I’d like to preface this blog with what I call a spiritual disclaimer. What I’m about to share is the abridged personal revelatory process I went through during my own struggle to understand the Lord’s law of plural marriage. I share this process because I have been asked to do so, and also because I hope it will help any of you who are seeking for that same peace—and doctrine. But, no matter how good I convey what I have come to know for myself, it is still a peace, a testimony, that you have to receive from the Holy Spirit for yourself.
Doctrines: 1) God loves all His children, 2) God knows how to give good gifts to His children and will give them better blessings than anything they can imagine if they keep His commandments, 3) God loved us so much He gave His Only Begotten Son to preserve our opportunity to receive eternal joy and salvation, 4) God is bound by eternal laws and can’t break those laws or He ceases to be God, 5) Whom God calls He qualifies, He prepares the way to keep His commands, 6) Knowledge of God’s character and establishing a deep, personal relationship with Him is critical to trusting His promises, 7) God’s goal is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.
At some point in every Latter-day Saint woman’s life, there comes a time when you have to make peace with the fact that God has at times during church history (both ancient and more modern) commanded some righteous men to take multiple wives and has extended the call to some women to accept this role and raise up righteous seed/build up His church and kingdom on the earth. Some women try to ignore that it ever happened because they have a testimony of every other part of the gospel. They push it aside out of discomfort. They are afraid to find out the whys behind why God would command such a thing. They are afraid they will be asked to live it. They are afraid what they find will shake their testimony. Some of what they have heard is shaking their testimony.
To all women I say, “Stop being afraid.” This is not something you can dance around. You need to attack it and ponder it head on and with faith, not fear, and trust the God you know to instruct you, or at the least, give you peace. He’s your Father. He’s not your enemy.
I was one of those women who pushed aside, or avoided, coming to peace with polygamy until my own unplanned and undesired divorce after an 11-year temple marriage. It was easy to pretend that plural marriage didn’t exist. Sure, people who were not members would bring it up sometimes, but it was easy to say, “Well, we don’t do that anymore,” rather than to admit that I didn’t understand it or have a testimony of it. Turns out if you feel the need to avoid something you’ve likely felt injured by it (http://susannabarlow.com/healing/the-five-stages-of-emotional-healing/) whether the injury was intended or not. Avoidance is the first sign and step that you need to seek understanding, healing, and peace.
Why is this something Mormon women need to face? Because, we are a powerful force. This is our time to rise up and testify. These are the last days. We have a sacred duty to show the women of the world that we know our religion, we know our God, and that they can trust Him too. It is time for us to rise up and be heard and to save souls.
So, during the aftermath of a very life-changing divorce I had all sorts of issues. I can’t list them all or go into them in detail, but, as many women do, I was suddenly quick to judge all men as inherently unfaithful, disloyal, and carnal. I determined to continue faithful in the things I knew to be true, but as I read my scriptures it seemed all the worst injustices to women stood out. There were moments I began to doubt the God I thought I knew and His feelings and purpose for His daughters.
Now, as anyone who has passed through such emotionally-wrenching years should know, and what any woman in the midst of such trials should learn, is that you’re mortal. Psychological and emotional issues are going to color your view of the world, and heaven. You should know that this is part of the healing process. You have to get angry and confront an issue before you can press onward to healing (http://susannabarlow.com/healing/the-five-stages-of-emotional-healing/). But, you need to recognize that your view of the world is colored. You need to be careful to use that colored view to seek knowledge, learn, act, grow, but not to cast final judgments on life, yourself, God, or others. Your vision will begin to clear in time, you will have spiritual epiphanies. But you have to give it time. How much time, you ask? It’s different for everyone. But the sooner you start the process the sooner you can hope to rise above your struggle.
Despite my internal struggles, because I remained faithful in the things I knew to be true, I was called to teach early morning seminary. This was my second time being called to this position, so I was ready. Well, I thought I was. Then, when it came to time to teach the Doctrine and Covenants the issue of plural marriage was literally thrown right into my path. I knew I could avoid it no longer. If I was going to give peace to my female seminary students I had to find peace for myself.
Now, from here on the process I went through took a few days, because I had to teach the topic that week. But, the fodder for pondering and learning I had slowly been gleaning over the course of my life and in my own personal study and pondering since my divorce. I can’t go into all the details and sources. But, I will try to put in as much as I can for those who want to research and ponder for themselves.
So, as I sat in my house on a Sunday evening preparing my seminary lessons for the week I had to step back from my emotional issues, my colored vision, and my heart’s penchant to defend against hurt. I had to get down to what was really the crux and doctrine of the matter. And, that matter was God. When it came to polygamy He was really the one with whom I had the bone to pick. I had to confront Him and what I understood about Him. Why? Because it was His eternal promises of my joy and happiness that were called into question. As my trust had so recently been jeopardized mortally, my spiritual trust was dangling by a thread. So, as I pondered God and my relationship with Him, I asked myself a series of questions:
What do I know about God? What about His character am I certain of? What am I uncertain of?
