God Wasn’t in Your Story

By: Mormon Heretic
January 6, 2014

We had a missionary homecoming last week.  I usually bring a book to sacrament meeting, because I often find the talks dreadful, but this particular missionary gave a rather entertaining talk.  He told two experiences in which he bore testimony that God had helped him, but I greatly question whether God had anything to do with them at all.

In his first story, he told about a time when his companion had already gone to bed.  He had just finished using the bathroom, and unfortunately the toilet clogged.  Water was pouring everywhere, and he couldn’t get it to stop.  He even broke the plunger while trying to unclog the toilet.  He said a prayer in his flooded bathroom, and he swears that God answered his prayer and unclogged the toilet.  Seriously?  This is evidence of God’s power?

In the second story, he said that his companionship shared a car with some sister missionaries.  His appointment went long, and they were late returning the car to the sisters.  He says that God prompted him to wear his seatbelt, which he usually doesn’t wear.  He went on his mission to the southern U.S., and said he was going about 80 mph on a dirt road when he failed to navigate a corner, and crashed the car.  He thanked God for prompting him to wear a seatbelt and saving his life.

But was it really God who saved him?  Could it be that he knew he was going to drive recklessly and decided that prudence made him wear a seatbelt?  Wouldn’t God have prompted him to slow down and drive safer?

It makes me wonder how often we attribute our stupid actions to God’s grace, and similarly, how often do we blame God for things God had nothing to do with?  Do you have any strange sacrament meeting talks you’d like to share?

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20 Responses to God Wasn’t in Your Story

  1. Nate on January 6, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    Personally, I think that God and chance can often be construed as one and the same. God designed the universe to behave in a certain way, and that includes the various probabilities that a toilet will clogg and unclogg itself.

    Prayers can influence or sometimes change fate, but often they merely reflect that fate. However, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an answer to prayer, in the sense that it was the hand of God that designed a world where a toilet could naturally unclogg itself. It is right that the missionary thanked God for the unclogged toilet.

    On my latterdaymiracles blog, I don’t always discriminate against “miracles” that seem on the surface to merely be chance. We can’t prove that it wasn’t chance, and if you take the sum total of all the miraculous occurances we routinely see manifested in the lives of Latter-Day Saints, I think it is better to err on the side of belief in divine intervention, because there seem to be so many incredible cooincidences too difficult to dismiss.

    Those who see divine micro-managing in everything I believe have a somewhat immature view of reality, but I think for many it is an effective and faith promoting way of living.

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  2. Blw on January 6, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    You lost me at the second sentence. How condescending and rude.

    I think those particular events could have been attributed to divine intervention but I personally wouldn’t do so publicly. I too am turned off by those who see God’s hand in their life in the most minute ways. But who knows? I’ve had my own moments of certainty that a force outside of myself was guiding me. And rarely was it about big things, but more often about little things, things that didn’t really make a huge difference in the trajectory of my life. But anytime It happens, I am touched and grateful.

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  3. Justin on January 6, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    The “God of the Lost Car Keys”, which appears to be the God described in this missionary’s homecoming talk, has always been a problem for me.

    If the God who intervenes in such matters is in fact the God who’s real and who is the one we worship — then it suggests some very important things. For example, one often hears of the “God of Lost Car Keys” — which is a conception of God who appears after a natural disaster to “save” a woman’s dog from a tornado. If such an intervention is [in fact] evidence of God’s intervening hand in answer to the woman’s sincere prayer, then that reveals some significant things:

    * God exists, has the power to intervene in human affairs, and can be influenced to do so from time-to-time via prayer.

    * God uses this power to rescue something like a dog [or find some keys, etc.] — while still allowing horrific deaths and losses of innocent people [like children] to occur.

    * This same God will now be the recipient of prayers from those who want to comfort the grieving families of those who have loved ones who were offered less of His divine protection than such things as a dog or a set of keys.

    I would prefer to think that God wasn’t involved in such matters as who found their car keys on time and who wore their seat-belt during a car-wreck — simply because I see so many more weightier matters that objectively deserve the attention of Deity than car keys and seat belts [e.g., child sex trafficking, sexual assaults, robberies of the poor, and significant deaths caused by natural disasters].

