On Mass Murder and the Divine Orchestration of Speaking Assignments

Never one to let a good deed go unpunished, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow over an account included in Elder Bednar’s new book, One By One:

In “One By One,” which consists of five chapters, Elder Bednar uses the scriptures, quotes from church leaders and compelling accounts to identify this “fundamental pattern” and show how the Lord blesses and works with people in a personal way.

[…]

Less than a week after a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University in April 2007, Elder Bednar was assigned to speak at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech. He was grateful to give “spiritual assurance and succor” to students, faculty members and others affected by the tragedy on that occasion.

“Was it merely a coincidence that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had been assigned many months earlier to preside at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, only days after such a horrendous event? Was it a random occurrence that an authorized servant of the Lord was in a place with people who needed blessings, solace, and comfort?” Elder Bednar wrote. “Or was this episode divinely orchestrated by a loving Lord who knew the distress of victims and the unsettledness of a community? I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence. On this occasion, my companion and I were blessed to deliver tender mercies to many individuals — because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

Now, the shepherd who leaves the ninety and nine is a powerful image, and I’ve been a champion of the one-on-one approach to pastoral care ever since I heard the story of the starfish (“It made a difference to that one”).  That much is fine.

What made me stumble over this anecdote was the notion that there is no such thing as a coincidence when it comes to evil and speaking assignments. There’s a certain irony in having a supremely evil act imbue an otherwise routine assignment with special significance—would it have occurred to anyone to even consider that a run-of-mill speaking assignment had been divinely orchestrated in the absence of an act of apparently senseless violence that left survivors and observers looking for answers?

I’m a rookie when it comes to theodicies, so feel free to rebut my ill-informed views in the comments below, but this message strikes me as singularly discomfiting—we know that God cares about us as individuals because he schedules an apostle to speak in a place where months later 32 people would be shot at pointblank range by a classmate wielding a Glock 19?

It seems very much of a piece with the “God of the lost car keys” narrative where we dramatize the most ephemeral traces of divine intervention in our lives while glossing over the concrete manifestations of genuine evil. I mean, I guess if I had to choose between suffering unspeakable tragedy and losing my car keys or suffering unspeakable tragedy and finding my car keys I’d go with the latter because I’m pragmatic like that, but at the same time it’s asking a lot to accept trivial triumphs as the consequence of divine orchestration while terrific injustice is simply a growth opportunity #OppositionInAllThings!

I get the primal desire to make sense out of a chaotic world that seems largely indifferent to individual fate. There’s nothing more human than trying to distill some kind of significance from the buffetings of our mortal existence. But before I accept that shooting sprees are the price we have to pay in order to see the Hand of Providence in our lives, well, I’d just as soon chalk the speaking assignment up to coincidence.

How about you?

Comments

  1. Peter, thank you. I read this blurb this morning and it sat wrong with me all day, but I couldn’t quite nail down why. You’ve done an excellent job here putting your finger on my discomfort.

  2. Few things have made me question my membership in the Church quite like the tenure of David A. Bednar on the Quorum of the Twelve. At this point I genuinely wonder if the man has any capability for empathy.

  3. APM, the evidence is not strong.

  4. The challenge, of course, is that God can and does intervene in human affairs on earth. It is entirely possible that God finds our keys. I have to hold open the possibility that the explanation is correct. However, as a personal matter I would probably have approached it from the perspective of God using his servants to provide needed aid after a moment of crisis.

  5. Wahoo Fleer says:

    Why didn’t the loving Lord just, you know, orchestrate some interference with the shooter or soften his heart beforehand? Fellow theodicy rookie here so same caveats apply.

  6. I get what you’re saying I guess. But since the original post is arguing against something rather than for something, I’m not fully satisfied. Let’s think about what the post is arguing for and see if it’s better than what Elder Bednar argued for.

    The implicit question in this post: If God can foresee the shooting and arrange for an apostle to be there to offer comfort, then why didn’t God just prevent the shooting? Of course, that takes us down the rabbit hole of why evil exists, and ultimately to the question of why God doesn’t prevent all these evils in the first place. I mean, if he knew the shooting would happen far enough out to deploy an apostle, why didn’t he just stop the shooting?

    Personally, I’ll wind up concluding that God, for whatever reason, chooses to allow evils to occur. And if that’s the case, I can’t see why God wouldn’t also plan for small comforts (or “tender mercies” in a Bednar-esque phrase) to assist us in coping with those evils. And with that logic, I have no problem with Elder Bednar’s point.

