When I was a young father struggling to balance the demands of school with work, callings, and raising my family, I sometimes found myself feeling overwhelmed. One day I read in the scriptures about the foreknowledge of God—He knows the end from the beginning (Abraham 2:8; Helaman 8:8)—and the thought bothered me a great deal. I kept thinking if all things are present before His eyes (Acts 17:26; Doctrine and Covenants 38:2), then that meant God knew right then how my life would turn out. He knew whether or not I would enter the celestial kingdom, and sadly, I didn’t think I would.
Maybe it was just because I was trying to juggle so many balls or maybe it was regrets about my past. Perhaps it was just that I had gained weight and felt discouraged at my lack of self-control. Whatever the reason, I assumed I would never be able to be the kind of person who could live with God in the celestial kingdom, so in my mind that meant Jesus’s suffering for me had been in vain. I felt guilty that I had made Christ suffer needlessly. Instead of being grateful for the Atonement, I felt apologetic. I was sorry I had caused Jesus pain. I could almost picture Him being upset with me for making Him suffer when I wasn’t even going to make it in the end.
I did not share these private thoughts with others. I was afraid people wouldn’t understand. I didn’t understand. The more I contemplated God’s foreknowledge and my own inadequacies, I couldn’t help but feel somehow God was laughing at me. I could almost imagine Him saying, “You’re trying really hard right now, but you’ll never be able to keep it up.” I felt like a turkey trying to better his life while an amused farmer was counting down the days to Thanksgiving.
Usually I was too busy to think about these concerns, but in quiet moments when I had time to ponder, I felt a little hurt and resentful. Why was God putting me through a refiner’s fire if I was not worth refining? For several months I habitually went through all the right motions, but without feeling any of the right emotions. Deep down I felt far from Heavenly Father’s love, acceptance, and approval. I knew He was there, and I knew the Church was true. These things had been confirmed to me over and over. I had a testimony of the Savior and His Atonement. I didn’t doubt Jesus had died for me. I just felt bad He had gone to so much trouble for seemingly nothing in my case. I didn’t lack faith in God or Jesus as much as I lacked faith in myself.
I didn’t express these negative thoughts to anyone. I did, however, occasionally comment to my wife she should have married better, and I asked my father-in-law and brother about how exactly God’s foreknowledge interacts with the principle of agency. Even after the good discussions those questions prompted, I still felt insecure about my future. I imagined either God was having some good laughs as He watched me struggle along or He had totally given up on me.
I knew who I was—a child of God—but this knowledge didn’t help when I talked myself into believing I was one of His bad children. I didn’t doubt God’s love or Jesus’s love. I just figured there were others more deserving.
When faced with such feelings, I have friends who would be spurred into action. They would take such thoughts as a challenge and redouble their efforts in order to prove themselves. I guess I have never been quite that confident. I just felt hopeless and wanted to quit.
Finally, I could no longer hide my discouragement from my wife, who lovingly asked what was bothering me. I confided my crazy thoughts, and she assured me of her love and God’s. That helped for a time and I once again turned my attention to meeting the demands of life’s busy routine.
Then one night I arrived home late. My wife, Debi, and the children had already gone to sleep. Without turning on the light, I quietly got ready, said my prayers, and then climbed into bed trying not to disturb Debi. When I knelt to pray I didn’t pray specifically about my troubling concerns or feelings. In fact, I had just offered the standard thank-thee-and-please-bless late-night prayer. But when I laid my head on the pillow there came into my mind and heart an answer to my prayer of many months. I felt God communicating with me in unspoken words: “I love you. Not only because I do, but because I am bound to.”
Some may not find much comfort in that thought, but for me it was a realization which brought tremendous relief, peace, and security. God is bound to love me. It is His nature to love perfectly and infinitely. He is bound to love me—not because I am good, but because He is good.
No matter how deficient and beyond recovery I thought I was, God is bound to love me. No matter how many balls I had juggled and let fall, no matter how much weight I had gained, how much lack of self-control I demonstrated, and how many regrets I carried from the past, He is bound to love me. No matter what my future might turn out to be, He is bound to love me. Not only does He require me to have faith and confidence in Him, but He is required to have faith and confidence in me. No foreknowledge can stop Him from investing His all in each moment, just as no foreknowledge stopped Christ from investing His all in Gethsemane and Calvary. Earth life is not merely a way of proving myself to Them, but also a way for Them to prove Their love to me. God and Jesus are bound to believe in me—in my potential and possibilities—even when I didn’t. God is bound to be as close to me as He is to any of His children because He is a perfect parent. If I fail, it will not be because He has. And knowing He has not failed gives me the power I need to succeed.
It was a moment of insight that sent tears rolling from my eyes to my ears as I laid in bed. Soon I could no longer hear because my ears plugged up like they do in a swimming pool. I just laid there quietly in the dark feeling this wonderful Spirit.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland wrote: “Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature.”
God loves me just as He loves His living prophets. I am one of the reasons for living prophets. God loves me just as He loves Joseph Smith. I am one of the reasons for the Restoration. God loves me just as He loves Jesus. I am one of the reasons for the Atonement. God obeys laws to preserve my freedom. He is bound to. Beyond this, He is also bound to love me as I learn to use that freedom. In Doctrine and Covenants we read that if a parent doesn’t teach a child before he is accountable, the sin is upon the head of the parent (68:25). If God doesn’t “lead me, guide me, walk beside me,” if He doesn’t “help me find the way,” I could blame my poor choices and sins on Him, and He would never allow that to happen.
That night of personal revelation was a turning point for me. Since then, as overwhelmed as I sometimes feel, I know things will work out in time. Through all the highs and lows I’ve experienced since that night, I have always felt safety and security as I continue going through the refining process—a process He wouldn’t put me through if I were not worth refining.
I know God will not forget us—nor can He. His heart can’t and won’t let go. As we grasp that iron rod, I know that that rod will grasp us back. God and Christ will love and help us. They are bound to.
Lead image from Pixabay.
In an increasingly polarized world, what will bridge the gulf that divides us? How can such a "small and simple thing" as care for others transform us into better people than we have been? One in Charity, with featured talks from the 2016 BYU Women's Conference, supplies those answers and more.