“God Wouldn’t Do That”

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.

6 thoughts on ““God Wouldn’t Do That”

  1. 1

    I actually unfortunately haven’t heard this inconsistency. The same people who insist God’s ways aren’t man’s ways in this life have advocated that heaven will probably be disappointing if we hold on to secular/liberal ideals. Part of faith is learning to give up those ideas and be “OK” with things like patriarchy, etc.,

    I’ve heard a non-LDS person saying that heaven is like church. People who don’t like church will not like heaven. The person who asserted this doesn’t believe in polygamy, so that’s not something he’s thinking people will have to face, but he does fully think that liberal progressive morality has several tenets that people will have to “get over” if they want to feel OK in God’s presence.

  2. 2

    “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.”

    You have captured nicely one of the central paradoxes in my faith crisis in regards to the trustworthiness of God. People like to say God won’t take away our agency, but he certainly seems to have taken away Joseph’s agency when he threatened him at the point of a sword with death and damnation, and Emma’s when he had Joseph marry other women behind her back and threatened her with death and damnation, too, should she not give her consent. Why should I believe God would treat my husband and I any differently?

    Like Andrew S., I typically hear people solve this dilemma with an assurance that even though there will be polygamy and female subordination in the next life, since we will be more like God they will make sense and we will finally see the hidden goodness and righteousness in God’s perfect system. The good old celestial lobotomy assurance.

    But that gets us to another paradox. As Mormons, we like to preach that the Light of Christ, or a conscience, is a gift that is given to every person to help us know good from evil and recognize truth. And yet we then also teach that God’s morals are so wildly different from our own that we cannot trust our instincts and feelings about what is right and what is wrong. We simultaneously want to have a God who is like us that we can understand and relate to, and a God who is so mysterious that even the most basic principles of right and wrong do not apply to him.

    For a church that uses the term “moral relativism” as a sneer, we sure have a God whose morals differ so radically from our own as render any reliance on our own feelings and beliefs about good and evil completely impotent. It is the ultimate in moral relativism when “whatever God commands is right,” be it lies, murder, or infidelity.

    I hear progressive Mormons often cautioning against too much reliance on your own feelings or ideas. They say we have to be open to the idea that we don’t see the whole picture. And while I want to agree with that, it immediately conjures polygamy and female subordination to me. Must I be that open? Hearing that God’s ways are not our ways from both traditional and progressive Mormons has been one of the bricks tied to my feet as I have sunk over the past several years deeper and deeper into my fear of what kind of being God must be.

  3. 3

    Lynnette, I think we’re all in that camp — and those who don’t think they are just haven’t been challenged enough yet. Joseph Smith is famous for saying that the saints would rise up against him if he told them everything he knew. *All* of us would flinch and draw back at the sight of eternity. There’s something in it to offend everyone, I dare say.

  4. 4

    One of the big problems I see coupled with “God would never do that” is this idea Bark mentioned that God would never take away our agency. But they fail to acknowledge that choices have consequences so, yeah, you can go ahead and reject polygamy but don’t you think that if it is a real eternal law rejecting it is going to have negative consequences? So, yes, God won’t take away your agency, just like he didn’t take Joseph’s, or Emma’s, or Helen Marr Kimball, or any number of other reluctant polygamists who believed their exaltation was on the line.

    And then there’s the Law of Sarah in D&C 132 which basically says that if a woman doesn’t consent to polygamy her husband is released from needing her consent (?!?!?) and can go ahead and take another wife anyways. So much for agency!

    Was this post in response to a book review of The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy?

  5. 5

    I believe in a God of Love, I do not believe he requires Polygamy, I do not believe he tries us, I do not believe we have to do many of the things the church teaches.

    All are alike unto God, I do not believe there is any discrimination in heaven.

    If I am wrong I won’t be in Heaven and won’t want to be. If I am right there will be a lot of surprised Mormons.

  6. 6

    Lynette, with a nod to your previous post mentioning poetry, this post reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s #1263:

    Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
    Success in Circuit lies
    Too bright for our infirm Delight
    The Truth’s superb surprise
    As Lightning to the Children eased
    With explanation kind
    The Truth must dazzle gradually
    Or every man be blind —

    To me this is captures what is meant by the phrase God’s ways are higher than our ways.

    I think you’re quite right to point out the inconsistency between believing “God wouldn’t do that” in the hereafter but not in the now. I believe the “God wouldn’t do that” moments in the history of God’s people (thinking of the very long history here) are due to human error, and we try to preserve prophetic infallibility by saying we don’t understand God’s ways. I totally think polygamy was Joseph Smith’s design, not God’s. Same with patriarchy in general, though the blame there is of course too diffuse to pin it on anyone. Even the medieval rabbis who wrote midrashim about the binding of Isaac were willing to consider that it might not have been God’s idea after all. They write of Isaac being taken to heaven for 3 years after the event, to heal from the terrible breach of trust he suffered.

    I’m finding that my faith in a few things is deepening (things like your touchstone above) while my faith in other, more tangential things is evaporating. My beliefs about God require consistency with those fewer, deeper things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *