God the Mother
by Janice Allred
Faith and Doubt
[p.86]Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him Oob 13:15-16, KJV).
These are the words of Job, the righteous man who was tested by God and Satan. When Satan accused Job of being righteous only because he was well rewarded, God permitted him to test Job’s virtue by subjecting him to a series of trials. In one day Job lost everything: his wealth was stolen or destroyed and his ten children died when the house they were in collapsed in a sudden storm. Job did not complain, but maintained his faith in God. “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” he said. Still Satan was not satisfied so, with God’s permission, he caused Job to be afflicted with loathsome sores from the crown of his head to the sale of his foot. Still Job did not lose his faith in God. When his wife, pitying him, urged him to curse God and die, he replied, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept evil?”
The Job of this traditional tale found in the first two chapters of the Book of Job has long been held up as a model of patience, long-suffering, and perfect faith, unmarred by doubt. But which of us is able to have such faith? Is it possible never to doubt? Most of us are like Peter. We want to have faith, but our doubts overwhelm us. Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat while he prayed alone on the mountain. Early in the morning he walked across the sea to join them. When they saw him coming, they thought he was a spirit and were afraid. But Jesus called to them, “It is I; be not afraid.”
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
[p.87]And he said, Come. And when Peter was coming down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, 0 thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matt. 14:28-31)
Jesus chided his disciples many times for their lack of faith. “0 ye of little faith,” he called them. Jesus’ rebuke stings. I do not think I could walk on water.
I can remember only one time in my life when my faith was untouched by doubt. I was about three years old. My Sunday school teacher taught us about prayer. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember that I understood her to say that if we wanted something we could pray for it and Heavenly Father would give it to us. I was amazed. Why had my mother not told me about this? She helped me say my prayers each night, but she had never told me to ask for anything I wanted. She guided me in asking God to bless my sisters and my parents, to help me to be a good girl, to protect me from harm, but she’d never suggested I could ask for something I really wanted. I knew what I wanted: toys. I sat on our front porch and thought about all the toys I wanted. I would pray for them and then I would open the door and walk into the house and the toys would fall down from heaven upon me. I contemplated this scene with satisfaction for some time and then said a prayer requesting toys. I did not doubt that I would receive the toys. I remember reaching up as high as I could to open the door, I was so small. But the toys did not fall down from heaven. I tried three times. I was disappointed, but I did not give up my belief in God. I did not give up my belief in prayer. I decided that my teacher was wrong; God would not give me anything I asked for.
As a young woman I received a blessing in which I was told that I needed to increase my faith. I took this admonition seriously. I realized my faith did need strengthening; I wanted to have more faith so I enthusiastically embarked on the program of increasing my faith. At the time I thought of faith primarily in terms of belief. I thought that increasing my faith meant increasing my power to intuit the truth of ideas. So I would think of an idea and try to get a spiritual impression about it. I would ask myself whether I believed it or doubted it. Since doubt is the opposite of faith, I reasoned that the more faith I had the less doubt I would have, and, as my faith increased, [p.88]my doubt would decrease until in perfect faith, if I ever achieved it, I would experience no doubt.
Several difficulties confronted me in my project of increasing my faith. It was hard for me to tell how much faith and how much doubt I felt about any particular idea. If I tried to experience doubt, I could, and if I tried to experience faith, I could feel that too. I only wanted to believe true ideas, but since I deliberately only used ideas that I had no prior knowledge about, I didn’t know whether to try to increase my faith or my doubt. When I was able to find out by methods independent of spiritual impressions which ideas were true and which were false, I discovered that my ability to intuit truth was not very good.
Two ideas from Alma’s great sermon on faith kept coming to me. “If a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore, if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen which are true” (32:21). According to Alma, we can only have faith in true things, but since faith is not knowledge, we cannot know for sure what things are true.
Thus doubt is an inherent part of faith. Doubt is not the enemy of faith but its companion. We do not come to knowledge simply by trying to overcome our doubts, because how do we know which afour beliefs are true ones? Which ones should we have faith in? Since faith is not knowledge, we cannot be certain that an idea we believe in is true until it has been conclusively tested. We do not come to knowledge simply by trying to think positively about our beliefs and ignoring any doubts. Our doubts benefit us because they keep us open to more evidence. We must employ all the methods for finding truth in our search for knowledge: empirical, rational, aesthetic, pragmatic, experiential, mystical, and authoritarian. Faith is not a method for discover~ ing truth, although it is sometimes mistaken for the mystical approach. It is, rather, a condition for discovering truth.
And what of Job, our model of perfect faith? Where was his doubt? Was he a simpleton or a hopeless Pollyanna? Or, rather, a hopeful Pollyanna? If we go beyond chapter 2 in the Book of Job, we find a very different Job than the one held up as an exemplar of perfect faith and piety. In fact, if we look closely at Job’s utterances in chapter 2 we see a man committed to speaking the truth. He says, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and “Shall we accept good from God and not accept evil?” He does not question the existence of God, but he does not deny the evil he has experienced. He does not say, “God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world.” Job is not an optimist. Even the Pollyanna approach, [p.89]which tries to find something good in every situation, has been misrepresented as optimistic. Indeed, the effort to find something good acknowledges the bad. In fact, it implies that the bad dominates; the bad is obvious while the good must be looked for. But Job is so overwhelmed by the evil that has befallen him that the world appears to him to be a place of unmitigated suffering. Even his faith becomes a burden to him.