    But maybe I’m just misunderstanding the original post here.

  7. I wouldn’t say it just like Elder Bednar does, but to me his point is nothing strange. I think if we are listening to the Spirit all of us can be placed just in time or just in the right circumstance to heal, comfort and bless those that are afflicted. That God didn’t stop the thing afflicting them is a big part of agency right?

  8. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    I am with you. Peter!

  9. Of course, even if someone else had been scheduled to speak, or if no stake conference had been scheduled at all, the Brethren could have arranged for a member of the 12 to travel there to provide whatever comfort he could. I don’t believe for one second that “everything happens for a reason”, but I do believe that one can find “meaning” in most things, and I also believe that only God can make a “mess” into a “message” and a “lemon” into “lemonade.” I think there was value in Elder Bednar’s being there soon afterwards (whether or not it had been planned well in advance). But I am reluctant to conclude that somehow God orchestrated all of that. But if Elder Bednar and others find that a source a comfort, who am I to disagree with the authenticity of their feelings, perceptions and conclusions.

  10. People like simple explanations for things. Houston was drowned because God wanted new carpets in the Temple. Isn’t God’s foresight incredible?

    It doesn’t resonate with people that Elder Bednar could have had just as important and miraculous reason to be there without the shooting. “yeah, the world is full of miracles, whatever. give us something flashy”.

  11. Dog Spirit says:

    I’m more distressed by the the worldview reflected in this statement:

    “Was it a random occurrence that an authorized servant of the Lord was in a place with people who needed blessings, solace, and comfort?”

    As if God does not authorize every yearning human heart that reaches out to another to give comfort? This says more about me than elder Bednar, but I’m just wearied by the idea that God submitted the proper paperwork months in advance to ensure that someone with the most efficacious prayers would be handy to bless everyone properly and according to handbook instructions. The God I hope in is bigger than that box.

  12. Some of us don’t believe that God is up there stirring the pot. My God is more standoffish than that. But that is just me, I’m a cafeteria Christian.

  13. In theodicy terminology (which I am just learning) this story strikes at the heart of what is for me the “existential” theodicy problem, which might be simplified to “how do we trust in God?” or “is this ontological description of God someone or something in whom I can trust?”

    In that respect, I really have to question whether to put any form of trust in a God who plans ahead and intervenes in a Stake Conference schedule, but does not (chooses not to?) intervene in a mass shooting.

  14. On MassShootingTracker-dot-org it shows that last year we had 477 mass shootings in the US. Can we match up General Authorities’ speaking schedules to see where else the Lord pre-scheduled them to provide tender mercies?

  15. I don’t know from theology, but $22 for 168 pages and plenty of white space for responding to each chapter’s discussion questions.

  16. Paul Ritchey says:

    +1 HDP.

    Laying aside the epistemological problems with using statistics to evaluate God (and there may be problems), HDP’s point makes me wonder how Elder Bednar arrived at his apparent conclusion. Indeed, the absence of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve at or after similar events does not require us to conclude that God did not prepare contingencies in other forms for those events, but it does mean Elder Bednar needs some other reason for believing that it was him, rather than someone or something else, who God intended to address Blacksburg. Perhaps he’s had that fact confirmed by revelation, but I note he doesn’t say so in the excerpt.

    Perhaps, if he does Q&A in my stake again, I’ll ask him. Or perhaps more appropriately, those in, say, the Waynesboro, Virginia stake (which includes Charlottesville) ought to ask him. I’m not aware that he, or any other member of the Twelve, has visited lately.

  17. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I find it disappointing when a member of the Q12 states openly that he, by virtue of being a member of that body, is uniquely qualified to “deliver tender mercies” over some other “authorized servant of the lord” such as a stake president or other area authority that would have typically been present at a stake conference. I know many people feel there is a difference in the spirit that might accompany such a person, but it’s a bad look when they say it, themselves.

  18. HDP, you beat me to it, but that was my thought. Which apostle was assigned, months before the Sandy Hook murders took place, to speak at a Stake Conference in the immediate vicinity of the school shortly after the shootings? Maybe God cared more about the families of the college students at WVU than about the parents of the grade-schoolers at Sandy Hook.

  19. I have so much to say, but will defer to the more polite, articulate forms of dissent already expressed by the OP and the comments here.

