by James McLachlan
Let me say immediately this is a Mormon view of the Uncontrolling Love of God. It is not the Mormon view. Although I think most Mormons would view God’s love as uncontrolling, I expect that many Mormons would find my view of God’s uncontrolling love unacceptable. Unlike many of our Christian brothers and sisters Mormons have no creed. This goes back to early statements of Joseph Smith who repeatedly repudiated the idea of creeds. For example:
“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further;’ which I cannot subscribe to.”
In the 19th century Mormons did talk about something they called the “Mormon Creed” which was simply “mind your own business.” Yet Mormons have been tried for heresy, and there is a certain uniformity in doctrine. However, on the whole, Mormonism favors orthopraxis over orthodoxy. I say all this merely to emphasize that there is a certain fluidity to Mormon theology that creedal Christians find odd. So although the position I’m putting forth here is Mormon, it shouldn’t be taken as orthodox.
In the 1960s Mormon philosopher Sterling McMurrin claimed that Mormonism was “in principle basically non-absolutistic.” This did not mean that in their everyday discourse Mormons didn’t talk about God using the same absolutist terms as other Christians only that their idea of God would not let them do so consistently. From the pulpit Western Religions love to talk about the eternal, infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent Deity. It’s language of praise for the ultimate. People often don’t seem to want to take their problems to a God who has problems of His/Her own. McMurrin said Mormonism was guilty of “lusting for the linguistic fleshpots of orthodoxy and is turning its back on its own best insights.”
I share much with Tom Oord’s view of the uncontrolling love of God. As a young man I was deeply disturbed by the pulpit claims in my church of God’s all controlling power. It seemed to me that people were more likely to worship power than goodness. These claims seemed coupled with the claim that whenever horrible event happened, it was all a part of God’s plan and this plan would sooner or later be forced on the inhabitants of the world through a powerful apocalyptic event. Later I read the Russian Orthodox theologian Nicolas Berdyaev who dubbed this kind of thinking “the moral source of atheism.” By the time I was 19 and thinking about serving a Mormon mission I had pretty well given up belief in God. Voltaire, Mark Twain and Ivan Karamazov made much more sense to me than what I thought was my tradition. I became a Mormon missionary at age 19 not because of any profound belief in God and Mormonism; I just loved my parents.
As a missionary I repeatedly read Joseph Smith’s 1844 “King Follet Discourse.” Smith explicitly rejected creation ex nihilo and affirmed creation from chaos contending that God “organized the world from chaotic matter as a human being might “organize materials and build a ship.” “Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos, chaotic matter. . .” In traditional forms of theism Creation ex nihilo protects the power, knowledge, and transcendence of God. In giving up Creation Ex Nihilo Mormons essentially give up the absolutism of God. They also give up God’s utter transcendence of space and time and place God within the struggle with chaos and suffering. God calls humanity to help create a just and loving world.
In Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision, Douglas Davies claims, “It is this presence that poses Mormonism’s strategic yet apologetic dilemma of ‘otherness,’ of wanting to be accepted as Christian by the wider Christian world while not accepting that world’s definition of Christianity. . .” Mormon theologies, even in their most conservative versions, don’t see God as completely ontologically distinct from human beings. God is involved in the same struggle. Still Mormons often want to keep some of the traditional attributes of God. But they end up redefining them. Omnipotence for example has been used in Mormon writings to mean almighty or all the power that a being can possess given they exist alongside other self existing free beings that logically limit omnipotence. Like Process Theologians Mormons can claim that just as most creedal Christians and traditional theists place limits on omnipotence when they define it as doing what is logically possible this means that God is limited by the activity of other free beings. The thought seems to be if omnipotence is limited by logic by traditional theists why not also claim that is just as inconsistent to say that God could force beings to act against their freedom as to say that God could create a square circle. The first statement is to misunderstand freedom as the second is to misunderstand geometry. Thus God is understood as having all the power any being could have and is thus in religious terms “Almighty.”
Coupled with this is an idea that love can and will triumph over Evil. Moral evil has its source in human egoism; the desire to control others. Jean-Paul Sartre characterized the basic human project as “the desire to be God.” This is the desire to control the freedom of others, and thus “Hell is other people.” A good deal of religious zeal has been spent imposing our worldview on others. This results in chaos and destruction. Ekaputra Tupamahu in his essay for this collection “The Decolonial Love of God” captures the problem. If we worship power and authority we seek to see that power imposed on the world. In Sartre’s terms we create Hell. If instead we worship love and caring we might help God create a world fit for all Her/His children.