Why Would Heavenly Father Do That?

This now-infamous question (slightly paraphrased) posed by President Boyd K. Packer at this past October Conference will, I think, reverberate in the minds of many church members for years to come and not just with respect to sexual orientation. I cant help thinking that Elder Packer may for many members have, in a moment of startling but unintended candor, inadvertently let the genie of existential doubt out of the bottle of complacent certainty, and that it may be impossible for some people to ever get the genie to return to its comfortable but confined space. I believe I may be one of those people, for I have recently had some rather bitter experience with this question.

Scene One: Our Son

Our oldest son came home unexpectedly almost half-way through his mission to the Eastern states, suffering from depression. He had never been diagnosed with depression. I was caught unawares and desperately attempted to understand, over the course of the ensuing weeks, what had happened and what was happening to him. I felt, however, like I was continually trying to play catch up in this game of understanding, and I always seemed to be behind the curve.

Before I knew what was happening, I was taking my son to the emergency room, from which he was admitted to a psychiatric ward. I will never forget going to visit him during the week he was a patient there, thankful that it was only one week. And I will never forget asking myself over and over: Why is this happening? Why would Heavenly Father do this to my son and to us?

But there were more challenges ahead. Our son seemed to be improving after being in the hospital; his medication had been changed, and he was thankfully no longer suicidal. He tried to put together some plans for how he could move forward with his life. But he met with disappointment after disappointment.

Finally, a few weeks after coming home from the hospital, he broke down in a fit of anger and despair. He had been praying for help with his life and had felt good about a job interview; but it had turned into another dead end. He snapped. He turned to me with an anguished look on his face, eyes red, tears streaming down his cheeks, and shouted, Why is God doing this to me? I trusted Him! I did what I thought He wanted me to do! And I keep running into brick walls! Im never going to trust Him again!

Scene Two: Me and My Wife

My wife and I basically got married because we both felt that this was what Heavenly Father wanted us to do. I realize how incredibly nave that sounds, to put it charitably. We both had strong testimonies and felt that we had received a witness that we were meant to be together, despite the fact that we were very different from each other, had different interests, came from differing family backgrounds, and basically couldnt let two days pass without getting into an argument.

But because we felt we were supposed to get married, we trusted God to bless us with happiness as we worked away at this arranged marriage. But more arguments and adjustments followed the wedding. We continued to experience problems, and I think it could be said that we were both unhappy, but we felt that we were doing what we were supposed to do.

As the years passed, we continued to proceed on the path (i.e., actively following the Churchs prescribed plan of happiness for families) me working away at my career and in church callings, she bearing additional children and taking care of things at home. The main thing we had in common by this point was raising our children and staying on the path and working on other goals for our family.

This was the situation for much of our marriage: blindly working away, but (both of us) feeling an underlying sense of unhappiness, disconnection with self, and a growing suspicion that we had badly miscalculated Gods plans for our lives. Finally, however, the badly worn covering of faith that we had been stretching for years over the deep fissures and cracks in our relationship ripped open, revealing the truth of what lay underneath. After trying for years to do the right thing, we have finally decided that the right thing would be to separate and ultimately divorce.

Like my son, I now pose the question: Why? We trusted God with our lives and honestly tried to do what we thought He wanted us to do. Why would He do this to us?

Scene Three: Our Daughter

During the course of a discussion with my college-age daughter a couple of months ago, we talked about the Church. It turns out she was doing a lot of soul-searching. She has always had what I would term a strong testimony, but she also has a strong, independent mind and spirit that has never felt comfortable with the softball answers that are common in your average Sunday School class.

At one point in our conversation, she said, I dont understand why Heavenly Father would do this to us. We have always tried to do exactly what He has asked of us yet look at the situation our family is in! You always hear that if you keep the commandments and do what God asks you to do, Hell bless you. But He hasnt done that for us. And I dont understand that.

What could I say? She was echoing my own thoughts. She knew that the pat Sunday School answers (as she put it), would not cut it. She remarked that people typically would say one or more of the following in response to her question: God wont try you beyond your capacity to endure; or, you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith; or, faith precedes the miracle. But all of these simplistic answers are just so much verbiage thrown at a life that is complex, perplexing and sometimes deeply disappointing by people who never want to honestly discuss the stark realities that lay just beneath the (rigidly) placid surface of Mormon life.

So Whats the Point?

So what are the lessons I have learned from these and other similar experiences?

First, though implicitly encouraged to do so by the Church, dont surrender authenticity. I dont believe God requires us to do that. In fact, I believe He wants us to do just the opposite! When we surrender who we truly are in order to fit the parameters of another person or an organization or a belief system, from that moment, we begin living a lie. And the longer we live the lie, the deeper will be the damage, disappointment, resentment and unhappiness that result from living the lie.

Second, recognize and reject the steady diet of conformity and blind faith to which we modern-day Mormons have, in general, been exposed. Implicit in much of what the modern Church teaches and does is that sameness and uniformity and conformity are all desirables that should be embraced. Deviance from the path is discouraged; differences are often suspect; lack of conformity to established standards results in judgment and ostracism; and free-thinking and faith outside the parameters established by the Church are viewed as tantamount to apostasy. Again, most of this is implicit, woven so tightly through the fabric of life as a modern-day Mormon that it becomes virtually indistinguishable and unrecognizable.

