Does God Play Favorites?

[ 19 ] Comments

by RI Editors

For years I’ve heard that the Israelites are God’s “peculiar people,” read in the scriptures of his willingness to wipe out one nation to plant his “chosen people” in a particular place, and at the same time read that he is “no respecter of persons.” On top of that we have the priesthood specifically denied to blacks in our own dispensation. I don’t struggle in my faith that the gospel is true and I believe in the truths of the restoration, but I don’t get the character of God. It seems that he does play favorites.

Why did the Lord choose to do it this way, with a favored family for almost the entire history of humanity?

What do the blessings of Abrahamic Covenant mean for me specifically?

19 Responses to Does God Play Favorites?

  1. Cheryl says:

    This is my simple response: responsibility. I’m not sure if He is playing favorites, but it seems that those he “favors” have much more responsibility and fall a lot further when they fail. But I admit it could be a chicken/egg thing.

  2. Brenda says:

    My thoughts exactly Cheryl. The chosen people spend a lot of time taking some pretty harsh chastening when they mess up, which inevitably they do. It always brings the question up in my mind to which we don’t fully know the answer. Was it possible that there were volunteers and callings in the pre-existence for certain duties, families, situations, responsibilities? And if so does it work the way callings do here? Many times the person who gets the calling isn’t the most qualified but is the one who needs the experience to grow and progress.

  3. Bonnie says:

    That’s a pretty important question to ask, and hopefully all Latter-day Saints do ask it at some point in their thinking lives. Neal A. Maxwell repeatedly quoted Austin Farrar (about C.S. Lewis):

    “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

    As I’ve studied the history of the priesthood, I’ve noted that the Lord has carefully protected the power to act in his name and the doctrines and covenants of the Gospel of salvation by placing a responsibility for them upon families or races. The power of the priesthood is not the power to elevate the individual (it is never held for one’s own benefit) but to minister to one’s family and the world the saving covenants and protect the saving doctrines. In a world hostile to the doctrines and covenants of salvation, God hid them in a people for their safekeeping (see the roots in Zenos’ allergory – the life of the tree) to keep them alive in the vineyard. (Actually, the whole allegory pretty much provides the answer to this question.)

    In the ordinances of the temple everything becomes fair, moving backward throughout history. Every person has the doctrine taught, either here or in the hereafter, and every person has the covenants administered, to accept or reject. The doctrines and covenants are everything, the life of it all. Since the timeline is much longer than mortality, the different experiences of every individual are balanced by experiences to follow.

    The story of the Canaanites always used to trouble me. I’m not sure if it was a case similar to the Mountain Meadows massacre, where messages were crossed and something horrible happened, or if it was like the people of Ammonihah, who were so completely wicked (and the Canaanites were sacrificing children – they were wicked) that the Lord wiped both them and the knowledge of their practices completely out. The Lord’s pattern is to allow the wicked to slay the wicked, but Elijah was responsible for wiping out 400 of the priests of Jezebel. I suppose the Lord can remove people from the earth however he wants when they go so far in perversion. It’s kind of hard on the people who have to do the removing, but the Hebrews and the Arabs of that day were all warlike with one another, so it was less bothersome to them than it is to us now, I suppose.

    What is really curious to me is the unique power of genetics and family nurture. There must be something in our blood that draws us back to God, just as certain family traits show up in long genealogical lines. Certainly, what is taught in homes protects an ideal or value, and that is one way the roots were preserved: by placing them among a people who would (hopefully) treasure them and teach the doctrines and covenants to their children. But what of people suddenly feeling the pull of Ephraim or their own tribe, in a modern world and far from the histories of their people, and receiving profound testimony of the restored gospel? This fascinates me, probably because my parents were both converts to the gospel when I was a child.

    It was certainly prophesied, this return of the bloodlines to the family of God, but I’m so curious what makes it work on the genetic level.

  4. Susanne Nielsen says:

    I’ve often thought that the Jews became a favored people because of their actions and righteousness. The result being that the Lord blessed them with ‘favored’ status.

