Guest Post: God the Parents

Babies Home

Babies Home

by Margaret

Margaret recently received her Master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a focus on conflicts relating to refugees and immigrants.  She is now at home with her 8-week-old daughter, which is why all these issues of parenting have recently resurfaced in her mind.


In the summer of 2006, I travelled with my husband to a small town in Ghana. We spent two months volunteering, making friends, and helping in some public health research. I spent three days a week at a ‘Babies Home,’ a type of orphanage. The children were all under the age of seven and most were not actually orphans. Their mothers were dead and there was no female relative to take them in. Since men were not expected to care for children there, the babies went to the Home until they were five or six and could basically take care of themselves.

I had expected the Babies Home to be bad, but I was not prepared to stare into the gates of Hell. The living conditions were deplorable. The food supply was infested with rats; infants spent all day lying in their own feces; the only form of adult physical contact the children received were smacks; the older kids regularly abused the younger ones. Many of the children were desperately ill with easily treatable diseases. When I would enter a room, the toddlers would deliberately throw themselves downstairs in order to get attention. The babies would scream desperately to be held. The Home was rancid and lacked any sense of joy or hope.

After a few weeks, I found myself disdaining the fathers of these children. Regardless of cultural context, I could not understand how any parent would not move heaven and earth to stop their child from living in such a hole. I understood that it would be a burden to keep the baby at home. But I could not understand how anyone with an ounce of compassion or parental love would not undertake that burden.

A few weeks after that, I found myself disdaining God. I have always loved the Mormon idea of a literal Heavenly Father and Mother. But if the poor, struggling earthly fathers of these babies were negligent for leaving them in the Babies Home, what did that make their Heavenly Father? How could an all-powerful God, parents to the souls of these children, ignore their plight? What kind of lousy parents were They to not intervene?

In the years since then, I have only come to an uneasy peace with the idea of Heavenly Parents. Good parents do not play favorites with their children. Good parents do not let their children suffer abuse and despair when they can make things better. The babies at the Home were not learning from their trials or facing consequences for their actions. They were innocent victims of a system that their earthly and Heavenly parents silently accepted. I find it hard to worship Parents who could restrain themselves from intervening and stopping such a situation.

Do you like the idea of a literal Heavenly Father and Mother? Do you think that they are good Parents? Is being a good parent necessary for divinity?

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Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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18 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Margaret, how heartbreaking. Just awful, awful. I’m a lot more sensitive to little ones suffering now that I’m a parent as well.

    I think you bring up a great fundamental question of the problem of evil – how can loving, all powerful Parents allow this sort of thing to happen?

    The best answer I’ve ever come across comes from process theology. It’s the idea that God is not all powerful. That we as humans are co-creators with God. God our Parents are constrained. They want the best for us, they want the suffering to end, but because they create alongside humans (who often create evil) their hands are tied.

    This doesn’t square well with traditional Christian ideas of the omnipotence of God, but I’m happier with a less powerful God who suffers and cries for us, but simply can’t always stop the suffering and evil.

  2. anon today says:

    I haven’t been able to come to peace with this one, yet. My boyfriend left the church in the midst of a deep depression. After various encounters with suicidality, he can no longer believe in loving heavenly parents. Why would all-powerful, loving, creators create children who would go through life convinced that they could never be happy? And, today we have therapy and medication that offer hope to some, but what of those who experienced these feelings over the millenia past? Because mental illnesses have both biological and social components, I’m not sure that process theology accounts very well for these things.

    In regards to the Babies Home and other neglected children–these children are growing up without knowing love. Is the capacity to create such evil crucial to our development as children of God? I suppose that’s where the process theology would come in, but why worship heavenly parents who either won’t or can’t stop such things? I can love such heavenly parents, but I’m not sure that I can worship them.

  3. Nancy R. says:

    In recent months, I have come to understand the importance of free agency/free will. God can’t interfere with the agency of humans. This life is about proving who we are. And when it comes right down to it, some people make terrible choices and abuse and kill others. To me, the Baby Home is an example of the bad choices people make – they are abandoned by their fathers and mistreated by those who care for them in the home. It is tragic. But from an eternal point of view, their bad choices stand as a witness of their character and some day they will be held accountable. I believe in a just, loving and omnipotent God, who knows us individually and loves us. But he can’t interfere with the choices we and others make. It goes against the Plan of Salvation. Our choices, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, have to play out. God is not responsible for our choices.

  4. Margaret says:

    Anon Today, thanks for your response. I agree that purely biological trials add problems to the idea that the tragedies of the world are out of God’s hands. I’m sorry to hear about your boyfriend and I hope he has found helpful treatment. I’m personally okay with worshipping a God who cannot act but have a hard time even respecting one who chooses not to.

