In conversations about whether God really commanded such-and-such a thing, I’ve often heard the argument that “God wouldn’t do that.” God wouldn’t tell Abraham to kill his son, tell Joseph Smith to marry underage girls, tell contemporary prophets to enact a policy against the children of gays parents. Such things go against the character of God, so we can be confident that there was no divine involvement in these cases—just human error at work. The response from defenders of these things is often that God is far beyond our comprehension, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and we are in no position to evaluate what he might or might not do.
When we start talking about the next life, however, I’m struck by how often the discourse changes. Will God eternally subordinate women? Will polygamy go on forever? Will women find themselves in the role of eternal baby-makers? Suddenly there’s a cascade of reassurance that we shouldn’t worry about such things, because God loves his daughters and wouldn’t put things in place to make them miserable for eternity. The “God’s ways are not our ways” thing flies out the window.
So this is my question. If you take the scriptures and the accounts of faithful Mormons in history at their word, God asks wrenching things of people in this life, even sometimes pressures them to do things they consider immoral. On what basis then, can we trust that he won’t act similarly in the world to come? If there are people who don’t get to opt out of polygamy here, why do we think that no one will get coerced into it in the next life? You can’t on the one hand say that God is so far beyond us that we can’t evaluate the morality of his commands, and then on the other say that God won’t make us do anything in the next life that will leave us unhappy.
I’m tentatively in the “God wouldn’t do that” camp. The idea that God is so far above us that we can abdicate any responsibility for evaluating divine commands—especially given that those commands are frequently mediated through other fallible people—is just too problematic for me. I can’t trust a God like that. I’m only tentatively there, however, because I do recognize that it can be all too easy to dismiss anything that’s jarring or uncomfortable and conclude that God couldn’t be behind that. Still, I take the notion that God is no respecter of persons as my touchstone, and I’m immensely skeptical of things which violate that.
And what about the next life? I see serious reasons in church doctrine, practice, and ritual to wonder whether women will be treated as people or accessories. When people raise concerns like that, I think we need to take them seriously, and ask hard questions about our teachings. But in the end, I have to admit, my hope is in a God who wouldn’t do that.