Lorenzo Snow coined a couplet that famously explains a complex doctrine of Mormon theology which is closely tied to the idea of eternal progression. It also gets Mormon theology in deep water with most other Christian denominations. It challenges (or changes) the nature of God and our relationship with him as mankind. It proclaims that we can become like God as we progress toward perfection. It also claims that God is an exalted man, who at one time lived similarly to how we are living now.
Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet
Snow is credited with succinctly summarizing the Latter-day Saint doctrines of exaltation and eternal progression, in his often repeated couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”Lorenzo Snow, Wikipedia.org
Mormons believe they can, in time, progress to the state of God and rule worlds in some form or fashion. This also speculates that God became what he is today, along a similar path, and that he received exaltation and his own Godhood. Mormons still debate this “deep doctrine” and how it relates to Jesus vs Heavenly Father. The church doctrine affirms are two separate and distinct beings or personages in the Godhead together with the Holy Ghost. They cite the first vision of Joseph Smith as the only proof needed to show they are different entities, though the credibility of this vision is easily questioned.
Though Lorenzo Snow never published this, it is widely credited to him. In his biography written by his own sister, Eliza R. Snow, and plural wife to both Joseph Smith (his fifteenth wife) and Brigham Young (his tenth wife) it recounts how he came up with the couplet:
Early in the spring of 1840, I was appointed to a mission in England, and I started on or about the twentieth of May. I here record a circumstance which occurred a short time previous — one which has been riveted on my memory, never to be erased, so extraordinary was the manifestation. At the time, I was at the house of Elder H. G. Sherwood; he was endeavoring to explain the parable of our Savior, when speaking of the husbandman who hired servants and sent them forth at different hours of the day to labor in his vineyard.
While attentively listening to his explanation, the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me, and explains Father Smith’s dark saying to me at a blessing meeting in the Kirtland Temple, prior to my baptism. …
As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.
I felt this to be a sacred communication, which I related to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.Biography and family record of Lorenzo Snow, by Eliza R. Snow, page 46-47
He denotes this couplet came to his as a revelation. Is it representative of Mormon doctrine and accepted as such by the church? It certainly is not hidden by the church, it’s been mentioned in talks at general conference and is quoted in numerous church manuals and lessons as well as on the church website. It is completely taught by the church and referenced in conference talks, Sunday school, seminary and institute classes. The church quotes the couplet on the biography page of Lorenzo Snow on it’s current website. Specifically, it is found in the Sunday School manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow in Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful where it is quoted and then explained in depth.
President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me. …
“As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be.”
Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently.
In addition to making this truth a theme for many of his sermons, he adopted it as the theme for his life. His son LeRoi said, “This revealed truth impressed Lorenzo Snow more than perhaps all else; it sank so deeply into his soul that it became the inspiration of his life and gave him his broad vision of his own great future and the mighty mission and work of the Church.” It was his “constant light and guide” and “a bright, illuminating star before him all the time—in his heart, in his soul, and all through him.”Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzon Snow, Chapter 5, The Grand Destiny of the Faithful. Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012
This official church manual repeats this couplet and details the deeper meaning, and tells the story of how Lorenzo Snow came up with the poem via revelation. The lesson here references this as doctrine of the church in multiple places. There is no question whether this is Mormon doctrine, as it has been continuously taught since Joseph Smith first mentioned it.
Is President Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet Official Mormon Doctrine?
There is even an article in an officially church-produced and owned Ensign magazine that addresses the question: Is President Lorenzo Snow’s statement official Mormon doctrine? The article itself references doctrine at least fourteen times. It quotes multiple church representatives and confirms that even in 1982, “it is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.”
“I think I can pay no greater tribute to [President Lorenzo Snow and Elder Erastus Snow] than to preach again that glorious doctrine which they taught and which was one of the favorite themes, particularly of President Lorenzo Snow. …
“This is a doctrine which delighted President Snow, as it does all of us. Early in his ministry he received by direct, personal revelation the knowledge that (in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s language), ‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens,’ and that men ‘have got to learn how to be Gods … the same as all Gods have done before.’
“After this doctrine had been taught by the Prophet, President Snow felt free to teach it also, and he summarized it in one of the best known couplets in the Church. …
“This same doctrine has of course been known to the prophets of all the ages, and President Snow wrote an excellent poetic summary of it.” ([President Joseph Fielding Smith] Address on Snow Day, given at Snow College, 14 May 1971, pp. 1, 3–4; italics added.)
It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today.Is President Snow’s statement—‘As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be’—accepted as official doctrine? Ensign, February 1982, I Have a Question, Gerald N. Lund
King Follet Discourse
As stated already, these ideas didn’t come from Lorenzo Snow alone. They originated in a speech Joseph Smith gave at a funeral for a member of the church. This member was named King Follet, and the talk is known as the King Follet Discourse or Sermon. The topics discussed in the talk were not new since most of them were ongoing themes from other Joseph Smith sermons. This one, however, consolidated the ideas into a cohesive narrative. It also reached a broader audience compared to the majority of his other public statements and has been reprinted by the church in various forms. It was given a few months before Joseph was killed and is thus a representation of the theology he developed throughout his life. We don’t have a full account of the sermon today, but it has been reconstructed from multiple in attendance who took notes.
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret…. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know… that he was once a man like us…. Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves… the same as all Gods have done before you…Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., “King Follett Discourse,” Journal of Discourses, v. 6, pp. 3-4
Also in Teachings of the Prophet of Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346 (the old version that is not available online)
But According to President Hinckley
Gordon B. Hinckley worked hard to minimize this concept when talking with journalists to the point that many found his remarks to be misleading, downright manipulative, and false. He infamously said to TIME Magazine, “I don’t know that we teach it” when asked about the concept. President Hinckley also denied the teaching was Mormon doctrine when answering a similar question (Do Mormons believe that God was once a Man?) in an interview with the San Fransisco Chronicle he said “I wouldn’t say that… that’s more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.”
But President Hinckley, the church has taught that “this same doctrine has of course been known to the prophets of all the ages” and it is clearly included in many church materials, stating that “we don’t know very much about” it is certainly misleading and misrepresenting the truth and the doctrine of the church. This misrepresentation in a national spotlight caused such a stir that Hinckley confided in members of the church that he was “misquoted and misunderstood.” He continued saying “None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly.” This is directly the opposite of what he stated in the interview where he states “I don’t know” 6 times in response to a question about this topic. Which is it, President? Is this just another case of lying for the Lord or perhaps Gaslighting for the Lord?
Were you taught this couplet and concept in the church? Was it taught to you as doctrine? Was it something the church emphasized? Were you surprised when President Hinckley publicly denied it? Tell your own Mormon faith transition story at wasmormon.org.