We All Worship a Different God

cloudsSomeone who studies religion knows that there are many Gods and ideas of divinity throughout theology. They understand the differences between these beliefs and the intricacies of what God means to many people. However, I am not that person, so my knowledge is much more limited. But recently I have started to notice the subtle differences between the God that I worship and the God that people around me seem to worship.

Of course, the God that I have known and learned about throughout my life is different from the one(s) that my Hindu, Muslim, and even various Christian friends know. But the more I question my own beliefs and the more I learn about the beliefs of others, the more I am sure that none of us believe the same things, even when we claim the same religion.

Ultimately, it comes down to how we each individually interpret teachings about God and how we integrate that understanding in our personal relationships with Him. But I also think this comes in layers. First, what I and another person regard as the appropriate teachings regarding God are likely to differ. If the teachings are the same, our interpretations are probably different. And even if our interpretations are similar, our personal relationships with God are sure to be disparate.

I want to focus on that last layer. But first I want to provide a temporal comparison.

One of my brothers and I have vastly different personalities and thus vastly different ways of interacting with our parents. Without divulging too many family secrets, my relationship with them has been much smoother than what has been my brother’s experience. And I would wager that overall, we have slightly different understandings of who our parents are. We have the same mother and father, but we also know different parents than each other.

I also think the same goes for each of us and God. With different teachings, interpretations, and relationships with God, none of us really know the same one.

For me, I think He has to be a little more patient than He may have to be with others. I think His focus on empathy, mercy, and love is stronger than anything else in the gospel. I’m also pretty sure He’s got a good sense of humor. And I could be completely wrong. Or maybe these things are just true for me. My understanding may even be different a week from now and that’s okay. Progress is the whole point, right?

But I also think that, no matter what, we’re all a little bit wrong about God too. Because we aren’t perfect and so our understanding of Him can’t be either. Or even more importantly, because I think He is progressing as well. It’s impossible for us to know God completely because we just don’t have that capacity yet.

It is okay to be wrong about God. It’s okay if our understanding changes over time. But it’s also okay if someone has a different understanding than we do. We get so bogged down on what’s right and what’s wrong, who’s correct and who needs to do a little more time studying because they don’t quite get it yet. And that’s not to say what is right and what is truth don’t matter; I just don’t think it’s the most important. What is most vital is what we each individually know, how we use that knowledge to love and serve others, and our personal relationship with our Heavenly Parents. The rest is just noise.

Comments

  1. Excellent post, AH. I have experienced this most poignantly with my own earthly children–they have radically different personalities, and they require radically different parenting from me. If this is the case in my own small world, how could it be any other way with God? As above, so below. Each of my children would describe me as a parent very differently– if I am doing my job right. Like the fable about the blind feeling different points on an elephant, none of them are wrong.

  2. Very well said, Amber.

  3. That last paragraph is so important. That’s the tragedy of the history of Christianity: we so often enforce orthodoxy and fight heresy and often commit sin greater than the heresy we’re trying to prevent. I probably make myself annoying saying this so many times, but in my view, when the Lord tells Joseph Smith in the first vision that the creeds are an abomination, the reason for that is not that the creeds got some things wrong, but the fact that the creeds were used as weapons to divide the body of Christ and persecute heretics. And in my opinion, that’s why so many of the early revelations command the early missionaries to “say nothing but repentance” and to “not talk” of “tenets.”

    If you have wrong ideas about God, but you’re humble and repentant, the holy ghost will lead you to all truth. But if you won’t repent, your orthodoxy is worthless. Religion is a battle for the heart and soul more than for the mind.

  4. What is most vital is what we each individually know, how we use that knowledge to love and serve others, and our personal relationship with our Heavenly Parents. The rest is just noise.

    Amen.

  5. My own very personal not generalizable experience runs through a long period of vaguely unsatisfying father image, then a not that but what? (my father was wonderful and our relationship was great and an 80% good model, but only 80%), then a solidly intellectual apophatic period which I might have (mistakenly) preached about or pushed on others, and then a surprise confrontation not of my making after which I don’t have much to say and even less interest in what anybody else thinks of me.

    Which is all to be in full agreement with and appreciative of the OP.

  6. The whole idea of the restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith is to help those who embrace Mormonism to know God as He would have us know Him. Without personal revelation we follow a god of our own making, The Book of Mormon and the other standard works guide us to discover God as He reveals Himself to us through prophets. Thank God for prophets, living and dead. Thank God for priesthood authority restored so we can have ordinances that have power to connect us with the powers of heaven.

  7. Yes, JK, but many of those prophets had radically different ideas about the nature of God. And that’s fine, because what truly matters is that he loves us and will save us through our faith and repentance. As you point out, ordinances connect us with heaven. But those ordinances are primarily about formalizing our faith in Jesus’ grace and our repentance, not about all having the same ideas about the nature of God.

  8. Agreeing with JKC.
    I have found that an historic overemphasis (the ‘over’ is my opinion) on the ‘nature of God’ as delivered by Joseph Smith has made the multiple first vision narratives a difficult topic for some people. “over” equates to “unnecessary” here.

  9. My take on this discussion is that Heavenly Father will lead us by the hand if we will follow the prophets (even though they are fallible). As we follow the plan, He will get us through all the difficulties living in a fallen telestial world brings to bear on us. When things get difficult, I like to kick out all the dissonance that comes with life challenges by reading from the Book of Mormon. I particularly like these verses.

    27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
    28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
    29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
    30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. Helaman 3:27 – 30

  10. You’re totally right. But sometimes I wish I knew the God other people know.

  11. Martin James says:

    Not only do I think we all worship a different God, I don’t think any of us know the difference between the word “God” and what we worship. Thank God for vagueness.

  12. We all create God in our own image to a certain extent.

  13. Talon, I have wondered about that when talking to some who seem to have a conception of a Father God derived from their bad experience with their overbearing, judgmental, non-communicative, or abusive mortal fathers.

  14. Michael H. says:

    Thank you so much for your post, Amber. I’ve felt this way for a very, very long time. In the fifty years or so since I was baptized, I’ve generally found myself sitting alongside very well-intended people in sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and priesthood who worship a god more or less along the lines of Zeus, or perhaps Jonathan Edwards’s god, or Pat Robertson’s god: a white, white-haired, white-bearded, white-robed, male, short-tempered, militaristic god who is primarily punishment-oriented, and only loves us if–and while–we are being unquestioningly obedient, and who otherwise sees us as an enemy to be destroyed. It’s a god that makes no sense to me, and holds no appeal. The only god that makes any sense to me is the parental god–heavenly father and heavenly mother together–not at all militaristic or corporate, and directly accessible to my calls, NOT barricaded from me by concourses of mortal men in suits.

  15. Michael-I agree. From what you’ve written the verses from Helaman 3 above match your description of God.

  16. Does this mean the Adam/God believers can now feel better about themselves?

  17. The true and living God knows how to balance justice and mercy. It is that God we can always believe in and trust.

  18. so true