My God

February 24, 2010 | 22 comments
By

I love my God. He loves me. Sometimes I suffer, and sometimes there is nothing He can do about it, and I love that. I love my God because He is limited, like me.

He prepares my way to eternal joy, but He does not put me there. Why not? Is it because He chooses not to? How disgusting would that be? An almighty God who could obviate suffering by obviating the need for suffering, but who chooses not to? An almighty God who could save all His children, but allows some to burn in hell? What a horrible God is that.

If my God does not save me, it is because He cannot. If He cries for my sins, it is because that is all He can do. He has prepared the way, but it is I who choose to walk the path. And so, when He reaches down to hold my hand, I reach up to hold His, and together we are comforted.

22 Responses to My God

  1. Thomas Parkin on February 24, 2010 at 1:29 am

    Amen

  2. Tracy M on February 24, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Oh, this is so beautiful. Amen and amen.

  3. Lorin on February 24, 2010 at 8:34 am

    I understand the that this post comes from a very tender place in the heart, so I will be very gentle in my reply.

    I believe there are a lot of things we don’t know about God, his plan of happiness, and why there is so much suffering and injustice on earth. What we do understand is that we were told that mortality would be thus, and we shouted for joy. Perhaps we really had no way to prepare for what we were getting into, but it seems we understood certain reasons for the excruciating part of mortality before we entered into mortality — reasons we may not presently understand.

    Another of those things that have not been revealed is precisely which of these hardships God either intended to happen or allowed to happen. As to my own hardships, some of them appear to have taught me very important lessons and shaped who I am in positive ways — but only in hindsight, if at all. Some of our hardships may never make sense in a mortal frame of reference, and may only come into view after this life, after that hardship has been lifted are we’re able to turn around and understand more of the “why.”

    I’m not at all ready to settle on the notion that the “why” for life’s excruciating crucibles is because the Lord is powerless for it to be any other way. I believe the theological implications of of the “powerless” explanation are unwarranted in light of what HAS been revealed — and, for me, an unnecessary theory. One CAN trust an all-powerful God who allows his children to make their own decisions, even when those decisions badly harm others.

    I prefer to take the hand of a God who, for whatever reason, doesn’t always see fit to explain the reasons everything we go through. Who wants me to strive for an eternal perspective, but isn’t going to hand it to me. Who only asks that I trust him, that whatever he asks of me, whatever I go through — whether he caused it, allowed it, or was constrained from preventing it. I don’t have to know. I only have to trust and move forward in faith.

    He’s earned that trust. I’m not ready to put limitations on him simply because the limitations seem to explain things. There are other possible explanations for life’s trials that carry a lot less theological baggage. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I’m not confident that it’s the one offered in this post.

  4. Chelsea on February 24, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I agree with Lorin.

  5. April on February 24, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Very nicely states Lorin. I happen to agree.

  6. Dane Laverty on February 24, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Lorin, let me illustrate why I disagree, by way of an obnoxious parable:

    “Once upon a time there was an omnipotent God. He had many spirit children, and He wanted them to learn and grow and become like Himself. He thought to Himself, ‘I could create a world of suffering whereby my children can learn through hard experience the things they need to learn. Or, on the other hand, I could use my omnipotent might to skip all the suffering and teach them in some other way. Hmm…I think I’ll pick the option where they all suffer.’”

    I’m fine with suffering, if that’s the best way for me to learn things. But honestly, if God could have taught me all that I need to learn here without the suffering, and instead He chose to teach me through suffering, then I’d be livid. If you believe that suffering is the only way God can teach us certain things, then you also believe in a limited God.

  7. Jos. Jr. on February 24, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Or here’s a more likely possibility: It’s all make-believe and you are deluding yourselves with your faith in bronze age beliefs and fairy tales.

  8. Adam Greenwood on February 24, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Lovely and very true in a deep spiritual sense (and perhaps in others), though Lorin’s contrary view is not without merit.

