God the Parent

I jettisoned Heavenly Mother a few years ago, and to be honest, I don’t miss Her. How could I? She was never real to me to begin with. When I was a young woman, I was fascinated by the idea of a Heavenly Mother, and very frustrated by my lack of information about her. But I think my desire to know more about Heavenly Mother did not stem from a desire to know God. I think that having grown up in a patriarchal religion, with an all-male power structure, where God was referred to always as “Heavenly Father,” I just wanted confirmation that women were equally important to men in the grand scheme of things, that I wouldn’t get to the afterlife and find out that I was a second-class citizen for eternity.

A few weeks ago, someone on Twitter was criticizing the idea that you can’t fully understand God’s love until you become a parent yourself. Obviously, this can be a hard thing to hear if you are not a parent (and harder if you know you are likely never to be one). I know why we speak of God as a Father (i.e., a parent). It’s a good metaphor, assuming you’ve experienced parental love on the receiving end. The god of Judaism and Christianity is a personal god, one who cares for his creations and is invested in their success/happiness/general well-being/etc. God also makes the rules. So God as a parent is a good metaphor, but like all metaphors, it has its limits.

Obviously, not everyone receives the parental love and guidance they need as children. But even if we do, our parents are not perfect. God is perfect. Jesus explained God’s love by reminding us how parents love their children and then asking us to imagine something even greater than that. This was hard enough for me to comprehend when I was only trying to imagine it from a child’s perspective. I was fortunate to have been raised by good, loving parents, but I realized at some point that my relationship with my earthly father was distorting my conception of God because subconsciously I was taking my dad’s personality traits and trying to graft them onto this immortal, omnipotent being. This might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. One of my dad was enough for me; I didn’t need another, (even) more intimidating version of him. I had to make a conscious effort to think of God as not my father.

In some ways, it may have been helpful to think of God as my mother. My mother was very affectionate and easy to talk to. (Come to think of it, she might have appreciated it if I’d poured out more of my heart to her heavenly counterpart, if only to give her a break.) But it was impossible to think of God as a mother when I knew he was supposed to be a father, i.e. a man. I was explicitly forbidden to pray to God the Mother, and I couldn’t overcome the suspicion that this mysterious, mostly-theoretical, esoteric being was not the real God. I could have prayed to her if I wanted to, I guess, but I would have felt silly.

If anything, it became even more difficult to understand God as a parent when I had my own children. Because while my parents had their flaws, they had nothing on my own parental shortcomings. I loved my children more than I had ever loved anyone or anything else in my life. I also frequently resented them. They drove me insane. I made so many mistakes with my kids because I was tired and selfish and had no idea what I was doing. (God may understand what it’s like trying to function on little to no sleep, but I don’t think God actually executes parental duties while actually sleep-deprived. God has his own timeline; God can take a nap first.) Screwing up our kids is a universally-relatable parenting experience, but it’s not philosophically consistent with an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent God.

So yes, God as Father or Mother is a perfectly serviceable metaphor. I understand the truth it means to convey, but I really began to understand God’s love when I stopped taking God’s parenthood so literally. What made me finally reject the notion of a Heavenly Mother? I don’t know, but I reckon it coincided with me finally rejecting the notion that a perfectly loving parent would value me less just because I was female. I no longer needed a feminine divine as evidence that women were equal to men in the eternal realm. So I gave Her up. It was liberating. And I feel like I understand God better now that I’m able to imagine God transcending human categories such as male and female. Is it easy for me to imagine? No, it’s not. But giving myself permission to imagine it eliminates a lot of the theological problems that used to weigh so heavily on my mind. Again, this is just how it works for me, and I know it isn’t consistent with Mormonism the restored Gospel as most members of the church understand it. But if it turns out that I’m wrong, and there really is a Heavenly Mother along with this Heavenly Father I’ve heard so much about, I’m not too worried. Someone who doesn’t need to be prayed to probably isn’t going to be offended that I don’t believe in Her.

Comments

  1. This is a bizarre post. Made me think. Not convinced yet.

  2. So glad to see that others have had difficulties with parental metaphors for God being treated as self-evident in their meaning, interpretation, and devotional application!

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    God is not omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent. The scripture says that when He appears we will see that He is like us, in form, and, I add, in substance of personality. Although His thoughts are not our thoughts nor His ways our ways. We cannot project ourselves on to Him, though we will continue to do that even after He has lost all meaning, is less than an dimensionless breath. The meaning of theology is backsliding into Mystery and calling it forward. Forward into nothingness, mein droogs!!

  4. Wondering says:

    Interesting approach. Hardly bizarre. The parent metaphor/truth/whatever can be quite harmful to those whose experience of their mortal parents is one of anger, non-communication, and wholly lacking in love perceivable by the child or young adult (however real it may actually have been). There are enough cases of “I’m NOT so glad when daddy comes home” that, regardless of divine reality, it might be desireable to find another way to teach of God’s love. I wonder how that could be done.

  5. Interesting take on the subject. I for one have struggled greatly with the concept of a Heavenly Mother, stemming from the fact that more and more lately I have felt abandoned and ignored by God. It is much less painful to believe there may not actually be any distant and aloof space parents that want nothing to do with me, or my amazing gay friends and family, than to believe there are actually two of them.

  6. And I feel like I understand God better now that I’m able to imagine God transcending human categories such as male and female. Is it easy for me to imagine? No, it’s not. But giving myself permission to imagine it eliminates a lot of the theological problems that used to weigh so heavily on my mind.