    I think they were initially favored because of their valiance – mortally and premortally. But then again, maybe I’ve got the cart before the horse. 😉

  5. Becca says:

    Like Bonnie mentioned – the gospel and the ordinances are the great equalizer a of our as children of Heavenly Father. This mortal life is so short and it wasn’t meant to be “equal” or “same”. Perhaps choices we made in the pre-existence affect us here, I don’t know, but what I do know is that his is no respecter of persons in that every human being will have the opportunity to fully understand what they are accepting or rejecting (concerning the gospel). I do not believe God will judge us based on an incomplete understanding. This mortal life is so incomplete in a lot of ways – it’s also such a brief portion of our existence.

    As far as God playing favorites, I like to look at it this way – when you have children, you treat each child differently, based on his/her age, personality, mental and physical ability, etc. My cousin has a son with cerebral palsy. She also has two you get daughters. Her disabled son gets significantly more attention and help from her, and it might appear as if he is her favorite. On the other hand, it might appear that her younger daughters are her favorites, because they are given much more freedom to do what they want to, they don’t have to wait for mommy to help them down the stairs, get them something to eat, etc etc. They are allowed to do all these things on their own. But in reality she loves all her children equally and is no respecter of persons. Just because she does not treat them the same does not mean that one or the other is her favorite.

    Funny how this kind of goes back to that age old question of how to define equality…

  6. MSKeller says:

    I’ve always looked at it as a ‘unto whom much is given, much is required’. Sort of like the ELDER brother in the Prodigal parable. He was given all, he was expected to be more forgiving and less self-concerned. Yes he is human (as are we, as are the Jews, as are men holding the priesthood, etc.) but they/we are also expected to rise above because of what we’ve been given.

    In Seminary we always had a good discussion on the fact that because we knew the truth early, it isn’t a punishment, it is a huge blessing. There were always those who said, “It isn’t fair, they didn’t join the church until they were adults, they got to have fun first and now they are all forgiven” – Then we talk about all the benefits of the gospel, the things that they wouldn’t have to suffer because of poor decisions and the ignorance that led to sin and difficulty in growing up. Having the truth, knowing the laws that are MEANT to keep us happy, is a privilege and when we forget that, there is indeed farther to fall.

    In my patriarchal blessing it says that I’m entitled to all the blessings of Abraham, so I’ve always been very interested in that and studied a fair amount on what that does mean. As a parent, I have had children who have always just done as the law corrals. They have had lives of success and joy and relatively little trials. I have other children who have always been pushing at any gate set, longed to run wild and the briars and bogs have been plentiful.

    Do I love my more obedient progeny better? Of course not, do they receive more blessings? Probably. They are open to them, we go to conference together, temple dedications, temple sessions. They have us all around them in a circle of support and love and inspiration while those who make other choices automatically miss out on those blessings of their own choice

    While that isn’t a perfect analogy, (Jews don’t really choose to be Jewish, nor did those born with dark skin choose that {unless we get into pre-mortal choices, but let’s not here}) it does share my idea that God doesn’t exactly play favourites, but he definitely does have more blessings available for those who choose to obey the laws they are given within their own circumstances. Just as I don’t treat all of my children exactly alike, neither does the Divine. I treat them according to their own personalities and choices. (EG: Trust isn’t the same as Love) just as Becca just said.


  7. jendoop says:

    Great comments!

    In my search for answers it struck me simply and satisfyingly that God teaches by example, so what way would he teach us about families if not through his interactions with a specific people or “family” of his own? The children of Abraham are his family, but we are all children of God. That lineage has a different designation, even of peculiarity, set apart, because he wants us to see his example in a family setting – discipline, praise, love, the whole diverse experience of familial relationships. It may not make sense to others and I don’t have tons of doctrinal quotes to back it up, but in my heart that answer is fulfillment and leads me to listen more closely when a talk or lesson about God’s family is presented. He is my example.

  8. Angie says:

    I think part of being able to answer the question lies in having the right ruler by which to measure and we don’t entirely. We have pieces of it–the covenants and ordinances pieces that Bonnie mentions–but we don’t have the entire ruler, yet, and we likely won’t gather all the pieces in this life.

