God is a Bus Driver

August 20, 2009 | 54 comments
By

This week I made the pilgrimage to Education Week at BYU, as I always do mid-August. No, I’m not live-blogging the event but, in light of Rory’s deist leanings, an instructor’s comment stuck out.

Right now I’m sitting in a class by Alice Osborne. She just said:

Where you are right now is perfect for you. Father in Heaven is driving this big bus…He knows what we need and puts us where we are and in the circumstances we are in for very special purposes.

Yes, I disagree. But this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of thing. It goes along with the Opra-esque “everything happens for a reason,” that seems to have been adopted by a lot of the LDS community.

I haven’t been able to reconcile my own life and the lives of many others with some of the faith-promoting rumors I hear about constant intervention. But neither do I want to assume God set the clock running and then just stepped out of the room for a nap.

How do you see God as a moving force in your life?

Tags:

54 Responses to God is a Bus Driver

  1. David B on August 20, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    While I certainly would not attribute all aspects of our lives to God’s intervention I believe that the Lord can and often does have more influence on the direction of our lives than we often think. In my case, without question the Lord had a hand in career changes, where we moved, and even the house that we currently live in. Sometimes the direction of the Spirit is so strong, coincidences pile up, and an unanticipated change in direction is so strong that you know that the Lord’s guiding hand is in it.

    If you’re looking for a good example, think about how the Lord “moved” Joseph Smith’s family from Vermont to a mile from the Hill Cumorah. All it took was for his father to moan “if the crops fail one more time…” and then there was the Summer that wasn’t, because of an historic volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and the Smith’s were on their way to the New York wilderness. Coincidence? I think not.

    We’re not all prophets, but my experience is that the Lord has much more to do with the directions of our lives than we might care to admit.

  2. Larry Beck on August 20, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    When we pass through the veil, I think we will be very surprised to learn just how little God intervened in our lives. Agency wouldn’t be agency if He kept imposing His will upon us. The key is to align our agency with the commandments, then we will be doing His will, but not because He alters the events, but because we choose to do what is right.

  3. Julie M. Smith on August 20, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    I think the “constant intervention” is the peace and comfort and guidance we can get if we are faithful. As far as rearranging events/activities/people, not so much. Sometimes, yes, but not so much.

    And I have to say that if I were in the presence of any one of the dozens of people I know who are dealing with chronic illness, mental illness, sexual abuse, infidelity, unemployment, death of loved ones, etc., etc. and someone said, “Where you are right now is perfect for you” to them, I am pretty sure that I would resort to physical violence. To say that they can grow spiritually from an awful experience is one thing; to describe the kind of situation that can only happen in a fallen world as “perfect” is quite another.

  4. Matt W. on August 20, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I’m just glad someone in the bloggernaccle goes to Education Week. I was beginning to believe we lacked Diversity.

  5. queuno on August 20, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    When we pass through the veil, I think we will be very surprised to learn just how little God intervened in our lives. Agency wouldn’t be agency if He kept imposing His will upon us.

    These two sentences trouble me, because I don’t think that one necessarily implies the other. Or perhaps the second should be reworded – I think God is *willing* to intervene on our behalf if we ask him.

    Things like career changes, where to move, what neighborhood to move in — these are significant, life-changing events, and I think we do God a huge disservice by assuming that he’s not intervening. That may only be true because we’re not asking him to, and that doesn’t violate anyone’s agency…

  6. Cameron on August 20, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I think wherever we are in life God can help us regardless of how we got there. I do think God intervenes and I also think he allows us to make choices good and bad, but regardless of the outcomes he can help us and fix us if we allow him too!

  7. VeritasLiberat on August 20, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    I believe that God intervenes, but that it’s through the Holy Ghost rather than through direct physical intervention most of the time. He intervenes through prompting us to take a particular action.

  8. Rory Swensen on August 20, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Osborne’s quote is downright Leibnizian.

  9. reader Rachel on August 20, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    I’m not understanding the “big bus driver” analogy.
    As for divine intervention, I believe it is possible, and largely unacknowledged. That said, I think we should spend more effort in prayer attempting to reconcile ourselves to God’s will than we should trying to make a deal or bartering obedience for blessings.

  10. Rory Swensen on August 20, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    @VeritasLiberat – my beliefs coincide with your description, a god of persuasion.

    Alison, your question about how we see God as a force in our lives is a good one. I’ll give it a shot:

    Consistent with this god of persuasion, I have experienced profound and moving moments that lead me to my belief in God. But those moments are moments of guidance, and in each moment my decision to accept that guidance or not alters the course of my life.

    He isn’t napping. But this is my life, my responsibility.

  11. Michael Umphrey on August 20, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things. . .”

    About matters that have been addressed in revelation I’m biased toward believing. What ‘confessing his hand in all things’ means gives lots of room for thought, but I don’t imagine my inability to see the purpose of some trouble means there is no good purpose.

