“I the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them”

During an episode of the popular British Sci-Fi show, Doctor Who, the titular character confronts a woman who has engaged in a series of witch hunts in seventeenth century Britain.  The witch hunter explains her view that she is required to: “Kill the witches, defeat Satan.  As King James has written in his new Bible, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  To this, the Doctor responds: “In the Old Testament.  There’s a twist in the sequel: Love thy neighbour.”

This conversation plays into a standard caricature of the God of the Hebrew Bible being a fierce, punishing God and the God of the New Testament being a loving, compassionate God.  Yet, that view fails to capture the complexity of God’s personality.  When I was teaching Gospel Doctrine a few years back and we were in the Pentateuch, a brother in the ward made a similar contrast to the Doctor, stating that the Law of Moses was all about rules and punishment, while the Christian religion was all about love.  To make his point, he contrasted the general Law of Moses with Jesus’s statement that: “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[1]  Afterwards, he was somewhat taken aback when I asked him: “Do you know what Jesus was quoting when he said that?”  I then explained that Jesus was quoting Moses from the Torah: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” is from Deuteronomy,[2] while “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is from Leviticus.[3]  God isn’t only about love or only about wrath—He embodies both, even in the Hebrew Bible.

This complexity to God’s personality also shows up in the revelations of Joseph Smith.  When Saints were driven out of Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, and the subsequent military expedition, known as the Camp of Israel (Zion’s Camp), failed to restore them to their homes, the revelations portray God as allowing this to happen because He is being vengeful and angry with the Saints for failures on their part.  For example, in a December 1833 revelation addressing the expulsion from Zion (Section 101), the Lord states that:

I the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them wherewith they have been afflicted in consequence of their transgressions. … Behold I say unto you there were jar[r]ings and contentions envyings and strifes and lustful and covetous desires among them Therefore by these things they poluted their inheritances they were also slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God Therefore the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers to answer them in the day of their trouble.[4]

While the Lord indicates that this is done to chasten and purify the Saints, it still demonstrates anger and punishment as part of His mode of operation.

When laying plans to restore them to their lands the following February, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to “say unto the strength of my house, my young men, & the middle aged, Gather ye together unto the land of Zion … & let all the churches send up wise men with their moneys & purchase lands,” telling them to “avenge me of mine enemies.”[5]  The text expresses that the Lord wanted “the number of five hundred of the strength of my house,” though made provisions for lesser numbers because “men do not always do my will.”[6]  In the end, they were only able to gather around 230 people to march to Missouri.  When they proved unable to achieve their objective of returning the Saints to their land and homes in Missouri, the 22 June 1834 revelation that told the Camp to disband (Section 105) blamed the failure on the Saints in the eastern United States for not living up to the earlier command:

Were it not for the transgression of my people … [the Lord’s afflicted people] might have been redeemed even now; but behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I require at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil and do not impart of their substanc[e] as becometh saints. … I speak concerning the church abroad, there are many who will say where is their god, Behold, he will deliver in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our monies.[7]

This was an indictment of the Saints further east for not providing sufficient manpower and funding to allow for a successful expedition.

This punishing and angry Lord seems to be in line with how Joseph Smith viewed God at times.  When the Camp of Israel was told that the Lord wanted them to “wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion, For behold I do not require at their hands, to fight the battles of Zion,”[8] the revelatory about-face was not universally well-received and led to some bickering in camp.  Even before then, however, there had been some contention, which led Smith to proclaim that: “in consequence of  the disobedience of some who had been <?un?>willing to listen to my words, but had rebelled, God had decreed that sickness should come, upon them <?camp, and if they did not repent and humble themselves before God?>  they should die like sheep with the rot.”[9]  In late June 1834, before disbanding, the camp was struck by cholera.  Joseph Smith would later recall that: “it was manifest in its most terrific form.  Our ears were saluted with cries and mournings, and lamentations on every hand.”  Any efforts to ease the disease failed, which Smith believed was because “when the Great Jehovah decrees destruction upon any people, <?and> makes known his determination, man must not attempt to stay his hand.”[10]  This was, as Richard Bushman put it, a view of a “harsh and implacable” God who operated by “inflicting punishment on those who failed.”[11]

