Savior and Destroyer

October 25, 2004 | 23 comments
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William Blake wrote two poems that are usually studied together. These two poems, titled “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” explore the idea that as the Lord God created these animals, He isolated his own (seemingly contradictory) characteristics of meekness and ferocity and imbued each of these creatures with one of them. William Blake is inviting us to ponder how the isolated characteristics of a lamb and a tiger can share the same space in the heart of divinity. I only mention these poems in order to recognize that the issues and questions I’m raising and discussing have been pondered since a long time ago by far greater minds. And perhaps by some rather silly ones as well.

On my own for some time I have struggled to reconcile personal questions regarding the Mormon teaching that Jehovah (the God of the Old Testament) and Jesus Christ are one and the same being. The God of the Old Testament appeared at times to be quite brutal in His commands and I wasn’t entirely sure how to square this personality with the gentle New Testament Jesus who taught the Sermon of the Mount. How could the same being who instructed his disciples to “love one another” also have destroyed entire cities or commanded his chosen people to “utterly destroy” a particular enemy, even to kill every man, woman and child?

But recently during a Gospel Doctrine lesson it occurred to me that the Book of Mormon unites the Old Testament Jehovah and the New Testament Jesus with a directness and clarity that can be quite terrifying if one really thinks about it. This unity appears in the form of a resurrected Jesus who wreaks havoc on many Nephites and Lamanite cities in a very short specific period of time:

And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land. (3 Nephi 8:19)

Shock and awe indeed. In a period of three hours, using the elements (earth, wind, fire, water) Jesus Christ singlehandedly conquered the Nephites and the Lamanites and destroyed the wicked living among them. From the preceding chapters we know that these destructions weren’t merely the cruel acts of a whimsical God but rather just punishments that fell upon societies thoroughly ridden with corruption and organized crime (referred to in the Book of Mormon as “secret combinations”).

And many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations. (3 Nephi 9:12)

Lest there be any doubt as to whether this was simply a coincidental and natural series of cataclysms, a divine voice from heaven speaks to the survivors and provides commentary on what has happened to them. 3 Nephi Chapter 9 is striking because the divine broadcaster follows a specific pattern – naming off a long list of cities, stating how each city was destroyed, often adding “the inhabitants thereof” were destroyed as well, and utilizing the personal pronoun “I” to take responsibility for what has happened:

Behold the great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof. (3 Nephi 9:3)

And after this the divine voice continues the deadly tally, following the same pattern. The destroyed cities (and their inhabitants) listed include Moroni, Moronihah, Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad and Kishkumen. After providing this long list of destroyed cities and peoples, lest there be any doubt as to who has wreaked this havoc, the voice says (in verse 15):

Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.

What is remarkable is that after this, in the succeeding chapters, Jesus Christ descends from heaven and teaches the Sermon on the Mount (and other great things) to the survivors in the land. He has not changed. His spirit and body are united in the same perfect resurrected glory that He possessed when He was causing these destructions and when He was speaking to them from heaven. In fact it appears He has been the same ever since the very beginning. Suddenly it is obvious that even during his mortal sojourn he condemned wicked cities and prophesied of the ultimate dread judgments that would fall upon them.

After reading these chapters I am left to ponder the breadth of Jesus’s personality and capabilities — He is capable of such great love and tenderness but also (when it is merited) of sweeping judgment and devastation. Sometimes I think when we emphasize that Jesus cares to such a degree that he knows each and every one of us, we fail to recognize that he has such a wide array of responses available to Him.

So I simply say that we should remember that Jesus’s personal ministry (as a resurrected being) in the Americas begins earlier than 3 Nephi 11. If we don’t start earlier as we consider Jesus’s Book of Mormon ministry, we are missing crucial aspects of the Savior’s personality. The Lamb and The Lion (er, Tyger) already lie down together — in the heart of Our Lord and Master.

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23 Responses to Savior and Destroyer

  1. Erica on October 25, 2004 at 12:29 pm

    Dan-

    After studying the Old Testament in Jerusalem, I had a hard time reconcilling the Lord of the OT and the Jesus of the NT and BOM. We too often ignore or gloss over the actions of the Lord in the OT because it just does not match up with the picture we have of a loving and ever-forgiving Jesus.