    Caroline, your response of believing in a constrained God is the best answer I’ve heard as well. I would much rather worship a God that cannot act over one that chooses not to. Although Nancy R. believes in an omnipotent God, the end-point is essentially the same: flawed people make choices that result in tragedies. God (whether because of the law of free agency or because of the co-creation of humans) cannot interfere.
    But that leaves me with other theological problems. Because we talk all the time about God interfering. I’m encouraged to fast and hope for miracles. Little Tommy found his homework right after he said a prayer. Someone gets up in testimony meeting to talk about how a spiritual prompting led her to narrowly avoid a car accident. Because my bishop accepted his calling, his difficult work schedule was changed.

    So we believe in a God that is highly involved in our lives but this same God either can’t or chooses not to perform miracles for his other children. The miraculous God and the constrained God seem contradictory to me.

  5. Angie says:

    Here’s another perspective: those of us who live in developed countries like the United States have more than enough resources to take care of every orphaned or hungry child in the world. But we don’t. We own two cars and three televisions and fifteen pairs of pants and eat expensive food. All the while, we are aware that our brothers and sisters are suffering, sometimes in faraway lands – sometimes right in our own communities. God has given us all we need to help each other, but we just won’t.

    Also, I do not agree with the word “can’t” in reference to God’s actions. It’s not that He can’t intervene, it’s that He won’t. Our wrestle is with trying to figure out WHY He won’t, and what that says about Him and His role, and us and our role.

  6. Angie says:

    Also, God’s work is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, not to make earth life appear logical or fair. Perhaps the conditions in the Babies Home is not the babies’ trial, but ours. Perhaps God already knows He will accept those babies straight to eternal glory, even if they grow up to hurt others. The real trial may be that now that we know of the existence of the Babies Home, what are we going to do about it?

  7. Caroline says:

    Aside from its use as a (more?) satisfying explanation of suffering, I also like the idea of humans as co-creators with God because it’s so…Mormon.

    The Mormon God is a God who ultimately wants peers and equals. Who wants to raise humans up to Their status. The Mormon God is also one that is constantly evolving and progressing (according to Brigham Young). I like the way that puts humans and God on a similar path and playing field. So empowering. And so not typically Christian, with traditional Christianity’s emphasis on omnipotence.

  8. Andrea says:

    Angie: Ditto

    If human suffering = no loving God, then we lost God a LONG time ago.

    Think of all the human suffering this planet has known: endless wars, slavery, disease, crime — the list goes on and on. The amount of suffering is difficult to grasp.

    If human suffering means no loving God, then what do joy, love, peace, comfort, healthy children and the beautiful world mean?

  9. G says:

    this is one of the reasons I no longer believe in God. Or at least one that is “all loving” and actively involved in human life.

    If there is some sort of supernatural power source out there it is utterly beyond our comprehension and trying to give that entity traits like “loving, caring, merciful, just, etc…” is a hopeless (though sometimes comforting) endeavor.

  10. Emily U says:

    The questions Margaret raises is one I’ve struggled a lot with over the past few years. Especially the question about God intervening in some cases and not in others.

    In order for me to believe in God, He/They can’t be omnipotent, as Caroline explained. But in what way is God’s power limited? At the very least, God can’t take away agency by removing the consequences of our choices. But is His power more limited than that? Are apparent miracles only coincidences? Is God capricious?

    Since I can’t believe in a capricious or unfair God, the only explanation I can think of is that God 1) rarely intervenes, and while we should be grateful for good things that happen, they mostly are not miracles and 2) when God does intervene, it’s for his own purposes which I probably won’t understand.

    These are such hard questions. Whoever God is and whatever He’s like, he certainly can tolerate a lot of suffering by his children. But Christ also suffered a lot himself, if we Christianity literally.

  11. Dora says:

    I get into trouble when I try ascribing human rationales to the conduct of deity. It’s a two-edged sword that does me no good. Either God the Parents can’t intervene, in which case, why pray at all? Or, God the Parents don’t really care, or care more for some and less for others. Yes, I also get irritated when I hear others making outlandish suppositions that god loves them because they were blessed with such and such.

    I’ve reached a sort of compromise with this. My belief is that God the Parents love us all. But because we are all so different, they choose to teach us in different ways. Some are blessed with abundance, while others are cursed with it. Maybe some of the spiritually weak are born into the church, while some of the spiritually strong are lead to it later in life. Who knows? Certainly not I. Then again, I don’t believe that everything is predestined … I leave a little wiggle-room for the actions, good and bad, of all people.

    As for necessary qualifications for divinity? As tired as it sounds, I think that the ability to love is paramount. And to love, not just what is familiar and known, but to love outside of our comfort zone, to love without understanding, to love others as ourselves. I think that it is only when we reach that ability to love, that we can progress toward true divinity.

