“An Instrument in God’s Hands,” a Violin, and Aristotle
Today in Relief Society (if you don’t know what that is, it is a large organization of women within the Mormon church…if you want to learn more about it, mormon.org might be a good place to do some research into it), the teacher gave an object lesson on being “an instrument in the hands of God” (a phrase Mormons, and I’m sure other Christians as well, use to refer to us as God’s tools). She used a violin as an example, since she goes to a violin-making school. She talked about the violin-maker being like God, and we, His children, are the violins. God is to make us into what He wants us to become, by designing us and tuning us.
As I sat listening, I asked myself, “Why is she using a violin to symbolize us? If we are like the violin, does that mean we have no free will but are controlled by God? A violin cannot tune itself…if we are like the violin, we cannot tune ourselves to God.” What I knew about Aristotle also popped into my head. His theory that everything was working towards its own eudaimonia, the thing it was meant to become (e.g., an acorn was meant to be an oak tree; the unique thing about humans was their capacity for reasoning, so Aristotle felt that the highest level of happiness for us was philosophical inquiry and wisdom). But not everything was going to have the full amount of eudaimonia it was meant to have. Likewise, not every violin in progress was going to become a functional violin. Sometimes they can get stolen or destroyed before they are finished. Sometimes the violin maker gives up on it because it has too many blemishes.
If it is so that we are merely violins that God is in the process of creating, what would that say about us? Do we have free will in this context? It sure doesn’t seem like it. One woman in Relief Society did say, however, that we tune ourselves to God when we pray and read the scriptures. But then again…a violin doesn’t tune itself. The musician has to do it for it. So perhaps there is no free will if we allow that we are like violins and God like the violin-maker. He does everything for us. A year ago, I would have had absolutely no problem with this analogy. But today, I did. I have dealt with the idea that humans had no free will before, but in the context of my own church and what people say in my ward, it seemed a little more disturbing than before.
And what about the idea of the violin maker giving up on a violin he is making? Violin makers do do that sometimes. But if we allow that God is the violin maker and we the violins in progress, would He give up on designing us if we were too broken? I have had my share of being broken (in fact, I am still trying to heal from all the hurt others have caused), so this idea is not very attractive especially for someone that has been hurt, which I’m sure is everyone. Would God give up on me, or you, if we were too broken? How would we know if He did? At the same time, perhaps He is the perfect violin maker. Perhaps He knows that there is potential in each of us and would never stop designing us. Humans are so far from perfect, so they would probably give up on a violin if it was too badly damaged. But perhaps God wouldn’t. Or perhaps He would. Perhaps this is what happens if we die from something other than old age. Perhaps we do not reach a full amount of eudaimonia if we die earlier than when humans were meant to leave.
What do you all think about these ideas?