The middle part of the Book of Job, chapters 3-31, is a dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They have come to comfort him in his sorrow. They are shocked to see his desperate state and they sit with him for three days before anyone utters a word. Finally, Job speaks a bitter lament, cursing the day he was born. (All of my quotations from Job, unless otherwise noted, are from R. Gordis, The Book of God and Man [Chicago, 1965 ].)
Perish the day when I was born,
and the night which said:
“A man-child is conceived.”
That day—may it be utter darkness!
Let God not seek it from above
and let no light shine upon it (3:3-4).
Why is light given to the sufferer
and life to embittered souls
who long for death—but it comes not—
and dig for it more than for buried treasure,
who would exult in great joy
and be happy to find a grave?
Why is life given to the man whose way is hidden,
whom God has fenced in? (vv. 20-23).
Job’s friends are shocked at the implications Job’s words. Is Job railing against God’s will? Is he questioning God’s justice? Eliphaz reminds Job of the basic religious teachings about suffering: the righteous are never destroyed and the wicked are always punished; all human beings are imperfect compared to God and deserve to suffer; evil comes from humanity, not God. Finally, he ends his speech by urging Job to repent. If he does, God will surely bless him.
Job responds by again expressing the agony of his suffering:
If indeed my anguish were weighed
and all my calamity placed in the scales,
[p.90]it would be heavier than the sand of the sea—
therefore, I may have spoken rashly (6:2-3).
He maintains that he is innocent of any wrongdoing that would justify his terrible suffering. In a bitter parody of Psalm 8, he points out the negative side of receiving God’s attention. He addresses God directly:
What is man that You exalt him
and You give him your attention,
that You visit him each morning,
and You test him every moment?
How long till You turn aside from me
and release me for an instant? (vv.17-19)
Bildad then replies with a forceful affirmation of the law of justice. Job responds with a forceful attack on God’s justice. The third friend, Zophar, responds and Job replies. Job and his friends go through three cycles of speeches in which each friend states the conventional religious wisdom and accuses Job of wrongdoing. Job insists on maintaining his innocence and expressing the truth of his experience. Although none of the men changes his basic theological position, their emotions escalate and their charges against each other grow more bitter. Job begins by trusting his friends enough to share his bitter thoughts with them and ends by accusing them of being worthless comforters, too afraid to try to understand or sympathize with his position. The friends begin with sympathy for Job but end by accusing him of blasphemy and all kinds of wickedness for which they have no evidence.
Job and his friends are not involved in a dispassionate intellectual discussion about the problem of evil, but a passionate struggle that engages all their faculties and impacts every aspect of their lives. Faith is more than belief. It is a condition of the total human being; it involves all our faculties and influences all our actions.
Faith is a relational word; faith is always in something. In faith a person is related to something outside himself or herself. We must always ask, “Faith in what?” or “Faith in whom?”
I would like now to present an analysis of faith which I hope will help us think more clearly about faith and open up ways of resolving some issues that usually arise in discussions about faith. Several words are often used as synonyms for faith. I propose that they are not synonyms for faith, but parts of faith. They are not clifferent kinds or modes of faith, but parts of faith. As [p.91]such, they are interrelated and do not exist independently of one another. We separate them to aid our understanding.
I divide faith into three parts. Each part has an opposite which is necessarily connected to its partner in the same way that I explained that doubt is necessarily connected to faith. Each part is connected with a different human faculty and has its own object, which I divide into a proximate object and an ultimate object.
My discussion of faith in the first part of this essay was based on viewing faith primarily as belief. I think this is the most common understanding of “faith.” The articles of faith of a religion are the concepts that religion believes in. Faith is commonly misinterpreted to mean a kind of knowledge for which there is insufficient scientific or ordinary evidence to verify it. This view errs in supposing that faith is a kind of knowledge whose truth is apprehended by a special method or a separate faculty. But all methods of approaching truth can be fruitfully employed in seeking religious truth, and, as I hope to show, there is no separate faculty for faith. On the contrary, faith involves all our faculties.
Our cognitive faculty is involved in belief and doubt, our ability to think, to form concepts and relate them to other concepts, to understand, offer evidence, and explain. The proximate or immediate object of belief is an idea and its ultimate object is truth or knowledge.
The dynamic character of faith comes from the tension between the opposites in each of its parts. These oppositional elements are existentially related by courage. The courage to question puts belief and doubt in a dynamic relationship that stimulates a dynamic relationship between its proxi~ mate and ultimate objects. The pursuit of truth is an ongoing process which will never be ended by discovering a final or absolute truth as long as belief and doubt remain in tension.
The second part of faith is trust, its opposite distrust. Trust is an emotion and involves our feeling faculty. Although we may speak of trusting or distrusting an inanimate object or an animal, primarily trust is in another person, so I identify the proximate object of trust as a person. Trust in a person implies beliefs about that person: that he will keep his promises to me, that she cares about me, that he will be there when I need him, that she is a careful scholar and her conclusions are valid, that his research methods are sound and his data are accurate, that she is a skilled surgeon and will not harm me. Trust is an important part of most religious beliefs since we often look to religious authorities to provide the content of our religious beliefs. [p.92]We trust that their special relationship with God provides them with knowledge unavailable to us.
