The Mormon God of Lost Objects

In many ways, the God of Mormonism is the patron saint of Lost Objects. Our relationship to this God is so close, to the point of calling him a “friend” at times, that he can help us retrace our steps to find some misplaced money, or most commonly, our keys. I admit that I have often utilized this particular service in my prayers.

God’s intimate involvement in our lives is one of the most central themes of Mormonism. Our testimony meetings are filled with accounts of God’s participation in the most mundane aspects of our existence. He can help us decide or know all sorts of things. For Mormons, the Spirit guides us to know the “truth” of all things; seriously, all things, especially the lame ones.

This particular kind of petitionary prayer assumes an interventionist God who cares enough about keys to send his Spirit to lead us to them. This seemingly simple theological claim, however, drops us smack dab in the middle of some of the most meaty theological problems. For instance, a God who intervenes in our lives as much as our testimony meetings suggest squares us against the classical problem of evil. While Mormons generally take a free will view to the problem of evil, why doesn’t God let your free will affect you when you do stupid things like lose your keys, but he doesn’t intervene when the free will of others causes the Holocaust? Other Mormons invoke a finitist theology to explain why God doesn’t intervene against the big evils, but in some versions this explanation makes God so finite as to be able to effectuate my eternal salvation, but not capable of much more.

Can Mormonism sustain a less-interventionist God? Can Mormons be deists, believing that God pretty much lets the world run itself? Or, is the message of the Restoration too intimately bound up with a God who gets muddy in the mundane, as the D&C often depicts?

25 Replies to “The Mormon God of Lost Objects”

  1. I’m just inconsistent. On the micro-level (lost keys and such) I pray for guidance, just like everyone else. But on the macro-level, I have Deist tendencies. Inconsistent? Sure.

  2. I’ve prayed for lost things and been given the answer to go on and do without at times.

    On the other hand, when I felt completely lost, somebody prayed for me and I found myself.

  3. Along with this question, I wonder how great a determinant our “desire” plays into the situation; i.e., we get the inspiration to find our keys because we “desire” to find them; but, don’t get Divine intervention in great evils because some individuals do not desire it.

  4. This can take far more serious turns than finding lost keys, though! I have heard people suggest that someone’s death occurred in order to preclude some bad thing, or to achieve some desireable thing.

    I think this reflects the fact that we think a great deal about God, but we don’t really know how to think deeply and clearly about him.

    FWIW, my experience is that the “everyday folks” in most religions do this, so it’s not really just an LDS thing. It’s the theologians and other “thinkers” that aware of the difficulties it presents.

  5. I feel similarly to Kevin on this one. I consider myself a Mormon Deist; I just don’t think that God cares about all the stuff that we care about (or those things that we want him to care about). In my prayers, I more often pray for a blessing on MY efforts or an enhancement of MY capacities, rather than to be simply given or granted the object of my efforts. Of course, in a pinch, I will certainly plead for whatever seems necessary at the time.

  6. I’m with Kevin and AHLDuke on this one. I have deist leanings, mostly as a way to reconcile my belief in God with the problem of evil. I feel like this is one area where I depart the most from widely-held Mormon thought. An active, intimately-involved God is central to latter-day Mormon discourse at the highest levels. It is central to the Book of Mormon narrative and other scriptures.

    TT’s previous post “Do we really believe the Book of Mormon” is very relevant to this topic. As I said in the comments in that thread: the same things that lead some to believe that “God sent rain” and “God helped me find a job” also allows people to wonder “How could God allow those shootings?” or even worse, conclude that “God sent the hurricane to punish the sinners in New Orleans.”

  7. To answer TT’s specific questions in the post:

    “Can Mormonism sustain a less-interventionist God? Can Mormons be deists, believing that God pretty much lets the world run itself?”

    I think so. Doesn’t the Garden narrative tell us that we used to walk with God, but now we’re out of his presence and on our own for a while. We’re here gain experience that will help us learn good from evil. The idea of a less-interventionist God would seem to support this goal. Sure we are promised blessings for obedience, but certainly the most important of those blessings is spiritual liberation and salvation. The related temporal blessings might be in the eye of the beholder.