  12. m&m on August 21, 2009 at 1:17 am

    I actually tend to be on the other end of the spectrum of #2 – I believe we will be surprised as we get to the other side how involved God has been in our lives. Not in a way that violates agency, but yet, so involved.

    Elder Bednar helped solidify this for me, really, with his tender mercies talk. If the simple choice of a hymn in a meeting could be a sign for him that God knew where he would be and knew what would be meaningful to him, etc. I just can’t believe that there really isn’t divinity in a lot more than perhaps we may realize.

    Julie (#3), I’m one who has struggled with chronic illness for going on seven years now, and my feeling is actually more along the lines of what the Ed Week speaker said. Sure, there have been times when I have been hopping mad at the idea that this extremely difficult trial could actually have a divine purpose, but when I feel the Spirit, that is more where I usually end up…that things happen for a reason (that’s a mortal explanation for something I think is a lot more complex). For me, to not acknowledge that, to not accept that things are the way they are for a reason, causes me MORE pain, less peace.

    I know that God sometimes “just lets things happen,” but even in the letting, He is still acting. He’s not a passive Being in any way, imo. We *know* He sometimes intervenes, so to me the corollary has to be that sometimes He doesn’t, and that has to be as deliberate to me as when He does. In my limited mortalness, I can’t imagine it any other way.

    As a perfectly just, merciful, all-knowing, all-loving Being, I just think He knows more than we can imagine, and His way of managing things surpasses anything we can really come close to comprehending.

  13. gomez on August 21, 2009 at 4:08 am

    #9 – Count me in as someone who doesn’t get the ‘big bus driver’ analogy either.

  14. Hunter on August 21, 2009 at 4:10 am

    David B, the opening post asks the reader to answer how s/he sees God moving as a force in ones life. You say that according to your experience “the Lord has much more to do with the directions of our lives than we might care to admit.” Who’s failing to *care* to admit the Lord’s involement here? I’m confused. Personally, I’d love to experience God as a bus driver in my life — to wake up each morning and have God communicate to me where I should be and at what times, etc. — but instead, I experience him more as Julie Smith said — in peace, in feelings of strength and hope. Please don’t accuse me of failing to acknowledge or desire some more direct involvement.

  15. Dan on August 21, 2009 at 6:54 am

    God also puts all his truly valiant souls in America… or he puts them in the Sudan. But surely none of his truly valiant souls are born in socialist Europe! or something like that…

    Anyways, God has “worked” in my life.

    I am from Romania. In 1979, my father fathered another kid with a married woman whose husband made a public display of disaffection for him, threatening his life. My father fled the country with one of my uncles on my mom’s side. The locked themselves in a crate on a freight train to Austria where they made it to Germany and then finally the United States.

    This incident caused my mother to be arrested by the Secret Police, sending my sister and I to various relatives all over Romania. It was great for me. I got to see many places in Romania, which served as a great excuse when I went back on my mission to Romania, so that I could go all over the country as a missionary. :)

    But it sure sucked for my mom. The Secret Police tortured her, and then asked her to be a spy for them (a la cultural revolution style). She was asked to talk to her friends and that anyone that discussed leaving Romania, she was to turn them in. Some of her friends and acquaintances were sadly killed through this experience (the Secret Police took those who wanted to leave Romania very seriously). My mother came close to committing suicide over her experiences. God saved her.

    Things turned around for her as the chief of the regional office of the Secret Police where she was employed as a domestic spy liked her. She got him to actually accept her proposal that she go to America to be a spy for Romania’s Secret Police in America!! So Romania’s Secret Police gave her and her two children passports to leave Romania on a jet plane.

    Was that all that God did in our lives? Nope. My father wasn’t out of our lives yet. See, he was (and still is) an anti-Mormon Southern Baptist. What chance did we have to join the true church with such a father around? No worries. Just have the father be so abusive that the only option was for my mother to divorce him. Fascinatingly within months of that divorce and separation, we meet members of the church who guide us into baptism.

    Ever since then God has kept me close, making life difficult for me whenever I would stray from his gospel and life tolerable when I stayed close. I guess he wants me around.

    What about my mom and sister you ask? My mother left the church because of how members of the church in Utah treated her. For example, her Relief Society President criticized her for how she raised up her two children. Yes, the Relief Society President. And what did my mother do wrong with her two children? Well, let’s see both got married. One went on a mission. Thank goodness that the ward in New England where she lives now is much kinder to her. She’s active again. In fact she recently taught a lesson in Relief Society.

    My sister left the church shocked at the difference between what she was taught in Sunday School about the church’s history and what she learned from anti-Mormons. She hasn’t come back into the fold yet.