  20. I think what he is trying to articulate is that anytime we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are in the service of our God. Service is an essential aspect of the plan of salvation, so I don’t think it’s a stretch say that his service at that time was no coincidence. This is based on the premise that all service is not merely “coincidental”, but divinely mandated.

    In terms of horrific events being a qualification for the Hand of Providence, there’s more to it. In this particular instance, he obviously tailored his thoughts based on the circumstances and felt that it had an impact on someone, including himself. If we see someone struggling to load furniture into a truck, we feel the inclination to help them. We can argue about why were were going down that street or why we were there at that time, but what matters is that we helped when we got there.

  21. The challenge, of course, is that God can and does intervene in human affairs on earth. It is entirely possible that God finds our keys. I have to hold open the possibility that the explanation is correct.

    I think there’s a risk of trivializing evil if we’re not careful about the lessons learned from such interactions, though I’m not sure if it outweighs the risk of failing to recognise God’s hand in our affairs.

    The implicit question in this post: If God can foresee the shooting and arrange for an apostle to be there to offer comfort, then why didn’t God just prevent the shooting?

    I’m content to balance the fact that evil exists and no one will be spared in this life with hope in the good news that this condition is not permanent. I am glad if Elder Bednar was in a position to comfort those in need of comfort. I’m less comfortable with the idea that God has a plan that only ever kind of makes sense in retrospect.

  22. Theodicy novice here, but someone who has long wondered about these sorts of things. There is a paradox involved here that appears to be out of our current range of understanding. God respects the principle of agency, so both good things and bad things happen because people have agency. God does sometimes intervene to prevent some bad things, but not others. God also provides succor for those who mourn, and are suffering from the effects of evil. Trying to chart all the wherefores and whys of our Heavenly Parents intervention or non-intervention leads to madness, despair, and a loss of hope.

    Yet we are counseled to always have hope, and exercise faith, and are promised that faith will be rewarded, provided we don’t attempt to limit the time involved due to our lack of real eternal perspective. I find Elder Bednar’s point plausible, but his narrative obviously opens up questions of why this, and not this? But I also suspect there is a reason that Elder Bednar is a member of the Twelve, and I am not. I will give him the benefit of the doubt here, and that his intentions are good. But this retelling raises more questions than it answers for me, and that is unfortunate. I don’t think it is the teaching moment he was hoping for.

    And don’t get me started on Deseret Book publications.

  23. I really have to question whether to put any form of trust in a God who plans ahead and intervenes in a Stake Conference schedule, but does not (chooses not to?) intervene in a mass shooting.

    Yes, I think that gets at the heart of the matter. It’s told as a faith-promoting experience, and I acknowledge that it can be, but it raises more questions than it answers, at least from my perspective.

  24. I will give him the benefit of the doubt here, and that his intentions are good. But this retelling raises more questions than it answers for me, and that is unfortunate. I don’t think it is the teaching moment he was hoping for.

    Agreed—the best of intentions practically invite unintended consequences.

  25. Perhaps the schedule (not the shooting) wasn’t for the benefit of the conference attendees, but for Elder Bednar to learn how to comfort others in their time of suffering.

  26. Paul Ritchey, I agree with you . . . whether his arrival was a coincidence or “a mess being made into a message” (as DavidH said) would depend on whether God had truly intervened. I sense sincerity in Elder Bednar’s writings, but he didn’t do what we train missionaries to do- to stop and “point out the spirit”. He only cited the coincidence. He didn’t describe the feelings of his heart or articulate why he felt that way or how he knew those promptings were a revelation. We as a people can’t just continue to claim that coincidences are miraculous.

    I don’t know why this happens all the time in Mormonism, but we do it and most of us aren’t aware of it. When outsiders look in, they hear a story of coincidence that belongs in the Time Life Books series – ‘Mysteries of the Unknown’. I wonder if we point to the coincidences in life (like found car keys, tithing miracles, scheduled talks etc.) instead of the personal spiritual experiences for the following reasons:

    * we are being intellectually lazy.
    * we are hoarding spiritual experiences for fear of tossing pearls before swine.
    *we as Mormons have learned to speak ‘in code’ after years of persecution.
    *Mormon leaders are men, men in our culture don’t share their feelings well.
    *We are in a multi-generational pattern and can’t break out of it.
    *The spirit constrains us- stories are told in a way that the reader interprets through his/her use of the spirit- much like a teacher would ask a student to do-it-for-themselves.

