Who am I to Judge?
If any woman told me that, despite the fact that her doctors said having another baby would kill her, despite the very real concern of her husband and children that she would die if she got pregnant again, despite the dangerous situation she had been in during her last pregnancy, she felt that God had told her to have another child, I would have told her she was misinterpreting the Spirit. In my world the Sprit would not tell a woman to go against sound medical advice and ask her to risk her life for someone not yet born. And it that world, my best friend would not exist.
I’ve known my best friend since I was fifteen. That was ten years ago and it’s hard to explain what he has meant in my life. Every problem I have ever had, he’s known about. Every idea I’ve had has been discussed with him. We spent hours standing on the corner where our paths parted on our walk home from school ranting about politics, the arts, school, family, church, movies, everything. Then we’d talk on the phone or instant messenger when we got home. He considers my parents his German family, and is involved in birthdays and family celebrations. He’s the only missionary I wrote consistently, and he always wrote back. His opinion about my husband when we were engaged was one of the few I cared about. And recently he has been one of a very few that has handled my change in religious beliefs with respect and kindness. While staying a strong Mormon, he has been willing to engage with my concerns about the church and still loves me even though my beliefs have changed. And if the Spirit did what I thought it should, he would never have been born.
A few weeks ago he told me about how his mother had gone against medical advice, feeling that there was another child waiting to join their family. As he told his story, I felt two primal instincts fighting to win out; my love for my friend and my belief that I knew what the Spirit will and will not do. I felt my hackles rise as he described his mother’s choice to trust her feelings in a situation I would normally consider a mistaken revelation. But if she had not, one of the most intelligent, kind, positive people I know would not exist and my life would have been very different.
I found myself asking, “What right do I have to judge someone else’s personal relationship with God? How do I know what God will say to anyone?” And the truth is, I have no right to say that what someone else calls personal revelation wrong. (Note that I said personal revelation. When people start saying that their revelation applies to me, then I get to say it’s wrong if I wish.) I do not know what God wants for other people’s lives any more then they know what God wants for mine. If I believe that revelation exists, which I do, then I must allow it to exist outside of the confines of my understanding.
This was a unique experience for me; to be forced to acknowledge that if I believe in revelation, I must believe in it even if I don’t agree with or understand what it does in other people’s lives. I’m more judgmental than I realized, and now must adjust my view of revelation to include things I don’t like. I’ve had revelations that many I know don’t think are real. When I’m told “God didn’t tell you that,” I respond with “It’s my life and my relationship with God. You aren’t anywhere in that equation.” But how can I demand respect for my relationship with God without granting it to everyone?
This raises some difficult questions. If I must respect the possibility that any claimed revelation is real, I must accept the possibility that Joseph Smith might have seen God. I must also accept the possibility that the prophet Mohammed and several Catholic saints also saw God. What does that mean for religious tradition? And does that mean that I must accept that God might tell people to kill, to hate or to judge? I don’t know if accepting what people call revelation means I must believe that God would tell people to kill. But I’ve struggled with that since being taught 1st Nephi. This experience has not given me answers, but it has put me on the road to becoming less judgmental of others’ and more open to what God can be.
My best friend didn’t mean to change my worldview by telling this story; we were just chatting over hamburgers and shrimp-macaroni salad. He didn’t mean to make me examine and expand my definition of spiritual experiences. But that is what happened; another reason why I’m glad his mother chose to honor her relationship with God.