As much as I wish the Bible were cut and dried on this subject, it’s not. Scripture’s full of thorny verses, statements that force us into a corner or invoke paradox. Recently, I’ve been contemplating one such verse:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV).
For believers, this is a pretty affirming verse. But there’s lots of wiggle room. For instance, is seeking God with all our heart the only prerequisite for finding Him? What about those who “seek” God in non-traditional, even non-biblical, ways? I mean, if a person seeks God through alternative religions, mystical practices, or cultish institutions, can they still find God?
One of my co-workers, a good-natured alcoholic whom I shall call John, approached me recently and said, “I’m going back to church.” I’ve been praying for and witnessing to John for the longest. So you’d think I would be ecstatic, right? Well, not so much. You see, John returned to the Mormon church.
No doubt, this was a HUGE step of faith for John. He’d been raised as a Mormon, fell away from the religion since his youth, and his lifestyle is not exactly congruent with that of a saint (especially a Latter-Day one!). So something serious must have been churning inside him. But knowing what I know about the Mormon church made me ask: Can someone find God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
Though Mormons profess to be a Christian group, its central beliefs veer radically from historic Christianity. Among the offending LDS doctrines is the belief that God (more commonly referred to as Heavenly Father) is an exalted and glorified man, and that he has a physical (albeit immortal) body. Furthermore, it is also taught that qualifying Mormons can become gods, just like the Heavenly Father, in the next life, and produce spirit offspring (presumably to populate another earth.).
Of course, John knows little about these things. He is simply responding, in the way he knows how, to the call of God. Which leads to an important point:
Seeking God implies NOT knowing how or where to seek Him.
If everyone knew exactly how to get to God, there wouldn’t be much mystery to the search. In fact, it would be more of a formula than a quest. So knowing John’s background, him seeking God by attending the Mormon church is completely understandable. Everyone starts seeking God at the place they are most comfortable, through the form they most associate Him with… whether or not that place / method is 100% Grade A Approved Orthodox. Where else would a Hindu or a Buddhist begin seeking God but where they are at?
And according to Jeremiah 29:13, it doesn’t matter WHERE a person starts seeking God, but HOW they start seeking Him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” So if John is serious about this search, he will find God. Even in the Mormon church.
This principle riddles Scripture: God is not a respecter of persons; if anyone, anywhere at any time seeks Him with all their heart, they shall find Him.
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile.” The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:11-13 NIV)
Everyone? Shouldn’t there be some qualifiers to this? It seems far too . . . liberal. Don’t they need to give up drinking, smoking and watching Jersey Shore to be saved? Shouldn’t they attend catechism or receive training in Christianese? And musn’t they leave the ashram, temple, or Church of the Poison Mind?
Pascal suggested that there are only three kinds of people in the world:
Those who have sought God and found Him
Those who are seeking Him and have not yet found Him
Those who neither seek Him nor find Him
Pascal called the first class reasonable and happy – reasonable because they seek and happy because they find. He calls the second class reasonable and unhappy – reasonable because they seek and unhappy because they have not yet found. He calls the third class unreasonable and unhappy – unreasonable because they do not seek and unhappy because they do not find. Peter Kreeft summarizes,
The greatest difference is not between those who have found God and those who have not. This is only a temporary difference, for all in the second class will get into the first; all seekers will find. The greatest difference is between the seekers and the non-seekers, for that is an eternal difference.
If this is true, it means there is hope for John. Of course, as he seeks God, God will guide him to truth and away from error. This is also a promise of Scripture.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth… (John 16:13 NIV)
The fact that we must be guided into truth implies a process. Which means that, at some point, even devout seekers do not possess the entire truth. In a way, salvation is not so much a matter of KNOWING the truth as being GUIDED into the truth. (Or, is that sanctification?) Anyway, as Pascal suggests, this can be a sticky, painful process.
For John, it appears this process is beginning because, these days, he is irritable, unfulfilled, and “reasonably unhappy.” Seeking God with all your heart is no guarantee of immediate revelation or instant happiness. In fact, confusion and misery may be an indication that one is, indeed, on a genuine spiritual quest.
So can God be found in a false religion? Absolutely. But if one is really in a false religion, the more we seek Him, the more he will guide us in the other direction. And this is not always a comfortable — or cut and dried — process.