    “Or, is the message of the Restoration too intimately bound up with a God who gets muddy in the mundane, as the D&C often depicts?”

    Not if you assume that God entrusted Joseph and his successors with the responsibility and authority to lead the church, and lets them do it. If you view priesthood and priesthood offices as a responsibility more than a position of authority, then the less-interventionist God fits in more neatly.

    Joseph Smith definitely viewed himself as a prophet, and seemed very comfortable speaking in the name of the Lord. When he said “thus saith the Lord,” I assume that this is how he expressed himself when acting in his prophetic responsibility. The things he said in this context may not always represent literal words from the Lord “getting muddy in the mundane.”

  8. our God is a God of Heaven, and He said that we come to Him often, and so whether we come for help in small and simple matter or with bigger matters, He will greatly appreciate since by that act we recognize our dependence to Him. We can’t do it alone, no matter what we can do, as Nephi said.

  9. It may be fruitful to approach this by first deciding what the purpose of God’s interventions are. If the primary purpose is to prevent evil, then it can seem quite unusual that God apparently intervenes to prevent small evils like lost keys while refusing to act in the face of large evils like the holocaust.

    However, if the primary purpose is to establish a personal relationship with those who pray, assuring them that God knows about them individually and cares about them, then it makes more sense. If we add to this the idea that God is bound (or binds himself) to act in proportion to the faith exercised (as he seems to indicate in some places), then this could further explain why small interventions are more common than large ones.

  10. Great responses everyone! I am glad to hear that many of you have been able to reconcile this.
    CE has picked up that this is a theme in my thinking.

  11. Jacob: Don’t you think that rescuing people from a gas chamber would be a pretty good way to establish a personal relationship with those who prayed for such a rescue and would assure them that God knows them individually and cares about them?

  12. I don’t think Mormonism can handle a non-interventionist God but I can see Mormonism embracing a God who cares about the mundane more than the big issues. That is he intervenes more in the mundane while he adopts (typically) a more deist approach to other issues. (Or if he intervenes he does so in a subtle fashion)

  13. Gary,

    Sure. But what kind of intervention would have been necessary to rescue someone who was praying for escape while in a gas chamber? At that point it takes something pretty miraculous (see the last sentence of my previous comment on that point).

    It also tends to take something fairly conspicuous, which God, for whatever reason, seems to avoid. For this reason, I tend to think the problem of God’s hiddenness is inextricably tied to the problem of evil. Inspiring people to find their lost keys, however, poses no threat to God’s hiddenness.

  14. Inspiring people to find their lost keys, however, poses no threat to God’s hiddeness.

    You are too right about that. A gracious God who finds car keys but consigns innocent children to what our Jewish brothers and sister endured is, indeed, mysterious!

    Myself, I’d gladly spend the rest of my life hunting car keys if I could erase the pain of one Jewish child meekly whispering “bread” to strangers in the streets of the Warsaw ghetto. I confess those who assisted the Jews my moral superiors in every important category.

  15. Jacob: God is a pretty smart guy. If he wants to remain hidden (he may or may not want that), he could still intervene in a great many large evils in ways that satisfy that objective. Maybe the Gestapo, simply fail to see the family hiding the attic. Maybe the rail car is derailed and the prisoners escape. A well timed earthquake can sometimes be pretty effective. But if, as you suggest, God’s primary purpose is to establish a personal relationship with those who pray, he has to come out of hiding in some way, at least to that person. You can’t have a personal relationship with somebody and assure them that you know and love them individually, while remaining hidden from them. Isn’t the hidden God the Deist’s God?

    I don’t think that Mormonism can accept deism. Such a God is absolutely inconsistent with our history, our scriptures and our personal testimonies. There are no Priesthood blessings, no “tender mercies”, and no quail, seagulls or other miracles in deism.

    I think we are forced to settle for a God who defies reason. He is arbitrary, as far as we can tell because sometimes he intervenes, sometimes he does not, and there is no principle which can adequately distinguish between the circumstances which prompt him to intervene, and those in which he does not.