    Something I’ve bene thinking about a lot for the past few months is the idea of being trustworthy. We know that God is imminently trustworthy. We have His promises and can see throughout human history and our own how He really always does what He says He will. But am I? My thoughts began with a convert baptism talk where the speaker talked about the process of making and keeping covenants in our lives helps us to become trustworthy to God. My thoughts continued with Clay Christensen’s book where he discusses how things may be asked of us, not necessarily for the expressed outcome but for us to prove to God that He can trust us. I think those of God’s children who frequently prove their trustworthiness may seem to be on His favorites list, but it is really that they are on His go-to list and because they go and do when asked, they receive the attendant blessings.

  9. Paul says:

    A fascinating question. In the case of the Old Testament, it is no surprise that the teller of the story tells a story about the chosen people of which he is a part. Those books of Moses deliver a pattern of covenants and worship that bind the Children of Israel to God and God to them. It is their story.

    I participate in that story by covenant. I do not know if I am a literal son of Ephraim or an adopted one because of my convert baptism, but my patriarchal blessing makes clear that I am a “true” son, which I have taken to mean as long as I stay true to the covenant with binds me to the children of Isreal and to God.

    I agree with Bonnie’s suggestion that the blessings of the priesthood are available to those who receive the ordinances thereof (not just, or more especially for, those who perform them). Those blessings are also blessings of covenant. It is the covenant that God made with Abraham that extends to me as I receive those priesthood ordinances.

  10. Mike Walton says:

    I am amazed at how you are willing to tackle the hard questions Jen. Many of the faithful look at these questions and stop thinking about them lest they damage or even destroy their faith. Understanding the character of God in light of these questions is one of the big things that lead me to become an atheist. I could find neither logic nor consistency in the way his character was described to me in church, the way he was said to have behaved in the scriptures, nor the way he seemed to behave (or more so to not behave) in my life and the lives of people around me. And yet, intelligent people like yourself still seem to have a real relationship with God while asking these tough questions. You amaze me. In a good way. 🙂 To me the Old Testament is a document of the Jewish people, meant for Jews. The New Testament is an attempt to make that God available to everyone, Mostly through the efforts of Paul. The Book of Mormon is an an attempt to plug the many plot holes of those older stories. And yet, Modern Mormonism too has “problems”. The Priesthood being with held from blacks is a big one. As well as Church leaders speaking out against the civil rights movement. Not easily answered are they. They deserve answers, good ones. Good for you for looking for those answers. They matter.

    • MSKeller says:

      Thanks Mike, for reading, for commenting and for really seeing that we are people trying to sort things out to the best of our abilities. Sometimes with faith, and sometimes with logic (based on our own knowledge and experience) and sometimes based on just being willing to set things aside for the time being until we or the world learns more.


  11. Michelle says:

    I think our language and, as Angie points out, our ‘rulers’ are inadequate. But two things come to mind.

    Alma 13,

    And this article:

  12. Liz C says:

    A couple of things, fairly unrelated to one another (possibly), jump to my mind:

    First, I wonder if we maybe have hold of the wrong end of the stick regarding the Priesthood extension to black men in 1978. Was it God delaying things, or the unrighteousness and immaturity of the Church? Because everything I have studied makes me feel more and more that is was an “unrighteous church body” issue, rather than a “God likes pale people better” issue. God isn’t a “respecter” of persons, but boy, His kids sure can be! Learning to be kind and embracing all our siblings through Christ is hard, but it’s not God making it hard; it’s us.

    Second, I want to glom onto the idea of “true”–a “true” friend is loyal to us. A “true” line is corrected and smoothed. A “true” copy is faithful to the original in every detail. That crux of loyal, corrected, faithful is what I see when I hear someone say “I know this is the true church”… not that our church has a corner on the market for Truth, but that we are a disciple-becoming and gospel-seeking body, eager to be described *by God* as “true” to Him. Becoming more and more true to Him, we see His hand in our lives more prominently. Seeing Him present in everything, and see the myriad ways we are blessed, wouldn’t we necessarily feel ourselves “the favorite?” I know if you ask my siblings, we’re *each* the “favorite child”… being one doesn’t exclude others from being adopted into the same blessings and responsibilities.

