From 1987 to 1989 I left my home in Ogden, Utah and served a mission in Germany for the Mormon church. I made a number of friends, visited dozens of lush German towns, and began to question everything I’d been taught about God.
The nature of God has been something I’ve pondered since I was a young boy, leaving grade school and walking a half mile to the church to attend primary. I met up with friends and a few adults who lead us in songs and taught us about Mormon doctrine including Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and Heavenly Father (God).
When I was 10 or 11 years old, one lesson focused on how the Mormon church was the only true church on the face of the earth. She emphasized the “only true” part over and over as if she wanted it ingrained in our young minds. I was confused and raised my hand, asking how anyone could know for certain that we had the only true church with so many different churches around the world. Did someone attend each church and declare the Mormon church the only true one? I don’t remember the answer, if one was provided, but I would continue asking these questions as I entered the Mission Training Center.
One year into my mission, I wrote my grandfather to inquire about this and few other church doctrines that didn’t make sense to me. He sent back a reply explaining his views pertaining to the topics I inquired about, but gently advised that I’d have to figure things out on my own.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of God, and asking myself a number of questions such as:
1. Why is the God of the Old Testament such a mean, vindictive, jealous God? I can’t relate to a God that commands armies to slaughter every man, woman, and child regardless of the sins they committed.
2. Why would the Mormon God devise a plan that would result in so few of his children returning to him?
3. Why would the Mormon God deny African Americans the priesthood until 1978?
4. Why would the Mormon God select to restore his church through Joseph Smith, and then watch while he uses his church authority to recruit, groom and marry at least 33 women? Some of Smith’s wives were as young as 14 and eleven of them were already married to other men.
5. Why would the Mormon God command his church to be organized in a manner whereby women are relegated to second class members?
Speaking with friends in and out of the Mormon church, I realize my understanding of God is very different from theirs. I met a number of Pantheists while serving in Germany who told me they believed God lived in nature and could take any form he liked.
Some of my friends don’t believe in a God. Or they aren’t sure there’s a God. I’ve found these people to be the least judgmental of any group. I wonder why?
Others believe in a God to the extent that nearly ever action they take is somehow influenced by him. This God helps them find their car keys, travel from church to home in safety and ensures they perform well on a math test.
If God has so much free time on his hands to help locate your keys why wouldn’t he spend that time helping children who are dying from famine and starvation around the world?
In short, God can be whatever you want him or her to be, and yet that doesn’t feel right to me either. Since nobody has seen God (which is surprising given the billions of camera phones) I’m left to wonder if God is man-made. That’s the conclusion made by Christopher Hitchens in his book titled, “God Is Not Great”. No other book in the last 20 years has rocked my world more than this book. I bought the audiobook and listened to it for the first time as I was traveling from Arizona back to Utah through Nevada. I stopped at the Hoover Dam to take in this amazing man-made structure and pondered what I’d heard.
What I felt was a slap across the face. I’ve listened to it three times already.
Until that time I’d been in a 20+ year religious slumber, going through the motions week after week, but finding myself unhappy at best and depressed at worst.
I’m finally awakening, but finding what I’ve been taught for so many years doesn’t make a lot of sense to me today. I’m still searching, still learning. I feel alone on this journey much of the time, but I suspect that’s normal. My grandfather was right: everyone has to figure this out on their own.