Many religions teach that God loves us as children, that He acts as a Father to us, and that He is hopeful for our growth and development. But Mormons teach that God's fatherhood is rather more literal than a metaphor, that He has a body of flesh and bone like we do, that He literally created man in His own image, that He is married to a woman (Heavenly Mother) and that together, they created spirit children who now inhabit physical bodies and are on a course to return to God and to become further like Him.
Mormon Primary children sing the song "I am a child of God" which says:
I am a child of God,
And He has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me,
Walk beside me.
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do,
To live with Him someday.
I am a child of God,
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will
I'll live with him once more.
Mormons believe that the original view of God during the early days of Christianity was that he was a personal and embodied God, and that it was only after contamination by Greek philosophy that Christianity in later centuries began to preach that God had no body, no person, and was a creature who was so far above us that we could not understand His being.
Joseph Smith said, "It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God" (History of the Church, 6:305). Part of this knowledge of God includes knowing that He has a body and is not simply a spirit. Joseph Smith wrote that God "has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" (D&C 130:22).
Mormons point to many scriptures in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as proof that God is a personal father and that we are His children:
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor 3: 16)
"All of you are children of the most High." (Ps. 82:6.)
"We are the offspring of God." (Acts 17:29.)
There are also uniquely Mormon scriptures that describe prophets meeting God "face to face" (Moses 1). God tells Moses "thou art my son"and shows to him all of the worlds He created, as well as all of the children of men, who are God's children. To Abraham, God appeared and spoke to him "as one man talked with another" (Abraham 1:11).
Mormons also believe that rather than we as humans existing to glorify God, His purpose is to help us:
"For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)
Gordon B. Hinckley, former President of the Mormon Church, related a story from his missionary days in London:
As I was presenting my message, a heckler interrupted to say, "Why don't you stay with the doctrine of the Bible which says in John [4:24], 'God is a Spirit'?"
I opened my Bible to the verse he had quoted and read to him the entire verse: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
I said, "Of course God is a spirit, and so are you, in the combination of spirit and body that makes of you a living being, and so am I." Each of us is a dual being of spiritual entity and physical entity.
Understanding the true nature of God also includes the belief that humans have divinity as a birthright and that they can continue to grow and develop and learn line upon line and precept upon precept into the eternities, after a universal resurrection through Christ's grace. Christ's command to become "perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48) is also a literal command. We are to follow the pattern that God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, have set for us in every way. Perfection is not achievable in this lifetime and our ideas of perfection may be turned on end in the after-life, but becoming perfect means becoming our best selves, not losing our own individuality.
When we forget God's true nature, it may become easier for us to forget our own nature as His children. We may forget that we are meant for better things than we may have experienced in this mortal existence. Being deadened to the tragedies of life is not our destiny as God's children. We are to seek for greater things, to demand justice for wrongs, to vote for better government, to create a better future for the next generation. We are to help those who face difficult challenges around us and help ourselves when the challenges are our own. Seeing the divine in ourselves means admitting failures and weaknesses without despair, and seeking out help in the form of mental health professionals, medication, and all that is better that life may have to offer us.
Though children of God, we may also forget that we do not have merely a physical body, but also a spirit that demands that we reach beyond our grasp to satisfy needs beyond the basest. If we are looking carefully, we will be able to see times when we can set aside physical needs and attend to spiritual needs, from the creation of beauty in art to the choice to love those who are different from us and to forgive those who have hurt us. As children of God, we need not always react on a purely animalistic level, selfishly, violently. Physicality is part of our nature as mortal humans, but it is not the only part of us.
If we do not know that we are children of God, we can also sometimes forget that those around us are also children of God. It can make it easier to imagine that we are excused from showing compassion if it is too difficult, or that "logic" and "economics" allow us to make spreadsheets determining certain lives are not as valuable as others to society in general. If you see all humanity as having seeds of the divine within them, there is no excuse to divide into racial or ethnic groups and imagine one group is better than another. All children of God are beloved by Him. All deserve to be treated with kindness, all races, creeds, and heritages.
Elder Jeffrey Holland has said that the only thing that makes God weep is seeing His own children treat each other without love. If we are to become more like God as His children, we must learn to love as He does, with an infinite compassion, a sweeping embrace of all humans, an all-encompassing offer to serve. We must do as Christ would do, which is to seek out the downtrodden, the sinners, those who have been rejected and cast out, and succor them, both physically and spiritually. That is what makes us children of God.