Sunday, September 4

"Bad" Things and "Good" People

This post is long. And convoluted. But I've needed to post it for a long time now... and I finally have at least something down... so please forgive the mess that is here. I suggest reading it in parts.

Part 1:

I always wondered why so many people who leave the Church become atheists.

I finally think I know why.

Church doctrine teaches truth. But Church culture - the beliefs and teachings that underlie Mormonism in each environment, and Utah especially - teaches a skewed viewpoint of God. And that flawed perspective pushes people away.

Let's start with some background.

God is Omnipotent.

That means He is all-powerful and can do anything that is meaningful or useful.

As far as mortality goes, God has the power to do anything. Literally anything. He can instantly send down fire from heaven to scorch armies, part seas, multiply food without other ingredients, cause and calm storms, create massive earthquakes, strike someone down or bring them back from the dead, answer prayers, heal incurable diseases, force me to do one thing or keep me from doing another, create and destroy feelings and emotions inside my heart, and turn water into wine.

Which means that literally everything that happens in mortality (with one exception - agentic thought) is under His physical control.

God is omniscient.

That means He is completely aware of all things that happen, as they happen, and knows what choices I will make before I make them. He knows my thoughts, my feelings, and every experience that I have.

Which means that everything that happens in mortality is within His awareness.

God is perfect.

That means that everything He does is perfect... and perfectly designed. He doesn't make mistakes... and He is

God is loving.

That means that God wants me to be happy and is willing to do anything to make that happen. But God knows that happiness isn't something that comes from the outside - it's something that comes from *becoming* happy - through becoming like Him. Hence, God actively ensures that every single thing that happens in life will give me the best possible chance to undergo those changes - to change and become like Him. To Him, experiences in life are simply tools in helping me to grow and progress and ultimately find happiness in who I am.

A lack of understanding on one of these points... that's what turns people away.

The biggest?

A misunderstanding of God's love.

I'm not sure how it began.

But at some point, people began believing misunderstanding God... and mixing human ideology with truths that came from Him.

The first? That "blessings" and "trials" are two different boxes of mortal conditions.

According to Mormon culture ideology, "blessings" are all that is good that comes from God. God gives blessings out like gold stars to those who follow Him and keep His commandments. Blessings are always positive. They're golden sunsets, rain when I ask for it, green lights when I'm running late, healing of the sick, wealth, and answers to prayers. Blessings make life simpler, make it easy to smile... and bring us happiness... and if I have a lot of blessings, that's easy proof that I am choosing the right.

"Trials," on the other hand, are the things that make life hard, painful, and difficult. Trials come to everyone, but they are most especially described as consequences for choosing the wrong. Sickness, poverty, accidents, mental illness, and unanswered prayers are a few of the trials I can face. And since God gives out blessings to those who keep His commandments, it follows that those with many trials may have brought those curses upon themselves... given out as black dots of punishment upon those who refuse to follow Him.

Those are only half-truths.

And half-truths are often far more dangerous than flat-out lies.

The reality is that God cannot give me something negative.

Remember? He is perfectly good. A good tree can only give good fruit, and a good fountain can only give good water. Everything He does is good... and God can only give blessings.

The next question follows logically:
If God only gives good things... then where do the bad things come from?

Some claim that bad things come from "things outside of God's control." Perhaps God set the world in motion, and natural disasters are just "consequences of living in a fallen world." Maybe pains are just "part of mortality" or due to "the choices of others" or "required for agency."

Those are even worse lies.

God is omnipotent, remember? That means that *everything* is within His power... and that *everything* that happens in life is under His control.

It becomes complex with the insertion of sin - when I sin, and God allows my breath to sin, my body to sin, and my heart to sin, the action of a sin is not a blessing.

But, as far as it affects someone else... it has to be. God can only give blessings, and there are two parts to sin - the sin itself, and the consequence.

In the consequence, no matter who chose the action, God can only give blessings.

That's a tough thing to swallow... because this extends the "everything that happens" to literally everything.