    I really sympathize with this personal witness of how you conceive of the divine, Rebecca. I’m in mostly the same place–a different set of experiences and chain of reasons led me there, but the same place nonetheless. One of the happy consequences of realizing that neither “Mother” nor “Father” does God, or God’s relationship with us, any justice is that it allows us to safely tuck the Proclamation on the Family away in the unused filing cabinet it should be, and exchange that kind of familial and gender literalism for whatever metaphors suit our own mortal experiences best.

  7. Not a Cougar says:

    Rebecca, I’ve heard the same about not really understanding God until you become a parent. And I don’t agree. Perhaps parent-child relationship were different thousands of years ago (but then I read the parable of the prodigal son and laugh at that thought), but I feel I understand God even less after being a parent.

    If the stories conveyed in the scriptures are even somewhat accurate, I can’t justify destroying entire cities (full of innocent children) just because I don’t like what their parents are doing, nor can I justify directing some of my children to kill others of my children just because those other children have a different relationship with me. I understand letting my kids solve their own problems and learn from experience, but I also don’t let them wander onto a busy highway just so they learn to look both ways. And, yes, my kids argue and fight occasionally, but I step in before things get dangerous. Yeah, the scriptures talk about God stepping in occasionally or at least sending someone in his place, but for the last couple thousand years, it’s been pretty quiet as far as appearances go. Meanwhile the kids can’t seem to get enough killing, raping, torturing, and abusing each other.

  8. The God of the Old Testament represents the brutal and viscous patriarchy, as “Not A Cougar” observes. Does the God of the New Testament reflect a more feminine being? Perhaps we are worshiping a queer God, one confused as to Their sexuality.

  9. felixfabulous says:

    I enjoyed this post and am much on the same page as Rebecca. I like the term divine mystery and my idea of God is unknowable and can manifest his/her/itself in many different ways. I don’t think we can comprehend the divine and have tried to make it as close to something we know as possible. We have done that with the atonement theology, God is bound by law to punish for sin and a clever workaround was the atonement. We also get tied up into knots with the ideas of plural Heavenly Mothers, spirit birth, our own worlds, etc. I think we are trying to make God in our own image, but I have found peace being OK with not being able to know much about God and just trying to appreciate the moments I feel connected to the divine.

  10. Ryan Mullen says:

    “Someone who doesn’t need to be prayed to probably isn’t going to be offended that I don’t believe in Her.” This sick burn beautifully illustrates the folly of simultaneously promoting Her existence while limiting our access to Her.

    Personally, I find great value in believing in and praying to my Heavenly Mother. I’ve learned things about God (and myself) that I couldn’t understand when I conceived of God as exclusively male. But I also readily admit that could just as easily be a quirk of my own personality and upbringing. Institutionally, I think belief in a Heavenly Mother is nonsensical, reductive, and even a bit dangerous since we’re unwilling to incorporate Her into our theology and/or ordinances except as a cosmological womb.

  11. I have come to pretty much the same belief as you have, but from a different angle. My earthly father was sexually abusive. So, being a girl meant abuse.

    So, with the whole God loves you just like your parents that we got in primary was really hard to try to say, No,God has a perfect love. But then stories in primary were about God protecting this or that boy who grew up to be prophet. The stories about how God loves us all seemed to be about boys and men. Then I saw how the church treats males as compared to females. Boys got scouts, girls got nothing, not even activity days when I was growing up. The boys playing basketball at YM/YW always kicked us out of the gym, no matter what we had planned or how long we had planned it. The boys always got what they wanted. We got our YW camp canceled one year because the boy had their 12 camp in 12 months. We got no camp that year, they got 12. This was all just treated as normal, and if we girls tried complaining, we were told to hush, because the boys were the future priesthood leaders of the church.

    Yup, my earthly father was abusive to girls and so was Heavenly Father, because while boys grew up to be men, girls grew up to baby incubators, not humans deserving of love, just baby incubators, or wicket temptresses.

    So, I really struggled to accept Mormon God and how blatantly sexist he was. The church is sexist and God wasn’t stepping in and knocking the “prophets” the side of the head with a two by four, so God must approve the sexism. The image of a loving Father…well I didn’t have any concept of love from a father, just using me for sex.

    I tried to turn to Heavenly Mother, but just as my earthly mother was helpless against the abuse, so apparently is Heavenly Mother, either complicit, or helpless to prevent her daughter from being treated as worthless. And the church made it clear the Heavenly Mother was less than Heavenly Father. If they were equal the church would teach of them equally and pray to them equally, but instead, we get shamed for needing to know of our Heavenly Mother and forbidden to pray to her. Can you imaging a father so abusive that he would forbid his children from talking to their mother?

    I finally gave up completely on “Mormon God” (and Mormon church) and by rejecting a sexist very male God, there was then no need for a female counter part. The Catholic concept of God that Mormons mock as making no sense, actually makes a lot more sense than a physical God with penis and all that doesn’t love his daughters as much as he loves his sons. So, by rejecting that God is male, there is also no female God either. God is neither father nor mother, because he/she/it is bigger than both together.

  12. Thank you for this post, Rebecca. I feel mostly the same way. I don’t even know what to do with Heavenly Mother, and neither does the church.