Given that the above makes clear the Lord’s displeasure towards His own people, one can imagine how He would treat their enemies.  Indeed, in the 22 June 1834 revelation (D&C 105), the Lord proclaims that: “I will fight your battles, behold the destroyer I have already sent forth to destroy and lay waste mine enemies, and not many years hence they shall not be left to pollute mine heritage, to blaspheme my name.”[12]  This understanding of the Lord was probably why Joseph Smith felt comfortable asking the Lord in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer: “May thine anger be kindled and thine indignation fall upon them, that they may be wasted away, both root and branch from under heaven; but in as much as they will repent, thou art gracious and merciful, and will turn away thy wrath, when thou lookest upon the face of thine annointed.”[13] Likewise, during a prayer while in Liberty Jail, the Prophet recalled requesting: “let thine anger be kindle against our enemi[e]s and in the fury of thine hart with thy sword avenge us of our rongs remember thy suffering saint oh our God and thy servants will rejoyce in thy name for ever.”[14]  While this may run contrary to Jesus’s teaching to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”[15] it does align well with Joseph Smith’s view of God as being a harsh and implacable Being, possibly due to influences from his Puritan ancestors.

Elsewhere in the Doctrine and Covenants, we see this view of God even impacting Joseph Smith’s soteriology.  An earlier revelation, received 7 March 1831 (D&C 45) portrays Jesus the Christ as saying:

listen to him who is the advocate with the Father who is pleading your case before him saying Father behold the sufferings & death of him who did no sin in whom thou wast well pleased Behold the Blood of thy son which was shed the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified wherefore Father spare these my Brethren that Believe on my name that they may come unto me And have everlasting life[16]

While this is a beautiful image of Jesus caring for the Saints and working for eternal life, the underlying portrayal of God as someone who needs to be convinced to spare humans from destruction feels like it contains echoes of Jonathan Edwards’s portrayal of God in his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon.  As Edwards put it:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours.
You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince, and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.[17]

Here again, we see a harsh and implacable God standing in judgement, similar to the portrayal of Him as being someone whose wrath and punishment comes down on Saints and sinners alike for their failures.

Of course, all this being said, focusing solely on the portions of Joseph Smith’s revelations that I’ve discussed above can create the same caricature as the false dichotomy of Jehovah being all about wrath and laws in the Old Testament and love and forgiveness in the New Testament that I opened with.  After all, the revelations also speak of how “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,”[18] that He wants to “incircle thee in the arms of my love,”[19] that He “delight[s] to bless with the greatest of blessings,”[20] and how the Saints will be able to “mention the loveing kindness of their Lord & all that he hath bestowed upon them according to his goodness & according to his loving kindness forever & ever … & in his love & in his pity he redeemed them & did bear them & did carry them all.”[21]  There is no twist in the sequel necessary to learn that God embodies both wrath and love in the revelations of Joseph Smith.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 22:36-40, KJV.

[2] Deuteronomy 6:5, KJV.

[3] Leviticus 19:18, KJV.

[4] “Revelation, 16–17 December 1833 [D&C 101],” p. 73, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-16-17-december-1833-dc-101/1

[5] “Revelation, 24 February 1834 [D&C 103],” p. [13], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-24-february-1834-dc-103/7

[6] “Revelation, 24 February 1834 [D&C 103],” p. [15], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-24-february-1834-dc-103/9

[7] “Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105],” p. 199, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-june-1834-dc-105/1

[8] “Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105],” p. 199, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-june-1834-dc-105/1

[9] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 502, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/508

[10] “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834],” p. 505, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834/511

[11] Richard Lyman Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 246.