  9. Lorin on February 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Dane,

    People much smarter me have been wrestling with questions like these in great depth for a very long time. Neither of us can hope to break new theological or philosophical ground here — I only know enough about this subject to know that we’re both standing in very well-traveled territory. No one from any perspective has developed any neatly wrapped answers that I’m aware of. (Well, none that I think withstand scrutiny, anyway.)

    I chose my words carefully. I didn’t say you’re wrong, I stated that I’m not confident that you’re right. There are scriptural references somewhat sympathetic to your idea, others that don’t square well at all. I have my own working theories, but that’s all they are. I suspect I’ll have to revise or discard them over time. Certain things have been revealed, a whole lot more has not been revealed.

    I probably would have been more comfortable with your post had it not seemed to settle on the answer to some VERY big questions that I believe are far from settled.

  10. Lorin on February 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

    “if God could have taught me all that I need to learn here without the suffering, and instead He chose to teach me through suffering, then I’d be livid”

    I think you’re on to something here. If Jesus suffered all things so that he could comprehend all things, perhaps there really are things that cannot be learned in any way except experience.

    There are certain things I understand only because I have suffered them — I know very wise, compassionate, empathetic people are utterly incapable of helping people who are suffering with the same things, simply for the fact that their knowledge isn’t enough for them to comprehend. Some things can only be understood by way of experience.

    Likewise, there’s much I don’t comprehend about others — no matter how much I observe or learn — simply because I haven’t had their experiences.

    At any rate, I don’t think there’s anything a person suffers that, once the atonement is applied, cannot be turned to their gain. Lots more to discuss, but I’ve got to get back to work.

  11. Dane Laverty on February 24, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Thank you, Lorin, for your measured and thoughtful response. I would guess that the two of us see God and suffering quite similarly, although we might use different words to describe them. I am grateful for my trials and experiences in life, and for all they’ve taught me. I agree that our sufferings are for our gain, and that they are wonderful things.

  12. Jared on February 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I don’t see suffering as the primary purpose for our 2nd estate. According to the Book of Mormon our primary purpose is to be baptized and then fulfill our baptism covenant. Our baptism covenant is fulfilled when we receive a remission of our sins by fire and the Holy Ghost. Nephi teaches this and calls it the doctrine of Christ (2 Nephi 31-32).

    For those who have made covenants with the Lord, He has promised that He will support us in our trials, troubles, and afflictions (Alma 36:3). He will also consecrate our suffering for our gain (2 Nephi 2:2). I think this is a wonderful blessing, teaching that those who are followers of Christ will never experience unnecessary suffering.

    God has all power to accomplish the plan of salvation. The limiting factor is not is His power, but our quality of faith (Ether 12).

    Dane—thanks to you for your thoughtful post.

  13. Bob on February 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I always take Novocain at the dentist. I see no reason to suffer (?) I don’t know why/how suffering, fear, or failure grows me. I think hope and faith serves me better.

  14. Raymond Takashi Swenson on February 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Alma Chapter 7:

    9 But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.
    10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
    11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
    12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
    13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

    Most atheists who point to the Problem of Evil/Problem of Pain don;t think it is really a problem. Their “solution” to the difficulty of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent and loving God with the experience of evil and suffering in life is to conclude that such a God does not exist, QED. While this lets them feel superior to the ignoramuses like myself who believe in God, it seems to me that they have not in any way solved the real Problems of Evil and Suffering in life. Even if God is not real, Evil and Suffering are unquestionably real, and the triumphant laugh of the atheist does nothing to mitigate either condition. For that, they turn to distractions or drugs.

    I agree that the LDS doctrine that each human being is to some extent an entity independent of God, at his or her core uncreated, absolves God of blame for the Evil in our natures. That Satan is Jesus’ brother means that he is also my brother, and that I have the choice of emulating one or the other in their exercise of moral agency.

