My Realization from Sunstone (or How Sunstone Strengthened My Testimony)

While I have recently found a renewed appreciation for the Mormon community, my worries about God were rolling around in the back of my mind as I went off to Sunstone this year. So, perhaps it was inevitable that the theme that jumped out at me while I attended multiple sessions was a teaching unique to Mormonism: our embodied God. Different speakers explored what this meant for gendered experience, for how God understands and interacts with us, etc.

While I found all the philosophical discussions on an embodied God fascinating, the discussions kept reminding me of my recent desires to remake God into a figure that was easier to deal with; thinking about an embodied God reminded me that for awhile, I haven’t wanted a God who was this “present.” At the same time, however, I was reminded how much this vision of God has meant to me spiritually and emotionally.

This summer I realized that for all the intellectual confusion I’ve had about God this past year, my main problem was relationship difficulties—I hit a point where I didn’t want a relationship with a God who would cause as much pain in my life as He caused this past year. I wanted a God that was more esoteric, abstract, and distant—a God who wouldn’t get involved in my life in messy, complicated ways. I’ll admit that this was why exploring other faith traditions has seemed appealing to me. Surely, I thought, I could find another belief system where believing in and trying to obey God wouldn’t cause me this much anguish.

However, at Sunstone, I found myself reminded of what I would be giving up. Probably the paper that hit me the most was Lynnette’s presentation on our ZD panel—she discussed the idea of a “relational” God and the implications this has in a Mormon context. She discussed how many theologians are exploring how God would cease to be God without His relationships with us, and how this has interesting implications in a Mormon context where we believe that we are created in his image and are literally “like” Him (I hope I’m accurately summarizing her paper).

As I attended these sessions, I realized how much this uniquely Mormon teaching appeals to me: that God, being like us, can understand our sorrows and experiences; that He is our parent and is defined through His relationship with us; that I have the potential to be like him. And I realized that embracing the unique benefits of this model of God also means accepting the flip side: an embodied, personally involved God may get personally involved in our lives in ways that are difficult. At the same time, I saw how much I have come to value and how much I want a meaningful relationship with the embodied, parental, relational God of Mormonism. For the first time, I found myself earnestly hoping that my current relationship difficulties with God are repairable, and I’m slowly coming to believe that they are.


  1. An excellent post! When I have felt overwhelmed with grief or sorrow, I have found that compassionate comments from friends have been my balm of Gilead just as Lynette’s presentation was for you.

    I am not as much by relationship difficulties with God–even though there have been times when I’ve felt as if He has forsaken me because my burdens have been so hard to bear–as I have been by Church leaders who can sometimes be cruel and uncharitable. Knowing that God loves, that He loves us perfectly, and that we are His children makes adversity bearable. The kindness of friends–known and unkown– can make life beautiful.

  2. Seaphine, a really beautiful post. Thanks for your reflections on the personal significance of an embodied God. I’d never thought about it quite that way before, but what you say makes a lot of sense.

    When I was in college and inactive and somewhat unbelieving I remember toying with the idea of believing in an abstract disembodied wholly spiritual God, just because such a God didn’t seem to require as much faith, and I was short on faith at the time. But I think for me the entire thing was a much more abstract, less personal, and less personally meaningful process. I like the way you make it clear here what the stakes are.

  3. Seraphine: Your realization that maybe you “haven’t wanted a God who was this ‘present.'” has really got me thinking.

    Thanks for your post.

  4. Beautiful post, Seraphine! (And kudos to Lynnette for presenting such a good paper, one that was not only interesting, but personally applicable.)

  5. I was going to write something I thought was pretty “though-provoking”, but all in all it was pretty trite. I am glad you have found peace regarding your relationship with God. One of my most profound experiences regarding the love of God happened to me a couple of months ago, when I was at one of my deepest and darkest points of my life and wondering if God knew me or even cared about my situation. It couldn’t have been a more profound manifestation for his love for me. I’m still struggling with the same issues, in fact it has turned a pretty dark corner, but when things get particularly hard, I turn to that experience, and even if this “trial” seems to have me falling to my knees frequently throughout the day, I know that without this thorn in my side, I wouldn’t have been prepared or have fully appreciated this sign of his love for me and his knowledge that he is aware of what is happening, and even though he won’t remove the situation from me, I know he knows me.

  6. how God would cease to be God without His relationships with us, and how this has interesting implications

    that my current relationship difficulties with God are repairable

    I like the way that fits together.

    I’ve been thinking, though, about the alternate creation story in Genesis about how God created mankind in God’s own image, male and female created God them …

    But I think it is important just how repairable our relationships with God are.

  7. Thanks for this post, Seraphine. (I have to admit that it’s always nice to hear about theological ideas actually making a difference to someone!)

    I had a fascinating conversation recently with some friends from my program. One of them is a Lutheran who studies Islam. He said that he loves the tradition, that he finds so much that is inspirational in it–but in the end, he couldn’t ever convert because he couldn’t accept their view of Christ; that was the deal-breaker for him. And as we we were talking, I mentioned that I found myself in a somewhat parallel situation with regard to mainstream Christianity. I’m endlessly fascinated by it; I find so much that is inspirational and that has enriched my faith. But in the end, the deal-breaker for me is the LDS concept of God. I can’t give that up. It was an interesting realization to have about where I am.

  8. Thanks, Matt W, S. L., m&m, Hunter, and Ziff.

    Carol, while I’ve struggled with the whole God loves me narrative this past year, it’s definitely something that has had a big impact on me in the past (and, admittedly, is one of the main reasons I couldn’t abandon God despite my difficulties). I’m hoping that I come out of my experiences with a renewed appreciation for God’s love. And you’re right that the kindness of friends is huge–this is the main reason I am still currently sane. 🙂

    Eve, I hadn’t thought much about the stakes of an embodied God before either (well, maybe philosophically, but not personally), but at Sunstone, especially during Lynnette’s presentation, everything just seemed to fall in place, and I understood not only the stakes of my struggles, but what I really wanted.

  9. Camille, I’m glad that you have that experience to look back on. And I agree that the difficult experiences in our lives really help us to appreciate the love of God and friends, the Atonement, etc.

    Stephen, the repairableness of my relationship with God is what I’ve been pondering a lot recently. I’ll probably make another post on it in the near future. 🙂

    Lynnette, interesting realization. I think that’s where I currently am too, even with the mess that my life became this past year because of God.


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