    And then there’s me. Stubbornly stuck to this church because God actually answered my prayer. Joseph Smith was indeed His prophet. There is nothing else for me in this world than that one true point. Nothing else in this world has as much value as that. God answered me. Anti-Mormons have nothing on that. Satan has nothing on that. However, the conservative political nature of the overall membership of this church may choke the life and enjoyment of this church for me. Yes, yes, I know, we’re all in this together, and there is pain to go all around. I’m sticking with this despite the fact that I don’t feel much community with others (as I’m sure others don’t feel community with me). I’m glad for communication, for the Internet, for free debate which has helped me (at least, I can’t speak for others), try to overcome the political divisions that have torn me from others who believe like me about Jesus Christ.

    I appreciate that God has done much to get me into his true church and I honestly try to live up to what he has done for me. My daughter will certainly have a more enjoyable childhood, and one in the gospel.

  16. Marjorie Conder on August 21, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I resonated with m&m’s comments. Thank you for being so articulate.
    Dan’s story is beyond incredible. I would like to add that it is not the conservataives per se, but the “right wing crazies” (conspiracy theories and all) in Church, especially in Sac. Mtg. or Testimony Mtg. that are the bane of my Church existence. But like Dan I hang in there even as I grumble, because the Spirit has borne witness to my soul of the gospel.

  17. Lori on August 21, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Rather than a bus driver, I usually use the analogy of a roller coaster. I do believe that if I take a step back and stop trying to control everything in my life, that it takes off on its own. Frequently, when I have made major life changes they have happened quickly, without me really thinking much, just reacting. So, the roller coaster analogy fits for me.

    And, it’s not that I believe in pre-destination, because I don’t, but I do also believe that if God does have a plan for my life, going against that will just make my life more difficult. It’s not impossible, but like following the track of the roller coaster, it’s a lot easier to just go with the flow. And, I find that things work out better if I follow what I feel inside rather than just doing what I want.

  18. Paradox on August 21, 2009 at 9:43 am

    “My desire for you is to have more straightforward experience with the Savior’s life and teachings. Perhaps sometimes we come to Christ too obliquely, focusing on structure or methods or elements of Church administration. Those are important and, like the tithes of mint and anise and cummin Christ spoke of (see Matt. 23:23), should be observed—but not without attention to the weightier matters of the kingdom, first and foremost of which is a personal spiritual relationship with Deity, including the Savior, whose kingdom this is.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

    We don’t need a metaphor to get that answer. We need prayer. We need revelation. We need to recognize His blessings in our lives. Building a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ doesn’t have to be any different than building a relationship with someone that knows us and loves us and wants us to know them.

  19. dan on August 21, 2009 at 10:43 am

    I think that we, as Mormons, tend to fall into the trap of focusing on where our trials come from instead of the utilization of the Atonement to get past those trials. “Does this trial come from God, does it come from Satan, or is it from the randomness of life in general?” In the end it doesn’t matter one bit where it came from. The Atonement is made available for us, so that we can repent or be healed or especially LEARN, no matter where the trials originated. When we focus on where our trials come from we can get ourselves into trouble…….. because if it didn’t come from God, yet we project that onto Him, we can lose our testimonies rapidly. We essentially end up basing our testimonies on something that God didn’t DO at all. (which is not Truth, and not something we want to chance building upon).

  20. Hunter on August 21, 2009 at 10:52 am

    I miss the good ol’ days of T&S’ former glory. Instead, now all we read are a bunch of empty platitudes about having more faith, or about how we just need prayer. Anyone care to respond to this OP’s interesting question in a way that dignifies the question and doesn’t just put down the questioner?

    [sigh]

  21. Ryan Bell on August 21, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Hunter, it seems to me that there have been a number of thoughtful answers to the question.

    I have vacillated throughout my life in developing my own philosophy on this issue, sometimes leaning far to the interventionist side, and sometimes much more toward the idea that God steps in only at certain important (or specially requested) decision points.

    However, in the end, I have not come up with any evidence or authority that decides the question more persuasively than D&C 59:21, which was quoted above. Again, it says that “in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”

    The scripture just seems directly on point. I have life experiences that lean both ways, but on balance, I don’t see how to talk myself out of this revealed statement.

  22. Rivkah on August 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Ryan, I’m not so sure…. Confessing God’s “hand in all things” doesn’t necessarily mean God is continually intervening. I think it can mean his help is continually offered. Or maybe “in all things” is in reference to confessing, not “his hand.” In other words, maybe the scripture is saying that we are to testify of him in all circumstances in which we find ourselves. Otherwise, as Julie M. Smith said (#3), God plans for some of his children to experience rape, torture, abuse, and so on.

  23. annegb on August 21, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    I hate these statements: “God never gives you more than you can handle” ” There are no accidents” and “everything happens for a reason.” They’re usually said by people who’ve never experienced “everything” and have no clue how people feel when faced with monumental tragedy.

    The “God is a bus driver” comes from AA and is based on the philisophy that we all need to drive our own bus (others should mind their own business) except for when God drives it. It’s about turning our lives and will over to the care of God.