[12] “Revelation, 22 June 1834 [D&C 105],” p. 199, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-22-june-1834-dc-105/1

[13] “Prayer of Dedication, 27 March 1836 [D&C 109],” p. [2], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/prayer-of-dedication-27-march-1836-dc-109/2

[14] “Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 March 1839,” p. 4, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-the-church-and-edward-partridge-20-march-1839/4

[15] Matthew 5:44, NRSV.

[16] “Revelation, circa 7 March 1831 [D&C 45],” p. 71, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-circa-7-march-1831-dc-45/1

[17] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards, vol. 6 (1817; New York: Burt Franklin, 1968), pp. 458, 461–62.

[18] “Revelation, June 1829–B [D&C 18],” p. 35, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-june-1829-b-dc-18/2

[19] “Revelation, April 1829–A [D&C 6],” p. 16, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-april-1829-a-dc-6/3

[20] “Revelation, 4 February 1831 [D&C 41],” p. 61, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-4-february-1831-dc-41/1

[21] “Revelation, 3 November 1831 [D&C 133],” p. 119, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-3-november-1831-dc-133/4

15 comments for ““I the Lord have suffered the affliction to come upon them”

  1. I’m not buying this. God of the OT drowned almost every man, woman, child, and animal during Noah’s time. And did a number on the twin cities and then turns Lot’s wife into a meat flavoring. God of the OT is frequently mad and vindictive.

    The relevance of JS’s19th-century experiences is questionable at best. They reflect more on the Prophet’s reactions to conditions existing at the time than they do to. God’s nature. And to make matters worse, they set the stage for the Church’s descent into violence and the MMM. I’m not blaming that on God.

    The God of the NT is definitely a kindlier Father. The fact that Jesus “quotes” from the OT proves nothing. Other than He recognizes truth when He sees it. It’s not a vindication of all parts of the OT, including the description of a wrathful God.

    Why do we need a God who can be irate and vindictive? Those are human characteristics and make God out to be more like the Greek gods.

  2. Perhaps the difference between a male understanding of a male God in respect to a male powered world. To a different understanding of maleness. V parents in heaven.

  3. rogerdhansen, It’s not so much an observation of how things should be or need to be so much as an observation about how God is portrayed in the Doctrine and Covenants. The events of the Last Days that are portrayed in the Doctrine and Covenants tend to show this side of things as well. Consider, for example:

    “And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take vengeance upon the wicked, for they will not repent; for the cup of mine indignation is full; for behold, my blood shall not cleanse them if they hear me not. Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them; 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; and it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up.” (D&C 29:18-20.)

    Or:

    “Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming. For after today cometh the burning—this is speaking after the manner of the Lord—for verily I say, tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, for I am the Lord of Hosts; and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon.” (D&C 64:23-24.)

    Those don’t sound too far off from doing things like drowning almost every man, woman, child, and animal during Noah’s time; doing a number on the twin cities and then turning Lot’s wife into a meat flavoring, as you say. And regardless of how much you or I like it, that’s a part of general Latter-day Saint theology.

    And, yes, this is perhaps not as prominent in the New Testament, though, we do still have the Revelation of John the Divine and statements like “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming,” (2 Thess. 2:8) or “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (1 Thess. 5:3.)

    On the other hand, the God of the Old Testament is still the God of Jews (like Jesus), Christians, and Latter-day Saints. All three of those groups tend to see Him as someone who loves them and cares for them, largely because the mad and vindictive characteristic is not the only facet of how He is portrayed in the Old Testament.

    And that may be more to your thought of Jesus recognizing truth and emphasizing it while sifting out things that are not. God, as portrayed in the Doctrine and Covenants may, as you say, be more a statement of the Prophet’s reactions to conditions existing at the time than they do to God’s nature (if I understood you correctly). I would certainly prefer a God that wasn’t irate and vindictive. But what I was trying to do here was to reflect on what is presented in the texts of the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  4. I believe there is an intentional misreading of the Torah by Christians which underlies much of our discussion. The idea is the Old Testament must convey an inferior covenant, making the New Testament (covenant) superior to the old. Certain passages from Paul are used to support this perspective, and we are off to the races. Unfortunately, this bolsters antisemitism in the process.

