Today’s Guest Post is from Bishop Bill.
Hawkgrrrl recently made a comment on another thread (which I can’t find!) about the conflict of a God that intervenes in everything vs a God that is non-intervening. I though it deserves a thread of its own as it raises some good questions.
Option #1. We believe in a God that answers our prayers, that is personally involved with the little things in our lives.
Pro: He is a loving Father that helps us find keys, select a mate, hunts down that perfect modest dress for the prom, etc. He is a God that helps someone find a quarter to buy chicken on the way home from work, or helps a future prophet find a $5 bill.
Cons: Why didn’t he cure my son-in-law of cancer? Why does he let little children suffer in Syria, and others starve in Africa?
Option #2 We believe in a non-intervening God, which sets the world in motion, and lets nature take its course.
Pro: Explains suffering, why bad things happen to good people.
Con: Why pray for anything? What is the use of a Priesthood Blessing? Who helped Pres Monson find his $5 bill, was it just luck?
It is easy to explain away prayers that are answered by studying confirmation bias. We only remember the events that confirm our preconceived notions of the world. I don’t remember all the times I had an impression that something was going to happen, and then it didn’t. But I do remember that time I was sitting in Sacrament meeting as a counselor in a YSA bishopric, and when the SP asked for a sustaining vote for a young man to get the priesthood, I had the distinct impression that he was going to ask me to ordain him as an Elder. And 30 min later he did exactly that. So I remember it. But then a year later, when I learned the YSA Bishop was moving, I had the impression that I was going to be the next bishop. I wasn’t. I was called as the Bishop of my home ward within a few weeks. I just chalked that up as misinterpreting the impression that I would be bishop. I got the bishop right, just didn’t get the ward right.
So is there a happy medium between #1 and #2 above? Is there a place in our theology that lets God help you find a quarter for chicken, but not save your son-in-law from cancer?
How does God help us find our lost keys? He simply reveals to our consciousness knowledge from our own subconscious thereby reminding us what we did with them. So with regard to lost keys there is no significant conflict between #1 and #2 above.
As opposed to Howard’s subconscious, I would say the most logical theological argument would involve intervening spirits. In my job as a family history consultant, it is much more common for people to talk about deceased relatives as an explanation for eery coincidence and divine help with “lost key”-type things.
Definitely Option #2, though it is possible that He has chosen to “intervene” (communicate to someone here on earth about something very significant) in very rare situations.
Given that He would bear a non-trivial degree of responsibility for the unintended consequences (ripple effects of choosing to save someone, commanding someone, not saving someone so as to create a “trial” for their loved ones, etc) of any actions He took, and those consequences (ripples) would number in the quadrillions: Option #1 is untenable within the constraints of Agency, and Him not actually being omni-anything.
However, the psychological/motivational/faith-building benefit of believing and teaching Option #1 may outweigh the actual untruth of it. In my experience in the church, we/it do not prepare our people to “handle the truth.”
I definitely think this example fits the Santa Claus scale pretty well. As kids, we believe there’s this benevolent stranger who loves us and brings us our hearts’ desires once a year. As we get older, we see that it’s really our parents, that they love us, and they want the best for us. Then we see that it’s US. We are the ones doing it. Maybe that’s what the little couplet means: as man is, God once was, as God is, man can become.
With car keys, like Howard, I think we tap into our subconscious to find the keys.
Angela C, I agree that it is our subconscious (or chance), but that is not what Howard said. He said God “simply reveals to our consciousness knowledge from our own subconscious…”
I think this is a tricky area for Mormonism because of “free agency”, by which I mean libertarian free will, which makes it tough to really have a solid doctrine of providence.
I really wish I could believe in Option #1. It sounds nice.
I’m more prone to believing in Option #2. God doesn’t (and can’t) intervene. Because of agency, not because he doesn’t care. He does in fact care, and that’s why he provides the Comforter and a Savior.
This philosophy works well for me until I read the scriptures and read about all the interventions staged for prophets and sinners.
I have to admit that I used to put my faith in #1, but when that failed over decades I fell towards option #2. I can’t say “I know” that is the situation, but I am open to #1. I do find it very easy to pick apart most people’s “I found my car keys after praying” stories – even when I was quite young.
I’m right there with Kullervo that it’s hard to reconcile an interventionist God with agency. I think Moroni’s discussion of God and good also plays into this. From chapter 7:
“12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; …
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”
“16 … for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”
As I see it, the process goes 1. A good thing happened! 2. Good things come from God, so this is from God (or I was praying for this, so it’s a response from God). 3. God did the good thing. There are some pretty serious logical leaps in getting from 1 to 3, and most of them involve conflating ‘of God’ with ‘God did it.’
But maybe we don’t call out the logical leaps, and sometimes our leadership even encourages them, because that type faith promoting experience puts butts in seats and makes believers. After all, it’s pretty hard to argue why a non-interventionist God takes attendance at church.
I always smile patronizingly inside when my missionary daughters share their latest miracle of the week. One was driving in a downpour and it got scary — she couldn’t see anything. Her comp said a prayer, and immediately the deluge slackened and she could see well enough not to crash. Miracle. Me? I tend to think rain can come in spurts. But, who knows? Maybe these things don’t happen to me because I usually don’t pray in those kinds of circumstances.