  13. I’m there with you. The belief in God the Mother solves a lot of problems that arise from understanding God the Father with human expectations about masculine gender, but it causes just as many problems. Should any God worthy of the title be limited by our human expectations about masculine or feminine gender? I can’t quite believe that heaven is that heteronormative.

    At the same time, I know people have had sacred experiences with the Mother that I don’t want to minimize. Maybe I’ll just say that my own personal idea of God is that there is no part of humanity that our creator fails to fully comprehend. Maybe when it’s time to see “face to face” instead of “through a glass darkly” I’ll be wrong, and discover that there really are separate Mother and Father Gods. But if so, I doubt they’ll blame me for the darkness of the glass.

  14. I would say pretty much the same as Russell Arben Fox–by a different set of experiences and chain of reasons to a similar recognition that parent and family metaphors are useful in their sphere, but limiting.

    I think this post is brave. Thinking along these lines nearly shuts down my ability any any interest in having a theological–nature of god–discussion in Mormon company.

    I resonate to the difficulties related to fathers. I have counseled with people who had a very difficult relationship with their father and had to jettison the metaphor early in order to have any peace in their spiritual development. For myself, I had the opposite experience (as described in the OP) of a good father quite remarkable in every way, where it took many decades to realize that even he was an insufficient model.

  15. Also in the category of “brave”: although I’ve now seen it three times in as many days, for a Mormon woman to do any kind of take-down on the Mother in Heaven doctrine is shockingly counter-cultural.

  16. wreddyornon says:

    Years ago, I started addressing prayers as “Dear God in Heaven” or “Dear Heavenly Parent.” I do so both in private and in public prayers.

  17. This post resonated with me, too. I love the concept of both the masculine and the feminine divine. And the God-as-parent metaphor is beautiful and meaningful. But I have serious misgivings with a Mother in Heaven.

    I mean, I’m pleased that many in the Church seem to be open to listening to feminists’ voices on this point, and somewhat open to gender equity (e.g., Gospel Topics essay, the change to the YW’s theme, etc.).

    But, theologically, I find the concept of Mother in Heaven so bound up in the offensive notions of polygamy in the afterlife–which I reject–that I can’t quite ever accept the idea of a Mother in Heaven. (I still feel bad saying that, knowing how meaningful the idea of a Mother in Heaven is to so many.) I just can’t separate her from polygamy (i.e., Section 132 “then [and only then] they shall be gods). In my mind, a Mother in Heaven does more theological harm than good.

  18. Thank you. There have been times that I’ve been completely exasperated by the far too-little, way too-late efforts of church leadership to begin discussing Heavenly Mother (or at least Heavenly Parents). However, I realized at some point that new, authoritative assumptions about a second godly parent would likely be as disastrous as the assumptions declared about the male, father God. The last thing I want to hear over the pulpit is what some general authority (male or female) believes beyond a shadow of a doubt about the existence and function of a Heavenly Mother. I think we’d be much better off if we dramatically decreased the assumptions already circulated about the presumed male counterpart. Another reason I think the parent-child analogy is problematic is that it promotes infantilization of adult members–last week in SS we read about children obeying their parents and parents not provoking their children, and people were comparing (as Mormons do constantly) obedience of children to earthy parents to obedience of adults to God (but more specifically to other mortals who claim additional and authoritative insight from God). I tried to explain in a comment my belief that it is important to make a distinction between children and adults, and that we are adults. Moral adults don’t do wrong things (or even things they feel to be wrong) because more powerful beings (even gods, potentially) threaten them with abuse, death, or abandonment. We recognize that children do all sorts of things to survive their childhoods, but we don’t sacralize that behavior and certainly don’t commend or attempt to pacify corrupt authority figures. I’d like to assume that whatever gods exist are not corrupt, but the more important issue to me is trying to avoid acting corruptly–attempting to avoid punishment and\or seek rewards is completely understandable, but I’m not convinced it has anything to do with moral living.

  19. And I totally agree with the handful of others that becoming a parent does not necessarily help you understand who God(s) might be better than before. I have a flock of kids and I am more perplexed by the notion of God and unimpressed by the assertions made about God(s) by GA’s than ever before. Just off the top of my head, I think it’s complete rubbish that God(s) need or even want people to be constantly preoccupied with them, to ensure they constantly get credit (but only for good things–all blame has to go to Satan or the mortals who follow him), to avoid complaining or anything akin to it, to be willing to kill someone (or whole groups) for them, etc. If that does describe parental behavior, it’s wildly abusive parenting. I find it completely unpalatable.

  20. I, for one, have a terrible relationship with my father. We have nothing to do with each other and that has actually been for the best. That fact, however, has had no impact whatsoever on my relationship with my Heavenly Father, or my confidence that He and my Heavenly Mother are there. I don’t see the intrinsic need for one to have anything to do with the other, nor for my bad relationship with my father to have any impact on my perspective on God.

    This is just my experience, but I understand and respect that others may have different feelings.

  21. Thank you so much for this post. It has articulated some of the things that have been stewing in my mind for quite some time.

    Like Mike R, I think that embracing the doctrine of Heavenly Mother raises more questions than it answers, and like CJ, I do NOT want prophets using their ideas/revelation about her to squash women into even tighter boxes. If we are unwilling to allow space for female prophets, then as a church, we don’t deserve revelation about a female god.

    I think we would all be better off if the church were not so hyperfixated on gender.

  22. God is not omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent.
    Thomas Parkin
    You cannot hide your crimes from God
    What does this suggest to you?

