…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

In Nameless Ways Be Good and Kind

The Core of Latter-Day Saint Theology

By Rex Goode


A few days ago, I had a conversation with one of my morning swim buddies. He’s a Ph.D. in biochemistry, a thoroughly scientific fellow. He’s not so scientific as to rule out the existence of God, but is often critical of organized religion. He doesn’t really reveal much about his own view of God and spirituality, but is always inquisitive and respectful about mine, when we talk about it. He also happens to be a client of mine for whom I do contract software engineering, so we have gotten to know each other pretty well.

On that morning, he began a conversation with me asking if I communicate with God. I replied that I did and he wanted to know how I do that. I talked about kneeling in prayer, which he interrupted right away and made the statement that he thought that was unnecessary. I explained to him that I realized that God would hear me regardless of my position, but that it creates an attitude in me that I find makes my prayers more effective. I also admitted that I’ve taken to sitting for prayers because my knees just can’t handle kneeling anymore.

He had heard the story before about the prayer in which I wrestled with God over my sexuality and came to an agreement with God that I would stop participating in sexual behavior with males. I did not ask God to cure my homosexuality, but came to understand that God’s plan for me was marriage and family.

We also talked about the idea of grace, both as understood by most Protestant denominations and as understood by Latter-day Saints. I know that in the past he has attended a local Episcopal church, which he liked because they said he didn’t have to leave his brain at the door.

During the very pleasant and respectful conversation, the notion came up again that he had always had the perception that Mormon men rule their homes with an iron fist. I always laugh because I’ve never seen such a home among active, believing Latter-day Saint men. Despite the “head of the home” mantra, there are very few Mormon women who are going to long endure a tyrant, including mine.

Though this may have seemed like a side note in our conversation, it really went to the core of our beliefs about theology, faith, priesthood, leadership, and grace. The essential nature of the Mormon view of the plan of happiness and salvation begins with the opposing plans presented in the premortal world about how God’s children would return to him. Lucifer’s plan was to control, compel, and dominate us into righteousness so that we could all return to Heavenly Father. Jesus’ plan was to allow us to choose between good and evil in our lives.

I was not preaching these ideas in my conversation with my friend, did not even mention the pre-existence or the plans proposed. We did, however, talk about whether humans had achievements of their own or did we have to give God credit for everything.

Now that is a fascinating question. As a graduate of a university built on a certain Protestant denomination, I had to learn their faith in order to graduate. I didn’t have to believe, but I did have to be able to explain and present it. Though there are many variations, it boils down to grace for them and nothing but grace. Everything we do is by the grace of God. Even being saved is a decision made by God, not by us. No act of ours, not even a decision to have faith, can save us. God selects those he gives faith and we don’t know what criteria he uses.

I’m not saying that all Protestants believe it like that, but if I hadn’t been able to articulate that, I’d have had to transfer to a different university to finish my degree. It was no small task for me, having been raised in the Mormon view of grace. There came a point in my preparation for my presentation that I realized I couldn’t explain it any further and I worried about that. I was relieved when my professor, who was also a pastor, said he couldn’t explain it any deeper than that either.

My friend did not seem to subscribe to the notion of grace as explained either. He felt that there was free will and, in particular, a drive in man to discover knowledge and put that knowledge to use. We talked about the source of that drive, which I believe is something that we were designed by God to have, and even beyond that, something that God helps us achieve. All truth comes from God and when we discover anything in the realm of spirituality or science, it comes as a revelation from God.

I don’t know if he bought that, but there came a moment when I needed something other than my words to illustrate what I thought was the core element of Latter-day Saint theology.

What came to me was to quote a certain hymn, namely, “Know This, That Every Soul Is Free.” I was only able to remember the first two verses.

  1. Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
    To choose his life and what he’ll be;
    For this eternal truth is giv’n:
    That God will force no man to heav’n.
  2. He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
    And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
    In nameless ways be good and kind,
    But never force the human mind. (Hymn #270)

Since that conversation, the hymn has been in my head. I get that way about songs. They call them ear worms, songs that just play over and over in your head.

When such things in my head are hymns, I’ve learned that these are opportunities for me to reflect on my life. As a survivor of child abuse, I often get in the trap of thinking that my victim status is choosing my life for me. In other words, I often behave as if having been abused as a child means that it is inevitable that I have no control over myself today.

The first couple of days after the conversation that got this song in my head, I was focused on the notion that I am free to choose my life and what I’ll be. It is certainly true, and for my whole adult life, I’ve chosen the life of husband, father, and grandfather.

Back in the day of my prayer with God over my homosexuality, it was not God forcing me to choose a straight lifestyle. That was my choice, my desire, and the thing I wrestled out of God. If I had not wanted that life so badly, I don’t believe God would have forced it on me.

In the last couple of days, the phrase that has been more on my mind is, “in nameless ways be good and kind.” It has been a sweet spiritual time where I’ve reflected on all of the ways in which God has been good and kind to me in my life. I can barely make a mental list of all of the ones I’ve been aware of and I have no doubt that there are many more that I could not name because I was not aware of them.

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