Is God Petty?

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

bowlerThrough the wonders of modern technology and social media, I have, for many years now, enjoyed opportunities to engage in dialog with church members from all over the world.  In addition, I have found myself frequently conversing with members of other Restoration denominations.

As a result of these conservations, I have noted that many members of the Restoration tradition (our church and the greater Latter Day Restoration movement) have views that seem to suggest that God is petty.

This troubles me, because God is not, in my opinion, in any way reflective of pettiness.

Ever.

The God of the Old Testament, the God of the Book of Mormon, the God of the New Testament, and the God of the modern world, as revealed in the Doctrine and Covenants, has never been, is not, and never will be, petty.

God may have said things, or done things, which, perceived through our limited human understanding, may strike us as petty.  However, there is a huge difference between God’s actions being perceived by us as petty, and having our own ideas about God that make him into a petty creator.

Let me try to give you an example of what I mean.  I have spoken to people, both inside and outside the church, who feel that it is completely unacceptable that the church changed it’s name.  In their view, our longer name, “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” is the only proper name, because God gave that name to us.

Except the word “Reorganized”.  Which we tacked on.  Without God’s consent.

We already were using a name that was not divinely sanctioned.  Yet that fact tends to be overlooked.  If we wanted to be “true” to the name that God provided, we would not have added the word “Reorganized” to our name.

Regardless of the details concerning the word “Reorganized”, the argument remains.  The rest of our longer name is what God told us to use, and therefore (so they reason), God does not support our use of the new name. At the very least, he is not pleased with it.

Some people have more serious opinions on God’s response to the fact that we changed the church’s name.  They believe we have earned God’s displeasure.  God rejects us as a people.  We have become apostate, etc.

I find all of these views utterly without foundation, and they trouble me because they all turn God into a petty god.

God may (and I stress the word “may”) have ever so slightly raised a divine eyebrow when we changed our name, but beyond that, I cannot accept that God was terribly concerned.  The church name, after all, is a cosmetic, or administrative aspect of the church.  While apparently given by God, it is not, strictly speaking, a point of doctrine.  It does not pertain to remission, redemption or resurrection.  It is not sacramental.  It is not a Gospel principle.  It is, just simply, a name.

Ultimately, everything we have is given to us by God. This includes all the blessings of life.  Including friends, jobs, hobbies, etc.  These are all provided to us by God.  Yet, we are totally free to drop friends, seek out new jobs, abandon hobbies that we’ve grown bored with, etc.  With this in mind, I’m not at all sure that I agree that we cannot change the name by which we are known to the world, despite the divine origin of that name, given that, again, this particular aspect of our church identity is not itself sacramental or doctrinal.

If we insist that we cannot change the name, then we do indeed make God a petty God.

Let me give you another example.

I have conversed with some people who have been very clear with me that God rejects the Independence Temple because it was not built precisely where (allegedly), God told Joseph Smith Jr. to build it.  I don’t know exactly where on the Temple Lot the temple was supposed to be built.  Yet, I do know (from using Google Earth), it appears that our temple is approximately 88 yards away from the bottom right corner of the roof of the Temple Lot Church.

The greatest distance would seem to be between the temple and the southwest corner of the Temple Lot, which is around 205 yards.  The middle of the Temple Lot suggests a possible distance of 135 yards.  Whatever the magic figure is, it is clear that the distance is quite insignificant.

Yet, this is the theory: God rejected our temple.  Why?  Because, we did not build it where God told us to build it. So where did we build it?

A little to the right.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if even God himself rolls his celestial eyes when he hears people say that our temple is rejected on account of it being across the street.

In some of the conversations I’ve had, some people have actually implied that the church is turning it’s back on it’s heritage, because we “no longer believe in the Temple Lot location”.

Just a moment.  The spot in question was for what now?  It was dedicated for what purpose?  Building a temple?  I’d say it is completely ironic, if not absolutely absurd, to suggest that we have moved away from our heritage because we wanted to move forward with building the temple that God had long desired us to build!

The real desire of God on this point was that the church was to raise up a temple. For the sake of the church, and of the world.  Not for the sake of a particular piece of real estate.

People need to recognize that Community of Christ lost ownership of the Temple Lot a very long time ago.  So, we could not have built our temple on that piece of property.  However, after a long period of time, the church did find itself in a position in which building the temple was financially feasible.

The way I look at it, when that happened, when it became feasible for the church to build it’s temple, it was then faced with two choices.  First, do nothing, and wait and see if one day the Temple Lot ownership might revert back to the church (which of course, could take years, decades, or never happen).

Second, we could move forward with the construction of the temple, by building it elsewhere (but still on the Greater Temple Lot).  In my opinion, once it became feasible for the church to build a temple, that God had commanded us to build, for the sake of the church and of the world, the right choice was to build right away.  Waiting for a day that might never come denies people the opportunity to experience the purposes for which it was intended.  People who suggest that we should have waited for a day that might never come are missing the entire point of having a temple in the first place.

