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A Lot of Questions This Fine Thursday Morn

By Brooke Benton

Over lunch last week with some of my really smart friends, a question came up… Although I can’t quite articulate the question without a rapid-fire series of questions in these:

How much doesn Heavenly Father control? Does he control everything? And if he does, where does that leave free agency?

The consensus over salads was that he doesn’t control everything because we have to have our free agency (it’s part of The Plan after all). And I thought this sounded most logical and reasonable and so we ended lunch and went our separate ways.

But here’s the thing: I can’t stop mulling it over.

AND, I know this about myself: sometimes logic betrays me. Because let’s just say if I was logical and reasonable about everything, the whole Joseph Smith story would freak me out. I need room for faith. What about faith? What about trusting His will? (Again, The Plan.)

So I’m here, at an impasse:

Is His will for each of us something He has already come up with and we just bumble (well, I bumble. I think most of my friends glide) along attempting to figure it out? Does He really know what we’ll choose? Does He know how it ends up?

Do I really believe in fate? That things are destined to be?

I don’t know.

But when I think about my life, about every centimeter of wonder around me (The grass! That baby! Eyelashes!) I know that there is a divine design in everything and that it seems to shout testimony to Him, to something greater and perfectly planned.

But it’s in the minutiae that I get confused: Did He stop a fire in my town while allowing the California fires to rage? Did he save a life and take another? Why is one child sick and another thriving? Is He constantly grooming us for what lies ahead? (Does that mean it’s fated?)

He is God after all. I guess He can do what He wants because He knows what we need. But does He hesitate to send it our way? Or to withold? Or is He excited for us to learn? Or is He just sitting there, laughing at the messes we get ourselves into? And wait, how does agency fit into all of this? In the way we react? Tell me!

Is Heavenly Father standing up there (on a celestial pitcher’s mound) throwing out a lot of curve balls? And if he is, and we’re up to bat, who’s the catcher?

About Brooke Benton

(Blog Team) is attempting inner om with this writing stuff. Proud to claim four loud children, a patient husband and a fat black cat as family, she feels blessed to be their mommy-- their giver of kisses and baker of cookies. She is ever seeking a good novel and wishing for the sand between her toes, palm trees, the ocean.

26 thoughts on “A Lot of Questions This Fine Thursday Morn”

  1. Hard, hard questions.

    I honestly believe that everything we experience in our lives is because that is what our personal spirit needs to learn. We have distinct and definitive personalities with unlimited potential, but we are all on different levels. The testing of that potential is found in the choices we make, and the reactions/consequences of those actions can also test us.

    But as to how much Heavenly Father is involved in every decision? Every experience? Every consequence? I'm not sure. I do believe that consequences to actions are natural, but each human's agency can wreak havoc on which way those consequences were going. Humans starting forest fires? Terrorists flying planes into buildings? Dictators committing genocide? Armies attacking civilians?

    I can only imagine that Heavenly Father knows what will happen because he knows us so well. I only have to see the look on my toddler's face, and I know exactly what he is up to, where he will go, and what will happen when he does it. Sometimes I allow it, and other times I intervene. I think Heavenly Father is like this, but on a huge-I-can't-even-imagine-the-perfection-or-how-it-happens level.

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  2. My personal feeling is that it's mostly in the reaction. We all get really hard stuff to deal with. Sometimes we're spared, sometimes we're not. We can't really control a lot of the external forces that are coming at us. But I am in completely control of how I react. If I wither and retreat, if I smile and charge forward.

    Everything that happens to us could be seen as a blessing or a curse. All the bad stuff, all the good stuff. It's all in the perception of those forces moving toward us. All I can do is choose to keep smiling and grow through the experience, because the alternative is full of bitterness and sorrow.

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  3. Really, really GREAT questions Brooke!
    Thanks for asking them.
    I don't know any of the answers, but if I spend too much time thinking about the whole idea of what God knows, plans, is in charge of, allows, doesn't allow…I can make myself nuts.
    I know there is a lot of interpretation out there. Hundreds of theories on these very thoughts and questions.
    I just know I have to sift through and settle on what works/sounds and feels right for me.

