NOTE: To be published by SquareTwo in five parts: Part One was published in the Spring 2020 issue with an introduction by Ralph Hancock; this is Part Two. The five parts will be followed by
A Responding Essay by Stephen H. Webb to Charles Randall Paul.
Note also that the old form “LDS” is used in this essay, as it was in use when the essay was originally written.

III. Love Takes Time and Matter Too

That we love and what and whom we love or don’t matters deeply because it is the divine activity of eternity. We are not practicing a game in temporary suits that will be obsolete in a few years. We are in the real game in real outfits that will be much improved as time goes on. The country from which and to which we go is not a totally foreign place—it’s like the best of this country on cosmic steroids. If Jesus enjoys eternal incarnation as a particular person, then we can imagine without self-deception that the inter-personal love humans value so much—matters much (if not most) for divine persons too. Still, the absence of the Heavenly Father’s form of materiality haunts Webb’s heaven. It is not clear ‘when in eternity’ the Father bequeathed a bodily form to the Son. However, presumably the body of Christ was an improvement, so would not the Father eventually take on a bodily form, too? Like son, like father. Would not the Son desire that for his Father?

Webb finds in the thought of some of the early fathers, in Karl Barth, and in the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, support for the eternal association—if not identification—of divinity and matter. By elevating matter, Webb is exploring a coherent anthropo-theology of persons that survive death in material form. He pushes beyond pantheism and panentheism. While not saying the Christian’s Heavenly Father exists as a human material form, Webb allows that the Father exists in some material form and, provocatively, he sees the Son’s human form as a pre-mortal gift from the Father that improves on the Father’s form. By saying a ‘higher’ form of divinity is in the uniqueness of material persons in mutual relations (the material Trinity being an archetype of this), Webb places what he terms anthropophany next to (not below) theophany without blushing. He focuses on the divine work of elevating souls as material forms and rejects the doctrine that God saves souls from the evil grip of material forms. Jesus Christ was, is, and will be a material form. All who desire to share his joy will be material beings, also.

Webb argues, contra deism, that the metaphysical simplicity of ‘divine being that has no personal parts or passions’ made difficult a robust belief in a material Heavenly Parent that admires and loves material human persons. The author works to imbue men and women with an inspiring and realistic trust that there is nothing inherently wrong with material form and that unique personhood as revealed in Jesus Christ is progress for God and a blessing for humanity. Webb theologically concludes that the material divine person Jesus Christ existed before mortality, and that reveals the material form of God now and forever—making the resurrected destiny of each human person coherent with a loving personal material relationship with God.

To try to understand how matter as we conceive it is related eternally to God, Webb delves into the metaphysics and physics, taking a new look at the old subject of pre-mortal incarnation (of Christ) and human divinization. This unusual book sketches a middle way between conceiving the cosmos in radically dualistic or monistic terms by exploring the category of spiritual matter or material spirit that as a sub-atomic scientist might say ‘can appear like waves or particles depending on the observers.’ The physics and metaphysics discussed are analyzed in the context of Webb’s first reality: Jesus Christ, the Eternal God. This is not a scientist making sense of divine matter as much as a theologian making sense of natural matter. Webb has provoked a deep conversation aimed to improve the coherence of Christian resurrection theology and traditional notions of divine immaterial perfection. In order to embrace the resurrected Christ, he takes his stand forthrightly against ‘high immaterialism,’ and adopts a working hypothesis of a ubiquitous materialism—a non-dual reality that is yet to be adequately understood by science or theology.

This is far from an essay dealing with contemporary physics. However, for clarity throughout this discussion, I presumed with Webb that to grasp matter at all requires some concept of space and time to be intelligible. Therefore, a very brief definitional orientation is appropriate since most theologians make important distinctions between several concepts related to the existential conditions for conscious human persons. The first is subjective consciousness that simply begins with birth and ends with death (subjective mortality), next, subjective consciousness ends at death, but full memory of mortal existence is objectively stored forever in God or somewhere permanent (objective immortality), next consciousness that endures everlastingly AFTER a beginning (sempiternity), next, consciousness that has always existed WITHOUT duration as ‘outside’ space-time (timeless eternity), and consciousness that has always existed WITH duration ‘inside’ space-time (historical eternity.) Note that interpersonal subjective consciousness as between persons is not equated always with consciousness that some believe can somehow exist without a particular subjective form. While some LDS hold to sempiternity and others to timeless eternity, many are congenial with historical eternity in which never-beginning particular subjectively conscious ‘intelligences’ in changing forms move forever through ever-expanding space and time.

Stephen Webb was aware of this LDS ambivalence, and of the fact that I was so mystically challenged to be incapable of holding any other than the historical eternal viewpoint in the inter-personal mode. Readers are now forwarded of my bias.

