The gospel of Jesus Christ contains what appear on the surface to be dichotomies or contradictions. But when you look more closely with a balanced view, seeming incongruencies become details that help us understand our Heavenly Father more deeply.
The Parable of the Woodcarver touches on a couple of these dichotomies that represent God’s workings with us. The woodcarver himself, of course, is our Father, and we are the wood in His hands that become fine carvings.
First is the idea that as the One doing the shaping, He has complete control, but at the same time, the carving takes on a life of its own. How is that possible?
Having perfect control of His power and being omniscient, which includes complete foresight, Heavenly Father knows exactly what He is about. He works at both the macro level (His “work and glory” is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of His children—Moses 1:39) and the micro level, as He is aware of and many times takes a hand in the details of our individual lives.
At the same time, He does not force us to choose Him. Any person who has spent hours at a craft will likely tell you that sometimes, the thing he or she is creating takes shape of its own volition, as if outside the bounds of the creator’s talents. In this way, a skilled woodcarver might both make deliberate strokes with the knife but at the same time create something that seemed to have a say in how it turned out. One of God’s most precious gifts to us is our ability to choose for ourselves so that we can become what we want to.
If what we choose is to have little or nothing to do with Him, then so be it. Little or nothing is what we will draw out of that well. But if we choose to have everything to do with Him, then He can make something wonderful of us.
Second, the idea that sometimes life cuts deeply in order to shape us into what God has in mind contrasts with the image of loving, comforting Deity.
My personal belief is that because life presents plenty of challenges due to the fact that we have imperfect bodies and life in an imperfect world full of imperfect people, most of the time God probably doesn’t need to place challenges directly in our path. Sometimes we create our own difficulties through poor choices. But sometimes, He may give us a challenge, especially via a direct commandment to do or not do something. Whatever the cause, life gets hard sometimes. Our physical, mental, and emotional energies can be strained to their limit.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said to the Twelve Apostles of his time, “‘You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. … God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings” (“Stand Fast through the Storms of Life,” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 231). He was saying this to men who had been given a holy calling in the latter days. Why? Why would God wrench anyone’s heartstrings or allow them to be wrenched, even those who are trying to keep His commandments?
So that we have reasons to come to Him for relief, to know Him and trust Him, to develop a relationship with Him.
One of the reasons that my wife and I started dating is that we were friends and started confiding in each other about some challenges in our lives. The emotional connection we created led to a deeper relationship through which we found mutual support. I can’t say how things would be different if we hadn’t had those experiences that led us to want to confide in each other. But I can say that it drew our hearts together.
This is a pattern, a type for spiritual things. Through our challenges, through the events that cut us to the heart, we can develop the desire and act on that desire to go to Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. God does not have the intent to cause harm, but part of the program is for us to have experiences that will bring us to rely on Him and walk with Him.
While we are not a collection of trinkets to be placed on the mantle in His eternal home, Heavenly Father does seek to bring us back to Him, and immense satisfaction probably doesn’t even begin to describe how He will feel as He welcomes each of His children there.
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