    I would be angry to find out that the framer of the cosmos was intimately concerned with the boy in this story buckling his seat-belt — but couldn’t be bothered with the unborn child dying in the womb of the woman in my ward. I’d rather Him be a completely deistic, non-intervening God than have Him be a God who’ll find my car keys but allow babies to die of terminal bone cancer.

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  4. Hedgehog on January 6, 2014 at 1:43 PM

    Hmm. I can understand That statistically things might just happen, as you propose, though IME a toilet has to be very badly blocked to cause the chaos described, and less likely to unblock of on it’s own assisted by the weight of water above.
    In my own life and those of my family members we have experienced the kind of interventions described. For my husband it tends to be on the spot instruction of what to do in a diy crisis. And I am immensely grateful for that.
    Some years ago my VT companion confided to me that she had felt as you do about one such experience my husband had shared in testimony meeting, only to have her own similar experience sometime later.
    I believe that God loves us, and whilst He can’t intervene in things that interfere with agency, we can pray for assistance in the very hour, and receive that help.
    I have also heard testimonies borne by those who have been spared serious accident driving by following the guidance of the spirit. An instruction to slow down to a driver in a hurry, who tended to exceed the speed limit saved a child’s life, and spared the driver the pain of being responsible for the death.
    My husband was in car high speed car accident on a motorway – think 60-70mph. A lorry clipped the rear of a heavily laden car causing it to spin, my husband saw the spinning car and wondered should he slow down, a natural reaction to an accident, the spirit directed him to remain at the same speed. When the spinning vehicle hit him, it hit exactly on the brace where his door and the passenger door close – the strongest section. He was able to get up and walk away. Had he slowed he would at best have been seriously injured as it would have smashed his door, and him with it.
    In our ward we have a amazing, humble man. He’s in his 80s now. He isn’t well educated, or especially intelligent perhaps. but he has an incredible relationship with the spirit, and bares testimony often of the encouragement and direction he has received from the spirit in his life, right from his childhood, military experiences, and all long before he joined the church, he following that same spirit to become a member.
    I believe God wants to help us where he can, but we have to ask, at times and we have to recognise and follow the guidance we get too.

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  5. Hedgehog on January 6, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    Justin, saw your comment after posting mine. Its my experience that most often the miracles we see are the ones where we still need to do something, or still require the assistance of others.
    We live in a fallen, imperfect world, where cancer and the like exist, where there will be sorrow and grief, where bad things happen.
    The elderly ward member I mentioned hasn’t had an easy life, there’s suicidal moments, he’s been supported through out by the spirit however.
    Often the small and larger miracles we experience are just enough. I have a nephew with only half a heart. During ultrasound scans etc. Medical staff were very dubious that he would be able to survive. It seems he had just enough of a heart to function and for surgeons to perform amazing surgery that ensured his blood supply wouldn’t travel too quickly through his lungs before circulating through his body. But yet, some babies will die too, and I do feel grief for the sister in you ward.

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  6. Hedgehog on January 6, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Oh, and to add, prayers for lost items are not only the finding of the item. One testimony I heard, the answer was, you threw it out with the rubbish, it’s gone, you can stop looking. Isn’t the getting of an answer itself a miracle of sorts, to be appreciated, whatever the answer?

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  7. Handlewithcare on January 6, 2014 at 3:36 PM

    I have a daughter who has been seriously ill for seventeen years. I became ill myself with the same condition. Whilst I was immobilised with this illness, my son became ill with the same condition, as did my other daughter who has had to move with her husband to another part of the world without health care available to her. I have recovered sufficiently to care for my family, which is miraculous, but my children remain desperately ill every day of their lives.What am I to think? As I pray daily the prayer that I have begged heaven to answer for the health of my children, I experience other’s retreat at my faith challenging circumstances. No-one chooses to walk with me. Are you walking with me as I pray for the strength to care for my children and the wisdom to make the growth that we are being challenged to make? It may be that your hands are the hands of God.

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  8. MB on January 6, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    When something unexpected and helpful happens I can chalk it up to chance or to a logical explanation. It doesn’t really matter which one. And I can also remember that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17) and “wherefore all things which are good cometh of God” (Moroni 7:12) and express my thanks for an unexpected blessing.

