Omnibenevolence of God

Related posts: Omnipotence and the Problem of Evil ; Grace

According to Mormon beliefs God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). And we share, along with out Christian cousins, the belief that “God is love.” But Mormons are extremely bothered by some of the tenants of Calvinism. For example the Westminster Confession says,

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished…The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will…to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. (Chapter 3)

Some of Calvin’s positions were so disturbing to Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) that he formulated a Remonstrance espousing a more liberal view. Among other things his Remonstrance states that man must persevere in faith and obedience, and through the assistance of the Holy Spirit those who have accepted Christ have “full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory.” He also stated that Christ died for all persons, not for the elect only. John Wesley, an immensely powerful figure in the spread of Methodism, was strongly influenced by Arminianism. “This,” Wesley says, “is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination, and for this I abhor it…the soul that chooseth life shall live, as the soul that chooseth death shall die.” Joseph Smith wrote that as a young boy he was “somewhat partial to the Methodist sect,” and, “felt some desire to be united with them” (JS-H 1:8). The similarities between Mormonism and Arminianism have been noted by several writers.[1] According to the non-Mormon sociologist Thomas O’Dea, “Mormonism had early embraced an extreme Arminianism” (The Mormons, p. 120), and “The doctrine of the book [of Mormon] is wholeheartedly and completely Arminian” (Ibid., p. 28).

The Book of Mormon teaches that “the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world” (1 Nephi 10:18), “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). We believe that “every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13). And, “If their works be good, then they are good also” (Moroni 7:5). These teachings are not explicitly stated in the Bible. If a good person has no interest in Mormonism, or Christianity, I needn’t worry about their eternal salvation. If their works are good then they are good. Their good works are a manifestation of God’s love working in them, whether they know it or not. Also, the hope for salvation exists beyond the grave. (See Spirit World.)

Final thoughts
The uniqueness of our beliefs is apparent. Though some LDS thinkers are worried that we might be loosing our uniqueness. (See Kent Robson, “Omnis on the Horizon,” Sunstone, 1979; Sterling McMurren, “Some Distinguishing Characteristic of Mormon Philosophy,” Sunstone, 1993). But many LDS philosophers and thinkers are committed to our uniqueness, so I don’t believe it is in danger of disappearing.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says, “God, is omnipotent, omniscient, and, through his spirit, omnipresent” (“God”). Though we do believe in these omnis their meaning is not explicitly prescribed. We believe in spiritual omnipresence, that God is corporeal and had advanced to his present state. For us the word omnipotent leans more toward almighty. Because we deny creation ex nihilo we do not see God as first cause. Rather, he is the “framer of heaven and earth” (D&C 20:17) who “organized and formed the heavens and the earth” (Abr. 4:1).

Naturally, false beliefs have no saving power; but I don’t believe every false belief leads to damnation. In this life totally understanding God is beyond human ken anyway; so at least some wrong conceptions don’t deprive us of heaven. A good person who dies holding a false belief is not barred from God’s saving grace. And this is a good thing. The belief, “If you don’t believe as I do you will go to hell,” is pernicious. Too often adherents of a religious prescription feel obligated to marginalize other belief systems. Hence the recent controversy over Mitt Romney’s run for the Republican presidential nominee; many of our Christian cousins were afraid his being a Mormon would lead to conversions to Mormonism; hence a Mormon in the White House could end up sending people to hell.[2]

End Notes______________
[1] Blake T. Ostler, “The Development of the Mormon Concept of Grace,” Dialogue, vol. 24, no. 1, 1991; Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons, 1957, p. 28; Sterling M. McMurrin, The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion, 1965, p. 81; Klaus J. Hansen, Mormonism and the American Experience, 1981.

[2] The late Father Neuhaus (editor of First Things) writes, “The questions are: Would a Mormon as president of the United States give greater credibility and prestige to Mormonism? The answer is almost certainly yes. Would it therefore help advance the missionary goals of what many view as a false religion? The answer is almost certainly yes…Anxiety about the strengthening of Mormonism by virtue of there being a Mormon president is not unreasonable. One may or may not share that anxiety, but it is not unreasonable” (A Mormon in the White House, First Things, June 29, 2007).