Since our feeling of trust in another person is based on our beliefs about her, distrust, viewed as an openness to changing those beliefs, is necessary if we are to have a relationship with her as a real person and not as our set of beliefs about her. The dynamic of trust-distrust is energized by the courage to communicate. If we do not recognize the necessity of the trust-distrust dynamic in our relationships with other people, we are likely to make unrealistic demands of them and finally disengage ourselves from them when they “betray” us. The ultimate object of trust-distrust, of our relationships with other people, is love. Love demands that we grant the other person his otherness, that we recognize and value his thoughts, feelings, and agency, and that we are committed to communicating with him.
This brings me to the third part of faith: commitment. “Commitment” is not used as a synonym for faith as often as “belief’ and “trust” are, but thoughtful people usually see it as a necessary element of both belief and trust. To affirm a belief is, in some sense, to choose that belief. We do not choose what we know. If we know it, we have to accept it whether we like it or not. And, as I have shown, trust requires a committed relationship with another person.
Understanding faith as a condition of the whole person requires us to see commitment as a necessary part of faith. I have connected belief to cognition and trust to emotion. One other essential human faculty is volition, will, or free agency. Free agency includes desire plus the ability to act on that desire. I call this part of faith commitment and its opposite rejection. The proximate object of commitment-rejection is an action, a work in theological terminology, and its ultimate object is a cause. In order to exercise our free agency, we must choose, and to choose implies rejecting other choices. We choose what we most desire, which does not necessarily mean that we have no desire at all for what we reject.
In the Lectures on Faith Joseph Smith teaches that faith is an attribute of God, that it is the principle of power through which God works and the principle of power in humanity also (see N. B. Lundwall, comp., A Compilation Containing the Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City,] 9). I believe this view supports the analysis of faith that I have been developing. Creating, acting, liVing require all our faculties. I see faith as the principle of power in human beings. Desire and the ability to act (or agency) provide the dynamics of faith. Desire gives us the courage to act in a world of risk. A desire for truth gives us the courage to question, which is essential in the search for truth; a [p.91]desire for love gives us the courage to communicate, which opens up the way for love; and a desire to participate in a cause greater than ourselves gives us the courage to commit ourselves to serve.
Belief, trust, and commitment constitute faith. Anyone of these alone is not faith, but only a part of faith. Having analyzed the parts of faith, I will now undertake a similar analysis of faith itself. Since faith is a condition of the whole person, all of our faculties participate in the condition of faith or in any act of faith. There is no separate faith faculty. The ultimate object of faith should be God. This “should be” points to a fundamental question each of us must ask of our faith: “Does my faith work for me—does it fulfill my deepest needs?”
To understand the importance of this question, we need to further examine the nature of faith. I have said that faith is a condition of the whole self and that it is always related to something else. This means that faith is a relationship between the whole self and something outside the self. There is a tension between the subject and the object of faith. The subject of faith is the individual human being who has faith; the object of faith is that which the person has faith in. Each person is of infinite value to himself or herself, but he recognizes many good things outside of himself which he desires and needs. That which we look to to fulfill our deepest and greatest needs and desires is the ultimate object of our faith. We see this object of our faith as greater and more powerful than ourselves. We submit ourselves to this power; we allow it to make unconditional demands of us; we will sacrifice everything for it; we worship it. Paradoxically, by so doing, we hope to have our needs and desires met. Only God is capable of fulfilling this hope. Any lesser object will fail to provide what our faith demands of it. The question, “Does my faith fulfill my deepest needs?” thus leads to the more fundamental question, “Is my faith in God or something else?” If the object of my faith is anything other than God, it is an idol and my faith is idolatry.
The opposite of faith is despair. A person in despair lacks the will to live because he has nothing to live for; there is no meaning in his life. Thus we see that faith is a fundamental human need. Is despair, like doubt, distrust, and rejection, a necessary part of faith? In one sense, it seems wrong to speak of despair as necessary to faith. The ultimate object of our faith demands our unconditional surrender; it demands our worship. It is the belief that grounds all our beliefs. It is what we trust more than ourselves. It is what we have committed our lives to; it is what we would die for. But in a more important sense despair is necessarily connected to faith in the same way that doubt is necessarily connected to belief. Since only God can fill our [p.94]deepest needs, faith in anything less will eventually lead to despair. Our despair, then, can warn us that we have put our faith in something other than God. This does not mean that those who put their faith in pleasure, success, wealth, a political cause, family, nation, or church are more prone to despair. Those who have the greatest hunger for God feel the greatest despair when they fail to connect with her. They feel the greatest despair when they fail to find truth, love, and a worthy cause.
In faith I reach out to God, but how do I find him in the midst of the activities, the other people, and the ideas that constitute my life? Although we do not encounter the transcendent God in the midst of our lives, we can find the immanent God in our daily activities, our thoughts, and in the people we interact with as we search for truth, love, and causes worthy of our devotion. We may believe in ideas, trust people, and commit ourselves to causes, but if our belief is not questioned by doubt, if our trust is not in dialogue with distrust, ifour commitment cannot be rejected, then we have put our faith in an idea, or a person, or a cause, not in God. our faith is idolatry.