    I think some tend to expect to translate God’s involvement in our lives in very specific ways or events, or to only see God’s hand clearly in happenings that make no logical sense, happen only in moments of avoidance of catastrophe, answer specific requests, or that are knock-your socks-off-spectacular.

    In actuality, according to the two verses above, God as the source of good things happening in our lives is far, far, more common than that. So the missionary’s error wasn’t in giving credit to God for the help with the plumbing or the decision to wear the seat belt. They were good, and good comes from God. If there was an error you might say that it may have been in his only seeing it in a few things, rather than seeing it also in every other small and good thing that happened in those two years.

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  9. Hedgehog on January 7, 2014 at 1:49 AM

    Handlewithcare, that must be incredibly hard. Very often we are expected to be the hands of God, and I am sorry that you have seen that retreat.

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  10. Handlewithcare on January 7, 2014 at 4:48 AM

    Loved your comment MB and thanks for your care Hedgehog, I suppose what I’m trying to express how discouraging the missionary’s story was to those of us who grapple with very much greater trials, as has been previously observed in this post. Such stories leave me with only one conclusion, that either I am lacking in faith, or that God doses not care.
    I choose to think otherwise because I think it to be a more constructive choice, what I actually believe in my few points of sanity is that a loving God allows us to suffer in order for us to be able to be as empathic as God, and so we fulfill His purposes by suffering and becoming more able to share in the characteristics of Deity. We become more able to mourn with those that mourn, and refine ourselves sufficiently to comfort those in trial in a more informed manner. This narrative of suffering would require me to bear witness in a manner that includes the variety of God’s dealings with His children, rather than seeing Him as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky. Life is hard, not easy. I think we should have a lot of fun when we can, but I am not the exception, I am the rule in either global or historical terms.

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  11. Kullervo on January 7, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    This reminds me of a post I wrote back in 2009 called Things that Are Not Personal Revelation.

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  12. fbisti on January 7, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    I long ago concluded that God cannot, or chooses not to, get involved in making things happen in our lives. That conclusion derives from the logic that His actions create innumerable ripples (later consequences) in the lives and actions of innumerable other individuals. Therefore, He must bear some not inconsequential responsibility for those consequences. Even if one posits His omnipotence and omniscience (which I certainly don’t), such interventions (whether locating car keys or saving one or thousands of lives) result in changes to what we as individuals (as “agents unto ourselves”) would have otherwise been faced with–and He effected those changes.

    That would make his role much too intrusive on our Agency, and much too difficult to predict vs a more “diestic” hypothesis–though I don’t believe He is the master clock maker either.

    That isn’t to say that God hasn’t inserted Himself in very rare circumstances…Maybe He did speak to Moses and/or Joseph Smith face-to-face–because those were very major tipping points and justified His acting as a change agent.

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  13. Jared on January 7, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    A smart 4th grader whose mastered 4th grade math is able to do many things with her skills.

    The same is true for a smart math major finishing her PhD.

    Both are to be commended for being capable, smart, and hard working. However, NASA would most likely hire the PhD.

    With this thought in mind, I’d like to suggest that when it comes to faith and things of the Spirit those who are at a 4th grade level see things through their experience, so does the PhD.

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  14. Kullervo on January 7, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    fbisti, why are you so certain of our Agency then?

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  15. Justin on January 7, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    #14:

    fbisti, why are you so certain of our Agency then?

    Not to preemptively answer fbisti’s question — but that question reminded me of a comment by Christopher Hitchens, he said:

    People say, “Well, how do you have free will?” Well, it’s a very, very difficult subject indeed. Some religions say you don’t [in effect] have it, that all is determined by heaven, you’re really only a play thing in a larger game. I take that to be that some of the point of Calvinism. There are some schools of Islam also that say, “It is only as Allah wills.” There’s no will of yours really involved as long as you’re willing to make the prostration and the obedience.

    So the connection between religion and free will isn’t as simple and easy as some people think it is. But I would say, “Yes“, I think we have free will. When asked why I think so, I would have to take refuge in philosophical irony and say, “Because I don’t think we have any choice but to have free will.” But at least I know I’m being ironic and that some of the irony is at my own expense and it’s a risk I’m willing to run.

