Moses informs us that the great work of the Father is in creating worlds and peopling them, and “there is no end to my works, neither to my words,” he says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and in this is his progression.

Commenting on this the Prophet Joseph Smith has said: “What did Jesus do? Why, I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I [Christ] will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.” [Teachings, 347f.]

Do you not see that it is in this manner that our Eternal Father is progressing? Not by seeking knowledge which he does not have, for such a thought cannot be maintained in the light of scripture. It is not through ignorance and learning hidden truth that he progresses, for if there are truths which he does not know, then these things are greater than he, and this cannot be. Why can’t we learn wisdom and believe what the Lord has revealed?

HOW GOD DOES NOT PROGRESS. FALSE NOTIONS ABOUT GOD’S PROGRESSION. It seems very strange to me that members of the Church will hold to the doctrine, “God increases in knowledge as time goes on.” Or that they can believe (as a recently published article says): “If absolute perfection were attainable, there would eventually come a time when those who had chosen the better way would reach the ultimate; and if the ultimate could be gained, progression would cease. This cannot be, for as before specified nothing in nature remains at a standstill. When progression abdicates the throne, retrogression is the degrading successor.”

But how does anyone know? Where has the Lord ever revealed to us that he is lacking in knowledge? That he is still learning new truth; discovering new laws that are unknown to him? I think this kind of doctrine is very dangerous. I don’t know where the Lord has ever declared such a thing. It is not contained in any revelation that I have read. Man’s opinion unaided by the revelations of the Lord, does not make it so.

PERFECTION OF GOD NOT “RELATIVE.” I believe that God knows all things and that his understanding is perfect, not “relative.” I have never seen or heard of any revealed fact to the contrary. I believe that our Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ are perfect. I offer no excuse for the simplicity of my faith.

Who dares say that the quality of “virtue” is limited with our Father and his Son? Is there truthfulness only “relative”? Could they be more truthful? More honorable? More virtuous or loving? How foolish such questions are, and how much more foolish would be the answer if we said: “Yes the Lord is limited in his truthfulness, honor, virtue.” Well, if he is absolute in these qualities, is he on the road to retrogression in them? According to the argument this must be so if the absolute is reached. Then why should we say that his knowledge is limited and that hidden law and truths abound which he has not discovered. Who made those laws and where do they come from?…

GOD PROGRESSES BECAUSE OF KNOWLEDGE. It is not because the Lord is ignorant of law and truth that he is able to progress, but because of his knowledge and wisdom. The Lord is constantly using his knowledge in his work.… By the creation of worlds and peopling them, by building and extending, he progresses, but not because the fulness of truth is not understood by him.

Will God destroy himself? I cannot comprehend God in his perfection having to spend time discovering laws and truth he does not know. Such a thought to me is destructive, not progressive. Should there be truth which God has not discovered, when may he discover it, and, like a chemist who mixes certain elements and blows himself up, when will the Almighty find some hidden truth or law which will shatter all? Is there not a danger that some other personage may discover some greater truth than our Father knows? If such could be the case, what would become of God?

Messenger & Advocate, Vol. 2, No. 8, May 1836, 310.

PERFECTION. We say of God, he is perfect. And why? because his nature cannot be improved; and because he possesses all things of which his nature is capable.

Messenger & Advocate, Vol. 3, No. 3, December 1836, 428.

… to constitute such a being [eternal] must be one that never changes. To attach to his attributes changeableness at once argues finitude; … such is not the God we adore — it is not the being we serve. The One we worship comprehends all things, from the extent of eternity to the rippling crimson that flows and throbs through our hearts. No power so high that he does not surpass it …

Neal A. Maxwell, Evan As I Am, 13.

With fresh affirmation of the commandment having been given in our time, striving to become like the Father and the Son is more than an optional objective. Focusing on the personality of Jesus is an intellectual and behavioral as well as a theological imperative.

Like his Father, Jesus is perfect in love, knowledge, power, justice, judgment, kindness, mercy, patience, and truth.

Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am, 27.

… we are counseled: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosi 4:9.)

It is one of the hallmarks of human vanity that we assume, because we cannot do something, that God cannot do it either. Is it not marvelous that the Father and the Son blend perfect love and perfect power? Moreover, in the above scripture we see not only that we are to believe in God, but also that we are to believe in what kind of God He is — including believing in the attribute cited in this scripture, His omniscience.

Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am, 28–29.

Once we get ourselves straight about our relationship with our Father in heaven and His eternal purposes for us, then perhaps we can know something about the relationships of the planets and the stars. But these are not of comparatively useful significance for us at the moment.