  12. jks says:

    Making the choice to take care of my children and be a good parent can’t actually be a choice unless it is possible for me to be a bad parent.
    What are the qualities we admire? Kindness, honesty, service to our fellow men, hard work, etc. None of those things would mean anything if we didn’t have the opposite.
    I’m guessing that God does love those children and he will judge them fairly and their suffering on earth will be a small part of their eternity. I believe that this kind of mortality was the best way for us, despite the hardships.

  13. Maybe it isn’t their test at all. It is ours.

  14. css says:

    Margaret, I hope this doesn’t come across as argumentative, but I have also spent significant time at this exact babies home (in fact I just returned from being there for about a year) and thus I was extremely interested in reading your post.

    While I think your questions about our Heavenly Parents are fascinating, I have a completely different take on the babies home and just couldn’t keep quiet. Over my time there (since 2001) I’ve gotten to know the workers really well and the kids. At first I had your same reaction. It breaks your heart to see these kids reaching out and grabbing an arm or a leg just to feel like they are being held, or to walk through pee all over the ground and watch the kids roll around in it, etc. They are shocking and difficult things to see.

    However, after getting to know the culture better (familial discipline, child/parent relations, etc.), spending time in other orphanages in the area (where kids are literally left in cribs all day and never even touched), spending significant time with the older children away from the home (they kept begging to go back to the home because I can’t cook right, I make them go potty in a toilet rather than just on a road ditch, and they misbehave because they know I won’t actually discipline them, etc.) and becoming close with some of the workers (seeing them get malaria but going to work anyway, seeing them adopt the kids without fathers and raising them as their own, seeing them sacrifice their own family needs to take care of these kids), etc. I have a completely different perspective on it now. (Some of the change could also be based on placing the babies home in the cultural context of what goes on everywhere in Ghana: i.e. all parents hit their kids, all kids pee where they want, and there are bugs, cockroaches, and mice in all pantries, etc.) Not ideal, but a matter of relative perspective.

    To get back to your questions, often my faith often wavers, but seeing these workers give motherly care for these unrelated kids really made me believe. Believe that God finds a way to make even bad situations bearable, that people really can be Christlike, that these kids happy, etc. How is that possible? Can it be by chance that these kids survived with the infant mortality rate what it is in Ghana, that they are cared for, that they can find happiness? It’s pretty amazing.

    I guess I just have a different perspective. I think we get ourselves into this mess and we’re just lucky that sometimes there are flashes of genuine love, selflessness, and hope. I CAN NOT believe in a God that would let some of the horrible things and tragic accidents that occur on this earth happen and so the solution (for me) is to believe that it is all based on our own choices. I’d like to believe that our Heavenly Parents don’t decide the circumstances of our lives (we have to decide* because it is us that pays the consequences, for good or bad) but that they try and give us the most amount of mercy, opportunity, blessings, friends, choices, help, etc. that they can provide. And the babies home on that long road in that small town really taught me that.

    {{*I say “decide”, but that word is not really appropriate because so often our lives are affected by the decisions of others: i.e. death, colonialism, familial circumstances, etc. Needless to say, it is us that creates this world via our own actions.}}

  15. css says:

    And I am just as confused as you why God can’t intervene to alter tragic consequences, but we believe he cares and can intervene about silly ones.

    Is it all up to us anyway?

  16. Aimee says:

    This is really powerful, Margaret. Between your and Caroline’s responses I have hardly ever felt more kinship with others about my own beliefs. It is the weeping God of Moses 7 (my personal Mormon God) that I am most confident in–the God whose hands are tied by our hands. I find comfort in this God because this is the God who weeps WITH us, not for us. This is the God who challenges me to do more in this life to ease the suffering of others and through such work to ease even the suffering of God(s). As Caroline said, our Heavenly Parents don’t want us to be dependent upon them–more than anything, Moses 7 would seem to say they are dependant upon US–they are looking for us to act on their behalf, to become as they would be, to become co-equal companions with them as the core of our Mormon belief has taught us. If I believed in an all-powerful God who deliberately planned and controlled and “tested” every aspect of our lives, I would soon enlist in an army of rebellion–satanic or otherwise!

  17. Kiri Close says:

    Heavenly MOM & POP: i’ve always thought them.

  18. Emily says:

    I ran across this while preparing a RS lesson about our Father in Heaven and the nature of God. I’ve spent many hours thinking on this subject and have found peace in knowing that the Savior himself was not above suffering and pain. He knows each and every one of us and attends to our sufferings and afflictions on a personal and individual basis. He can do this because He has sufferred more than anyone. He had all power to stop it, and yet He didn’t because He had such great love for us, and that love extends even to those sweet babies. Jesus Christ is always the answer. Turn to Him and you will find peace and understanding beyond that which we can comprehend. He is not blind to the suffering of those babies and He is not indifferent either. I believe He will stretch out His arm to those children through His tender mercies. I suggest watching this video that I ran across. It’s a Mormon Messages video made from a talk given by Elder Holland. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y22ItxCz0_k

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