Third, recognize and reject another one of the most engrained premises of modern Mormonism, i.e., ascribing everything in life, no matter how small or detailed, to divine intent, design or intervention. Rejection of this premise not only correlates with one of Mormonisms central tenets, i.e., free agency, but it also places squarely on ones own shoulders the responsibility of living ones life, of learning and growing, or seeking and pondering, of choosing and rejecting (a position which one would think would be axiomatic in the LDS universe, considering that a core belief of Mormonism is that we are here on this earth in order to progress toward Godhood).

In pondering the question that is posed in the title of this post, I have realized that, at various points in my life, I have sacrificed authenticity because I was told and believed that I could obtain a higher blessing only by doing so. Secondly, I have bought into concepts of conformity, uniformity and blind faith that have channeled my thinking into certain narrow streams of thought that ultimately proved to be invalid. And thirdly, perhaps most damaging of all, I bought into the premise that many aspects of my life were subject to divine intent, design or intervention, and in so doing, I effectively surrendered responsibility for living an authentic, deliberate life.

So, in the final analysis, I have realized that I have asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, Why would Heavenly Father do that?, I should instead ask, Why did I do this to myself?

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10 Responses

  1. 2B says:

    Nicely written. I think you made some great points. As the saying goes, the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked. Crap happens to everyone. The important thing is that these experiences are causing you all to think and reexamine what makes sense. Once you realize that the “pat answers” aren’t always right, you will be able to take responsibility for making sure your decisions are based on logical thinking and not just a reaction to emotions and guilt.

  2. Donnell Allan says:

    Thank you for expressing so well so much of what I, too, have thought and experienced. It’s tough going through hardships yourself, but when your children begin to be afflicted, things go to another level all together, don’t they? I appreciate you taking time to share.

  3. Retief says:

    Boyd K. Packer was being quite silly in asking that question to suggest that God wouldn’t do some thing in particular that seems painful. We know that God does all sorts of things that cause us pain. One could ask the same question of any natural disaster, as well as of personal ones. The scriptures are full of terrible things that God allows. There’s Job, of course, the burning of the believers of Ammonihah, the travails of Alma’s followers, the familial strife of Lehi’s children, and the killing of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis by their fellow Lamanites, just to name a few instances of death, destruction, and pain, unrelated to the question of personal or community wickedness or righteousness. Regarding Job, Satan’s position is that he is righteous because he is immediately rewarded for righteousness. God’s side of the wager for Job and all of us is that we can follow the eightfold path even in the face of disaster and disappointment.

    I expect that in these contexts President Packer would not see any difficulty in God doing these terrible things. I’d suggest that his bringing such a thought into his thinking regarding homosexuality demonstrates how closed his thoughts there are and how hard it is for him to think about homosexuality at all.

  4. Hellmut says:

    My sympathy about your challenges, Pilgrim. I hope that things will work out, especially for you son.

  5. Hellmut says:

    Why would God trouble us with Boyd Packer? If God loves us then Boyd Packer can’t possibly be an apostle.

  6. @2B – Thanks for your comments. I totally agree with you.

    @Donnell – Thanks – it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one!

    @ Retief – I like your observation about Packet, which I suspect is totally bang on. There are questions that arise as to what God “does” vs. what he “allows.” But that’s a topic for another time. 🙂

    @Hellmut – Sincere thanks for your kind words. And HA! how very funny! I LOVE your second comment.

  7. Latter-day Guy says:

    Try reading The True Wilderness and Living Free by H.A. Williams. He’s a theologian whose work I have really come to enjoy when wrestling with questions like those you pose.

  8. Thank you, Latter-day Guy, for your recommendations. I’m always pleased to be able to learn from and benefit from the wisdom and experiences of others, including their recommendations for books, movies, etc. Thanks!

  9. Diane Tingen says:

    Great post. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking. One of the parts that really struck me was the part where you described the misguided belief that “God wont try you beyond your capacity to endure; or, you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith; or, faith precedes the miracle.” But like you said, “all of these simplistic answers are just so much verbiage thrown at a life that is complex, perplexing and sometimes deeply disappointing by people who never want to honestly discuss the stark realities that lay just beneath the (rigidly) placid surface of Mormon life.”

    I could also relate to what you said about the motivations for your marriage. That is so typical of Mormons trapped within a religion that relies heavily on “the spirit.” When we rely on “feelings” to guide our actions, then we are giving up our intellect and reasoning powers. Since we have brains, obviously whoever/whatever created us (God? evolution?) gave us brains for a reason – and presumably that reason is for us to actually think. I find the whole thing very sad (which is how I view Mormonism these days because of all the great people who are trapped inside its warped view of life).

  1. May 15, 2011

    […] Why Would Heavenly Father Do That? After 20 years as a married Mormon living the plan of happiness, a gay man comes out to his family and his church, and blogs about it, with special attention to the question of “Mormon beards”: “Why do gay Mormon men keep marrying Mormon women?” Holly Welker, a straight Mormon woman formerly engaged to a gay Mormon man, calls for an end to beards. […]

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