    I came to the conclusions that the “breadth of Jesus’s personality and capabilities,” as you stated it, graphically depict justice and mercy. We can easily see the consequences of our actions, whether good or bad. It made me realize that despite the fact that Jesus Christ is a merciful god, when we deserve His justice, we will get it.

    And I was so pleased to see you as a guest blogger. You probably don’t remember me from the Arabic program in Jerusalem, but I’m sure you remember my husband, David. I’d like to see some Middle East posts from you too.

  2. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Erica and Dave! Good to see you and thanks for the kind words!

    I’ll definitely seek to answer these requests for a Middle East thoughts post. Honestly, it’s a worthy challenge because it’s such a controversial contemporary issue. There’s something I wanted to write about that is already slightly related … but it would require a tiny bit of refreshing on some reading I did a long time ago about the lives and perspectives of Israeli prime ministers. In the meantime perhaps I can come up with a sort of “this was my experience while I was over there” type post.

  3. Jack on October 25, 2004 at 12:47 pm

    I think too, that we have to remember that these kinds of judgements follow an everlasting expression of patience. The Lamb can be the dominant expression of His character for periods of time ranging into centuries before the devastating expressions of the Lion are unleashed for a few hours.

  4. Jack on October 25, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Oh! I didn’t realize that the guest blogger was danithew. The contraction now becomes obvious. Kewl!

    Great post. I look forward to more of your thoughts.

  5. Rob on October 25, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    Danithew–nice post. How do you now see any attempts to use Jesus as a model for dealing with issues of war and peace? In reading your post, I was thinking that maybe we are justified in using violence–but only when we have a perfect knowledge and enough faith to wage war on the wicked through the use of earthquakes and weather. Since we fall short of those standards as mortals, we’re given the gospel of peace. Maybe we are denied the way of the tiger in mortality?

  6. J. Stapley on October 25, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    I had several friends who where looking into the Church in France, who had big hang-ups with the Christ of the Doctrine and Covenants. This, I believe, is where the duality is most evident:

    “LISTEN to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I AM, whose arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins… For the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth… And their tongues shall be stayed that they shall not utter against me; and their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets� DC 29

    I particularly found the eyes falling out of the sockets rather descriptive. The apocalyptic Christ is, at once, triumphant and terrible. Is it possible that, within certain contexts, the Lord assumes one role over the other for effect? i.e., is it more important for our long term salvation to think of the second coming as an awful event as apposed to the Jesus that weeps upon blessing the children?

  7. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    Rob,

    I have used 3 Nephi chapters 8 and 9 to argue that Jesus cannot be described as a pacifist or used as an example of pacifism. Then again, he has whole claim to vengeance (“vengeance is mine saith the Lord”) and we are commanded to forgive all … though I have a hard time with certain genocidal types — see Baron of Deseret’s blog and my long-winded bloodthirsty arguments against forgiving Hitler.

    It gets tricky and honestly your question leads well into a post I want to write that deals with the question of how to approach the scriptures — whether we have a responsibility to apply a broad scriptural reading to questions like this (or perhaps to any question).

  8. Frank McIntyre on October 25, 2004 at 1:28 pm

    In Helaman, Nephi uses a famine to bring the people to repentance. So in that case the Lord entrusted his destructive power over weather into the hands of a mortal. He gave similar power and authority over life and death to Enoch, Moses, the earlier Nephi, and the Israelites coming into the land of Canaan. More broadly, perhaps the bestowal of the sealing power is inherently this power and authority to destroy.

  9. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    J. Stapley,

    I think the trick is that we have to keep both or all Jesus’s characteristics (that we know about) in mind at the same time. Jesus who blesses and weeps over children is the same Jesus who destroys wicked abominable cities. Somehow we have to stretch ourselves and encompass an understanding of how that actually works. To exclude either part of Jesus’s personality is to get only a partial Jesus. And yes the flesh falling from bones and the eyes falling from sockets is pretty darn explicit. Reading that brings to my mind some melting face imagery from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    Frank,

    That passage you refer to is interesting because Nephi finds it preferable that people should die by famine than by the sword. After all, why have their sins compounded by killing each other? This has left me to ponder the issue of whether or not it’s better that natural disasters happen than war. I was tempted to think that natural disasters are often as or more devastating than war — though the machines and bombs we have these days make it more difficult to answer that question. If a city is hit by a nuclear missile or struck by an earthquake, which is worse? Depends I suppose on the missle and depends on what number on the Richter scale we are looking at.