We need to make constant allowance for the fact that Jesus Christ, in His omniscience, will operate beyond our ken: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isa 55:8.) Our mortal ways are lower ways.

In affirming Paul’s counsel that “our sufficiency is of God,” we are, perhaps without knowing it, acknowledging the grand reality that the Father has made known to us that Jesus Christ is the most intelligent being ever to grace this planet. Indeed, He is not only more intelligent than all other humans combined — He is perfect in knowledge.

As we ponder intelligence, a summational strength and attribute of Jesus, it is vital that we understand that intelligence includes more than raw IQ; it includes judgment — and not only in the judicial sense. He who has intelligence, or the light of truth, will forsake completely “that evil one.” (D&C 93:36–37.) To forsake the evil one, as Jesus did, is an act of high intelligence and superlative wisdom.

Neal A. Maxwell, Evan As I Am, 31.

Yes, even His perfection in knowledge is part of His holiness: “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.” (2 Ne 9:20.) How merciful is God in His omniscience, which qualities we must not misread. Just as we can ask questions even God cannot answer (How much does love weigh?), so too we can ask God questions for which there are ready answers — but answers for which we are not ready. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” But the Lord of truth did not deem Pilate ready for or worthy of the answer.

James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 29.

Since faith in God constitutes the foundation of religious belief and practice, and as a knowledge of the attributes and character of Deity is essential to an intelligent exercise of faith in Him, this subject claims first place in our study of the doctrines of the Church.

James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, 43–44.

God is Omniscient. By Him matter has been organized and energy directed. He is therefore the Creator of all things that are created; and “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18; see also Moses 1:6, 35, 37; 1 Ne 9:6.) His power and His wisdom are alike incomprehensible to man, for they are infinite. Being Himself eternal and perfect, His knowledge cannot be otherwise than infinite. To comprehend Himself, an infinite Being, He must possess an infinite mind.…

God is Omnipotent. He is properly called the Almighty.… Whatever His wisdom indicates as necessary to be done God can and will do. The means through which He operates may not be of infinite capacity in themselves, but they are directed by an infinite power. A rational conception of His omnipotence is power to do all that He may will to do.

Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 22.

If Enoch, Elijah, Abraham, Peter, Paul, and millions of others ever attain to the immortal life, and their fleshly tabernacles be quickened by a fulness of celestial life and light, intelligence and power, then it can be said of them, They are one as the Father and Son are one.

It could then be said of each of them, in him dwells all the fulness of the powers and attributes of the Eternal God, or, in other words, he possesses endless life, together with all intelligence, knowledge, light, and power. He therefore has the same mind as all the others; he is in communication and perfect union with each and all of them.

Hyrum M. Smith & Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary (rev. ed, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Marion G. Romney), re: D&C 38:2 — “The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.”

Our Eternal Father is all-knowing. It has been taught erroneously by some that God cannot know all things, that he is like the chemist in a laboratory searching for and constantly discovering hidden truth which was unknown to Him and that even the mind of God is limited and He cannot survey the universe and take cognizance of the innumerable changes occurring every moment. These critics declare that if He knows all things he must cease to progress for there is no place to go further if He is on the pinnacle of knowledge, etc., but to retrogress and that “eternal progress” means that he is still learning. There could not be a greater fallacy than this. If he is still laboring as a scientist experimenting and seeking hidden truth, then there must be some power greater than He is. He teaches us that “He knoweth all things, and there is not anything save He knows it” (2 Ne 9:20), which truth is confirmed by our Lord’s words in the first paragraph of this revelation: “And He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things; and all things are by Him, and of Him, even God, forever and ever … he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons.” (D&C 88:41–42.) … He is continually progressing in his works, expanding his dominions, creating worlds to be peopled by His children, and thus He is progressing, but in knowledge, wisdom, love, justice and other like virtues, He dwells in perfection.

Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, October 1980, 74–76.

Our divine commission — the commandment we have received from him whose servant we are — directs us to teach the doctrines of salvation and to testify of their eternal verity. And so now in words of soberness we teach and testify of those wondrous truths that have come to us.

True religion is found only where men worship the true and living God. False religion always results from the worship of false gods. Eternal life itself, which is he greatest of all the gifts of God, is available to those and those only who know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent (see D&C 6:13; Jn 17:3 [D&C 132:20–25]).

It is all the rage in this modern world to worship false gods of every sort and kind.…

There are those who apply the names of Deity to some spirit essence that is immaterial, uncreated, and unknowable and that fills the immensity of space and is everywhere and nowhere in particular present.

And there are even those who champion the almost unbelievable theory that God is an eternal student enrolled in the University of the Universe, where he is busily engaged in learning new truths and amassing new and strange knowledge that he never knew before.

