I’ve been thinking about Levi Peterson’s The Backslider lately (SPOILERS AHEAD).
The 1986 novel tells the story of Frank Windham, a Mormon cowboy from southern Utah. Frank struggles with his faith and finding his place in Mormon culture. Topics including sexual sin, backsliding, self-mutilation, and guilt have made this novel pretty controversial in many Mormon settings. Despite being beautifully written, I’ve always thought that the true genious of the novel is the way Frank envisions God & Jesus.
Something happens during the transmission of Heavenly knowlege from God into the human mind. We are terribly incapable of understanding or comprehending God. And this means that our visions and revelations, as sacred as they may be, aren’t actually visions of God. They’re human interpretations of glory beyond our understanding. We have visions of God – glorious visions – real visions – but they’re filtered through an earthly lens colored by our personal circumstances. We understand God based on who we need Him to be. This isn’t to denigrate the authenticity of visions, but we should be careful when trying to make categorical statements about God based on an earthly vision.
At one point in the novel, Frank is feeling guilty because of his backsliding and he imagines God pointing a gun at him, calling him to repentance. For some this is absurd, but for Frank, it was as real as any other heavenly vision. His understanding of God is shaped by his experiences. Whereas God communicated his wrath to Adam through banishment, to Noah through flooding, to Moses through serpents and plagues, He communicated his wrath to Frank through a rifle.
By the end of the novel, Frank imagines Jesus as a Cowboy, riding a horse with cigarette in hand. It’s an account that is sure to rub many Mormons the wrong way, but it’s who Frank needed Jesus to be in order to have faith in Him. A merciful God wouldn’t send Frank anything less than Cowboy Jesus.
So we can talk about who God is, what He looks like, or where He came from, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that He is.
I don’t know much about God, but i’m pretty sure Jesus rides a bicycle.
“Happiness is a full bike rack!” –Yehuda Moon
So attentive MM readers, won’t you tell me a little about YOUR version of God?