The belief in and love of God is the central message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, taught:
It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. … I want you all to know Him … and to be familiar with Him (History of the Church, 6:305).
The Prophet Joseph was echoing the teachings of the Savior, who said,
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God (John 17:3).
Who is God? And why is it so important for us to know Him? We need to understand the answer to the first question in order to answer the second.
Who is God?
God is our Heavenly Father, the literal Father of our spirits. President Gordon B. Hinckley said,
I believe without equivocation or reservation in God, the Eternal Father. He is my Father, the Father of my spirit, and the Father of the spirits of all men. He is the great Creator, the Ruler of the universe. He directed the Creation of this earth on which we live. In His image man was created. He is personal. He is real. He is individual. He “has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:22).
In the account of the Creation of the earth, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
Could any language be more explicit? Does it demean God, as some would have us believe, that man was created in His express image? Rather, it should stir within the heart of every man and woman a greater appreciation for himself or herself as a son or daughter of God.
The Church of Jesus Christ teaches:
Even though God is the Creator of all things, we enjoy a relationship with Him that is unique from all of His other creations. We are all His spirit children, literally the sons and daughters of God, and He has created us in His image.
The knowledge that God is our Father, and we are literally the spirit offspring of deity, is one of the supernal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Elder David A. Bednar taught,
We are agents blessed with moral agency and are defined by our divine heritage as children of God.
And one of my favorite quotes about Heavenly Father is from President Boyd K. Packer, who said:
Of all the other titles that [God] could have used, He chose to be called “Father.” The Savior commanded, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven” (3 Nephi 13:9; see also Matthew 6:9). His use of the name “Father” is a lesson for all as we come to understand what it is that matters most in this life.
And we can comprehend why Heavenly Father said:
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).
Because Heavenly Father is the father of our spirits, we have a divine heritage—and He has a plan for His children.
What is God’s Plan for Us?
God, our Heavenly Father, loves us and wants us to become like Him. Mortality, or life on earth, is part of that plan. Life did not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught,
Our understanding of life begins with a council in heaven. There the spirit children of God were taught his eternal plan for their destiny. We had progressed as far as we could without a physical body and an experience in mortality. To realize a fulness of joy, we had to prove our willingness to keep the commandments of God in a circumstance where we had no memory of what preceded our mortal birth.
In the course of mortality, we would become subject to death, and we would be soiled by sin. To reclaim us from death and sin, our Heavenly Father’s plan provided us a Savior, whose atonement would redeem all from death and pay the price necessary for all to be cleansed from sin on the conditions he prescribed (see 2 Nephi 9:19–24).
Our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to be happy. To this end, He has given us commandments that show us how to do this. Elder Marcus B. said,
… A basic purpose of your life, as Lehi taught, is “[to] have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). In order to have joy, you need to understand that, as a child of your Heavenly Father, you inherited divine traits and spiritual needs—and just like a fish needs water, you need the gospel and the companionship of the Holy Ghost to be truly, deeply happy. Because you are the offspring of God (see Acts 17:28), it is incompatible with your eternal nature to do wrong and feel right. It cannot be done. It is part of your spiritual DNA, as it were, that peace, joy, and happiness will be yours only to the degree you live the gospel.
In contrast, to the degree that you choose not to live the gospel, you will be as miserable as a fish out of water (see Mosiah 4:30).
Our Heavenly Father has not only given us commandments but living prophets and apostles as well as our families to help us along this journey of life. The more we learn of Him and His plan for us, the greater our ability will be to follow along the path toward eternal life. Elder Nash continued,
Note that to be without God in the world—in other words, to refuse to live His gospel and therefore lack the companionship of the Spirit—is to be in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. The gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, the—note that this is singular, meaning it is the only—“great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). If you opt for any other way of life or try to live only the parts of the gospel that seem convenient, such a choice will cheat you of the full, resplendent joy and happiness for which you were designed by our loving Father in Heaven and His Son.
God’s plan for us is to live in such a way that we can return to live with Him forever. That is His work and His glory—His plan for His children. The Church of Jesus Christ teaches:
Latter-day Saints see all people as children of God in a full and complete sense; they consider every person divine in origin, nature, and potential. Each has an eternal core and is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people may “progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny.” Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father’s.
Why is it Important to Know God?
Mormons believe that God is our Heavenly Father and knows each one of us—each human being who has ever lived or will ever live on the earth—by name, individually. It is important to know God so that we can understand how much He loves each one of us. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught,
God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.
He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.
What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.
Elder Dale G. Renlund, a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation, shared an experience that illustrated the love that Heavenly Father has for His children. As a result of his profession, he had developed what he described as a kind of emotional distance when things went poorly. But then he worked with a young man named Chad, who was in and out of the hospital for the last few years of his life until he finally came in to the hospital in full cardiac arrest and could not be revived. Elder Renlund said,
Although sad and disappointed, I maintained a professional attitude. I thought to myself, “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.” That emotional distance soon shattered as his parents came into the emergency room bay and saw their deceased son lying on a stretcher. In that moment, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. With this realization, I began to weep. In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me.
I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them.
Elder Renlund understood in that moment how the Savior sees each one of us: full of divine potential. God loves us because we are His children. When we understand this, it changes how we see ourselves. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught,
… All of us need to know God more fully in order to love Him more deeply and obey Him more completely.
How Can We Come to Know God?
The question for us, then, is this: How can we come to know God? Elder Holland said,
Of the many magnificent purposes served in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, one great aspect of that mission often goes uncelebrated. His followers did not understand it fully at the time, and many in modern Christianity do not grasp it now, but the Savior Himself spoke of it repeatedly and emphatically. It is the grand truth that in all that Jesus came to say and do, including and especially in His atoning suffering and sacrifice, He was showing us who and what God our Eternal Father is like, how completely devoted He is to His children in every age and nation. In word and in deed Jesus was trying to reveal and make personal to us the true nature of His Father, our Father in Heaven.
Thus, if we want to know more about the love of God, our Heavenly Father, we need to learn of His Son, Jesus Christ. Elder Holland said,
After generations of prophets had tried to teach the family of man the will and the way of the Father, usually with little success, God in His ultimate effort to have us know Him, sent to earth His Only Begotten and perfect Son, created in His very likeness and image, to live and serve among mortals in the everyday rigors of life. …
I make my own heartfelt declaration of God our Eternal Father this morning because some in the contemporary world suffer from a distressing misconception of Him. Among these there is a tendency to feel distant from the Father, even estranged from Him, if they believe in Him at all. And if they do believe, many moderns say they might feel comfortable in the arms of Jesus, but they are uneasy contemplating the stern encounter of God.
In all that He did, Jesus Christ gave the honor and glory to His Father, showing the world the true nature and character of God. Elder Holland continued,
… Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.
So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness.” In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” In the perfect Son’s manifestation of the perfect Father’s care, in Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
As we come to know God as a personal, loving Father in Heaven, we seek to become more like Him. President Uchtdorf said,
We increase our love for our Heavenly Father and demonstrate that love by aligning our thoughts and actions with God’s word. His pure love directs and encourages us to become more pure and holy. It inspires us to walk in righteousness—not out of fear or obligation but out of an earnest desire to become even more like Him because we love Him.