Has God given any other related commands that go against our innate sensibilities and feelings?
Why would God occasionally command something that is normally forbidden by Him?
How does this “why” fit within the character of the God I know?
Now, I’m certain there were more detailed questions that fit into this list that I pondered, but I believe these will suffice. So, let me tell you what I did. I pondered my life, my spiritual witnesses, my spiritual experiences, and I wrote down what I knew about God. As I am prone to do, these pondering moments brought several scriptures to my mind including, but not limited to:
1 Nephi 11:17 (Nephi says He knows God loves His children, but he doesn’t know the meaning of all God does or everything in God’s plan)
St. John 3:16 (God loved the world so much that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whoso believed in Him would have everlasting life)
2 Nephi 26:24 (God doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world, for He loveth the world)
Jacob 2:31-33 (God delights in the chastity of women and is angered when men injure their delicate hearts and spirits)
Doctrine & Covenants 132:20 (Those who abide God’s laws become gods themselves)
Doctrine & Covenants 98:3 (We can’t even begin to imagine or dream of the blessings God has in store for us if we are obedient to His commands, indeed it is impossible for us to comprehend the eternal glory God has in store)
Moses 1:39; Excerpts from D&C 76, & 88 (God spends all His time in total servitude trying to lead us toward eternal life—life like Him in highest degree of celestial kingdom—and joy, but if we reject that He will still give us immortality—resurrection and a lesser level of celestial or other kingdom of glory)
JST, Matthew 16:28 (If we lose our life in this life we will gain it in the next life)
Matthew 7:11 (If men, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, then for goodness sakes certainly God knows how to give good gifts to us…took some liberty with the phrasing there)
Now, one of the scriptures I have recently pondered is Moroni 7:10. It says: “Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good: neither will he give a good gift.”
Now, when God says evil here, he means evil intent. A person with evil intent and ungodly goals cannot translate that evil intent into something good. It’s contrary to the person’s intent. I say intent because nowadays people are afraid to call anything wicked or evil for fear that they are labeling. But, though no one likes to say it, regular everyday people who in general desire good and do good things are still quite capable of being evil, or wicked, in some ways by acting with evil, or wicked, intent.
So, let’s flip this scripture around. Let’s reword it to say: “Wherefore, a man being good cannot do that which is evil: neither will he give an evil gift.”
So a man with good and righteous intent cannot make a gift into something evil if that is not the intent. In this case, it seems it really is “the thought that counts.”
Now, not only is God more than a man, He is perfectly good. His intent regarding our lives is clear. He wants to give us all that He has and He wants us to have eternal Joy. So, if that is true (and I know for myself that it is), then nothing He commands us to do will lead us to a bad gift, a bad ending, or a miserable eternal existence. It simply isn’t in His nature, or His intent, to do so.
After studying these and many other verses, the Holy Spirit testified to me that God was who I thought He was—and more. I felt keenly that I could trust Him. I don’t know if I can describe the feeling of certainty as one of complete and immense healing, but I felt a profound sense of relief and sort of a feeling of intense and perfect logic.
So, then it was onto the next question. Has God given any other related commands like plural marriage which are normally forbidden by Him? It didn’t take long to come to a resounding YES.
1 Nephi 4:8-18 (The Lord commands Nephi to kill Laban so that he may obtain the records)
Exodus 33:2; 1 Samuel 15:2-3, etc. (The Lord commands the Israelites to go to war and drive out the unrighteous people in the land of promise; the Lord commands King Saul to destroy Amalek and his people: man, woman, child, and beast—pretty horrific)
So, then I came to the question how? How could God command murder, and make an exception to His own standard laws from time to time? I could ask the same thing about the flood. I mean, we read the story often, but it’s actually rather barbaric UNLESS you consider some critical factors that make God different from men.
First, God has power over life, death, marriage…well, everything. We cannot make one hair black or white (permanently), but He can (3 Nephi 12:36). We cannot restore virtue, but He can. We cannot restore life, but He can. We cannot do much, but He can do all. So, not only the fact that God is our Father and that He loves us, but that He is all powerful and has perfect righteous intent gives Him authority over His own commands. If His intent with such commands is good, then no matter how we may perceive it, it will lead to happiness and to blessings we can’t fathom, because He can’t give a bad gift. The reason why God is god is because He knows how to do what’s right and best in all things.