We have many ideas about God, but if we are unwilling to question those ideas and reject them if we discover that they are untrue, we are putting our faith in our ideas about God rather than in God herself. Like his friends Job had a legalistic conception of God’s justice before his trials. He believed that God rewards those who obey his laws with material blessings and punishes those who do not keep his commandments with calamity and disaster. Speaking of his life before disaster befell him, he recounts how he obeyed all God’s commandments and why:
For I thought, “If I sinned,
what would be my portion from God above
and my lot from the Almighty on high?
Surely calamity waits for the unrighteous
and disaster for the workers of iniquity!
God will surely see my ways
and count all my steps!” (31:2-4)
When Job’s calamities befall him, he finds it difficult to question this fundamental idea about how God should govern the world, but he sticks resolutely to telling the truth about his own experience. Though he did not sin, God has punished him, and his friends take his punishment as proof of his sin.
Now He has left me helpless;
He has laid waste my whole company.
[p.95]He has shriveled me up—
this has been the testimony against me!
My leanness has risen up against me—
this has been the evidence against me!
In His wrath He has torn me apart, for He hates me
He has gnashed His teeth at me;
my foe sharpens his eyes against me.
Men gape at me with open mouths;
in contempt they strike my cheeks;
they mass together against me.
God hands me over to the evildoer,
and through the hands of the wicked
He wrings me out.
I was at ease, and He smashed me.
He seized me by the neck, and crushed me;
He sets me up as His target.
His archers surround me,
He pierces my kidneys without mercy,
He pours out my gall to the ground.
He cracks me with breach upon breach;
He rushes upon me like a warrior.
I have sewn sackcloth upon my skin;
I have buried my dignity in the dust.
My face is red with weeping,
and on my eyelids is deepest gloom,
though there is no violence in my hands
and my prayer is pure (16:7-17).
His own experience causes him to look more closely at the rest of the world, and he discovers what he should have known all along:
When I think of it I am appalled,
and a shudder takes hold of my flesh—
why do the wicked live on,
reach old age, and grow hale and hearty?
Their children are well established in their presence;
their kin and offspring are before their very eyes.
Their houses are safe from fear.
and no rod of God comes upon them.
Their bull genders and does not fail;
their cow calves and does not lose her young.
They send forth their youngsters like a flock,
[p.96]and their children go dancing.
They sing to the timbrel and harp
and make merry to the sound of the pipe.
They spend their days in well-being
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
Yet they say to God, “Depart from us.
We do not wish to know your ways.
What is the Almighty that we should serve Him?
And what shall we gain if we pray to Him?” (21:6-15)
Although he questions God’s justice, Job never questions his existence and close involvement in the lives of his creations. For many people the problem of evil is an insurmountable obstacle to belief in God. If God is good and all-powerful and omniscient and the world is his creation, why is there so much evil in it?
Some people solve this problem by believing that God created the world and then left it mostly alone to evolve according to natural laws. He gave people commandments or laws, and if they obey the commandments or if they follow the laws, they will be happy. This conception of Go d’s blessing us need not be materialistic, but it is certainly legalistic. Since this conception of God is mechanistic, it is sometimes referred to as Newtonian. Since the Newtonian God is not concerned with us, we have little reason to be concerned with him. Our ultimate concern is with law since it is through obedience to law that we are saved or achieve happiness. Such a conception of God is idolatrous because it demands an absolute commitment to law. Ifwe are absolutely committed to anything other than God, our faith is idolatrous.
Job, however, believes that God is intimately involved in all aspects of his life. He sees God, not as the great lawgiver who designed the universe and then left it to run on its own, but as the active agent who dispenses re~ wards and punishes sinners, the one who helps the obedient and cuts off the disobedient. This belief is not problematic as long as his own life is successful, but when calamity befalls him, although his obedience to God’s commandments has not changed, this belief troubles him. Still, he cannot question this belief, but he is committed to telling the truth about his own experiences and how they opened his eyes to the many injustices in the world. Instead of doubting his belief, Job focuses his anger on God whom he now sees as an oppressive tyrant.
know then that God has subverted my cause
and surrounded me with His seigeworks.
[p.97]Behold, I cry, “Violence!” but I am not answered;
I call out, but there is no justice.
He has fenced in my way so that I cannot pass,
He has set darkness upon my paths.
My glory He has stripped from me,
and removed the crown of my head.
He has broken me down on every side, and I perish;
my hope He has uprooted like a tree.
He has kindled His wrath against me,
and treats me as His foe (19:6-11).
Have pity on me, 0 my friends, have pity,
For the hand of God has struck me.
Why do you persecute me like God
and are not satisfied with my flesh (vv. 21-22).
Job’s friends are shocked by his impudence. Will he question God’s justice simply to put himself in the right? They are unwilling to question any of their beliefs and thus speak falsehood after falsehood as they refuse to acknowledge the reality of Job’s experience and the evidence that lies all around them.
There is a danger of idolatry in the belief that everything is God’s will. Since everything is as it ought to be, nothing can be questioned. No complaint can be made. Faith consists of accepting whatever is as God’s will. This belief puts reality or truth in the place of God. Since it equates God with reality, this view tends toward pantheism. In such a view the concept of God’s will is actually meaningless. A will can only be possessed by an individual agent who possesses both desire and the ability to act. An individual is only part of reality; desire implies lack, and action effects change. Both the Newtonian and the pantheistic conceptions of God are idolatrous because they give absolute solutions to the problem of our relationship to God. We cannot relate to the Newtonian God, so why try, and we’re already related to the pantheistic God, so why change?
