The official web site of the LDS Church has posted a transcript of the interview Apostle Dallin H. Oaks gave to Helen Whitney, maker of the PBS documentary “The Mormons” which aired earlier this year. Mr. Oaks told Ms. Whitney,
“Before the close of his ministry, in Illinois, Joseph Smith put together the significance of what he had taught about the nature of God and the nature and destiny of man. He preached a great sermon not long before he was murdered that God was a glorified Man, glorified beyond our comprehension, (still incomprehensible in many ways), but a glorified, resurrected, physical Being, and it is the destiny of His children upon this earth, upon the conditions He has proscribed, to grow into that status themselves. That was a big idea, a challenging idea. It followed from the First Vision, and it was taught by Joseph Smith, and it is the explanation of many things that Mormons do — the whole theology of Mormonism.”
The sermon of which Mr. Oaks spoke is the King Follet Discourse. The teaching Mr. Oaks referred to, in Joseph Smith’s words, is this:
“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 necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.
“These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did;…
“Here, then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,–namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one,–from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”
When Helen Whitney interviewed Apostle Oaks she asked if these teachings were the “core” of Mormon theology. Mr. Oaks replied,
“That is the purpose of the life of men and women on this earth: to pursue their eternal destiny. Eternal means Godlike and to become like God. One of the succeeding prophets said: ‘As man is, God once was. And as God is, man may become.’ That is an extremely challenging idea… it explains the purpose of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is to put people’s feet on the pathway to a glorified existence in the life to come…”
Thus, according to Mormon theology, the purpose of life is for men and women to become Gods, just like all Gods have done before, just like the “only wise and true God” of Mormonism has done.
This is consistent with teachings from other LDS sources. The August 2006 issue of Ensign magazine included an article titled “The Purpose of Life.” It said,
“We cannot understand the purpose of this mortal life–why we are here–unless we first understand who we are, where we came from, and what our eternal destiny is. These truths, found in the scriptures and restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, teach us that we are literal spirit children of God, that we lived with Him in a premortal existence, and that we have within us the seeds of godhood, the potential to become like Him.” (64)
An LDS Church Student Manual, Achieving a Celestial Marriage, explains these Mormon beliefs this way:
“…God is an exalted man who once lived on an earth and underwent experiences of mortality… The progression of our Father in heaven to godhood, or exaltation, was strictly in accordance with eternal principles,… GOD WAS ONCE A MORTAL MAN… He Experienced Conditions Similar to Our Own and Advanced Step by Step… GOD IS NOW AN EXALTED MAN… MEN ARE GODS IN EMBRYO… We Have the Potential to Become Like Our Heavenly Parents… We will become gods and have jurisdiction over worlds, and these worlds will be peopled by our offspring… our Father in heaven was once a man as we are now, capable of physical death. By obedience to eternal gospel principles, he progressed from one stage of life to another until he attained the state that we call exaltation or godhood. In such a condition, he and our mother in heaven were empowered to give birth to spirit children whose potential was equal to that of their heavenly parents. We are those spirit children.” (copyright 1976 Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 129-132. Capitals retained from the original.)
So to summarize, according to Mormonism, the purpose of life for men and women is to achieve Godhood — the same type of Godhood Heavenly Father has achieved. The purpose of the LDS Church is to “put people’s feet on the pathway” to Godhood. This is the core of Mormon theology.