Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sharing the Gospel and New Media

I graduated BYU in 2005. That was about the time that church leaders learned of an internet evil called Myspace. Bishops of singles ward warned their congregants to abstain from participation on Myspace and the site was blocked from access in the BYU library system. At the time, I rolled my eyes and thought "many things in life can be used for either good or evil and people have the freedom to choose how they will use them. I can choose to do what is good and avoid doing what is wrong. So I'm going to participate in Myspace." And I did, and still do.

(I will avoid testifying of the good aspects of Myspace.)

Then in 2007, I heard that an apostle has given a talk at a BYU devotional stating that church members are encouraged to use "new media" (i.e. blogs and social networking sites) to share the gospel with others. In fact, this month's cover story in the Ensign may have been adapted from that talk. The Apostle M. Russel Ballard discusses member's opportunities to share the gospel using the internet. He shares what members can do, as well as provides words of caution to members of thing they should avoid.

I felt vindicated.

I also wondered if any of those bishops at BYU were still presiding over wards and felt they had to rescind their words about the "evils of Myspace." I wonder what their reactions to the apostles words were and how they responded to being wrong. And, have any statements been issued in BYU wards on the topic?

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Last month, I was lucky to spend 3 weeks in Hawaii with my best friend from elementary school. She and I have remained friends through a number of hardships that both of us have experienced. Our friendship weathered my conversion to the LDS church, as she became more and more nonreligious.

During our trip together, we discussed some of the theological issues that we have considered. My friend's biggest question and concern about religion and theology was the question, "If God loves us so much, why does he let bad things happen to good people?" I sensed it wasn't the right time to launch into a discussion of the LDS answer to that question, but I offered to share an answer at a later time if she was interested.

After returning from our trip, I ran across a copy of the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" written by Harold S. Kushner, a Jewish Rabbi. He shares his personal theology on why there is suffering in this world and God's responses to it. A summary of his main points follows:
1) God is obligated and required to respect the moral freedom of man to choose. Therefore some people make bad choices which hurt and causes others to suffer. God cannot stop this suffering.

2)In the creation, God made order out of chaos but some chaos remains in this life. Therefore some human suffering happens as a result of chance--mere randomness. Maybe in time, the Spirit of God will bring order out of the chaos. Chaos is not the will of God but an aspect of reality that stands independent of His will.

3) Laws of nature are ordained by God and cause problems that lead to human suffering. Gravity makes people fall and get hurt. God does not cause these problem to happen and does not have the power to stop it.

According to Kushner, basically good people's suffering is not caused by God. It is not punishment for sins in this life (yours or your relatives). It is not to teach people to be better followers of God and it is not a test to see if his followers will be faithful. And ultimately, death is not intended in God's plan to liberate us from the suffering of this life.

Kushner's main point in the midst of his discussion is that no matter the cause of our suffering, it is God who offers us the help we need to deal with our suffering. The author testifies of that help that God gives.

While I agree that Heavenly Father has the power to comfort and help us in times of suffering and grief (and I have been the recipient of that succor many times), my understandings of the doctrines of Latter-day Saint theology does not let me accept his explanations for the causes of human suffering.

Modern-day scripture reveals: "saints to learn obedience by the things they suffer (D&C 105:6)", "saints to reap eternal joy for all their suffering (D&C 109:76)", "know thy son that these things [afflictions] shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7)", "all things shall work together for your good (D&C 90:24, 98:3,100:15 and 105:40)", "God shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain (2 Nephi 2:2)", and "many are softened because of their affliction (D&C 62:41). These indicate that God indeed does intend that people will learn and be rewarded for their suffering.

I know that it has been through suffering that I have learned some of the most important lessons in life and I have benefited from them (my conversion story is evidence of that). But when in the midst of affliction and trial, I am not comforted by that knowledge of God's will and often I am very resentful. It comes "after the rain" that I can see the purpose of the suffering and reap the benefits of the lessons learned.

The Latter-day Saint scriptures also substantiate Kushner's claim others claims but those will have to be saved for another blog, another night.

This is a topic that I will continue to study and pray about seeking understanding to Heavenly Father's plan and purpose for suffering in this life. It is such a large topic that a book in response to Kushner's from the LDS perspective could be written, and I will be searching LDS publications to find one that fully discusses the topic, of which I'm sure there are quite a few.