When I was a child, I spake as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought as a child:
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
(1 Cor. 13:11.)
As I’ve grown older, the things I’ve unlearned about God are just as significant to me as the things I’ve learned about Him. In fact, the God I believed in as a child is almost unrecognizable to me now.
As a child born to active members of the Church, I probably had a typical Mormon spiritual upbringing. Among the more “childish things” I thought I knew about God as a child were the following:
- God created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. We’re not sure if they were 24-hour days. “One day” might actually mean 1,000 years, so it might have actually taken God 6,000 years to create the Earth.
- Life is a test us to see if we will do everything God tells us to do in exactly the way He tells us to do it. God gets mad and punishes us if we don’t do what He tells us to do. God punishes disobedient people in lots of different ways. Sometimes God gives them diseases, strikes them blind or dumb, starves or dehydrates them to death, burns them, drowns them, etc. One time God even got so mad at His children on Earth that He killed all except eight of them. But luckily He saved every kind of animal.
- God gives special men called prophets the power to do magic tricks, like turning sticks into snakes or calling fire down from Heaven.
- God has favorite or “chosen” people. God commands His chosen people to kill the men, women, children, and animals of His unchosen people so that the chosen people can use the unchosen peoples’ land.
- God hates it when people make and worship idols because then He doesn’t get the credit for being God.
- God doesn’t want us to have fun on Sunday because that’s His day.
- It is important that we take the Sacrament with our right hand because that is the hand God wants us to use.
You get the picture of my childish view of God: very particular about having things done exactly His way; becoming angry and jealous often and easily; making us suffer and even killing us when we disobey Him. You might say that in my childish view, God was a control freak, and “justice” or “righteousness” was whatever God arbitrarily wanted it to be, rather than being determined by eternal principles by which God was likewise bound. Acts of disobedience angered God because they challenged and defied His sovereignty and authority. In this way, the King of Kings was really no different than any earthly king.
As I got older, I learned that other people held similar views about God. One day, a Seventh-Day Adventist explained to me in a very logical sequence that: (1) the Hebrew Sabbath had always been on the seventh day of the week (Saturday); (2) the Catholic church is the “Beast” referenced in the Book of Revelation; (3) a previous Catholic Pope changed Sabbath observance from the seventh day of the week to the first day (Sunday); and (4) therefore, anyone who goes to church on Sunday bears the “Mark of the Beast. ” The implication:
- No matter how good a person you are, God sends you to Hell if you make the mistake of going to church on the wrong day of the week.
Another time, I spoke with a Jehovah’s Witness who calmly and logically explained to me that: (1) God’s name was actually “Jehovah”; (2) Satan is the Father of this world; and (3) therefore, if you pray to “Father” rather than to “Jehovah,” you are actually praying to Satan. The implication:
- Even if you are sincere in heart and want to talk to God, He doesn’t hear you or ignores your prayer unless you address Him by His technically correct name.
On another occasion, I heard a Christian preacher talk about his counseling a group of Christian missionaries working in the Middle East who were discouraged that they were having no success. The preacher explained that God had predestined who would be saved and who wouldn’t, so it wasn’t the missionaries’ fault that God didn’t predestine the people living in the Middle East to be saved. The implication:
- Although God created everyone, He only loves only a few of His children enough to guarantee their salvation for them; the others He sends to Hell to suffer for eternity.
As the years have passed, I’ve discarded these sorts of childish notions about God. Some have been written off as scriptural mistranslations, others dismissed as the cultural biases of scriptural authors, others as inaccurate oral legends that somehow made their way into scripture.
But there is one experience that has completely redefined my understanding of God and how He operates: Becoming a parent and raising children of my own.
After having children, I realized quickly that if God’s love for his children is anything like my love for my children, then a great deal of what I had previously believed about God and how he operated was utter nonsense. Now, when I come upon a story in scripture, or hear a message preached from the pulpit, that portrays God in a way that is wholly inconsistent with his identity as a loving parent, I have no reservations about dismissing that characterization of God. And sometimes these words of Brigham Young come to mind:
[W]e are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.” (Journal of Discourses 2:309-318).
According to Brigham Young, what’s holding us back from being able to “receive the Son of Man” is not just what we’ve failed to learn thus far; it’s what we haven’t unlearned yet, i.e., “our false traditions and foolish notions.” It seems Brother Brigham would have us be continually on the lookout for ways in which our inherited traditions and culture might be blinding us to greater spiritual truths. Do we as Mormons individually and collectively have the open minds, open hearts, and courage necessary to identify “our false traditions and foolish notions” and throw them off?
