A Well-behaved God

The following guest post is from SilverRain, a frequent M* commenter.  SilverRain blogs at rainscamedown.blogspot.com.

There is something in each of us that wants things to be neat and tidy. If we are righteous, we will get blessings. If we are wicked, we will be punished. Therefore, if good things happen, it’s because we were righteous. If bad things happen, we must have been wicked.

As humans, we continually recreate God in our own image. If we don’t believe in polygamy, or male-centric priesthood, we don’t believe that God supports those things, either. If we feel that modesty doesn’t have to mean covering the shoulders, we believe God doesn’t care whether or not we cover our shoulders. If we feel that our tithing money would be better spent with a local charity, we have a tendency to believe that God wants us to spend it where it can make the most difference.

By doing this, either we focus so much on the details that we miss the principle, or we fancy that if we understand the principle, the details are unnecessary.

 

If you were to take any principle of the gospel in scripture, say something relatively uncontested like tithing, you would see a blessing attached. If you pay your tithing, the windows of heaven will open and pour you out an ample blessing. And when we teach this principle, we testify of jobs not lost, of unexpected windfalls, of financial security.  But this becomes a problem when we look around us and see that not ALL who pay tithing are safe from financial hardship, not all who are faithful avoid life-changing destruction, not all who believe and follow the law obtain the blessing.

Our God is not a tame God.

And, seeing that God is not tame, that we can’t expect to get a predictable result for our efforts, we often give up altogether. Why bother with a God who does not perform according to expectation?

Not long ago, I was caught in a definite level of despair. I have certain specific promises from God of which I have proved myself unworthy. Faced with my failure, I struggled with my faith—not that His promises were good—but that I could ever be someone worthy to receive them. I didn’t want to be hopeless, but I was struggling on a daily basis, trying to cope with the darkness in which I found myself, and with my fault in being there. And the only answer I kept getting from the Lord was to “be still.”

One particular night not long ago, I simply broke down and cried on His shoulder. I laid all of my feelings out for Him, how I didn’t want to lose hope, but that I felt it was too late for me, that the black marks against me which I could not change made me unable to receive His blessings.

Not long after this prayer, something happened which let me see that the possibility of receiving His blessings were real, even for me. He clearly and emphatically did not grant me the realization of the blessings. But He was kind enough to show me that it was possible.

God is not a tame God. He does not perform according to expectations. But I know even more deeply now that He loves us, and will bless us at a time and in a way that is ultimately best for us. When we follow the guidelines which have been set out for us by our Church leadership, when we gain our own personal conviction of their purpose, we attempt to recreate ourselves in the image of God. It is not about following rules to get blessings. It is about following rules to gain understanding of the principles behind them. Specific blessings may not be attached to faithfulness, but general blessings of increased knowledge of our Heavenly Father and His Plan, of a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Him, always come.

Having had a tiny glimpse of Him, I find myself finally at peace. I don’t need a tame God, only a wise and loving one.

16 thoughts on “A Well-behaved God

  1. Wonderful post, SilverRain! Thank you for sharing your feelings and experience.

    Your words remind me of a couple of favorite quotes:

    From G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics:

    “A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel.”

    From Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale :

    “Allas, why pleynen folk so in commune
    On purveiaunce of God, or of Fortune,
    That yeveth hem ful ofte in many a gyse
    Wel bettre than they kan hemself devyse?”

    [Alas, why complain folk so in common
    Of the providence of God, or of Fortune,
    That giveth them full oft in many a guise
    Well better than they can themselves devise?]

    The realization that God’s plans for us are more wise and loving than we could ever devise for ourselves is really important. Thanks so much for the reminder!

  2. I LOVE THIS POST. =)

    Aslan is not a tame lion.

    We often want a domesticated God, and we sometimes interpret certain scriptures as if we can leash God. “If I obey these commandments, God has no choice but to bless me with prosperity.” Living the Gospel becomes a science of sorts. I don’t think that is the way it is.

  3. Amen, amen, and amen.

    I was thinking yesterday of all the people I don’t understand. The list starts with practically every woman I know and ends up with myself.

    God is orders of magnitude more difficult for me to grasp than any of those people are.

    So why do I think that I understand God? Why do I think I have Him totted up and tallied?

    All I know of God from my encounters with Him is that whatever good and love are, that He is.

    That said, the scriptures and the prophets do offer specific promises and blessing and we seem them working sometimes in our lives and the lives of other, despite being mechanical and etc. Maybe the lesson is that the Almighty is no more predictably unpredictable than He is predictably predictable.

  4. Pingback: Who Can Tally the Mind of God? | Junior Ganymede

  5. Wonderful post, Silver Rain.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about the past couple of weeks.
    Why do we automatically interpret “Prosper in the Land” as “things will go well for us temporally or spiritually”. Does the text demand that, or is that something we add on “easily” because we want God to be tame? It is justifiable to not only believe, but insist, that God has a different definition of “Propser” than we do? Could He possible mean, “Follow the path, He has prepared for us individually?”

    Part of what’s helped me is not judging my circumstances, and not judging others. Part of it is letting go of my expectations and living in life instead of just thinking about it and judging it.