    I don’t know how much God is involved in my life. I don’t understand God, to a large extent. But my days go better when I turn them over to Him and ask for His guidance and companionship. Today. That’s about all I can handle. Any great questions about how He works will be answered eventually.

    I’m with Julie, though, I get pretty mad when people say that stuff to me.

    Dan….I miss you.

    Hunter….bite me. That was just rude.

  24. Alison Moore Smith on August 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I appreciate all the thoughtful responses. There is so much to learn from all of you.

    I’m with Julie, way up there in #3. I cannot imagine that God planned for anyone to have evil things done to them. The contradictions in that are obvious, particularly the need for a perpetrator. Does God know people will be evil? Sure. But does he plan out those episodes for certain people to endure and set the plan in motion? I don’t believe he does.

    That said, I understand Hunter’s thoughts. I have seen people endure awful things (like the death of a young spouse with young kids) being told they “just needed more faith.” I think it’s not only insulting (who knows how much faith someone else has?), but wrong in that it implies some amount of faith will solve the problem.

    A good friend died at 38 with three young children. Some told the widow that he died for a good reason and “because God needed him.” Her answer? “Really? With all those millions of spirits, God needed MY husband more than his three little kids do?”

  25. Doug Evans on August 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Things happen to me for one of three reasons, either: i. God wants it to happen to me, or ii. I made some type of choice and it is happening to me, either good or bad, or iii. This “mortality thing” is just doing it to me again.

    Now if I could only figure out which one of the three is the cause at any given moment!

  26. SLO Sapo on August 21, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Spencer W. Kimball famously said something to the effect that God intervenes in our lives when those around us are prompted by the Spirit to action. That’s always resonated with me.

  27. Alison Moore Smith on August 21, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    There is a talk on tape I used to listen to when running. It was, I think, by Elder Nelson???, anyway, one of the 12. He said bad things (and, presumably, good things) happen for one of these reasons:

    (1) Our own sin (or righteousness)
    (2) The sin (or righteousness) of others
    (3) God’s intervention (to give us trials or bring us blessings)
    (4) Nature taking it’s course

  28. quandmeme on August 21, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    Early comments suggested a tension between agency and God’s influence. I take the view that it is God’s constant meddling gives us agency. My extrapolation is:

    “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by [God's acts] or [Satan's acts].”

    I’m not saying that that resolves anything about the frequency of divine intervention. Just saying that I don’t think that as we look for intervention that we should treat agency as a boundary. Poor Wife and I were discussing how much God cares whether we stay or move just the other day and we have totally opposite views on whether we find His answer (i.e. there may be a RIGHT answer) or find our own answer.

    I too have a problem with platitudes offered to the grieving, but would add to the mix a countervailing proposition to Allison’s: sometimes is those who have come through great grief that offer the platitudes. That makes me wonder. (Grampa of recently drowned three-year old sharing about loss of his own daughter at a similar age–gave me pause.)

  29. Rick on August 21, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I appreciate all the discussion here – it’s a great topic.

    For me, I sometimes see (or maybe just choose to believe) divine intervention while at other times I see its complete absence – in the same event.

    About 4 years ago, my 2 1/2 year-old daughter died while awaiting a bone marrow transplant. I have personally gone back and forth between whether this was “God’s intervention” or “Nature taking its course.” Lily and her older brother both had serious immune deficiencies, but because Lily was always much more sickly than her brother, the doctors focused almost exclusively on her. Her passing brought Aren into much sharper focus, so he was able to receive his transplant later that year. So in that respect, I wonder sometimes if Lily died in order to let Aren live. But at other times, I just wonder why the Lord didn’t just inspire the doctors to try to take care of Aren at the same time.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I really don’t know if/when my life has been guided. But I guess that’s part of what we call “mortality,” right?

  30. Dave on August 21, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    What an interesting and challenging topic. I lean towards Rory’s “God is distant” view, although that is certainly not how you open a conversation with someone who has just suffered a personal tragedy. That’s not the right context for a philosophical or doctrinal discussion.

    I think over the last generation or two, Mormon doctrine has moved in the direction of “everything happens for a reason.” In part this is just another unfortunate import from Evangelical thinking, but it also reflects the long-term effect of Correlation and CES dumbing down Mormon doctrine. A starting point for a more serious treatment might be that bad things really do happen to good people. In this life, it doesn’t matter how righteous you are, tragedy can still come your way, and not because it’s part of God’s plan.

  31. barndoor benji on August 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    If we give God credit for all good how can we not blame him for all bad?

  32. Geoff J on August 21, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    “everything happens for a reason”

    May I point out that this saying is not incompatible with deism and its totally non-intervening God? Atheistic hard determinists also agree that everything happens for a reason.

    The question is whether God is involved directly or indirectly in something happening.

  33. Alison Moore Smith on August 21, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Geoff J, I apologize if I was unclear. I certainly was not equating deism with Oprahism. The intent was to contrast Rory’s view with the one presenting in my class–both LDS sources.