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  4. Can I use another metaphor? If all the world is a stage is it scripted or is it a course in improvisation?

    My feeling is that even if there is a script the actors often deviate from the exact words of the playwright because they can see a better way to say it or the words just don't fit in their mouths or someone else has muffed their lines and a change has to made in order to make things make sense.

    Generally speaking there is a lot of improvisation going on with the playwright only marginally involved if at all. As long as the overall play comes off the way it is supposed to whatever goes on during its three or so acts is good enough. Especially when everything resolves itself it is a satisfying experience.

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  5. These are questions that I have struggled with a lot and I've finally come to sort of a peace with them for myself. Please remember that this is my peace and the explanation that works in my head, and may not work for everyone else.

    I can't believe that God controls everything and that everything happens for a reason. If it did, then it would be God's fault that my son is disabled and has such a hard existence and that he and we have been through so much. What kind of loving Father would do that to an innocent child so that his parents could learn from it? I MUST believe that while God is all-knowing and all-loving, He doesn't control everything — as you said above, that would take away our agency. My peace comes in that although bad things happen for no reason due to the fallen nature of our biology, God does give us blessings to compensate and help us through them. I try to see blessings and be grateful for them when they are there and try not to curse God when bad things happen. Sometimes they just happen. Is it a blessing when I find my keys when they are lost or that I find a parking place close to the store? I don't always think so.

    I think part of the Plan is that we are sent down here to this imperfect world with imperfect bodies and other people with the same lot we have, and we have to muddle through on our own and try to do the best we can and learn how to be nice to those around us.

    I don't pretend to have all the answers. That is what works for me right now in the place that I'm at in my life.

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  6. Ah, Brooke. While dining on salad and listening to Bon Jovi in the back ground… I seemed to have it figured out.

    Now I'm confused again.

    Should I cue up Livin' on a Prayer?

    p.s. your writing? What a gift.

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  7. chelle, the confused part could come from the writing. i'm sorry.

    and andrea, i don't usually consider little good luck things like finding keys His blessings either (especially because i can't find my baby girl's blankie anywhere today and she's crying for it and that would make me question why he's NOT helping me find the blankie), but i'm wondering if i should. do i need to recognize His hand more? And I wonder too if He is involved in all the little things… like the lost blankie:

    is he saying that she's ready to move on without it?

    (am i now attempting to imbue too much meaning into everything?)

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  8. Great questions, Brooke! I think sometimes we give Him too much credit/responsibility and sometimes not enough. And I don't have a hard fast sense of which is when. The scriptures say to acknowledge His hand in all things, so I lean in that direction, but not in a way that detracts from my agency, if that makes sense.

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  9. God uses whatever happens(good or evil) for his work and glory. Satan thinks he screws things up all the time. But God can take those situations and turn out miracles (perhaps WW II is an example of this?)

    I think alot of the time God's interventions come not in an actual physical event but through counsel and guidance given by the Holy Ghost. Thus God effects our lives, his will is done, but only as our agency makes it happen. Prayer is an invitation, asking God to take a part in our lives. Because He respects our agency he won't interfere unless we ask.

    'By small and simple things great things come to pass', or something like that. It happens with the work we small mortals do and it works for God also. It doesn't take much for him to impact my life, a spring shower when I need to remember the beauty of the earth. A child's kiss when I need to slow down and feel loved. A friend's phone call when I feel lost and alone. Not everything happens for a reason, everything happens because of agency. Sometimes the good or bad in it can't be seen immediately.
    I'll have a better answer after I've been dead for a few thousand years and have better perspective.