IV. The Eternity of Matter and Gods

Walt Whitman wrote this in the Song of the Rolling Earth:

I swear I will never henceforth have
to do with the faith that tells the

I will have to do only with that faith
that leaves the best untold.

The great American poet warns anyone to avoid the impossible effort to understand and express what we cannot stand under and expound. LDS know this is right, but their penchant for seeking greater light and truth, all the time coupled with their belief in personal and social divinization, leads them into temptation. They are delivered from evil, however, by the very optimism that endangers them: In all their hope for worlds to come LDS still DO leave the best unsaid. They leave it untold either because they only have hunches about the facts of eternal life, or because they have been asked by God not to disclose these facts after receiving them by direct revelation. As a LDS you go to church with people who look like regular folks, but for all you know, they might have been personally visiting with God and resurrected beings last night.

This is the quiet esoteric doctrine of the LDS: there is a silent community of exalted souls, promised they will rise for sure as gods, sitting among the community as if they are just regular folks. Like the initiates of mysteries in ancient Greece, these true saints keep their peace and do not tell the best. Even if they tried, there are likely no referential words that can describe life among the gods and goddesses anyhow—you have to see it firsthand under the influence of divine spirit to grasp it. But LDS are supposed to seek this vision. Quickened by the Spirit, they are to look forward to a visitation of the resurrected Christ before the Second Coming, just as ancient apostles, and the Nephite people, and Joseph Smith experienced.

There is arrogance in saying anything that sounds too sure about humanity’s divine provenance and destiny. But while it is saying too much for man to say man is divine; it is saying too much to say that man is not divine—or to say that nothing can be said about ultimate reality at all. Even the via negativa is saying too much by negation! (Can Lao-tze really say with authority that we have not said the Dao when we say the Dao?)

Although in recent decades Evangelicals have influenced the ‘pseudo-Christian’ LDS to focus much more on Christ’s divine grace saving believers in their sinful state for a heaven to come with him, the LDS traditionally have emphasized Jesus as the loving exemplar leading his family to a higher and more joyful divinity in worlds without end. LDS children sing, “I want to become like Jesus” while the kids in the church down the street sing out, “Yes, Jesus saves me!” These hymns subtly disclose the difference in emphasis on the telos of Jesus’ great work for and with humanity that underlies Christian doctrinal conflicts for ages and clearly those between Evangelical Christians and the LDS today. Let us lay it out bare: Are the embodied minds and hearts of mortal humans (once tuned up) really the preferred material form of gods—Jesus Christ being the prime model? Saving a depraved animal to become a domesticated pet is very different than healing an injured god to become a glorious friend.

By taking the bodily divine/human form seriously, Webb has engaged with classical Christian and Greek philosophers—and with a new player in theological circles, Joseph Smith, Jr. I try to mediate a novel dialogue between Stephen and Joseph both in absentia in the world of spirits. First, why does Webb invite Joseph Smith who was not a scholarly theologian to the grand party with Augustine and Aquinas? Mainly because Smith revealed that he met God and Christ in their glorified human material forms, and other resurrected people too. He claimed to be visited by the Father and the Son who were both loving material humanlike bodies that spoke with him as one does with a friend. For Webb whether or not young Smith actually met two tangible Gods, Father and Son, in his back yard in the spring of 1820, the theological aftermath of his experience was extraordinary—adding an original vitality to the doctrine of divine incarnation.

Joseph Smith voiced his prayer to know more truth not only to feel he would be forgiven of his sins and be directed to the right church. His personal life witnesses to his desire for a bodily resurrection based on his intense love for his family members. He could not imagine a happy afterlife without them present to fully embrace as ever-living persons. The resurrection of bodies was good mainly because love between particular material people was good. For Smith after this experience it all came together: A Christian God whose followers identify with and as love, had to enjoy love in a particular material body to do so. And more, to experience the joy of particular love of persons—to love and be loved by others—love had to be a free gift. To be true and valuable inter-personal love could not be a function of threat or bribe. Since Gods were people too that had to be free to love each other or not for their love to be worth anything. Not only did divine moral necessity and universality go down the instant Smith saw the two glorious male divinities, his hope for full family life in eternity was assured. Where there are divine men, divine women must also dwell, so the radical doctrine of Heavenly Parents, Heavenly Mother, and divine marriage was conceived in the family-loving heart of a young seer.

Joseph Smith’s work was intent on inspiring men and women to enjoy living with each other on Earth so they would be able to do so in heaven. For there had already been a war in heaven over the organizational plan of the Earth—things were not safe even in the presence of God. Smith hated the fact that brothers and sisters—often fellow Christians—when in serious disagreements would resort to mutual suspicion and contempt and dissociation. In response, he affirmed that his whole religious mission could be reduced to building loving friendship among an enormous human family; and he intended Mormonism to revolutionize and civilize the world, ending wars and contentions by helping humanity see themselves as loving friends—in this world and the one to come. Ambitiously, he imagined one day, both heaven and earth might be places where people with differences could enjoy each other—forever!

