When I taught Book of Mormon classes for the Institute program, I would often ask my classes why Laman and Lemuel had such a tough time in the wilderness, complaining and whining, fighting and harboring murderous thoughts as they reluctantly left Jerusalem and headed through the lonely stretches of the Arabian desert .
In every class someone would raise his or her hand and answer that it was because they had a bad attitude. They did indeed, but the Book of Mormon tells us more, cutting right to the heart of it.
“And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 2:12).
It doesn’t say that they were nonbelievers, atheists, though perhaps they were. It suggests instead, something deeper, that they didn’t understand His nature. They did not have a correct idea of His character, perfections and attributes.
To them He was punishing, sending them away from their riches and the “good” people in Jerusalem like that. He was demanding with all these impossible tasks he put upon them, like having to ask a hard character like Laban for the plates of brass. He even seemed to choose favorites, preferring Nephi’s obedience and diligence over their “doing their own thing.”
I find this fascinating because I think so many of us fall into this same category, travelling through our own wilderness journey called life with only the fuzziest or completely incorrect notion of God’s attributes—which leads some of us to a particular kind of temptation that I call pouting before the Lord.
It is tempting to want God to be, in C.S. Lewis’s words, a “cosmic bellboy” or a “senile old benevolent” whose highest aim is to make sure the children are having a good time. It is tempting to hope that God is there merely to wait on our needs, jump at our demands, make our path a freeway to success and take us off the bumpy roads.
Some of us hope He will be a pizza delivery boy, whose job is to get us the goods and within 30 minutes or we can complain.
Life is a tough journey and the little child in us may like God to turn our pumpkins into carriages and white mice into footmen so we can speed to our heart’s desire in perfect style.
Of course, many of us have seen miracles in our lives—times when the sickness was healed, the cancer shrunk away, the surprise check arrived in the mail, the exact right words came to our mind when we were talking to our rebellious teen. But we may also know times when God’s hand was so light we could not feel it or when it appeared we were left to our own devices.
It is not just that He isn’t delivering what we hoped in trivial areas. Sometimes what looks like our very survival depends on his ready answer, and we believe we’ve had no response.
The childless woman who has longed for motherhood since her earliest years and month after month finds only an empty womb may shake her fist at the heavens and moan, “Why?” The husband whose business takes one bad turn and then another who only longs and prays for some financial stability for his family may feel forsaken when his business finally collapses altogether.
These are not small things or insignificant examples. They happen to us. The husband or wife of our hearts dies young, leaving us bereft and facing lonely years ahead. Our child is born disabled. Things happen that tear at our very souls and hurl us into great pain.
Of course, then we may pour our hearts out to the Lord and ask for strength. But these may also be times of great temptation where we say to God with some attitude, “If you abandon me, then I will abandon you, too.”
We may pout like we would at a store clerk who wouldn’t give us full credit on our return.
You may have felt these unfortunate stirrings in your soul toward God. “Well, if you aren’t going to talk to me, then I’m not going to talk to you either.” “If you don’t acknowledge me, then I won’t pay any attention to you. In fact, I’ll show you. I’ll go off in a huff until you come to get me.” Or “I’ll show you what disappointment feels like. Don’t expect anything of me.”
Some of us may even think—perhaps subconsciously—that we will show Him just how it feels to be ignored. We may hope that in our anger and dismay that He will come with a gift and apologize. We’ll teach Him a lesson or two about not being attentive enough to our demands.
That is a full-scale pout and should be recognized as such. It is the attempt of a child to manipulate another, to get your way with a long face or a miffed look. Only this time who we are trying to teach a lesson or two to is God himself. It sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, but many of us are stuck in these emotions.
If you have never been tempted in this way and such thoughts are not a weakness in you, this may all sound extremely strange, but for many this will ring a bell.
“Why didn’t God get me a job?” “Why didn’t God protect me from this disaster?” “Why didn’t God bring me a husband or wife?” “Why did God send me such rebellious children?”
