Latter-day Saint Life

‘Who was I if my idea of God was wrong?’: The uncomfortable beauty of letting go of our inaccurate beliefs

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Despite fervent prayers, Emily felt that God was gone—she could feel nothing from Him. That quietness first brought doubt in God, but then she began to see it was her perception of God that need to change.

President Russell M. Nelson declared that the Lord is “inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our [spouses], teach our children, and even care for our bodies.”1 Our God is one who repeatedly asks us to assess where we are and move closer to him. This is a God who invites thinking and rethinking.

But rethinking is not easy, especially when the rethinking involves faith and doubt. In my case, turning my doubts away from God and toward my understanding of God was disconcerting. We often change our possessions and our wardrobes, psychologist Adam Grant wrote, but “when it comes to our knowledge and opinions, though, we tend to stick to our guns. . . . We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt, and we let our beliefs get brittle long before our bones.”2 That is because “reconsidering something we believe deeply can threaten our identities, making it feel as if we’re losing a part of ourselves.”3

This was especially true of my ideas about God. I preferred sticking to the ideas of God I had learned decades earlier. Those ideas were familiar. And they were comfortable because they made God predictable and controllable.

Reconsidering those ideas brought discomfort. I felt unsure and anchorless. Who was I if my idea of God was wrong? What did my life look like? Was there any meaning in any of it? This questioning came with a sense of loss. Over time, I had to learn to be willing to let go, to grieve what I lost, and to open my mind to other ideas that contained more truth than the ones I had been grasping previously. …

When I look at the scriptures through the lens of rethinking, I see a God who consistently challenges human ideas of who God is supposed to be. In other words, I see a God who invites us to rethink.

Take Enoch, for example. God showed Enoch a remarkable Vision of “things which were not visible to the natural eye” (Moses 6:36). Because of God’s call, Enoch traveled around the land and “spake forth the words of God,” preaching the doctrines of the creation, the fall, the atonement, baptism, repentance, justification, sanctification, and the plan of salvation (see Moses 6:43–63). He taught for a long period of time, “and so great was the faith of Enoch that . . . he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him” (Moses 7:13). Enoch seems about as close to God as any prophet ever was. But even though Enoch was intimately connected with God, Enoch had gaps in his understanding of God. After he had done all this preaching, earth trembling, and mountain moving, he had another vision where he saw “the God of heaven look[ing] upon the residue of the people, and he wept” (Moses 7:28). Enoch was confused and asked God, “How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” (Moses 7:29).

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Enoch then asked God an extended question, laying out his current understanding of God: “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever; and thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?” (Moses 7:30–31; emphasis added).

Despite his close connection with God, Enoch had never thought that God could weep for his people. God challenged those ideas by showing Enoch a vision of a weeping God. He informed Enoch that because of the wickedness of the people, “the whole heavens shall weep over them . . . ; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” (Moses 7:37). Enoch learned—after years and years of preaching about and interacting with God—that God was a Being who was vulnerable and emotionally affected by the actions of his people.

The same rethinking happened to the brother of Jared. The brother of Jared was a man who was “highly favored of the Lord” (Ether 1:34). He prayed for God to preserve the language of his family and friends, and the Lord granted that request (see Ether 1:34–37). He asked God if his people should travel to another land, and in response, God said he would give his people a new land “because this long time ye have cried unto me” (Ether 1:43). God spoke with the brother of Jared in a cloud and gave him directions about where to go (see Ether 2:4–5). And several years later, God appeared to the brother of Jared again in a cloud and chastised him because he “remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” and then gave him detailed instructions on how to build a boat (Ether 2:14–17). God was responsive to the brother of Jared and intimately involved in the details of his people’s travel.

However, when the brother of Jared approached God in the boat-building process and asked God to put light into stones, the brother of Jared saw God’s finger and was shocked (see Ether 3:6). The brother of Jared “knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood” (Ether 3:8). Even though the brother of Jared had been praying to God for years and received detailed instructions from God, he had never considered that God had a body.

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Jesus’s life is another example: [he] showed up throughout his life in ways that challenged ideas about how God should act. When a woman was accused of being caught in adultery, he sidestepped the Mosaic law—which emphasized justice (stoning in this instance)—and invited those around him to examine their own hearts (see John 8:3–11). He spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well—something a Jewish man should not do—and in the book of John, she was the first person (not Jesus’s disciples) to know of Jesus’s Messianic calling (see John 4:1–26). When the woman with the issue of blood touched his clothes, he responded in kindness and told her that her faith had made her whole (see Matthew 9:20–22). If she had been bleeding while she touched him, she would have been ritually unclean and would have made Jesus ritually unclean, but Jesus did not shy away from her touch or chastise her for making him ritually unclean (see Leviticus 15:19).4

Through these actions, Jesus challenged ideas about how God interacted with women (in contrast to the extant culture, he valued women rather than diminished them), with those who were not Jewish (Jesus welcomed all regardless of their pedigree), and with those who were ritually unclean (fear of ritual uncleanliness did not prevent him helping those in need). His actions pushed those around him to rethink how they treated people that were frequently categorized as not worthy of God’s time or love.

One final example: during the Last Supper, Jesus started to wash his disciples’ feet—a dirty job that was left for servants. When Jesus came to Peter, Peter refused Jesus’s service (see John 13:8). Perhaps Peter was uncomfortable with the idea that God would do servant’s work or touch the dirtiest part of Peter’s body. Whatever Peter’s reasoning, his ideas about God made no room for Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus pushed back at Peter, reminding him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). Peter had to allow Jesus to serve him. Jesus willingly interacts with the dirtiest, hardest parts of our souls. This is not the picture of an aloof, sovereign-like God who does not want to get his hands messy. Rather, Jesus pushed Peter to rethink what Jesus’s role was: Jesus came to help and to serve. Peter had to allow Jesus to do what Jesus was already willing and ready to do. Peter had to reform his image of godliness.

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For me, God invites rethinking, not only rethinking about myself and my behavior, but rethinking of my ideas about God. As I see in the stories of Enoch and the brother of Jared, God invites rethinking at all stages of my life, regardless of how much I thought I knew and how connected I thought I was. Rethinking invites me to embrace the very likely reality that I cannot know all of God. Rethinking allows me to accept that not knowing does not mean that I give up. Rather, it encourages me to be open to different ways that God can show up in my life and guide me. Rethinking pushes me away from Pharisaic rigidness to more mental and spiritual flexibility. The ensuing curiosity and humility bring courage to wrestle with my doubts and with my faith. And hopefully, all of this allows me to let go of inaccurate ideas about God and grow closer to the actual God who reigns in the heavens.

Divine Quietness

Do you ever feel like your sincere, heartfelt prayers are ignored or met with silence? Do you wonder why a loving God would ever refuse to answer? Divine Quietness explores the reasons God sometimes answers our prayers with silence, in spite of our best efforts. Through the lens of her own experience and drawing on literature from many faith traditions, Emily Robison Adams discusses new ways of thinking about faith, doubt, and divine quietness. This thoughtful new book will help you learn to rethink your assumptions underlying what it means to have faith and how to connect with God even in quietness.

1. Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better,” Ensign, May 2019, 67.
2. Adam Grant, Think Again, 4.
3. Grant, Think Again, 4.
4. See James W. McConkie and Judith E. McConkie, Whom Say Ye That I Am? 76.

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