By Joshua Johanson
San Jose, California, USA
The following piece was initially presented as a Sacrament Meeting talk in Joshua’s singles ward. In this talk, Joshua chose to talk about his experience with same-gender attraction and the things he has learned about God’s love through that experience.
One of my favorite prophets was Enoch. This guy started off hated by men and slow of speech, but out of a people of which it was said were evil continually, and against whom the fierce anger of the Lord was kindled, he was able to create a Zion so righteous that it was brought up into God’s bosom.
After he built Zion, Enoch was able to have one of the most intimate conversations with God ever recorded. He saw a vision of the world and the wickedness thereof. He also got a unique view of what God means when he says about a people:
“And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them” (Moses 7:34).
As God was showing the wickedness of the world, Enoch looked over, and saw God weep. He was really confused. These were people against whom the wrath of the Lord was kindled. He asked “How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?” Again he says “How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” He recounts the majesty of God and all his creations, about how he had just taken a whole city of righteousness into his bosom. Enoch must really have been confused, because he asks a third time “how is it thou canst weep?”
God explained that he gave them agency, and taught them the Celestial law, but they rejected him, and now they were about to be destroyed. He sums up by saying:
“Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them. And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment; Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands” (Moses 7:37-40).
These were the most wicked people the world has ever known, and God’s anger was kindled against them, and yet He wept for them. He had just gained a whole city of righteous followers. Why would care about these people with whom his fierce anger was kindled? Why? Because He loved them, and wants to be with them. Even for those who willfully rebelled against him, he wept over their suffering. Do you understand how great their worth must be if the God of the universe weeps over them? Do you understand your worth? If God weeps for their suffering, how do you think he feels when you suffer, or I suffer? I know God loves us, and that we are worth more to him than we could ever possible imagine. He wants us to be with Him, and he will weep if we aren’t.
Even though God weeps for our suffering, he still allows us to go through trials. He allows us to suffer, even if we did nothing to deserve it. Let me relate an experience I had that helped me better understand how God feels:
I volunteered as a translator at a health clinic where they were taking blood samples to test for iron deficiency. Lots of kids went through and acted to various degrees of bravery. Some acted like nothing happened, while some screamed bloody murder.
One toddler came in, a very happy little guy, and innocently gave his hand to the nurse. Once he discovered that the nurse wanted to prick his finger with something pointy, he let out a yelp and drew back his hand in horror. He had the most betrayed look in his eyes. His eyes grew big, questioning “Mom, if you love me, why did you get me into this mess.” The mom comforted her son and coaxed him to give his finger to the nurse. The little boy mustered up all of his courage and gave his hand to the nurse. Tears swelled up in his eyes when the nurse tested his blood, but he didn’t make a sound, just cradling in his mom’s bosom. I noticed that his mother’s eyes teared up as well. I wondered who this experience was harder for, the son or the mother.
The Lord told Joseph Smith in Carthage jail, “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
Experience. Stinking experience. It seems like a high price to pay for experience, but I know it shall be for my good, and I need to pass through tribulations in order to be exalted, which I want more than anything else in the world. Still it is hard for me to go through. I imagine it must be hard for God to see me go through, but there is something God wants more than my temporal happiness. He wants me to live with him again. He wants my soul. Do you realize how great the worth of your soul is in the sight of God? He was willing to literally suffer with us through hell so he may bring our souls back to live with him again.
But before we can get through our tribulations, before they can be consecrated for our good, we need to let the Lord in to suffer with us. We need to let him carry, not just our sins, but our sorrows, and our tribulations. We need to understand that he wants to helps us, and he wants us to live him again. We need to understand our worth before God. In 1 John 4:19 it says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” We have to understand his love first. The little boy would not go to the nurse at first. It wasn’t until he felt the love his mother had for him that he was able to allow the nurse to prick his finger. We need to understand how great our worth is in the Lord’s sight before we can allow him to help us.
Although the hardships we endure may at first make it harder to recognize our worth, I think tackling it with faith in Christ helps us realize that our worth is great even though we have trials. I look at people who are suffering from chronic disease. Some have became bitter and angry at God, but others have developed an immense spirituality and trust in the Lord. This is definitely true of me and what I have gone through in my life. Through my struggles with same gender attraction, the Lord has taught me how great his love for me really is, and how through coming to him and using the atonement I can overcome anything. I learned his love really is all-encompassing, and he really loves all of me.