How belittling it is— it borders on blasphemy — to demean the Lord God Omnipotent by saying he is an idol, or an image, or an animal or a spirit essence, or that he is ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of all truth (see 2 Tim 3:7).

It is the first principle of revealed religion to know the nature and kind of being that God is. As for us, “we know [and testify] {sic} that there is a God in heaven who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them” (D&C 20:17).

This great God, the Lord Almighty, is a personable of tabernacle.… He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He has all power, knows all things, and, by the power of his Spirit, is in and through all things.…

There is no salvation in worshipping false gods; there is no salvation in false religion; there is no salvation in error in any form.…

An unknown, uncreated, immaterial spirit nothingness never has and never will endow men with the gifts of the Spirit or assure them of an eternal celestial home.

And certainly a student god, with finite powers, who is just experimenting in the eternal laboratories, is not a being in whom I, at least, would feel inclined to repose an infinite trust.

The truth about God, the truth about religion, the truth about salvation — these things can only be known by revelation.…

And so we say: We are the servants of the Lord. He has revealed himself to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. We know whom we worship. It is our glorious privilege to speak of him and his ways, and we speak as those having authority and not as do the scribes.…

When we speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, our words are scripture and come as the voice and mind and will of him who sent us.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, “Counsel to the Saints and to the World,” Ensign, July 1972, 27.

… we invite all our Father’s children, everywhere, to believe in Christ, to receive him as he is revealed by living prophets. [Italics added.]

Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 238–239.

ETERNAL PROGRESSION. Endowed with agency and subject to eternal laws, man began his progression and advancement in pre-existence, his ultimate goal being to attain a state of glory, honor, and exaltation like the Father of spirits. During his earth life he gains a mortal body, receives experience in earthly things, and prepares for a future eternity after the resurrection when he will continue to gain knowledge and intelligence. (D&C 130:18–19.) This gradually unfolding course of advancement and experience — a course that began in a past eternity — is frequently referred to as a course of eternal progression.

It is important to know, however, that for the overwhelming majority of mankind, eternal progression has very definite limitations. In the full sense, eternal progression is enjoyed only by those who receive exaltation. Exalted persons gain the fulness of the Father; they have all power, all knowledge, and all wisdom; they gain a fulness of truth, becoming one with the Father. All other persons are assigned lesser places in the mansions that are prepared, and their progression is not eternal and unlimited but in a specified sphere. There will be truths such persons never learn, powers they never possess.…

Those who gain exaltation, having thus enjoyed the fulness of eternal progression, become like God. It should be realized that God is not progressing in knowledge, truth, virtue, wisdom, or any of the attributes of godliness. He has already gained these things in their fulness. But he is progressing in the sense that his creations increase, his dominions expand, his spirit offspring multiply, and more kingdom are added to his domains.

Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 317–318.

GOD. By definition, God (generally meaning the Father) is the one supreme and absolute Being; the ultimate source of the universe; the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator, Ruler, and Preserver of all things. Of him, when considering the object upon which faith rests, the Prophet observes “that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fulness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and that he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently, and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings centers for life and salvation. (Lectures on Faith, 9.)

“There is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them.” (D&C 20:17.) He is not a progressive being in the sense that liberal religionists profess to believe; he was not created by man; and he was not a God of vengeance and war in Old Testament times and a God of love and mercy in a later New Testament era. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

God is only known by revelation; he stands revealed or remains forever unknown. He cannot be discovered in the laboratory, or by viewing all immensity through giant telescopes, or by cataloging all the laws of nature that do or have existed. A knowledge of his powers and the laws of nature which he has ordained does not reveal his personality and attributes to men in the true gospel sense.…

Man’s purpose in life is to learn the nature and kind of being that God is, and then, by conformity to his laws and ordinances, to progress to that high state of exaltation wherein man becomes perfect as the Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48; Teachings, 342–362.)

Bruce R. McConkie, BYU, June 1, 1980.

Heresy one: There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.

This is false — utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression.

God progresses in the sense that his kingdoms increase and his dominions multiply — not in the sense the he learns new truths and discovers new laws. God is not a student. He is not a laboratory technician. He is not postulating new theories on the basis of past experiences. He has indeed graduated to that state of exaltation that consists of knowing all things and having all power.…

The attributes of God are given as knowledge, faith or power, justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. The perfections of God are named as “the perfections which belong to all of the attributes of his nature,” which is to say that God possesses and has all knowledge, all faith or power, all justice, all justice, all judgment, all mercy, and all truth. (Lectures on Faith.)