A few days ago I was reflecting on the harshness with which we tend to judge ourselves. I think that, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we sometimes have a warped understanding of how God, our Father, views us. We tend to think that He, like us, gets caught up in the details of our daily actions. We think that, when we mess up or fail to do something we know we should do, He frowns on us and withdraws his approval and love from us. We tend to attribute mortal failings to God because of our belief that He is human like us, and our lack of experience with perfect, exalted beings.
However, God always sees the bigger picture. As President Reedy, our Stake President, said yesterday: “God doesn’t care so much about what we do, but about what we become. However, in order to become, it is essential that we do“. What this means is that God is concerned with our general direction, not so much with the individual actions that make up our days. He will not suddenly unleash his holy wrath upon me because today I’ve neglected to read my scriptures. He will not strike me down with lightning just because I drank a cup of coffee. God is not a vindictive being, He doesn’t take pleasure in punishing his children, just as any good mortal parent takes no pleasure in punishing his/her children. Just as mortal parents would do, God cares about where we are heading, and will gently prod us in the right direction occasionally without ever forcing us there.
In LDS theology, the purpose of mortal existence is to “become” like God. We are the literal offspring of deity, and as such we have the potential to become as He is. What this means in practical terms depends largely upon our understanding of who God is, and what His attributes are. As I said in the last paragraph, we sometimes have a warped understanding of who God is, or how He thinks and acts, and each member of the LDS faith has his/her own unique understanding of these principles. This understanding can be influenced by family or cultural traditions, and there is no doubt that the theological notions of mainstream Christianity and Protestantism have had a huge influence on LDS members’ concept of who God is. My personal view doesn’t necessarily reflect the general opinion of LDS members, but I think and hope that it is closer to the truth than it was a few years ago.
For me, God is pure love. That is one of the few things I know with absolute certainty, because I have felt it first-hand during a very sacred and personal experience, one cold winter day in Shoeburyness, a little town at the Eastern tip of Essex in England. When I do something wrong or get slack in my duties, I feel sad because I know I’ve broken his trust in me. I don’t feel that He’s angry with me, I feel that He’s disappointed but always encouraging, always loving, always perfectly aware of my efforts, my strengths, my difficulties, and my general direction in life. From time to time He reminds me of the fact that He’s generally pleased with my direction, and at other times He gives me clear warnings that some choices I have made or am about to make are leading me down a path I will later regret, not because of His punishments, but because of the natural consequences of these actions, of which He is perfectly aware.
Although I cannot be perfectly aware like He is, that’s how I want to be with my family and with other people around me, and I need to constantly check that my reactions to other people’s behaviour are motivated by more than just the heat of the moment, and are informed by what I know about that person generally, and by what I don’t know but that might be relevant in explaining their behaviour. I’m starting to realise that I have the bad habit of assuming that the first hypothesis that comes to my mind, when I try to explain people’s behaviour, is automatically the best and correct one. I have made that blunder several times, and it has caused some to be offended, unfortunately. I can’t afford to be lazy like this when I become a practicing psychologist: I must think of the bigger picture, keep alternative hypotheses in mind, and always be motivated by genuine love and concern.