The destructions prophesied to plague the earth in the last days have been in the news a lot lately. Hurricanes, fires, famines, wars, murders, floods, it has been one thing after another until even the most agnostic among us can’t help but throw around biblical one-liners. Many make judgements or even jokes about the wickedness of the people suffering, willing to help but sometimes unwilling to withhold opinions. Sometimes I’m downright shocked at the things that come out of people’s mouths. I do feel like there have been many many more who just rush in to help without comment, but it has all given me cause to ponder the prophesied destruction and what its real purpose is.
In order to begin to understand why these things happen we have to understand who God is and who we are to him. The work and glory of our God is our eternal life and immortality (Moses 1:39). It is not in his nature to destroy things because he is sad or angry (which I address below). He is a being who acts and is not acted upon. Everything he does is to build, grow, and aid our individual progression. As Latter-Day Saints, we know that God is merciful and has prepared a place of glory for ALL of his children.
These kingdoms, though very different, are filled with the children of God the Father. Though those of the lower kingdom have not shown themselves worthy of the fullness of salvation, yet the love of the Father envelops them. Even the glory of the lowest, the telestial, surpasses all understanding (John A Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.199).
In Luke 15, Christ is mocked for eating with sinners, and he replies with three parables. In all three parables, something is lost and subsequently found. “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4). Later in Luke 19, Christ says again, “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
If God is merciful and loving, and endlessly seeks for his lost children, then there must be something missing in the way we treat the “destruction of the wicked”. When we look at the Hebrew and Greek we find that the words which are translated as “destroy” and “destruction” have varied meanings and connotations. Quite frequently it connotes being lost and, regarding that, we find that the Lord proves over and over in word and action that he will search for that which is lost until it is found.
Other appearances of “destroy” and its derivatives imply meanings including death, loss of fortune, loss of animals, and other miscellaneous tribulations. None of these place the person “destroyed” beyond the reach of the atonement and God’s love. In fact, time and time again we see that these tribulations turn the sinner back to God, whereby that which is lost is found again.
That all sounds nice, and certainly tastes good to my understanding of who my Father in Heaven is, but I wanted to put it to the test. There was a time in Earth’s history when the people were so wicked that God destroyed all but eight of them. They were violent and corrupt in every possible way, and the Lord “destroyed” them. The account in Genesis is familiar, but it is the description in Moses which gives us a deeper understanding of what happened.
And the Lord said: I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air (Moses 8:26).
And God said unto Noah: The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence, and behold I will destroy all flesh from off the earth (Moses 8:30).
These things we know, but what do we know about why God took them from the Earth, or where they went?
Behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; 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? (Moses 7:37).
We are all links in the chain of our human family. When we succumb to sin and pass that to our children, we have a degree of accountability for their errors. In a world so violent and sinful, there was no longer hope for the children to find truth on earth. To be tried and tested has always been the case, but to do so without hope was never part of the plan. To be held accountable in eternity for all the evils of future generations is a punishment God found an escape from through allowing that generation to move from one estate to another. All it would require is passing through the veil of death, which we know need not be scary, and is not final.
So long as man is in the world, clothed with mortality, surrounded by the evils that are in the world, he runs chances and is subject to risks, and there are responsibilities resting upon him which may prove fatal to his future prosperity, happiness and exaltation… I have learned that there are a great many things which are far worse than death (Joseph F Smith, Teachings).
The Earth needed a fresh start, so those of God’s children who had not received their tabernacles yet would have a decent chance of finding goodness on earth. The people on earth directly preceding the flood, known as the antediluvians, had a multiplicity of sins, most of which would be upon the heads of their fathers, and even further than that, would be accountable to Satan himself. Our loving Heavenly Father knew something had to be done for them.
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 (Moses 7:38–39).
God prepared a place for these antediluvians, a prison because they would be without their bodies and abilities, and the learning and repenting would be slow-going. Yet, there is still the Savior. There is still a day of redemption planned for them.
And why this wholesale sweeping out of existence of humanity? To stop them from propagating a corrupt species. Was not that right? Yes it was. He said, I will cut them off; (Gen. 6:7, Moses 8:30) I will prepare a prison for them, in which they shall be confined for generations, (1 Pet. 3:19–20) where they shall not have power to propagate their species; for these pure spirits in the eternal worlds shall not be contaminated with their corruptions: I will take them off the earth, and I will raise up another people. And He did do it. What then? He was still merciful. When Jesus was put to death in the flesh, he remembered them. ‘He went,’ says Peter, ‘and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometimes were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah’… And what is it he has told us to do today? Not only to preach the Gospel and gather the people, but to build Temples. What for? To administer in them. Who for? For the dead who have died without a knowledge of the Gospel, that they might participate with us in the blessings which they had not the privilege of enjoying on the earth. We are doing this; hence we are doing more than preaching the Gospel to the living; we are making preparations for saving the dead, according to the word of God (John Taylor, JD 20:118a).