    I’ve tried to figure out what to compare Jesus’s destruction of Nephite cities to … but I’m really not sure. It appears to have been very comprehensive and a combination of many natural disasters all at once. And then there was the lasting darkness that couldn’t be pierced by any light. The survivors must have been traumatized in the extreme.

  10. Janey on October 25, 2004 at 1:44 pm

    I did a speed read through the OT once. The effect was very different than reading it carefully, or reading only specific stories and verses. The Jehovah of the OT does extend mercy and forgiveness again and again and again, and the Israelites ignore him. This goes on for quite a while before the promised destruction actually happens.

    Even in the OT, Jehovah is eternally merciful when dealing with faithful individuals who hurt, such as the widow of Zarephath. When God is working one on one with someone in need, he is merciful, whether it is OT or NT. I think the reason the Lord of the NT typically appears more merciful than in the OT is because he mainly deals with individuals in the NT, while in the OT he mainly deals with the entire civilization.

    When a civilization is wicked, the God of the OT and NT is going to condemn it harshly. When a faithful individual wants to repent or humbly ask for help, the God of the OT and NT will leap to her aid.

  11. J. Stapley on October 25, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    danithew:

    I agree that we should have the whole Christ in mind regardless of context. This fits with my own pet theosophy. But why then doesn’t He say: “The eyes will fall out of their sockets, but then I will comfort and bless everybody”. If the Lord is not ambivalent why is the text?

  12. Bryce I on October 25, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    I’m normally a really nice, easy-going guy who avoids conflict and rarely gets mad. However, due to certain circumstances in my home, I’ve had to do most of the work taking care of the kids in the evenings, getting them fed and ready for bed. I’ve found that out of necessity I’ve had to adopt a much harsher tone with my kids in order to teach them that there are consequences when they don’t fulfill their responsibilities. It’s not fun, and I’m not great at it, but they’ve been learning.

    The experience has given me some insight into what the Lord might feel when he chastizes us. Of course, going to bed early or missing dessert isn’t anything like earthquakes and famine, but I’m trying to learn what I can from the experiences I’ve been given.

  13. Rob on October 25, 2004 at 2:26 pm

    Maybe we can’t describe the immortal Jesus as a pacifist, but maybe we can describe the mortal Jesus as such? And thanks for the reminding us that vengeance is not a legitimate Christian response to violence. Most of us still struggle with turning the other cheek.

  14. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    LOL.

    Bryce, for some reason I’m imagining a voice from heaven saying: “And the following cities have had dessert canceled for a month, for they have transgressed my law and stayed up past their bedtimes.”

    I suppose one possible application in child-care is that you could take away the night-lights for three days.

  15. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Rob, I think if you read my post closely, you’ll see the position I’m taking is that even during mortality, Jesus was willing (if necessary) to condemn an especially sinful city or town. Maybe he wasn’t ravaging the city physically in some manner at that specific time — but being who He is, a condemnatory or damning prophecy is a pretty serious matter.

  16. Rob on October 25, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    But there is a big difference between condemning and razing to the ground. The LDS church is condemned by the Lord in the D&C (for not taking the BoM seriously) and the prophets condemn our actions all the time. Maybe we’ll all be destroyed by the Lord for this in the future. However, any violent enforcement of such condemnations is not within our perview as mortals–though maybe Pres. Hinckley is fasting for natural disasters to hit us before our condemnation is made sure and us Gentiles lose the gospel (as Christ prophesied in 3 Nephi).

    At any rate, there’s a million miles between condemning a society, city, or individuals, and killing them. I can support a president or prophet who condemns acts of violence. It’s much harder to use the scriptures to justify taking it upon ourselves to enact vengeance upon our enemies in clear contradiction of the Lord’s teachings. I’m sticking with renouncing war, and proclaiming peace. At least until I’m capable of raising the dead, walking on water, and ascending to heaven at will. Maybe then I’ll have a different perspective and different mandate, but until then, the Lord’s teachings on avoiding violence are crystal clear.

