An Unknown God

God is indeed unknown, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. And learning His ways requires seeing all sides, being intellectually and spiritually honest, and open.

christianity
theology
faith
doubts
Date

Wednesday December 27, 2023

Topics
christianity
theology
faith
doubts

This post speaks to how I manage spiritual doubts, such as whether God exists. It got me thinking after reading a few religious posts by Rob Hybdman, someone whose professional (data science) work I greatly admire.

Here’s a summary of some points I try to make here:

  • He doesn’t try to convince us to believe Him without a doubt, He asks us to follow him
  • People who saw Christ didn’t even recognize Him as the Savior
  • Christianity is hard to grasp and won’t make total sense when you think deeply about it.
  • Our job is to keep learning, and ask Him to teach us about His nature

I think too many people grow up thinking of God in black/white terms and when one, linking piece of the puzzle doesn’t fit or is missing, some throw Him out all together. Here’s my take on why people misrepresent God, and how this can lead to personal doubts of faith in Him and His Son.

Christ asking his disciples, “Whom say he that I am?”

An unknown God

A certain philosopher named Korihor once reasoned that people should stop paying tithing or following restrictive religious commandments because they’re wasting their time. Here’s his thinking:

Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, ==by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions== and their ==pretended mysteries==, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, ==offend some unknown being, who they say is God==—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be. - Alma 30:28

I love this because the argument of whether God exists or if Christ was the Savior is nothing new. (And many people I highly regard and esteem are tackling this “new” issue head on, as many in the world are questioning their faith.) But a lot of the same arguments that have existed continue to exist: why believe?

…It’s not like anyone’s ever seen God anyway.

Let’s assume for a minute that they have seen God. They saw His Son, His mortal example, walk the earth (John 5:19).

While with His disciples, Christ himself took a moment to reflect on who people thought he was, and whether people actually recognized Him for who He is:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, ==Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?== And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. Matthews 16:13-14

People had no idea who Christ was even though I’d bet either He or His disciples them His name many times while He was healing them.

People are funny like that.

Consider your own life. Have you ever misinterpreted a situation, even as it’s being explained to you?

Let’s consider a magician who does a magic trick for you. She doesn’t show you how it’s done, but she does explain it to you with only words. Since you don’t specifically see how the magic trick is done, perhaps your mind wanders and you doubt what really happened.

Do you trust the Magician? When He tells you who He is, after healing you, do you believe Him? When an unexplainable coincidence happens in your life, what do you chalk it up to?

“Nah, that’s so highly improbable it must just be luck”… (whatever luck is…)

I can’t imagine how it must have felt for people around Christ to be healed by rubbing mud on their eyes or washing in a river a few times or, or, … I can only honestly believe these people felt absolute wonder to the point of mental disassociation. How else do you mentally cope with being a paralytic your whole life and then you’re able to walk?

It’s entirely reasonable, then, that they just figured He must be like the other miracle workers they knew - Elias, John the Baptist, etc. They try to frame Him in their believable mental reference, i.e., “luck”.

A strange God

Perhaps though we can relate to when Paul, a lifelong Non-Christian and Christian persecuter, preached to his fellow Gentiles:

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore ==disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews==, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. 18 ==Then certain philosophers== of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, ==What will this babbler say?== other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. Acts 17:16-18

Paul got them. He was once like them: a gentile. An unbeliever. A disbeliever. But he eventually was converted to knowing Christ, and, as such, appeared to seem like a babbler when trying to talk to people who once were like him. They considered him and his teachings strange:

19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, ==May we know what this new doctrine==, whereof thou speakest, is? 20 For ==thou bringest certain strange things to our ears==: we would know therefore what these things mean. Acts 16:19-20

Meeting Christ can be strange.

Understanding him, so too.

Putting a box on God

Consider the question, “why does God let good people suffer?”

(Other important questions like, “why did God encourage Abraham/Isaac/Israel to be polygamists but Adam not?”, or “why did God restrict the entire earth from receiving his Gospel until after Christ died, commanding His people not to marry or mingle with them but then change his tone ~33 AD?”, are worth similar consideration.)

It’s a false dichotomy: if God exists and loves us, He surely wouldn’t let us suffer. If suffering exists, especially of good1 people, God must not then exist.

Consider all the suffering of innocent children2. The reality of human nature is sufferers vs non sufferers3. Any suffering is painful to bear, and nobody better understands this than Christ himself (D&C 19:16-19).

The point is, we can falsely equivocate that because God loves us and He had the power to stop suffering, He should stop it.

Do you do this with any other relationship? Consider the hypothetical:

Father Joe loves his children. But Joe let his son Bob get hit with a toy by little sister Susie. Joe let Susie suffer. Therefore, Joe acted in an evil and therefore does not exist.

This line of thinking is absurd to anyone with a brain, let alone to anyone who is a parent. They understand that sufferig is part of life, can be good for teaching, and that it doesn’t mean the parent doesn’t exist. Yet sometimes we wonder if God exists because we’re suffering.

Consider alternative viewpoints

To be comfortable with unanswered questions from a yet unknown God, we should consider how the question is already answered.

For example, did God stop Christ from suffering? No. Did Christ stop himself from suffering on the cross when He had the power to turn water to wine for the thirsty, heal the suffering swordsman’s ear, or even raise Himself from the dead?

I’m trying to rally around the point: we set up for ourselves false philosophical arguments about who or what God is and should be like when there’s a lot of nuance to be considered.

In my view, He’s more of a Magician who “explains but doesn’t show” than one who tries “to convince us about every little thing”. Because it’s quite human to be like “oh, yea that magic trick isn’t cool anymore” once you understand it. And His goal is to invite us to believe His son so that we’ll follow Him. His goal isn’t for us to know everything, though he is willing to teach us a lot. Remember: “ask and ye shall receive”.

And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit…and let us reason together, ==that ye may understand;== D&C 50:10

He just didn’t say when He’d tell us.

Why he explains but doesn’t try to convince

Why do I believe that He likes to explain but not convince? A few ideas:

  1. He taught people they would get to heaven by eating His flesh (sacrament), and people misunderstood and thought this was a “hard” teaching. They walked no more with him (John 6), but he didn’t run them down to try to bring them back. Why didn’t he?4
  2. He was chained by the Romans, spat on, crowned with thorns, and whipped. But instead of showing them signs and wonders He let them abuse Him. Then He forgave them after they nailed Him to the cross multiple times and speared Him in His side and gave Him vinegar to drink (Psalm 69, John 19).
  3. He knew He couldn’t convince them. He once healed a withered man’s hands and the Pharisees wanted to destroy Him because he did so on the sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14)5. How too are we like the Pharisees where we say “God shouldn’t be like X!!!” Shouldn’t we instead let God reveal Himself?

These three clues, among many others, give me perspective on why He’s okay being misunderstood by us.

A God of purpose, children of purpose and promise

Why does He want us to live by faith? Lots of reasons. But there’s only one I’ll speak to: He’s a God of purpose:

37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. 38 And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. 39 For behold, ==this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man==. - Moses 1:37-39

His goal is to prepare an environment to teach and challenge us. Our goal should be to learn who, how and why.

Our purpose should not be to put God in a box or imagine Him black and white. It should be to learn who He is, so He’a no longer an unknown God.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. - John 17:3

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Bryan lives somewhere at the intersection of faith, fatherhood, and futurism and writes about tech, books, Christianity, gratitude, and whatever’s on his mind. If you liked reading, perhaps you’ll also like subscribing: