Reason #185: Struggling with an Unknowable God

One of the greatest disservices that Mormon doctrine does to the minds of its adherents is the reduction of the concept of a three-in-one God down to compartmentalized beings. I have struggled with this now for the 38 years I have been a Christian. Here is one way that I portrayed my struggle.

This is an excerpt from my novel, Latter-day Cipher, which attempts to portray the gut-wrenching challenges of leaving Mormonism if you truly love it. (The book is also available here on this site, autographed.)

I’ve been accused of modalism because of this passage. Quite to the contrary, this does not reflect a full view of the Trinity that I hold (there will be more posts to follow) but it does give a way for a Mormon to begin to grasp the Trinity concept.

In this scene, a life-long Mormon and her daughter visit the grove where Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.

She and Maria walked across the long field to the stand of trees. The sign said, “The Sacred Grove.”

  Eliza drew a deep breath before entering, gathering herself together. Maria, too was subdued, her hat drooping with the moisture, her face hidden.

The fog seemed deeper inside the grove, as if the leggy, dense trees and shrubs had snagged and captured the mist not only of that morning but of the two centuries since Joseph Smith walked through it. Through the wisps of vapor she could see other people coming and going on the grove’s twelve serpentine paths, but the trees seemed to inter their hushed voices as it had the fog. 

Eliza shivered. Maria moved close to her.

“This doesn’t look like the pictures, Mommy.”

It was true, all the guidebook pictures showed dancing leaves and preternaturally bright light filtering down in sword-like, emphatic shafts.

“Show me where it happened, Mommy. Where he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus.”

“I don’t know. The books don’t say,” she answered, thumbing helplessly through a damp guidebook. She had spoken truly. The books also didn’t say what she had learned, these past painful months:  that Joseph’s Smith’s story of what happened in that grove in 1820 had metastatized in the telling. Though he never wrote or spoke of anything happening in the grove until over a decade after the supposed event, the account morphed from meeting an angel named Nephi in the grove, to meeting an angel named Moroni in the grove, to meeting two heavenly beings who hovered in the air and announced themselves to be God and Jesus.

Maria looked around the path. “Maybe it was here,” she said. She sat on a bench and gazed upwards to where the treetops disappeared into the haze. “Bet Joseph was surprised.”

As was the rest of the Christian world, to hear that God the Father had[ been pulling their legs for all these thousands of years insisting He was spirit and not flesh and bones, Eliza wearily thought, and then showing up all tangible and everything. Surprise.

“So read me something out of the guidebook, Mom.” 

Eliza stumbled through dates and historical background while Maria listened respectfully.

“Do you want to hear more?”

Maria shook her head slowly.

“You’re really not very good at this either, are you?”  She gently took the book from her mother’s hands. Her slender wrists could barely sustain the weight of the open volume. She sat down and put it in her lap and found a color photo. Then she held it up at quivering arm’s length to make her own comparisons as she revolved in front of the bench. “Are you sure this is the Sacred Grove?”

“Saw the sign, sweetheart, back where the path began.”  Eliza felt the press of lost sleep, and lost marriage, and now lost god. She felt as if something were being extracted from dry sockets in her chest. She did not know if she could bear all these losses.

 It was so organized, so precise, so comfortable and manageable for a Mormon to believe that God was one supreme being, and Jesus another, and the Holy Ghost yet another, though disembodied, god.

And Heavenly Father being a former man made praying so simple. You could talk to someone else who had once slammed his finger in a door, and hurt somebody’s feelings with juicy gossip, and overate at a buffet table; and felt envious and sarcastic and petty. 

And yet such beings didn’t exist. These two compartmentalized, skin-bound, divinity-awarded beings never were. Their holy spirit compatriot with his inexplicably-unearned godhood, never was. Prayers to any and all went up into the mists of Mormonism’s grove, she thought, and stayed there, trapped like the mists by the trees.

She poured water from the thermos into two cups for her and Maria.

The cool liquid, the ice, the fog. That was the way a book she read explained God – the God everybody else worshiped. Like water in its states of being, could a single God have states of being as well? All sharing the same substance and yet individual — personalized? Suddenly, inexplicably, she knew that this was true.

To Maria’s obvious amazement, Eliza tipped her head back and filled her mouth, letting the liquid pour down her jaws and onto her neck and into her ears. She gasped at its refreshing taste, the brittleness of the cold on her skin. She was more grateful for water than she had ever been in her life.