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  10. About six years ago my brother-in-law died in an accident. He was only 31 and he and my SIL had a one-year-old daughter. She had a lot of people say stuff like "God needed him" or "everything happens for a reason", and honestly that just felt insulting. How could God need a young husband and father more than his family? All of us felt like it was just an accident, one of those things that happened because we are mortal and allowed to make mistakes. My SIL has done well and is doing fine in her life, but would obviously love to have her husband back. We all miss him. Even if it was just an accident, at least God has stepped in to show her how to keep going and the best way to live her life. I don't know if these lessons apply in every situation and that maybe some deaths are because of God's timing. My view is that God often allows things to happen because we are here to learn. He also has a long-term view of things–the Atonement and the resurrection mean that we will see each other again, even if our lives are cut short here in mortality. And through the Atonement we can find peace that we couldn't find on our own. I don't think that the fact that God sometimes doesn't step in means that he never does, or that he's never there to help us, no matter what happens. This world is complicated because we all need to learn, but often we can't do that without hurting other people.

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  11. I don't believe that God is the one throwing the curve balls. I think that the curve balls come from other places – biology, my choices, other people's choices, my emotional stuff, other people's emotional stuff, nature… the list goes on. If my life is a piece of a puzzle – if everyone's life is a piece of a very big and complex puzzle – then that puzzle is going to throw curve balls. If any of that makes sense.

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  12. I love this topic! The questions are hard, but I enjoy thinking about divinity. I also love to read other's views on God's nature.

    I think God *can* control everything, but he chooses not to. I also believe that God knows everything that will happen to us, even how we will react. In my mind, there is a very clear distinction between fate and God being all-knowing.

    Just because God knows the choices we will make, does not mean that we are not making them ourselves. God may choose to give us certain trials so that we may use our agency.

    God is in everything, even when we may see it as random circumstance. On Sunday we had a member of the seventy repeat the famous Albert Einstein quote, "Coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous." That struck a chord with me because I think that is true. God is in everything, the good and the bad.

    I wish I could express things better in writing, but this will have to do!

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  13. As I have thought more about this, another idea came to my mind: What if the way we see the presence (or absence) of God in our lives is kind of dependent on our need to see Him? This has always been my husband's take on praying over things like finding lost keys — God has given me a brain and eyes and the ability to figure things out, why should I bother Him with something like this? I'll go to Him when I really need something.

    For some, seeing God's hand in every detail of life is a blessing and a comfort. For others, it may not be that concrete, and it's all OK. Or, maybe it's all to abstract for our human brains to comprehend, and if we knew the REAL answer, our heads would explode…

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  14. Three ideas on this general subject (a good one, Brooke–thanks for this post), although I don't think I answer the specific questions.

    1-I think we sometimes confuse "all things work together for good" with "everything happens for a reason." I don't think everything happens for a reason, but the point of the Atonement is to make ashes into beauty, to make even evil work together for good to them that love the Lord.

    2-God has helped me find my keys before. I don't know why I don't always get divine assistance with lost things, but the fact is I have undeniably been blessed to find them on occasion.

    3-I love this quote by Elder Scott, from a BYU devotional given September 12, 1999:

    …[T]here are currents of divine influence in our lives that will lead each of us along the individual plan the Lord would have us fulfill here on earth. Seek, through the Spirit, to identify and carefully follow the current of direction that the Lord has placed in your life. Align yourself with it. Choose, willingly, to exercise your agency to follow it. Do not be overcome by concentrating solely on today and its challenges, difficulties, and opportunities. President Kimball called those things the relatively insignificant surface winds and waves of today. They are the preoccupations that must not capture your interest and attention so as to consume your life…

    …The more closely you follow the current of divine guidance, the greater will be your happiness here and for eternity–moreover, the more abundant will be your progress and capacity to serve. I do not fully understand how it is done, but this current in your life does not take away your agency. That right of moral agency is so important to our Father in Heaven that He was willing to lose one-third of His spirit children that it might be preserved.

    The talk can be found here.