  13. Ray says:

    I think we blame God for a lot of things that are our fault, speaking collectively of his children. I also think we praise God for our special, chosen status a lot and, in doing so, really are praising ourselves for our perceived righteousness – generally with little regard for the undertones and unspoken messages regarding “others” inherent in our self-glorification.

    I don’t think God “favors” people so much as people favor people (including themselves) in the name of God – when, in practical terms, doing so allows them (us) to avoid having to do the dunging, pruning, digging, sharing, consecrating, loving, etc. that is required to build Zion.

    Finally, I think the Priesthood ban is a perfect example of that principle, but this isn’t the thread for that, I’m sure. I’ve written about it on my own blog and compiled quotes from modern apostles about it. Maybe I will combine them into a post for this forum in the future – or post them as a two-part series.

  14. Becky L. Rose says:

    The only “economy” to God is the economy of righteousness; AKA commandment keeping. One can except the gospel and be adopted into the house of Israel.

  15. Michelle says:

    We recently had a ‘question’ at Mormon Women about past statements regarding race, etc. I was drawn to look up Elder McConkie’s quote about ‘forget all that we have said.’ And the talk where he said it, I think, has some great insights in terms of this question. The message I get is ‘it’s all about timing, an unfolding…that God wants all of His children to have equal opportunity in eternity, but in terms of His work here on earth, it unfolds in His time and way, with an ‘order’ if you will in terms of what nations and peoples get the gospel and when.’

    That said, I think if we were to think He was playing favorites with who gets the gospel in life and who doesn’t, we’d also have to think He’s playing favorites with the varying lengths and quality of life that we have.

    To me, Christ is the answer. His Atonement makes everything perfectly just and equal. All will have the chance to accept or reject His gospel, and every knee will bow and acknowledge that truth at some point. All will have the opportunity to stand before Him.

    Whenever the issue of equality comes up, whatever its form, I think we have to go back to Christ or our answers will always be insufficient.

    • MSKeller says:

      “Whenever the issue of equality comes up, whatever its form, I think we have to go back to Christ or our answers will always be insufficient.” – Well said. I like that Michelle, “An Unfolding”. Well-said.


  16. Jeffrey T. says:

    I think that everyone—that is everyone—will have an equal chance at salvation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has had, or will have, an opportunity to partake of the fruits of the Abrahamic covenant in this life. God is no respecter of persons, but it’s clear that he has given differential opportunities to hear the gospel, to preach the gospel, and to participate in ordinances of salvation while in mortality.

    Some of these differential opportunities come by way of nature—physical and mental illness, death, disability, geography, etc. Others have, at times and dispensations, come by way of policy. But differential opportunities in mortality does not make God a respecter of persons, so long as, at some point between birth and final judgment, everyone receives those opportunities.

    As far as the chosen people of Israel, I believe that the Gospel is more than just a set of ordinances and covenants. It’s a worldview, with a set of traditions, stories about the beginning and the end of the world, understandings about what constitutes moral conduct, and a narrative of how to relate to previous and upcoming generations. Such a worldview and way of life cannot be taught in school, and, in an age without the abundance of the written word that we have today, it could rarely be completely learned by convert (without some dilution).

    In ancient times, family was the primary means of pass on a set of traditions such as were necessary for a sturdy understanding of God and His word, and so there was often great concern about blending cultures. Blending cultures has, in some dispensations, triggered apostasy (and, in others, a shift in the way the word of God was understood). And so, to keep the word of God pure, there was often a kind of exclusionary attitude against outsiders.

  17. Great description, Jeff, especially the point that “no respecter of persons” applies mainly to the final Judgment, not all the obviously unequal things that happen before it. We should not confuse the scriptural concept with the modern Western notion of “egalitarian,” which is usually seen as treating all people the same way, regardless of gender, race, etc. It’s a fabulous and worthy goal for societies to aim for, but it is not quite how things work in a mortal sphere God designed specifically for testing. Hence, many unegalitarian things happen both by nature and in some cases even institutionally.

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