  16. I do not think we can take a few snapshots (or even short films) of mortality and say this is ‘fair’ and that is ‘unfair’. Until we can see the whole picture from an eternal past to an eternal future (including final judgement) with the perspective of God we are probably doomed to confusion.

  17. I personally read it in the vein of CS Lewis, his sense that petitionary prayers are actually acts of devotion meant to bring us in harmony with God’s wisdom. If we have prayed a petitionary prayer, we may feel comfortable that whether keys are lost or found, God is comfortable with the outcome. The fact that we don’t use those terms to express them relates to the vagaries of folk or “lived” religion, the complex harmony between “magic” and “religion.”

    Anyone without Mormon omphalotropism know whether Pentecostals or other contemporary “charismatic” groups prayer over their keys? I suspect they do.

  18. Mogs,

    Of course, I am with you 100% in being willing to search for lost keys to spare the hungry. Can’t tell if your first sentence is bitingly sarcastic or sincerely acknowledging that it is hard to explain the problem of evil.


    This is the standard arguement that we go round and round on every time the problem of evil comes up, so I’ll just say quickly that it is easy to conceive of God protecting some individual family, but hard to see how he can protect ALL the Jewish families (who are all undoubtedly praying) in the manner you have described. As such, your point is good in theory but fails to address the problem of God’s hiddenness as well failing to address the problem of evil.

    Is a God who defies reason really preferable to what I have suggested? After all, you are saying that my comments don’t make sense, which is to say, they defy reason (on your view). So if you are truly unwilling to accept what you consider to be a bad argument, then you should be equally unwilling to accept a God who defies reason. What you are really admitting when you decide that there is no possible explanation is that there is no God because God, if he/she exists, is certainly reasonable or he/she is not God.

  19. Gary,

    By the way, you said:

    If he [God] wants to remain hidden (he may or may not want that) …

    Are you telling me you hold open the possibility that God does not want to remain hidden? All this time he has been wanting to reveal himself in an incontrovertable way and he has simply been unable to? That is an impotent God indeed!

  20. I for one think Deism has its place in our theology. I always thought it indicative that most of the founding fathers of the USA were deist, for example.

    My thoughts are sort of like this:

    God created the world and has set it in motion. It seems that historically he has personally involved himself in very few world matters, with little of history being connected to revelations from him or connected to overt direct intervention (it could be other wise of course. this is just based on bare observation of religious history) . Of course the most notable exceptions being the “dispensations” our gospel doctrine courses are so fond of referring to.

    It seems that it is unlikely God is intervening directly in our lost keys, or in whether on not our food is “blessed” (I have stopped blessing the food in my prayers, I think it is a vain repetition devoid of meaning, hopefully I don’t get a greater measure of food poisoning. Also, no offense to those who still do.)

    However, I still continue to pray for small things and to believe in prophets and so clearly I am cannot truly make a fully deist argument.

    Perhaps We can reconcile this in our belief that God is intimately involved in the details of our lives, but unwilling to prevent some suffering due to its salvific necessity. Thus our faith in the holy ghost as a revealer of truth and teacher helps us believe God will guide us but only rarely change the course of human events, for example via prophets, or supremely, by sending his son. The Holy Ghost intervenes in our lives, being a gift that we assert only church members have. There is the light of Christ but it is described as a (oft-ignored) moral compass.

    When God intervenes with prophets he is unafraid to let evil happen, to let a temple in Jackson go unbuilt, let many saints die from persecution etc.

    Most interestingly God could not or would not intervene with his own son, allowing what was essentially evil, (a sham trial and execution) go forward because of its necessity in salvational matters. However I wonder if Jesus could have died in other ways and still met the demands of law with his atoning blood.

    The book of Mormon deals with the problem of evil on several occasions:

    the account of Alma in Ammonihah (Alma 14)

    9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
    10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
    11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

    Clearly Alma aruges that God has a higher purpose in permitting some suffering. In the same story Alma and Amulek survive the ordeal because God desires further work from them.

    also Alma 42:13 which reflects a finitist view of God. There are others which I will have to search for. I cannot immediately remember them.