    I don’t know. I do know that Elder Bednar has experienced several miracles of perfectly timed talks, fortunately- those incidents were victim-less. I have personally felt edification in my heart as I have heard two of his right-place-right-time experiences. For me, that is what matters.

  27. Mark, if that were so, he should have been scheduled to speak in Orlando in June 2016.

  28. Jim Wallmann says:

    I rely on faith to explain why bad stuff happens. Since I don’t believe that hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were sent by God because of America’s tolerance of gays, I can’t believe that hurricane Harvey is a message from God about Trump. But it’s sure tempting.

  29. Paul Ritchey says:

    It is at least conceivable that victims and communities involved in other public tragedies, like Orlando, get divinely-guided solace in other ways. Thus, apostolic absence itself does not make a liar of Elder Bednar, nor does his presence in Blacksburg end the inquiry – which is why Mortimer’s point is apt.

  30. The questions discussed above reminded me of one introductory chapter in “You are not so Smart” entitled “The texas sharpshooter fallacy”

    The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.

    The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.

    https://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/09/11/the-texas-sharpshooter-fallacy/

  31. I am with you 100%. Church leaders who expect us to see god’s love in coincidences after the fact act , don’t get it.

  32. I am frequently assured that God won’t give you any trial you can’t handle. So when I hear of terrible news, I don’t worry. I figure the victims can handle it.

  33. My take is: yes, God probably did assign Bednar to be be there at that time. Mysterious ways etc etc, God of small coincidences.
    The thing I dislike about it is the way Bednar has expressed it: “On this occasion, my companion and I were blessed to deliver tender mercies to many individuals.” It sounds like Elder Bednar is a bit full of himself. _He_ was blessed, not “By the providence of God, I was an unworthy servant to tried to help strangers in the midst of a terrible affliction” (which is a bit grandiose, but whatever).
    But then I’ve often thought that the apostles lack the ability to speak well in public.

  34. As a side note, the normal travel and speaking assignments for apostles are not the product of some clerk, but are decided prayerfully by the President of the Q12. Remember that “apostle” does mean “one sent forth.”

    Also, as most of us know, apostles have a unique standing in LDS priesthood hierarchy and theology. They are able to give “apostolic blessings” which are priesthood blessings of comfort and counsel to a congregation or entire area. Apostles often do this for areas suffering from political turmoil, natural disasters or other tragedies.

    So my take is that Elder Bednar does express himself in ways that make some of us cringe a bit, but he was likely sent there for an inspired purpose.

  35. Also, I wish Deseret Book provide much more care in editing and working with church leaders with their publications.

  36. My understanding of God and agency (in basic terms, my deeper opinion has more nuance) is this: God allows choice – and then he can respond to that choice. What you are asking for is a God that acts to interfere with choice, which in my mind frustrates agency (save when somebody else’s agency/choice allows God to respond – allowing an individual by their own choice to intervene).

    I totally agree with your sentiment here, “before I accept that shooting sprees are the price we have to pay in order to see the Hand of Providence in our lives”

    However, I don’t think that is what Elder Bednar is describing. God didn’t allow the shooting so we could see the Hand of Providence, God allowed the shooting so as not to unjustly obstruct agency. In compassion he led those seeking inspiration to an act of compassion and healing. This is a singular act, and perhaps alone not too significant, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we could part the veil to find that God (and the righteous who are with God and near to us) inspired an immense amount of others to also provide acts of compassion and healing so far as individuals here in mortality are able, seeking, and willing to follow that inspiration.

  37. Here is the challenge with trying to convey spiritual experiences with the written word. We are reading Elder Bednar’s account of the experience, cited as an example of divine comfort and mercy, but we weren’t there to experience it. The people that heard his talk and received his blessing as conveyed by the spirit may have had no problem with him later relating the account in a book and were not thinking that he was implying that it took a tragedy in order to see the Hand of Providence, and were not concerned about the many other tragedies that seemingly went without divine intervention. As other commenters mention, apostles have a unique calling that allows them in their visits to stakes to provide unique blessings to heal injured hearts. I have experienced that, and felt that the apostle was speaking to me personally and it provided unmistakable healing that continues to this day. That they are flawed vessels, that they make mistakes, that they sometimes express themselves a little awkwardly, or in a way that can look a little presumptuous doesn’t detract from that unique calling and function, at least for me. Perhaps this is the modern day version of apostolic healing that can be compared to the miraculous healings performed by the ancient apostles.