  23. I’ve had a number of experiences with Heavenly Mother over the course of my life, that have profoundly changed the way I think of myself and my relation to the universe. In ways, I think the loss of the divine feminine has pulled us away from a more ecological understanding of our relationship to deeper, more embodied structures of existence toward more sterile conceptions of deity. I appreciate your take RJ, I just have had a different experience.

  24. Hi Dylan, I hope you’re good today? I would advise you pray to the Heavenly Father to help mend the relationship with your ‘earthly’ biological father because that’s what HE(Heavenly Father) wants us to do; to be at peace with all men. Take care, Shalom!

  25. Last year we were in Santiago, Chile. I saw the beautiful monument to Maria up on the hill overlooking the city. Since I have been on the search for our Heavenly Mother, we made the pilgrimage up to the base of her shrine. The love and adoration of Mary, there, was intense, and I felt that these people had uncovered what we lacked in our worship. They have a wonderful vision of the holy feminine. She is the Queen of Heaven, and that is her temple.

    There is so much more to say about this. But if you want to have the experience of Mother in Heaven, look there. You do not have to buy all of the theological “argle bargle” surrounding Her, but the intense feeling of love you can sense. After all, she was chosen as the person to raise the Savior and to teach Him about a mother’s love. So, the shrine to Mary is a monument to the deep and abiding eternal love of a Mother to her Child. And the intense feeling of the love the Queen of Heaven has for us, her children. It is there that you can learn how to pray to Her.

  26. “God may understand what it’s like trying to function on little to no sleep, but I don’t think God actually executes parental duties while actually sleep-deprived. God has his own timeline; God can take a nap first”

    If Lorenzo Snow told you that God not only does completely understand what it’s like to parent sleep deprived, but he actually did the same in his own mortal probation does that change things? As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be. And it goes without saying in that scenario, there was a mother there and yet still is.

    There’s a handful of decent reasons why She’s not talked about as part of our daily experience, but we shouldn’t let that stop us from receiving real revelation on the matter. I know I have.

  27. SteveP’s comment (9:39pm yesterday): I’m not either interested in criticizing or challenging anyone else’s experience, but your comment makes an important shift from Heavenly Mother to divine feminine, and that opens doors for me. My experience or awareness or contemplation of the divine feminine has little to do with the Heavenly parent metaphor (what I take as the point of the OP), and instead tends toward the Gaia (personification of the earth) metaphor, and the Sophia or Athena (wisdom) metaphor. I suppose I could shoehorn those thoughts into a “Heavenly Mother” concept if I wanted to talk with Mormons, but I mostly skip it.

  28. Chris, Some (Raphael Patai, Francesca Stavrakopoulou,maybe Elaine Pagels — at least in the gnostic gospels) might have you add Asherah as “Lady Wisdom” to your list of Sophia and Athena. No need to limit your metaphors to the Greek. For some Asherah has the advantage of appearing, in limited references, in the Bible and combining in one her aspects as wisdom and as a fertility goddess (mother earth and all that). I’m not sure the idea of “Heavenly Mother” needs to be limited to current Mormon conceptions of God’s eternal marriage(s), but, yes, the shift to “divine feminine” can avoid that baggage in discussion with Mormons.

  29. Not a Cougar says:

    JR, great reference. William Dever’s book on Yahwweh and Asherah was fascinating, and it makes the theories about motivations for creation of the Hebrew Bible so much more complex than I ever knew.

  30. JR, thanks for the Asherah reminder. I ‘know’ it but blanked on the name as I wrote a quick comment. Kevin Barney has a nice article on the Asherah references, couched in a way that is relatively inoffensive to a Mormon audience (I would cite it if only I had the cite handy, or time to find it).

  31. As a way of seconding what Rebecca has said, I want to comment a bit about the general idea of metaphor in Latter-day Saint belief. We ought to acknowledge it more than we do. The strong thread of literalism in Mormon doctrines is compelling. For many members of the church, Mormon literalism feels like something distinctive in not only our doctrines, but also our culture. It lets us feel that we can experience our religion and its stories in a direct, immediate way.

    However, we seldom talk about what lies beyond literalism. After all we can say about God, God is still more than the sum of all the boxes and categories we have found to describe Him(/Them). There remains a vast sense of God’s otherness. At that point, we see that all of our ways of talking about God are metaphors, even though they may also have literal truth and substance. God is literally our Father (and Mother and Brother and Friend and Comforter and . . .), but God is also only like these things, because they can’t sum up all that God is.

    Rebecca’s post nicely illustrates the danger of failing to see beyond the literal aspects of our doctrines about God. For reasons that Rebecca and many of the commenters explain, it is not unusual for us to find ourselves unable to relate on a personal level to the relationships that our doctrines tell us we ought to have with God. As Rebecca points out, metaphors are limited, by definition. If we fail to relate to God as Father (or Mother or . . .), then the problem is quite possibly with the metaphor, and we should blame neither God nor ourselves for this failure.

  32. Ryan Mullen says:

    Micah,”pray to the Heavenly Father to help mend the relationship with your ‘earthly’ biological father because that’s what HE(Heavenly Father) wants us to do” is terrible advice to give someone unsolicited and when you don’t know their context (i.e., on an internet forum). God nowhere instructs us to be at peace with men or women that actively harm us or others. Mercy cannot rob justice, after all. Rather, let’s trust that Dylan has a sufficient relationship with God to seek divine direction as needed.

