Our occasionally intervening God

August 16, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 1:13 am   Category: Life,Personal Revelation

Aaron B put up a provocative post over at BCC and my response was too long for the comments there so I thought I would respond here.

In the post Aaron confesses that he prefers the idea of a God who can’t intervene in our lives to the idea of a God whose intervention he can’t predict or explain. (Frankly his position seems illogical to me. How is a predictable impotent God preferable to an unpredictable yet loving powerful God? But that is sort of off topic…) The post sort of veers into a theodicy discussion as well. Aaron concludes by asking four questions about divine intervention. I’ll respond to these questions below and try to show where I think Aaron is missing the point with this subject in the process.

1. Do you believe that God has ever personally intervened in your life to prevent great tragedy?

Yes. I am certain of it.

2. If so, why do you believe he intervened in your case, but not in so many others?

This question reveals to me that Aaron is looking at this question and even God incorrectly. God is not a vending machine. One does not perfunctorily drop in a few prayer coins and get a miracle dropped down like a soda. God is a person. And as such our relationship with him must be personal. So when I have personal conversations with God in my times of great need or times of prosperity he responds to me in personal ways. I can’t answer for the personal relationships others have with him. I can say that even though Kristen and I, with help of many others, were able to talk God into intervening on behalf of our son, he denied our requests to preserve the life of a great and beloved man in our lives as well (even if God was willing to miraculously extend that life). But even that denial came with some level of personal explanation to me and many others involved. Sometimes we children can talk our heavenly father into things and sometimes we can’t.

3. Does your belief stem from the idea that God is constantly involved in the decisions and activities of your day, large and small, and so He must have been involved by definition, or does it stem from a personal spiritual manifestation you had which confirmed that He injected himself into your affairs to prevent certain tragedy in a particular instance?

God isn’t constantly involved in my decisions any more than I am constantly involved in the decisions of my children. When he intervenes in my life it is usually after I ask him to. Of course sometimes he’ll call out promptings and preventative warnings and if I am paying attention they always prove to be miraculously helpful. But I specifically ask for those “pings” and I work hard to listen for his still small voice all of the time. Of course the ability to always have his spirit to be with us is the primary day-to-day benefit of belonging to Christ’s restored church in my opinion. If we aren’t utilizing that revelatory pipeline we are wasting our Mormonism in my opinion.

4. If you believe that God intervened in a particular instance, are you sure your good fortune wasn’t just coincidence, or dumb luck? How? Please explain how you distinguish coincidence, or random good fortune, from the hand of Providence. Or do you think you don’t have to because, in your case, God is always micromanaging your life’s outcomes?

Sometimes I get lucky and sometimes I am unlucky. But I know when I get promptings and when I heed them things always land on the “lucky” side for me. (I’ve joked that the “luckiness” associated with heeding promptings is the Mormon super power.) How am I sure it isn’t just luck you ask? Well, through personal revelation. I knew when God finally (and seemingly joyfully) basically said “Uncle” as I wrestled with him over Quinn. I have also known when his message has been “sorry, but no” in other wrestling attempts. If my good or bad fortune does not include some level of personal revelation I assume it is just run-of-the-mill good or bad luck.

So I think that God does intervene when we ask properly. Sometimes we have to wrestle with the Lord to get blessings though. Sometimes he simply tells us “no” to our requests for whatever reason. Why he says yes or no cannot be answered as a generality though — that must be dealt with on a case by case basis I think. We are talking about personal relationships here after all… And when it comes to our personal relationship with God, I think Moses said it best:

And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them! (Num. 11:29)

[Associated radio.blog song: Bob Marley - Waiting In Vain]

73 Comments »

  1. Geoff:

    I think your explanations here are fantastic. This is an area where my opinion is changing to the view you have expressed. To see my opinion change check this out.

    In short, I now think revelation and blessings are given out, when asked, based on some type of a ‘merit’ system. Otherwise God becomes a respecter of persons, and thus plays favorites. This may be a hard thing to say to those who feel they are being ignored by God however.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — August 16, 2006 @ 5:36 am

  2. I think it might be worth noting that in psychological theory, an inconsistent positive reinforcement has been found to be a more effective motivator than a predictable reinforcement. This is exactly why gambling is so highly addictive.

    I am not trying to say that God is a slot machine any more than a vending machine, but it does offer a secular explanation for the LDS fascination with answers to prayers, promptings, etc.

    Comment by Naismith — August 16, 2006 @ 8:31 am

  3. I’ve long been of the opinion that the greatest miracle that can occur in a person’s life is to have a glimpse of the love that God the Father has for them and also of the love that Jesus has for them. I believe that such events are miracles and that almost any other sort of intervention is just gravy and generally not salvific. I don’t say this to denigrate your experience at all.

    Of course this could also lead to a discussion of the nature of priesthood power, whether that allows for intervention and even whether we can develop such power in ourselves in addition to borrowing God’s power. That is a discussion that I don’t have time to go into right now.

    Comment by a random John — August 16, 2006 @ 9:43 am

  4. Naismith,

    Interesting note. I will say that that I don’t think God is at all random like a slot machine. Again, God is a person and personal relationships necessarily entail some level of unpredictablility. But as persons go, God is as reliable (read: trustworthy) as they come. Who wants a relationship with someone they can’t trust, after all? We can absolutely trust God in his motivations, wisdom, and love, but that does not mean we control him or force him to help us with all of our own plans… It seems to me that just like with our relationships with mortal persons, we must seek to influence God “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned”.

    Eric – Thanks for the link.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  5. The reason I couldn’t comment at Aaron’s post is that he opened up two of the biggest cans of worms around simultaneously and didn’t limit the scope in any way.

    As to the question of epistemology, I think it is a fair point that there seems to be a tendency in the church to pretend we know what was done by God and what was not even in the absence of revelation. He points out that we paint happy faces on things in an unjustified way. If one person out of 13 dies in the mine, we praise God for saving the one without blaming him for killing the 12. If we know God did that through revelation, then fine, but it is not necessary fair to assume he specifically intervenes to accomplish everything we view as positive. At the same time, we should be open to the idea that he might very well have been involved in any good thing that happens (this is how I read the scripture saying that we must acknowledge God’s hand in all things).

    That said, there seemed to be in Aaron’s post a general distrust, in principle, of anyone who says they know God did something for them. I think this sort of distrust is totally incompatible with Christianity, let alone Mormonism. It is a direct rejection of the idea of testimony, or communication between God and man in general. It is effectively atheism because it makes God irrelevant by definition even if it admits to His existence.

    On the question of theodicy, it is obviously a big topic, but I think a central idea in a successful theodicy (if one exists) will have to be the idea that God does not really care too much, per se, in what happens to us on Earth. That is, he cares to the extent that he cares about us so he cares if we are sad or miserable, but he can’t usually care too much if someone lives an extra 10 years. To us, we look at it as some big deal that a person’s life was extended by 10 or 20 or 50 years. From God’s perspective on the other side of the veil this 10 years probably doesn’t make too much of a difference. The person still dies in the end and people are still sad. If the situation looks very different to us, but pretty much the same to God, then he is free to interact with us in relationship and grant prayers for some people but not others without really creating a big inequality in the universe.

    Comment by Jacob — August 16, 2006 @ 10:26 am

  6. Good points all around Jacob. I think you are right that one of the problems with Aaron’s post is imprecision. That is, he fails to address nuances in these massive issues and proposes that we throw out the baby (the idea of an interactive, powerful, and intervening God) with the bathwater (the fact that many religionists ascribe all good luck to God but refuse to blame God for bad luck). I think we must separate these issues though.

