Day of Atonement

Today is Yom Kippur. Day of Atonement. A time to repent of the sins between man and God. I like the idea of taking a day to right your relationship with God. In our own tradition, the story of Enos has always spoken to me for this reason.

Recently I was listening to a Speaking of Faith podcast with Rabbi Sharon Brous where she spoke about Yom Kippur and her conception of the relationship between God and humankind.

I’m very struck by the idea of a renegotiated marriage, which, I think, I heard for the first time from Rabbi Art Green, just this idea that we get to set the marriage back on course. We’re periodically given this opportunity to realign and to set straight our priorities again, and to redefine what kind of relationship we even want to be in. I believe that…we need to fix ourselves and God needs to fix God’s self also…And this is an opportunity for us to look in a really brutal way at ourselves and say, ‘Where have I not been the human being I need to be in the world? And where have I let myself down and let other people down, and let God down?’ And also to look at God and say, ‘Where are the ways that I feel that I have been let down by God?’ Because what I believe ultimately the brit, the covenant, is about God wanting us to make those demands also. God wanting us to hold God to the fire and say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what you promised? [H]ow could you let this person get sick? Or, how could you let this thing happen in the world?’ And that’s OK for us to…offer that kind of expression to God. God actually wants to be in a relationship like that with us.

There is not a lot of room within Mormon theology for this kind of relationship with God. God is perfect, some say unchanging, and it is us who must repent, break our hearts and make contrite our spirits. And yet who among us has not been angry at God? Who among us has not felt that God has treated us poorly?

If Rabbi Brous’ metaphor holds, what kind of marriage is it if one party cannot say to the other, “You have hurt me”? To believe that God can do no wrong, or at least that we cannot question God for the wrong that occurs in the world is to set ourselves up for an unfulfilling and shallow relationship. Why should God not be asked why thousands of children die from hunger each day? Why women and girls are sold into sexual slavery? Why God would require us to hurt our gay brothers and sisters by protecting “traditional” marriage? Why our doctrine and culture causes little girls to ask if God loves boys better?

There is no evidence that questions offend God. In fact, Abraham outright argued with God. And we know from the Book of Abraham that Heavenly Father wept over the sorrow of His children. I believe God wants us to ask, to weep and gnash, even if there is no answer provided. I believe God wants this because it is a way to keep our relationship honest.

So on this day of atonement I will sorrow for the times I have failed as a wife, mother, daughter and sister. I will mourn for the times I have been willfully disobedient, hurtful to those around me and unfair to God.  But I will also hear in my own mind the soft recognition of the sorrow I have felt and the sadness that the world that God created for us is not all it should be.


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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6 Responses

  1. Angie says:

    I also feel pain at the pain I bring to the world, and to the pain that living in this world brings to me.

    You quoted:

    “I believe that…we need to fix ourselves and God needs to fix God’s self also”

    I do not believe this. The issues that you raise – our imperfections, questioning God, our anger at God, and the injustices and horrors of this world – are separate from God’s perfection, I believe. For example, of course we will feel angry at God. But this does not mean that God has done something wrong or that He has let us down. The existence of our anger is not proof that God needs to change. If I may speak harshly, I think that this reasoning is immature, as when a child is angry with a parent. Except that in this case, the Parent does not make mistakes.

    I have been thinking a lot about the existence of evil in the world, ever since a post here at The Exponent about an orphanage in Africa (it was a few years ago, I don’t remember enough specifics to search for it). When we see “thousands of children [dying] from hunger each day…women and girls… sold into sexual slavery… [hurting] our gay brothers and sisters by protecting “traditional” marriage… little girls [who] ask if God loves boys better” – we are compelled to ask God, “WHY?” And I think the answer is – because WE allow these things to happen!!!

    God has given some of us enough food to feed our own families and the children who are dying of hunger.

    God has allowed some of us girls to not be sold into slavery, which means that we have the emotional health to help those who were.

    God has given some of us a secure, un-persecuted place in society, so that we can help those who are persecuted.

    God has given some girls the inner strength to know that we are as valuable as boys, so that we can bear testimony and help those who doubt this truth.

    In other words, God has already made it possible to get rid of evil. But we choose not to!!! Evil is not proof that God has messed up. It is proof that some of us are making evil choices, and others of us are allowing it to continue. Evil is not a reason to doubt God – it is a call to action.

    • Corktree says:

      What a remarkable way of looking at much of human suffering. We really do need to take a more active interest in our role as God’s hands. I know I’ve found myself believing that the world just is the way it is, whether God decides to change it or not. But he does want it to change and he wants us to be the instruments. Thank you for this perspective.

  2. Mraynes says:

    No, Angie, you can’t speak harshly, it’s against our comment policy. 🙂

    As to your point, I don’t disagree with you and I don’t think anything in my post contradicts your point. Nothing I wrote said that God had to fix himself, just that this is a day for us to repent but also to let God know the things that have hurt us. This doesn’t mean God isn’t perfect, just that we are communicating with God that this life is hard and sometimes we wish God would act differently. It has been my experience that when I tell God “I wish there had been a different outcome here” or “I really wish there wasn’t evil in the world”, God replies with understanding and shared sorrow. For me, this heals a lot of the pain I feel and my relationship with God is deeper and more complex.

    I agree with you, the reason there is evil in the world is because human beings are evil. Of course, I think there are some ways God could clarify that would stop a lot of the evil in the world without taking away people’s free agency but God hasn’t deemed this necessary. It’s above my pay grade to decide whether this is a mistake or not so I, like you, see the existence of evil in the world as a call to action. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  3. CatherineWO says:

    Mraynes. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I think I need this kind of introspection right now. You have made me think.

  4. O says:

    This is a lovely post. I didn’t know the specifics of this religious day, even though I’d seen it mentioned around. What a beautiful ritual! I love the Jewish outlook on faith and religion…its so much more honest than we are sometimes. They allow themselves to feel pain and anger and sorrow, and they don’t mince words with God either.

    I also feel that to treat Him like a marble statue to be worshiped is wrong. He is alive, He is our Father, He wants us to confide in Him, to lay our troubles on Him, to hear our sorrows and pain and anger so He can help us heal. How can we open the door to that if we never let Him in those dark, scary recesses of our mind and soul? He still knows its there, but He can’t help us with it unless we share it with Him.

    He’s the one who set us here, He’s the one who allows these things to happen, He’s the one who made our bodies and emotions this way…we should honor them and treat them as sacred, not shameful and guilty. All of our emotions are a sacred part of being human, being able to express them to Him will only help us to mold them into something better.

  5. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. (I just adore your posts!)

    I too am a huge fan of Speaking of Faith. The episode on the spirituality of parenting (also by a female rabbi) was unforgettable.

    You wrote:
    ” I believe God wants us to ask, to weep and gnash, even if there is no answer provided. I believe God wants this because it is a way to keep our relationship honest.”

    I absolutely agree. I also like that biblical story of Jacob wrestling the angel – I see that as a metaphor for each of us wrestling with God. I think God expects that from us. Not only does it mean we’re keeping our relationship honest, it also means we *care* enough to engage, to struggle, to think deeply and recognize and confront the ambiguities. I think there’s a real nobility in that.

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