  38. Right, my point wasn’t to deny that Elder Bednar is bringing solace to individuals who need it. It just seems that there’s enough evil and suffering in the world that he could visit any congregation on any given Sunday and find individuals in need of compassion and healing. I know that I don’t need to look long or far at all to find them.

  39. I think it is easier if we put aside the question of whether the timing of Brother Bednar’s speaking assignment was divinely orchestrated and, instead, focus on the broader, dubious proposition: “There are no coincidences in the work of the Lord.” This is not only contrary to Christ’s teachings—”. . . for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust . . .”—it is pernicious.

    If my neighbor’s car breaks down in the middle of a horrendous rain storm and a helpful auto mechanic happens by at that very instant but when my car breaks down under similar circumstances and no good Samaritan magically appears, am I a to conclude that the Lord loves my neighbor more than me? That God saw fit to rescue my neighbor but allowed me to flounder in the rising waters? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist that.)

    As you note, it is very difficult, especially for those schooled to see the hand of God in everything, to accept the fact ours is a chaotic universe where random events, for both good and for ill, occur constantly. This doesn’t mean that God does not exist or that he does not answer prayers, but it does mean that if you don’t understand and accept the laws of probability and instead view every stroke of good luck or of misfortune in your life as the work of Providence, you will likely make some very bad decisions.

  40. John Mansfield says:

    How to Worry Your Visiting Teacher

    We like to think that we are mature enough to take things as they are without coddling and simplification to protect our tender sensitivities, ready for meat instead of the milk we’re given year after year. Then an apostle claims the Lord is aware of future atrocities and uses them for his purposes, to make His mercy manifest to His saints, and we recoil that this isn’t how Heavenly Father and Jesus were described in Primary.

  41. I get your point. However, maybe of all the stakes under his purview, this one was one of the best possible destinations at that moment. As well the starfishes stranded on the beach that we passed up on the way to throwing back into the ocean the ones we did might complain. Elder Holland made the point before giving his apostolic blessing at our stake recently that this or a very similar blessing could apply to any number of stakes that Sunday throughout the world, because there’s plenty angst and suffering to go around.

  42. am I to conclude that the Lord loves my neighbor more than me?

    Indeed; the lessons we draw from such events can be tricky. On the one hand, we ought to recognize the Lord’s hand in all our doings, on the other hand endure to the end in the absence of any evidence of the divine. I get that we are all moral agents called upon to do hard things, and I’m not asking for easy answers, though sometimes I feel that that’s what we’re getting.

    Then an apostle claims the Lord is aware of future atrocities and uses them for his purposes, to make His mercy manifest to His saints, and we recoil that this isn’t how Heavenly Father and Jesus were described in Primary.

    My sense of Heavenly Father as depicted by the Primary curriculum is a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient being who leverages adversity so we can learn and grow. I’m not sure Elder Bednar is subverting that model here. Using the violent deaths of 32 individuals—without dwelling too much on the violence or the death—to make a larger point about how there’s no such thing as coincidence strikes me as being on par for the Sunday School course.

    Elder Holland made the point before giving his apostolic blessing at our stake recently that this or a very similar blessing could apply to any number of stakes that Sunday throughout the world, because there’s plenty angst and suffering to go around.

    Exactly.

  43. “As you note, it is very difficult, especially for those schooled to see the hand of God in everything, to accept the fact ours is a chaotic universe where random events, for both good and for ill, occur constantly”

    Course, you could accept that it’s not chaos and randomness to God, where the hangnails, found keys, near misses, and tragic deaths are all part of a much, much larger tapestry where each individual thread is more precious than Unobtanium and will be judged much more fairly that we can currently comprehend.

    But it is difficult for those schooled to understand and accept the laws of probability. ;)

  44. Turtle Named Mack: YES. My feelings exactly. For one apostle to say another acted as an instrument of comfort is one thing; to say it about himself is a little weird.

    FWIW, I was in New York on 9/11 and God did not see fit to send apostles afterwards – or have them write letters – or even inspire a former general auxiliary presidency member to honor her commitment to come to our subsequent stake women’s conference. (What I’m saying is, several months after the attack she cancelled with two days notice because she still didn’t “feel comfortable coming to New York.”) So Elder Bednar’s comments in the OP just aren’t sitting well with me. Sorry for the negativity!