    In Aaron’s defense, I think he is right that God is regularly given credit for things he didn’t do. But in the creedal Christian absolutist view of God this is unavoidable. In that view God controls every little aspect of the universe all of the time so he is to be blamed or credited for everything. In Mormonism we believe that God has limits and as such he can be completely hands-off much of the time. That is the advantage Mormonism has regarding theodicy too. We are not quite Deists, believing God set the game in play and now is only a spectator, but we aren’t that far away from that view all of the time either. As I understand our scriptures, God intervenes on occasion but not most of the time. When he does intervene it is usually to keep this improvisatory play of our planet from veering too far from the general plot he has outlined (thus he already knows the “beginning from the end”). That means that bad stuff that happens is either bad luck or the reaping of bad seeds that have been sown. Most good things that happen to people is good luck or the reaping of good seeds that have been sown. But some good things that happen are the results of people talking God into intervening and generating good things. This is the lesson we get from the Nephites — God can grant “good luck” when we properly persuade him. But I don’t think we persuade him nearly as often as we think…

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 10:48 am

  7. A couple of points. First of all, is manifestly apparent that God’s influence upon human events is usually very subtle, so subtle that many convince themselves it doesn’t exist. However, any time anyone feels the Spirit in one way or another, God is subtly intervening in the natural course of events. D&C 88 states that the Light of Christ pervades the universe and giveth light and life to all things. I do not think that the LoC is necessary for the operation of natural laws. But surely anybody who has the remnants of a conscience feels the Light of Christ on a regular basis, to greater or lesser degree, and through that medium God can influence the outcome of human events in the process of time.

    The Old Testament’s witness of the degree of this intervention is so strong, it tends to over state the truth making God responsible for a true evil instead of influencing the acts of evil persons to turn them to his own purposes. The latter is the gospel truth, however, abundantly testified of in all scripture.

    And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.
    (D&C 59:21)

    God is not the author of sin, but he certainly influences sinners.

    And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
    (Rom 8:28)

    This principle is repeated at least *four* times in the D&C (D&C 90:24, 98:3, 100:15, 105:40). God’s ability to turn evil (i.e. sin) to his eternal purposes (refiner’s fire, judgment, etc.) is among his greatest talents. Talk about economy.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 16, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

  8. Geoff,

    Once again I think you are letting you love for analogies overshadow and brush aside serious difficulties without due consideration. Nobody is treating God like a vending machine here. Instead, they are taking Him at His word when He claims to:

    1) Be all those omni’s.
    2) Listen to prayers.
    3) Respond to the prayer which is made in faith and sincerity.

    If anybody is making God into a vending machine it is His own word here, not those who desperately pray for help and do not receive a response of any kind be it affirmative or negative.

    To simply say that we do not know is to seriously call God’s own word into question, for He has said and promised far too much for us to retreat back into ignorance. He has made promises and these promises go largely unfulfilled and many of those which due are done, in Mark’s words, subtly which I take to mean “barely if at all perceptible.”

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

  9. Jeff G.,

    “Omni-” means “all”, it does not mean “absolute”. I understand that God is “all powerful” in the sense that no one can mount a successful challenge to his authority, partly because it is based on righteous principles, and partly because it is the dominant power in the universe. i.e. in the long run the power of the adversary is a rounding error, compared to the power of God, or the divine concert (cf. 1 Ne 9:6). That definition does not entail that God has infinite (let alone absolute) resources to expend at any given moment.

    It is also worth noting that God is all powerful in eternity because of his unique capacity to persuade virtually all others to join him. The sons of Perdition are the only exception.

    As far as answering prayers and fulfilling promises in his own due time are concerned, allow me to quote from the D&C:

    Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;

    Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament-the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.

    Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.
    (D&C 98:1-3)

    The Lord has power to grant virtually any righteous request, in his own due time, which is the crux of the matter.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 16, 2006 @ 6:55 pm

  10. Jeff,

    I agree there are real issues here. Certainly, theodicy is one of the most difficult problems in all of theology. As to your point about taking the Lord at his word, it is worth nothing that the most prominent prayer in all the scriptures was Jesus in Gethsemane when his request was denied. Jesus also offered the parable of the unjust judge in which the unjust judge represents God. Neither of these paint a rosy picture that if you pray you will get whatever you want, and these should be considered when we are “taking God at his word.”

    Comment by Jacob — August 16, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

  11. Jeff,

    Can you give me more details? Are you simply saying that theodicy is a difficult subject to address? Or are you saying there are serious difficulties with my claim that God intervenes in my life? I agree with you on the former and you can take or leave my word on the latter.

    Your comment about “omnis” is a theological topic and there is little agreement in the Christian world about what “taking God at his word” on that entails. (I happen to largely agree with Mark’s take on the meaning though.) When it comes to the question of whether God listens to and responds to prayers I can only say that he has consistently listened to and responded to my prayers in my life.

    If anybody is making God into a vending machine it is His own word here, not those who desperately pray for help and do not receive a response of any kind be it affirmative or negative.

    You are making a massive assumption here: That when someone does not hear a response from God it is God’s fault/problem. Personal communication requires one person to send the message and for the other person to receive it. I believe God does answer all prayers. However the scriptures (and modern prophets) tell us that God speaks most often via a still small voice; if the praying person does not have properly attuned “ears to hear” then I don’t think it is fair to hold that against God. It seems to me that developing “ears to hear” is one of the primary purposes of our life here on earth. Further, in my experience there are some people who have some initial difficulties hearing God’s voice and give up trying to way too soon.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 8:09 pm

  12. (#6) Geoff writes: “We are not quite Deists, believing God set the game in play and now is only a spectator, but we aren’t that far away from that view all of the time either. As I understand our scriptures, God intervenes on occasion but not most of the time.”

    This is a surprising approach. The scriptures describe God as constantly involved in our lives, supporting us from one moment to another (Mos 2:21, many references to his being with us always). I think it is more a matter of us recognizing his involvement periodically rather than his being involved only periodically. There are many examples in the scriptures of God being involved when the people affected were unaware of his involvement–or didn’t even want it. And there are many examples of God answering the prayers of those who are not LDS, not Christian, and not religious in any formal sense.

    On several occasions, the faithful are promised that whatsoever they ask, it shall be given them. I don’t think Gethsemane is a good contrary example because Christ ultimately asked that not his will, but the Father’s be done. Yet there are contrary examples from our personal experiences.

    The only way I’ve reconciled this is that what we ask for consists not only of what we articulate in prayer, but how we live our entire lives. It likely precedes mortality as well, and the answer to our requests will likely, in many cases, be given only after we die. This could be considered a cop-out, of course, but it doesn’t make sense to reconcile the disparity between our experiences and the promises in the scriptures by concluding that God is only occasionally involved in our lives and only responds to the right kind of prayers.

    This isn’t to say that we ask for everything that happens to us, especially where an event is the product of someone else’s exercise of free agency. Rather, it’s another way of saying that we are each becoming the kind of person we desire to be, the type of person we pray to become.

    There are also the incidental “tender mercies” whereby God grants us small requests, or saves a life or otherwise gives us a manifestation of his involvement in our lives; but these occasional events should not be used to suggest that God isn’t otherwise always involved with us.

    Comment by jonathan n — August 16, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

  13. Let me try to address you guys one at a time, for I’m sure that I’m going to have to hold my own in this one.

    Jacob,

    Your account of how the scriptures contradict eachother is hardly the faith-saver you seem to think it is. Yes, God does frequently ignore or deny requests as can be seen in both life as well as scripture. Nevertheless, the sermon on the mount paints a VERY different picture indeed. Asking for fish and getting rocks… Ask and you shall receive… Sending rain on both righteous and unrighteous… It’s all there.