I didn’t always have that view. At first, I was horribly ashamed of my struggle, and wanted to hide it from the Lord. I was like the little boy that screamed when he was pricked, and questioned if his mother still loved him. I knew God loved me, but I didn’t think he loved that part of me. I separated myself into the good Josh that God loved, and the other Josh that dealt with this struggle. For years I would just beat myself up over it, thinking that if I could just get rid of that other Josh, then God would love me. I thought if I just made the good Josh good enough, it would make up for my attractions. I withdrew from others, thinking something was wrong with me, and they wouldn’t accept me unless I was able to get rid of that part of me. I swung into depression thinking I would always be alone.
But the fact of the matter is that the love of God is more powerful than that. In Romans 8:35-39, it states, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How could I think that this could separate me from the love of God? God’s love is more powerful than that. I realized that God loved all of me and that he allowed me to have this, not to punish me, because it has to be hard for Him too, but for my own good. He is over everything, and knows what we can handle. He gave us our tribulations to make us stronger. Paul said we should “glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:3-5).
I then went and talked to my bishop at the time. He helped me understand my worth before God. I realized that hardships were not something we got because we were bad or worthless, but because God trusted us with them. Once I understood my worth before God and trust how He was running my life, I was able to hand them over to him. No longer was I the little boy that feared at the sight of a needle and questioned his mother’s love, but the one that bravely gave his finger to be tested while holding on tightly to his mother.
As I understood my worth before God, I began to have more confidence in myself. I lifted up my head, and interacted more with others. Rather than keeping all of my burdens to myself, I began sharing what I was going through. As I saw that they accepted me for who I was, regardless of what struggles I might have, I began to accept myself. I was able to date with more hope and expectation, and now look forward with confidence to the day that I will be sealed to my wife in the temple and raise a righteous family to the Lord. As I recognized my worth before God, I also recognized the worth of my brothers and sisters. I became less judgmental, less critical, and more loving of them through their faults and weaknesses because I understood God still loved me.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that God’s love is deep. Nothing in the world can compare to it. It is more powerful than anything you might encounter in your lives. If you understand how deeply God loves you, and how great your worth is, you can do anything.
If you do not understand your worth before God, go talk to the bishop. You don’t have to be sinning to talk to him. He frequently talks to many people who are struggling with financial, relationship, emotional, identity and physical trials. He wants you to understand your worth. He has been a constant help to me, refusing to let me get down on myself. He has helped me to open up, and gave me the courage and permission to share my experience with you today. He has helped me understand my worth. He can do it for you.
Last October, Elder Oaks said, “Many carry heavy burdens. Some have lost a loved one to death or care for one who is disabled. Some have been wounded by divorce. Others yearn for an eternal marriage. Some are caught in the grip of addictive substances or practices like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or pornography. Others have crippling physical or mental impairments. Some are challenged by same-gender attraction. Some have terrible feelings of depression or inadequacy. In one way or another, many are heavy laden. To each of us our Savior gives this loving invitation: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” And oh, does he give us rest.
Jesus has seen it all. We always talk about how Christ suffered for our sins, but we often forget that he suffered for every type of infirmity. Alma 7:11 tells us that “he went forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,” not just sins. The next verse reads that “he [took] upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, and that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
If any of you are struggling with anything, whether a struggle, or even a sin, please understand that your worth is great in the sight of God. He wants you. Yeah, he wants you to be happy, to be comfortable and normal, but more importantly, he wants your soul. And he will do anything, even put you through hell, in order to be with you forever.
Come unto Christ. Lay your burdens on the Lord and He will heal you. Realize your worth. He loves you, and wants to be with you. Your worth is great is in his sight. He loves you so much, and there is nothing that can separate you from his love. If you come to Him, he will cry tears of happiness, as the father of the prodigal son did. If you don’t, he will weep, yea, even the Great God of the Universe will weep over your loss, as he did for the people in the time of Enoch.
I testify that God loves each and every one of you, more than you could ever possibly understand.