Sunday, February 19, 2012
Why I Believe In God
It was in August of 1991 that my life completely changed. It's hard to believe it was nearly 21 years ago, but it was a moment that completely redefined my life and attitudes, more than any other, I think, including my relationship with Jonah and my excommunication from the LDS Church, and that is saying a lot.
And that moment in 1991 ranks as the top because it completely redefined how I now see the world. And if it hadn't happened, I highly doubt I would ever have ended up with Jonah at all. It was a night in August, 1991 that I felt God speak to me. Really speak to my heart. It was as real (and, ironically, more real) than any tangible experience I have had before or since. And it truly changed my life from night to day.
I have written about that experience before in this blog, but not with the detail that I expect to write now.
First off, you have to know who I was prior to that August night. In 1991, I had just graduated from a two-year college in Utah. It had been a very eventful two years: some of the best and worst times of my life. I was coming to terms with my sexuality, a journey that was fraught with confusion and conflict. I was completely inactive in the LDS Church and was losing what little faith I had left in a loving and caring God. My relationship with my family was tenuous. My sister and I were not on good terms. My father had suffered a series of debilitating strokes, and I was angry and bitter that the man I grew up with had become this other person, and I resented God for it. My mom and I were constantly bickering. She saw me drifting away from the family and the religion I had grown up with and didn't understand why, and her efforts to reach out to me were met with great resistance, and I pushed back those advances and caused her a great deal of pain and heartache.
I was a very selfish, immature, angry, and confused lad. My view of the world revolved around me. What's in it for me? How does this affect me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Why can't things go my way? How will I benefit?
Sometimes I reread journal entries from that period, and I just want to slap that kid. He's so ungrateful, so self-centered, so angry, so sarcastic, so missing the mark. And yet, I was that guy once, and I was that guy in full force. It's hard to believe sometimes.
Although I still prayed (mostly out of habit), I felt my prayers fell on deaf ears. I still had a belief in a God, but it seemed more due to conditioning than a genuine connection to a higher being. What little faith I had left in a god convinced me he was uncaring and heartless. It shames me to say that now, but it was what I believed and felt at the time.
I had prayed so earnestly about issues such as my sexuality and my religion. No prayers were as heartfelt and sincere as mine. That's how it felt at the time, at least. And yet, God was silent. I couldn't understand why. It made me feel unworthy, unloved, and unwanted.
I had already come out of the closet to a limited number of people. I was going to be attending Utah State University. I was eager to get out of the house and away from my family. I was angry at God and felt disillusioned by the religion I grew up in. I fear if I had continued on the path I was on, I would have stopped believing in God, I probably would have engaged in risky sexual practices, and I probably would have continued being my angry, bitter, self-centered self.
On that August night in 1991, I said my routine prayer without much sincerity or conviction. I pretty much challenged God. I more or less said, "If you're really there and don't like the path I'm taking, you'd better do something and do it quick." It was a flippant and prideful ultimatum and certainly not one deserving of any response.
As I started to fall asleep, I felt like I should read a scripture in James, the same one that Joseph Smith read before the first vision: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." My first thought was one of scorn. I thought, "I've heard that scripture a thousand times. Why the hell should I read it now?" However, I begrudgingly got out of bed and grabbed my scriptures and started to read. I read the verse I was prompted to read, but also read the whole chapter.
At first, I just read with reluctance, but then something amazing and very unexpected happened, and I do not exaggerate when I say it truly changed my life for the better. There are no words in the English language that I can think of that truly describe what happened or what I experienced. I wish it were possible to bottle what I felt and knew that night and share it with others because it helped me so much at a time I desperately needed it and merited it the least, and maybe that was the point. Frankly, I wish I could have bottled it for me to use at later times when I lose perspective.
The best words I can come up with for what I felt are "absolute clarity". It was like scales had been removed from my eyes, like my whole being was filled with light and knowledge in great abundance, and I felt like I saw life and the world and God and eternity as they really were rather than how I perceived them to be.
I would swear on a stack of Bibles that I saw life from an eternal perspective, that I saw just a fraction of how God views us and this world, and just that minute fraction provided me with an overwhelming amount of knowledge, light, and love. It was like I could see everything at the same time with a perfect knowledge of how things work and what life is about and who God is. Most importantly, I am absolutely convinced that it was made known to me that not only does God indeed exist, but that he knows and loves each one of us personally. I knew (yes, KNEW) that God was my Father and loved and knew me personally and unconditionally and that He knew exactly what I was going through and cared about me very, very much. This was something I had not previously known or felt.
The mortal world has dimmed the exact feelings I felt that night. The years have shaded the memories. They are not as fresh as they were that night, although after they happened I wrote about them in my journal for hours into the morning, and so I still have a record that records those memories and experiences and feelings while they were still fresh. Although time has dulled my senses, I can never deny that what happened, happened. No matter where I go in life, no matter what I do, no matter how my views my shift, I can not deny that what I felt was real. Like I said, it was more real than any material thing that has ever happened to me in my life.
