Not the Same God

Mormon temple, Utah

S A Mormon, when I had a big problem, a member of the godhead might bother to attend to me. The handful of times when I had sensed the presence of one of them or received answers to prayer corroborated my Mormon belief system, which maintained that Heavenly Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost were basically unavailable and unconcerned with me personally. It was my job to earn my way to righteousness by following the laws and ordinances of the Mormon gospel. The “gods” were too busy to address my needs.

In Mormonism, the three members of the godhead are separate gods. The Christ I knew was an exalted man who worked his way to become a god. Some even believed he had once been a sinner. He had a body of flesh and bones and could be in only one place at one time. His blood alone did not wash away all sins. I related to this Christ because he was like me, and I thought of him as a kindly brother. As a temple-attending couple, my husband, Michael, and I were on the same path to godhood that this Christ had taken (well, I would be a queen or a priestess to my husband in his role as god); this Mormon Christ was just farther ahead.

The Heavenly Father of Mormonism also had a body of flesh and bones. He could not be in more than one place at a time either. He lived near the star Kolob. I thought of him as a merciless judge.

The Holy Ghost of Mormonism also had a body of flesh and bones. He could not be in more than one place at one time as well. [According to Mormon teaching], I received the gift of the Holy Ghost after Mormon baptism by the laying on of hands, and the Holy Ghost’s influence remained with me (shining down like the sun), but only until I sinned. If I did anything wrong, his influence left me, and I would experience trials until I repented. We took the sacrament every Sunday to have the sin janitor—the Mormon priesthood, who represented Jesus-sweep away these sins so the Holy Ghost’s influence could again shine down and we could be delivered from our sin-induced suffering.

In the pages of the Bible, however, I found a different God. This was a much bigger God whose words challenged my Mormon godhead. “Biggie-size your God!” a Pastor Shaw later told us. And that’s just what happened.

As I learned, this new, big, Christian God discerns one’s heart, honors meekness, creates universes out of nothing, performs miracles for individuals, loves me like a spouse, and remains God from eternity to eternity. He doesn’t change. He hasn’t worked His way to Godhood. He knows everything. He has power over everything. He is everywhere at once. He is always working on our behalf. He answers prayer all day, every day, and every night, and He never sleeps. Therefore He has the love, the desire, the time, the knowledge, and the capacity to be personal. His love is wide and long and high and deep. As I began to get to know this God, I couldn’t get enough.

Stepping Out

The summer of 2006, we mustered the courage to drive two hours away to attend a Protestant church on a Saturday night. That way, no Mormon friends could possibly see us. We were paranoid, worrying that if someone from Brigham Young University (BYU) saw me at church, I would lose my ecclesiastical clearance and my job. And I would have. Only at BYU would someone lose their academic position for even considering disagreement with church doctrine. [My son] Micah had faced the same danger as a missionary. He risked everything—faith, family, friends, college scholarship, home respect, Mormon salvation—by stepping out of Mormon belief. He had been willing to do it. I didn’t understand how or why.

My professional colleagues in secular universities would never have believed I could lose my job over religion. I could imagine the talk.

“You got fired at BYU? Why?”

“Because I decided to follow a different faith.”

“No one would ever fire you just for that! You must have done something wrong.”

The pastor preached right out of God’s Word on Jesus’ cross and blood. These were foreign concepts to me. Mormons don’t reverence the Cross, and instead of a representation of Jesus’ blood (grape juice or wine), they use water for the sacrament.

Mike just knew that if we bucked the Mormon Church, I’d never work again. My sin of apostasy would be splashed across the pages of the Mormon-owned newspaper and the Mormon-owned TV station out of Salt Lake City. Who knows what else they would dredge up to report? Then all those years, all that money, all those skills would go down the drain, and we still had three kids to put through college. But Mike and I were in agreement; our relationship was strong; and as we had vowed long ago, whatever we decided spiritually, we would do together.

Lynn Wilder
Lynn Wilder

When we parked at the church that first night, I realized that one of my BYU colleagues lived close enough to recognize my car. Every time we drove the two hours there, we sweated bullets for fear of being discovered.

The first night we were there, the pastor preached right out of God’s Word on Jesus’ cross and blood. Whew, powerful! These were foreign concepts to me. Mormons don’t reverence the Cross, and instead of a representation of Jesus’ blood (grape juice or wine), they use water for the sacrament.

That night, I dreamed of a square, three story, concrete building that was dark and dingy with filth, dust, and cobwebs. It had stairways, hallways, and elevators that went nowhere—there was no way out. The next night, I dreamed of the same building again. I barely recognized it. This time, all four walls were glass. They sparkled. Light streamed everywhere. It was orderly, with stairways, hallways, and elevators going somewhere.