  33. Thank you, Ryan, I could not agree with you more. I do not recall any place where God commands us to maintain relationships with those who continuously hurt us. There is a great article by an LDS therapist about this exact subject: http://www.ldsliving.com/Ask-a-Latter-day-Saint-Therapist-Does-Trying-to-Be-Like-Jesus-Mean-Getting-Walked-On/s/90626

    Thank you again for what you said!

  34. I’ve read some lovely accounts of people’s experiences with Heavenly Mother, and I want to respect that clearly a sense of that relationship can be a deeply meaningful aspect of faith. But wow. I read this, and found myself feeling unexpectedly lighter. The idea of God as parent has overall been more toxic than positive in my spiritual life, and at this point the doctrine of Heavenly Mother simply exhausts me because it is so full of pitfalls. The idea of giving up on the whole notion and opening myself to very different ways of thinking about God, which is the direction I’ve been playing with in recent years, is tremendously liberating. Thanks for this post.

  35. iterum nata says:

    You’re right; God is neither male nor female. God is Spirit (John 4:24) and transcends human categories, including time and space. Besides him there is no God (Isaiah 44:6), he is the first and the last (Rev 22:13). He was not born like you and I. He has always existed. As the unmoved mover, his Word caused life to spring into existence (John 1:2). He is holy (Rev 4:8) and our lives should be dedicated to worshiping him who loved us so much that he left his throne, dwelt among us (John 1:14) and finished the work of salvation on the cross (John 19:30) to be received by us through faith alone (John 6:29).

  36. Part of me suspects that Iterum Nata is trolling, but actually I have to admit that, for me at least, what the above comment includes–at least insofar as God’s gender and the whole nature of our creation by God is concerned–makes a lot more sense (and comports a lot more clearly with the Book of Mormon) than Smith’s rather goofily literal KFD.

  37. iterum nata says:

    The Book of Mormon was published at a time when Joseph still held Trinitarian beliefs. “…to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the ETERNAL GOD.” (BOM title page) Later, his theology would evolve into a non biblical version of God being an exalted man, and by implication, married. (see King Follet discourse)

  38. Iterum
    Remember the fate of korihor when he preached and spread false doctrine.

  39. RAF, while I agree one might have concerns about where the KFD falls in Joseph’s teachings it’s rather hard to argue that he didn’t establish doctrine concerning the nature of God by the time Section 130 was received in 1843. I expect you’re aware of this but I’ll call it out, especially in response to iterum’s declarations above.

    When you examine what was taught in the Lectures on Faith (1835 and largely authored by Sidney Rigdon but approved by Joseph) it’s clear that his understanding of the Godhead was incomplete in the first couple of decades after his experience in 1820. See for note from Lecture 5:

    The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image…

    But by 1843 he is providing instruction that God is an exalted man we would recognize if we saw him. So his teachings in the KFD were not some extemporaneous declaration during the emotions of a funeral address. See D&C 130:22-23

    22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
    23 A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.

  40. Wondering says:

    Sometimes (maybe often) I’m slow. Urban Dictionary: KFD — “kill, fetch, deliver”! :)

  41. I remember decades ago as a young woman rather resentfully imagining God the Father in a three piece suit behind a podium in the sky, and Heavenly Mother in an apron in some celestial kitchen. My traditional mom and dad were and are very good parents, but they are not adequate metaphors for divinity. An ungendered or non-specifically gendered notion of God fits my experience much better. Letting go of gendered language and imagery of God has allowed me to regain the reverence and deep trust necessary for a relationship with the divine.

  42. What is even more liberating is giving up on the idea of a god completely; some being who is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent; a being to whom you will always be subject; a being who will always be superior to you; a being to whom you must kneel and worship; a being who always has control and the last word; a being you must obey; a being who is always watching over you (creepy); a being to whom you depend upon; a being you need. Just as a child grows and matures and moves away from mommy and daddy and learns to live an independent and meaningful level apart from earthly parents, imagine an existence where you grow and mature and no longer depend upon or need any eternal parent. Giving up on the fantasy or delusion of god can be quite liberating.

  43. Kevin K Rex says:

    Thank you for your writing; it piqued my curiosity into god again. I gave up on Him and Her several years ago after I came out gay. I honestly don’t think about god a lot; I’m mostly busy enjoying life now that I am me. My husband is a firm believer in Divine, most eastern religion-like, almost Hindu; he also was Mormon at one time. He and I heard the Rev. Fatimah Salleh speak last year, a Sunday morning sermon in Salt Lake City at the Affirmation LDS conference. It was glorious. “When God Becomes More”. You may find the podcast interesting. I did, her sermon that Sunday morning had many of these same ideas. God can be what we make of Her or Him, and I find it an amazing concept; much, much more than just “humans made up god in their image.” Not at all like that. Reverence for the power and majesty we often overlook because in Mormonism, He’s all defined.