We can’t be trusted to make exceptions to God’s standard laws and commandments because of our finite and imperfect state. If God gave us leeway on the regular marriage commandment or on the regular “thou shalt not kill” commandment, on a regular basis, how many of us could be trusted not to abuse them in fits of anger or in times of intense sensual temptation? Our imperfect perception and vision would ensure that we’d abuse such commands. If you consider the level of difficulty in righteous implementation, it also helps us to understand why it’s always hard to actually carry off plural marriage correctly when the Lord does command it. The selfish and unrighteous always find ways to abuse God’s laws—all of them—not just plural marriage. Thankfully, the Lord knows how to perfectly restore and compensate any of His children whether in this life or the next. Because of the Atonement, it’s all already covered.
So, the point is, God doesn’t abuse His own laws because He won’t, it’s not in His nature, but also He can’t abuse them if He wants to remain God. Doctrine and Covenants 88:21-22, 34-41 clearly specifies that power and glory is preserved and protected by law. The same laws that bind God to bless us when we keep His commandments (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10) also bind Him to righteously use His power otherwise; He would cease to be God.
So, here’s a side-by-side comparison of what I prepared for my seminary class. It’s drastically summarized, but in conjunction with this blog hopefully it will make sense.
So, now we get down to the final avoidance issue that must be confronted. Would you be willing to live this law of plural marriage if the Lord commanded you (because it would serve His righteous and eternal purposes and plan)? Well, if you don’t know, let me ask you these questions.
Would you be willing to kill someone if God asked you to?
Would you be willing to take one of your children and sacrifice him to God if God asked?
Would you be willing to kill one child that the rest of your children might be saved?
Now, don’t ever say, “Well, God won’t ask me to do that. He may have done that to Abraham, but He wouldn’t do that now.” Well, God has repeatedly shown throughout the history of the scriptures that He does and will ask all of us to do things we never expected to do. The scriptures teach that all of us must be chastened and tried even as Abraham (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4). And, as Latter-day Saints we believe, claim, and preach that “God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Mormon 9:9).
The real question you have to answer has nothing to do with plural marriage. It has everything to do with your willingness to do all the things which God commands you (Abraham 3:24-26). Just as Abraham was asked to give up his only son by his first wife, his birthright son, to God; so also each of us will be asked at some point (or points) in our mortal lives to sacrifice something of incredible value to us; a tradition, a belief, a weakness, a sin, etc. Why? Because God himself had to be willing to sacrifice His Only Begotten Son that the rest of us might have a chance at eternal life. How can we expect to aspire to godhood if we cannot do what God would do? We have to sacrifice our fear of losing something ourselves to save others; and we must do it in faith that it will produce an end result and blessing far more glorious and wonderful than the one we would have ended up with otherwise.
If God had reneged on the idea of a Redeemer when Christ asked for the cup to be taken, then none of us would ever have had the chance to become anything more than a spirit with limited, or even completely impeded, eternal progression. God would have saved the life of one son only to damn all the gazillion trillion others. What joy would there have been in that for Him or us? Why do you think we allowed Christ to volunteer as Redeemer? Why do you think we accepted this plan in the pre-mortal life? Because we understood that a fullness of joy comes with a fullness of sacrifice.
With our limited vision, we think that if we preserve one good ideal that we hold to that it will bring us infinite joy. When God knows that it won’t, that one good ideal may even limit our joy. But, because we can’t see what He does, we think we know better than Him. It’s rather foolish of us, if you view it that way.
When God asks us to do things, He knows exactly the blessings that will come to us if we are willing to abandon our finite understanding and trust Him to give us a gazillion trillion more blessings than what we actually thought we desired or asked for. He is only limited in His ability to bless us by our limited ability to trust Him and give our life to Him.
This is a topic that each of us must ponder for ourselves. Whether we are willing to live the law of plural marriage is more about us than it is about God, and yet we make it all about God. It’s not about who He is, it’s about who we are and what we want to become. It’s about our ability to trust Him. But, it’s easy to see why it’s hard for us trust, since mortal men and women are very difficult to trust. But God is the one being whom we can test and prove and He will show us that He can be trusted. I invite you to test Him. And when He proves His trust, then you must go on and trust Him. Malachi 3:10 says, “and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (and for goodness sakes, that’s just about tithing…).
But, now onto some more comforting words. Here is some good news. Unless the Lord has asked you to live this law then you don’t need to spend time worrying about it. What a waste of time to worry about something that you have not been asked to do or that you may never be asked to do. Not everyone’s faith is tested in the same ways. Not everyone’s Abrahamic trial is exactly like Abraham’s. It’s not like we all sit around making ourselves sick and ask ourselves if we would be willing to sacrifice our first born child to the Lord just because Abraham was asked to do so. Do we?
The only purpose in continuing to hash this plural marriage topic around in your mind is because Satan wants you to remain in a state of unrest and doubt about the God you love. He wants you to doubt God. He wants you to doubt God’s purposes and plan. He wants you to doubt your faith. He wants you to doubt yourself. For doubt is the perfect breeding ground for the seed of fear which is the antithesis of faith. It is also the antithesis of peace and joy. And Satan certainly doesn’t want you to have those (2 Nephi 2:27). He wants you to be miserable. Are you feeling miserable, untrusting, and faithless? Then, you can be certain of the source, and it’s not God. It’s not your Heavenly Father.