    So, synopsis: God has a history of behaving in ways that a deist would expect. God does (permits)/(has to allow) some suffering/evil as necessary to salvation, (or as not preventative of salvation?). Why he chooses to intervene when he does, which is seemingly a rare event, is a mystery. But in my view it appears that he does it VERY rarely in view of the whole human family, when his purposes expressly require. So if we believe in God finding car keys and wallets it is a extension of the belief that one of the ways God has intervened is by sending the Holy Ghost as a teacher and Reminder to the saints.

  21. Jacob: I may have given you the wrong impression. I was not attempting to address the problem of God’s hiddenness or to solve the problem of evil. I was merely suggesting that there all kinds of examples of evil perpetrated on innocent, faithful praying people which cannnot be explained by your theory that God does not intervene because he wants to remain hidden. I am open to the possibility that this could explain some cases, but I think that there are an overwhelmingly large number of other cases which cannot be explained by that theory. As a result, we have to look elsewhere for an explanation.

    I did not mean to suggest that a God who defies reason is preferable to the God you describe. I just think we are stuck with such a God. But I should clarify this point. I agree with you that God must surely be reasonable, by definition. So I accept that on faith, but I am not aware of any principled basis to explain the God whose actions and inactions I observe. As a result, he seems arbitrary to me, because I can’t think of an adequate explanation for what I see in the world around me.

    Regarding your question whether I believe God wants to remain hidden, my answer is that the evidence I have seen suggests to me that sometimes he does and sometimes he does not. And I am not sure how to distinguish those cases. Parting the Red Sea was not exactly a small private affair. He was not shy about coming out of hiding when he sent messengers to stop Alma and Paul in their tracks. The resurrection was witnessed by many, and proclaimed far and wide by those witnesses. Jesus performed many miracles in public. His appearance to the Nephites at Bountiful was not a secret. Elijah put on a pretty good public show. These are not the actions of a God who wants to remain hidden. He wants it known that he is alive and well and is intervening in the affairs of this world.

    In fact, I submit that a hidden God is no different from the deist God. We would have no way of telling the difference between an interventionist God who hides his interventions and a God who never intervenes.

  22. Gary,

    Thanks for the response. We are perhaps not so far apart as I thought before. You think that there is an overwhelmingly large number of cases that can’t be explained by God’s hiddenness, I say if he solved all the evil your arguments suggest he should be solving that either his existence would thereby become obvious to everyone or if not, that you would be making the same argument you are now making.

    To say that a hidden God is no different from the deist God just seems like a misunderstanding of what is generally meant by God’s “hiddenness.” Deism suggests that God never interferes with his creation. Hiddenness does not refer to anything so absolute as that. It is more along the lines of the question, “if there is a God, why isn’t it more obvious to everyone.” You said that “the evidence I have seen” which was an interesting choice of words since everything that followed was something you have not seen, but take on faith from ancient accounts. Not exactly a death blow to the observation that God remains largely hidden in this world when he could quite easily make himself known. A God who intervenes without forcing a knowledge of his existence on unbelievers is very different from the God of Deism.

  23. Jacob: You are right–as long as there is evil which could be avoided or mitigated while remaining hidden, I would argue that a desire to remain hidden does not explain God’s failure to intervene. That does not seem like a controversial point. It does not mean that there is no other explanation.

    I agree that the hidden interventionist God is different from the deist God. But the behavior I observe seems to be generally consistent with both kinds of God so I don’t know what conclusions to draw. (Except that God does appear willing to come out of hiding on certain occasions) We can’t know anything about the attributes of a God who remains hidden, and we (or at least I) can’t explain rationally explain his behaviour. He may not be arbitrary, there may be method to his madness and I have faith that there is. I just don’t know of any satisfactory, coherent rational explanation for his actions and inactions.

    I think there is great tension in Mormonism as a result. We teach an interventionist, knowable God of miracles, both public and private, but we can’t explain why he is so often noninterventionist and inscrutable. For those whose experiences are more consistent with the noninterventionist God, this causes great frustration and dissonance.

  24. Clearly God is interventionist. He makes sure that BYU beats Utah in football, right? Of course this doesn’t explain the last 20 years of loses in the NCAA tournament…

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