    https://www.athoughtfulfaith.org/when-god-becomes-more-rev-dr-fatimah-salleh/

  44. I am reminded of an experience I had with God many years ago. Somehow, in my head, I had envisioned my Heavenly Father as the potter and me the clay. He was pleased with me if I was turning out right. Not pleased if I was messing up. In other words, very conditional love.
    Right about then I wanted something wildly frivolous. I would need to travel from the west coast to New York City to buy it and could not both afford the trip and the item. I went to God in prayer to ask if he would arrange for my work to send me there on a business trip. Like Ether with his glass stones, I had my idea. Perhaps a conference, I suggested. I did not normally travel for work so this was a leap of imagination.
    Shortly thereafter my boss called me into his office to tell me there was a conference in New York City and the firm wanted me to represent them. I believe my boss must have thought me to be slow witted because I just sat in my chair staring at him in astonishment for the longest time.
    I went to New York and on my first day there found the item at a half-price sale. I was very grateful and thanked my Heavenly Father again and again, both for the item and for its greatly reduced price. But the trip was to last several more days. Certainly God had not gone to all this trouble just for me to purchase this luxury, so I asked Him why was I really there. What did He want me to do? Every moment I was alone I was repeating the request for Him to direct me as to the real purpose of the trip.
    Finally, it was Friday evening and I was walking up Broadway, headed back to my hotel. Once again I began to pray, telling God I would do whatever He asked but reminding Him I was running out of time because my flight home was early Sunday afternoon.
    And then He spoke. He informed me there was nothing He wanted me to do. “This is for you, because I love you and I want you to be happy,” He said.
    And my understanding of God and how He saw me and what He wanted from me changed completely. I was His beloved daughter, not an object He only cared about if I was performing well.
    Life has continued its ups and downs and sometimes when things are going badly I reach out to touch that frivolous item I bought in New York and remember that night and the words God spoke to me to correct my misunderstanding and to provide an anchor for my life.
    Thank all of you for your words about God based on your experiences. This was one of mine and your words have brought it to my remembrance. I hope you too hear His voice testifying to you how He loves you and wants your happiness. I cannot say I am always pleased with the way He tries to get me to experience greater happiness, but perhaps I am growing just a little better at accepting that His ways do not resemble mine and perhaps He knows more than I do.

  45. Wendy – Forgive me, and millions of us, for being cynical, but it is near impossible to believe in a god who would fly you to NYC to buy a frivolous material item while at the same time abandoning children by the millions who live in abject poverty, literally starving to death, suffering war-torn atrocities, genocide, sex-slavery, and other abuses. Spare us all the trite refrain that god allows evil people to use their agency and that is why little children suffer. A god that answers a prayer for lost car keys or a trip to NYC could easily answer the prayer of a starving and abused child. If god in fact allows the child to be raped and yet gives you some frivolous material gift then that is not a god worthy of worship. What is more likely is that you mentally and emotionally associated your prayer with a mere coincidence of taking a trip to NYC and the coincidence of a half-price sale. People all the time attribute their good fortunes to a personal god; it makes them feel warm and fuzzy. What is often shared as a faith-promoting story too often reveals the absurdity of a personal and loving god.

  46. I believe She loves us. I He does too. I think they will wrap their arms around us when this all falls away. Doesn’t mean they have the limitations and parameters of earthly parent projections or polygamy anti-feminism gobbledygook. But I feel them both their, and I sure need them both right now, and they have comforted me. I believe that Christ gives us access, through his compassion and suffering. I do love this OP, I just cannot jettison someone who has sustained me profoundly. But no, I don’t think She is offended either.

  47. No More, presuming to know God’s ways or demand he must fit in your artificially constructed parameters seems pretty arrogant. At the same time I can sense pain and seemingly some sort of defense mechanism in your words. I hope you can resolve whatever is causing you that kind of pain.

    To the OP, I like hearing stories of personal growth in the understanding of God, and from an outside perspective it looks like positive growth to me. so I enjoyed your insights. For myself I really resonate with the teaching “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory”. It makes sense to me this idea of heaven being an extension and outgrowth of the existence we now enjoy, as opposed to being something diametrically different. And if that is the case, and sex (male and female) is so integral to the existence of almost all life here on earth for the last billions years or so – that heaven or the ideal might very well be a continuation of this where we find perfected men and women does not seem so far fetched to me. In that sense, not only would they be perfected parents, but perfected brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children, wives, husbands, and friends. It also suggests that God is equivalent to our highest nature and greatest potentiality, and that resonates with me as well.

  48. Arrogance? Really? And you have it figured out? You KNOW there is a god? Is not that arrogance? Pain? Yes, I have pain. Maybe my denial of god is a defense mechanism, but then again perhaps your belief in god is also a defense mechanism; something you feel to help you make sense of your life. Have you considered that? I don’t presume to know god’s ways anymore than you or all your prophets presume to know god’s ways. What I was pointing out was the ridiculousness that god’s love is evident through a trip to NYC. Maybe there is a god, I don’t know – the evidence is against it. Maybe your conviction is arrogance.

    I am not trying to be argumentative. I assume most people here believe in god and I am not trying to be offensive. I really do want to respect that belief, I used to be there myself. But years and years of hearing silly stories about god helping people find their car keys really made me dig deeper into pondering the meaning and purpose of prayer and our personal perceptions of god, and our projections. I am now at more peace accepting that no god controls this world or my destiny.

    I wish you all the best.

  49. Special K says:

    Back when President Nelson challenged the women to read The Book of Mormon and look for Christ, I chose to underline every reference to him I found. I decided I really don’t like the “the Lord” metaphor. My feminist self was getting pretty angsty having to decide which of every ‘he’, ‘him’, and ‘his’ to underline (and noticing how few times ‘she’, ‘her’ and ‘hers’ show up.) It was a pretty emotionally devastating way to read the book. The only moment of peace was reading 3 Ne 11:3-6 when God’s voice is introducing Christ to the people and it took them three times to understand it. I felt like *I* don’t understand the nature of God, and that is comforting, actually, because that means I have much, much more to learn (and so does everyone else.)

