We could discuss many other qualities that God possesses, along with scriptural or prophetic verification. But one attribute of God seems to undergird and overarch all the rest: God is love (1 John4:8). He is the complete embodiment of that quality. To me, this means that God’s attribute of perfect love influences, shapes, and mediates all of his other qualities and characteristics.
Those enrolled in the School of the Prophets at Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834–35 were taught that “lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love; for with all the other excellencies in his character, without this one to influence them, they could not have such powerful dominion over the minds of men; but when the idea is planted in the mind that he is love, who cannot see the just ground that men of every nation, kindred, and tongue, have to exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life?”
God’s love is both corporate—“He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24)—and individual—“how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth” (D&C 18:13). His love reaches out to each individual. Not only that, but I am convinced God’s love is proactive. He reaches out to his children even at times when they least expect it or seem to be least worthy of it.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about this aspect of God’s love when he mused, “Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.” If any have ever had such feelings of mercy toward others, I believe that is evidence that they are on the path to deification.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of God’s personal and searching love is the parable of the prodigal son. I believe this parable is nothing less than a thinly veiled reflection of our Heavenly Father’s personality—a personality dominated by love for us—and that Jesus presented the parable because he wanted disciples to know what he knew: what Heavenly Father is really like.
Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, our Father in Heaven is anxious to come to us, prodigal or not, to meet us “a great way off” (Luke 15:20). As the parable implies, the father of the prodigal kept his eye on the horizon—every day, all day—waiting for the son. He never took his eye off the horizon. Metaphorically, that is the nature of God the Father. His compassion is unending, and he is most anxious to get us back into his presence, as the parable indicates:
“And he [the prodigal son] arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
“And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (Luke 15:20–23).
The parable of the prodigal son also teaches that our Father in Heaven cares about the feelings of all his children at the same time, even though it may appear that only certain ones are being blessed.
For example, in the parable, the father’s patient tutoring of the older son—the “righteous” son who was put out over his father’s generous treatment of the profligate younger brother—is a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s personality:
“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
“But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
“And he [the Father] said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:29–32).
Like the father of the prodigal, our Father in Heaven does not choose to love some and shun others. His love is not a zero-sum exercise.
He does not love me less and you more because there is only so much love to go around. His love is infinite. He loves us when we think or act like the prodigal son, and he is patient with us when we think or act like the jealous older son. In truth, during our years of mortality, are we not all, even just a little bit, like both the prodigal son and the steady but jealous older brother? Does our Father in Heaven cease to be interested in our welfare when we are sinful and we need to come to ourselves, as the prodigal did? Does he turn off his care and concern for us when we behave badly and turn it on again when we behave well? I do not think so. The Father’s love is as broad, as deep, and as lasting as eternity. It encompasses all. I believe that coming to one’s self, as did the prodigal son (Luke 15:17), is actually an honest recognition of where we really are in life’s journey measured against the Father’s hopes and desires for us.
Unfortunately, not all individuals will end up receiving the same reward—but that is their choice. All have opportunities to choose to obey God or disobey him. But God cannot and will not do as much for the rebellious as he can and will do for the valiant. The disobedient do not take full advantage of the Father’s love because of their poor choices. This, I think, is the meaning of Nephi’s declaration: “Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; [but] he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Nephi 17:35).
What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God? A joint-heir with Jesus Christ? A possessor of all that the Father has? What did ancient Christians believe about the ultimate purpose of our creation? Do any other Christians hold similar views today?
Since the restoration of the gospel one doctrine in particular seems to have captured the imagination—and in some circles, the contempt—of the religious public. It is the doctrine of deification: all mortals may become like God, their Father in Heaven.
In To Become like God: Witnesses of Our Divine Potential, author Andrew C. Skinner delves into writings of ancient and modern Christians to show us that what the Prophet Joseph preached was a restoration in its purest sense—deification is a doctrine that had been lost or explained away by some when Christianity descended into apostasy.
With that restoration of eternal truths comes clarity. Our ultimate purpose in mortality is to receive the blessings of our divine parentage and the fight of Jesus Christ's Atonement: to become like Them.