Wednesday, November 15, 2006

God, Jesus and Satan

In response to the thoughtful comments to my last post, Personal Value, I would like to clarify a few things. There are reasons for leaving the Church, and excuses for leaving the Church. The gripes listed in Personal Value would be excuses for leaving the Church. I have long time friends who have left the Church because of excuses. I want to try to dig into my reasons in this blog. I’m not about to leave the Church just yet, I just need to get this off my chest. I also want to say that I am not questioning my religion based on the fact that I am a homosexual. These are deep rooted concerns that have gnawed at me for some time. The difference now though is that I am being honest with myself about my religious concerns.

I need to start by saing that I KNOW God loves me. He loves me for who I am, how he made me and for who I can become. But mostly he loves me because he created me and in me is a part of who he is. He will always love me infinitely. He is concerned with the details of my life and he wants me to be happy and live with him after this life. I don’t know God personally as much as I would like to, but I need open lines of communication with him again so that I can know him better.

I have a really hard time believing in Satan. I look at all the good and evil in this world and see that the contrasts between good and evil essentially distinguish good from evil. In other words, you cannot have good without evil and you cannot know the difference without experiencing the two. Isn’t that the whole teaching in lessons derived from the Garden of Eden?

However, sometimes I look at the concept of Satan as merely an embodiment of the concept of evil but that he is not a real being. Evil is what evil is –the opposite of good. I see Satan as the mythical definition of evil. I think Satan is often used as a scapegoat for temptation. When I am tempted to do something “evil” or to give in to my “natural man” tendencies, isn’t it more just simply a concept of mortality? Of course I am tempted to do this or that thing that is evil; it is in my nature to do so! It is not because there is some mysterious evil being is lurking and trying to convince me. I am mortal with mortal passions.

Conversely, I struggle to believe in Christ. I think his teachings are beautiful. The thought of his suffering at the hands of evil men is a bitter irony to the contrast of the good he did while in mortality. But the idea that someone who lived so long ago having any connection with my life today seems very difficult to embrace. Do I really need a savior? Is Christ simply the embodiment of the longing for good and to be better people? Is it the hope that there is someone there to heal the wounds of mortality? Is the concept of a savior simply a remedy for the need to feel loved and infinitely understood and appreciated? And why can’t God the father do that? Isn’t he all knowing and all powerful? The idea of Christ is nice I suppose, but I have no evidence in my personal experience to believe in him as having any such personal connection with me.

And from what would Christ save me? If our divine purpose here is the experience of learning as mortals as proposed in the Garden of Eden dilemma, how can I be held accountable for the fact that I am flawed? God intended me to make mistakes and to stumble, that’s why life is as it is –flawed, difficult, and painful. But when we learn from life, when we learn from our mistakes, doesn’t that balance out the scales? “Where once I felt and acted this way, now I feel and act this way.” And even after that, I am still a flawed human beyond reconciliation on my own. Essentially, I was put here on Earth with an unfair disadvantage: Mortality. No matter how “good” I try to be, I still won’t be perfect. How can a just god hold me accountable for being short-sighted and weak? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t matter how I live my life, but moreover that grace and mercy should be extended freely as I seek learning and wisdom through the struggles of life.

People talk of there having to be someone to pay a price for the mistakes and imperfections of my mortal life –a mediator, or a savior, -that justice must be served. Why? Why must someone pay some sort of price? I don’t understand. And if there was a need for a mediator, why should I be tearfully, overly, grateful for having one? Like I said, I was put at an unfair disadvantage to begin with, I deserve one. I deserve my “get-out-of-jail free card,” I didn’t stand a chance anyway.

Here at the university, each student is different. All of us have some level of intelligence and work ethic. Some are more gifted than others, and the life situation surrounding each student may add to the success or detract from the success of the student. Sometimes the classes are hard. Some of us get A’s and some of us get B’s and some of us C’s and D’s. However only those who receive F’s do not graduate. Furthermore, there is no one who makes up the difference in the gap between the A student graduate and the D student graduate. We all graduate just the same.

How is that any different in life? As long as we don’t give up completely on growing, learning, and becoming, how can we be held truly accountable for every flaw of mortality? This is why I don’t understand the need for a savior.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this as a justification for any behavior. This IS my doctrinal dispute. I have always had a hard time understanding the role of Christ in the church. Most people struggle with accepting the Book of Mormon, prophets, Joseph Smith, temples, authority and on and on. I have never understood Christ or the Atonement.

When I was preparing to go on my mission, I told my stake president that I really didn’t understand Christ and that I didn’t feel like I had any kind of relationship with him, but that I loved God and loved praying to God and that I felt like he heard me. But why close prayer in the name of Christ? What does he have to do with anything? My stake president told me that it really wasn’t something to worry about, serve honorably and just to give it time and eventually I would gain that relationship.

