Can you Trust in the Character of God?
Throughout my faith transition I have had to wrestle with the construct of “God” in an entirely new way. In my childhood, and throughout my time as a traditionally believing Mormon, I was taught to see God as a Father figure. Stern, but loving, omniscient, omnipotent. I heard testimonies that God loves each of us and is involved in the details of our lives. I heard testimonies that God gives us trials to teach us certain things. I heard testimonies that God gives trials to others to teach us things. I heard testimonies that we are God’s chosen people and have more of the truth than anyone else. That our religion was the most correct on earth. That God chose special prophets to lead us and that we are to be obedient and not question or speak ill of those leaders. I was taught to fear and love that God. I was not taught anything about my mother. In the midst of all the things taught about Him, nothing was said of her stewardship. I was left longing for a mother and knowing nothing about her.
My first major ‘crisis’ of faith was triggered by a rhetorical question I read somewhere. I can’t recall the specifics, but it was something like “Do you really believe God would do x, y, and z?” And I absolutely didn’t. There are so many things in the scriptures, such as genocide in the Old Testament, or stories in our Latter-day-Saint history, such as keeping priesthood and temple blessings from people of color, that I just can’t believe God had anything to do with. More recently, the policy that excluded children of gay parents from baptism, which was then rescinded. Church leaders talk about these things like they were all from God. But I can’t believe in that God. In a God who would do these things. I found that to maintain any belief in any kind of God, I would have to put the blame for those evil acts elsewhere.
Things like genocide, racism, homophobia, exclusion – these are not of God. I can’t believe in a God who is not good. And I can’t believe God is the author of these things. Who, then, is responsible for the evil? And for the evil being played out among the ‘chosen people’ of God? I have come to accept the conclusion that many come to; that the scriptures are written by men and show their viewpoint of God. People may believe that God destroyed an entire race of people to give them place, that God is a god of retribution, who fights their battles for them and punishes their enemies. They may hold those beliefs sacred. People may believe that God punishes entire races of people for the ‘wrongs done by their ancestors’ or ‘wrongs done before this life’ and keeps them from blessings. But for me, I can not believe those things. And I won’t try anymore. I need God to be good. I can now dismiss anyone who says that God is the author of evil.
I also have to believe that if God is good, I won’t be punished for what I can’t believe. I spent two and a half years praying, fasting, studying, scripture reading, and pleading with God to give me a testimony of the church. It never came. When I finally changed my prayer, I felt peace almost immediately. The prayer was, “Is it okay to step away from this? It is causing me too much pain.” The peace was such a contrast from the unrest and intense work I had been doing. I knew my mental health could not withstand that wrestle for the rest of my life. So I had to make the difficult choice to step away from the religion of my childhood. I occasionally had relapses where I feared that I was throwing away my ‘eternal salvation’ because I stopped attending church. In my new studies, I found that was likely the result of phobia indoctrination. It gradually came back less and less and grew less intense.
My family did not handle the news well. They said I was “deceived by Satan”, “wandering toward the great and spacious building”. That ‘all my family’ and so many ‘ancestors knew the truth’, and ‘did I think I knew better than all of them?’. They never asked what I had been through or what I had been doing to try to find the truth. That I had read thousands of pages and spent night after night on my knees. They said it was because my husband was too busy with his calling and didn’t pay attention to me. They said it was because I was selfish, and that I was hurting my family. They said I had been deceived by feminist ideas and science. That I was studying things I shouldn’t (i.e. church history from uncorrelated sources).
The church was the source of the idea I had that conflated God with church, church with church leaders, and church leaders with obedience. The leaders were the ones that said God wanted things a certain way and we need to be patient and find out the reasons in the next life. But it seems clear to me now that church leaders have simply made mistakes, and they blamed them on God because they couldn’t admit they were wrong. Or they couldn’t admit what they thought God was saying was really their own prejudices.
I could be totally wrong about everything. I could be making a mistake I will regret for eternity. I will try to hold space for that, because I also want believers to hold space for me, that maybe I am right. Maybe God never commanded those things. I hope believers will agree with me that God is good. That God is love. That God doesn’t punish people for their pain and suffering. I need to believe that if there is a God, that God is restorative and healing, rather than punitive and exclusionary.
When the prophet teaches that we need to get our houses in order because the end is near, are you full of fear or hope? Are you perhaps worried about loved ones who have ‘left the fold’? If you are, please try to trust in the goodness of God. I don’t think God would try to separate anyone from their families and loved ones. I don’t think God intends to separate the majority of people who ever lived on the earth from their families because they didn’t go to a certain building and participate in certain rituals. I don’t think God intends to punish people who left the church because it brought them more pain than joy. What kind of God can you believe in? Can trusting in the character of that God bring you peace and joy?