If people outside the church ask why the church practiced polygamy you hopefully can and should say: Because God commanded us to that we might build up His church and kingdom upon the earth. And, you need to be able to say it with confidence. You need to know for yourself that God loves you. That He has clearly set precedence for this law by commanding other difficult things—when they support His loving purposes. He also is the only being with the power and the authority to command such things.
It’s important that you dismiss all unimportant and unnecessary mortal speculation regarding plural marriage. A lot of educated (and uneducated) people have read this or that, or teach this or that about how they’ve made sense of why God did it. They quote isolated scriptures too and speculate, “It’s because so many men were killed…” or “It’s because in heaven we’ll all be part of plural marriages…” look at this scripture, etc. I simply can’t include all the attempted scriptural interpretations or rumors here.
This speculation can be purposeless and damaging. Why? Because though we, as mortals, can sometimes kill two birds with one stone, God can accomplish and billion and one things with one action. For us to suppose that we can truly comprehend His purposes and goals is unfruitful, because we can’t. When we try we end up with more confusion and polluted doctrine. God’s vision, knowledge, and understanding is so far above ours that there is no way for us to fully understand it (Isaiah 55:8-9; Proverbs 14:12). If we ponder such possibilities on our own as we move toward peace, that’s fine. But we should never preach it to others and we should never accept others musings as absolute truth or doctrine.
I want to add just a few more comments to those who will continue to sit around and stew about whether or not they’ll have to live this law in the celestial kingdom. I want to you remember the most important and fundamental principle of the gospel: agency. God will never force you to do something you don’t want to do. Plus, as we’ve already discussed, if you really think that you’ll spend your whole life hoping for pure joy and get to the celestial kingdom and be miserable, that somehow all you hope and dream of will somehow fall short, then you need to go back to the first issue: your relationship and knowledge of the character of God. St. John 17:3 says, “For this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true god and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” Just reading this blog isn’t going to automatically change your understanding of God if you haven’t already put in the work to come to know Him. This is something you must do in faith.
Now, to close, I will make a few more comments. First, just because this is how I came to this conclusion and peace doesn’t mean that reading this post will lead you to the same conclusion. Part of the process of gaining peace is going through your own process of discovery and receiving a witness of peace from the Holy Spirit. I can’t give you what I have worked hard to obtain. But, I can give you the fodder to press forward if you’ve just begun. I can give you another witness to the one you are already receiving, or have received. And, I can start you on the path if you are ready to gain a witness, to stop avoiding your fears and to confront your concerns. But, ultimately, you are going to have to study and ponder and ask God if the things that you have read here in this post are true—the things about Him and His character. You are going to have to seek your own witness or at the minimum, validate what you’ve felt.
So, in summary I suggest the following:
After reading this, study these principles and doctrines and seek your own witness.
Strengthen your testimony of God’s love and character. Understand Him better and you will have more confidence to do whatever He may ask of you. Not knowing Him was why the 10 virgins were turned away (Matthew 25:12, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not”) and why Laman and Lemuel fell away too (1 Nephi 2:12). So, make this a priority.
Don’t sit around stewing about whether or not God is going to ask you to someday walk 1000+ miles across the plains, to sacrifice your first born child, or to live the law of plural marriage. When, and IF, that moment ever came; if you have come to know and trust God and His character in your life, you will understand and be given power to do what you need to do when harder sacrifices are requested of you. President Thomas S. Monson has said on multiple occasions, “Whom God calls He also qualifies.” 1 Nephi 3:7 clearly states that God provides a way to keep His commandments.
Enjoy the life and blessings you have been given. Ultimately, if you boil down mortality, it’s entire purpose is to help us gain bodies and help each other learn and grow, become like God, and return home to live “like” Him. Yes, it’s about us personally, in some ways, but ultimately it’s all about God’s plan to exalt us. And “he who loses his life for my sake shall in this world shall find it in the world to come” (JST Matthew 16:28).
In closing I leave you with my witness that I know God loves His daughters. I know that He can and will command us to do things that are hard. What those things are only He knows and it does no good to sit around dreading them or presupposing what they may be. When our Abrahamic trials come God will qualify us and prepare the way that we may accept them and do His perfect will. We can trust Him. I know that He does such things that we may fully comprehend and become that which we need to become; to comprehend and receive the unspeakable, unimaginable blessings that He has in store for each of us. I know that whatever He gives us will be far and above whatever we think we have imagined for ourselves. We simply can’t comprehend the glory, power, honor, and joy that awaits those who keep God’s commandments. We need not fear God. We need not fear the world. We need only gain a witness and stand strong.