    Mark,

    I grant that by far the most promising version of theodicy is certainly to be found in some limitation in the omni’s, although I hope that omnibenevolence is the one which is compromised last in such a move. Nevertheless, the scriptures go to great lengths to demonstrate that God isn’t all that limited, for “Is there anything which is impossible to the Lord?” He is able to do all these wonderful things as signs of his power, his love and indeed his very existence (hence the faith that so many place in teleological arguments). With such beliefs in place it seems less than genuine to seek refuge in limiting Gods ability to do absolutely anything. Without going into an extended discussion regarding the problem of evil, I will simply say that divine silence is the lack of an answer rather than a negative answer. The problem isn’t that God is saying “no” but rather that He doesn’t seem to be saying anything at all in the cases at hand.

    Geoff,

    You know that I’m not going to try to disqualify the positive experiences which you have had. Such would be flat out callous as well as counter productive to the conversation at hand. Rather, my comment were aimed at those situations in which prayer were not answered at all. With regards to the massive assumption which I am making, I stand by it. I do see most cases of such ignored prayers as being God’s fault, but our problems, unfortunately. To accuse everybody except the one common factor in such cases seems a little self-serving. I should also point out that usually such prayers are asking for help rather than some message or advice. They want succor not warm-fuzzies.

    In conclusion, I would point out that while the topic at hand is certainly intertwined with the problem of evil, that is not really what we are talking about. Rather it is the problem of so many people fervently praying in desperate need and being ignored. To say that in each of these cases it is the victim’s own fault seems more than a little brutal don’t you think?

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2006 @ 9:12 pm

  14. Jeff G.,

    I do not believe that absolutist theology in any form is comprehensible. Suppose God has finite righteous objective X. I understand omnipotence to lie solely in his ability to achieve objective X in some finite amount of time. Assuming there are a finite number of exalted persons in existence, I understand the classical power he can bring to bear at any given moment to be strictly finite, and his power to expand by saving and exalting more souls to participate in the divine concert.

    So again, in the long run, he has “all power in heaven and in earth”, to first approximation, the remaining power of the devil and his minions being a rounding error, relatively speaking. Or in other words “all power” is not infinite or absolute power in classical terms, but rather “all the power that exists”, to first approximation. It should be quite obvious that “all the power that exists” in a finite universe is a finite number. As every day passes, God’s classical power is converging on “all power”. In other words, omnipotence is a prophecy.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 16, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

  15. By the way “omnibenevolence” is an exceedingly ambiguous term. If sending fire from heaven and casting whole societies down to hell if they become fully ripe in iniquity, for their own benefit, is omnibenevolent, then I am all for it.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 16, 2006 @ 9:44 pm

  16. Mark,

    I agree that your account of omnipotence is more or less correct, so we don’t have to argue about that. Rather, I simply think that it does little to account for the question at hand.

    I also think that the ambiguous nature of God’s all-goodness is probably going to play a crucial role in most people’s theodicy, however I see this as a problem for the theist more than the critic. But I think this topic falls outside the present scope.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2006 @ 9:51 pm

  17. Jonathan: The scriptures describe God as constantly involved in our lives, supporting us from one moment to another

    I suspect we interpret those scriptures differently. I have no problem with the idea that God is constantly aware of all of our lives (including intimate awareness of all of our thoughts, words, and deeds) through his immanent spirit — and that certainly is a form of involvement. And I have no problem with the idea that he is rooting for us to use our agency to choose to accept a relationship with him — that could certainly be called “supporting us”. Further, I agree with Blake that God’s grace (and even the ongoing atonement) entails a constant and standing offer from God to each of us to repent and enter a personal relationship with him. But I don’t think any of that means there is any regular unsolicited involvement that could be described as interference. He whispers to all through the still small voice and stands ready to receive all who heed his offer of a personal relationship. But I don’t think his unsolicited involvement goes much beyond that. (Indeed if it did then I think it would also have to apply equally to all for him to be just.) That is why I say I go for something that is close to a Deist view on this subject. The ball is completely in our court here on earth. He will intervene often upon proper request, but I don’t think he does in the absence of those requests.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

  18. Jeff: I do see most cases of such ignored prayers as being God’s fault, but our problems, unfortunately.

    I don’t believe there is any such thing as ignored sincere and fervent prayers.

    People pray for two things: 1) stuff to happen, and 2) information to be given. When stuff doesn’t happen that does not mean the prayer was ignored; it means the request was denied. When a person prays for information and doesn’t hear or comprehend any response from God it doesn’t mean God didn’t give one; I think it means to me that the requesting person wasn’t able to comprehend the information sent back through the still small voice (even if the answer was “mind your own business” or something). It’s the old radio tuner analogy: Just because we have our radio dialed to a frequency with no signal does not mean there is no radio station broadcasting on another frequency.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

  19. Geoff,

    That sounds an awful lot like asking for a bread and getting a stone. It’s a faith claim, and not a terribly impressive one in my opinion.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

  20. Asking for a fish and getting a “no, get it yourself” response (or perhaps even some instructions from the still small voice on how to get one yourself) is very different than asking for a fish and getting handed a serpent.

    My kids ask me to do menial tasks for them all the time and I regularly say no. For instance we might be sitting on the couch and one of them will say “dad, will you get me a class of milk?” If the requester can get her own milk I often say “umm, get your own”. (Kids want parents to be their slaves half of the time.) But me doing that is very different than me actively getting up and bringing over a glass of rancid milk or something out of spite and meanness.

    In other words, I don’t buy your take on that passage of scripture.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 16, 2006 @ 10:52 pm

  21. Jeff,

    You are zeroing in on the problem of unanswered prayers. Wasn’t this theological problem settled to everyone’s satisfaction several years ago by Garth Brooks? I am confused. Maybe Geoff can swap out the radio blog song and we can just be done with the whole discussion.

    But seriously, you sound like you agree with my point that the scriptures give plenty of examples of requests ignored or denied, so isn’t it reasonable to interpret the Sermon on the Mount in this context? Add to this the other reasons we shouldn’t take all of the statements made in the SotM as generally applicable (which I’m sure you are well aware of) and your statement that God is not living up to his word doesn’t seem very well grounded in his word.

    Comment by Jacob — August 16, 2006 @ 11:06 pm

  22. Geoff,

    Are you honestly comparing what all these desperate people are praying for “menial tasks”? These people are so desperate precisely because they can’t do it for themselves. In such a context, getting anything other than actual, tangible help seems to me to be getting a stone.

    Jacob,

    I think your wrong. I think that God’s word on the matter, meaning what the prophets actually have taught in scripture simply does not match up very well with what is occasionally historically described in scripture. God says, almost with out exception, that the sincere prayer of faith will be granted according the their desires and yet time and time again, even in the scriptures, it turns out to not play out this way. I see these examples as proving my point rather than acting as counter evidence which I must deal with.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 16, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

  23. Jeff,

    You are ignoring a whole lot of scriptures. You described my counter examples as “what is occasionally historically described in scripture” which is not accurate at all. One of my first two examples was a parable given to describe the general situation that exists in prayer at all times. That is hardly describing an historical oddity.

    There is a whole strain in the scriptures about the fact that prayers are answered according to faith. I expect this point doesn’t need any backup so I will only give one scripture, but there are plenty more:

    And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27:14)

    Also, the D&C puts the promise this way:

    And, as it is written-Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive. (D&C 29:6)

    Here, there is an additional requirement of unity in prayer. You can say it is harsh to blame the people praying for not receiving answers, and I am with you to some extent on that (I don’t think I go as far as Geoff on this point), but the scriptures certainly say the effectiveness of prayer is dependent on the person praying to a large extent. And, lest we forget one of the reasons for the restoration, God said he restored the gospel in these latter days “that faith might also increase in the earth” (D&C 1:21)

    The scriptures sometimes go even farther:

    27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
    28 And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need-I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34)

    So, you can think I am wrong all day long, but you are ignoring a whole host of scriptures that temper the promises you are pointing to and implicitely add context and qualification to those promises. You are acting like the scriptures overwhelmingly say God will answer all our prayers if we are sincere and that is not the overwhelming message of the scriptures in my estimation.