    But the Christian answer is, “Of course you have free will — the boss insists upon it.” This somewhat degrades the freedom and redefines the idea of “will” and it seems [to me] that there’s also something degrading in the idea that saying that morality is derived in the same way; that it comes from on high; that we, ourselves, are not good enough; that we don’t have the dignity; we don’t have the self-respect; we don’t have the character to know a right action or a right statement when we see it or when we want to perform it. It’s a servile element in religion — it’s the idea that, buried in the religious impulse, is actually the wish to be unfree, is the wish for an immovable, unchangeable, celestial authority — a kind of heavenly North Korea that will take our decisions away from us and commit us only to worship and praise and thank our Great Leader and his son, the Dear Leader, forever and ever and ever. I’m so glad that there’s no evidence that this is true.

    I mean — why does fbisti doubting the plausibility of God’s intervention in human affairs make you ask why (s)he’s “so certain” of our own human agency? Why would anyone not be certain of human agency? Which has more evidence for us to be certain of: God’s intervention in human affairs or the free-choice of human actions?

    Also — Kullervo — you kinda reminded me of this post from Doves and Serpents.

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  16. hawkgrrrl on January 7, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Maybe God’s like a cheerleader or a booster to your neural pathways, adding clarity. Beyond that, I just don’t believe in divine intervention.

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  17. Mormon Heretic on January 7, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    If these are the most major spiritual experiences this missionary had, he must have been a bad missionary. I would have expected something along the lines of helping someone join the church, and instead I got a toilet story.

    Furthermore, travelling on a dirt road at night at 80 mph is just plain stupid. I’m sure he was aware of the danger, which is why he put his seatbelt on–it wasn’t a divine prompting, it was “hey, I’m about to drive recklessly. I had better put my seatbelt on in case something bad happens.”

    His talk was entertaining, but in my mind if these are the spiritual highlights of his mission, then he was a crappy missionary.

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  18. Kullervo on January 7, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    Justin, I read fbisti’s comment as saying that he rejects divine intervention into mortal existence because that would affect human Agency. I assume (possibly incorrectly!) that when fbisti talks about “Agency” he means the Mormon doctrine of free agency. So my question is how you could be certain that mankind has free agency without revealed truths, but revelation is divine intervention into mortal existence.

    But even if fbisti is not talking about Mormon doctrine at all, libertarian free will is hardly self-evident, Hitchens’s insistence notwithstanding.

    Boiled down either way, fbisti argues that d (divine intervention) is impossible because it contradicts a (agency, or libertarian free will), but even if that’s a sound argument (which I do not concede) he hasn’t established the existence of a anyway.

    The argument depends on a premise that isn’s self-evident and that fbisti has not otherwise established.

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  19. NewConvert on January 7, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    I use Lds as my “operating system” –it’s a healthy one. However, my historical belief is that we actually are all God. In order for God to know itself and appreciate its divinity, it had to fracture itself amongst a living world. Anywhere life shows up that’s God. Our job is to create our thoughts, actions, and experiences and relationships. We are literally made in “the image” if our creator–as creators. Just like the world, our own bodies are ecosystems if their own. We have parasitic probiotics of our own that in turn, have been proven to affect our own digestion, which makes us–we are what we eat. Our digestive system or gut, if you will, is directly related to our immune system. Just like humanity, our own living immune system attacks other living parts of out body (hello autoimmune diseases). Same thing as war on earth.

    A big part of our job is to recognize the divinity in others and see God immediately when looking at them. (namaste).

    HF’s name is “I am”. As we are made in the creators image, our use of those words is inherently more powerful than we understand. We must be careful in labeling ourselves as what we say is creating truth.

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  20. Hedgehog on January 8, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    I can understand that Handlewithcare, and wish you the best.

    But I think it can be a mistake to think that others simply view God as vending machine, based on the things they express in testimony meeting, the adults at any rate. In my experience many of those individuals bearing that kind of testimony are also experiencing, or have experienced in the past great trials in their lives as well, to which they don’t get the solutions they want. We do learn from suffering, we can also experience small tender mercies, albeit perhaps few and far between.

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