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  15. Easy to go crazy thinking about this stuff. It's just me, but I think God made the world a place where it was possible to be hurt, but I don't think He hurts us intentionally. We are great at hurting ourselves and others without Him intervening. I think He knows He could figure out what will happen to us if we did this, or if we did that, but I don't think he worries about that so much. I think He is waiting for us to have faith and ask for the blessings that would help us along in our progression. He knows which of his children are ready for the gospel and which are not and gives us all space to grow. He has given us the capacity to love and I think he tries to prompt us to help each other when one is praying desperately for help, and someone else is able to help but just doesn't know how or for whom. I think He does intervene when there just isn't any other way that we can do something for ourselves or for others. If He knows we can't take another straw on our backs, I believe he'll divert it until we can, or take it onto his own back completely. Mostly I think He likes to see us grow. I like to think He does what we do with our children. He smiles when we do well, He is sad when we fail, and He let's us be ourselves.

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  16. Hmmm, all good questions. Our stake president spoke on this subject in one memorable tear-filled meeting. He spoke of his son and daughter in law who were killed in a car accident leaving him(as grandpa) to raise their two babies. Despite the many blessings these grandchildren had brought into his life he felt it was still a tragic accident and not necessarily the hand of God.

    Then, he related a story of hike with his niece where her baby fell in a rushing creek(I was weeping on every available surface). The mother jumped into the creek and found the baby washed onto shore– alive. Later, when they removed baby's wet clothing there was a large man's handprint on her back. She had been literally caught by the hand of God.

    The conclusion– most of the time God let's our lives play themselves out. But sometimes, and probably more often than we believe, he definitely intervenes.

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  17. Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel that even though He is all-knowing, I don't feel like that means I ultimately don't still have free agency. I still have to come to those conclusions and make those decisions myself. Maybe I'm overly simplistic in my thinking, but that's where prayer comes in. When I am stuck in my decisions (all too often) that's when I lean on the Lord, I call out for His guidance – because He knows what's best for me. Does that make sense?

    We are studying this in my critical thinking class right now, actually. Well, we're talking about how some groups (I stay out of the specifics in class because I am in a secular school) believe that God is all-knowing and yet that men still have free will. It's an interesting thing to ponder. Just in my thoughts thus far, the two can coexist – despite the fact that my teacher insists that they can't.

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  18. How about this take on it? I think that all of it – the good and the bad is just a part of being here, of getting our body. I think we knew it coming into this experience and decided it was still worth it.

    I don't think we knew exactly what our trials and blessings would be, but that we would have both and were willing to submit to them for the oppportunity of having a body. Because, let's face it – bodies are awesome!

    I think the Hand of God is everywhere in our life, we just have to look for and notice it. My son is disabled too, and when he is really suffering, that is when I have the hardest time noticing the Hand of God in his life – but it is still there.

    I have many more thoughts on this, but it's difficult to put them into words.

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  19. I love what a lot of these woman have to say here.

    For me, I find comfort in believing that we are all here to learn something one way or another. We are always taught that God knows us…but one reason we are here is to learn to know ourselves and the things that happen around us aren't orchestrated by God in the sense that they are scripted, but instead, I think they are designed to teach us about ourselves and each other and hopefully God, too.

    Just as Cheryl said, I know my toddler pretty well, but he's still discovering himself AND me. Sometimes I help him out, sometimes I watch him struggle. And sometimes I'm surprised at how well things turn out without my help. I think God is the ultimate parent doing the same for us. I like to believe that God feels the same way about us as I do about my baby. It's all about learning and growing….

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  20. I tend to agree with Mrs. Organic, including the part that it is hard to put it all into words!

    I think part of the challenge we face is that we are mortal, and so we judge 'good' and 'bad' and such with the perspective of a mortal. Some tragedies are so overwhelming to us that we can't place them in a place in our minds, hearts, or spirits where they equate in any way with God. But I think that reflects the limits of our mortality. Death, challenges, tragedies — what do those look like in eternity? While God reaches us in our pain here, and empathizes with it, I don't think He sees our pain in the same way that we do, and He lets us experience it all for our good. (Elder Holland, anyone? If you haven't heard his CES talk from this last week, it's stunning.)

