Our Capricious God
Posted by BrianJ on June 4, 2014
“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”
Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, ‘Until seven times': but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
That’s how many times Peter will forgive you—but what about God?
D&C 58:42 puts no upper number on God’s forgiveness. Rather, the requirements appear merely qualitative: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
Seems pretty simple—and encouraging as well.
D&C 64 begins in a similar vein:
7-9 …I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death…. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
But then comes verse 10, wherein the Lord claims his right to selectively mete forgiveness: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
Two stories from the Old Testament seem to illustrate this point. First, let’s look at David. I know that some readers won’t be at all bothered by this one, reasoning that David’s guilt in murder goes beyond the ability (or something like that) of God to forgive. I cannot refute that argument. I can, however, admit that it leaves me feeling cold.
I have no doubt that David sinned. More importantly, David had no doubt. His collection of Psalms testifies of his guilt and remorse, his ongoing struggle to reconnect with God, and his sincere gratitude for and faith in God.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” It’s one of our most beloved and inspiring verses. And yet, apparently David did want:
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young….
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: “I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have raised up a young man from among the people. I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. My hand will sustain him…. My faithful love will be with him…, I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail.”
But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust… Indeed, you have turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle. You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground.
How long, Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life!
For what futility you have created all humanity? Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?
D&C 132 has been used to suggest that David will never be forgiven: “…in none of these things did [David] sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife; and, therefore he hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit [his wives and concubines] out of the world, for I gave them unto another.” I’m not sure if the Lord was talking specifically about losing only his “wives and concubines,” or David “falling from his exaltation” in general; i.e., that David will never be exalted in any way.
Moses’ story disturbs me even more. Two accounts describe Moses miraculously delivering water for the children of Israel in the desert. First, Exodus 17, Moses smote the rock in Horeb and out gushed water. Second, in Numbers 20, a bit more detail seems to be added to the story. Here, we learn that God told Moses to speak to the rock, but instead Moses smites it. For his disobedience, the Lord tells Moses, “Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”
Hard news for Moses—especially in light of the earlier news (Numbers 13) that the children of Israel would wander the desert for 40 years before entering Canaan. At Meribah in Horeb, therefore, Moses is condemned to lead his people in the harsh wilderness for four decades and then die at the edge of the promised land.
Many would take that news differently than Moses. Many would feel justified in quitting right then. Many would blame the Israelites—it was, after all, their complaining that forced Moses to deliver the water in the first place. Many would scream back at the Lord, at least once during those 40 years, that he was cruel, unjust, and unforgiving.
Perhaps you feel that David got what he deserved—he murdered and there was no way that he could make restitution—but that doesn’t apply to Moses. His sin was in “not glorifying God.” After being condemned at Meribah, Moses spent the rest of his life patiently, dutifully, and unceasingly leading his people, always striving to bring them closer to their God and to the promised land that he would see but never touch.
Quoting Luke 5 in April 2013 General Conference, Elder Craig A. Cardon of the Seventy said, “The Savior confirmed to all of us this infinitely more powerful spiritual truth: the Son of Man forgives sins! While this truth is readily accepted by all believers, not so easily acknowledged is the essential companion truth: the Savior forgives sins ‘upon earth’ and not just at the Final Judgment.”
I want to believe Elder Cardon, but David’s and Moses’ stories speak loudly in my ear.
I want to believe John when he taught, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I want to believe God when he promised, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
But I also have to believe Paul:
“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, “Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why hast thou made me thus?” Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Romans 9:18-21)
Indeed. Who am I? I am just a man—a man who, in accordance with D&C 64, will forgive all women and men. Likewise, I have great hope that I will be forgiven by other women and men.
But the Lord forgives whom he will forgive.
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