  34. Dave on August 21, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Geoff, I think the determinists you are referring to would argue that every event has a cause, not that every event has a reason (even if that position was rather misleadingly named the principle of sufficient reason). The phrase “everything happens for a reason” really refers to a purpose that purportedly lies behind events, not a cause. And believers, deists, and atheists are generally deemed to hold rather different views about what purposes, if any, are brought to pass by the events that make up the world.

  35. Geoff J on August 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Yeah Dave, if we stipulate that “everything happens for a reason” is a colloquialism that really means “God makes everything happen that happens” then clearly neither deists nor atheists would agree with the sentiment. In fact, it seems to me that it should mostly be Calvinists who agree that God is behind everything that happens on earth because such a sentiment is not really compatible with real free will.

  36. Comet on August 21, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    This has been on my mind for a while as well.

    I think D&C 58:27-8 (anxiously engaged..own free will…power is in them) offers productive counterpoint to 59:21. The two statements may not be mutually exclusive but they do imply meaningful differences. God says that men should do many things of their own free will, which implies robust scope for the exercise of agency (which would seem to require a certain amount of non-interference from overpowering forces beyond the veil).

    In D&C 59:21, “All things” is obviously a problem here. As others have pointed out, we put our hands in a hornet’s nest when “all things” is taken to include obvious atrocities, thus implicating God’s intentions in evil, despicable acts. But even for more benign cases, what kind of life would it be for God to be micro managing (“hand in all things”) and pulling strings all day? Ho hum…boring at best, and “hair-ripping” frustrating at worst. Where’s the glory (not to mention intelligence) in that? A world full of chance, risk, contingencies, conflicting agencies–you know, the one we live in right now–would be infinitely more interesting. And if He really wanted to be as involved as many (not necessarily on this thread) seem to imply, what gives with the veil that separates us? Like parents finally giving their children the boot, such separations are no doubt in God’s interest as much as our own!

    Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to lose the truth–which all of us could probably attest to–that God does intervence, that God is an agent (an individual agent, institutional one?) just as much as any other individual and can/does intervene in life situations (with attendant consequences, just like us).

    But do I want to impute (and does God wants to be held accountable for) outcomes that in reality stem from my decision, someone else’s action, a random event, luck, etc? Does God want to be held accountable for giving you the green light in a marriage that ends up in divorce (He should’ve known and didn’t He have an obligation to forewarn me)?

    I would hope for greater discernment in seeing immediate kinds of interventions (so that I can render to God what is God’s) and accurately see where other elements are in play, such as my own agency, the agency of others, contingent events, limits of mortal life, etc. But maybe that is naive. Maybe the blanket attribution of “all [good] things” is more realistic, more wise (in the spirit of Pascal’s Wager), since it’s better to err on the side of overmuch confessing than too little confession at all.

  37. Comet on August 21, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Oh, I’ve always wondered where exactly does the random, the contingent, luck, etc. fit in Mormon theology? Do they have a place at the table? How are they to be accounted for? You do read much about them in the scriptures? Even the devil gets more recognition than these lowly outcastes.

  38. Comet on August 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Sorry, “you don’t read much about them in the scriptures.”

  39. m&m on August 22, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Maybe the blanket attribution of “all [good] things” is more realistic,

    I guess my thought is, though, that opposition (yes, even pain) has its place as a good thing in the Grand Scheme of things. Not all things that are good for us are the kind of things we would call ‘good’ as mortals. We are wired to avoid and dislike (hate?) pain, but it’s usually pain that gives us the opportunity to seek and find God. If there were no opposition, His plan would be null and void. To me, that factors in significantly to this topic.

    I still sort of get stuck on the fact that if God isn’t intervening, that has to be for a reason, because sometimes He really does intervene, and I can’t believe that is random, or that He just sort of turns His back on some people just cuz “sorry, that’s the way things go sometimes.” If our “years are known” and our “days shall not be numbered less”, if He notices a sparrow’s fall and numbers the hairs on our heads….

    (I know I’m repeating myself there a little, but I’m interested in others’ thoughts on that.)

    I can’t imagine, for example, an innocent child or a young mother being taken from earth as some random, freak, unaccounted-for thing. I may not *understand* the purposes of things like that (and it’s probably best not trying to guess), but I can’t believe that such purposes don’t exist. I don’t have to understand them to believe they are there. I think part of the challenge is that we crave understanding and we don’t always have it. “I know that God loveth his children, nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” Anything that happens can’t nullify that love — even the bad stuff.

    To me, God’s whole existence is our salvation and exaltation, so I can’t believe that anything happens w/o those purposes in mind. This whole mortality thing is all about those goals, not necessarily minimizing mortal measures of pain. I have to believe that what happens somehow maximizes all the possibilities for eternal growth and progress for each and all of us…ie. how we 1) grow in the ways we need to personally and/or to 2) play a part in that process for others’ growth.

    Them’s my thoughts.