It seems our challenge is to “become as a little child” without remaining childish in our views of God. And as I try to discern between simple child-like truths and childish nonsense, I can find no better standard of truth than that of a parent’s love, i.e., to assume that God has a heart at least as loving, and presumably more loving, as any good earthly parent has for his own children.
What about you? How do your views of God as an adult differ from your views of God as a child? And what experiences, principles, or other defining influences are responsible for your evolving view of God?
Great post about spiritual maturity and understand the differences between cultural bias and scriptural truth. A couple things that I disagree with you on are:
“God created the Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. We’re not sure if they were 24-hour days. “One day” might actually mean 1,000 years, so it might have actually taken God 6,000 years to create the Earth.”
Although this may be taken as childish understanding Peter was quite clear that man needed to understand the mystery that a thousand years was a day and a day was a thousand years to God. This was needed to unlock some understanding in God’s timeline. Not to say that the world was created in a 6 thousand year periods with a thousand years of rest, but that this was a type and shadow of six thousand year periods of the church with a seven thousandth year period of rest. This is typified hundreds of times in the old testament, specifically in the complete cycles of seven, starting with the seven days of creation, then the seven year cycles of Israel, and finally the largest the Jubilee period (49 years + one year of Jubilee), which typifies the seven thousand years to complete judgement and the millenial reign, the jubilee year, which would be 1000 on earth witch Christ while Satan is bound.
Also along the same lines is:
“No matter how good a person you are, God sends you to Hell if you make the mistake of going to church on the wrong day of the week.”
You seem to be confusing two seperate things here, the sabbath and the day of worship. From the beginning of the world God ordained the sabbath, the seventh day as a day of rest. That can’t be argued, however after the crucifixion the church met on the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, to remember and worship Christ. These are two seperate occurences that got confused within the period of the apostasy. I’m not saying that we must switch our worship day to saturday or we are going to hell, but I still believe the seventh day was oridained form the beginning of time to be a day of rest and I think the christian world, our’s included, doesn’t observe it correctly and that in the future that will be something that will be made right.
Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed your post.
As Jeremy’s comment illustrates, and my earlier posts on liberal Mormonism have shown me, what is liberal or traditional, and what is childish and what is grown-up, is often in the eyes of the beholder. I know plenty of adults who believe most of what you listed as your childish beliefs in your post. Gospel Doctrine, when we’re talking about the Old Testament, is taught as if all of these events depicted happened as written down. If the Bible says a donkey talked to Balaam, then by @$%^, a donkey talked to Balaam, right? If a serpent talked to Eve, a serpent talked to Eve. If Jonah was in a whale for three days, and so on, you get the picture. We receive little to no assistance from the institution in growing up spiritually, and for some, it is a journey never taken.
I have often wondered, though, since you allude to it, how much our own picture of God is influenced by how we see our own parents as children and later as adults? Psychologically there is a lot to be said for the conflation of earthly father and Heavenly Father in a child’s mind.
I just realized I didn’t answer your questions.
My own view of God evolved when I read Moses 7.
Particularly, God weeps as the rain upon the mountains, which shocks Enoch. And God says he is angry and will wipe out the people with a flood. But then he says:
37 … and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
This is like an earthly parent. Our kids may be disobedient, and we may punish them, but we’ll still weep for their suffering along with the suffering of our obedient children.
This whole chapter continues to move me profoundly. It teaches me that 1) God deeply loves his wicked children, 2) God is Love: everything he does is out of love, and 2) following the Plan of Happiness does not mean we will only ever feel happiness, even in Eternity.
“everything he does is out of love”…so he creatse suffering starving people “out of love”??? Yes, only a “loving” god would do that.
This is such a good post. I’m going to break my normal ban on posting via the week just to say hi and tell you how much I agree with you on this. I believe God’s love must be understood from the stand point of a good parent. If it’s less than this, it’s certainly not perfect love.
Jeremy #1 (and Andrew):
“From the beginning of the world God ordained the sabbath, the seventh day as a day of rest. That can’t be argued”
It can’t be argued that this is what the Bible says. But I think this is 100% teaching a principle rather than an actual event. I don’t believe that God finished creating the earth after billions of years and just relaxed for a bit. Did he nap? Did he play chess? Did he take a break from creation to visit with family? Thus, I can and do argue that God did not literally ordain the seventh day from the beginning of the world.
This, I suppose, is another evolution in my belief about God from when I was a child.
