How do we distinguish the hand of God in History?

Dr. Kerry precipitated a great internal debate in me, as well as others, in class recently. One student commented about how he wished more professors would talk about how God’s hand was involved in history to bring certain things to pass. Usually we talk about God’s hand in the founding of our country. But was God’s hand in the French Revolution, where thousands of people were executed systematically? That’s where all of the democratic ideals of our country come from. Was it God who led the framers of the constitution to say that 3/5 of a black counted as a person during the 18th and 19th centuries? If god promised the Jews Israel, did He instigate World War I and II to bring the Jewish question to a head so the country could be formed by 1948?

That has always frustrated me about those who say God is over everything. Does god blatantly kill people to bring other things to pass? Even the Book of Mormon says states that yes, that is possible, with the Alma and Amulek watching people burn so condemnation can be brought upon the perpetrator’s heads. That, to me, is a pretty weak doctrine, and doesn’t say much for a merciful god.

Many people look more at the microcosm to consider how God deals with them. Did I get the job? Way to go, God. Did I get the wife? Thanks a million, God. Thanks for bringing that to pass.

Did I get cancer? Did my child just die from a freak car accident? God certainly didn’t cause those things, did he?

I think we all need to carry out the logic of our thinking a little bit. Either god meddles in everything, and therefore causes both good and bad, or he doesn’t meddle at all, and everything happens in its due course independent of God. Otherwise, we have just described Zeus, who plays with people like they were chess pieces.

I’ve found it funny at times to see how I, and others, will swing as a pendulum from the side that believes, “Ask and ye shall receive” to the other side that says, “most everything is up to us.” If God’s hand is in everything, then let’s thank him for the miracles as well as the genocides. If it’s not, then why not take a little pride in our own handiwork instead of giving glory to someone else.

Let us reason one with another and discuss this more.

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8 thoughts on “How do we distinguish the hand of God in History?

  1. Kate says:

    the missing piece is this: if you believe in God (capital, it is a name:) then you believe He created us. Therefore anything you achieve, all of your handiwork ultimately came from His creating your body, mind, etc. So the glory is His. As for trials, I don’t think anyone says God makes those things happen, but He definitely allows it. Agency. If I “get the job,” I probably did everything to get it myself, but God allowed it. If I get cancer due to the regular dart board of life and phisiology, He will allow it to run its course. A pessimist is someone who sees all bad events as universal and all good events as specific to the situation, or luck. An optimist sees all good things as universal and bad events as bad luck, specific to the situation. Optimists live longer, have more social connections, and more overall happiness. God had a hand in all things- but to live a more satisfying life, it is better for us to focus on the good.

  2. Cylee Pressley says:

    This was really interesting to read your thoughts on this subject. And I think its great that you are honest about your questions, I respect that. In my opinion I believe it all comes down to your relationship with God. If you believe him to be all loving and our Father, then you trust in His plan and how He works. If you have felt His love for you and experiend that “mighty change of heart” Alma so elequently describes in Chpt 32 you can’t imagine Him as a Zeus type. (I would like to suggest reading the Lectures on Faith…amazing and gives great insight into faith and what you are to have faith in.) Has He allowed bad things to happen? Yes, as your friend Kate already typed…agency. Has He also interfered with things? Yes, as you pointed out the Alma and Amulek situation..not to mention Him having Nephi slay Labon, plus the countless other examples in scripture, but to say that makes weak doctrine I disagree. This life is not the end and I “think” you are looking at it with a carnal perspective not with an eternal perspective. Those people that died for their God have it made in the next life! (I only hope I will too!) And those naughty ones are in big trouble!In reference to your last paragraph I have always loved the saying…”Pray as if everything depends upon Him and then act like everything depends upon you”. That says to me be humble and have faith and go to the One that is in control and pray for His blessings, but don’t be lazy and act like the work is done and your God will take care of you. Get up and act for yourself and do all you can and then God will bless your faith with whatever He may choose to.I love these kinds of discussions and I hope you don’t mind that I commented. I love you Ben and am so proud of you and all you are doing.P.S. If you disagree with anything I wrote let me know, I love a healthy debate. Take care