In short, a material society of material divine people was the main event designed for love to thrive, making Christ’s mission of atoning sacrifice the center of history. God’s gift of forgiveness was exemplary to all that would graciously accept it and then pass it on to others. Reuniting the human family was the goal, but only if they really desired to live happily together—forever. God could not make heaven or the resurrected Earth and its reunited divine family heavenly. Only those living there could do that out of their free desire.

Webb was aware of how Smith conflated materiality, sociality (family and friends,) freedom, love and desirable eternal life. He knew that Jesus upgraded his servants to friends at the end of his life, saying greater things than he did they would somehow do. The term friend implies some kind of equal status. How that status actually works out—human divinization and divine peerage—is the Christian mystery nested within the theology of incarnation of the Son.

Eternal life will be at least entail a collaborative interpersonal experience that is open to more love. Smith, like process theologians to some degree, believed God grows bigger as the expanding summation of His experiences with ours and innumerable others increases. LDS imagine this growth to be infinite in scope and duration.

Webb says,

“From the perspective of classical metaphysics, of course, little of Mormon doctrine makes much logical sense. The idea of a radically plural and finite divine substance, however, just might have its own logic as well as its own religious and ethical advantages. At the very least, the fluidity and materiality of the Mormon view of God enables it to capture the essential sameness of Jesus Christ with us in a most striking manner. Mormons go so far as to insist that God was once a man just like us, which can sound confusing, but it is, in a way, the flipside to the belief that we will become, in the afterlife, just like him. There is a grand and cosmic circularity that connects Jesus with humanity, and it never stops rolling, like a dance with countless changing partners and yet everyone always comes around to dancing with him.” This divine dancing requires bodies—Gods of matter. To understand matter is in some real way to know God and life eternal. He says, “To understand what the divine substance is, then, we obviously need a clear definition of matter. No invisible immaterial reality undergirds material stuff that we currently describe as fields of energetic wave particles and their (ever?) to be plumbed constituents. Theologically, if humans can ever grasp God’s ‘substance,’ it will be tangible matter ‘all the way down.’” This is controversial, to say the least. For many centuries theologians have looked for a coherent way to conceive of an invisible omni-God that is materially related to us. Webb, a Catholic theologian, now engages the LDS insight directly: The wonderful existence of all humanity in the image of God, and of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, stand as evidence for the possibility of super-humanity or divinity IF divine forms are of the same stuff as everything else—matter.

Webb’s dialogue with the thought of Joseph Smith will prompt LDS interested in metaphysics and physics to think about the coherence of their beliefs about resurrected and pre-mortal material forms. This will challenge LDS and other philosphers and scientists to work through speculative theological interpretations in a more elegant way. However, many believers (and likely most LDS) are about as interested in proving the claim that Jesus is a material body as they are that they do. It is what people, including Jesus, do with their material bodies here and hereafter that matters. LDS take embodiment of Gods for granted. Still, for me, Webb makes me ponder the design of these material bodies—evolved from child to adult. Why human divinities live in eternity in this particular form is an interesting question. And by form, I refer to our social form even more than our physical one.

Since Joseph Smith had met with God and Jesus face-to-face as resurrected persons (along with other similar beings), he didn’t seem troubled by the philosophical coherence of doing so. He found no more ‘gap in being’ shaking hands with God than in shaking hands with a friend. This experience that he said anyone could replicate if truly desired, had profound ramifications that he later explained simply by saying that talking with God face-to-face as with a human friend is the first principle of true religion. His social experience with Gods turned traditional theology upside down: May it be in heaven as it is on earth (when it’s good!) Although the brightness of God’s glorious body defied descriptive words, when Smith told the story of his theophany he used plain inter-personal terms that do not signal a mysterious unification with ‘the divine.’ (Of course, even human communication is a mysterious blending unification of invisible sounds. The point is the divine and human bodies in this account did not disappear or blend into something else beyond material existence.) God lives—at least if not at most—as a social person—among Gods.

Joseph Smith was most interested in sustaining the social friendships he had on Earth, and those he had started with the divine Persons, too. LDS tend to think more about finding the way to replicating Joseph’s famous theophany than figuring out the physical or metaphysical constituents of the event—and for the same reason, namely to assure themselves that Gods are people too and that humans can continue to enjoy their friends and family as persons in eternity.

LDS tend to work naturally backwards from the wonder of looking into another’s eyes—our mother’s to start—then thinking back to our ancestors, and then to our Heavenly Parents who sent us as intelligent collaborators (not their creatures) into the new experience of mortality.