My view is that God set everything in motion and generally lets things happen. I don’t think He’s opposed to human suffering, exactly, because He has a different perspective. When we’re in the throws of despair, I think for Him it must be a little like it is for us when we see a 2-year-old in the depths of despair (Mommy! don’t leave me in nursery!) Yes, our hearts break for the little kid, but we also have a much bigger perspective and are much less worried about her suffering in the moment as we are about how it will affect her in the future (trust issues with Mommy?) I think when God intervenes, it’s not so much to alleviate our suffering. I think it’s to help direct the effect that suffering might have on us. He wants us to know He’s there and not give up hope or act self-destructively. Generally, I would think that such intervention would be subtle and not overt. For somebody like me, who has already received a lot of subtle witnesses that God’s there for me (yes, probably category 1 stuff, much of it), I think it might be less likely for Him to intervene that it would be for a convert just coming into faith. It seems like all the big miracles in the scriptures were performed primarily as a witness of God, and that they were specifically expected to be remembered. Sure, they accomplished something, but primarily, I think they’re performed to stand as a witness. So, I don’t fall in either #1 or #2 but somewhere in between.
We would call this providence, but not a miracle.
I kind of favor the Hari Seldon model of divine intervention. Let history run its course, but subtly intervene only when necessary to keep the plan mostly on track.
Elizabeth, at least one leader recently encouraged the conflation. In a “Face to Face” with Elder and Sister Bednar awhile back, some youth asked “How do I tell the difference between promptings from the Holy Ghost and my own thoughts?”
Bednar’s response: “I think we over-complicate this. I think we over-analyze it. Moroni teaches that all good emanates from Christ. So if you have a thought to do something good, it’s prompted by the Holy Ghost. So for example, if a student goes to early-morning seminary class, and your mother every day says, “Be sure to say your prayers,” and one day you forget to say your prayers, and in your mind you hear your mother’s voice saying, “Be sure to say your prayers,” is that the Holy Ghost or is that you? What difference does it make? Is Moroni going to come to deliver that message? Or would the Holy Ghost use the memory of your angel mother to deliver the same message? So if it invites and entices to do good, it comes from Christ, and we ought to do it.”
Part of me likes Bednar’s response, but he gives a low stakes example.
Should I take the job or not? Should I marry this person? One person gets a yes, other gets a no. It’s only after the fact that you say, “Oh, I guess that was me, not God.” Not particularly helpful in finding out after the fact. Try a high-stakes example, not a low stakes example Bednar. Because I don’t think Bednar’s low stakes example was helpful at all, and the person was asking a high stakes example. Of course saying your prayers doens’t really matter. But should I disrupt my life and family for this job? Should I marry this person? These are the questions where we want to be led by the spirit, not “Oops, I forgot to say my prayers.” Who cares about insignificant things like that? Nobody was asking you to over-complicate a simple example.
An example from my mission. It was end of the month. We were out of miles on our car, so decided to check back on people close to home. I didn’t feel prompted in any way at all to be in that apartment complex. A few months later, a woman who hated Mormons, told me that she had a dream that she was talking to Mormon missionaries. I baptized her. I didn’t feel the slightest prompting to be in that apartment complex at all, and wouldn’t have been if we weren’t out of miles for the month. Didn’t feel the slightest prompting to be there.
Another example. I really liked a girl who lived in Colorado. I felt like God wanted me to do something crazy, so I drove 500 miles to see her to show my devotion. When I got there, the trip bombed horribly. She liked me, but not the same way I liked her. After the fact, I knew that “it was me, not the Holy Ghost”.
Now I pretty much don’t trust the Spirit in any part of my life. Lesson learned for me? Don’t follow promptings. I can’t tell the difference. I only figure it out long after the fact.
Thanks Bednar. That was pretty worthless advice.
A shout out to Isaac Asimov! I also have used this reference to psychohistory as a more likely description of God’s method. He (God) is an excellent predictor of human behavior, but, theoretically, has the ability to tweak the course of it over the long run.
I think its somewhere in between. The real question isn’t why doesn’t God intervene, its why does He do it sometimes and not others. We can all look at historical atrocities and ask why they weren’t stopped, but I must admit, from person and family experience, that there seems to be miracle now and then. But not always.
I also think that a good parent isn’t “hands off”. Good parents don’t say “you can have ANYTHING you want for dinner: a gallon of ice cream, anti-freeze, etc. ” They say: “would you like peas or carrots?” We have the illusion of choice. I think maximum growth would require that much (maybe not all), but much of what we experience would be tailor-made for us.
Really, who knows why God does what He does?
But if a person chooses to thankfully give God the credit, I’m okay with that. Somehow, I think God is, too — not because of any accuracy in the person’s discernment, but because he or she is choosing to develop a thankful heart.
Huh. So if you have anti-freeze AND ice cream, what happens?? I mean, aside from death. Does the ice cream not congeal?
Ji I think that’s a good thought, because I think there is a lot of presumption by people who profess to know the mind and purpose of God, sometimes even for me personally. I think we have to be very careful about that stuff. Even as a parent of adult kids I’ve learnt not to presume I know God’s purposes in their lives, but merely to follow their process with interest.
Just spitballing here, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of faith to ask for help finding lost keys, etc. The size of the miracle is meant to be proportional to your faith, right? It doesn’t take much divine intervention to whisper the answer or unlock your subconscious to the location or whatever, and the stakes are so low that if every prayer for lost keys was answered it wouldn’t change the world a whole lot.
Which is nothing at all like someone dying of cancer being healed, or solving world hunger. God could only intervene so much in such situations before the world begins to look very different than the one we live in.