    I listened to an entire tape series on really being grateful to God for everything. This speaker helped me realize that the scripture says to acknowledge His hand in ALL things. All things. That is a lot of things. 🙂

    For me, in part, that is coming to mean that I let go of needing to believe that God can only be involved in what *I think* is good. Because honestly, we can't need a Savior without a fall, and we each have the Fall in us and falls (multiple ones) in our lives. The opposition is as much a part of His love and plan as the blessings, because how else can we really need and appreciate the Savior? If there was no death, how could we rejoice in the resurrection? If there was no agency, how could we rejoice in mercy? If there was no pain, how could we learn to find healing in Him? If everything always worked out as we wanted, what of faith?

    God may not *cause* all of the bad, but He doesn't stop it either, and He could. That still leaves me with Him being in control. Since "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world" (and I take that to a personal level, too), then I think everything can have a purpose, because, if for no other reason, like Justine said, we get to choose how we respond. And agency is the key to the Atonement.

    The tension between our agency and His omniscience and omnipotence is really hard to navigate, but for me, I feel the only way I can begin to engage in that exercise is to let go of my 'natural' responses to the messiness and difficulty and pain of life and try to see more with spiritual eyes. When I do that, the usual thoughts about what 'should' be or what is 'fair' or 'good' pretty much fly out the window. 🙂

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  21. From the Bible Dictionary under Prayer:

    Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

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  22. Coming late to the party…

    He is our Father and KNOWS us perfectly because He *is* God after all.

    Now think of *your* earthly family, your home, your children…how well do you know them? Can you with your *human* mind and wisdom, reasonably predict how each of your children will react in a certain situation? I know, for me, Fireman would test, Painter would follow, Tooth Faery would stand firm, Electro-Man would experiment, and the Scholar would search and search and search some more.

    There *are* physical laws to which all are bound, even God, so, if like my brother, you make a huge mistake driving one day, more than likely unless the Lord has a MAJOR reason for you hanging out, you'll live with your mistake, or as in my brother's case, die.

    The scriptures explain that all good comes from God, however all experience, good, bad and ugly are for our benefit… take from that what you may, perspective gives us blessings and wisdom. Also- that *God* would not tempt us beyond our control…no one has put a limit on Satan, although we have moral agency -and really, all Satan is trying to do is get us to relinquish it; he never wanted us to have choice, so the temptations we face from him usually end in our losing our ability to choose further.

    There is an ultimate plan, but as in life here on earth we *do* have will. We can explain to our own kids that such and such should and will be happening on the 4th of July, however, if they choose to ignore, oppose, alter, or otherwise miss out on the family day, there ain't much you as a parent can do other than dole out a reward/consequence for their choice. Same with us I suppose. He lays it out for us and we choose to follow, risk, go out for a soda or whatever. In the end our little choices can indeed alter His plan, for good or ill.

    This is why we have the Atonement and a plan that is fair and well thought out to give us every opportunity to be saved and exalted.

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  23. m&m – After finishing Elder Holland's talk which you recommended I'm very thankful for the link. What amazing council that I was in dire need of although I would not have sought it out.

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  24. I kind of look at it like this. I don't put my foot out in front of my child so she can trip or cause her to run into the wall 15 times a day. She does this all on her own. This is her environment. This is where she grows. But I don't abandon her in the house alone either. Sometimes, I warn her about the obstacles in her path, sometimes I physically move real danger out of her way. Sometimes I kiss the owies away and hug her and hold her until she feels better. I am really never far away from my children. They know where to find me. Yes I believe God has a mission for us. He wants us to accept the destiny he has planned for us. But he is a parent and he will not physically force our growth. He cannot, due to his promise of agency, stop the natural courses of our life from happening to us. He will however help us (in miraculous ways sometimes) find the way to fulfill our potential, which I truly believe he understands more than we can ever comprehend.

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