    I struggle with the *heavenly* part of Heavenly Mother. To me, the Mother Earth metaphor needs to be part of the divine feminine. But maybe the concept of God is just so big that we try to put it into compartments. Sometimes we feel God as a she, sometimes as a he because that’s how we relate to people on earth.

  50. I never could get used to the old bearded Hebrew monarchial boss. It is a poor substitute for real awakening. Come to think of it, so is religion in general. Even Joseph Smith couldn’t outthink his preconditioned biases, and he was supposed to know better.

  51. No More, I think 100% certainty requires an absolute knowledge of all things, which no mortal has, which is why I am open to people believing a variety of things and coming to different conclusions from a genuine place. You sound like someone who cares, otherwise I don’t think that pain would exist, and I respect when someone takes their beliefs and conclusions seriously, no matter how widely they diverge from my own.

    Personally, where I am at, yes I feel more certain about the existence of God than I do that there is a living person behind your comment – which is to say I don’t have absolute knowledge of that fact, but I do feel a level of certainty (enough so that I am responding to you under the belief that you are another person somewhere out there).

    And I don’t find such a God ridiculous, when my daughter asks me for a fruit snack I usually comply and find joy in making her happy over something so small. This happens fairly regularly. When my daughter might one day ask for help paying for college tuition, or fixing a flooded basement, I might not be able to act so immediately even though they are far more meaningful requests. But I will be there for her, and in a longer more meaningful process help her through the complexities of life as well, and while not as frequent and simple, the joy and bond through that process I think will be far greater than that which comes from little treats – that said I still enjoy giving fruit snacks to her when she asks.

  52. Steve LHJ, I think this is a sincere conversation and I hope to treat it as such. I think I understand your fruit snack example, and I would not expect a god to intervene in all challenges in life. I understand the theological teachings that life is a test, that we live in a fallen world, and that we are subject to pain and suffering. I am ok with that general position. But allow me to modify your example to stress my point.
    If your daughter asks for a fruit snack and you give it to her that might be seen as a kind gesture, a small token of love. So perhaps that could be interpreted as the action of a loving parent, or evidence that you care about your daughter. Now, let’s say your daughter was in the kitchen cutting an apple and accidentally sliced her hand severely but you refused to help her because, well, sometimes we have to suffer. Or, better yet, in the extreme example an intruder breaks into your house with the intent to rape and murder your daughter but you decide not to intervene so that your daughter can learn the lesson of agency and suffering.
    So, in that modified example is it reasonable to conclude that the father loves the daughter because he gave her fruit snacks?

  53. I don’t want to derail the conversation for too long from the OP, so I’ll leave my last thoughts on this subject. I do see what you’re getting at, and think they are good questions.

    “but you refused to help her because, well, sometimes we have to suffer” – Yes, if I refuse help that I am capable of giving, I do think that would be cruel. I don’t think God does that, I think he is with us in our suffering always.

    “but you decide not to intervene” – this is where I see the analogy breaking down. I don’t think this accurately depicts what God is doing during life’s evils and tragedies for at least 2 reasons. 1) God does not live here on earth with us in the flesh, His actions and influence on us and the world generally are through the medium of light and love. 2) God is omniscient.

    Have you ever seen Minority Report? I think it does a pretty good job at depicting the unjust nature of pre-intervention in cases when it overrides the free will of the would-be-criminals. An earth where God could jump in and stop every evil act beyond a certain threshold (assuming we could somehow pick such a threshold in the first place), is a world where God is a puppeteer, fixing the dice of good and evil for us. God would cease to be God, because He would be evil, in the same way a parent who never allows their kids to grow up and make choices for themselves is evil, such a parent takes away the very essence and soul of the child’s humanity leaving them weak and debilitated. There is no threshold where God could do this and be anything other than an evil dictator if he were able to dictate what good and evil actions would allowed to occur under threat of physical intervention.

    In all, it’s a false equivalency in my mind to compare simple blessings granted by God to situations that would require God to intervene as the puppeteer of another person’s agency. That
    God can do something simple and seemingly frivolous says nothing about the just or unjust nature of overriding the evil actions of others.

  54. But how can you attribute blessings to God and not “curses” or suffering? Or at least refusal to prevent suffering? This is another reason why God as a parent is so unsatisfying
    ..any mediocre parent would prevent a traumatic experience of their child if possible–she/he would not say, “well she can probably learn something from being raped or tortured, etc., I’ll just watch it play out and try to comfort her when it’s over.” We don’t tell our children that, because of agency, we simply can’t intervene when a sibling becomes cruel–we absolutely step in when safety is on the line. I haven’t ruled out that Gods exist, but I just don’t really know what they would be for–the parent analogy just doesn’t work for me.

  55. Eek, ignore the grammatical errors in my comment above.

  56. These comments take me back, just like a lively Sunday school class! Everybody chimes right in. I was happy to see someone mention section 132. In my HM fantasy, the first thing She does after revealing Herself is to make major revisions in Sec. 132, if not toss it out altogether.

