Reconciling Conflicting Views of God

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the different views we have of God’s intervention in our daily lives. Two events brought this to the forefront of my mind. One was a class discussion related to Robinson Crusoe and the larger question of Providential versus Deist thought, examining our place on the continuum as Mormons and more broadly. I am definitely on the Deist side, as I’ve written about a few times. The second was the podcast that Patrick Mason did with James Patterson of A Thoughtful Faith, which was excellent and included loads to think about. He mentions that even though he doesn’t experience strong, divine guiding in his life (the Spirit is present in other ways for him), he doesn’t reject that possibility for others.

I tend to think along the same lines—that I don’t want people to judge my spiritual experiences, what form they come in and what I feel compelled to do, so I try not to judge theirs. Yet, I feel like there’s a point where the non-interventionist, loving, comforting God that I believe in cannot coexist with the God of Lost Keys that I hear about in Testimony meeting.

Courtesy of the Testing Center at BYU.
Courtesy of the Testing Center at BYU.

All the questions start coming back. Why does God care about this person’s car keys, but not about the millions of people dying of disease, poverty and war?

How can I respect and acknowledge the validity of others’ spiritual experiences that severely complicate the understanding that I have of deity, while still feeling comfortable explaining the existence and perpetuation of evil, pain and suffering?

Is it their perception? Can I use the ‘all good things come from God’ idea, and say that ultimately God inspired goodness and so even if it’s not a direct result of God’s hand meddling, all good things can be traced back to God? Can I not accept such beliefs and have to explain them away as something else than the recipient understood them to be?

Perhaps I can reconcile by God remaining largely removed, but interacting with us through the Spirit, providing inspiration and guidance, but very little in the way of earthquakes, fires, famine, tsunamis, etc.

This way, God can use the Spirit to interact with people as much as they need, but keeping a distance that leaves me at peace with the state of pain and suffering in the world. Not that I feel peaceful regarding the pain and suffering in the world (that would make me a cold, heartless person), but that I feel at peace with a world in which, God does not purposefully create or choose to allow such immense pain and suffering, but simply unable to interfere in that way with the world.

Or does it amount to the same thing, whether God himself leads us along the chessboard of life or the Spirit nudges us?

I feel that there is a difference here. I think the reason I can reconcile the use of the Spirit to provide guidance and insight, is that it still depends on the person to make the choice. Also, it allows for God to make the best of what happens in the beautiful, ambiguous mess that is mortality, rather than God creating the mess.

Maybe what others feel is God planning their life is simply the way that God, by means of the Spirit, helps them make sense of what has happened to them. Or is the way that they interpret what the Spirit tells them.

Could God have totally planned out some people’s lives (it just feels too Truman Show for me…), including all the trials that they would face, designed perfectly for them to push them to their breaking point, so that eventually they would become the best they could? (Or collapse in a broken heap, unable to function because they made a mistake at one point or another that led to them failing the ‘perfect test’.)

A fitting piece of an exhibit at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, DC.
A fitting piece of an exhibit at the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, DC.

I think clearly the answer is no, if you reject that God did that for everyone (which I do). It’s logistically impossible for God to do that for some individuals without requiring that all others have their lives planned out as well, since other people will factor in to the master plan.

So, that means I must either re-evaluate whether I think God has perfectly crafted my life to morph me into some superhuman or disagree with those that feel God has created some insane life-long obstacle course for them.

But what do I do with their spiritual experiences that lead them to that conclusion? Are they invalid? Not of God? Are my experiences wrong? Have I been following the wrong spirit my entire life?

Maybe we’re both just incomplete. Neither of us can really know what happened and how God works with us (the whole issue of time to God kind of destroys my ability to fully understand what God does and the implications of certain worldviews. If all is present before God, then it’s much less manipulative for things to have been totally planned out, because it can function more as the Spirit inspiring people across space and time than some immensely complex, carefully orchestrated Truman Show-like history of the world).

That was a long and kinda trippy aside, delving into some funky sci-fi sort of stuff.

What have we learned? That all perspectives are valuable and we should not reject others’ spiritual experiences. However, we should be aware of the implications and work to make sense of the world. The Spirit and interpreting, or misinterpreting, its (I always want to say ‘Her’ because that’s how it works in Lithuanian, but I feel like I’m violating some ambiguous doctrine doing that. Also, ‘its’ feels a bit derogatory, but maybe that’s just me) inspiration is vital, so we should be conscious of the complications in interpreting.

And finally, maybe we have some faulty assumptions at the basis of our understanding and we can’t fully grasp what God does until we adjust those. What we think/believe/feel is the best God could give us with our flawed worldview and until we overcome that, we’re stuck. So, go deconstruct your worldview or something and rid yourself of flawed, limiting assumptions.

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