  45. It seems to me that the subtext of the message is to reinforce the idea that everything the apostles do and say is authorized by and instructed from God. (I imagine this as if God sits on their shoulder, endlessly directing – rather disrespectful, but that’s the image I get.) It’s been a big theme lately. Such terms as ‘authorized servant’ and ‘Divinely Appointed’ and ‘Divinely Approved’ are being thrown out all over the place.

    It kinds of weird me out though, because at the end of the day it feels like a way to say “Listen to me and nobody but me because I have divine favor and no one else does.” But of course the one who says, ‘don’t listen to anyone but me’ is the exact person you should never trust. So I don’t see the leadership taking this stance as a step forward.

  46. And to everyone NOT visited by a GA immediately after a tragic event… Guess God doesn’t love you?

  47. ReTx: I’ve started to pick up on the same thing. Maybe GAs have always tooted the exclusivity horn, but if it’s happening now more than ever I take it as a sign that they’re engaged in some sort of damage control, what with all these podcasters and Denver Snuffers now roaming the earth.

  48. Kinda late, but I have a dear friend who was a professor at VT at the time of the massacre…in civil engineering, the department that Cho Seung-Hui shot up. She lost many, many friends and students. I’m not sure if she’s aware of Elder Bednar’s remarks but I’m quite confident that she would strangle him with his own entrails if she were. (This is une femme formidable, to borrow one of Agatha Christie’s favorite terms.)

    It is astonishing to me that such an unbelievably callous man bears the mantle of an Apostle, and that after more than a decade in the role he clearly has learned nothing. Alarmingly, due to his relatively young age and the ages of those in front of him in the Twelve, there’s a very good chance that he will be President of the Church one day. I will have extraordinary difficulty raising my hand to sustain him; Lord willing, he’ll be a vegetable by then.

  49. Cate – I will add another direct story that doesn’t match Bednar’s conclusion. Last winter a special Stake Conference was called in my Stake. A member of the 12 was the main speaker. The Wednesday before the conference a huge wind, rain, snow storm was scheduled to occur. The Thursday night before Salt Lake sent a letter canceling the Stake Conference and the member of the 12 for safety reasons. Really?

    We are 2 states away. Doesn’t the Lord protect his servants? Why not throw some jeans and work gloves in your bag and come prepared to “live the gospel” among the distressed from the storm. No can’t do that. Safety first.

    Double irony. The storm never fully materialized. It died before it fully came in. God must of have missed the weather memo on that one.

    To the OP directly. – Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago when Elder Holland rescinded a story that had verbiage about God’s hand in the minor details? The claims of Elder Bednar seem to echo the original claims of Divine intervention that Elder Bednar now publishes. So which is it? Hmm?

  50. I get that the theology is sticky and the implications aren’t what you might want, but evil speaking like this about a living apostle isn’t cool. Please vent about him elsewhere.

  51. Steve, any criticism on my part would be based on the notion that Bednar is not in fact a living apostle. But still, perhaps you’re not even saying that criticism outside the ad hominem equals evil speaking, and anyone, legit apostle or not, certainly affords some degree of respect.

  52. Hoping for someone to be rendered a nonentity by dementia is a bridge too far, and I apologize.

    Still, I am not exactly thrilled by the prospect of a man becoming the earthly head of the Church, who anyone not of our faith would rightly consider to be so insensitive as to be in the realm of cognitive defect (and who has provided a great deal of evidence above and beyond this one instance). I know for a fact that I am nowhere near alone among faithful Latter-day Saints in holding this view.

  53. Hey, first there are “no gays” in the church, now, “no coincidences” in the church. What next?

    I happen to believe in coincidences. And, gays in the church.

  54. J. Paul Valley says:

    I’m all for looking at these things critically and not taking claims of the brethren at face value but my goodness this interpretation of Bednar’s statement seem to be taken in bad faith.

    I suppose the next time I’m trying to comfort someone who is struggling to “distill some kind of significance” from a heinous tragedy I’ll be sure to steer clear of any indication that maybe God sends his grace in mysterious ways, lest I step into problematic theological territory.

  55. BS. (The Bednar Shuffle.) Yep, he’s a tough one. Very thought provoking post Peter.

  56. this interpretation of Bednar’s statement seems to be taken in bad faith

    My capacity for self-deception is legion, I’ll grant you that. If I were to re-write this post after all the feedback I’ve received, I would focus more on the issue of divine orchestration—where does it begin? Where does it end? If the claim is that it begins with a mass shooting, well, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to take even a General Authority’s word on it, I’d have to receive my own revelation. If Elder Bednar is simply saying that senseless violence is a fact of life, but through the Spirit we can mitigate not only the eternal but even short-term effects, well, I can get on board with that. His note about coincidences gives me pause, however.