The questions of faith are real and have no simple answers. Will God answer my prayers? Can I do something that will make it more probable that God will grant me my desires? Can I do something that will ensure that God will grant me my righteous desires? Does God ever perform miracles? Why and when? I don’t want to ask something of God contrary to her will, but how can I know God’s will? Why did God help that other person when he didn’t help me?
[p.98]I believe that faith in God demands that we ask such questions and that we express our doubts, disappointments, complaints, and sorrows to God, as well as to other people. Faith also demands that we look for God’s hand in all things. This is not the same as believing that everything is God’s will. I believe that God is intimately involved in all our lives. God loves her children; she could not abandon them. But love grants the other person his agency. It is hard for us to believe that God is actively involved in the world when there is so much evil. If we had the power of God, we would certainly right many wrongs and stop many evil acts. But God does not control us; he inspires, comforts, and empowers us. He helps us through the agency of others whom he inspires with love and a desire to help us. I believe that God sends spirits and angels to help us. What laws govern their operations? I believe that it is useful and permissible to speculate, but finally, from our point of view, mystery surrounds the workings of God in our lives. Why is one person saved from calamity, while another is not?
As I was driving my car one day listening to the radio, I heard about a woman who was saved from the Holocaust by someone’s intervention. The woman claimed that an angel had helped her. The radio voice said that another woman had objected to this claim reasoning that because if God sent an angel to save one woman from the Holocaust that would imply that he approved of all other deaths that he didn’t prevent.
I disagree with that logic, but I am sensitive to the pain we can cause other people when we tell about the miracles in our lives. Nevertheless, I believe we should tell about them, humbly and in gratitude. Not everyone can recount stories of miracles in their lives, but God does bless everyone. God’s greatest gifts are love, truth, peace, beauty, forgiveness, and joy, which we can all receive if we open our hearts to them. I also believe that God helps us in many ways we cannot see.
One day several years ago I was feeling very sad. I was involved in a project that was important to me and it was not going well. In fact, it appeared that it would fail. I knew that what I was trying to do was good and I believed that God had promised me that I would be able to accomplish what I desired to do. I prayed all morning as I went about my chores, but I was not able to feel any peace. Finally, with tears falling into the dishwater, I accused God of abandoning me. “You said you would help me, but you haven’t helped me at all,” I cried.
A few minutes later the telephone rang. It was my daughter Rebecca who was then a student at BYU living in an apartment with some friends. “I have [p.99]something to tell you,” she said. In order to understand Rebecca’s story you need to know something that had happened a few weeks previously.
My son Ammon missed his bus, so I had to drive him to school. Jared and Paul, who were five and two-and-a-half, came along. They climbed into the back of our white station wagon. We live on the corner of a busy street, 3700 North (the main road in the area known as the Riverbottoms in Provo, Utah), and a dead end. I waited for a break in the traffic and then turned quickly onto 3700 North. As I was just getting my car up to the speed limit, Ammon screamed, “Stop! He fell out!” I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and jumped out not knowing which of my little boys had fallen out. Several cars whizzed by me as I ran to Jared. A man was holding him, and Jared broke away and ran to me when he saw me. He was crying but unhurt except for a few abrasions on his back. Ammon told me what had happened. Jared had leaned against the back gate of the station wagon and it had opened. Jared had fallen out, landing on his back. He’d quickly rolled over, jumped to his feet, and run to the side of the road where two joggers who had been passing by had grabbed him. The car behind us had just missed him, Ammon said. Of course, we were grateful that Jared had not been killed or hurt and we felt that God had protected him.
Now Rebecca had more of the story to tell. She was riding with some other young women in her ward to a visiting teaching convention when one of them shared an inspirational story. Her family also lived in Provo and her mother had told her about an experience that the mother’s visiting teacher had related. The woman was driving in the Riverbottoms when she had a strong impression to slow down. She looked at her speedometer and saw that she was within the speed limit so she ignored the impression, but it came again more strongly, “Slow down!” so she did. Then she noticed a white station wagon enter the road ahead of her from a side road. As she gained on it, the back gate suddenly opened and a little boy fell out. She slammed on her brakes and was able to slow down enough to avoid hitting him. “If I’d been going any faster or if he hadn’t gotten out of the way, I would have hit him,” the woman had told her friend.
As Rebecca finished her story, feelings of love, gratitude, and peace flooded my heart. I understood the message. God was with me, caring for me and my family in ways I couldn’t see. Not only had he protected my son, but he also cared about my feelings of discouragement. Although he did not tell me why I was having so much trouble realizing my hopes, I did know that he was helping me and many months later I was able to see my hopes come to fruition.
[p.100]Courage is the dynamic principle that enables us to exercise faith. But the courage that faith requires is the courage to acknowledge and wrestle with the tension between belief and doubt, trust and distrust, commitment and rejection. Job courageously confronts the paradox his experience gives him: his belief about how God should govern the world in tension with the world as it actually exists. Job’s faith is strong, not because he doesn’t complain or doubt, not because he accepts what befalls him as God’s will, but because he tenaciously trusts in God even though he distrusts him.
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: But I will maintain mine own ways before him.
He also shall be my salvation; for an hypocrite shall not come before him (13:15-16, KJV).