    Besides ourselves, Joseph Smith taught that material nature is also in some way independent of God. The way we escape being subject to its randomness is by acquiring the creative power that God has to bend matter and energy to His will. But we don’t get there until we have gone through the school of hard knocks. Is there no other way? God assures us, There is no other way. We have to go out into the Lone and Dreary World, with its earthquakes and tsunamis and tornadoes and hurricanes and landslides and floods and volcanic eruptions. We go through Hell on Earth–by going forward. We do not escape Suffering, but we can escape the consequences through, among other things, a resurrection that makes us invulnerable to suffering of that kind.

    But for me, the most vivid and primary answer to anyone who sincerely poses the Problem of Suffering out of a desire to know and understand God, is that God himself suffers with us. That passage in Alma 7 tells us that God is not impassive, unchanging, utterly unlike us, but that he suffers with us and for us, individually and cumulatively, not just for our sins, but also for our illnesses and pain, both for perpetrators and victims. He is here in the trenches with us, in the mud, in the hospitals. He not only knows about our Suffering, he knows it from the inside, as well as we do. So he has earned the right to encourage us to stick it out, to descend into the pit, to stay faithful, because he was faithful to us as he experienced that Suffering.

  15. Sheldon on February 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Coming in at 114 characters, this wins as the Twitter version of “The Weeping God of Mormonism”:

    “If my God does not save me, it is because He cannot. If He cries for my sins, it is because that is all He can do.”

    Incidentally, I am still waiting for satisfying rebuttals to Nate Oman’s “Two Problems with Finitist Theodicies” posted back in early 2008.

  16. Kaimi Wenger on February 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Not true, Jos. Most of our delusional beliefs and fairy tales have at least an Iron Age pedigree.

  17. James Olsen on February 24, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Jos, if the best of your fairy tales and delusional beliefs only get you a finite, suffering God powerless to spare you, I’d say you need a better imagination.

  18. MikeInWeHo on February 24, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Kaimi, ftw! Snap!

  19. Dane Laverty on February 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Ray, thank you for that. I love the oft-quoted phrase attributed to Joseph, “In the beginning, God, finding Himself in the midst of spirits and glory, because He was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest might advance like Himself.” This is the image of a nascent god, a spirit like the rest of us, who happened upon the path to salvation. He achieved power, knowledge, and love, and so tells the rest of us to do what He did that we may become like Him. He didn’t make the rules, but He knows how to play by them, and He teaches them to us.

    Sheldon, I wasn’t familiar with either of those links — thank you for sharing them. As to the second of Nate Oman’s questions, I’m still waiting for a satisfying definition of “worship” so that I might know how to respond.

  20. Velska on February 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    The angle that God is powerless to save us from all suffering is wrong. Suffering is not a goal, it’s means to an end. First of all, we can only become stronger if we exert ourselves.

    Then, Lehi said that opposition is important. In Abraham 3:25 the gods said they’d create this world to test us; are we willing to do all that God wants us to do?

    It wouldn’t be a test, a proving ground, if it weren’t hard. But God does not create suffering; he alleviates it. It is people who create it for the most part, even many natural disasters are anthropogenic. The purpose of our second estate would be destroyed if he intervened when we need the experience.

    I have very difficult experiences, and I think they have taught me important lessons, especially humility. And that we’re not gathering a resume in this life. We are making choices between our alternatives, and that builds character. Especially when we see the results of our follies (and everyone else can see it, too).

  21. Bob on February 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    #20: If it’s anthropogenic. it’s not a natural disaster.

    I believe the test is how we love, not how we suffer.

  22. sl on February 27, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Dane, I like this, thank you. This is an important way to think about God, contrary to many views the posit a God who is sadistic, arbitrary, and inscrutable.

    On another not, I simply can’t stand the idea that God is up their designing traps, pitfalls, and tragedies for me. It’s really helped my thinking to imagine a God who is helping me through the inevitable problems of a fallen world rather than hedging up my way and seeing how I respond, like some sort of lab experiment.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.