    Broadly speaking, this post wasn’t about Elder Bednar but the Mormon propensity to squint really hard at horrific tragedies until a silver lining emerges, which I believe is sometimes misguided.

  57. Nunya Bidniss says:

    APM, the evidence is not strong.

    -APM and RAF

    You’re wrong (and APM seems to be gleefully critical of him, as well as being wrong).
    He’s spoken/ministered individually to my child when my child most needed a witness of Christ.
    He has a higher empathy than both of you put together (as evidenced by APM’s comments on this post, at the least). In addition to his concern and advice, he gave us his home phone number so we could call him and keep him up to date on my child’s spiritual well-being.

    APM: Sorry he’s not doing what you want him to do in the way you want him to do it. It must be very frustrating. No wonder you publicly wish for eventual dementia for him, then fig-leaf your truly-held sentiment with “but other people think so too!” It must be empowering for you to imagine him as such.

    BCC: Come for the criticism; stay for the classy commenters™

  58. Nunya Bidness,

    I am glad that your son was able to get help. But most of us will not get any help from Bednar or any other prominent church leader. Honestly, our bishops and stake presidents don’t even have time for all of us. Empathy is more than showing concern for the person right in front of you. Many people have endured tragedies without God sending special representatives. So where does that leave the rest of us?

  59. Shockingly, people can be wonderful in the micro and terrible in the macro. I suspect that Nunya Bidness wouldn’t have had any other reaction if a GA who doesn’t say things like “We don’t have homosexuals in the Church” and doesn’t tell rooms full of despairing single forty-somethings “Our goal is for you to get married” would have ministered to his/her child.

    I mean, I get it, the guy’s got good intentions, but those and a dollar still won’t buy me a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke at a BYU vending machine.

  60. Regarding criticism of Elder Bednar —

    Not from me. I don’t know the man personally, I respect the office, and my personal experience (and therefore now my default assumption) with a number of general authorities is that without regard to how they sound over the pulpit, in personal private interactions they have always been caring and compassionate.

    But here we’re not talking about the person, not discussing rumors and gossip, not even discussing a prepared sermon, but we are talking about a publication, a book. I think writings of this type are absolutely fair game. He’s had time to reflect, to consider his words. He’s had the benefit of editors and second and third drafts. When he writes “I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence.” I read and think and take it seriously. And, in my case, at least, I disagree. I do think it’s bad theology.

    It’s not as though this is an obscure byway of thought that nobody can be expected to understand or think about. The nature of an interventionist God, the nature of God, the Mormon conception of God, theodicy more generally, the ontology of a God in whom we place our trust — these are big deal topics. It is perfectly “in bounds” to expect an apostle to be aware and thoughtful on these matters.

    In other words, I’m entitled to take him seriously, to read his words and consider the implications and the permutations. I’m expected to take him seriously and to recognize that disagreeing is no small thing. And with all that, I am entitled to and in fact do conclude that I disagree, that “no coincidences” doesn’t work for me.

  61. Lecturing someone on how empathy works while simultaneously disregarding their personal connection to the Issue at hand in an effort to defend wishing dementia on someone and capping it off by saying good intentions are worthless because you can’t buy stuff with it. I wonder if this counts as being terrible in the micro, since it’s directed at an individual, or in the macro, since it’s in a public comments section.

  62. anon for this says:

    I really dislike it when General Authorities tell stories in which they themselves are the hero.

    I hate to say it, but I find a lot of TSM’s stories frustrating for this very reason.

  63. Perhaps if we knew more about the “spiritual assurance and succor” Elder Bednar provided, I would feel more qualified to comment. Did he offer some explanation of the meaning of senseless tragedy, of the power of the Atonement to correct the consequences of the evil of others? If he, in his position as an Apostle, had some special insight that offered comfort and understanding to those suffering shock and grief, I would like to hear what that was. Maybe it was someone he knew because of his apostolic calling, some insight he received as a special witness of Jesus Christ. Does the book say?

  64. This thread has been the biggest waste of my time all week. I regret even looking at it. I have not in any way been edified by it! (D&C 50:23) See ya, I get better things to do.

  65. Godspeed, Howard.

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