  40. m&m on August 22, 2009 at 3:36 am

    play a part in that process for others’ growth.

    And, imo, growth includes our existence beyond the veil, after death. So, e.g., while I think while a young husband grieving his wife’s death is understandably stung at efforts to explain what we don’t know (we don’t know the whys of her death), by the same token, I don’t think it’s fair, either, to let the pain of such a situation undermine the reality that those who die are really still alive, still aware, still involved, still active in God’s plan, still progressing, still contributing, still connected to us – and all of that is tremendously significant in God’s plan.

    While the mortal pain is real, so is the eternal scheme of things.

    “to describe the kind of situation that can only happen in a fallen world as “perfect” is quite another.”

    Julie, btw, I didn’t read her as describing the situation as perfect in a vacuum, but assumed more of what you said in the first part of your statement…the idea of perfect for your growth. I think there is a BIG difference and the bus analogy to me seemed more to be heading in that direction (ahem).

  41. Rivkah on August 22, 2009 at 10:04 am

    m&m, I’m wondering what your thoughts are re. God’s possible involvement in something like this: http://www.sltrib.com/justice/ci_13169561

    Do you think that God may have wanted that child to be in that particular situation with those particular parents? Could the child’s pain be necessary for his growth?

    Or what about the man in Austria who kept his daughter imprisoned for 20 years and had children with her? In the eternal scheme of things, was it a good thing? Could God have wanted that situation to occur, for purposes unknown to us, so that this woman and her children could learn from it?

    I just don’t see how that’s possible….

  42. Alison Moore Smith on August 22, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I still sort of get stuck on the fact that if God isn’t intervening, that has to be for a reason, because sometimes He really does intervene, and I can’t believe that is random, or that He just sort of turns His back on some people just cuz “sorry, that’s the way things go sometimes.”

    Over the years, my best explanation of such leans to the idea that he doesn’t intervene unless there is a good reason. Like “his plan” requires the intervention or something else biggish like that. I tend to think, in fact, that he’ll let really bad stuff to happen to really good people—even completely innocent people—in order to allow agency.

    If our “years are known”

    And I think he KNOWS about it, even if he doesn’t DO anything about it. I see no contradiction there.

    I can’t imagine, for example, an innocent child or a young mother being taken from earth as some random, freak, unaccounted-for thing.

    Why? I mean are innocent children and young mother’s somehow precluded from dealing with earth’s crappy stuff and agency of others?

    Now, I might actually vote for the plan that says the agency of bad people can only be inflicted on other bad people, but there are lots of reasons that isn’t going to work very well.

  43. m&m on August 23, 2009 at 1:32 am

    I tend to think, in fact, that he’ll let really bad stuff to happen to really good people—even completely innocent people—in order to allow agency.

    I don’t disagree at all.

    But I also think there is more to it all. Still too many examples of too many little things that have nothing to do with agency but show me that God is there, in the details. Those things cause me to think that He has to be there in the big stuff, too, bad and good. What that means and how He measures when to ‘intervene’ or when not to (and how do we know if He isn’t even when ‘bad’ things happen?)

    Too much we don’t know. We think in a few dimensions. God thinks in infinite ways. Lots we don’t know and understand.

    Faith is no small thing.

  44. m&m on August 23, 2009 at 1:33 am

    Still too many examples of too many little things that have nothing to do with agency
    What I mean by that is that many tender mercies aren’t really related to whether or not I see or feel God protecting agency, but that He’s somehow using His to deliberately and clearly and specifically bless my life.

  45. m&m on August 23, 2009 at 1:44 am

    I just don’t see how that’s possible….

    I’m not sure I agree. As awful as what they went through was, do you really not think that any learning could ever come from something like that?

    What about eventually learning to forgive, if they ever received light enough to know that that was an option?

    What about learning to overcome the effects of abuse and live full lives anyway?

    What about learning to endure well?

    And what about him? Might he still have room to learn and repent? Or, on the flip side, might God be giving him chances to exercise agency so that then someday eternal justice might be meted accordingly?

    I just don’t see how you *can’t* think that there will be some good that will come eternally, because otherwise, where IS God and good and hope in something like that? Are only the blessed few going to have the chance for eternal good, light, life, and hope? Won’t people who experienced horrible, horrible suffering for their mortal lives not be rewarded in God’s amazing grace through the Atonement?

    For me, the kind of thought process you seem to be sharing ends up w/ fruits (at least for me — your mileage may differ) that are the antithesis of what faith feels like.

    I HAVE to believe that somehow, somewhere, the maximum good will come to everyone, and the perfect balance of justice and mercy will balance the scales perfectly and eternally — regardless of how horrible mortality may have been. And for some, it HAS been pretty much nothing but. How do you reconcile God’s perfect fairness and love with that kind of inequality? I know of no other way then to believe that yes, eternal good will somehow rise from the depths of mortal pain, as much good as is eternally possible given all the factors that God will weigh in the balance.

