Elder Jeffrey R. Holland interviewed with PBS in March of 2006 for their segment on “The Mormons.” The interview is profoundly bold and powerful. Elder Holland speaks plainly and unapologetically about our beliefs. Surprisingly, something that struck me nearly as much as Elder Holland’s answers was one of the questions. “Others have said Joseph Smith gave us a weeping God; God is not distant and angry.”
That quote was deeply moving for me. Joseph Smith’s contribution to our understanding of the nature of God is incalculable. And this perspective of His personality is truly valuable to all who love Him. He is not the god of the sermon “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” that I read for a college history class. He is the God of 3 Nephi 11, who lovingly permitted the people, one by one, to come forward and feel the prints of the nails in His hands and in His feet and to feel the wound of the spear in His side, witnessing as individuals the tokens of His supreme, selfless sacrifice. He is a God of love, kindness, and compassion.
I saw a signature line of a person posting on a message board recently. It opined that the Christian concept of free will is something akin to the choice a mugger gives you in a back alley at 3:00 a.m. I want to say to everybody who reads this, in the strongest terms possible, that while I cannot speak for all Christendom, this is nothing like the God I know and love, and that has been taught to me by this Church. As I said in my previous post, God has given our agency to us as a rich gift. He does not restrain us in our exercise of that agency. Man is free to choose his own path. But God also knows what the consequences of our choices will be. He knows which choices will bring us happiness and which will ultimately bring us misery. Most of the choices available to us were matters of degrees. Some were better than others; some more calculated to effect our happiness than others, some less. But there were a few things He knew to be so calculated to bring upon us sorrow, so sure to bring upon us individual and collective destruction, that they warranted special instructions. Likewise, some other choices were so universally uplifting, so sure to draw us nearer to Him, that they are good and wise things for all of His children to do. So He called righteous men to declare His word to us and to teach us those few things we must specifically do and not do. He called them commandments, and they were designed to promote our eternal happiness. But He didn’t stop there. He instructed His prophets to also teach us correct principles so that we would not have to be commanded in all things. (D&C 58:26). He wants and expects us to use our agency to do the very best we know how.
So when we hear of God’s justice, or punishment of the sinner, it is not because He delights to punish us, or because he is pridefully offended when we don’t cater to His whims. When we sin, we naturally bring misery upon ourselves. God does not want or need to heap it upon us. In fact, He loves us so dearly that He sent His Firstborn Son, the One He called God the Son and God Jehovah, the One whom He had set already to reign over His covenant people, and whom they called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be born of a mortal woman that He might take upon Him mortality, and thereby suffer the terrible consequence of sin—all to provide a way to ameliorate the suffering He knew we would bring upon ourselves.
God does not delight to punish us. He is not a Zeus sitting atop Mount Olympus with a thunderbolt in hand, ready to strike down all who offend His sensibilities. God weeps at the sorrow He knows we bring upon ourselves with our choices.
But that is not all. God also weeps at the sorrow we face as a natural result of mortal circumstances. In Gethsemane, Jesus Christ bore not only our sins, but also our weakness, our sorrow, our pain, and our disappointments (Alma 7:12).
Think of the poignant moment that gives us the shortest verse in our English translation of the Scriptures: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). This was at the death of Lazarus. But why did He weep? Had not both Mary and Martha just testified of His own power over death? Had He not just told Mary that her brother would rise again? Had Mary not herself just told Him in certain language that she knew her brother would rise in the Resurrection? What was there to weep at?
Jesus wept for the sorrow of those around Him. He knew His own power. He knew that He was preparing to exercise that power to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew precisely how it would play out. But those around Him did not know. They were steeped in the mortal experience of sorrow at the death of a well-loved brother. And the Master, endowed with empathy unfathomable, was moved to weep at this outpouring of grief, brief though He knew it would be.
The God I know, love and worship is a God who loves me and is anxious for my happiness. He is a God who is ever willing to reach out to me and bear me up from my sorrow and grief. He is a God whose love I feel so overwhelmingly that I cannot write what I feel. This is the God who taught us that if we are to be His disciples, we must love one another. He taught us to bear one anothers’ burdens as He bore ours. And I thank Him that He has called prophets to remind us of that in our moments of mortal crisis.
One of the reasons this has been on my mind is that my last post apparently stirred up a little bit of interest. It got linked to by a popular transgender advocacy site, and picked up a relatively large number of page views. The site that linked to me quoted only a part of what I posted (the part where I commented that I felt that SRS is contrary to God’s plan), and I think that out of context, it probably came across as self-righteous. But why do I believe that? I think that my post, taken as a whole, makes it clear that I believe that because SRS limits the progress of those who choose it. It limits their ability to receive the highest and most beautiful of God’s ordinances. I believe that God has prepared better and more glorious things and that SRS can stand as an unnecessary roadblock to those glorious things I strive for. Again, I am not entirely sure that it is a “sin” per se. If post-operative transsexuals can receive the ordinance of baptism, then that surgery does not make them unworthy of that ordinance in God’s eyes. But I think that God does weep; first for the suffering they experience in the first place, and second that they have declined to accept some of His highest blessings. I do not believe that it is ever God’s will that any of His children receive less than all of His blessings. He weeps when we choose, for any reason, not to receive beautiful, sacred ordinances like the Endowment and Temple Marriage. I think He is no less sad when His children decline a legitimate opportunity for Temple Marriage because of a desire for financial independence or simply a lack of confidence in the ability to keep covenants.
But as I also said, I believe that He is anxious to bestow upon us all of the blessings for which we qualify ourselves. I think that if a man declines Temple Marriage because of his desire to be wealthy, God would still rather see him at Church partaking of the Sacrament than at home counting his money. Likewise, I believe that God would much rather see a transgendered person at Church among the Saints than at home alone, suffering in silence and contemplating suicide. I think He is more pleased with the man who would worship Him in a dress and heels than the man who would view pornography or commit adultery in a shirt and tie. I think His call to all men and women is to come as you are and partake of the goodness of His Gospel and receive all the increase you are prepared to receive, and then prepare to receive more. I strongly believe that is how God feels. I know that is how I feel.