God is a big God.

My View in Switzerland this Summer

My View in Switzerland this Summer

Poppy knew from when he was a boy there must be a kernel of truth on every avenue. “Does it make sense,” Poppy said, “that any God would choose some people and leave the others out? If only Christians or Jews are right, what about most of Asia and the Middle East? All these millions of people are just–extras? Ridiculous! God’s bigger than that!”

Why would God want to be only large enough to fit inside a certain group of hearts? God was a Big God. Once Liyana answered someone that way, but it didn’t work very well.

“What religion are you?”

“Big God.”
–From Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

This quote always makes me happy. It makes me realize how mortal I am. It makes me think that even though I can’t make sense of the battles around me that somehow, somehow God is bigger than I can even imagine and so many times we humans try to limit God to Protestant ideas.

When I think about how big God is, I also think about the fact that we are all operating on faith here and that most of us hope for some kind of afterlife to give us all the clarification that our journey on earth was not in vain and we really were on the “right” path…and then, of course, we’ll get a big reward.

When I was younger, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around heaven. I continuously asked the questions:

Is there really only one truth?

One truth for everyone in the world to accept?

AND

If that is the case, how could everyone be happy?

Is Christianity, as I know it, the only truth? Most Christians seem to believe this idea. They believe that the world needs to be converted to Jesus as much as the Muslim believes that the Christian needs to be converted to Muhammad. Christians also claim that in the afterlife people will be taught the “truth” and decide whether or not to “accept” it. But, these same Christians also believe that we are the same person once we die. So, if that is the case, then, honestly, not many Muslims or Jews are going to be “saved” according to Christian standards. How sane is it to believe that everyone is going to have to convert to Christianity AND be happy about it? …especially if they are the same person in heaven that they were on earth? If you die, and were then taught that some other faith had it all right, and you were wrong– could you then so easily forget about your relationship with your Savior? (I’m simplifying the argument here, obviously, but just think about it for a second).

As the world exists right now, the current religious breakdown is:
Christians 33.32% (of which Roman Catholics 16.99%, Protestants 5.78%, Orthodox 3.53%, Anglicans 1.25%), Muslims 21.01%, Hindus 13.26%, Buddhists 5.84%, Sikhs 0.35%, Jews 0.23%, Baha’is 0.12%, other religions 11.78%, non-religious 11.77%, atheists 2.32% (2007 est.)…..so really, all of these people are supposed to find joy (understanding that my premise for the afterlife is that there might be some semblance of joy and contentment) …. all of these people are supposed to find joy in the exact same Kingdom as this white girl from Utah might? Hmmmm, I just don’t think so anymore…it seems a bit absurd.

I recently finished The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan. It was a beautiful tale of spirituality, awakening, life and afterlife. The Chinese afterlife is so different from mine, and so lovely. Tan created an unforgettable character in Kwan.

“My sister Kwan believes she has Yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin…It was Kwan who taught me, if people we love die, then they are lost only to our ordinary senses. If we remember, we can find them anytime with our hundred secret senses.” When Kwan is asked by her sister about the afterlife, she gives such a beautiful explanation that resonated with me. She explains that all those who love Jesus, will be with Jesus. Those who love Allah will go to “Allahland” (as Kwan called it!), and everyone will be where their truth resides, and it will be heaven for them.

So, my question–can heaven be as diverse as earth? Or, to truly be heaven, must we all be alike? I rather relish in differences, so I kind of hope it’s the former…just maybe in heaven we will all learn how to love each other for our differences, instead of trying to change everyone to see the truth as we see it.

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17 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    We had a Chinese foreign exchange student who traveled from Hong Kong to live with our family for a year. Her integrity, intelligence, kindness, compassion, and goodness radiated in her words and actions. She was virtuous, honest, and loving. She taught me to respect and cherish her culture and her religious tradition. Her goal was to attain a college education so that she could return to Hong Kong and care for her parents in their declining years. She did both.

    Recently, I have studied the fundamentals of Buddhism. That religion’s emphasis on gratitude, loving kindness, and nonviolence inspires me. It has made me a better person and a better Christian.

    I believe heaven will be very diverse and that we will cherish one another and relish our individuality and our differences. Gor Lai, our precious Chinese friend, taught me more about being Christlike than many years of Seminary and Sunday School lessons have. I believe heaven will be filled with people like her. She is a saint in every sense of the word.

  2. D'Arcy says:

    Carol, what a beautiful tribute to your friend! I can believe that her experience with you was much the same as yours was with her. That because you were both open and true to who you are..both of you came away from the experienced more enriched than you were before.

    Thanks for sharing that!

  3. mb says:

    Wow. Your notion of what (Mormon) Christians believe about the afterlife is so different from what I (a Mormon Christian) understand about the afterlife that it boggles my mind. But then, such is often the case among members of any religious group so I shouldn’t be surprised.

    This life is where we learn as much as we are able to considering the multitude of challenges and errors around us as we can and, in that process, if we are fortunate, begin to learn what we really love the most and what is most important to us. We find truth and wisdom and impetus to become good, wise and loving in the religion and God we embrace as well as in the religions espoused by others and in the lives of those who embrace goodness while eschewing all conventionally established religions. And we are responsible for doing so with the most commitment to truth that we can muster.

    The next life is a time when, though we are the same person, the view seriously expands. Not only do we have all the understanding and personality and joy (as well as bad habits and vices) we did or did not have in this life, we also are keenly aware of both our mortal and our immortal lives, know and are known completely (no self-deception here) and are given a careful, as-much-time-as-you-need environment in which to learn what goodness and holiness truly are, what it entails, and the lessons we were unable to learn in our mortal existence. “Accepting” as you call it, isn’t switching theologies, changing paths, coldly rejecting previously beloved understandings or giving up an established relationship with your earthly notion of deity. It’s taking all the good you already have and, with this new vision of eternity and self-knowledge unfolding, going through the process of finding out which parts of the whole you wish to embrace forever and which are more than you wish to take on. It’s a process we start here but none of us get anywhere near to the culmination of in this life.

    I won’t go to the length of referencing all the scriptures and quotes behind this understanding but will if you wish.

    So yes, there is diversity in the world after this. Each child of God will be bringing his or her own journey of experiences to the process of being made glorious. I look forward to that dazzling panoply of eternal life.

  4. mb says:

    I also think that we need to remember that we Christians are also going to need to be doing a lot of soul-searching “accepting” in the next life. We should not fool ourselves that we’ve figured it out now. I am sure there are many things that I am going to be slapping myself on the metaphysical forehead about and reorienting and relearning as I return and repent and sort through as I watch that eternal perspective unfold. That process will not be just a non-Christian experience. All of us will go through it.

  5. Alisa says:

    D’Arcy, I love this quote from _Habibi_. I got in trouble for sharing this “Big God” idea with my family, who very much sees things in black and white. Some of it may be religious conviction, but some may be personality type. They feel comfortable to have things settled, to know that the religion they were born into was “the right” one. On the other hand, I like to ask these questions you ask here. I will probably never cease to ask these questions or wonder if I truly have the spirit of seeking that we revere in Joseph Smith.

    This is entirely my own speculation, but my gut feeling is that there’s a lot about god(s) we can’t understand due to cultural limitations. I believe that we understand religion based on our cultural identity. This relates to my understanding of the origins of the current endowment ceremony and clothing, to the origins of the sacrament/Eucharist. I see so much cultural influence, which is beautiful. I believe that our Heavenly Parents are willing to work with us in our culutural context. But it doesn’t make these remnants of our culture more right than those of another culture, or that our Heavenly Parents aren’t working over there, or back then, with these others. If we can find truth in another culture’s practices, and it makes us better people (better women, better Mormons, what have you), I am all for that.

  6. Alisa says:

    Oh yeah, I love this photo too.

  7. D'Arcy says:

    Hi mb,

    Nope, I don’t need the scriptural references, I actually totally know your version of heaven and God. I grew up with it.

    I wasn’t saying of this to try to talk anyone out of believing what they believe.

    Somedays I just like to think different thoughts than I thought before and try them on for size, does that make sense.

    I’m not even asserting that these ideas are my own truth, just interesting readings I had in books lately that made me wonder and think again about heaven.

    Thanks so much for reading here! Love all the comments!

  8. G says:

    Thank you D’Arcy, this was beautiful.