  46. Mark D. on August 23, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Oh, I’ve always wondered where exactly does the random, the contingent, luck, etc. fit in Mormon theology? [Do you] read much about them in the scriptures?

    How about this:

    I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

  47. comet on August 23, 2009 at 4:10 am

    #46

    Thanks, Mark D. I missed that one. Leave it to the worldly-wise
    writer of Ecclesiastes. It’s a small morsel, to be sure. Not many like it in the scriptures. Perhaps such realities of chance and contingency are so basic, even to scriptural writers, as a kind of background assumption to life that there is no particular need to give them explicit play in the narratives of scriptures. I don’t know. Scriptural writers do invest a lot in bringing to bear the gospel on human evil, less so on these other dimensions of life. Are they just neutral elements in life about which not much can be said, except that somehow in the end they are subdued in the overall Plan (thus rendering life ultimately purposeful rather than chaotic)?

  48. Ken on August 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Forrest Gump said he didn’t know whether Lt. Dan is right—whether we all have a destiny—or whether “we’re all just floating around, accidental-like, like a feather in a breeze.” He said he thought “maybe it’s both—both things happening at the same time.” I know my example is trivial when compared with most others cited: rape, murder, loss of loved ones, dealing with sick or disabled children or adults, et cetera. Please don’t think I’m putting the “struggle” I talk about on par with any of those. I honestly don’t know where the line is between my agency, others’ agency, and God’s intercession.

    One of my continual struggles is trying to find a professional niche. Yes, yes; I know; perhaps, as Christ told His apostles, I should focus more on the next life than on this one, and not worry so much about where the basic necessities of life are going to come from. On the other hand, Heavenly Father told Adam that he would eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, and Elder Maxwell said that work is a spiritual necessity even if it isn’t an economic one. Yes, I know those answers have nothing to do with receiving specific guidance about what one should do for a living, but rather are concerned with the necessity of work as a general principle, but still …

    Even though I made it a matter of earnest thought and prayer, I couldn’t get any discernible direction about what I should study. So, I decided to postpone that decision in favor of fulfilling my general education requirements. As I was getting—and after I got—my AA, I again made what I should study as I continued my education a matter of earnest thought and prayer. The only specific direction I received is that since the field I wanted to enter simply required a bachelor’s degree in any field as a prerequisite for the advanced degree that is also required, it didn’t matter specifically what field my BS is in; I should simply study something that interested me enough to get decent grades. (Most of the people who get undergraduate degrees in the field in which I majored work in law enforcement, a field that is largely foreclosed to me—absent some rare opportunity that has never presented itself—because of some physical limitations.

    I only took the first part of that counsel to heart: I spent considerable time after I got my bachelor’s degree attempting to carve out some kind of an occupational niche for myself without further education. I was an emergency dispatcher for a short time (on-call, which meant that I never knew what hours I would be working day-to-day; no guaranteed hours; and no benefits); I worked in sales for a family-oriented film company for six months (while some people are born to sell, I wasn’t); I worked for more than two years as a customer service rep for a package delivery company (the job would probably have been a much lower-stress one if I’d had the tools at my disposal that the company has given to CSRs since I left; it paid really well for the level of the position, and I’ve kicked myself more for leaving that job than for any other I’ve had); and I worked for a short time as a parking enforcement officer (I really liked the job, but lost it after I caused an accident driving my city-issued vehicle—even though I think my culpability was lessened by my employer’s failure to take some factors into account that were beyond my control [the vehicle’s condition had something to do with it]).

    After all of this, I finally decided to bite the bullet and pursue the graduate degree required to enter my chosen field. at one point I tried to pursue a joint degree, but was dismissed from one of the programs for failure to achieve a minimum grade in a core course and for confrontations with a couple of professors; Although this path is difficult for everyone who undertakes it, it was especially so for me; I struggled with depression off-and-on throughout; I lost my nerve, dropping out before getting any credit, then re-enrolling; I kept “biting off more than I could chew,” so it took me five years rather than the usual three (If I had it to do over again, I would have taken 9-12 credits a semester and finished in the same time it took me with all of these missteps); I felt like the handcart pioneer who defended President Young against those who were critical of his decision to allow the man’s company to leave so late in the season: my “spot in the distance” beyond which I could no longer propel my “handcart” was the end of the semester; I often told myself, “I’ll finish this semester out, but I’m not coming back; it’s no use; it’s too hard; it costs too much—monetarily and otherwise”; yet somehow—whether my countless decisions to stick with it were born of stupidity, stubbornness, or something more—I persevered.