I have spent YEARS reading my scriptures and praying every day, or nearly everyday. The gap between Christ and me has never closed, and I have never felt any lasting feeling of admiration for what people say “Christ has done for me.” I am tired of “reading and praying.” Whenever I express concern for my life or sins or anything, my ecclesiastical leaders tell me to read and pray. I feel like they are telling me to go say ten “Hail Mary’s” and that everything will then be ok. I strain my brain trying to figure out the meaning in the scriptures. As I sit and read I think to myself, “Maybe that is applicable to my situation? Am I receiving personal revelation? What if God is trying to tell me something?” In the end it feels more like superstition. I don’t really get anything out of reading.

Prayer can be good though –really good at times. But again, Christ plays what role for me in prayer? People say we close in the name of Christ because everything we have comes from Christ and that everything we do should be in the name of Christ. Is Christ some heavenly postman who delivers my prayers to God?

I hope I am not seen as sacrilegious or disrespectful. I fundamentally do not understand and I never have. I know to some of you I must also sound terribly arrogant, but let me explain. I have come to know that God loves me. I know that I am of infinite worth regardless of what happens to me or what I do with my life. I really believe that. I also believe that a lot more of us will make it in the end than we think. I’m not about to say that I am happy with my life, but I am happy with who I am –the unique creature that God created. I am being more honest with myself than I have been in a long time. I won’t deny that at one time, I really believed in the Church and that I have had wonderful, spiritual experiences in the Church –amazing experiences. But there was more fear than faith at that time in my life. I can’t live in fear of my own mortality; I won’t.

But to be completely honest… I don’t know what to believe anymore.

PS: If you made it all the way through to the end here, THANK YOU! You guys really help me think and reflect on all angles of this crazy situation I find myself in.


Gay BYU Student said...

Wow, that was really well thought through. And I can totally understand where you're coming from. It is totally normal and healthy to question our faith and doctrine. That is how we learn.

I don't know how to answer all your questions, so I won't try to. But I will say this: faith comes down to just that - faith. We have to decide, based on our feelings and judgements, if we believe.
Christ and the atonement has been a hard one for me, too. One of my problems has been the idea that out of the INFINITE number of worlds that Christ is the Savior for, we just happened to be on the ONE that Christ lived on. It seems a little too convenient - too narrowminded.

At the same time I can see the other side of this all. The BoM says that Satan is the one who tells us not to believe in Christ and not to pray in His name. And the BoM says that Satan tells us he is not there. So the idea that Satan is not there actually comes from Satan himself! Its quite paradoxical. But that's why I haven't been able to give up my faith. Its too much a part of my life, especially now.

I hope I made some sense and helped. Thanks for your insight and willingness to be open about your doubts.

Sir Robert Chiltern said...

Wow. So I was really fascinated that you discussed this topic because I just had a lengthy conversation with someone on one of your topics. Namely, why is it that we say God isn't simply able to forgive us and have mercy for us? Why is it that he has to have justice, and we need Christ to have mercy? Mormons answer that he is bound - but why?

Anyway, not that we really came up with a solution or answer to the question, but we debated it a bit. I think you make some succinct points, and if you gain insight into these, please let me know :)

santorio said...

you know, it's not a black-white, completely in or completely out of the church issue. there are a lot of us who chose those parts of the church we stay with and those parts we put aside for the time being.
yes, it's awkward to give a priesthood lesson on the endowment when one has decided not to renew one's temple recommend, but that's a small price to pay for the growth attained by exerise of free agency. i choose to stay in the church because i really want to not because of external expections or rules or social convenience.

Distinguishing Preoccupation said...

In response to the comment left by santorio:

In response to your comment:

Don't you see something inherently wrong with supporting something that you don't necessarily agree with or understand? I have gotten in trouble with this one before. This is exactly the problem I see with the Church culture. It's so often about keeping up appearances, -to teach a lesson on the endowment even though you yourself have mixed feelings about it. Yet, I'm sure you bore your testimony on it and told everyone how good the temple is etc. It’s the fake-it-till-ya make-it syndrome. We are taught to do it so often in the Church. It breeds insecurity because of the social pressures in the church. People think "Sheesh, there must be something wrong with me because I appear to be the only one who feels this way." It is exactly because of social pressures that many of the worst crimes of history have happened... from the Salem witch trials to the Holocaust. I’m not about to say that bearing your testimony on the temple will lead to the deaths of millions, but this illustrates the danger of social pressures. Why do you think there is such a high rate of depression in Utah? I asked one of the psychologists at the BYU counseling center what the greatest problem he saw amongst the general population of LDS students was. He replied, “Perfectionism.”

In my post I am merely criticizing and evaluating doctrine. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do so that we can find out what it is that we believe?

You are right; it's not a black and white issue. There are some things I believe are true and some things that leave a big question mark. But the Church has never taught us to believe only parts of the church... It's a package deal. Some things will take time... I can't even begin to address the Book of Mormon... I don't even know how I feel about Jesus Christ or The Holy Ghost or Joseph Smith! I gotta take one thing at a time. Keep in mind; I'm not staying in the church because of social pressures. The only real social pressure I feel is that if I were to leave the Church, I would loose my student status. That is indeed a real concern.

What do you mean by this statement: “…but that's a small price to pay for the growth attained by exercise of free agency”? How does teaching an uncomfortable lesson on something you don’t necessarily agree with help you to grow through the use of agency?

Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. If I misunderstood something in your comment, forgive me.