    It took me back to a rather mind-boggling family conversation a few years ago in which a recently returned missionary relative insisted that, not only would everyone need to be baptized [Mormon] but it was ALSO requisite that everyone learn English in order to get to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. This, he said, was according to his mission president.

    Now, obviously this particular obscure teaching is WAY out there, would NEVER be accepted by the majority of church members. But to me I see this as being not much different in all of it’s problematic aspects than the belief that someone must have particular beliefs/ordinances in order to win the prize in the end.

    mb, you described a very nuanced and lovely version of eternal progression. I wish that view filtered more into the church membership in general. Or at least into my own ward. A quote from our last Sunday school lesson regarding the Plan of Salvation and people of other faiths: “Yeah, these are good people, but unless they accept the gospel and get baptized, they are not going to make it.”

    [Murmurs of agreement and general head-nodding all around.]

    [Except me, sitting in the back just furious.]

  9. D'Arcy says:

    G,

    I LOVE your comments and think that they hit upon important topics. Too often personal ideas or revelations are shared throughout a community as fact. And so many people believe them. More often than not I have been in Sunday School classes like the one you described, where everyone will have to believe in the exact same things to be saved.

    I really liked the idea of a heaven where there are many Gods. Where Allah and Jehovah and the beautiful Gods of India and Brazil and China could all sort of exist together and edify each other. I think it sad (and some may think this very wrong of me to say) and my beautiful Jewish friends and Muslim friends would get to heaven and be told that they all had to speak English and believe in Jesus.

    Like I said, God’s bigger than that.

  10. mb says:

    But, knowing Jesus, I think it will be beautiful to watch your friends discover him.

  11. jen says:

    I think that those who worshipped faithfully will be able to recognize in God the god they had been worshipping. I doubt our Del Parson version is any more accurate than any else’s, but if we come to know God in this life, we’ll know God in the next. Besides, he/she was always our Mother/Father/Brother, right? But yeah, it would be pretty interesting if it turned out that multiple godly parents were sending their kids to the same world. So when they talk about “adopting” people in the the house of Abraham, that really does mean adopting. 🙂

  12. Alisa says:

    I don’t know why this made me think about a paper I did years ago on eschatology and the Merchant of Venice. Many around 1600 really felt like they were ushering in the second coming, and they looked forward to the conversion of the Jews to Christianity, something they believed would have to first happen before the end of times.

    This comedy’s ending doesn’t seem so happy to me, as in many enactments, Shylock is forced to bend his knees and kiss the cross. Even though it’s set in Venice, this play about forced conversion also came on the heels of an attempted assisination of Elizabeth I by her Spanish physician, and related to the rifts between Protestantism and Catholicism. It’s a humbing experience to recongize the violation we can inflict on others when we feel that we are the only ones in the right.

  13. a wanderer says:

    I’ve been wanting to comment on this post for a few days now. First because I saw the stunning photo at the top, which has led me to put Switzerland on my list of must visits. But also because I have been thinking about God lately. Enough that I wrote about God the Father on my own blog tonight.

    I think God is huge. Mostly because I think the only way to know God is to know and love oneself and others. And I cannot imagine that a God who is known through such a diversity of individuals could be small and orthodox. I think it would be lovely to get to Heaven and discover not only the Mormon God the Father, but also the deities of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and others. In fact, I think an eight-armed god with an elephant head and a jolly belly would be entirely delightful (hat tip to my friend who introduced me to Ganesh…)

  14. D'Arcy says:

    wanderer, it’s good to have you here. welcome. and yes, I agree that would be more of a heaven to me than of the idea I grew up with!

  15. Kelly Ann says:

    I too think God is a big God and we really have no idea how diverse Heaven will be even if it as Mormon doctrine indicates, it may have the structure we expect.

    Having missed your article while I was on vacation, D’Arcy, you may interested to note the current ongoing discussion at ZD.

    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2009/09/13/the-pitfalls-of-pluralism/

  16. Dava Marriott says:

    I love this post. Part of my religion as taught in holy places, is that all truth, whatever it is, comes from God. I am trying to have an open mind to be able to accept all truth, wherever I find it here and whatever I find in the heavens. I believe God is big. And I want to be as big as God. I hope He is patient with me!

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