Understandinng the basic attributes of God are essential to faith, and faith is essential to salvation. That is what’s wrong with people who continue to humanize a God who is jealous, angry, retributive, etc. I’ve always thought there was more to God than meets the eye in the Old Testament. Maybe he was “jealous” because he was dumbing down his dicipline for his people to their inept learning curve. The nice thing about the Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites is that they will get theirs in spiritual prison and I may live next to one in the Celestial kingdom, theocratic genocide aside.
As the song goes, It’s that the “words get in the way.” We tend to focus on the words in the scriptures even though they are translations. Even in the “original” language, they are still open to interpretation.
If we put took the two greatest commandments, which appear in the old and new testaments and try to apply them at mere face value, we’d probably be better off. As humans, we tend to complicate matters because our rational mind needs to comprehend what our spiritual minds may be too immature to fully understand.
What we learn as a child is given to us by the very people who should be advanced enough in their spiritual development to know better than to tell us stories that will not hold up to the test later in our lives..
Excellent post, Andrew.
God is definitely a loving parent, but He also seems to hold with concept “spare the rod and spoil the child.”
The modern style of a “loving parent” in my mind does not fit God very well.
I have always felt God’s love for me and all His children, but He has always seemed more of a loving Puritan parent.
I think we would do well to remember that being a loving parent does not always result in the same ideas on child raising.
Pretty sure I talked to the same Adventist in the Target parking lot in Aurora, CO. But I dunno, they all look alike to me 🙂
Wonderful post, Andrew. I’m in a hurry and can’t add much right now, but this is excellent.
While it’s impossible to identify all the influences which forge one’s understanding of deity, I can certainly point to a major shift for me. As I was doing research for my book, I came across speeches and writings of Hosea Ballou, a Universalist minister who was responsible for the circuit of churches in which the Joseph Smith Sr. family lived in Vermont (and given that the Smith family were Universalists at the time, Ballou was very likely their minister). Many of his words reminded me of later statements of Joseph Smith, such as a speech he gave that could easily have served as a model for Joseph’s Lectures on Faith.
Ballou made one statement, however, that deeply affected me. It is impossible, he believed, for finite man to offend an infinite god. This struck me, and I pondered on it a great deal. As a very imperfect father, I could become frustrated (and yes, even angry at times) when my children acted against my direction, but would I toss any of them out of my home for it? If deity was a perfect parent, surely he was not more capricious than me. He wouldn’t be worthy of worship if he was.
Andrew said, “On another occasion, I heard a Christian preacher talk about his counseling a group of Christian missionaries working in the Middle East who were discouraged that they were having no success. The preacher explained that God had predestined who would be saved and who wouldn’t, so it wasn’t the missionaries’ fault that God didn’t predestine the people living in the Middle East to be saved. The implication:
Although God created everyone, He only loves only a few of His children enough to guarantee their salvation for them; the others He sends to Hell to suffer for eternity.”
I agree that this is an immature or childish perspective. It happens, for sure, but one should hardly paint this out that this is the predominant or only Christian perspective. It isn’t. Even Hell in Christianity is not seen as an uncompassionate judgement. Hell is separation from God. If humans don’t want a life with Him, don’t want to worship him, and don’t want to follow Him, Hell is seen as God giving such children exactly what they desire. He doesn’t force a relationship with anyone.
God knows His own, and he draws His unto Him by many ways: by His testament in Nature, by His Spirit, by those who come to know Him through good deeds (for ex Cornelius), through many believers who willingly serve Him and their fellow humans, through the power of His Word, etc. Scripture sure seems clear to me that many will not choose Him despite all of this. Even the Book of Mormon says this life is a time to repent. So do we trust God to do His work? To draw them who will accept Him unto Him? Do we wrest Him into being the kind of God we think He should be by playing by the whims of evolving mortal rules of fairness, of morality? Do we need proof in the form of our ordinance records? Of “notches on the belt” of whomever has “closed” the most altar call confessions? Relying on our mortal arm of flesh for proof that God is doing His work happens in the Mormon church (but not always) as well as in some Christian churches.
I don’t think trusting in God’s power to reach His own means we give up in sharing the Good Word with others. Certainly Jesus says we don’t light a lamp to immediately extinguish it. But I do think it is humbling, and the ultimate act of Free Will to submit ourselves willingly to His Will, to ask Him to use our lives as He may, and in sum, to trust that He has the power to reach all He knows will draw unto Him as His children. While I don’t believe in the LDS ordinance-oriented salvation, I respect the compassionate attitude behind the belief and practice. However, I did want to add my point to the discussion, which is that I think the Christian scriptural perspective I have outlined is also a very compassionate, trustful and mature perspective. And it is not a revolutionary nor uncommon one either. Again, while we differ in beliefs and practices, I don’t think it need to be an “war” of whose God is more sublimely compassionate.
