As I'm sure some of you are aware, Chieko Okazaki, who served as first counselor in the Relief Society from 1990-1997, passed away about a week ago. Sister Okazaki served in that position when I served as a missionary from 1992-1994. I loved her speaking style and her manner and found her very refreshing and open-minded. My mom sent me her book, Lighten Up when I was one my mission, and it helped me a great deal at a time when I was beating myself up for not living up to what I felt I was supposed to living up to. I love her writing style, and really felt that Sister Okazaki's words spoke to my spirit.
I eventually read her books, Aloha, Cat's Cradle, and Disciples, all of which I enjoyed. I intend to read her other books eventually. I'm sure I will like them as well.
In the article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which memorialized her, there was a quote from Sister Okazaki. It said, "Perfect people don’t need a savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.”
You know I really believe that. There was a time in life when I felt so unworthy and so much that I was disappointing God or making him sad. I no longer feel that way. God knows who I am and knows my heart perfectly, just as He knows you and yours. He is not embarrassed by us. He is not angry with us. He is not surprised or shocked by anything we do. He knows we're human and subject to human frailties and weaknesses. And he planned for that. We would have no need of a Savior if we were perfect, and I believe Jesus' atonement makes up for that which we lack. I believe our Father is more loving and merciful than we can possibly comprehend. I think as humans we often attribute a lot of our own negative qualities and emotions on our Creator because that is all we understand. We sometimes see God as angry or full of shame for us or disgusted by us. We see him as stern or think that some of the things we do are so bad that He couldn't possibly love or tolerate us. Some people think God hates them. I just don't believe that is who God is. Feel free to disagree all you want; but I don't believe that's what God is about.
Granted, religions sometimes teach us to feel this way or sometimes we misinterpret doctrine and that causes us to believe it is so. I also think our relationships with our imperfect human associates on this planet paint our attitudes and beliefs about our perfect Father in Heaven. Parents might throw their kids out or turn their backs on them because of behaviors they disapprove of, so we might feel that our Heavenly Father would do the same. We might be so disgusted by a person's actions that we find it nigh impossible to forgive them, so we think our Father would react the same way. We may be angry or disappointed at someone for perpetrating an act we find intolerable or unfavorable, so we assume our Father would behave the same way.
Here's the thing: how we view God is created by the filter our mortal life has given us. Our religious upbringings; what our parents taught us; what our social interactions with other human beings have taught us; the examples we see or read about, how people treat one another, etc.: these are all things that have an effect on how we view God (or on whether we even decide there is a God at all). But ultimately, how I view God these days is based very much on all those things, but also on one more thing: how He has dealt with me personally. I very much believe in an all-loving, very merciful, very understanding God because that is what I have felt from Him personally. It is what His spirit has spoken to my heart. I can't convince anyone else of what I have felt myself, but I know I have felt it, and I very much believe it.
We talk about charity or "the pure love of Christ" a lot, and I have really been thinking a lot about this lately. When one thinks about what purity means, it is something that is unmixed with anything else. It does not contain anything extraneous. It is completely free of taint, stain, spot, or imperfection. There is no harshness or roughness. It is absolute. It is free of any weakness or pollutants. It is undiluted, undefiled, completely refined, and unadulterated. All those human frailties and biases we attach to love in its human form do not taint God's pure love for us.
When we think of how our mortal bodies handle things in complete purity, it is actually overwhelming. Pure sunlight will burn or blind us. Pure oxygen in large and steady doses would actually cause brain damage. Things in their purest form are often overwhelming to our imperfect mortal bodies. I think God's love is impossible to fully comprehend in mortality, although I think we grow to understand it in bits and pieces. But I do believe His love is more powerful, more unconditional, more far-reaching, more compassionate, more forgiving, more merciful, more understanding, and, frankly, more loving than any of us here fully realize.
I see snatches of it in my fellow human beings: the victim who forgives the person that did them wrong; the parent who still loves their child in spite of their doing some awful things; the person who, in spite of terrible circumstances, is continually able to find the good in the situation; the man or woman who will give someone the shirt off their back to help them through a tough time; the huge amounts of generosity I see from people, giving all they can to help others - often complete strangers. So many examples of love. I have to remind myself of them when I read about the terrible things people sometimes do to one another.
I think heaven will be a wonderful place, far more joyful and free of much of the impurity that taints our current existence than we can fully understand. When I've read about near-death experiences, often people will talk about how they are given the opportunity to review the life they have lived, but there is no judgment coming from God, just love. In fact, most experiences I've read about indicate that any judgment is coming from the person who has "died," not God. And many people come back from these experiences trying to describe an indescribable love that is beyond anything they've known in mortality. Many of these people are left feeling that love is the most important lesson one can learn in mortality.
I also believe how we love or judge others in this life will have an effect on where we will end up in the next. But I also believe that where we ultimately end up is where we will be happiest or most at ease, and that, to me, is proof of a very loving Heavenly Father. God doesn't consign us to a lower kingdom because He doesn't love us; it's because He knows that the purity of His love would overwhelm our impure spirits. It's because He loves us that He puts us where we will thrive and grow and progress the most.
I love and believe in my Heavenly Father. I know he loves each and every one of us with an absolute perfect knowledge of who we are and what we have been through. I truly wish I could convey that love to others. Words are not enough. A person's spirit must feel it to know it. It is my hope that those of you who don't feel it or haven't felt it, will. Because He is real and His love is real.