Trusting God in Spite of Confusion

by: Stephen Marsh

July 7, 2011

The parable of the iron rod struck me in its description of the mists of darkness that afflict the faithful after they have seen the goal and received the word of God. At first it seemed a warning that event the faithful can become lost, but on reflection, it more describes the experiences of both Peter and Paul in the Bible.

Consider Peter’s confusion at the crucifixion of Christ and then his surprise at the resurrection. From the gospels we know that it was not that Peter had not been told what to expect. But, because of his context, he just did not get it. I know, most teenagers I meet can’t believe Peter was that dense, but then there are many things that the same teens just do not get.

Or think about Paul, while he was still using the name Saul. He tried so earnestly to serve God as Saul persecuted the saints. He really did not get the point until the Christ himself appeared to him to discuss the issue. The same thing would happen when Paul prayed for relief from the thorn in his flesh.

As far as I can tell, we just lack the context (the life experience, knowledge, perspective and vocabulary) to really understand God many times. No matter how clearly it seems that God is communicating in hindsight, we lack the ability to fully understand. It is easy to see similar problems when we try to communicate with infants, children and teens. But it is hard for us to appreciate the things we can not understand because we lack the context. We can not see our own lack of vision.

What I am really discussing is understanding our own blind spots. It is realizing that just as infants, children and teens (and other people) have blind spots, so do we. In facing the decision of whether or not to trust God in spite of the confusion our blind spots cause us when He speaks, we encounter life and are surrounded by paradox.

As an aside, one thing that surprised me when I visited my parents in Saudi Arabia was the humidity. I walked off the plane and was covered in water until my surface temperature warmed up from the air conditioned interior of the airplane (it never cools down, so the humidity just stays in the air). I’ve had it described to me how that works when a sand storm kicks up; the combination of sand, dust and moisture creates an almost solid moist mist that blocks out all light and cuts down vision to inches. In a pretty much featureless desert, you can imagine what “mists of darkness” are like to someone caught in a sandstorm without a modern car to hide inside.

But how often do we think of our spiritual vision being down to mere inches in a realm without landmarks? How often when we are faced with spiritual confusion do we think “this must be exactly what God told me to expect?”

I’ve written about examples from my own life. My blithe thoughts when the patriarch giving me a blessing broke down and cried for five minutes, then got himself together and told me that I would have experiences that would be blessings, but hard to appreciate when I received them. I’ve also written of other examples of times I thought I understood (or could at the time understand) more than I did.

But my experiences have led me to conclude it is not a cop-out to ascribe confusion (in my own life or the life of others) to a lack of context. To see the problem of communicating with a God who is much smarter than we are, who sees much further, as being part of a set of problems resulting the limits of our understanding. Nor is there any solution to mists of darkness obscuring our way from time to time that can be reached by just being smart, or really smart.

When God warned us of them, God did not say that “there will be confusion, but the really smart won’t be bothered by it” — instead we were warned that we needed to have faith, hold on to the iron rod of the word of God, and press forward. God knows we will be confused and unable to see. He has done what can be done to warn us and given us a solution, even if there is no way to avoid the problem. All that remains for us is to have the context, the faith, the hope and the love to hold on to the word of God.

It sounds simple, too bad it isn’t easy.

26 Responses to Trusting God in Spite of Confusion

  1. Dan on July 7, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    you make a good point about lack of context. our perspective of the world around us tends to be very limited and when proven wrong does powerful damage to the belief in God that should always be there. It’s hard not to bring up Bruce R. McConkie’s “limited understanding” argument for a policy that had little to do with God. Or Galileo and Copernicus proving that the earth was not the center of the universe. Those are examples of man’s thinking clouding and confusing what God is and what His Creation is.

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  2. Stephen Marsh on July 7, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    The best part about the entire Galileo fiasco is that the “doctrine” that he was persecuted over was the influence of Greek Scientific culture that had eventually become transformed into belief over time.

    So the earth went from merely a footstool to God to the center of the Universe, because science said so, and from there as a basis to reject science …

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  3. SilverRain on July 7, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Interesting that you posted this today.

    I find that trusting God this way hurts. It’s like amputating a part of yourself. It feels so much like you are losing something.

    But you just have to trust God that what you lose will be worth what you gain.

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  4. shenpa warrior on July 7, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    @SilverRain – Interesting that you say it hurts – I have heard that before… actually, from a psychological perspective I have heard that the way people trust God often falls into three categories – for some like you said it feels like you are losing a part of yourself, you have to give something up, and it can be painful. Another group of people have a difficult time with it because they often feel abandoned by God and need more frequent reassurance. Another group feels like if they can DO and BE everything God wants them to be, then God will be there for them. Obviously many of us do more than one of these things, but generally people have a main strategy for dealing with this stuff. I’m definitely a mixture of not wanting to give myself over to God (or any group or organization or relationship, actually) out of fear of losing myself… my secondary strategy is to probably prove my worth through doing or being really great. Both kind of get in the way of just sitting back and trusting God – as Stephen says – in spite of confusion.

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  5. Jeff Spector on July 7, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    Great Post!

    Trusting God is like a giant trust fall. We don’t know when we’ll fall, how long we’ll fall for or how we’ll land, just that He will catch us at some point.

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  6. Michael on July 7, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    I like this post. I get frustrated the most when our LDS culture and organization refuses to acknowledge what we know that we don’t know and, instead, seeks to fill in the blanks with nonsensical justifications to idiotic policies, procedures or supposed “doctrines”. We always tends to think of the mists as coming from the great and spacious building but that edifice is on the other side of the river in Lehi’s dream. It is the large field (which I think represents the church) that is the source of the mist. So many of the Saviour’s parables and tales involve the confusion within the Kingdom, not without.