It means that "bad" things don't happen to good people. It means that "bad" things don't happen to anyone... and, instead, that every circumstance in life is a blessing from God.

That means that being sexually abused when I was 16 was a blessing. That having bipolar was a blessing. That getting hit by a car is a blessing. That being hurt, tormented, insulted, and assaulted are all blessings.

It takes a lot of faith to believe in a God that uses pain and sorrow as symbols of love to shape His children as much as He uses flowers and rainbows.

But that's the crux of the issue.

By believing in a God that only gives positive "blessings," it follows that if I follow God, I'll get the blessings that I want... and if I'm not getting the blessings that I want, then either I'm not doing enough to get those blessings, God doesn't care, I should just take the blessings on my own, or God isn't real at all.

When I believe that God loves me, and is actively involved in my life, and that I'm not doing enough, I become a fanatic - which is what seems to happen to most gay Mormons who want to stay active in the Church. The story is pretty similar. I try to figure out what, exactly, I am doing wrong and try to get it right. The goal of my actions? To get the blessings that I want, or have the trials that I hate taken away. This always ends in "cracking"... as I realize that I've been living a lie - and that my actions won't bring the blessings or alleviate the suffering that I want.

Eventually, many people realize that their actions don't connect directly with the blessings they want. People sin, and aren't immediately struck down. People choose the right, and undergo intense pain. And the deepest desires of my heart stay unfulfilled. So perhaps the God who control all things and give blessings to them that ask doesn't care about me... I should just go get the blessings I want... or God doesn't exist at all. And thus I stop believing in God at all.


That's it.

I honestly think that *this* - this misunderstanding of the nature of God, of His love, of the nature of life, of the reality of life's difficulty and the purpose of pain - this misunderstanding is the reason why people actually leave the Church. I believe that God will give me the blessing I want, and when He doesn't, I'm unwilling to trust Him. This is the reason why being gay can be hard in Church culture.

And that's why, when Ammon and Aaron spoke to Kings of the Lamanites, they taught about God.

They didn't teach about the law of murder. They didn't teach about the law of chastity. They didn't teach a law of health or honesty or anything like that.

They taught about God.

I believe that everything in my life - from the emotions I have outside of my control, to the clouds in the sky, are in blessings from God designed to help me return to Him. Everything in my life outside of my actual control is a blessing from God. How I choose to act, based on those circumstances - that is who I am. That is my expression of agency. That is my gift back to God.

I wish I could shout to the world and teach every single soul about who God really is.

That I could mend the fractured religious dogma that have preached a loving God without understanding how He loves... that I could share how much healing, hope, and meaning have come to me from understanding who He really is.

When I learned who God really was, when I began to understand Him, see His power, and feel His hand, it changed my life. That was my breakthrough point... and the point where I learned to become happy.

Part 2:

Many atheists have been born, ironically, out of modern religion's pandering to those who think God should allow them to stray.

It begins with a focus on the forgiving, loving, merciful side of God. "God is love," they proclaim, and people flock to the fold.

But the reality is far more nuanced, and takes a lot more faith to believe.

Yes, God is love.

But God is not rainbows, unicorns, or angels with harps.

Because that's not love.

A good surgeon would not cancel a life-saving surgery just because the surgery could go wrong... or because it could cause intense, even lifelong pain.

Just like a good God wouldn't shorten a life-changing trial for the same reason.

It all comes down to the power of God, His influence, His goals, and the options He has at hand.

God is Omnipotent when it comes to almost all things. He controls the Universe and everything physical, from the stars to the seasons. He could easily even control my body, and there's no reason to assume He hasn't done so at some point in time.

But all those things really don't matter.

It's ironic, because the one thing God does want to change, He can't.


This gets to the root of agentic behavior. God did not give me agency. Agency, at least the truly-individual-and-only-meaningful-form believed in by Latter-Day Saints, requires that agency be *eternal.*

That means I have always been an agent, or I never was and never will be.

God simply provided a testing ground for me to exercise that agency.

From that perspective - where life is a testing ground where God controls the variables and we choose how to act - it's a lot easier to see how life works.