On and on we may be tempted to go with the blaming and complaining and holding part of ourselves back from him until he proves worthy of our devotions.
I thought he was going to be my cosmic bellboy and he didn’t come when I rang the bell, we may whine.
All of this suggests that, like Laman and Lemuel, we don’t know the dealings of that God who created us. Instead, we have been busy creating our own god, a notion in our heads about who He is or who we want Him to be.
We’ve all heard people say, “My God wouldn’t expect that.” “My God wouldn’t let that happen.” Or worse, we’ve seen people who abandon belief in Him altogether because He didn’t fit their idea of complete compliance to their will, the perfect delivery boy.
Too often we create and want a god who demands nothing of us, protects us against all disappointment, tramples the agency of others so we may never be hurt by them, arranges life so that we must never stretch beyond where we are, instead of worshipping the loving, powerful God who sees all and promises that all things in their time will work together for our good if we just hold on with faith and trust in Him.
As an editor, I work with writers of a variety of levels and competence. I can tell who is young and immature in their writing because of the way they respond to red marks on their manuscript. The real pros are glad for advice and correction, even a change of course in a piece of work where the flow of words could be better and stronger. The novice thinks they have written the perfect piece out of the chute and cringe if an editor advises and marks red on their paper.
This is pride, and it is the same kind of pride we often display in relation to Deity, who is often the editor of the perfect screenplay of our lives that we have so carefully written and prescribed. This pride demands that he knows who we are and will make our plans and dreams a reality, instead of that we come to know who He is and the amazing gifts He is offering us.
Conversely, we may create a god in our own minds who has the worst attributes of someone we know on this earth, perhaps the failings of our parents or bishop or someone else who had authority in our lives. We may wrongly think that he is always seeking to catch us doing something wrong, ready to punish and disdain our failures or that He is inconstant or forgetful.
Pride suggests we are smarter than He is, have better ideas, can contradict the scriptures and the prophets, instead of simply kneeling on our knees and asking, “What do you want of me?”
God is not some equal that we are sparring with for favors. When Moses beheld his glory and his works, the worlds and the ends thereof, “he greatly marveled and wondered,” and then when the presence of God withdrew, he fell to the earth, overcome. This prince of Egypt who had known every splendor that the world could offer cried out in understanding, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”
Laman and Lemuel knew not the dealings of that God who had created them, no matter how much they professed that they were good and so were the people of Jerusalem . They knew not God no matter how many rituals they had participated in nor teachings they had let slide over the surface of their minds.
How often in history people have sworn in the name of God, killed in the name of God, called God a disappointment, got angry at Him, and they weren’t talking about God at all, only some god they had made up in their minds that they labelled God.
Who is God? He tells us of his power in scripture, “For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly. My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Abraham 2: 7,8).
I can scarcely comprehend the privilege and awe that He would invite us to pray to Him, that He would answer back in power, majesty and such love. It is beyond me that a Being who is so glorious, would have as His primary object bringing about the “immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). That is personal; meant for us as his children.
In this life many things are unstable. We’ve watched the economy come to the edge, we’ve seen the oceans heave themselves upon the shore in tsunami’s, we’ve seen the earth, old terra firma, be anything but firm as earthquakes make the land roll like the sea. But God is immovable, unchangeable, a never-failing source of intelligence, majesty and incomprehensible love, not just for humanity in general, but with a devotion that penetrates down to each of us particularly.
Do we want in response to be fickle, pouty, or always taking our spiritual emotional temperature to see if He has pleased us?
The aim of our lives is to develop spiritual maturity—a journey that takes us from this kind of instability to being like that lovely Book of Mormon phrase “firm and immovable.” Samuel the Lamanite told the Nephites that when his people came to know God, then they worked with “unwearied diligence” and became “firm and steadfast in the faith.”
May this be the direction we move in our wilderness journey and shed the parts of us that keep us childish in relation to that mighty fortress who is our God.