Although on one level, the level of belief and experience, Job sees God as his enemy, his deeper, more comprehensive faith is directed toward a God who loves truth. His friends defend God with lies and Job points out with withering scorn that a God of truth will not approve of lies uttered in his defense. Addressing his friends, he says:
What you know, I know too;
I am not inferior to you.
But I wish to speak to the Almighty;
I desire to argue my case with God.
But you are plasterers of lies;
worthless physicians are you all.
If you only would keep silent,
this would count as a mark of your wisdom.
And now hear my argument;
listen to the pleadings of my lips.
Is it for the sake of God that you speak falsehood,
on His behalf that you utter lies?
Will you show partiality toward Him;
is it for God that you are arguing?
Will it be well with you when He searches you out? Can you deceive Him as one deceives a man?
Will He declare You in the right,
if you show partiality to one side? (13:2-10)
As mentioned earlier, I have been using a translation of Job by Robert Gordis. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” is the more familiar King James translation. Gordis’s version reads:
[p.101]Yes, He may slay me; I have no hope,
but I will justify my ways to His face!
Indeed, He will surely be my salvation,
for it is no flatterer coming before Him (13: 15-16).
The King James Version puts the paradox in each verse, while Gordis posits it between the verses. In verse 15 Job says, “Yes, He may slay me; I have no hope,” but in 16 he says, “He will surely be my salvation.” God will save Job because Job speaks the truth. He wants to speak with God and he sees truth as a way to God.
I identify the ultimate objects of the parts of faith as the proximate objects of faith itself. This means that truth, love, and service are ways to God. But since faith involves the whole person, none of these can lead us to God unless we balance them with the other ways. Otherwise, they, not God, become the ultimate objects of our faith.
I have shown how a pantheistic or immanent conception of God leads to substituting truth or reality for God. Truth as a way to God focuses on the cognitive part of our being. A Newtonian or transcendent view of God puts law in the place of God. Since we relate to law through our actions, this way to God focuses on the volitional part of our being. In theological terms, this is the error of salvation by works. To make our faith complete, we need to include our emotions in our faith. We must approach God through love. But if we simply say that God is love, we are in danger of making God wholly immanent or wholly transcendent. Love has meaning only in the context of the relationship between persons. To find God in love, we need to see God as a person. Of course, God is more than a person, and if we reduce God to a person or if we put any person in the place of God, we will again become idolatrous. Authoritarian religions that demand unconditional obedience to human authorities or claim that any of their utterances are infallible encourage idolatry.
In his agony, as he struggles between the horns of his paradox, as the pain of his suffering nearly overwhelms him, Job discovers a new faith in God. Twice Job grasps at a new vision of God until he finally achieves a mystical understanding of a God of mercy, a Redeemer. First Job expresses the desire for an arbiter between him and God.
For God is not a man like me, whom I could answer
when we come to trial together.
If only there were an arbiter between us
who would lay his hand upon us both,
[p.102]who would remove God’s rod from me
so that my dread of Him would not terrify me.
Then I would speak, and not fear Him,
for He is far from just to me! (9:32-35)
As the debate progresses, Job expresses the firm conviction that there is someone in heaven who will take his part and intercede for him. There is a God of love who intercedes between him and the God of power.
O earth, cover not my blood;
let my cry have no resting place.
Behold, even now, my witness is in heaven,
and he who vouches for me is on high.
Are my friends my intercessors?
No, to God my eye pours out its tears,
that he judge between a man and God,
as between one man and his fellow (16: 18-21).
Finally Job prophesies of the coming of a Redeemer and declares his belief that he will see God in the flesh.
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, and not another … (19:25-27, KJV).
So far I have been speaking of faith primarily from the point of view of the subject of faith—the one who has the faith. In belief and commitment the subject reaches out for the object of his faith, but in trust there is a reciprocal relationship; the dynamic principle of trust is the courage to communicate. The God oflove reaches out to us. “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi beheld in vision the tree which is precious above all and desired to know the interpretation of the tree. He was then given a vision of the virgin Mary.
I saw the Heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he saith unto me, Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I saith unto him, a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all virgins. And he saith unto me, Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him, I [p.103]know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the mean, ing of all things. And he said unto me, Behold the virgin which thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the spirit and after that she had been carried away in the spirit for the space of a time, the angel spake unto me saying, look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said to me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? and I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying, Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. And after that he had said these words, he said unto me, look! And I looked and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him (Book of Morman, 1830 ed., pp. 24-25).
The tree which Nephi beheld represented the love of God, and the meaning of the love of God is the condescension of God. Condescension means “coming down with,” and Nephi learned in his vision that the con’ descension of God is the birth, life, and death of God in the person ofJesus. The love of God is manifest in the person of Jesus.
The prophet Abinadi chastised the priests of Noah for believing that salvation comes by keeping the law.
And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, not withstanding the law of Moses …
For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not said more or less concerning these things?
Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?
Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted? (Mosiah 13:28,33-35)
The transcendent God, the lawgiver, the God of power becomes a hu-[p.104]man being to redeem his people. Abinadi teaches clearly the truth that Job grasped in the crucible of his afflictions.
I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God …
[He] suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.
And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led … crucified, and slain … And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—
Having ascended into heaven. having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice (Mosiah 15:1, 2, 5-9).