Christ will always find that which is lost, even when he must go beyond the veil of death to do it. A little plug for temple work, we can go beyond the veil of death to find our brothers and sisters too, in fact, we are commanded to. Not just for our seemingly righteous ancestors, but for all of them.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18–19).
What is the fate of these spirits in prison? They wait for years and years and finally, in the meridian of time, Christ comes to teach them personally. He loves them. He went to find all of his sheep. And were they so wicked they would not believe Christ? Were they lost forever?
And he heard a loud voice; and the heavens were veiled; and all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned; and the rocks were rent; and the saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man, with crowns of glory. And as many of the spirits as were in prison came forth, and stood on the right hand of God; and the remainder were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day (Moses 7:56–57).
As many of those antediluvians who believed in Christ came forth during the resurrection and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man! Is this not the goal of us all?! And yet those whom we typically consider the most wicked of all generations have achieved such heights, through the careful preparation and tender mercy of God. Through “destruction”, which we find isn’t really destruction at all! Through the process of being lost, and found.
There is something associated with these things that it may be necessary to refer to. It is necessary there should be opposing principles, light and darkness, truth and error, virtue and vice, good and evil, etc. (2 Ne. 2:11, 15) It is necessary that man should go through a state of probation and trial, that he should have the opportunity of receiving or rejecting correct principles, or the Gospel of the Son of God. And it is a further development to us, that if men have not had this opportunity upon the earth, they will still have it. There is a further principle exhibited here in relation to this matter. Those very men who rejected the Gospel in their day were visited by Jesus after He was put to death in the flesh and was quickened by the Spirit; He went, we are told, and preached to those spirits in prison who had been disobedient in the days of Noah. (1 Pet. 3:18–20) And connected with that there is another principle; it is to place all mankind on the same footing, that all men of every age and nation may have the same privilege (John Taylor, JD 26:89b).
He knows the situation of both the living and the dead, and has made ample provision for their redemption, according to their several circumstances, and the laws of the kingdom of God, whether in this world, or in the world to come (Joseph Smith, TPJS 220).
And where will they go, those who accept Christ after their years in prison and their resurrection? To the terrestrial kingdom. They will receive a degree of glory higher than the lowest, even after being the most wicked generation to ever be found earth!
And again, we saw the terrestrial world… these are also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it (D&C 76:71–74).
Into the terrestrial kingdom will go all those… who would not receive the Gospel, but in the spirit world repented and accepted it as far as it can be given unto them. Many of these have been blinded by tradition and the love of the world, and have not been able to see the beauties of the Gospel (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:287–88).
After the Lord, and the righteous who are caught up to meet him, have descended upon the earth, there will come to pass another resurrection. This may be considered as a part of the first, although it comes later. In this resurrection will come forth those of the terrestrial order, who were not worthy to be caught up to meet him, but who are worthy to come forth to enjoy the millennial reign (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:296).
While there is an exaltation greater than the terrestrial glory, to be sought after with all diligence, this future for the wickedest generation sounds like anything but destruction, hell, or endless torment. This is a story about being lost and then found, and more accurately portrays the God we are taught to worship, for God is love. When God sees us struggling with our mortality and our journey back to him, he teaches us and guides us. His actions are always from and with love. We are never beyond his reach.
Jesus taught his disciples about this after being confronted with a people who had scorned him. The disciples became defensive and wanted to punish those who disrespected their Lord.
And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village (Luke 9:51–56).
The Lord’s work is not just to solve problems; it is to build people. So as you walk with Him in priesthood service, you may find that sometimes what seems like the most efficient solution is not the Lord’s preferred solution because it does not allow people to grow. If you listen, He will teach you His ways. Remember that God’s work and glory is not simply to run an effective organization; it is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Henry B Eyring, GC 2017-A:84).
I have to acknowledge that over and over again in the scriptures we have verbiage which implies the Lord’s wrath and anger. We cannot just ignore how often that imagery is used, but we can seek to understand it better.
There was once a Latin teacher who told her students to translate a text about an interaction between two people. Most of the students translated the work to include concepts of anger, revilings, and violent retribution, though those specific words were never used in the text. These students received good marks on their papers because their translations were in line with other scholars. But there was one student who translated the text to include concepts of love, instruction, and concern for well-being. He received poor marks. Later, however, the teacher discovered a biographical sketch of the author of the original Latin work which clearly lent credence to the loving interpretation of the text. The teacher, unable to lower the marks of the former students, did give full credit to the latter one (Chaim Bentorah, “Hebrew Word Study – Wrath”).
