One of the things that plagues my fringe-y Mormon conscience more than perhaps any other is the worry that what I feel is good and true and of God is NOT and that I am totally, completely off base, forcing God to fit into my image of Him/Her/Them. And there’s reason for that. I am pretty comfortable (I mean, relatively, given that existential angst I just professed) saying that certain ideas, policies, actions, doctrines, etc. don’t feel divine to me (you know, one of those “Cafeteria Mormons”, which, hate to break it to you, we all are). Sometimes that includes things that others hold to be central to Mormonism and its project. I obviously disagree about the centrality of these various things to Mormonism, but that occasionally puts me at odds with large swaths of the membership and leadership.
If God is everything that the Church and people in it say He is, well, I don’t really believe in that God (even in little things like using He/She/They to refer to God signal this). However, I think there’s a basis in Mormonism for my beliefs. Sure, I may be extrapolating from certain verses or ideas or quotes rather than believing explicitly expressed tenets, but hey, that’s what I’m here for. Reading between the lines, figuring out implications and possibilities, extracting meaning from texts, etc.
Anyway, we’re getting a little off track. We talk about submitting our will to the will of the Father, sacrificing our will to God’s. The implication being that God has some divine will/plan for us and that my job is to talk with God until God reveals that to me and then, to do that thing. I hate this. A lot. I also don’t think it’s really how God works. At least not in my experience and not in some places in scripture.
Here are some verses that I think highlight some of this (and also complicate my assertions):
“I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.” Alma 29:4-5
God grants us according to our desires, for good or evil. I think that suggests that we have greater autonomy in finding our path here (you could definitely read this as just needing to desire what God desires for us, which would be desiring the “good”, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what is being argued).
The story of The Brother of Jared and working with God on the barges and finding light I think is a powerful example of this. Also, many instances throughout the Old Testament of “wrestling” with God.
I believe that God cares about what I want, that God wants to work with me to create the best life for me. Some of this stems from rejecting the notion that every detail of my life was planned out before, allowing the future to be more malleable.
There’s a related quote from Elder Robert D. Hales in his April 2017 GenConf address, where he says:
“This patience, Peter teaches, leads us to godliness. As the Father is patient with us, His children, we become patient with one another and ourselves. We delight in the agency of others and the opportunity it gives them to grow ‘line upon line,’ ‘brighter and brighter until the perfect day.’”
He’s walking through these principles of discipleship from Peter and is defining “godliness” here in a way that seems to suggest that godliness is the delight in the agency of others. That seems to me to indicate that God delights in our exercise of agency (and yes, I get that you can exercise agency while being obedient to God’s will, but I think there’s a stronger sense of creation/action here than simply following).
There’s a difficulty to following and doing everything that God asks and there’s a sacrifice that that would entail that would be immensely hard. BUT I think it is also difficult to strip away that certainty and to embrace the ambiguity of the future and the responsibility that you and God are co-authors of your fate, that you share the responsibility for what happens to you. That strikes me as a more spiritually mature path. That as we grow and develop, God wants us to become more like Him/Her/Them and that that can only come from deliberating and choosing and acting on our own.
So, I think there’s probably more overlap between our individual wills and God’s than we usually assume. But it’s still a messy process. Like, in this co-authoring, we’ve got to do as Vanilla Ice taught: “Stop. Collaborate. And Listen.” I need to make sure that I talk with and commune with God to figure out what we should do. I still need to listen and seek God’s input, but we’re equal partners in this process, I’m not just some servant pleading for knowledge of what I should do.
This feels good to me. Perhaps this is the pinnacle of pride and I’m trying to take on God’s role and do things that only God has the right to do. Maybe I’m just so deluded that I’m trying to justify what I think and feel is right by arguing that God wants to work with me as equals and not simply command me. That’s all possible. I could be totally off base here.
However, this feels right to me. I feel like I need to pray and commune with the divine, not to simply learn His/Her/Their will, but to bring our wills together in conversation. At least that’s what I try to do. Who knows if I’m any good at it…