The great irony in all of this, as I see it, is that people who have beliefs about God that make God petty, are falling into the exact same trap as many of the Israelites living in the days of Christ.

They had become a people who were so obsessed with the Law (because it was given by God), that many of them failed to be the righteous people that they claimed to be.  Christ rebuked them for this.  He rebuked hypocrites on multiple occasions.  He also pushed people to new understandings of God’s nature.

How many times did Jesus challenge the Israelites to approach the word of God in a new manner?  Enough that his examples should suggest to us that the lessons he was trying to teach the people should not be forgotten by his own church.

By clinging to ideas that make God petty, we become no different from the elders and chief priests who continually sought to confound Christ, and who ultimately arranged for his death.

I think it is also noteworthy that most Christians are already overlooking many scriptural verses.  For example, the teachings of Jesus Christ include statements that recommend bodily mutilation in order to atone or prevent various sins.

However, we all know that we are all sinful, and therefore, if we all followed such counsel, we would all be maimed.  Possibly to the extent that we would not be effective disciples, capable of furthering the Great Commission.  So, using the reason and common sense that we have been given by God, we recognize that while Christ gave us the above counsel, we also understand that he gave us alternate means of accomplishing the same things, and these alternate means do not diminish our capacity to be effective witnesses.

Much as, though we lost ownership of the Temple Lot, God still enabled us to have the financial means to build the temple, thereby fostering the purposes for which it was ultimately intended.

I want to be clear about something.  I’m not advocating that the word of God is no longer important.  That is not the point of this blog at all.  I’m not suggesting, nor do I believe, that we are free to alter doctrine as we see fit.  Nor are we free to tweak the sacraments.

I mention this, because I can see how a person might say “well, if we can build the temple wherever we want, and change the name of the church, knowing that God is not petty, can we not then, for example, change the wording of the baptismal prayer?  After all, if God is not petty, why can’t we change this type of thing?”

In my own view, no, we cannot change the baptismal prayer.  In this case, we are dealing with something that is sacramental.  There are some things that I believe God has said, or done, to further his own purposes.  There are other things that God has said, or done, that I feel he did for reasons other than directly furthering his own purposes.

God has provided the wording to be used in some of our sacraments.  Sacraments were implemented for very profound spiritual reasons.  We are not free to tamper with them.  So, in my view, God actually has reasons for having provided the wording that he did, reasons that further his divine purposes.

Likewise, I do not believe we are free to change the Gospel.  Now, let me be clear what the Gospel is.  It is, to put it casually, the “Good News” that Jesus Christ brings to the world.  To be more specific, it is God’s plan of salvation (for the purpose of granting eternal life), accomplished by repentance, remission, and redemption.

This understanding of just what the Gospel is, is important because we must be conscious of the fact that our entire canon of scripture does not pertain, 100% of the time, to the Gospel.

This itself is noteworthy, because sometimes when the church makes changes, we are accused of changing the Gospel.   That is an absolute falsehood.  The church has never changed the Gospel.  The Gospel, as found in our books of scripture, reveals to us what is required for salvation and eternal life.  Community of Christ has never changed the criteria.  The temptation may exist to do so, as evident by the fact that the LDS church has done so, yet Community of Christ has not.

We also cannot change God’s “only and true” doctrine, which is the same as the Gospel, as we learn from reading Second Nephi chapter 13 (from around verse 24 to the end).

To summarize, in my view, we cannot change God’s only and true doctrine, or the Gospel, and we cannot change the sacraments.

However, I don’t feel that things like the church name, or location of the temple, are the same.  Yes, God may have given a location, and he may have given a name, but I suspect that such things were done for more administrative reasons.  For example, there was probably some disagreement about what name the church should use.  I believe that God, desirous to see such discussions closed, simply made the decision for the church – but I doubt he has sentimental attachment to it, and so, this is the kind of thing I feel we can consider altering, without divine sanction.

To be honest, I suspect that God is pleased that we realized, at long last, that we could make changes to these type of church aspects.  We are, after all, his children, and we are, I hope, growing in maturity and wisdom.  God must, in my view, be pleased with that shift, because, once again, God is not petty.

What Truly Matters the Most?

mangerOn this very frigid Christmas Day I’ve been thinking about the question that has been circulating in my denomination for a few years now: “What matters most?”

The leadership of the church that I am a member of (Community of Christ) has asked this question multiple times over the last few years. It has become a recurring theme in the church. It first came into use in the concluding words of a divine revelation received in 2007:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.” –Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:11b

This question, what matters most, was then explored in President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church, entitled “A Defining Moment”. Near the start of his address, President Veazey states:

“What is this defining moment? In general, it can be framed by two questions: Will we allow certain circumstances and issues to divert us from our mission? Or will we clarify our mission priorities and focus on what matters most?”