  3. nila says:

    What amazing friends you have! Hold onto them, they love you in all circumstances, kind of like God. One last thought to add to theirs. I find it quite amazing that we as God's very small children think that we have the capacity and intelligence to understand Him, He that created universes without number, that keeps all of these things in order at the same time that He watches over even us. We have not acquired that kind of intelligence yet, but if we desire to and remain faithful to our God and the principles of His kingdom, one day we will be like Him and look back at our infant stages and laugh with delight at ourselves, just as parents do with their children. Is it not true in this world that the young really do think that they know more than their parents? When you are 52, you too will look back and chuckle at our childish attempts. Our Father desires to give us all that He has, and as we live with a desire to receive it, He will give us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. The most important thing is to keep ourselves in a place where we can receive, kind of like an electrical current. In order for electricity, or LIGHT, to arrive at our location, things have to be put into place, wiring is needed. The same is with us as God's children. We need wiring put in place in order for us to receive His light, His intelligence, His knowledge and understanding of things. Can that wiring be put in place by man? No, only by the Master Electrician himself. So let's get wired!!!! in God's way. That wiring comes through life's experiences. D&C 122: 7 7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the apit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the bdeep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to chedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of dhell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee eexperience, and shall be for thy good. Our Father became our God through the experiences that He had, from beginning to end. We are doing the same. Isn't it wonderful!!!!

  4. nila says:

    PS I just learned something. Do not cut and paste scriptures. It makes you look as though you have no ability to spell! Sorry!

  5. Magicman says:

    To kate. If you say that God allows bad things to happen, then you have to say he created a system for them to happen. Either way you look at it, if the glory is His for the good things, then you’d have to agree that the sadness and despair are also His, since He allowed them to happen. The problem is many people, pessimists or optimists, (I refer more specifically to Christians, muslims, etc), pick and choose events out of history to label as God’s handiwork. My point is you can’t pick and choose what you want and say God did it or he didn’t. You have to be consistent. In doing so, it makes it difficult to assign causality to historical situations. I don’t argue God wanted and therefore caused genocides, but if He even lets things like that happen, it does cause one to question his love and mercy. I challenge you to read a few primary sources from those going through the Holocaust. See if it is as easy to be an optimist from their shoes. Cylee. Thanks for your insight. Both you and Kate bring up some excellent points. It is true, that if we were to say, “whoever dies unfairly in this life will have blessings in the next” definitely softens the blow of injustice. It does raise questions of why have an Earth Life that’s so different for different people, if it’s all meant to be the same test. Nila. As always, great comments. Thank you. I must address your argument though. You know for most of us, I think we could get by without having our lack of knowledge of an afterlife tested. You have faith, and that’s great. But what about those who go through years in a concentration camp? What about those who suffer chemotherapy and cancer? What about parents of children who are murdered? I think it would be hard to tell those people, “This is part of God’s plan for you. You’ll be fine.” I know that’s not what we’d say, because that would be insulting, but that’s the logic we’re using, or at least what it seems to me. A great thinker who was an atheist was once asked, “when you get to heaven, and god says, look at your whole life you said I didn’t exist. What do you have to say now? he responded, “Why did you go to such pains to hide yourself?” In many instances, I think people will be so destroyed by life that it will be hard for them to find any reason to have gone through such trials. Nevertheless, you are right about learning by experience and time. I’m sure I will look back in twenty years and say about myself, man what an idiot!

  6. nila says:

    Ben, I have been through more in my life than you can possibly know. I have found that it serves no purpose to lay out my experiences before others. I have no need of their pity. But I think in this circumstance it may be different. So here are a few of those experiences: (my hands are shaking as I do this) ritual abuse, cancer and chemotherapy, rape, neglect, improper advances from trusted friends, shunned for being a young widow, grandchild sexually abused, alcoholism . . . There are a few. So I am not sharing from a Cinderella perspective. Life is about experiences, how we choose to see them, handle them, and grow from them. It is impossible to get a full perspective of these experiences if you hold in mind only this test, any more than you could judge your whole education by one butt buster of a exam! You would then say to me, “What about those who do not have the eternal perspective and faith that I do?” God, our Father, compensates. HE compensates. Do not look at life through a looking glass with only one little peep hole to view through, when Father sees everything from beginning to end, constantly. I know that when you meet those dear brothers and sisters of the Holocaust you will see for yourself the truthfulness of what I share. At the present you are outside looking in. Being inside is not the same experience. When my husband passed away I was 34 years old, with four daughters to raise, ranging from ages 3 to 13. My husband passed away on December 22, three days before Christmas. I hear people say, “Oh, I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been!” No they can’t, because it was the most beautiful moment that I had experienced in life thus far. Heaven surrounded me. We were filled with peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, and joy. We had a wonderful Christmas, and the day after we held a beautiful graduation ceremony for my husband. Why do I share all of this with you? Because our experiences with God, our Father, are all personal. He shares them personally with us. He does not create them. There are many elements concerning free agency that take part in that, but He shares them with us. As you go through life and take a wife, you will share intimate experiences with her that will be for the two of you alone, and nobody else. When they are taken out of that context and verbally shared with someone else, they will completely change. They are personal. The same is with our God. I would not change what I have experienced in this life for anything. It has made me who I am. I would not want to be some sterile human being who has been spared from the things in life that others may call unfair or unjust. I would not have been blessed to share with you the many things that we have shared in conversation if my life had been different. Then, where would be the Joy? I love sharing truth and enlightenment. I know of no greater joy, and without ALL of these experiences, I would know so little, and have so little of worth to say. Maybe you and my children would like that . . . .What a concept! We are told that they day will come when all of God’s children will bow down and proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, and will praise His goodness, His justice, and His mercy. You, and I, and every other person that has ever dwelt on this earth, and all of the other earths, will be there. Try not to worry so much about those who have already finished their testing, and be there for those that are still struggling to finish. Show them your Black Cat mini film! It will surely cheer them up for a very long time!!I hope that you will begin looking for the God in all of life, and not the opposite. Seek and you will find . . .

  7. nila says:

    An after thought … I mentioned earlier the words spoken to Joseph Smith stating that all these things give thee experience and will be for thy good. So what is the good? In all of these experiences, and more, I have seen God. I know Him. He was there even at times that I felt alone. I KNOW Him from my own experiences Ben, and without those experiences I would not have had the opportunity to KNOW Him as I do…

  8. paulmhutchings says:

    Wow! As I read Nila’s comments I had tears in my eyes. Amen Sister! Thanks so much for sharing those thoughts and experiences.As for the post. There exists good and evil in this world. All good or as the scriptures say “light” comes from God. You would say that because God allowed the Devil to have power in this world that He is the originator of the evil that comes from Satan. I would disagree. I would assert that we could not progress without an opportunity to choose between the dark and the light. Therefore God allows there to be an opposite to his light. We can argue points all day and you may be able to prove through man’s logic that my beliefs are simple-minded. The fact of the matter is niether one of us can presume (As Nila so elequently pointed out) to understand the Creator of all things, of worlds without end. We can postulate as much as we want but we should be very careful about drawing conclusions based upon that which we know little about. I might remind you that one of the most classic books about what one has learned through severe trial came out of the holocaust. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. I believe the holocaust was caused by evil men following the will of Satan but I would also have to agree that God allowed it to happen. Only God knows why. I trust His reasons are just. Another Insightful StoryFrancis Webster – Martin Handcart CompanyIt was in an adult Sunday School class of over fifty men and women. Nathan T. Porter was the teacher and the subject under discussion was the ill-fated handcart company [Martin Handcart Company] that suffered so terribly in the snow of 1856. Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leader was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded. One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget.His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity. He said in substance, “I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes! But I was in that company and my wife was in it, and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited here was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with Him in our extremities!”I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me! I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there. “Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No! Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”Bad things happen in this world. Some caused by evil, others by our own agency and others by nature. Someday we’ll know more of the “whys”. I love you too Ben. You make a good “Devil’s advocate”. 🙂

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