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.