    But I think one of the reasons we feel such a lack of her is because we focus so heavily on becoming like Heavenly Father, (well, the men do) and not enough on becoming like Christ. And women are left invisible as usual. Despite all the commands and admonitions to follow Christ and to be like him, we don’t do a very good job when it’s inconvenient. And we certainly don’t examine that if He is the exemplar for all mankind, both men and women, then our foremost duty here is not really gendered. Whatever gender will inform in the afterlife is kind of a moot point here, and being so invested in separate and specific gender duties here gets in the way of our duty to obey the commandment to follow Jesus. All of it. All of us.

  57. No More, I really enjoyed this talk when I came across it, because it helped me to make some sense of questions like yours – why does God bless some people and not others? Why is he seemingly involved in the minutae of people’s lives, but then doesn’t save others from tragedy?
    https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/at-the-pulpit/part-4/chapter-43?lang=eng

  58. In my living room are three small tables. I purchased them one Saturday morning at the old Emporium Capwell in Richmond, California. When I awoke that morning, I was sitting in bed planning my day when I heard the Holy Ghost specifically tell me to go to that store in that town. I did not plan on going anywhere near there that day or any day. But I went when he directed me to. I had been praying about my need for living room furniture because I didn’t have any. Obviously not a big concern in the world, but a concern for me at that time.
    And yes, it was a one-day sale in the discontinued furniture room at that store only. And yes, there were the tables that matched the only other furniture piece I possessed, not half-price, but 70% off. So count me among those who believe in the God of frivolous gifts.
    Has God answered every prayer in my life by removing the trial? Absolutely not. I have been broke, hungry, and ill. I had an abusive nut-case of an ex-husband. I found myself unable to have children, a terrible trial at the time. I now know it was a great blessing that allowed me to grow in different ways than I would have chosen for myself. And protected me from nut-case, who severely damaged the lives of the children he had with the next wife. And then God provided them with wonderful blessings to mitigate their pain.
    God has shown me His great concern for my happiness, even in little things. And when I see those tables, or remember other unnecessary but wonderful gifts, both material and spiritual that He has given me, I remember Him in gratitude.
    This life is filled with trials that God expects us to wade through. But along the road He plants roses. We may cut them and place them in crystal vases, but they grow surrounded by dirt. I hope I always notice them. And I hope for everyone they can hear His voice telling them He loves them. So their lives can contain frivolous treasures to mitigate the pain. Because who wants a life where the pain and the dirt is all you see.
    I believe in a Heavenly Mother who may not be speaking much to us in this life but I believe loves us perfectly. Who knows, maybe she also once had a nut-case ex-husband. And if she didn’t, she had an son named Adolf Hitler and one named Joseph Stalin and thousands of others who have caused her great pain. Not during her mortal years, but after her exaltation. Pain is a part of the universe, part of allowing agency to imperfect people. Part of the package of helping others progress.

  59. A universe like ours with suffering of a depth and on a scale more infinite than we can even begin to fathom that ALSO features an all-loving God is a crazy-making proposition. And we, with Sister Bennion (appreciated that link), can search for a theology that tries to explain it.

    And we will always come up short.

    And that is all right.

    I choose to believe in God because I need to. I’ve never regretted that choice; I’ve had experiences that have confirmed that choice and experiences that have cast serious doubt on it. But I continue to choose to believe. I hope my choice makes me more loving; I think it does. My belief brings me strength and comfort.

    I could be wrong. About all of it.

    That also is a comforting, strengthening thought.

  60. Count me among the recipients of frivolous gifts from God. One of mine was a two-week trip to New York and Washington, DC, traveling from the west coast. It was shortly after my divorce, which I thought I might not survive. I asked in prayer because I did not have the funds but most desperately needed to get away to recuperate. A friend immediately called to offer frequent flyer miles, telling me I needed a vacation.. Another told me I would not be able to afford a hotel room in New York City so she had called a friend and arranged for me to stay in her midtown apartment. Two weeks — total cost to me $700. Yes, I appreciate prayer and I love my Heavenly Father.

  61. Haven’t we seen a little too much of the helicoptering parents, fixing every problem for their children before they have had a chance to fail? Even correcting their college entrance scores and faking their sports backgrounds so no opportunities will be denied their children? This is a terrible world, one we are told is worse than the telestial kingdom, where murderers and rapists spend eternity. But where else can we learn forgiveness? Certainly not when dealing with our celestial neighbors. To deny one the very experiences we signed up for would be to cheat them out of overcoming evil with good. And triumphing through the power of Christ’s atonement.

  62. God is like a parent who is benignly neglectful. He wishes you well if He thinks about you at all. There was a line in my patriarchal blessing (similar to what the Brother of Jared’s story says in the BOM) that I have to remember to approach God or He won’t be in my life, which struck me as odd given the parental analogy. That’s not how I parent. When my kids became adults I realized that I’m going to have the relationship with them that I work to have, and if I am passive about it, it’s not going to be a great relationship. But apparently that’s good enough for God (?).

    I have grown to think that God as parent is an analogy designed not to help us understand God but rather designed to give human fathers an ideal to strive for. We are told God has a plan for us and intervenes on our behalf when asked. So apparently that’s all dads are there to do. The gendered nature of the analogy falls apart when we see men and women as equals, equally capable of nurturing and involved parenthood.

  63. >but I realized at some point that my relationship with my earthly father was distorting my conception of God because subconsciously I was taking my dad’s personality traits and trying to graft them onto this immortal, omnipotent being

    Thank God, literally, that you had parents who raised you to have this understanding. It is one of the gifts I hope I can bestow to my children…for them to one day see my limitations and accept them as we are all in this boat together. It will make my children better parents as well.

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