    Comment by Jacob — August 17, 2006 @ 12:26 am

  24. I understand D&C 29:6 to refer to a corporate unity, e.g. on the principle that it is much easier for the Lord to answer prayers if all members of a group are praying for the same thing.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 17, 2006 @ 7:04 am

  25. 17. Geoff, maybe it is a difference in interpretation, but the scriptures speak of the light of Christ as a gift to every person. It is the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things. The basic premise of mortality is that we’re being enticed continually to do good or do evil. If God were merely a passive observer, then who is doing the enticing to do good to counteract the continual enticing to do evil?

    God’s open invitation to become closer to him is like a second level of involvement, but the fundamental involvement of the light of Christ is continual. Maybe you could say there is something planted in our spirits that entices us to do good, but even so, wouldn’t that be God’s working with us constantly?

    This is why I suggest that the intermittent manifestations, or answers to prayer, are merely moments when we recognize God’s involvement with us. The rest of the time we are oblivious to his involvement.

    Comment by jonathan n — August 17, 2006 @ 7:23 am

  26. Mark (#24), yes of course.

    Comment by Jacob — August 17, 2006 @ 8:33 am

  27. Jacob,

    I simply don’t see any of those verses as contradicting what I am saying. For starters, the idea that the parable of the unjust judge is meant to actually protray God seems to be border on blasphemy. Second, none of these verses seem to say anything other than “if you are in desperate need and you pray with all of your heart it will be answered according to your faith.” Of course some of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the person, but I think it incredibly callous to blame the victim in every case that the prayer is not answered like Geoff seems to.

    Comment by Jeff G — August 17, 2006 @ 8:51 am

  28. Jeff: Are you honestly comparing what all these desperate people are praying for “menial tasks”?

    Oh good grief. Are you actually missing my point or just grasping at straws with this comment? On the off chance it is the former — the point is that God denying requests is not the same as a) God igorning a request or b) God giving a serpent when a fish is requested. This principle applies to any and every request.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 8:56 am

  29. Jeff: Second, none of these verses seem to say anything other than “if you are in desperate need and you pray with all of your heart it will be answered according to your faith.”

    It seems to me that the key phrase of even your restatement is “according to your faith”. Miracle-producing faith is not cheap and thus it is not easy to develop; but it is the first principle of the gospel.

    I think it incredibly callous to blame the victim in every case that the prayer is not answered like Geoff seems to.

    I am saying that God often denies a requested miracles — how is that “blaming the victim”? I do think that we are responsible for our own ear training so if God sends an answer and we are not tuned in to the still small voice well enough to hear and comprehend it then that is our own problem. Further, I think it is clear that a person who already has a close personal relationship with God will have an easier time “twisting God’s arm” in a time of great need than a person who does not know God personally at all.

    For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? (Mosiah 5:13)

    I have not at all denied the notion that God says no at times to even desperate prayers. I have disputed your claim that saying no is the same as giving a stone when bread is requested. I think you are misuing that verse because saying “no” is not the same as giving a stone. I know of no scripture that precludes God from saying no to our requests — rather I see many, many examples of God doing just that to even his own prophets.

    10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the apower of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
    11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day. (Alma 14)

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 9:00 am

  30. Jonathan: Maybe you could say there is something planted in our spirits that entices us to do good, but even so, wouldn’t that be God’s working with us constantly?

    I suspect we simply hold differing metaphysical views on this subject Jonathan. I just don’t think there is anything “planted in our spirits” by God. That seems like a creedal stowaway in a Mormon theology to me. I think that our intelligences/spirits are fundamentally the same as God’s and as such we are free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death. God entices us with a standing invitation to enter a personal relationship with him (and the associated promise of lasting joy and peace) and “the flesh” entices us in the opposite direction (enticing us with pleasure, popularity, and power right now).

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 9:23 am

  31. I agree with Geoff in #30, re nothing planted in our hearts except ideas and our own biological nature, although I would further add that I believe God’s standing invitation is regularly manifest to almost all via his Spirit, an influence than no one in sufficiently exigent circumstances dares deny, except perhaps the sons of Perdition, or others who have sinned unto [spiritual] death.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 17, 2006 @ 10:22 am

  32. Geoff — I don’t mind being called “short-sighted,” rather than “illogical”. :)

    Aaron B

    Comment by Aaron Brown — August 17, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

  33. Hehe. Well I decided it was more accurate to say I didn’t get the logic of your preference for a non-interactive God than to call it “short sighted” so I changed that. Here’s hoping you don’t need to call on any divine intervention in the forthcoming baby delivery — I hope is all goes swimmingly for y’all!

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 1:03 pm

  34. Jeff,

    I simply don’t see any of those verses as contradicting what I am saying.

    Hmmmm. I could be missing your point then, which would be unfortunate. I think you are saying that the fact that so many people pray sincerely and don’t know if they got an answer demonstrates that God is not living up to what he promised in the scriptures. Correct me if I am off base because I don’t want to argue with you if we actually agree.

    For starters, the idea that the parable of the unjust judge is meant to actually protray God seems to be border on blasphemy.

    Are you accusing me of blasphemy for my interpretation or Jesus of blasphemy for his parable?

    Second, none of these verses seem to say anything other than “if you are in desperate need and you pray with all of your heart it will be answered according to your faith.”

    In fact, some of those scriptures do say more than that. The one from Alma 34 says a whole lot more than that, read it again. Start from verse 17 and read through 28. It says that you can pray all day long for good things to happen to you and your friends, but if you are not developing personal righteousness and treating people in a Christ-like way then don’t expect the prayer to do you any good.

    Also, the part in your statement above about “according to your faith” is pretty important. Not everyone has faith. In fact, many people do not have faith, or they have not developed very strong faith by developing in righteousness and maintaining a proximity to the spirit which enables conviction. If God is true to his word and answers prayers according to faith, I would expect those “many people” to feel their prayers are not answered very well.

    Of course some of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the person, but I think it incredibly callous to blame the victim in every case that the prayer is not answered like Geoff seems to.

    I mentioned that I don’t go as far as Geoff does on this score. My point is not to “blame the victim” as you say, but to point out that:

    a) The scriptures do support the idea that receiving answers to our prayers will seem difficult (e.g. the parable of the unjust judge).

    b) The scriptures do say there is often much more required of us than mere sincerity to receive what we pray for, or even an answer about what we are praying for.

    Your previous comments seemed to disagree with both points.

    Comment by Jacob — August 17, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

  35. Jacob,

    Your #34 sounds just like my position. Where is it that I go farther than you on this subject?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 2:54 pm

  36. I understand the argument that faith seems to be a precondition to receiving answers to at least some prayers. However, I have spent a fair bit of time counselling members who do not receive any answers to prayers. I know many of these people quite well. I am unable to detect any difference between them and others who seem to receive answers to their prayers on a regular basis. Jeff G. raises some important issues, and I don’t think it is an adequate response to suggest that lack of faith or faithfulness is responsible for the dearth of answers experienced by many.

    Comment by garf — August 17, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

  37. garf: However, I have spent a fair bit of time counselling members who do not receive any answers to prayers.

    Really? In what capacity?

    Jeff G. raises some important issues, and I don’t think it is an adequate response to suggest that lack of faith or faithfulness is responsible for the dearth of answers experienced by many.

    Alright… what do you think an adequate response would be?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 3:03 pm

  38. Geoff: My counselling has been as their Bishop, and sometimes as a father or friend.

    I am not sure what an adequate response would be. I struggle with this a lot. I know too many good, sincere, faithful people who are pleading with God for guidance, comfort, or some assurance that he is really there and that he loves them without any discernible response from him. I cannot explain what I see and experience on a regular basis by a lack of faith on the supplicant. My current theory is that God does indeed abandon us sometimes because it is good for us.

