Friday, November 18, 2011

How Can We Recognize When (If) God Is Shouting At Us?

I once was asked the following:

"How would you know, or what would it be like, if God were yelling at you or disciplining you?"

That is a fascinating question, especially since I think we have two VERY different paradigms in our canonized scripture - and because we tend to extrapolate our own experiences with our parents onto God (both the positive and the negative ones). First, the background:

1) The God of the Old Testament is a yelling, destroying, jealous, vengeful God - the ultimate alpha male. God's "love" in the OT seems to be more centered on "protection" than on "feeling" - and that makes sense given the history of oppression and conquest of the Israelite and Jewish nations. In short, the God of the OT is the God of "a people" - loving them by actively and directly protecting them in times of obedience and actively and directly punishing them in times of disobedience.

The same description exists in the BofM prior to the Lord's appearance to the people after his death - a very clear "prosper in the land during righteousness" and "suffer during unrighteousness" distinction. It also exists throughout the D&C - again, during the formative years of the Church when "protection" was paramount.

When protection is the foundational paradigm, it is EASY to see when God is "yelling at you".

The parenting application is that the same paradigm tends to be in place in our own families - that we yell at our kids when they are in the early developmental stages - when perhaps our primary purpose and goal is to protect them and teach them how to live on their own. I'm not saying it's right or correct or good to yell then - only that it's what tends to happen often.

2) The God of the New Testament is a compassionate, meek, merciful, loving, patient, PERSONAL God - the classic man who is in touch with his feminine side - or, interestingly from a Mormon perspective, what normally would be considered a "complete couple" (combination of full masculinity AND femininity). Jesus spoke directly and harshly sometimes, but it was directed almost exclusively to those who were hypocritical leaders who rejected him. The woman taken in adultery ("He who is without sin . . . neither do I condemn thee.") - the Caananite woman (first classified as a "dog" but then blessed anyway) - the unclean (whom he touched and blessed) - etc. All of these were INDIVIDUALS - and it is clear he came to serve, teach and validate them, not to protect the nation.

The same emphasis can be seen in the post-resurrection visit to the Nephites in the BofM - where "punishment" consisted of walking away and letting people alone (withdrawing), rather than direct, active punishment. I think the same can be seen in the modern Church, where the hyperbolic and harsh pronouncements of the Brigham Youngs of the world generally have disappeared and been replaced by the current apostles who serve, teach and validate much more than scream warnings (and it explains why strong warnings grate so much on so many, since they aren't used to hearing them on a regular basis).

When service and validation and teaching are the foundational paradigm, it is HARD to see a need to yell very often - if ever.

The parenting application is that the same paradigm tends to be in place in our own families - that we DON'T yell at our kids when they are in the later developmental stages - when perhaps our primary purpose and goal is to pray that we have served and taught them in such a way that they are able to live on their own in a productive manner.

SUMMARY: I think we, as adults, aren't going to recognize God yelling at us very often - simply because I think he doesn't yell at us very often. I also think if he does yell at us, we will recognize it - unless we've totally stopped trying to listen and completely tuned him out.

If we are trying to be able to recognize whispers (even if the practical application is nothing more than "following our consciences and what we feel is right"), I believe we will hear the shouts.

Finally, as adults, I think we will consider, at the very least, WHY the Church leaders appear to be shouting when they do on rare occasion. (I'm not saying we ultimately have to agree, but I think we should consider the "why" at least. Too many people reflexively brush it off as the rantings of out-of-touch old men - and I can't express how much I disagree with that characterization. I think that reaction is reminiscent of a childish tantrum toward someone in a position of authority, and I think a good indication of one's spiritual maturity is how s/he reacts to counsel or statements with which s/he disagrees reflexively.)


Anonymous said...

I think it's very important to think carefully about those things with which we disagree relexively.I agree that they may tell us a great deal about ourselves,and that might not be all bad news.Sometimes it's important to know where our own boundaries are,then consider wether that's really where we want to draw the line.

I'm aware that I had an immediate reaction to something that was said in conference some time back,to the extent that I was shaking my head without initially being conscious of it.It concerned me ,but I decided to let it go.When the general conference edition of the Ensign came out,the talk was modified and did not include the portion that I had had such a strong initial reaction to.Clearly my instinct was not all that off message,even though I had been confused about it at the time.

I say this in order to validate our own experience as being a relevant part of our consideration of how we work with the counsel we may recieve.

Papa D said...

That is an excellent example. Thank you for sharing it.