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 ceaseâ€”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 hoursâ€”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 â€“ 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.