On Being Disturbed

The Gospel of Thomas preserves a version of Jesus’s familiar saying about searching and finding, but with a twist: “Jesus said, ‘Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be disturbed. When one is disturbed, one will marvel, and will reign over all.” (Logion 3). The emphasis here is that the divine mysteries, the secrets of the Kingdom, are unexpected, troubling, even disturbing. As Latter-day Saints, is the divine fundamentally disturbing?

The injunction to search and find is foundational to Mormonism. The prophet Joseph’s reading of James 1:5 is essentially a version of this common theme. Joseph’s great visions were certainly “disturbing” both to him and to the world. This is often set into contrast with the radical teachings and practices of the early LDS church. Mormons today seem to see the divine as essentially benign, benevolent, and which confirms our basic values. The radical is something which is unthinkable, but in both early Christianity and early Mormonism, the radical was precisely what defined God.

Is there still room for being disturbed? Where the spiritual tradition of being distrubed remains a powerful force is actually in the study of LDS history or the study of Christian history in general. LDS seekers often find what is distrubing, though it is not God, but the church which disturbs. Can we revive this practice of being disturbed as a central aspect of spiritual practice? Can the process of doubt and disturbance not be seen as antitheses to faithful existence, but its very foundation?

2 Replies to “On Being Disturbed”

  1. Excellent post.I think that there is certainly room for disturbance, but that there is also room for our views on disturbance to be, well, troubled.I think that our views along these lines now exist in the guise of the all-too-common expressions of compassion in tragedy: “These are experiences that make ya stronger, sister!” I feel like we have a strong tradition of believing that the Lord will upset us in order to advance our spiritual standing, but I think we have delimited “upset” to mean personal tragedies of varying degrees thrust on us by an ultimately kind, loving God. As a rule we also, I think, certainly admit that seeking revelation can be disturbing insofar as the answer might not be one we expected.But neither of these views reaches that which scripture usually describes with respect to the divine encounter. We don’t think of the divine encounter itself as being disturbing, though it’s everywhere so in scripture. This is often expressed through confusion, anger, fear, etc. Exodus 4’s account of God’s attempt to kill Moses is perhaps a pertinent example, one which is often the target of corrective exegesis, but I think expresses the range of danger associated with the divine. Genesis 22 is also “disturbing “in this way on several levels.The prophets of the Hebrew Bible seem to be especially keen to this dangerous business of encountering the divine. Amos’ response to the Lion’s roar, Jeremiah’s fire in the belly, etc., seem to me to express a reality that is missing in current LDS experience. Is this because of the historical developments of Christianity? Or is it because we’re not seeking the right kind of audience with God?

  2. Jupiterchild,I admit that I worry about keeping the tradition of divine disturbance. I really don’t want to see people killing their children, etc. I admit that I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for spiritual gifts either. However, I am hoping that it might be possible to transfer that tradition of being disturbed from the divine realm to the realm of historical/theological study. Is it possible to say that God really isn’t disturbing, but that the study of his people is?

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