“Isn’t water wonderful?”  Eliza laughed, wiping her face with her sleeve. Maria giggled with delight. She wondered if she could teach Maria about water, so she would someday no longer feel that sense of dearth, of doubt.

The two walked slowly back across the field, holding hands. Maria was uncharacteristically sober and wordless as Eliza began to rehearse in her mind the phone call she would make to her beloved Roger tonight after she’d assembled the right words.

We will work it out together, she thought. I will show Roger what I’ve found — as friend, not adversary. I can explain to him about the wonder of water. Surely there is enough of God to be shared among the three of us, my Roger, my Maria and I. Nothing will tear us apart. Roger will listen. And he will care. And it will be all right. 

2 Comments

  1. M L Garrone
    Sep 22, 2011

    Looking over your last comment to me

    “That error is the one-to-one identification of the word “God” with “God the Father.””

    In Mormonism we certainly don’t do that- God is now a title, like captain, and there are an uncountable infinity of them in existence. But I was using the Trinitarian understanding of God in my last post and I wasn’t mentally attaching Father:God 1:1, I’m sorry If I wasn’t clear or concise enough.

    “Jesus is God in the same way the Father is God. I am Scott in the same sense that my husband and son are Scott.”

    As far as you make this claim about God you make a lot of sense to me. same about you being Scott. You are a Scott and Your husband is a Scott and your Son is a Scott. Scott is a property which is true of all of you. As far as this goes this is perfectly reasonable. now, what would happen if someone came along and told me that there is really only one Scott, while claiming not to contradict those previous claims.

    I would be simply incredulous. You can’t tell me that you are Scott and your Husband is Scott and you are not your husband and there is only one Scott. they are simply contradictory claims. But that’s exactly what the trinity tries to do with God. Your claim analogy with the three states of water doesn’t help: if each person of the Godhead are akin to a different state of Water, then while they share the common property of being water (God), and are made up of the same substance, it is not accurate to say there is only one state there. Ice is not Water vapor. They are distinct things. one can transformer into the other and back, and they are made of the same molecules, but they are still distinct things, with distinct properties separating them. You simply cannot look at some ice, liquid water and water vapor and honestly say there is only one things there. So your analogy breaks down: you cannot use it to explain God, and then say there is only one God, you have to say there are three of them. To put it logically.

    1) There is only one God
    2) The Father is God
    3) The Son is God
    4) The father is not the Son

    I have immense difficulty taking these four as anything other than a logically inconsistent set. All other ideas on the Godhead have worked it out. Modalism drops 4, Other monotheistic religions and the Jehovah’s Witnesses drop 3, and Mormonism drops 1. All of these will get you something logically consistent, why take the hard way out?

  2. admin
    Sep 26, 2011

    Hi Nick. I’m sorry for the delay in responding to you, and I’m getting the idea that we are moving further apart in understanding, not toward each other. So I’ll briefly address some of your concerns. First of all, it must be true that there is no earthly analogy that can completely explain God. (Jesus Himself used analogies all the time: “The Kingdom of heaven is like. . .” but both He and we would have to admit that no physical analogy can cover all the bases in describing a concept, whether it’s a kingdom or a God. Can we agree on that?)

    You asked, “Why take the hard way out?” It’s true that Mormonism’s Godhead is easier to understand. But the God of the Bible continually portrayed Himself as beyond understanding. So a simple and graspable three people don’t fit the bill. At all. Especially when you consider that each of them became a god at a certain point of time.

    I love my eternal God.

    I want to give you two further analogies that won’t cover all the bases any more than water, or an apple, or an egg (examples I’ve heard) will; nor a presidency nor a family name. But here they are. First is the idea of space: length, width, and depth. Our three-dimensional universe is comprised of all of these but you can’t truly have one without the others (except conceptually, as in geometry.) But the best one I’ve heard, that resonates with me, is the idea of our universe: time, space, and matter.

    I’m sure that John’s description of God and the relationships to Jesus in John chapter one, the Word, is one that won’t fit with Mormonism. It doesn’t say Jesus was a god, it says He was God.

    As I said, I’m not wanting to try to argue you out of Mormonism, but to show you that we do have “clues” both in the Bible and God’s creation that reflect His trinitarian nature.

    Secondly, you asked a while back how I knew that the church my fiance/husband offered me was right. I didn’t. If you are truly interested in that process as it played out in my life, read the first and last chapters of a recent edition of my book, The Mormon Mirage (editions published before 2009 don’t have all that included.

    Nick, return to the God of the Bible. If I can help you, let me know.

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