I have had this post in my mind and heart for months now, and I feel that it’s time to finally write it.
Here is the short version: God knows all the stories, and He makes laws anyway. When I stand as a witness of God, I witness of His love. And also, yes, of His laws.
And here is the long version. I am sorry but it does read a little like a Sacrament Meeting talk. Pretend it’s not, though; pretend we’re having lunch together and you’re my good friend who listens to me rant and philosophize about what I’ve been thinking of the challenging issues I’ve read about lately, putting my ideas into a framework that works for me. This is me explaining how I make sense of difficult questions.
I. God of Stories
I believe in a God of stories. By this I mean not story as lie, as fairy tale, as amusement, but rather a deep and perfect understanding of the loves, hates, joys, weaknesses, and power of all His billions of children. It is this perfect knowledge of my story that I feel when I experience a powerful sense of God’s love and mercy.
When I channel that love, I assume that everyone has a story, that the person who gets upset over seemingly irrational things must also have a reason for this. If I knew all the stories, all the layers of reasons and whys behind every choice, I would look with compassion and mercy on those around me.
I have always loved stories, and it is a great source of comfort to me to realize that God does, too.
He loves His children and he loves our stories. We are commanded to write our stories, to discover our ancestors’ stories, that we may “learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning [our] parents.” (Jacob 4:3)
The Savior knows our stories; his earthly experience gave him perfect, eternal empathy. (See Alma 7:11-12)
He has given us a lot of laws. We are commanded to become good, not just do good things: to allow performance of the laws to change our hearts. The same Savior who carried our burdens and has infinite compassion has also taught us to keep His commandments. From Elder Holland:
At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” and “whosoever … shall break one of [the] least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be … the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it.
I believe we are asked to keep the commandments, not in spite of our stories, but because of them. That our infinitely compassionate God has given us laws and rules and commandments, even knowing the stories that will complicate our obedience to His word. The Savior’s perfect empathy does not change or lessen the law; rather, a complete understanding of our stories gives Him the right to require our obedience.
What’s hardest for me is those many times when story and law conflict. Sometimes it seems like people are saying, in essence, “This is my story (or her story, his story, their story. We can be most passionate in defense of others’ heartaches.). Keeping the law is really hard because of my story. The law should not apply to me.” I think of a piece in the New York Times a while ago about a Mormon who decided to stop keeping the law of chastity. Because of her story, of loneliness and frustration, she no longer felt able to stay faithful to that law.
Part of me wanted to say, honey, you were right. Go get yourself some loving.
But, no matter what the story or the reason, changing God’s laws is not my call. I don’t get to change them. I don’t get to change the law of chastity, and neither does anyone else. It is still a law.
I get to love everyone, to know and try to understand their stories, but I don’t get to change the rules. Or apologize for them.
God knows their stories and He made the rules anyway. I am a witness of God’s love; I am also a witness of His laws. I believe that in the end, they are two faces of the same thing.