In this past Sunday’s Gospel Doctrine lesson on the Johanine Epistles, there was a discussion about God’s love, and how we all should all be able to not just know about it, but truly feel it. It was suggested that one thing that can cause one to be unable to feel the full effects of that love is sinful behavior. A further conclusion was stated that if someone is unable to feel God’s love, they should take a look at their life, and find out what they need to repent of in order to get right with God.
I quickly voiced an, umm, clarified perspective.
While it is true that there is sinful behavior that can perhaps dull one’s spiritual and emotional sensitivity, that should never be the first assumption one makes if someone shares that they are having difficulty feeling God’s love.
I have known individuals who have suffered from clinical depression. One of the effects of this can be the deep inability to feel any pleasant emotion. Our class teacher was quick to acknowledge this, relating an example of a family member who suffered depression who confided that while they knew intellectually at that time that they loved their children, they just couldn’t feel it at that time. That alone was devastating.
To tell someone who is already depressed that they are depressed and unfeeling because they are a sinner is horrible, destructive, and completely insulting not only to the suffering individual, but to God as well.
Someone else in the class spoke up, expressing that sometimes struggles in life can beat someone down so hard that they don’t feel worthy or willing to accept God’s love. That it’s important to recognize that one shouldn’t lose hope in God, or his love, even if one has a hard time feeling it.
This was a great comment.
Then, a well-intentioned missionary spoke up, in a way that seemed to be intended as a corrective to the last comment. “We need to remember,” the young Elder said, “that those trials are actually a gift from God to teach us, and to make us better. We should thank him for those trials and difficulties, because they make us better.”
This is a much-repeated concept that I firmly reject, and find to be akin to justifying spousal or child abuse. “He just beats me because he loves me, and wants me to learn!”
This past year, my wife developed a rare form of uterine cancer. Multiple doctors confirmed that the only way to keep it from growing and killing my mid-twenties wife was to have a hysterectomy. After much struggling, wrestling, and seeking any possible other option, we recognized what had to be done to save my wife’s life. She had the hysterectomy. As much as we desired it, we no longer can have any more biological children.
During and after this (really, there’s no such thing as ‘after’. It’s all ‘during’), many tried in their own ways to console us. “It’s all part of God’s plan”, some would say. “This happened for a reason.”
I reject that.
I reject that God personally intervened and designed and schemed to alter my wife’s cellular structure in such a way that a tumor would grow that would result in either death, or infertility. I believe this was a result of the natural happenings of biology working its course. Not some “Intelligent Design”.
I do not reject that God’s love and grace can be found in working through these struggles. I do not reject that additional purpose and opportunities and, indeed, blessings can come through those horrible circumstances.
But I do reject that my wife’s cancer was God’s will. I reject the idea that women, men, and children getting raped around the world is “God’s will” for them. I reject that the death of the innocent poor and sick all over the world is God’s Will.
Through this struggle, many amazing people came out of the woodwork to show their love and compassion towards us in subtle, but powerful ways. Individuals we would never have expected to do anything were prompted to be at the right place and right time and do the right thing that brought us comfort. We had a very strong impression that our prayers for comfort were heard, and were being manifest through the service and love and promptings that came through the lives of others.
We are now pursuing adoption. We were always intending to pursue adoption to supplement our biological family (we already have a nearly 2-year old daughter, who is the joy of our life). But this circumstance is pressing us into this as our primary method of obtaining more children to love, rather than auxiliary.
We are excited for this opportunity, and have no doubt we will love our adopted children the very same as if they biologically came from us. They will be ours, no ifs ands or buts.
However, I don’t believe God gave my wife cancer so this opportunity would come sooner. But I do believe that good things and indeed blessings will come from it.
I don’t need to be grateful for the terrible things that have happened to appreciate the results that come as a result of it. When I am snuggling my future adopted children who I will love with all my heart, I will not need to bow down, and thank God for giving my wife cancer so that they could come into our home. I can, though, indeed be grateful that though we went through a truly terrible situation, there are still blessings to come after that, and through it.
God doesn’t cause the torture, but at times, he can comfort us, and help us through them, and help us to use those experiences to help others through those experiences.
Often in the name of super-piety, or even in an attempt to wrest and make sense of scriptures like D&C 59:21 and D&C 122:7 and certain concepts of omnipotence, some assume everything that happens, no matter how terrible, must, in every case, somehow be God’s individual will, desire, and personal action, and admonish us to be thankful for them, and ponder how it fits into God’s plan.
Note that Joseph’s revelation didn’t impress on his mind that he was given those struggles for his experience and for his good, but rather that those experiences “shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” – there’s a difference between having something happen because it in itself is good, and being given the gift of taking something good from a terrible, horrible, ungodly situation.
Not everyone has the opportunity to take something beneficial from a terrible situation. We like to think that it always happens that way, but realistically, it just doesn’t. But when we (or others!) do, we can be grateful for those blessings – not that we had the trials, but we were given insight, strength, and insight in spite of them.
For me, the God I serve is Love. He isn’t a wife-beater, or a child abuser needing to be justified for terrible things attributed to him, no matter how others in the past may have understood or characterized him.