Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faith and Miracles

In Response to "God is Hiding", by Jon Adams

Something that's always troubled me a bit, growing up, is the lack of modern-day miracles. I consider myself an adamant, if somewhat unorthodox Mormon. In fact, I base a large part of my unorthodoxy on personal inspiration and a faith in modern revelation.

One conclusion I might come to is that people in general are less faith-filled than previous generations. We have records from previous eras of mass-conversions as well as miracles, well-documented and concrete. Why don't we have those anymore, either? It may be that modern, rational thought patterns, 'ask first and question more' philosophies are not very compatible with 'belief first and miracles later' system that faith seems to work on.

I remember growing up, our ward prayed and fasted for my little brother, who was in the hospital for 3rd degree burns covering most of his body. We prayed that he would live; we prayed that he would be able to walk. Today he runs around forming Ultimate Frisbee teams; most of his scarring barely noticeable unless he's wearing shorts or goes barefoot. Is this a miracle? Or just the miracle of modern science? What about the coincidence of parent’s prayers occurring right when something bad happens, but their kids come out okay? Parents pray over their children all the time, right? Or people being healed of Cancer, or being guided where to live through feelings... maybe we get miracles that can be explained by other phenomena because they are the kind we can believe in. After all, ask an 18th Century Rationalist if men could ever fly, and he would laugh at your absurdity.

We should never discount anything simply because we do not have a rational explanation for it. There are so many unanswered questions in science and religion, more mysteries than anyone could possibly comprehend... why should we discount something simply because we do not understand it? I feel that is a type of hiding in itself, hiding in our little box of rationality. We shouldn't trim outliers to make our data sets nice and tidy; we should try to figure out what those outliers are trying to tell us about the big picture.

I got off-topic. Sorry. Anyways, why are there not more miracles, similar to the Bible? Well, if we are to use the Bible as an example, we need to evaluate the time spans implicit within the stories. Remember, the Bible purports to cover at least 5,000 years worth of history (scholars differ on exact chronology). If we look at the percentage of time with miracles verses the time without miracles, we see very long gaps without obvious divine intervention followed by short, intense sessions of Godly might. I don't know why, but it does seem to be a pattern that continues on today. In LDS doctrine we teach about the Apostasy cycle, about periods of belief and stagnation. Now, most members would say we are in the Last Dispensation and are therefore immune to apostasy on a church-wide scale. I'm not so sure about that, but to continue on...

Saying "yes, we still have miracles" when they are usually small in scale, or "it's our own fault, because miracles are based on belief and we don't believe as strongly as people used to"... I don't think either of those answers the real question.

Your last sentence caught my eye: "Shouldn't that be the test--not whether we believe in god, but whether we follow him?"

I think that's the rub of it. You know, most people don't experience miracles. Allot of people have faith-building experiences for their various religions, but the full-blown miracle stuff seems reserved for special occasions. Why?

What is the test? Is it even a test at all? Is it that we believe in God? Manifestly not, as you pointed out. If so, humankind would be more damned than all the sons of perdition. What about following God? That's a little more complicated.

In Mormon theology, as you know, we believe in a pre-earth life, where we all lived in God's presence. There was a huge battle, and Satan and those who followed him were cast out of heaven. The rest of us, those who followed God, got the opportunity to come to earth.

Wait a minute, why are we being sent to earth to show that we follow God, if we already fought a huge war about that Very issue? For that matter, why is it that we don't remember any of this? Why do we have a Veil placed over our memories and other senses? Why, if we were these cosmically powerful beings before coming to earth, are reduced to such a pitiful state, subject to disease and starvation and all manner of terrible things? For that matter, why would we have fought for the right to experience all of it?

The point is, I don't think the test is whether we believe in God, or even whether or not we will follow Him. I think we've demonstrated both of those facets already. Faith is powerful, it's an important part of the Gospel, but it's only one of several virtues. It's not even the most important. Thomas, who walked with Jesus, heard from his own mouth the gospel, watched countless miracles... even Thomas didn't believe until he saw for himself. And he was one of the Apostles chosen by Christ. One who reportedly stayed faithful up to his own martyrdom.

The point is not so much belief, or even faith, but creating an environment where both belief and faith are necessary. An environment where doubt thrives, where doubt is the norm. I think the real test is 'doing the right thing, regardless of consequences.' That means not being sure of what the consequences will be, in the end.  That means an atheist has just as much chance at getting into Heaven, based on his actions, as a believer.

That means that sometimes people will do everything right and still have bad things happen to them. That means bad people will prosper. That means that yes, God could show us his existence through fairly constant, major miracles (we don't need a ton... maybe a couple a decade would be nice, right?) and that might even help people to have allot more faith in him, both that he exists and that he is a benevolent being... but that would, in effect, take away our agency, because Of Course we're going to do what an Almighty God says when we've got tons of faith in him and we are sure of being rewarded for our efforts.

One thing that helps me to have faith is to contrast those fairly different viewpoints. Regular Christians, when asked, "Why does God let bad things happen?" they have to say, "I don't know, but I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." Mormons, if they understand the doctrine, can give a slightly better answer. "I don't know, but I think it will make me a better person, I feel like I've learned allot and will continue to learn allot, and I have faith that through Christ everything will be made better." It makes a difference if you feel you chose to put your hands in the flames, verses being forced to put your hands in the flames. Maybe that's just slightly more sophisticated theology, or maybe having greater understanding, a greater basis for faith, helps you to feel better about things. Either way, though, the core of the answer is the same. "I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it will turn out alright."

On a more personal level, let me tell you how coming out and accepting my gay self has helped me to gain faith. When I first decided to come out, the only examples for positive, long-term gay relationships were found in sitcoms, and even then they often had terrible endings. I had to have faith that, if I were to come out, it would even be possible to form a long-term commitment with someone of the same gender. I had to believe that same-gender relationships were more than lust, as I had been taught. As I have met gay people, I have met more and more same-gender couples that help me to affirm this belief, and I continue to have faith that one day I will find a special someone of my own.

On another, far more difficult level, I had to have faith that my family would still love me after coming out. In this I've failed pretty badly, and yet they still do love me. I still have to have faith, because I still Do believe in the LDS Church, in Jesus, in Apostles and in Revelation. I believe that eventually something will change, and gay people will be able to receive all of the blessings of the gospel, similar to their straight friends and families. Being gay has helped me to jump off the cliff of certainty. And I don't know, but I'm pretty sure things will turn out alright. 

1 comment:

  1. YES! I love this, how you describe the test of life! How is it that I am only just reading this now? You really need to get on the Moho Directory so I can effortlessly compulsively follow your blog along with all the others on there.