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  7. Mike S on July 7, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    Nice post. I think I have a huge blind spot in this area, and as I go through life I seem to recognize the size of it more and more.

    At one point, I think I was more along the lines of what shenpa described as “wanting reassurance” that what I was doing was right with God. But perhaps it’s because I never really felt that that I’ve evolved into just BEING. I just try to BE what I think God wants me to be, and try to DO what He would want me to do in each circumstance. And I just have faith that at the end of the day, it will all work out. I don’t really “know” that it will, but just have faith.

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  8. SilverRain on July 7, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    shenpa—I think I’m all of those three in equal portions.

    But I don’t think that “trusting God” is a passive act, such as “sitting back”. I doubt Stephen meant it that way, though of course he can speak for himself.

    Michael—I always thought the “large field” represented the world, not the church.

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  9. Dan on July 7, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Stephen,

    Indeed very fascinating how even the study of science caused us to mistaken what was reality. I think the key is to not be absolute in one’s thinking about anything.

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  10. Ray on July 7, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    Stephen, thanks for this post. I don’t have anything profound (or even inconsequential) to add, but I do want to tell you how much I love what you’ve written here.

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  11. Henry on July 7, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    Dan:
    Some things are absolute.

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  12. Henry on July 7, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    Stephen:
    Humidity in Saudi Arabia? It’s a desert, hot and dry like the American Southwest. What humidity?

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  13. SilverRain on July 7, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    Um . . . have you SEEN a <a href=http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=saudi+arabia+map&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&biw=1079&bih=557&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x15e7b33fe7952a41:0x5960504bc21ab69b,Saudi+Arabia&gl=us&ei=5hgWTqv6BsqpsAKrlKkw&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCIQ8gEwAAmap of Saudi Arabia? The country is large. It has coastline. It has areas of high precipitation.

    What is it about Americans’ propensity to think that other countries are ecologically uniform colored fields, like some sort of social studies map? (Maybe you’re not American, Henry, in which case I apologize for the assumption. And maybe you were being sarcastic.)

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  14. SilverRain on July 7, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    What a yucky rendering of a link. Sorry, folks.

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  15. Heber13 on July 7, 2011 at 3:57 PM

    Trust is the key word.

    Times in my life when I have had great trust that God is guiding me, I was at peace inside, even if there was confusion.

    Other times, I have felt the pain SilverRain talks about, and then, the trust is weakened as I try to figure out what I am to learn, and that I should trust myself more often, and in those times of less trust in God, confusion becomes a huge blind spot.

    I think the blind spots come and go over time, and change. It keeps us uncomfortable, and always in need of searching. I am surprised that the older I get, the more confused I get about specific details or teachings, and the more trust I build in God that it will all be OK.

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  16. shenpa warrior on July 7, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    @SilverRain – yeah, what I was trying to say by “sitting back” was more “be still and know that I am God” but it came across as “sit on the couch with a bag of chips and know that I am God” LOL.

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  17. Dan on July 7, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    Henry,

    There’s a difference in there actually being absolutes in the world and having a perspective of absolutes. I don’t have a doubt that there are indeed absolutes in the world. I just don’t think it is wise to think we know the absolutes. :)

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 7, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    Henry, I’ve been to Saudia. Up on the escarpment at 7,000 feet above sea level or in the empty sector it is very, very dry.

    But down near the capital, or on the Red Sea, the ocean happens to generate a lot of evaporation. It just doesn’t cool off much at night, so the humidity stays in the air.

    When I came off the airplane (which meant we walked down the gangway onto the field and walked outside to the airport) I was instantly covered in water as my cold/cooler skin caused the water to condense out of the air.

    But I don’t think that “trusting God” is a passive act, such as “sitting back”. I doubt Stephen meant it that way, though of course he can speak for himself.

    You are right, and I very much appreciate your thoughts.

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  19. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 7, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Shenpa, I like the idea of a bag of chips. I think I’ll head on home now (though probably no chips when I get there ;) ).

    But I think it is sobering to realize the things we do not know because of blind spots and the things we do not know completely because they may have binary (or even more complex) states (imagine if the Elephant was actually all the things the blind men saw, but no Elephant to resolve them all into if you were not blind).

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  20. Howard on July 7, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Great post Stephen! Our blind spots are naivete, biases and psychological defense creating impermeability of thought and filtering out undesirable messages all of which interferes with our ability to clearly understand. Yes we lack context we don’t share and often can’t even comprehend God’s frame of reference many of His lessons are nuggets richly layered and communicated Spirit to spirit as thought not yet words and while our spirit may understand the thoughts bringing us comfort our minds grapple with definition, nuance and application. Sometimes we’re better off to just sit with it awhile.

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  21. hawkgrrrl on July 7, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    I fluctuate in my life between seeing God as a being who operates by benevolent neglect (if s/he exists at all) to seeing how difficulties in life have worked for my betterment over the long haul – patterns far too difficult to discern close up, only visible years later.

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  22. prometheus on July 7, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    I like what you said, Jeff, but I would go one step further:

    “Trusting God is like a giant trust fall. We don’t know when we’ll fall, how long we’ll fall for or how we’ll land, just that He will catch us at some point.”

    And, sometimes, he won’t catch us until after this life is over. And we trust Him despite that. (Daniel 3:17-18)

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  23. Stephen Marsh on July 8, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    prometheus — I think that is the entire point.

    Nicely said.

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  24. annegb on July 8, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    I love the book “Reaching for the Invisible God” by Phillip Yancey. He explores loss of faith and cites many examples of faithful Christians who have fought valiantly to remain true when they hear silence as they reach out to God.

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  25. Bonnie on July 4, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    This was really beautiful, Stephen. Ray pointed to it on his blog and I’m so glad he did. Thanks for being the kind of person you are. I’m glad to know you.

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