The scriptures exhort us to have faith; Jesus rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith; our religious leaders and teachers encourage us to increase our faith; faith is the first principle of the gospel—the first commandment; we would like to have more faith. But no command to have faith can create faith. We cannot increase our faith by an act of will. There are active ways to God-the search for truth and service to others—but there is also a passive mode of faith: we wait; we listen, we receive; we are grasped by God; we are desired by God; we are loved by God. Faith is a gift. Like all gifts it is ultimately from God. We can desire it; we can ask for it; we can even try to bargain for it, to work for it. But a gift cannot be earned, and a God who demands something from me before he will love me, before he will save me, cannot be trusted to love or save me, for then God’s love would be contingent on me, a sinner.
But Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s own proof of his love towards us (Rom. 5:8, New English Bible).
We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19, KJV).
I think this is why faith is so often born out of despair. We cannot understand God’s unconditional love until we know that we have nothing to [p.105]give him. Still, God will not violate our wills. We must have a particle of faith; we must desire him. We must cry out to him.
Job cries out to God, but his friends are shocked by his lack of faith, by his anger at God. They exhort him to repent and put his trust in God. They refuse to hear his cries of pain and they will not pity him. Instead they chastise, accuse, and insult him. Job pleads with them to comfort him, but they are too frightened by his doubts. With bitter irony, he characterizes their “comfort”:
The unfortunate deserve only contempt
in the opinion of the safe and secure—
a beating is proper for those who stumble! (12:5)
Finally Job gives up pleading with his friends. “Worthless comforters are you all!” he cries as he loses hope in them. Tormented by doubts, bereft of all that attached him to the world, he turns to God. Again and again Job has demanded that God speak to him. A great part of Job’s faith is his tenacity. He will not give up.
Finally Job has his epiphany. God speaks to him out of the whirlwind. One of the ironies of the Book oOob is God’s response. Job has challenged God’s justice and demanded that God explain it to him. But God never answers any of Job’s questions. He appears to him as a God of power. But Job never doubted God’s power. Without going into the intricacies of the Book of Job or trying to explain the poet’s answer to Job’s questions, I will just point out a few things in God’s response that I think are important.
The one idea Job never gives up is his belief that a just God ought to govern the world by rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked. In his answer to Job, God never explains his government of humanity; he merely acknowledges that it is a difficult problem. He uses most of his speeches to declare the beauties and wonders of his natural creation and the care he has for all the things and creatures he has created, including the ones that seem terrible and destructive. By analogy Job understands God’s care of him and all other people and gives up his simplistic ideas about righteousness and wickedness, reward and punishment. The fact that God makes no attempt to justify Job’s suffering indicates that it was not a punishment for sin.
He also vindicates Job by telling his friends that they “have not spoken the truth about Me as has my servant Job.” Job’s friends have uttered all the traditional wisdom about God, but God says that they have not spoken the truth about him as Job did. What was false in their theology? They refused [p.106]to see the integrity in Job’s words and acknowledge the truth of his experience. They cared more about maintaining their own privileged position than alleviating their friend’s suffering by acknowledging the injustice of it. What was the truth that Job spoke? He spoke the truth about his own experience. He cared deeply about issues of justice and mercy and strived valiantly to put together a theology that told the truth about God that he had learned from his own experience. He spoke about his longing for God, and he achieved a mystical understanding of God’s love manifested in a Redeemer who intercedes between suffering humanity and the God of power. God comes to Job in his despair and Job sees him and is satisfied.
I have heard of You by hearsay,
but now mine own eyes have seen You,
Therefore I abase myself
and repent in dust and ashes (42:5-6).
Like Job I have looked into the abyss of despair many times. I have hovered on the brink of despair quite a few times and have even descended into deep despair when I couldn’t help myself. I cannot share the worst times with you, but I would like to share one personal experience when I received the love of God at a very difficult time.
When I was pregnant with my sixth child, I started losing vision in my left eye. I consulted an ophthalmologist. He told me that I had optic neuritis- an inflammation of the optic nerve-and sent me to a specialist. The neuro-ophthalmologist told me that the possible causes were a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis. Because I was pregnant, I couldn’t have the sensitive CAT scan that would have definitely diagnosed a brain tumor, but I was far enough along in my pregnancy to have a regular x-ray. It did not show a tumor, so I thought that possibility had been ruled out. My doctor thought I had multiple sclerosis. He told me that the stress of pregnancy aggravated the symptoms and I would probably recover most of my sight after my baby was born. This proved to be true, and within a few weeks after the birth of my son I had recovered most of the vision I had lost.
A year and a halflater my husband David and I wanted to have another baby. Of course, we were concerned about my health. My doctor had warned me that the stress of another pregnancy could damage my eyesight permanently. We prayed about our decision, and David gave me a priesthood blessing in which I was promised I would not experience the same difficulties I had previously. I interpreted this to mean that I would not lose my sight, but I realized later that this was a misinterpretation of what I was [p.107]promised. My previous pregnancy had been a difficult one and I had almost lost the baby several times.
We decided ro have another baby and, indeed, as I was promised, I had no problems with the pregnancy. However, I did have problems with my sight. The first symptom was a rapid loss of vision in my left eye. I hesitated seeing my doctor because I was afraid he would yell at me for disregarding his advice, but when I finally went to see him, he was kind. He advised me to terminate the pregnancy. The nerve for my left eye was already severely damaged and probably would not recover, and my other eye would probably be affected before the pregnancy was over. Although he thought it was unlikely, there was still a possibility that the symptoms were caused by a brain tumor or an aneutysm, which could even threaten my life. He said that, of course, the decision was mine and he would support me whatever I decided.