Adam (#4). “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made”. The scripture is clear enough. You can argue it if you want but then you arguement isn’t based upon the scripture. It said he sanctified it and he rested in it. If you want to argue what kind of rest it was you can go ahead but the fact still stands that he rested. You are free to argue but you are arguing against the Word of God.
Jeremy, your #14 illustrates why many happen to find organized religion so profoundly unsatisfying. Wouldn’t it be nice if more religious types focused on compassion and service toward others, rather than ecclesiastical argument and one-upmanship?
Jeremy – “Word of God” is an interesting phrase. As my son pointed out as we were leaving church yesterday, in the OT, the only thing God directly authored was the Ten Commandments. I’m not arguing your point, just making an observation.
Andrew – great post! I think our perception of God when we are children is not only colored by our relationship with our parents, as was pointed out above, but also by the fact of being a child and having that sense that everything is so big and others are making the rules and in control of our lives. Even if those forces are benevolent, it can feel a little overwhelming as a child.
I think your post really outlines two different types of false beliefs: those that are childish or immature, and those that are traditions that are inconsistent with what you believe (or in this case, what we as LDS believe). The traditions are based on scholarly religious or scriptural interpretations, whereas I see the childish beliefs stemming from the worldview we have when we are little.
Nick (#15) I apologize if my tone was one of ecclesiastical arguement and one-upmanship. I was just trying to make a point that many things that are considered “childish” are actually quite the opposite. It’s disconcerting to me that some may feel that trying to understand the scriptures on a deeper level is profoundly unsatisfying. I love a good “ecclesiastical arguement” because it gives me understanding from someone elses point of view and many times I’ve grown in knowledge because someone else has “one-upped” me on different scriptural points. It also forces me to stay humble because if I ever begin to feel I know something, I can just sit down with someone wiser and quickly learn that my understand is little in comparision to some of the men of God alive today.
Hawkgrrrl – Interesting comment. I never looked at the phrase in the literal sense. I guess a better phrase would be “Inspired Word of God” although I’ll probably continue to use the traditional “Word of God”.
Excellent post. Thanks for helping to articulate many of the things that I have been thinking about lately.
This was a thought provoking post. I love the message of unlearning our false traditions and foolish notions. Opening our mind to more possibilities is another way of putting this. Spencer W. Kimball cited the following in the publication, “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” Ensign, Jul 1977, 3
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish dramatist and critic (1856–1950), summed up an approach to life: “Other people,” he said, “see things and say, ‘WHY?’ But I dream things that never were—and I say, ‘WHY NOT?’ ” We need people who can dream of things that never were, and ask, “WHY NOT?”
President Kimball’s vision of the future of the church involved exactly the question ‘Why Not?,’and I would say he received the benefit of “more and more light”.
Re: “And what experiences, principles, or other defining influences are responsible for your evolving view of God?”
I’ve pondered this question after President Hinckley answered a reporter’s question about the couplet, “As Man is God once was, etc.” and his response as defended by fairlds at http://www.fairlds.org/Misc/Does_President_Hinckley_Understand_LDS_Doctrine.html
One can make many assumptions about the language in a couplet so brief and given the limitations of mortal mind, can one really comprehend all that is necessary to explain the couplet with the details required. President Hinckley wisely answered that there remains much to be understood about the exact nature of God.
John Hamer posted this question and answer from “21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith” in his post entitled, “Planet Kolob to Mormons”
” Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become “gods and goddesses” after death?
A: We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes. ”
Is this explanation “de-emphasizing weird beliefs” or is it unlearning traditions? Could be either, but keeping the mind open to the possibility that either could be the correct answer and asking “why not” will hopefully lead to more and more light.
One reply to this post cited a common perception:
“someday people can get their own planets and have cosmic sex and populate those planets”
I would say that the above perception is full of tradition and low on scriptural correlation.
I see your posts all over the Bloggernacle and though I rarely agree with your viewpoint, I thank you for sharing your insight in #12.
. . . beautiful post, Andrew. Thank you.
Rigel Hawthorne quoted, “John Hamer posted this question and answer from “21 Questions Answered About Mormon Faith” in his post entitled, “Planet Kolob to Mormons”
” Q: Does the Mormon Church believe its followers can become “gods and goddesses” after death?