    Comment by garf — August 17, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  39. Geoff,

    The place where I don’t go as far as you is here:

    When a person prays for information and doesn’t hear or comprehend any response from God it doesn’t mean God didn’t give one; I think it means to me that the requesting person wasn’t able to comprehend the information sent back through the still small voice (even if the answer was “mind your own business” or something). (#18)

    It won’t surprise me if I get to the other side and learn that sometimes there was no answer. This would be sort of like saying he denied the request for information.

    Nevertheless, I think it is clear that we have pretty similar views on this.

    Comment by Jacob — August 17, 2006 @ 4:08 pm

  40. Jacob: It won’t surprise me if I get to the other side and learn that sometimes there was no answer.

    garf: My current theory is that God does indeed abandon us sometimes because it is good for us.

    Hmmm… I suppose y’alls theory could be true but I am highly skeptical.

    Take the Enos story: If your theory is right, then God could have simply never answered Enos even if he stayed at it for a week or more. I just don’t think that is a likely scenario. I find it very hard to believe God ever screens our calls.

    Much more likely to me is that he eagerly awaits our every call and picks up every time, but that we often are not able to hear what he has to say in return. I suspect our inability to hear him comes from several things and I have posted on those things here and here. The idea is that God’s voice to humans is still and small and that we often do not place ourselves in sufficiently “quiet places” to hear. Or that we do not have sufficiently trained “spiritual ears” to comprehend that which we do hear.

    So it is not only a faith/faithfulness/sincerity issue as garf mentioned; it is also a diligence and patience and ear training issue.

    Here is the problem I see if we accept the theory that God sometimes simply ignores or refuses to answer our prayers: We have a built in excuse to give up trying when we don’t get an immediate answer. My guess is that if Enos held the view that you both are preaching he never have stuck with his prayers all day and all night.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 17, 2006 @ 5:49 pm

  41. I believe the Lord will eventually answer any sincere prayer, however he may be slow in doing so. For example, he may not answer the prayers of the wicked or on behalf of the wicked in this life at all:

    And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not;

    Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.

    Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.
    (Jer 7:13-16)

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 17, 2006 @ 7:07 pm

  42. I blogged on something similar to this as to what God is giving us when he gave us this life.

    I think that as to Asking for fish and getting rocks we need to look again and consider if those were really rocks or serpents (it is ask for fish and get a serpent, bread and get a rock.

    It says that you can pray all day long for good things to happen to you and your friends, but if you are not developing personal righteousness and treating people in a Christ-like way then don’t expect the prayer to do you any good.

    Reminds me, though, of what Job’s friends brought to the party in terms of analysis. They were his greatest affliction.

    My current theory is that God does indeed {emend}make us wait{end emendation} sometimes because it is good for us

    I’d agree.

    I also like the phrase “God is not a vending machine.”

    That is true. God is, instead, our loving father.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — August 17, 2006 @ 8:31 pm

  43. Geoff,

    Here is the problem I see if we accept the theory that God sometimes simply ignores or refuses to answer our prayers: We have a built in excuse to give up trying when we don’t get an immediate answer.

    I don’t think God ever ignores prayers, so let’s stick the the “or refuses to answer” part. I don’t see it as a built in excuse to give up. On the contrary, it is a good reason that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Not getting an answer at the drop of a hat requires us to stretch ourselves and our faith. It requires us to find out for ourselves how much we really care about an answer. We learn as we petition the Lord in faith even though we have not yet received an answer. Did Enos pray all day because in the first hour he was out of tune, or because God wasn’t answering in the first hour. In some specific case it may be hard to tell because certainly there are times when God is answering an person can’t tell. However, it seems very likely to me that there are times when God is not answering…yet. If a person stops praying, that counts as a prayer that was never answered. No built-in excuse follows from such a view.

    Comment by Jacob — August 17, 2006 @ 10:29 pm

  44. Interesting discussion. I hope you don’t mind if I chime in (and I’ll apologize now for the length). Richard G Scott gave a pretty description of this in the Nov 89 Ensign. He discussed three solutions to prayer.
    1 – He answers yes, to provide us confidence.
    2 – He answers no, to prevent error.
    3 – He withholds an answer, for us to grow.

    All three can happen regardless of our level of faith. The problem is, a lack of faith will prevent us from receiving/understanding the answer.

    In the case of “good luck” or some other assistance, the intervention in our life may not be an answer to our prayer, but something that needed to happen to fulfill something else. For example, our prayer to be saved from death in a car accident may happen, not because we had the faith to be saved, but it may be that our life needed to be spared because we need to be around for some other purpose.

    The corollary is, that a different person in the exact same situation may not survive, even though they are faithful enough. I guess in that case, they received an answer, and it was “no.” It may be that their earthly mission was over and they were needed elsewhere.

    OTOH, it could also be the faithful person was saved, because they asked and there was no other requirement for that person at that time.

    In the case of withholding the answer, we may need to learn something in the process. It is similar to what used to happen between my chemistry teacher and I. I would have a problem, and go up to him to get help. He wouldn’t give me an answer but let me explain the issues where I would usually arrive at the solution (He used to say he loved my questions, because he didn’t have to do anything). In the case of prayer, we may need to exercise more faith, study more, prepare better, or act on the truths that we know. In other words, exercise the learning we have been given. I remember several years ago as the Ward Clerk sitiing in a Bishopric meeting and we were discussing who should be called as a Relief Society President. This had been going on for weeks. All of a sudden the Bishop had an “aha” moment. He needed to use the wisdom and knowledge he had, and select the person who needed to be in the calling. If he selected the wrong person, then the “No, to prevent error” can come into play.
    As well, in some cases, there is truly no right or wrong answer. IOW, it just doesn’t matter. It may not matter if I take this job or that job, as long as I do my job well and righteously. Likewise, it may not matter where I live, as long as I live righteously.
    The hard part is knowing which. There are too many people who feel the need to ask for every step of their lives, and take no responsibiilty for their position, and then expect the Lord to step in and take over. Like your children analogy, Geoff. The worst part is that when people do this, they essentially lose the accountability for their actions. This is like Geoff’s children analogy.

    For me the best example of how to get a prayer answered comes from the Rankin and Bass cartoon “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” One of the big production numbers is “Even a miracle needs a hand.” That is the perfect example of the type of faith we need. You pray, and then you do everything in your power to bring it to pass. If it is a righteous desire (and should be done) the Lord will provide what we lack.

    Comment by Rick — August 17, 2006 @ 10:43 pm

  45. (#30) “Planted in our spirits” is a poetic way of saying it’s part of our nature, which I assume is what you’re also saying. But if you agree that there is a veil that masks part of our true selves, or at least our full memory, then the veil is one example of God’s interacting with our mortality–especially when it can be allowed to opened from time to time.

    It’s not a situation where, as you and Mark seem to say, we are truly ourselves here on earth, subject to mortal temptations. Instead, we have a built-in inability to be our true selves. I assume the veil is necessary for the mortal existence, but I also believe that’s why God has to continually interact with us, in a sense to compensate for the veil.

    The problem with assuming that God only intervenes occasionally, and only when requested, is that it does not explain much of what happens in mortality. We’re frequently surprised by the things God does in our lives, things we neither requested or even hoped for. This is true for LDS and non-LDS people, even for atheists, for that matter.

    Last year at FARMS one of the speakers explained her perplexity about this issue and noted the possibility that we could deceive ourselves into thinking that our own ideas were answers to prayers but for one thing: we have no control over when and how prayers are answered. Christ taught this in John 3:8. The unpredictability of answers to prayers is evidence that it is God acting, and not our own minds.