    But even after I got the degree, I still couldn’t—for reasons largely, if not entirely, due to my mental health history—enter the profession. Since 2006, I have bided my time by volunteering in a psychosocial rehabilitation program. Since 2007, I have worked part-time for my local mental health agency (I would’ve been thrilled to find the job after I graduated from high school, or even after I graduated from college; somehow, it’s not what I envisioned myself doing after I got an advanced degree). It seems the attitude of my would-be-chosen profession toward people in my situation is, “Yes, we’ll admit you—as long as you can guarantee us that your illness has never, and henceforth will never, negatively impact your interactions with any other human being.” Well, of course it has negatively impacted my interactions with others; that’s why it’s an illness! And I can be as vigilant and proactive as possible about managing my condition; I can use all the tools at my disposal to the fullest extent possible to do so; but I can’t guarantee I’ll never relapse. It seems as though we’re at a permanent impasse.

    I know I contributed in more than a small way to my circumstances. I’m willing to take the blame. I just wish it weren’t—or at least, that it didn’t seem—perpetual. The question I have is whether one’s past, having bitten him once in the derriere, should keep chewing. ;-D I know there was an Atonement; I know God forgives; it’s too bad the same can’t be said for my would-be-chosen profession. It’s easy for me, at least in retrospect, to see that I never would have made it through my advanced studies without His help, but sometimes I don’t know whether that’s such a good thing. The additional education has simply made me overqualified for all of the jobs I might’ve stood a better chance of getting without it, and everything that happened to me during that time appears to give prospective employers ample reason to question my fitness as a candidate—even outside my would-be-chosen profession. As for those who have made it into my would-be-chosen profession, several of them, upon hearing my story, have just condescendingly patted me on the head and said, “Poor sucker! That’s too bad. Good luck.” ;-D

  49. Velska on August 24, 2009 at 5:26 am

    I have to say that I do not think God micromanages us all the time. In my life, the interventions seem to be mostly about giving me comfort, guidance and healing. Nevertheless, I have seen good things come out of terrible tragedy in my life within a decade.

    But one thing that really breaks my logic is this:

    I have made several terrible mistakes in my life — some of them after making my covenants, causing me sore repentance and agony beyond any physical pain (and I’ve had quite a bit of that). Now I feel that I have been very much blessed by the effort it took to repent and become whole. I have learned so much, and am so much better in acknowledging the role and needs of others.

    So my question is this: Who was it that decided to make those mistakes? (My obvious answer is that I did. Certainly God did not make me break his commandments?)

    Second question is: If I committed atrocities that caused lots of pain to me and others, is it fair that I rejoice in the things I have learned? And if I learned so much, were they really mistakes? (My feeble attempt would be to say yes, it would have been much better if I had chosen to commit myself deeper and draw near to the Lord without being forced to humble. But I didn’t, and because of what happened, I really know what repentance is, and mercy and forgiveness.)

  50. MadChemist on August 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Great post, Alison.
    I wrote something similar here. Sometimes I get tired of people blaming their situation on God. “It’s where He wants me to be.” It’s OK that I (am shallow, uncharitable, etc), I’m where God wants me to be. I don’t think any of us are where God wants us to be, but He may like the direction we’re pointed, at least, compared to where we used to point…

  51. m&m on August 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    If I committed atrocities that caused lots of pain to me and others, is it fair that I rejoice in the things I have learned?

    It may not be fair, but I’d say that is part of the reason we are here. We hope we can learn as much as possible from Truth itself, but often, we have to learn by our own experience. It’s one of the reasons why there is pain, because we all learn by making mistakes at one level or another, and usually, mistakes can cause others trouble.

    p.s. I want to make it clear that I personally don’t think God ’causes’ our mistakes. But we are told that He gives us weakness that we may be humble.

    I also don’t equate ‘I am where God wants me to be’ as an excuse for not acting or repenting. I can see if people go that direction why they would wince at such a statement.

    That said, I have had some interesting experiences of actually being able to let go of some of my self-flagellation for my weakness and instead believing that even as I still have a long way to go, God is sometimes more patient with me than I am with myself.

  52. Stephanie on August 25, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Yes, I do see God as a moving force in my life – as much as I let him.

    The thing I have been pondering (that relates) is this: if God has a plan for you, and you blow it by making a wrong choice, then will He help you in the future? For example, if I was “supposed” to marry one guy, and I messed that up and married someone else, does that mean God gives up on me? I don’t think so. I think he works with us wherever we are at and is willing to give whatever he can.

    This thread reminds me of President Monson’s talk last conference on faith, particularly the story of the widow who was forced to leave with all her children, and they all died on the journey. I was bawling by the end of it. How did she not just curse God and die? I hope to have that kind of faith.

  53. Alison Moore Smith on August 26, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I’m not sure I agree. As awful as what they went through was, do you really not think that any learning could ever come from something like that?

    “Learning” can come from committing adultery. “Learning” can come from using meth. Does God want those things to occur?

    Rivkah didn’t imply that the mentioned situations might not be catalysts for “learning,” but that s/he didn’t think God WANTED those people in those horrible situations.

    It seems your entire post is (#45) arguing a different position than the one posted.

    Great post on your blog, MadChemist.

  54. Rivkah on September 2, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Exactly, Alison.