LDS just presume this: since divine humans (albeit lacking deep memories) are here, human divinities are there. Human-like Gods and God-like Humans are BOTH wonderful realities that are difficult to understand, but not difficult to experience. Indeed, the experience of being a mortal human and engaging immortal God is so potent that Gods wanted to become mortal to experience it. Jesus in this sense affirmed the SAME growing social experience all divine mortals have. As one poet said pithily, the LDS worship a God of experience. So who cares about the subatomic structure of our lover’s lips when the experience of kissing them is their undeniable purpose, indeed, in the moment all that matters!

While the bottom of the matter is Greek metaphysics as the context for modern physics for Webb, the bottomless matter for Joseph Smith was human sociality (the emphasis of the Hebrew Bible) or the science of eternal human (divine) relations. The only solid matter was the constant loyalty of a loving God in the flux of change and infinite freedom. In spite of all the talk of cosmic world-making exalted beings, the LDS are not that interested in cosmic science that yields not answer to the purpose of life and destiny of humans that love. They are teleologists at heart, asking and responding to the question, ‘why should we desire to continue living forever?’ Webb helps LDS see how, through the study of matter, they are seeking to know God and Christ (and themselves)—one definition of eternal life. He has opened a fruitful dialogue that allows contemporary LDS to reason from how Gods have employed material design to better grasp the effective purpose for our current social organization of eternal matter.

Joseph Smith’s thought allows for an infinite regression of sociality, and this moves quickly from questions of how eternal intelligent beings in changing material forms can exist, to questions of why they have chosen to create social orders when they don’t ‘need’ each other to sustain their existence. Why do eternal beings desire to associate together forever? His answer is they love each other and enjoy the procreative originality their association yields. Sociality allows love. From love more unique and deeper freindships develop that procreate more novel purposes and projects of infinite variety of beauty. So far this seems to have kept the Gods interested in eternal life.

If eternal Gods preferred (after trying all sorts of alternatives?) to consciously exist in a social domain of reality, this raises human social life with its inter-personal contestations and collaborations in families, friendships, economic and poltical engagements to a kind of divine mimicry—on earth as it is in heaven indeed. For the Greeks and Patristics and many contemporary Christian theologians chemistry and physics are the disciplines that point to an immaterial reality.

I note in passing that science itself was born from a desire to reliably predict and control (almost) everytime everywhere what human actions will produce. It began with a notion of pattern consistancy and unifomity, and in the early stages of development purposes for these natural patterns were proferred. However, after much contention, it became clear that the patterns ‘worked’ even if humans could come to no agreement on the purposes for their existence. The yearning to live for a purpose beyond mere life is still the quest of humanity. Scientific technology entertains us but does not satisfy that yearning. Joseph Smith’s restoration of the old question provided in quite explicit and inspiring concepts that which most modern folks had assumed could not be fathomed, namely, why the universe is as it is. Of course all religions try to address this, but Smith pushed the envelope farther than most. (While he told much, his visions of eternally growing divinities helped him avoid the curse of Walt Whitman.)

But for Joseph Smith all reality was material, albeit refined spirit-matter, placing it beyond normal naive conceptions of the hard stuff. The ‘way spirit matter worked’ at a micro and macro level (e.g., D&C 10, 50, 88, 93, Moses 1, Abraham 3) was important for humans to grasp because it produced a conceivable stage for the great play to take place. While Joseph’s cosmic revelations provided further ‘arguments for divine design,’ the primary goal was not to prove the existence of ‘a divine designer’ so much as to reveal the purposes for divine action. To allow them to grasp the vastness and orderliness and beauty of it all, the great seers saw it all—perhaps at every level of material reality. However, Adam, Enoch, Moses and Joseph Smith were not primarily interested in physics. Their focus with God was on the purpose for human/divine history, past and future. And they concluded that all the universes seem to be organized for (as Bergson said) the making of more Gods. Inhabited worlds without number existed for social life to thrive—it’s about family and friends all the way down and up! Thus, a kind of social science would be the preferred analyical discipline by which the contested purposes of collaborative—presumably loving—Gods could be weighed and measured. Pardon this, but WHY matter matters, matters more than how matter works. Why Christ is the embodied Lord is more important than how Christ was bodily resurrected.

This divine social science Webb incisively discusses later in this essay. As a hint, I add that he elucidates the problem of a common measuring standard for any superlative that haunts the combination of radical divine freedom and fixed eternal law.

[Part Three will be published in the Fall 2020 issue of SquareTwo.]

Full Citation for this Article: Stephen H. Webb, Charles Randall Paul (2020) "Part Two of the Book Review of Stephen H. Webb’s Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter Oxford University Press, NY, 2011, By Charles Randall Paul ," SquareTwo, Vol. 13 No. 2 (Summer 2020), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleWebbReviewPaul2.html, accessed <give access date>.

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