As an inactive Latter-Day Saint, there are times when the missionaries come around for a series of visits intended in reconnecting with me and my family and to encourage us to be more active in the church. Right now, there are two lovely ladies who are fulfilling this role. They are bright, cheerful, and enthusiastic. I enjoy my time with them and the extra spiritual focus in these difficult times. I’ve shared my passion for changing the world to make it a better place for my children and for the many others who are like them throughout the world. They are encouraging and supportive.
But when it comes to my children, there is a recurring statement I find rather misguided and disturbing. You see, in our church, being “saved” is about being “accountable.” If you haven’t reached the “age of accountability” by the time you die, then you are already saved by Christ’s grace. Nothing is really required on your part. This is in contrast with the doctrine of many other churches, including the Catholic church, in which babies are baptized shortly after birth (and definitely before death) to give them the benefit of Christ’s grace. In the case of my children, who have disabilities that impact their ability to be held “accountable,” the same assumption applies—they’re already saved.
Now, from the perspective of many Latter-Day Saints, our time on earth is a trial period. What we do here impacts our lives for eternity. We must prove our commitment to God, even in relative ignorance, through the lives we live. By assuming that my children are already saved, they are assuming my children aren’t here to be tried. The natural extension of which is that my children are part of my trial. This, in turn, reduces them from the role of willful actors on the world stage to mere objects to be acted upon.
Before a whirlwind of criticism rains on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I’d like to point out that they are not the only Christian group that holds similar beliefs and that I’ve yet to see any of these Christian groups, including members of my own church, follow the logic of this particular belief. In fact, this belief is usually expressed as, “God loves them so much He made sure they’ll make it back home to Him.”
It’s a nice sentiment and I understand why a church that is so concerned about accountability and choice, and the importance of communicating an understanding of God, would be satisfied with a doctrine which recognized those who aren’t able to meet the church’s standards in traditionally recognized ways by covering them with a blanket of grace. In short, they mean well.
Now, I believe that we are all sons and daughters of God. I believe we lived with our Heavenly Father in a pre-mortal, spiritual existence. I believe we were given a choice to come down here and that, when we made that choice, we knew what kind of life we would be given and the choices we would face, at least in part. I believe our conscious knowledge of this is hidden by a “veil,” because if we knew now what we knew then it wouldn’t be much of a test. I believe we will all die and return to our Heavenly Father in some form or other, though not all of us will be able to stay. I believe we will all be held accountable for who we choose to be here on earth. All of us, within the scope of our choices, will be held accountable.
For me, the difference is this: God is not limited. Sure, despite my best efforts, I cannot communicate the teachings of the Church to Alex and determine whether or not he wants to participate in the Church. Nor can I do so for Ben, at least not yet. Willy learned the basic teachings of the Church and chose to be baptized. He, however, does not choose to attend church. Mark and I have respected each of the choices Willy has made. Mark and I respect the fact that we cannot successfully communicate these choices to Alex or Ben. The reason is simple: Mark and I are limited and so are Alex and Ben. God is not limited.
I believe that God has a relationship with each of my children. They may not always be conscious of this relationship; then again, I’m not always conscious of my relationship with God either. They may not always be able to communicate about this relationship; then again, I’m not always able to communicate about my relationship with God either. But I know it’s there. I know it’s there and I know that God will be able to hold Alex and Ben accountable, within their own limits, just as He will be able to hold me accountable within mine.
The Church may never know what choices Alex and Ben make. When it comes to their faith (or lack thereof), I may never really know what choices they make. But they do have a choice and God knows what choices they make and what they mean. Because God does not operate with the same limits we do. He understands us, even when we don’t have the words or when the words we use don’t make sense, because he is not limited by our language. His communication is perfect, just as He is perfect.