Soon after that, I read, “You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9 NIV, emphasis added), and Christ loved His church (His believers) and died for her, “cleansing her [His church, His building] by the washing with water through the word” (Eph. 5:25-26 NIV). Reading the Bible was washing me with living water through the Word.

In the midst of this sorting-truth-from-fiction process—reading the Bible, thinking through the doctrinal conflicts, and dealing with broken relationships—God sent a week of grace. In June 2006, [my daughter] Katie and I went to New York City to take in Broadway shows with her drama teacher and students.

Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri

In New York, Katie and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Besides reading the Bible, I had begun to research Mormon Church history. Boy, is that a closet full of skeletons!

Here’s the history I’d learned: On July 4, 1835, Joseph Smith and his Latter-Day Saints were living in Kirtland, Ohio. A traveling Irishman set up a paid exhibit of four Egyptian mummies and some Egyptian papyri. Eager to prove that Smith did indeed have the power to translate all ancient texts—the gift described in the Book of Mormon as that of a seer—the brethren purchased the entire exhibit for $2,400 and presented it to Smith.

Some people in Kirtland had been claiming that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Smith could not prove otherwise, because the angel Moroni had returned the original gold plates, from which he’d translated it, to heaven. So, to prove he was a seer, Smith “translated” these ancient Egyptian texts. No linguist could read ancient Egyptian at the time, so Smith had no fear of scholarly reprisal. Smith called his translation of these Egyptian papyri the “Book of Abraham” and included it in the “Pearl of Great Price,” current Mormon scripture. In other words, Mormons still revere Smith’s translation of the papyri as scripture. His translation was first published in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, the town to which the saints had moved.

As I read the Bible, my appetite for God was growing exponentially. I felt myself drawn to Him at an ever increasing speed.

Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papyri resurfaced at the museum in the 1960s. The world had assumed that these famous papyri had been destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871, but they had survived.

In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented the rediscovered papyri to the Mormon Church. Huge. This was exciting. Now modern Mormons could prove that their founder prophet Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, a seer. Then the world would accept their modern Mormon prophet, his counselors, and the twelve apostles (also seers).

Since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, however, linguists could decipher ancient Egyptian. Egyptologists translated Smith’s papyri. The Mormons held their breath; they were sure the translations would match.

They did not—not even close. The papyri were common Egyptian funeral texts that said nothing about Abraham.

Still today, Mormons cling to this scripture translated from the papyri as accurate. Most are unaware of the story of the resurfaced papyri, and the original documents haven’t been seen for years. They are probably buried in a church vault somewhere.

“I Am Yours”

When I read what Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (NIV), I knew I was being drawn—sucked, pulled, conveyed, transported. In physics, an event horizon is a boundary beyond which the gravitational pull is so powerful that there is no escape. The object is sucked right in when it reaches this point of no return. As I read the Bible, my appetite for God was growing exponentially. I felt myself drawn to Him at an ever-increasing speed. I quit fighting, began to relax, and trusted that this new, bigger God indeed had a plan.

These things I knew for sure: This new God was big. His love was personal. His words in the Bible were truth. He could save me. I would offer the remainder of my life to Him.

In John 5:24, I read, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (NIV). Just as I knew I was being drawn, I knew I would cross over from death to life. He indeed had a plan and a timing.

One night in October 2006, Katie, Mike, and I watched the movie Luther. As I l the tale of Martin Luther, the Holy Spirit—the One who leads us into all truth—showed me the parallels between the strength Luther’s faith in God gave him and the changes I needed to submit to. The legalism that Luther opposed in the Catholic Church in the 16th century had the same root I now needed to oppose in Mormonism. The Scriptures that Luther loved were the Scriptures I believed. The God that Luther knew personally was the God I had met. Like Micah in front of his mission president and fellow missionaries, Luther stood before the church leaders and declared, “Unless my errors be proven by Scripture, I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

I made my decision. I knew from my reading that only a good killing could reap a bountiful harvest. My contented sacred Mormon cow had to be slaughtered. I had to die before new life could begin and bear fruit (John 12:24). I was finally ready. Gathering speed toward the point of no return, I lay facedown on the carpet, arms extended, and cried out to God as Martin Luther had. “I am Yours. Save me.” Instantly I was sucked over the event horizon.

From November, 2013

Lynn Wilder, Ed.D., teacher at Florida Gulf Coast University, speaks, writes, and enjoys time with seven grandchildren. This article is adapted from her newest book, Unveiling Grace. Used by permission of the Zondervan Corporation, © 2013.