Last time I addressed the topic of our discussion in the church I talked about faith in Christ, and how we might shift our discussion from speculation on doctrines designed to create an emotional response to discussions about faith in our real lives. In perhaps a not too dissimilar vein, I’d like to talk about our discussion in the church about to whom we assign responsibility for various miracles, temptations, programs, doctrines, etc.
In a recent meeting, a sister in our ward was elaborating on temple attendance. She indicated that it was the work of the adversary that kept us from visiting the temple more often, and that this was why we didn’t have a “full service” temple. In a Young Men’s lesson not long ago, the YM president, while elaborating on the new “Duty to God” program, indicated that the program was directly from the Lord and that the boys would be blessed by God if they committed to participate. On the news, a few days ago, a local young diabetic boy passed out at school, and was rescued by some schoolmates. The parents indicated that it was a miracle from God that the boy didn’t die.
To be clear, my intent isn’t to cast doubt on the factual accuracy or truth of these statements. They may be true…or they may not. It is also not my intent to suggest that we not thank God for blessing our lives. However, the explanations we develop to explain the phenomena in our lives says a lot about our culture. It has the power to make us seem reasonable, thoughtful, and down to earth, or it could make us look…well…kooky!
Stuff happens in life. Strong groups find creative ways to explain these events, often associating supernatural causation, and redefining language to fit the beliefs of the group. Like my previous post on a similar topic, this in and of itself is not a big deal. Nevertheless, in the aggregate, these type of statements contribute toward a sentiment that I think can impede real spiritual growth. And the truth is, we might even benefit from a more…well…natural worldview.
To draw a parallel, consider how non-scientists and scientists differ in their view of natural phenomena. The non-scientist is undoubtedly able to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. They can use their senses to appreciate the song of a bird, the sun on their skin, the sight of a beautiful scene. The scientist, however, is able to do that as well as see those phenomena as mathematical models, predict the way those phenomena might behave in other situations, and use that knowledge to utilize the phenomena to benefit us.
To me this suggests that with a more natural worldview we might be in a position to create for ourselves situations that can bless our lives spiritually. Rather than merely relying on programs, miracles, or trying to prevent Satan from influencing us, we can take control of our lives and place ourselves in situations that benefit us in miraculous ways.
Another consequence of too frivolously attributing natural phenomena to supernatural origins is the potential for this to cut both ways. I’ve heard many a story of the disgruntled member of the church in the throes of a faith crisis who, because he/she has been conditioned to see supernatural causes for the events in his/her life, has erroneously assigned God the blame for unfortunate events. Can anyone doubt the danger of such a thought process? Surely combating this frame of mind must start with acknowledging God (and/or Satan) is not the almighty puppetmaster!
Finally, I think the quicker we are to assign supernatural origins to common events the cheaper the real miracles become. Changing hearts and minds is quite possibly the most miraculous event I have ever witnessed and should be celebrated as such. This miracle can stem from powerful spiritual witnesses, promptings, and feelings from the Spirit. But people overcome illnesses all the time, and church programs come and go. Certainly it is miraculous that modern medicine can cure all manner of diseases, but even so, those miracles stem from the brilliance, and dedication of people using tried and true scientific methods. And while church programs might be inspired, even church leaders “see through a glass darkly.” Reserving supernatural attribution of events and phenomena for the most special events keeps the perceived value of those miracles high.
With a little more forethought, we can make small adjustments to our language, and present material with more precision in a way that maintains faithfulness, but shows that we have given thought to other points of view, as well as the natural events that occur in the world. Instead of indicating the adversary as the reason for our poor temple attendance, we might focus on our own difficulties in making time for this important endeavor. Rather than granting the full weight of heavenly revelation to the Duty to God program, we might indicate that it is a program the church has developed to help the young men draw nearer to God using principles found in the scriptures. And although miracles may occur with the spontaneous recovery and rescue of ill patients, it appears to happen beyond the boundaries of nations, creeds, religions, and priesthood power. Humbly thanking God for compassionate people who clearly demonstrate Christlike charity to our benefit, is a very real, honest, and important message to convey. Indeed, we encourage our members to exercise Christlike love and service to others, but do we appropriately acknowledge the role they play in the fortuitous events that bless our lives?
Despite out tendency to create group solidarity, we don’t have to fall victim to assigning supernatural causes to every little event. The world turns, and things happen. Unless you’re a Calvinist, coincidence likely plays a role in your worldview at some level. There’s no shame in acknowledging that we are responsible for our lack of temple attendance, and the truth is, not every church program is sent down from on high. Rather than damaging faith, in my opinion, acknowledgment of natural causation can cause us to look deeper for the reasons things happen and the reasons for our own faith. Our faith can be strengthened by a more detailed understanding of the natural world. And real miracles can be more fully appreciated because we have reserved them for the events that change hearts and minds, and not every time someone gets over a cold!