  17. Rosalynde Welch on October 25, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    Hey Bryce, what are the circumstances that require you to take over evening duty with the kids–and how can I replicate them in my home?

    (Oh wait, my husband’s on call every third night, so scratch that. And if he weren’t on call so often, I wouldn’t have nearly as much time to waste here, so scratch it again. I still want to know the circumstances, though.)

  18. Bryce I on October 25, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Rosalynde–

    Well, if the certain circumstances were such that I didn’t feel the need to refer to them with an awkward phrase that skirted the matter, I would probably have mentioned them before. I may elaborate later.

    I’ve probably said too much already. :)

    (Please don’t misread this and apologize — I’m not taking offense. Just not answering the question right now.)

  19. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Rob, let me be more specific and give a scriptural quote that I referred to in the original post. Jesus spoke to specific cities and towns and judged them to be more wicked than cities and towns that had been destroyed (razed). And their ultimate fate was to be worse off than those cities that had been destroyed. You may want to focus particularly on verse 24, because it mentions everyone’s favorite destroyed city: Sodom.

    Matthew 11:20-24
    20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:
    21 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
    22 But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
    23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
    24 But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

    Jesus is saying that the miracles and works he did were so great, that if he had done them in a place like Sodom, the people there would have repented … but in many places where he went, in fact the people who observed these miracles and great works chose to ignore or explain these things away — the very signs that marked Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God. And consequently Jesus condemned the people in these places to a worse fate, even worse than the destruction of Sodom.

  20. Rob on October 25, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    Danithew…I’m forgetting why we’re even having this discussion of Jesus condemning the wicked? That doesn’t make him a Tiger in mortality, any more than past LDS condemnations of the USA and states of Illinois and Missouri for driving out the Saints. Calling on God to fight your battles is one thing. Killing people for your cause is another. In mortality, we are counseled to do the former, while counseled against the latter. That’s all I’m saying.

  21. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Rob, perhaps I need to also say that overall this post is not about human beings having the right to enact violence and war. It’s simply about the nature of Jesus. Jesus of course is unique and he has powers and rights that puny sinful mortals (such as ourselves) don’t have. I haven’t tried at all to suggest that we can use Jesus’s actions (violent or not) to justify engaging in wars. It would require quite a bit of hubris for any person to argue that he has the right to destroy a city and kill all its inhabitants because Jesus did something similar in 3 Nephi chapters 8 and 9.

    What I have suggested is that these scriptural records should create a serious problem for anyone attempting to describe Jesus as a pacifist.

  22. David on October 25, 2004 at 8:05 pm

    Danithew,

    I have only read the Qur’an once (in English), about 10 years ago. My recollection was a sense that, in that scripture, Allah was similarly portrayed as being merciful, yet capable of carrying out, shall we say, expressive justice. Do you think our Book of Mormon portrays Jesus/Yahweh is the same dual light? In what way would our conception of Yahweh (or Eloheim) differ from the Islamic conception of Allah (in terms of warlike-ness or pacificism)? Does it make a difference to read to Qur’an in Arabic rather than English?

  23. danithew on October 25, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    David, a lot could be written to answer the questions you are asking — far more than I could ever learn and know. But I’ll answer from what I understand in brief.

    The Qur’an certainly portrays Allah as the most compassionate and merciful Being. At the same time, the punishments in the hell that the Qur’an describes are tortures that combine Allah’s unique capability to create and destroy. For example there are some verses that describe how some who are in hell will be forced to wear coats made from lava, that their skins will be burnt until they are black and crisp, and then their skins will be renewed so that they can undergo the same tortuous process all over again:

    Quran 4:56
    And those who disbelieve Our revelations shall be cast into Hell; and when their skin is burnt up and singed, We shall give them a new coat that they may go on tasting the agony of punishment, for God is all-mighty and all-wise.

    Certainly it is possible to get much more out of the Qur’an in Arabic than in English. This is true because all scriptural books are best understood in their original languages but also because the Islamic religion emphasizes that only the Arabic Qur’an is authentic and that translations are inferior.

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