    Comment by jonathan n — August 17, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

  46. Geoff: I don’t know why you find it easier to believe that our inability to hear God’s answers is a better explanation for a lack of answers. It is not that hard for God to communicate with his children in a way that they understand. He is God after all. He found a way to commnunicate to Paul and Alma when they were hardly receptive. It is not that hard to send spiritual promptings to sincere, prayerful people. He does it all the time, quite successfully. Based on my experiences with many people whom I know quite well, I can see no evidence whatsoever that their inability to get answers to prayers has anything at all to do with their being unable to hear or understand when he speaks to them. He has a lot of tools at his disposal to solve that problem. In fact, for the most part, the people with I am familiar are among the most humble, sincere and receptive people I know. That is why I think we have to look elsewhere for the explanation. The only other alternative I can think of is that God does indeed abandon us at times. He lets us flounder, he does not answer and he does not help. That does not mean he does not care. It just means that this is what is best for us. That answer is not entirely satisfactory, but your proposed resolution is contradicted by the evidence available to me.

    Comment by garf — August 18, 2006 @ 8:36 am

  47. Jacob (#43),

    I think we are defining “not answered” differently. I get the feeling that you are defining it in the sense that Rick used in #44 where he would ask his chemistry teacher a question and the teacher would reflect the question back at Rick and make him work at it longer. One could call that “not answering” to be sure, but it is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the silent treatment. As in God not picking up the phone at all. As in us not being able to even tell for sure that he is even listening. That is the sort of thing I don’t think ever happens. I consider the “go back and figure it out yourself” type of not-answering to actually be an answer. I sense that is what you are talking about in #43 instead of the silent treatment. Is that right?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 9:55 am

  48. garf: I don’t know why you find it easier to believe that our inability to hear God’s answers is a better explanation for a lack of answers.

    As I mentioned to Jacob, what I am arguing against is the silent treatment from God. I don’t think he ever gives us the silent treatment. He surely does tell us to take care of our own business at times, but I don’t believe he ever gives us the silent treatment. Therefore, if someone thinks God is giving them the silent treatment I suspect it has more to do with their ears, or effort, or preparations than with God’s responsiveness.

    Yes God could force the signal through to us, but that is sort of a dole isn’t it? How does doing for us what we can and should be doing for ourselves going to help as a longterm solution?

    So we may be agreeing. I think God often simply replies “take care of your own business” to us. (I say that to my kids regularly…) If that is what you mean by God “abandoning us” then we are agreeing. But if you mean that he gives us the silent treatment with no answers at all then we disagree. Perhaps I am only reflecting my experience here too, but I have never once been given the silent treatment by God and I don’t believe he plays favorites. He has told me to take care of my own business before though and I take that as an answer to my prayers, but maybe others either miss that message or interpret it as no answer or even as abandonment.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 10:11 am

  49. Geoff,

    No, given your clarification, I think we are genuinely disagreeing. I don’t think God will ever give someone the silent treatment forever. If I was a person who tried to get answers to my prayers for extended periods of time and with deep sincerity and faith only to receive nothing (literally nothing, no answer) in return I would not believe in God. If there are people out there who feel that this is their experience then I understand why they are not believers.

    However, I do think God gives people the “silent treatment” for periods of time, in which they can discern no answer or communication from God whatsoever and at which time the heavens seem closed. If you have never felt this they you should consider yourself blessed (which I know you do). I tried to say in #43 why it is not theologically devastating if God does use the “silent treatment” at times.

    For the person who has a lifetime of experience communicating with God, periods of silence will be interpreted differently than for the person who has never been sure that God exists. This might be one reason you see this issue differently than some other people.

    Comment by Jacob — August 18, 2006 @ 10:29 am

  50. Jacob,

    Well I have certainly had periods of time when I could hear no response. But I have never believed that there was ever a time when I could not “break through” with sufficient effort. If I believed that no amount of effort would allow me to break through and enter a dialogue with God because he was intentionally giving me the silent treatment and no amount of effort on my part could change that it would lead me all sort of bad places: discouragement, despair, lack of faith in God’s love, etc. I can’t imagine how believing God might give us the silent treatment regardless of our effort could lead to anything else. As I mentioned, if Enos believed God was giving him the silent treatment and no amount of effort would allow him to break through, I think he would have given up way too early.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 10:53 am

  51. I beleive that God generally only gives the quasi-silent treatment to those who have ignored or are ignoring his previous instructions. “Draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you.”, “Seek and ye shall find.”, “I have sought thee diligently, and now I have found thee”, etc.
    That is not to say that occasionally he does not withdraw as a test of faith.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 18, 2006 @ 10:59 am

  52. Geoff: Could you clarify one matter for me? When you say that God never gives us the silent treatment, do you mean that God may sometimes answer by telling us that he is not going to respond other than to tell us to deal with the problem ourselves, or do you mean that he may be silent, but you (and we should) interpret that silence to mean that he wants us to deal with problem on our own? I disagree with the former, but the latter basically, and somewhat tentatively, represents my position.

    Let me give you a couple of real life examples:

    Person A is a 40 year woman and mother of six. She is the one you want as the teacher for your daughter’s YW class. She is the one everybody wants in every calling. She is unselfish, kind, compassionate and generally delightful. I asked her to speak on the topic of faith and testimony. She declined because she told me she did not have a testimony. I was shocked. She told me she has studied, prayed and served faithfully for decades and has never had any answer to prayer. She is feeling rather frustrated, as you might imagine.

    Person B is a single woman in her late 20’s. She is attractive, intelligent and generally a wonderful person. She strayed in her youth but has returned to the church in the last two years. She has no testimony, but she wants one. She wants to believe, but her prayers go unanswered. When she studies the scriptures or attends church she feels nothing. Actually, she does-the feelings are usually negative. She has good friends and dating prospects outside of the church, and no dating prospects in the church. The time is at hand when she must decide which way to go. If God answers her prayers, she will stay, but it has been a long time and still nothing.

    Person C is also a single young woman her 20’s. She struggles with depression and concerns about her life and her future. She serves faithfully, and is also wonderful person. She prays and studies scriptures regularly. All she really wants is a message from God telling her he is there, and is mindful of her. She would love more concrete answers, but she would happily settle for that. But nothing yet, and it has been a few years now. She is confused, frustrated and is becoming a little angry that the promises contained in the scriptures do not seem to apply to her.

    I could go on, but you get the point. I can’t see a shred of evidence that lack of receptivity explains their lack of answers to prayers. I can only conclude that God is indeed giving them the silent treatment. Will that change? Maybe it will. But that does not mean that he did not in fact give them the silent treatment for a prolonged period of time. Telling people like these three that it is all their fault is, in my opinion, one of the worst things I could do.

    Comment by garf — August 18, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

  53. I agree Mark. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about whether God gives the silent treatment sometimes to the righteous. Not only that, but specifically if God at times gives the silent treatment to the righteous in a way that no amount of effort on their part (think Enos) will persuade him to respond in any way. I am disputing the idea that God actually abandons when we do our part. I conceded that it is clear that in a pre-arranged agreement he did “abandon” Jesus on the cross but I don’t think that ever happens to the rest of us when we are fully doing our part to break through and enter a dialogue with him.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  54. Geoff,

    You are going back and forth between saying he will always pick up the phone and saying he will always pick up the phone eventually. I agree that he will always pick it up eventually (i.e. I agree with you in #50) but I disagree that he will always pick it up at the moment (so I disagree with you in #47). It seems like we are talking past each other because of this one distinction.

    Comment by Jacob — August 18, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  55. Hmmm… I can see what you mean now Jacob. I think that there are moving parts here that need to be distinguished. The main one in question is the volume of God’s response. I think that he quietly answers in one way or another every time. His voice is still and small enough that many/most people are not sufficiently discerning enough to hear and comprehend it. They assume he is silent when in fact he answered and they just couldn’t hear/discern.