A: We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes. ””
This is very similar to theosis as postulated by some early Fathers of the Christian church — at least as I understand their beliefs — and if this were the extent of LDS theosist theology (which I would very much doubt given the strong ‘folk doctrine’ loyalty I grew up with). The Christian concept of deification recalls, in a way, Nirvana, where the Christian can be swept up, as it were, into the glory of God, and one’s personal identity becomes a perfect reflection of God. But not God. For there is none but one God. Ever.
I think this is very different from “Mormon Theosis” as I learned about it growing up, and as I’ve seen it articulated by LDS believers and discussed at LDS church. This doctrine is that finite Mormons can aspire to become infinite gods and goddesses and create their own planets, and posterity who worship them, thus continuing a chain they see doctrinal support for in Follett Discourse, Book of Abraham teachings, and Lorenzo Snow couplet, among others. And while such exalted Mormons would still worship God the Father and Jesus Christ, there are other Gods whom the Father worships, and other Gods with whom none in this “chain of worship” would have anything to do. It is this permutation of Mormon theosis that is deeply offensive to traditional Christians because it is apotheosist and henotheist. (And because of the strong Trinitarian monotheist convictions of said theosis-inclined early Christian Fathers, offensive to their thinking, too.) However, to the extent such peculiar LDS doctrines are mere folk doctrine, not actually LDS canon, I think theosis, as Hamer articulated, would find sympathetic community among inclined Christian theologians. Based on my experience I still think it is renegade to define Mormon deification as I learned it as mere folk doctrine, therefore I find Hamer’s articulation revisionist. Revisionist as it may be, it do think it is more sympathetic to traditional Christian Trinitarian allegiance, and would hope to see this inclination of thinking grow within the LDS faith. (Theosis, even as a few early Fathers believed or postulated, or as believed by many Eastern Orthodox Christians, is not the favored way of articulating soteriological doctrines and hopes by most rank and file Christians and many of their clergy and denominations. Be that as it may traditional theosis is not considered heretical because it is still strictly monotheist.)
I used to think that doctrinal differences and nuances mattered. Now, I enjoy the contemplation for what it is – a motivation to act and become.
I used to think ordinances were merely symbolic. Now, I see them as eternal fruits of grace.
Great post. Even more so than the particular beliefs/doctrines you mentioned, what has changed for me over the years is my acceptance of ambiguity as a part of my faith. When I was a 19 year old missionary tromping through the jungle, I was convinced that (1) I knew how and why God worked, and (2) the Church offered a clear, concise answer to every theological question imaginable. Wondering how God can let atrocities happen? Just go to Church and it will all make sense. Having trouble with your family? Try paying your tithing and it will all work out. Over time, I’ve come to accept the fact that many (most?) facets of God and his eternal plan are beyond my comprehension. Why do bad thing happen to good people? I don’t know and, I’ve decided I’m OK with that answer. The Church is there is help us along the way. However, I try not to be so arrogant as to presume I know how and why God works.
Our job here on this earth is to learn to “….know God and His Son, Jesus Christ. While this may not be achieved in totality in this life, it is achieved by faith, knowledge and obedience to the laws and ordnances of the gospel.
I’ve always viewed knowledge of the gospel like an onion. You can stay at the top layers, if you wish (as a child) or you can peal away the layers and learn more. It is expected of us to do that. As you exercise faith and gain knowledge, God reveals more of Himself to us. Not only do we achieve blessings, but we move closer to our objective of knowing God.
I am ok, like Shawn, to put aside things where my faith, knowledge and experience have not quite allowed me to fully comprehend. I assume if I keep learning and praying that at some point I will. The Atonement, for example, is one subject where my level of understanding is still quite low where I hope to learn much more in the coming years.
Andrew, I am sorry I got on here so late. I am so glad you decided to do this post. Amazing and wonderful. We so have to do a podcast about Crises of Faith and losing faith.
Thanks so much for the post. Made my day and helped to lift me spiritually! 🙂
I agree with the post and with the central thesis about parenting giving us enormous insight into the nature of God. I have learned much as well from my children’s responses to me in terms of how childish I can be with God.
Being a doctor has changed very much some of my former belief’s regarding God’s relationship to us. I don’t believe disease (HIV, cancer, auto-immunity) is a manifestation of God’s displeasure and I don’t believe that disease outcomes (death, progression of disease, healing) are manifestations of his will. I think this is one area where we can be confused about our relationships with him and harbor ill will toward God when things don’t go the way we planned.
Thanks for the post