Aside from the knowledge that God is real and loves me, I also learned and felt some other things that night. I also felt very strongly that Satan, too, existed, and would do whatever he could to trick me or lead me away from my Father in Heaven. I felt absolutely sure he hated me just as strongly and as real as my Father loved me. I felt very strongly that I was supposed to go on a mission and get married in the temple. And I felt that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was God's church on earth. I also felt that I wasn't supposed to pursue my homosexual attractions.
Well, obviously I didn't do everything I was prompted to do at that time. I did go on a mission (which I loved), but you can see that I didn't get married in the temple or overcome my homosexuality, although I feel very, very strongly I did the best I could to do so. Does that mean I've been deceived? I don't know. I don't feel like I've been, and I still maintain that I am happier now having pursued my relationship with Jonah than I was when I was trying to be true to the LDS Church and all of its teachings.
A friend once speculated that maybe God told me what I needed to hear at the time, for if I had not received that revelation, I surmise I would have ended up on a very different, volatile path. I probably wouldn't believe in God, for one. I probably would have a different, far less agreeable personality. I dread to think of where I might have ended up.
I do not regret any choices I made from that day forth. I do not regret going on a mission. I do not regret devoting much of my life to the LDS Church and its teachings. I don't regret falling in love with Jonah. I don't regret my excommunication. I don't regret where I am now. All these things made me who I am. All of these things have been (forgive the cliche) the threads that have made the tapestry that is my life, and it's a pretty damn good tapestry, if I say so myself.
I don't expect anybody to believe in God and I understand why many people don't. There are terrible things that happen on this planet, and I know it's hard to understand why a loving God wouldn't intervene. I know that a lot of the dogma that comes from organized religion turns people off of God, which is both sad and ironic to me. I know that sometimes science seemingly trumps divinity. I know that there are those who think it's ridiculous or absurd to believe in God or see a need to believe in a higher power. I get it. I'm not trying to persuade anyone that God exists; I'm only saying that I feel so sure He does.
I often wonder why God revealed Himself to me, but doesn't seem to make himself known in the same way to others. It sometimes seems unfair to me.
I remember on my mission I was reading Alma 26: 16-20 which says:
"Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.
"Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
"Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
"Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
"Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls."
I remember as I read these words, I wondered why God had been so merciful to me. Why when I felt I least deserved it did God tell me He did indeed exist and loved me? I was not a particularly valiant spirit when I received an answer to my prayer that August night. I was full of selfishness, bitterness, anger, pride and was completely lacking in any faith. Why then did God choose that moment to give me the greatest gift: a knowledge that He really is and really knows and loves me? Why?
And what I realized was how incredibly merciful God is. I didn't deserve an answer. My Heavenly Father didn't give me an answer because I deserved it; He gave it to me because He loves me, and nothing I'll ever do will stand in the way of that.
Having been out of the Church for 2 and a half years, that knowledge has only been affirmed even more. God loves me. God is not any religion. He's bigger than all of it. I do not comprehend God and all of His ways, but I believe in Him. I really feel I can say I know He is real and that He loves me immeasurably. I have felt Him bless my life and Jonah's life. Actually, being with Jonah and being "outside the Mormon box" has helped me know Him even more, which at first felt contradictory, but nonetheless, I truly feel it.
I am where I am supposed to be. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. My Father is happy that I am happy. I am sure of these things. I don't know how things will work out in either this life or the next or how my 1991 revelation corresponds with how I am living my life today, but I feel very good about my relationship with God.
In spite of the fact that I have not always done everything according to what I felt on the August night in 1991, I feel I have done my best to live a good life and to honor my Father in Heaven according to the circumstances life has given me, and I feel I am on the right path.
That revelation in 1991 has made me a better person, and it taught me to trust God even if I don't always understand His ways. The knowledge I received that night has given me more faith, made me more prayerful, made me more loving and less selfish, and less judgmental.
I do not know all the answers. I have a ton of faults. I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I do not expect anyone to follow the path I have walked or to live their life according to my beliefs. I just know my path and my beliefs are working for me, and that my standing with my Father feels good to me, and that's what counts.
I don't fault or criticize anyone that doesn't believe in God. Some of my best friends are atheists, and I love them. I never try to push my belief system on them. Nobody could have ever made me believe in God but God himself, and I believe that's what happened. As I said, I sometimes wish I could bottle up what I felt that night to share with others (and sometimes I'd like to take a nip myself during low times), but I can't. I just know what I know and believe what I believe, and it works for me. I have felt His love and His influence sure as I breathe. I just know it.
That is why I believe in God.