    So we then start on the Enos track. We try harder to quiet our minds and hear what God has to say. Sometimes greater exertion works sometimes it doesn’t. So maybe and hour passes. Most people give up; Enos continued. At some point in our perserverance my belief is that we will hear God’s answer if we stick with it. God will not allow us to remain spiritually deaf indefinitely. Either we will tune in better ourselves or God will eventually turn up the volume to make up for the abundance of wax in our spiritual ears, but with enough perserverance two-way communication will happen.

    So I think I am being consistent here… God always picks up the phone and answers but that doesn’t mean we can always hear/discern his answers. Sometimes our hearing/discerning God’s voice takes a great deal of work on our part. That work either tunes our spiritual ears in better or persuades God to shout or some combination of the two.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 12:38 pm

  56. garf,

    Some of your questions about my position are probably answered in #53 or #55. I’ll discuss the cases you gave though based on those answers.

    Person A – It sounds to me like a classic discernment problem. Something in her has told her to stay and to serve in this church. She probably feels it in her bones but can’t recognize it beyond that. Heber J. Grant described feeling the same way at the time he was called to be an apostle so she is in good company. The question is how badly does she want to know beyond the gut feeling she already has. The Enos-o-meter is the test of that for most of us. I think most people only care enough to try for 15-20 minutes of praying…

    Person B – If she really has “no testimony” why on earth did she come back to the church? I suspect she is largely in the same boat as person A. People vote with their feet despite what they say. I’m curious where she would come in on the Enos-o-meter. 30 minutes? 2 hours? more? What do you think?

    Person C – Sounds like she is basically in the same boat as the others.

    I personally think everyone should ty out the Enos-o-meter. It seems to me that such an approach would land us all firmly in on one side of the fence or the other — firm believer or firm atheist. (I’m not trying to be callous with this either — I actually think all three would get their answers if they cared enough to pull an Enos…) But I agree that it would be difficult to tell them as much without deeply offending them so I guess this will just have to stay between us. No one like to be told that their tech support problem is actually “user error”.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 18, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

  57. Geoff: I think I understand you, but I guess we will just have to disagree. Knowing these people as well as I do, I believe that your diagnosis is highly improbable. But I have you at a disadvantage there, because you don’t know them so it is hard for you to respond.

    Comment by garf — August 18, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

  58. God is a person, a Thou, who is not there merely to be personal genie or wish-fulfillment specialist. Jeff appears to think of God as an object or something that can be manipulated — a mere it. Like a wise parent, he always gives us the opportunities for our greatest growth if we choose to take them.

    There is much more going on here than we can possibly imagine. Have you seen Joan of Arcadia. I think that God operates on something like that show suggests. He gives Joan various assignments. She doesn’t know why God gives these assignment — and God refuses to answer any “why” questions leaving it to her to have eyes to see. For example, in one episode God told Joan to ask a partuclarly violent and loathsome guy to a dance. It was seriously risky to do so on many levels for Joan. But she does it. In fact, the date is a disaster and Joan ends up as a willing hostage of this guy. She loses her boy friend over it. In the end, the guy is arrested by her father who is the Chief of Police who comes to get her. She is grounded as a result.

    In this episode she can’t see how following God’s instructions leads to anything worthwhile. In this one episode only, God explains the consequences if she had not obeyed. This young man was already so angry that he was bound to go on a killing rampage.

    Comment by Blake — August 18, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

  59. Dagnabit, I need a new mouse.

    Anyway, God explains who would have been shot in his rampage because this young man was so angry. She saved the lives of 17 people. None of them had a clue they had been blessed by her obedience. None of them had a clue she was even inspired by God to do something that appeared really crazy.

    God hears us. He blesses us in so many ways that we never see and understand. The fact that the weather is not so severe that life as we know it would otherwise be impossible (as it has been in past times), the fact that diseases are often within our grasp to address or innoculate are the result of what appears to be sheer “chance” discoveries while seeking something else. We rarely see God’s actual acts and purposes — unless we have eyes to see.

    Alma 34:17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your afaith unto repentance, that ye begin to bcall upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
    18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is amighty to save.
    19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in aprayer unto him.
    20 Cry unto him when ye are in your afields, yea, over all your flocks.
    21 aCry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
    22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your aenemies.
    23 Yea, acry unto him against the bdevil, who is an enemy to all crighteousness.
    24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
    25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
    26 But this is not all; ye must apour out your souls in your bclosets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
    27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your ahearts be bfull, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your cwelfare, and also for the welfare of dthose who are around you.

    Comment by Blake — August 18, 2006 @ 2:01 pm

  60. Blake,

    Assuming you are using scriptures.lds.org, if you set the options right, you can make the footnote letters go away.

    On the more general issue, I think it involves a lot more than prayer as we normally think of it – it involves hours and hours of study and pondering, and striving to implement every principle of moral truth in our lives. Then we can approach God in prayer with the reasonable expectation of being able to understand the answers he wants to give us.

    My general experience is that he cannot and will not teach the proud. If one is not willing to align his opinions, his views, with God’s views, he can not and will not receive further revelation. The gospel is not a matter of opinion – it is a matter of revelation. If one is not humble enough to believe something for no other reason than God believes it, the spirit of revelation is dead unto him. The reasons and rationale come later, usually by experience. Faith precedes knowledge.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 18, 2006 @ 5:57 pm

  61. Geoff,

    You make it clear (again) in #55 that you think God is always answering us, even though sometimes the volume is down. As has been mentioned, this means that anytime someone is not discerning an answer to their prayer it is their fault. They are not spiritually in tune. I think everyone will agree that your explanation is true some of the time, but I have a hard time accepting that this is always the case. It seems much more reasonable to me to suppose that God sometimes gives no answer (for reasons like those I gave in #43).

    Your criticisms of and responses to this view (like those in #40 and #50) have always injected into my view the idea that God may give someone the silent treatment forever (which I reject). Now that we are being careful not to do that (a la #54 #55) I am interested in what problem you see in my view. What is so bad about the idea that sometimes God pulls back and says nothing to stretch us and to try our faith?

    Comment by Jacob — August 18, 2006 @ 8:44 pm

  62. Jacob: I am interested in what problem you see in my view. What is so bad about the idea that sometimes God pulls back and says nothing to stretch us and to try our faith?

    If you mean that God might wait until we put in the proper amount of effort to get ourselves in the proper state of mind to receive an answer before he responds to us then there is no substantive difference between our positions. If that is the case we are simply assuming different technical details (what’s happening behind the scenes) prior to our receiving answer but the effect is the same.

    If you mean that God might give someone the silent treatment for some pre-set amounts of time (day, week, month, more) and that nothing that person does will change God’s pre-set blackout period then we disagree. The reason why the latter is such a problem is that it is a faith crippling and discouraging notion. If there is a chance God might put us on some communication blackout for, say, a month at any time our natural inclination would be to assume that is the excuse we can use whenever we find “breaking through” to be difficult — and excuses to give up or procrastinate communicating with God are a very bad thing. Further, pre-defined blackout periods fly in the face of what a mature and loving parent behaves like in my opinion. That is why I don’t think God ever “abandons” us — I think he just won’t do our half of the communication processs for us.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 19, 2006 @ 10:43 am

  63. Geoff,

    I think sometimes that no answer *is* the answer.

    A brother gave a talk in our sacrament meeting (many years ago) wherein he related an experience about he and his family driving past Disneyland. They we’re on their way to some destination in Orange County when they when drove past the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. Of course the kids pled with him like crazy to go into the park. But there was nothing to be said–they knew where they were going and a trip to Disneyland was simply out of the question. So he said nothing.

    The brother related this experience to how God answers our pleading on occasion. Sometimes no answer is the best means to help us get in better touch with what we already know. Oddly, it can be a powerful means of edification–a means of strengthening our spiritual independence.