About half way through his address President Veazey pointed out that what matters most to people varies from place to place. He used the example of people living in countries that have non-functional economic or political systems. He said:

“What matters most to them is how to free themselves and their neighbors from the devastating effects of poverty, disease, and human conflict.”

He then goes onto ask this question:

“The missional question for the church is, “How does the hope of God’s peaceful kingdom become more than a faint dream for them?” What will we do as a church whose mission is grounded in restoring people to wholeness in community?”

At the end of his address, President Veazey said this:

“So, after all that is said, what matters most? I hope it has become clear. The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most! What matters most is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.”

This was confirmed in another divine revelation (received in 2010), which ended with these words:

“The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 164:9f

Naturally, the church leadership has taken a cue from the above statements, and has challenged the church membership in general to ponder for themselves “what matters most?”

Lately, this question has been on my mind a great deal. While recognizing that the church has been given an answer to that question through divine revelation, I still feel that the question needs to be asked, not just by the church leadership, not just by church members, but by everyone, all the time.

It is, to put it simply, a brilliant question. It warrants a deliberate exploration; and lately, it has been on my mind a lot.

For the last several months, I have felt dissatisfied with some aspects of my life, as there are many things that seem to get in the way of what is truly important. From time to time, I’ve noticed that I’ve been asking myself “What matters most?”

You see, life just seems too short to be spending part of it mired in things that we don’t really find fulfillment in. The problem though, is that we often feel trapped in various routines. We might engage in things we don’t really want to spend our time doing, but we often don’t have a choice. Or, we think we don’t. Until we ask “what matters most?”

The answer to that question will of course vary from person to person. Yet if we all take the time to ponder it, we may find that some of the things we think we need to spend our time doing, are not really, truly, healthy for us.

During this past week, my community was beset by a major loss of electrical power. It is still ongoing, and there are many thousands of people that even today, do not have electricity, and therefore, heat, in their own homes. For far too many people, this has caused disruption with many things, including celebrating Christmas.

My own power went off Saturday evening at around 11:45, and came back Tuesday morning at 6:38. It got very cold, and my wife and I became swiftly aware that our society is extremely dependent on technology. That awareness was of course actually always there, but the awareness of it became much sharper as we wandered about, observing the damage (we had a massive ice storm) and listening to how people were coping.

For us, the power outage was not, comparatively speaking, very long (and for others, it may not be restored until this coming weekend), yet it seemed a long time. It definitely added a lot of stress, and frustration. And it was clear, intermingling with crowds of people taking shuttle buses between non-functional subway stations, that even after just the first day of no power, that people have a very low tolerance for having their lives disrupted.

Throughout this experience, I again found myself asking “what matters most?” Is it being able to watch my favorite TV show, or cooking my favorite meal? Or, are the things that matter most much more profound than our creature comforts? I again find myself wondering what truly matters? What is truly important? How much time are we wasting worrying about First World issues? How quick are we to ignore the cries and pleas of our brothers and sisters who deal with hardships on a daily basis, that we cannot even begin to imagine?

My wife and I are among the lucky individuals whose power came back yesterday; and now it is Christmas. And Christmas itself invites us to ask “what matters most?” What are the lessons that are buried within the Christmas story that we should be remembering all year long?

I tend to think that Christmas challenges us to assess who we are as individuals. To some degree, we do this at New Years; yet it is not quite the same. As we bring in the New Year, we strive to live more healthy lives, but it is during the Christmas season that we tend to be nicer to everyone we deal with, even complete strangers. How awesome it would be if we could keep doing that all year long.

Christmas can also be a trap. We tend to heap far too much on it in terms of our expectations. We become too obsessed with every aspect of it. We try to accommodate the demands of too many people, visiting friends and family near and far, day after day, until we are wiped out. Did we truly enjoy it all? Did we remember what it is truly all about? As we each experience Christmas in our own way, are we taking the time to ask “what matters most?”

One final thought. A few weeks ago I was chairing a priesthood meeting, and one of the things I covered was that we all have a tendency to take people for granted. I was very focused on this topic, and went so far as to tell the group that in my opinion, taking people for granted is a true form of sin.

I’ll reiterate that sentiment here. It is a sin to take people for granted. However, I think I’m beginning to see that there is more to it than that. It is a sin to take life for granted. Life is too short, too precious. Life is a gift from our divine creator. We cannot take it for granted. Instead, we must ask, on this Christmas Day, and everyday when life seems off course, to ask what matters most?  What truly matters most?

And when we struggle with trying to answer that question, just remember these words:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” -James 1:5 (Inspired Version)