But two of the factors - our acute memory loss and a lack of perspective - can make it hard to understand some of the variables God uses in the equation.

Take sexual abuse, for an extreme example.

I was abused at 16. It was one of the most terrifying, humiliating, devastating, debilitating experiences I've ever had. I can still look back and see and feel everything that was there.

Someone who makes the false assumption that life is just about mitigating pain and maximizing pleasure would easily make the assumption that a loving God was not involved in my abuse. It doesn't matter how I make the attribution - whether it's that God has to allow "agency" of the person who abused me, or that I live in a "fallen world," that "God doesn't interfere in the system He created," or even that "I deserved it."

All of those deny the reality of God's nature.

Claiming that God is literally or even metaphorically bound by some physical chain that keeps Him from intervening when one of His sons is being sexually abused is almost comical if it weren't on such a heavy topic. The God who closed the mouth of lions, killed the firstborn children of the Egyptians overnight, and made the walls of Jericho fall down flat is not bound by any mortal force. He could have struck down my assailant in an instant, just as He did to the man who steadied the Ark of the Covenant.

Making the claim that the world is outside of God's power, or that He doesn't ever interfere, is just as nonsensical.

The reality is that I know that God could have saved me from abuse.

Yet He didn't.

I know that He could have saved more of the Jews who died in the Holocaust from death.

Yet He didn't.

He could, in an instant, stop wars, end famine, and bring about world peace. He could heal every disease and dry every tear.

And yet He doesn't.

And, in this, I learn the true nature of God... and the nature of God's Plan.

As I said before, God is not a God of rainbows, unicorns, and angels with harps.

Because that's not love.

Understanding how God works requires a bit more perspective than is readily available here in life.

Without the faith to trust God and His teachings through prophets and personal revelation, the *only* thing I can see is the experience I have here in mortality. From that perspective, life is simply about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain for me and everyone else. I try to be a good person, and I definitely don't understand how or why an Omnipotent, supposedly loving God could stand by while a 16-year-old who is trying to figure out life gets sexually abused. And I definitely can't stomach the commandment in the Old Testament for the conquering Israel to annihilate every man, woman, child, and animal of the nations they overthrew.

With the faith to trust God, none of those things may make sense. Perhaps some of them will, and perhaps they never will. But I am willing to trust God and follow Him.


  1. I appreciate your insight here. I had never thought of His being present in those devastating moments we experience or that He does not give us trials, per se, because He only gives us what is good. I agree with you. I think that this truth allows us to trust that God is with us even in the depths of despair and not feel like He has abandoned us. I can relate as a parent to this, because I cannot give my children in good conscience what they want all the time, because I know better what they need, and they seek after physical pleasures rather than long term joy. I hadn't realized quite how much that relates to how my Heavenly Father treats me.

  2. We can choose to act, speak, think; but the consequences that follow (both good and bad) are not ours to choose, except as we understand and leverage cause and effect. This is why we're commanded to be obedient and promised that obedience leads to happiness and eternal life. Ongoing repentance (a broken heart and a contrite spirit) is the perpetual bridging of the gap that disobedience causes to exist between us and God, or our 'fallen' state and God's state of perfection. Repentance is only possible because of and thru Jesus Christ. Truly understanding Christ's teachings means that we understand and strive towards the nature of the Father and the Son and that this striving is founded in the heart (where your treasure is, there will your heart be also). The Gospel message is simple and straitforward, but is often missed because we have not ears to hear.

  3. When I was younger, the following scripture caused a fearful response in me. Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 - "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled' save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." Now, however, I see it as an invitation to understand and follow. He wants me to find "peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" - Doctrine and Covenants 59:23. We can have peace and happiness amidst trials and adversity. Seek and ye shall find - whoso trusted in the Lord, happy is he.

  4. This is one of my favorite posts you've ever made. I loved reading it thank you.

  5. I just read this. That is very eye opening and, I believe, spot-on! I had never thought of the scriptures about good trees only bringing forth good fruit in that context.


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