It was another one of those times at church I had to bite my tongue and keep quiet. It was another one of those lessons on trials that I view differently than my LDS friends. It was another one of those days that I was reminded of how different I feel. And yet, as I’ve opened up about mental illness, I’ve found so many people who have gone through similar experiences and who have felt the same way. That’s why I think it is important to open this dialogue and get a discussion going. In so doing, we can find that we’re not as alone as we think.
For many years I’ve gotten the impression that many members of my religion view God as a Zeus-like character who’s watching the world from above, throwing down lightning bolts to make things happen. Or perhaps a better description would be as a puppeteer manipulating the events of our lives. If you were to ask any of them if this is the way they view our Father in Heaven, I’m sure they would promptly deny it, but from the way they talk it sure sounds that way to me. A perfect example is a question posed in Sunday School yesterday. We were discussing trials the early saints went through on their trek across the plains to Utah, and the teacher asked why we think God gives us the trials that we have. See? Puppeteer up there deciding who should have to go through cancer, who should have to deal with a child being born with an illness, who should have to watch a loved one struggle with addiction. Obviously the list could go on and on and on. From my viewpoint, to believe that God gives all of us our trials and decides who should go through what cancels out the concept of agency.
My religion teaches, and I believe, that one of the reasons we are on this earth is for the ability to choose for ourselves. God wanted a place for His children to go where they could exercise agency rather than be forced to do His will. He is a Father who loves us and watches over us, but allows us freedom to choose. I’ve always believed He also allows life to happen—that that was part of the plan. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense that this same God who doesn’t force us, would force everything else in life. Yes, I do believe that there are some things in life that are meant to happen. I can see evidence of that in my own life, but I also believe that some things just happen—yes there are coincidences. Life happens, and it isn’t always the result of a manipulating puppet master.
No one immediately answered the teacher’s question so he gave an example of someone he knew who had accidentally backed over and killed a young child. His trial was having to live with that, but the story was also about how he had learned about forgiveness through it because the child’s family forgave him. Years later a drunk driver hit into his car, killing his wife and two children who were with him. So this man could look back and finally understand why he went through the trial he did—so he could learn about forgiveness so he could forgive the man who killed his family. It was supposed to be this inspirational story, and it’s great that the man learned this valuable lesson and was able to apply it in his own life. However, I cannot believe that a loving Heavenly Father would manipulate events to cause a man to kill a child, and thus a family to lose a child, just to teach this one person about forgiveness. It sounds a bit ridiculous, right? And yet, if you believe that God gives us all of our trials, this is what you believe.
Let me share my beliefs. Like I said, I do believe some things are meant to happen, but when it comes to trials or hard things in life I also believe that most of them come about simply because that is life. Life is hard. Difficult things just happen. I also believe that some of our trials are the result of our own bad choices—situations we put ourselves in because we were selfish, angry, unwilling to ask God or listen to His promptings, etc. I also believe in a ripple effect.
Life is a pond and all of our choices are like rocks being thrown in. Each rock makes a ripple that stretches farther than the place it hit. The choices we make in life, the action we take, affects others in the same way. That’s why I believe it is so important to think before we act, to realize that there can be unseen consequences to our actions.
So, rather than believing that God caused a man to run over and kill a child just so that, through his trial, he could learn about forgiveness, I believe that it was a result of choices, actions, and just a horrible, horrible accident. It isn’t about the hardship God gives us, but about how we choose to deal with what happens in life, how we live with it, learn from it and help others because of it. Actually, I believe this is true of all our experiences in life—not just bad, but the good, as well.