The Family Can Be Eternal

[So, here’s a funny thing… I was recently called as a gospel principles teacher in my ward, so I’m going to skip ahead to where I probably would have been if I had been a consistent blogger and to the lesson that I am preparing for this Sunday]

Why did our Heavenly Father send us to earth as members of families?

That’s a funny question. I don’t really buy the premise. It fits too nicely into the “Saturday’s Warrior” kind of mythology that has been less than helpful in my own life. To ask the above question is to assume that God is in Control, as if every detail were  meticulously laid out from the beginning. I’m more and more convinced that life is a great deal more untidy.

At the risk of becoming too personal, perhaps a little background will clarify my confusion on this point. My wife and I recently became foster parents. For a variety of reasons we have been unable to have children the “natural” way, and the foster care program seemed like a good fit for us. We have been extraordinarily fortunate to be placed with two beautiful kids who fill our lives with joy, frustration, sorrow, hope, and all the rest.

By almost any measure these kids are getting a raw deal out of this mortal probation. They have dealt with hardships before their first birthdays that, I suspect, most people reading this blog will never have to confront. They will both be dealing with the consequences of their biological parents’ decisions for their entire lives.

We sing to them before they go to bed each night. On one occasion, my wife suggested that we sing, “I am a Child of God.” As we sang the first verse, we were both struck by how little the words seemed to apply to them.

I am a child of God,

And He has sent me here,

Has given me an earthly home

With parents kind and dear

I refuse to believe that God is micromanaging the assignment of spirits into families. If God is responsible for the composition of earthly families, my kids (and the hundreds of thousands of others in similar situations) deserve an explanation — and it better not even smell like one of the treacly platitudes we are given too often.

This strikes at the center of a lot of things I’ve been wrestling with recently. If God exists, He/She/They/It/whatever owe us something more than what we’ve been given.

For the last few days and for whatever reason–and God knows she has reasons–our little girl has been having trouble sleeping without one of us holding her. As I sit rocking her and trying my best to comfort her, I can’t help but think of the cliches we are given about God. “Wrapped in the arms of His love,” “Enfolded by His mercy.” She could use some sliver of that compassion we are frequently assured that God has for us. Is it too much to ask the Omnipotent Lord of the Universe to comfort a little frightened girl? But instead she is left to the (much) less-than-perfect comforts that we try to offer.

The problem of evil

Everything I’ve said so far is just a specific case of the more general “problem of evil.” It’s just that I’ve rarely had occasion to stare it so closely in the face. It is a thorny problem indeed, and giving it a fancy name sure doesn’t help.

Blaming God

We are sometimes warned against blaming God for the evil in the world.

I’ve never understood this. From what I’ve been told, God is big enough to take a little blame.

But wait, the apologist for God might respond, we don’t see the whole picture! We’re thrust in the middle of this three-act play without knowing the beginning or seeing the grand conclusion! Have faith and patience, things will work out in the end! (in my mind this kind of apologia always comes with a lot of exclamation points. Indeed, the fact that God needs so many apologists is increasingly odd to me).

That’s not going to work for me. Until God or someone speaking on God’s behalf sees fit to explain it to me, I think I’ll risk a little wrongful attribution of blame. A god who is worth the title had better be able to forgive my inability to understand, and it feels like the bigger sin to just accept it as all “part of the plan.”

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About Brad

I am a rather typical — or perhaps just not atypical — example of a 21st century, “uncorrelated” Mormon. My “Mormon Story” is (I have learned) rather cliche. I was raised by goodly parents, we went to church, followed the letter of the word of wisdom, abstained from the baser elements of the culture, etc. I served an honorable mission, enrolled at BYU, got married in the temple, and never seriously doubted until beginning a PhD program far beyond the Mormon corridor.

2 responses to “The Family Can Be Eternal”

  1. Roberta Cooper says :

    While looking for lesson helps for gospel principles class I stumbled upon your blog. I am not a blogger and have not been blessed to care much about expanding my vocabulary to make myself sound super intelligent. Also I am finger typing on my phone. So please forgive my grammatical errors, etc. Basically I’d like to say I have also questioned this whole “happy” family concept and being sent to Earth in a family. For several generations my family has been messed up. Alcoholism, drug abuse, death, adoptions, neglect, etc. So how is it fair to the innocent children? They don’t even get a good start at life?! I’ve sat in a stake conference where this stake counselor gave a talk about the saddest thing was his sister’s infant passing away. My thoughts went from … really? !?! That is the saddest thing?!?! To at least the kid died, never was abused or hurt. So I’m sorry it’s not that sad. It made me really angry actually. Anyway if I could trade places with any of these people who had a great abuse free childhood, I would love to do it. As an adult I still have issues from abuse. But that’s just the way it is. It’s not God’s fault. It’s my parents faults for being selfish. They made bad choices. Lots of times when people make bad choices other people feel consequences not only the wrong doers. The life long pain and terrible memories I carry with me are not from only my mistakes but my parents. Sure, I could cry about it every day and be miserable but that won’t get me anywhere. Instead I try to use it as a way to relate to others who may have had similar experiences. I can understand them. I can reach out to them. We can help each other and we can help others. There will always be pain and suffering because people will always do things that are selfish and hurt other people. That is not God. Those are people using agency and making bad choices. You bring up a great question, I’m glad you did. It’s good to think about things like this. Your kids are lucky to be with you and in a safe place. Hopefully those terrible memories will fade. God bless.

    • Brad says :

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Roberta — I think my frustration about the problem of evil in the world stems more from the competing visions we are offered of God.

      On the one hand, we have the beautiful description of the Weeping God who values human agency and is pained by his childrens’ inability to coexist peacefully and do right to one another. This is a god who wants to love us, but can’t fix everything because doing so would ‘thwart the plan.’

      On the other hand, we are often told that God does intervene in human affairs. Sometimes trivially (think, “tender mercies” — helping us find our lost keys seems to be high on God’s to-do list for some reason), and sometimes quite meaningfully (inexplicable healings, timely warnings that prevent disaster, etc.). This is a god who seems loving and powerful, but for some reason chooses to withhold his love and power from some (most?) of his children.

      I am drawn to the Weeping God, but it seems the Powerful but Capricious God is the one who shows up most often in scripture and testimony meeting and lesson manuals.

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