In understanding and coming to know the Lord, we can be better prepared to interpret the writings we’ve been given.
Latter-day saints have long been taught to believe the bible, ‘as far as it is translated correctly’; and also that the Lord operates through imperfect human instruments… The real message of the bible [undoubtedly as a testimony of Jesus Christ and his perfect gospel] has been preserved, unimpaired, and is confirmed by every new translation… That message continues to be the greatest ever given to man (John A Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliations).
When we look at the translation in light of the things we know, in particular the doctrine of Christ as given in the Sermon on the Mount, also known as the doctrine of love or the law of love, we find that words which have been historically translated as anger, wrath, punish, rebuke, and chastise can easily be translated to mean find displeasure with, desire to change, teach, and improve upon. These meanings are certainly more consistent with the God we know.
Our Father works ceaselessly to provide us with opportunities for growth. This does not mean that every trial we go through comes from God, but it does mean that he will not always instantaneously rescue us from tribulation. The Apostle Paul teaches that we should “glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). We can have hope that we will one day return to our Father if we learn what we are supposed to learn from our journey, which includes both sides of the veil.
Sometimes we are hard-hearted and we choose to live contrary to Christ’s doctrines. We choose to follow after the vain imaginations of our hearts and hearken not unto the counsels of God. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way. After Christ was mocked and tortured by Roman soldiers, he was crucified. Those soldiers would not believe his divinity. Yet, after his crucifixion when the earth shook, the rocks rent, and the graves opened, “they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Did it really take such tribulation to soften them, when they spent considerable time with Jesus in person? In this case, it did.
God does not destroy the wicked but he prepares a place for them that they might receive as much as light as possible. The world will get worse before it gets better, that in tasting the bitter we might know the sweet, but think not that this is simply punishment of the wicked, for God loves us still. We all wander into strange paths and are lost, and Christ always prepares a way to find us.
And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men (2 Ne. 25:17).
In this, there is an excitement and tremendous amount of hope. As violence in the world increases, the spirit of love and peace is sought after more fervently. We see this in the wake of every disaster, manmade or natural. People turn to love as a solution to the world’s problems. Some recognize Christ as the author of this doctrine, others find it elsewhere, but in the redemption of his children, just turning to love is a beautiful step in the right direction. Someday, Christ will be found in the hearts of all men through the courageous love they have zealously fought for by living Christ’s doctrines, every wit. Zion will be found upon the Earth. The Son of God is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.
This is the hope and beauty of the last days. It is not the last days of an eternal Earth or eternal beings for there is no end to these things, but it is the last days of the desperate grip hate and violence have had on humanity. “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). Love will win the day. And every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Christ’s way was, is, and eternally will be the way to salvation for mankind.
In tumultuous times, remember that God does not give us the spirit of fear. God is not punishing the wicked. He is not angry with us. Those who go through earthly trials are not deserving of some just punishment because they are evil, but they are beloved children of God and a path home has been prepared for them. We should absolutely not look down on others as they travel their path, because we are all being refined.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained,
My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing… In that regard, Leo Tolstoy wrote once of a priest who was criticized by one of his congregants for not living as resolutely as he should, the critic concluding that the principles the erring preacher taught must therefore also be erroneous. In response to that criticism, the priest says: “Look at my life now and compare it to my former life. You will see that I am trying to live out the truth I proclaim.” Unable to live up to the high ideals he taught, the priest admits he has failed. But he cries: “Attack me, [if you wish,] I do this myself, but [don’t] attack … the path I follow. … If I know the way home [but] am walking along it drunkenly, is it any less the right way simply because I am staggering from side to side?… Do not gleefully shout, ‘Look at him! … There he is crawling into a bog!’ No, do not gloat, but give … your help [to anyone trying to walk the road back to God.]”
Brothers and sisters, every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living. If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human. May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future, or the possibility of godliness. If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection (General Conference, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually”, Oct, 2017).
God is full of hope and patience and is always working for our good. When we find him, he rejoices. And when we see one of our brothers or sisters find him, even as they experience pain and suffering, we should not criticize or pretend we know why they are going through what they are going through, but “we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32).
The more I come to know my Heavenly Father, the more I see how He inspires and leads His children. He is not angry, vengeful, or retaliatory (Dieter F Uchtdorf, GC 2017-A:104).
There have been and will be events which we see as destruction in the last days, but only until he finds us. There will be tribulation, but God is love, and the Lord does not come to “destroy,” but to save. He will find us.