    Would love to know your thoughts on the above…

  6. All I know for sure about God is that He loves me and that in the end things will turn out OK. There is also this:

    “If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6: 22-23).

    So, if I know He is speaking peace to me, if I know He loves me and if I know things will turn out OK in the end, I should be able to have faith that the bad times are all part of the plan.

    Thanks Silver Rain, we hope to hear more from you.

  7. Once I stopped thinking of my relationship with God in a linear way, it changed everything. It’s hard not to go back to that kind of thinking, but it really builds my faith when I push back on myself and let Him be who He is and learn to trust His perfect love and characteristics.

    Thanks for this post.

  8. Silver Rain, you words ring true. I am a person who likes things neat and tidy. Yet, God has made more out of my life than I could of myself. I have felt more blessed than I deserved in life. Hang on to hope, sister!

  9. Thanks SR.

    I think that God tries to be a “hands off” God. We cannot learn anything if he continually steps in and tries to resolve all of our issues, or answer every one of our questions immediately.

    The struggle is what gives us the opportunity to become like God. If He were a micro-manager (as Satan proposed to be), he would actually get in the way of our progression and greatest joys. And that includes triumphing over grief, despair, sadness, loneliness, and other emotions and feelings that society considers negative.

    I do not think of God as tame. I think of God as seeking to bring order out of chaos. He can do this in two ways: the violent and stormy quick method that requires lots of destruction and change before there is order; and second, he can do it a little at a time. Why does God allow the tares to grow with the wheat? Because to pull them out now would severely harm the wheat. He usually changes us a little at a time. We rarely have a conversion experience like Alma or Paul. Usually it is something that occurs over time, with the person having a variety of positive experiences with the Church and its members.

    God is not tame. God is patient, and allows most things to work out slowly to prevent destroying everything important.

  10. Jeff—it is interesting that you compare it to Science. As a scientist of a sort, I never thought of it that way. Scientific principles can apply to religion in a way, but when we try to make spirituality follow a formula, we are dooming ourselves to disappointment.

    psychochemiker—It is interesting that you should point this out, because one of the themes of the Book of Mormon is that righteousness=prosperity. I think there are a couple of things that shed light on this. First, remember that the prosperity that was enjoyed was a general prosperity. There is nothing said about individual prosperity. In other words, living as a righteous community leads to a prosperous community. Which makes perfect sense. In a world where no one is trying to cheat another, where mutual gain is more important than personal gain, where each is keeping the commandment to love his neighbor, not covet, not steal, respect parents, etc., all benefit as a whole.

    One thought that has also come to me when thinking this over is that this keeping commandments > prosper in the land progression is a specific blessing placed on this land. We refer to the “promised land” and often think that means the land was promised to us. But scriptural evidence suggests to me that perhaps it means land with a promise. It is a land dedicated to righteousness, and when the people as a whole live in righteousness, the land works with them.

    I certainly hope that doesn’t apply to specific circumstances, judging on the state of my own garden. ;)

    Geoff—I think that is often a very good way to approach it. I do know that throughout my struggle, I could not find peace. Nor was He (or has He) promised that “everything will turn out alright in the end.” One thing I have had to let go of is the need for it to be alright. It may never be alright for me again in the sense of being granted the blessings I have been promised. But, in knowing that it is possible, I no longer have to fear that my unworthiness, my weakness and mistakes, keep me from realizing the blessings. I can trust now that whatever happens, the Lord is pleased with my efforts. And that matters far more to me than blessings or results.

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments.

  11. Rameumptom, I don’t like thinking of God as a “hands-off” God. I think it is intimately involved in the details of our lives. We don’t like to think of it that way, because it means that He may have been involved in the bad things of our lives too, and we don’t like the idea of a God who would make our lives uncomfortable and even sometimes miserable. But I think is involved nonetheless.

  12. As a followup, I think that we, in our modern age, equate growth with autonomy. We sometimes conceive our purpose in life as an opportunity to learn autonomy. In that case, it makes sense to say that God would keep his hands off and and allow us to stumble around on our own, so that when we succeed, we can claim ownership of our success. But I don’t think God is teaching us autonomy. Rather, everything in the scriptures indicates that God is teaching us the opposite of autonomy. He’s teaching us that we can’t do it alone, and that autonomy is not the highest good.

  13. Thank you SR, for reminding about the individuality thing. Somehow I always manage to forget that.

  14. I like to think of God as wise. He knows when to let us be, and knows when to help us. I know that I’m seen sometimes as an unfeeling mother because I don’t protect my kids from every bump and scrape. I prefer to teach them what can happen, and let them decide. Then, when they get hurt, I’m there to comfort. But when it has potential for serious harm, I’m the first to protect them. I imagine God is like that, only much better at it. And His perception of serious isn’t ours. Much like a scraped knee might be the end of the world for my two-year-old, but I have a little more perspective on it.

  15. I am sorry I missed this post when it was fresh. C.S. Lewis also used the analogy of us wanting a Grandfather in heaven rather than a Father in heaven.

    This is, perhaps, the great weakness of liberal theology. It does not attempt to explain the facts. It is no wonder it tends to slide into non-literal theism.

    I touched about a similar subject in my Atheists Who Know God post a while back.

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