    A close reading of both the entire Bible and the Book of Mormon reveal a more complex situation which is partly examined in Chad’s post. The Torah teaches much that Jesus taught. These teachings provide the basis for much if what we would call “social justice” in today’s world. Ignore it at your own peril.

  5. ?D&C–like John’s record (The Revelation), is addressed to The Church itself.

    When covenant is treated like contract, Bride becomes Harlot. In the past, we were able to correct error; today we ride? upon a faultless Beast.

  6. “The titular chartacter”? Titular?

    The main character’s name is not “Doctor Who” – “Doctor Who” is, as the show puts it: “the first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.”

    The main character is just “The Doctor.”

  7. Technically a titular character means that the name is referenced in the title, not that the character’s name is the entirety of the title. Alice is still the titular character of Alice in Wonderland, even though her surname isn’t “in Wonderland.” Figaro is the titular character of The Marriage of Figaro, even though his name is not “Le nozze di Figaro.” Doctor is in the title of Doctor Who, so the Doctor is the titular character. At no point did I refer to the Doctor as Doctor Who, only the TV series.

  8. There is an article on millenial star called Persecution is coming. Very depressing if you believe it. I am banned from commenting there as I am not right wing enough.

  9. Interesting reasoning, but it doesn’t wash. As the Doctor puts it in the first episode: “”Eh? Doctor who? What’s he talking about?”

    By your logic, every Lord that shows up in “Lord of the Rings” is a titular character, or every hobbit in “The Hobbit” is a titular character.

  10. Christ came to earth with a purpose. His religion was kinder and gentler. His sermons highlighted this message. Love your enemy (don’t drown him/her). Sure you find bits and pieces of Christ’s teachings in the OT, but with a lot of other stuff thrown in. Christ enlightened us on the core commandments. Love God, love your neighbor.

    Bringing up Last Days’ speculation into this discussion is diversionary. They will come when they will come. Who cares what they involve? To use Last Days’ speculation to describe God’s deportment seems irrelevant. And when you bring up the Book of Revelations, all I can do is shrug.

    To equate a deemphasis on the OT as having the potential to lead to antisemitism, is absurd. Does not relating to the Koran make me anti-Islamic?

  11. DW Pendant, I get that you’re a Doctor Who fan, but that doesn’t mean your argument is accurate. By how you are construing my words, the title of Doctor Who refers to all doctors in the series. By the narrow definition you want to apply to title characters, there are no title characters in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings because no character is specifically named the full title of either book. In reality, for anyone who has actually read them knows very well that they refer to Bilbo Baggins and Sauron, respectively.
    If you want some more info on what a is considered a title character, please review these resources:
    https://www.wordsense.eu/title_character/#English
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Title_character
    https://www.yourdictionary.com/title-character
    https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/title_character

  12. I think we’re having two different discussions rogerdhansen. I’m talking about how God is portrayed in the Doctrine and Covenants. In looking specifically at how God is portrayed in the Doctrine and Covenants, considering what the Lord states that God will do in the Last Days is an integral part of the picture. You’re arguing about what God is actually like (albeit in your understanding), while I’m talking about how He is presented in a specific group of texts. Those two things are related topics, but not the same thing.

  13. rogerdhansen,
    The teachings of Jesus you call “core” were core teachings of Judaism previous to and during the time of Jesus. A careful reading of the Bible confirms this.

    Jesus did come to earth with a purpose, to fulfill the covenants and law He gave through Abraham and Moses. He, the Great Jehovah, gave/revealed/inspired the production of what you seem to denigrate. The scriptures we call the Old Testament were the scriptures of early Christianity. It was the scripture they read and cherished.

    Chad is simply describing how and what ways God is revealed or described in differing collections of scripture. We can’t simply dismiss apocalyptic or eschatological readings simply because they cause us discomfort or do not mesh with our worldview. If we did, we would be untrue to the texts and context.

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