The Family of God

Scream by T. Lynn Phillips

by T. Lynn Phillips

Having grown up around several large families (I think the ward I grew up in had several families with ten kids), I sometimes see the Church as like one of those large families.

You love each member of the family. And you love the additional people who come into the family through marriage and the bearing of grandchildren.

But every once in a while, there is someone who is behaving in a manner that isn’t consistent with the unalloyed happiness of the other members of the family.

The severity of this behavior varies. Expanding this to families I have known (not just those with ten children) I’ve had the chance to see various situations. In one case, a son-in-law murdered a daughter of the family. In another case, three brothers were hunting, and one accidentally shot and killed another. In a third case a daughter became pregnant out of wedlock. Obviously not all these are of the same severity or impact. I’m old, so I could go on and on, telling of family situations of which I am personally aware that caused trauma to the family in question.

When a member of the family causes trauma, it is not necessarily a lack of love that causes the family to react towards the erring individual.

I’m reminded of one particular case I learned of. My friend found out that her brother had sexually abused her female toddler. The rest of her family gathered around the son in solidarity. When my friend refused to allow her daughter to be left alone with the abusive brother, she was the one who was criticized. “He’s said he’s sorry,” her family maintained. [By the way, this was not a Mormon family.]

There is a time for forgiveness, and there is a time when one can love but still choose to act to prevent future harm.

God (and the Church) are like the parent who wants to gather the erring child, but needs to temper open acceptance with the damage the erring child is doing. No decent parent will forever bar their child from home. But as God’s time stretches from eternity to eternity, God’s discipline, though finite, may seem like an eternity to the earth-bound soul.

Of the four stories I’ve told, I think the most tragic was the story of the hunting accident. Three brothers left home that fair morning – mature men with families. Two brothers came home that night, and the one of the two survivors who had caused the death of the third never forgave himself. He did not die, but he gave up on life.

The brother who had neither shot nor been shot was left to care for three families of children. He made it so the fatherless and the abandoned could go to college. And all the while the true story of what had happened in the wild was kept quiet, so there would be no resentment, so the damage done by that one bullet would not continue to rip the souls of the survivors any more than it had already done.

The Church prefers to handle matters like that heroic brother. The Church will not publicize disciplinary actions. But there are times, as in the case of Joyce describing her experience, when it is mete to mention the effect loving discipline has had.

Many decades after the hunting accident, a son of the dead man learned the truth of what had happened. This son is the one who told me the story. By then the decades had made wise men and women of all the children of those brothers. In their old age, they were able to know of the tragedy and yet love all three men who had gone into the wild that terrible day.

I expect there will be a day in the presence of God when we will all acknowledge our Savior and our Father. We will be made to know how our lives impacted those we will then know we have loved from all eternity. The pain of the harm we have caused others will rip our hearts. I believe at that time we will wish to see all embrace Christ’s mercy and return to God.

At that last day I suspect there will be two sorts who will refuse to return to God. The first sort are those who cannot forgive themselves. The second sort are those who cannot humble themselves enough to accept Christ’s atonement, those angry at God for making them give up their sins as a pre-requisite for heaven.

I don’t know how long we will be allowed to entreat those who refuse to forgive themselves.

I’m not sure any entreaty will sway those angry with God. But I will strive with these last until it is no longer possible or merciful to keep them so close to the God they hate.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

12 thoughts on “The Family of God

  1. For Ivan, in hopes that the reason he liked this comment wasn’t my many typos and grammar errors (which I have removed).

    Thanks to my friend T. Lynn Phillips for letting me use this painting to illustrate my post.

  2. I may teach English, but I tend to fairly forgiving of typos, etc. in the blog world (only because I make so many of them myself!).

  3. I think in the eternities we will have a much better understanding of our extended human family than we do now. The Savior understood it and showed us how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters: with forgiveness and charity and humility. But there is still agency, and some people will choose not to be with the family in the short term. We can recognize this and hope for their return in the long term.

  4. Forgiveness is a constant scriptural theme, and many Church lessons, particularly in Primary, emphasize the need to accept those guilty of offense and embrace them. However there is another constant theme in the scriptures; flight from oppressors. Moses, Lehi, Nephi, Limhi, Alma, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young all led their people away from the people who threatened them. I have interpreted this as licence to remove myself from the presence of those who threaten me. I forgive, which I interpret as removing the canker of resentment and vengeance from my heart, but in the face of unrepentance I have sometimes retreated to a safer place which often includes limited contact. As I understand, except for temples, those under discipline of a serious degree are welcome at our meetings and activities. We do not practice shunning as a church even though some activities ie. praying or teaching formally in meetings is suspended. Because the Church is now in all the world, there is no place we, as a people, can flee from harm and calumny. However I believe that individuals may still protect themselves by avoiding those who threaten them.

  5. Thanks for this, Meg.

    A common refrain I’m seeing is “The Church has room for *all* of us”.

    Like so much else from the Mormon Left, it’s semantically true but highly misleading. My house has room for many thousands of carpenter ants; and honestly, we could probably co-exist more or less peacefully right up until the moment that their efforts to eat away at the framework resulted in the collapse of the entire structure.

  6. I saw a petition and another 2 posts at Mormon Mentaltiy. Theposts have a lot of buzz words and platitudes, but they also clearly advocate (directed towards church leaders) against excommunicating “dissenters.” (My word, not their’s). The petition saddens me because i think it is a harbinger of a sifting that will soon begin, or perhaps already has begun.

    I now strongly feel that these issues of church discipline and enforcing boundaries will be addressed, in the generic, at the next Gen Conf.

    What the left wing and NOMs seem to be doing is hiding their dissent and disbelief among soft-sounding plattitudes. And it looks to me like some people with testimonies of the restoration are getting tripped up by the soft-n-sweet-talking non-believers. The dissenters are hiding their poison-pills inside politically-correct frosted fluff.

  7. Book, modern Church history is riddled with dissenters who fall for the latest fad as they separate themselves from modern-day prophets. Some will take it to the extreme, others will fall for it temporarily and then stop themselves before they go too far, and others will just dabble. Let’s hope that our brothers and sisters are dabbling briefly and that they will follow the prophets when the rubber meets the road.

  8. Many return stronger from a trial of their faith. It is not honest questioning or occasional doubts that damage. It is persistent murmuring and encouragement of dissent that mark apostasy. Socrates said: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ which might be extended to say ‘The unexamined Faith is frail.’ Much has been made of President Uchtdorf’s counsel to ‘doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith’ but it may come to be recognized as a critical divide between those who exercise their reason in tandem with faith, emerging stronger from the task and those with ‘itching ears’ who cast aside caution and pursue a dangerous and destructive course.

  9. Re: doubt.
    What I find ironic is that the liberal crowd often accuses the orthodox, believing crowd of being “so certain” about the meaning and truthfulness of the gospel, while the orthodox, believing crowd here seems completely comfortable living in doubt. I don’t think “doubt” is a sin. Ironically, it is those who are completely “certain” that the “church isn’t true”. In a complete turn around, there are some folk so insistent that the church isn’t true, something which neither history nor science, can prove.

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