It was not a difficult decision for me. I had already made it. I had wanted this baby. I had prayed for him and God had promised him to me. I already loved him.
Within a few months I was almost blind in my left eye, and as the pregnancy progressed I started losing vision in my right eye. I lost a large section of the visual field to the right of the center. This made it difficult for me to read because I kept losing my place. I was scared. How could I live without being able to read and write? By the time I was ready to deliver my baby, David and I were convinced that a brain tumor was causing the damage. The day my son Jared was born, I had a CAT scan and a large tumor was found at the base of my brain where the optic nerves cross and the pituitary gland is located.
The next three weeks were difficult as I consulted with several doctors about my condition. The neurosurgeon felt that I should be able to recover some of the vision I had lost in my right eye, but the nerve from my left eye had been compressed so long it was almost certainly permanently damaged. I was told that my pituitary gland was probably involved and would most likely be damaged, if it weren’t already, in the surgery that would be required to remove the tumor. This would mean taking hormones to regulate critical bodily functions for the rest of my life and, as one doctor insensitively put it, “instant menopause.n I would not be able to nurse my baby or have other babies. This was a great sorrow to me.
Although I already had seven children, I knew I would want more. I had nursed each of my babies, usually for about a year and a half, and this was an important bond between me and my baby. I could not imagine caring [p.108]for a baby without being able to nurse him. I’d never even prepared a bottle until after Jared was born.
The technician who performed the CAT scan had told me that he needed to inject a dye into my bloodstream. I asked him if this would hurt my nursing baby. He checked with someone and told me I would have to wait three days until all the dye was out of my system. I told him that was impossible; he’d have to do it without the dye. He said that was impossible. I said in that case I wouldn’t be able to have the CAT scan done. Nursing was important to me. Finally he called my obstetrician and she persuaded me to have the scan done. I could pump my milk and give the baby a bottle.
After four doctors told me that I would be unable to nurse my baby after the surgery and the hospital told me I’d have to have another CAT scan series done, I wept and told David I might as well give up. But David encouraged me. “You want to nurse him and you might be able to. Don’t give up.” He rented an electric breast pump for me and I threw the contaminated milk in the sink.
My surgery was scheduled just three weeks after my baby was born. During those three weeks I prayed and hoped for a miracle. I knew God could and sometimes did perform miracles. Why not for me?
One night a few days before the surgery I lay in bed thinking about my problems. David was asleep beside me and Jared was between us. I had just given him a bottle. I’d had to have a third series of CAT scans and would have only one day to nurse him before entering the hospital. Would that be the last time I ever nursed a baby? How could I leave him and my other children to spend ten days in the hospital? I was healthy. How could I let them cut my head open and meddle with my brain? But I was going blind. I had to. I was scared. Would I be the same person after they scraped my brain? Would I even know it if I weren’t? How much would it hurt? Would I be able to read again? Would removing the tumor cause more damage to the right nerve? I reproached myself for not having enough faith to be healed. I reproached myself for not haVing been more aggressive in finding out what was really wrong with me before I got pregnant. I prayed, “Jesus, if you won’t heal me, could you at least give me the assurance that the surgery will go well, that my pituitary gland won’t be damaged, that 1 can get back the sight in my right eye?” But 1 didn’t get that assurance. I was racked with doubt and discouragement. I began to weep softly.
Then I heard David’s voice. “I wish I could have the operation for you,” he said. “I wish I was the one with the brain tumor.”
I was astonished. How could he wish such a terrible affliction upon [p.109]himself? But I knew he meant it. “Thank you,” I said. “That’s good of you, but I don’t think I could do it for you.”
“But you did it for him,” he said pointing to the little baby asleep between us.
Suddenly I was engulfed with God’s love. It embraced me; it surrounded me. I knew it with an overwhelming certainry. David loved me enough to sacrifice for me. I loved my baby enough to sacrifice for him, but Jesus’ love for me, Jesus’ sacrifice for me was infinitely greater. Because Jesus loved me, I could trust him to help me no matter what happened. My faith was in him, not in what I wanted him to do for me. My faith was weak, but it didn’t matter because Jesus loved me.
I think about Peter walking on the water, walking to Jesus. He didn’t have enough faith to walk on water, but it didn’t matter because Jesus loved him, and Jesus saved him.
After I left intensive care two days after my operation, I noticed two wet spots on the front of my hospital gown. Every day I was in the hospital I tried to express some milk with the hand pump a nurse found for me. I was never able to get more than an inch, but after I returned home and started nursing Jared, my milk quickly returned. My right eye recovered in a few months, but I am still almost blind in my left eye.
When Jesus lived on the earth, he healed everyone who asked him. He didn’t just heal those who had enough faith. He didn’t just heal those who had learned what they needed to learn from their afflictions. He didn’t just heal those whose healing would not go against God’s plan for them. He healed everyone who asked him. I believe that he wants to heal everyone. I know that we cannot always be healed when or in the way we would like to be. I know that we cannot always have our afflictions removed. But I believe that God is always ready to comfort us, to teach us, to love us. Our faith is our response to this love.