    Comment by Jack — August 19, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

  64. Jack,

    See my comment in #18. Your example is comparable to praying for stuff to happen. Further, the example is comparabvle to asking for something to happen immediately. So I agree that in cases when we ask for stuff to happen exactly when we want it to happen and then nothing actually happens we can safely assume that no response = a denied request. But when we ask for information — especially to yes or no questions that we desperately want an answer to we cannot assume that silence means the answer “no”. Rather, I think we must assume we have to keep trying as Enos did.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 19, 2006 @ 2:35 pm

  65. Geoff,

    I think I must disagree with you here–not that it will make much of a practical difference in how God is preparing the two of us at this particular moment. ;>)

    My point is that, at times, silence is the answer that will do us the most good. Whether it is a request for something to happen (as you say) or for some kind of knowledge or enlightenment, I don’t think it really makes much of a difference. Sometimes we need to be challenged by not receiving an answer. I think there can be a number of good reasons for this. But the one that seems most common is (as I said before) to strengthen us in what we know already. If we are left ot fall back on our best judgement and then are later edified by such a decision, then we will know that our judgement was good to begin with. Or more so, we will know that perhaps what we had previously considered to be inspired was correct and, therefore, will have greater confidence in our ability to discern spiritual influences.

    Comment by Jack — August 19, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

  66. We can, of course, learn by things not going to well either when we are left to our own judgement.

    Comment by Jack — August 19, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

  67. Garf,
    In #52, your persons A, B & C could all benefit from Richard G Scott’s talk “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer” from the Nov 89 Ensign. It was repeated in the 2003 August New Era. There are others as well. President Kimball and Elder Packer have articles/talks on the subject as well. The First Presidency message from August 95 by Thomas S Monson is on the subject.

    What concerns me, is that each of the three is really wanting to bypass faith. From the description, each is wanting a personal revelation to tell them it is true. They are missing event in their lives that answer their prayers. Kind of like the old flood story about the guy who drowns because he wouldn’t take the car, boat or helicopter rescues that were sent for him because he waited for God to save him.

    Maybe it’s not exactly as Geoff answered in #56, but from your description, but the essence is there. Each has had blessings in their lives that should help them understand the truth.

    For example, Person A is the easiest. From the decsription of her life, it is obvious she has had many, many blessings. Many of those are obviously from her obedience to the laws that bring such lessons. She has a good life, 6 children, and has been given callings and experiences in her life to help mold her. Yes, she has apparently lived up to those and received the blessings for it. Isn’t that an answer in itself? Can she not see the intervention in her life. One does not have to look too far to see the misery that is a part of life.

    Person B may be a little harder to see, but likewise she has had obvious intervention. Obviously we don’t know exactly what you mean by “straying in her youth.” But, in any case, there are obviously no damaging permanent effects, allowing her to turn her life around. Again, one does not have to look far to see the potential damage that can arise. Unmarried parentage, drug abuse (and overdose), being around the wrong people when things get out of hand. So many youth get into some pretty serious trouble when they “stray” that there are effects that can make it near impossible to effectively return to a gospel-centered life.

    Person C is in the same boat.

    What all 3 are asking for, it seems to me, is a personal manifestation of the truth. If they received that, were would their faith be? Everytime I start thinking that it would be a good thing to have a personal manifestation, I invariably come across one of the scripture stories where that happens. Let’s face it, when people get that kind of direction in their lives, it is rarely a positive experience. And in every case, there are incredible expectations that go along with it. Are these 3 ladies ready to take on the kind of life Jospeh Smith lived after his revelation. Or Alma’s? Where much is given, much is expected.
    All three of your examples could use a reality check. They could look back at their lives, look for the blessings and see if they can’t find a resonance in their Spirit that tells them it is true.

    Person C is very troubling to me, because of a personal experience. I have a family member, who is very devoted, obedient, etc. She wanted desparately for some kind of an answer. She would fast for days. She struggled and struggled. After some time, she began to start receiving revelation. She was given revelations about all sorts of things, including the nature of our Heavenly Mother. She was counseled to share this with the Church. She was told to sell it in a book so her family could benefit financially. It was quite the exciting thing in the family. The challenge was, that is not how it works as we understand it. If her “revelations” were true, it would nullify many of our teachings as well as the concept of priesthood authority. After awhile, and some wise counselling, the reality came obvious.

    The primary song “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” may be a simple little song for children, but it is also much more. These simple primary songs are truths put into simple forms so we can remember them as children, as well as the rest of our lives (think of the primary songs you still know). Even thogh they are simple, they are still truths.

    I have to suggest that God does answer each and every prayer, but not necessarily with a direct answer. I would suggest that is very rare. In most cases it would be with intervention that we never see or can know about, or “resonance” within our Spirit, and that what we really need to do is to learn to recognize that He is truly the Lord over us all, and have faith that he is with us, and live accordingly.

    Comment by Rick — August 20, 2006 @ 9:30 am

  68. My rule is that if you cannot figure out how to cleanly derive a doctrine from the scriptures (or living prophets), the chances of it being true are nil.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 20, 2006 @ 4:59 pm

  69. Jack: My point is that, at times, silence is the answer that will do us the most good.

    I agree that sometimes we will be fine if we give up before we get an answer. But I think it is rather silly to say that there are times that Gopd will intentionally give us the silent treatment no matter what we do or even if we adhere to all of the laws that pertain to getting a response from God (even if the answer ends up being a “no”). That would be like me staring into the face of my little girl when she asks a yes or no question and refusing to acknowledge her existence. I would never do that and I don’t believe God would either.

    Frankly, I think it is a cop-out to blame our non-dialogues with God on God. I think he is always ready for a dialogue (of sorts) with his children but we are rarely ready or willing to go the the lengths required (possibly by eternal law) to invoke one.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 20, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

  70. “But I have never believed that there was ever a time when I could not “break through” with sufficient effort. If I believed that no amount of effort would allow me to break through and enter a dialogue with God because he was intentionally giving me the silent treatment and no amount of effort on my part could change that it would lead me all sort of bad places: discouragement, despair, lack of faith in God’s love, etc.”

    My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?

    Silence might lead you to bad places, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t silence.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — August 24, 2006 @ 10:01 am

  71. Adam,

    Regarding the example of Jesus being abandoned or given the silent treatment on the cross see my #53. I think that was a pre-arranged agreement between the Father and Son. So I agree that when a person is in the culminating moments of atoning for a planet there is a time of truly receiving the silent treatment from God where no amount of effort will allow that atoning person to break through. Other than that I don’t believe it ever happens.

    I should add that I don’t think the idea of God giving us the silent treatment is wrong because it leads me to bad places. I just think it is false. The fact that it also leads me to bad places makes me think that it is not a completely innocuous falsehood either (similar to the way I think that believing in a fixed future has pernicious side effects). I think the most dangerous aspect of this notion is it provides a built in cop-out for people. When they have a difficult time breaking through with God as Enos did they can simply throw up their hands and say “God must be giving me the silent treatment so I’ll stop trying — it’s his problem not mine”. That is a very bad thing in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — August 24, 2006 @ 11:12 am

  72. I happen to think that it is an effective test of faith to see how well we uphold our integrity when God indeed has temporarily forsaken us – for this very purpose. Job is an excellent example.

    Comment by Mark Butler — August 24, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

  73. Geoff,
    “I think the most dangerous aspect of this notion is it provides a built in cop-out for people. When they have a difficult time breaking through with God as Enos did they can simply throw up their hands and say “God must be giving me the silent treatment so I’ll stop trying-it’s his problem not mine”. That is a very bad thing in my opinion.”

    Maybe the correct way to think is, what do I need to:
    do that I haven’t done?
    learn that I haven’t learned?
    study that I haven’t studied?

    Comment by Rick — August 24, 2006 @ 8:35 pm

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