Prophesy, Atrocity and History

17

February 14, 2014 by christopherpdavey

The scriptures, often in detail, describe the modern era fate of Jews and American Indians. Once righteous, these groups fell victims to massive violence. The quality of this destruction, meets both the minimal, legalistic killing definitions of genocide enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, and emerging scholarly conceptualizations that recognize both the social group “obliteration” and cultural destruction that accompany varying forms of structural, direct, and cultural violence.[1]

Belief in the “Plan of Salvation” indicates that surely death is not the end; in fact, this life is only the cusp of our existence.  However, the suffering a victim of destruction incurs is not encapsulated only in death, but in the loss of identity, dignity, family, friends, home and material goods, eradication of history and culture, accompanied by torrents of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual anguish and suffering. Consider how a Jew who survived any number of ghettoes and camps was just as obliterated as those who met their demise through the barrel of an SS automatic weapon. Although, this divine path does provide the sublime deliverance of the Atonement, which allows fundamental comprehension of all suffering and its alleviation. So why should we be concerned with the destruction of others, if such a celestial coverage exists?

The apparently abstract principle of universal love between fellow children of God should offer a starting point to answering this question. Essential to Christianity is the egalitarian compassion that must exist between all people, therefore casting a troubling, and even sinful hue on the commission of any violent act that destroys in any degree. The discrepancy here is the acts of destruction engaged in by God; however, it is in omniscience that He sees human will and intent, and the perils of mortal life. It is clear while God did not approve of the Egyptians’ idolatry and treatment of the slave nation of Jews, their actions fulfilled divine purpose in conditioning hearts to contrition and repentance.[2] And no doubt the contemporary trajectory of total weaponry will be involved in some way in the coming destructions of the Second Coming. Evil acts fulfill the purposes of God; Job’s life attests to this in terms of loss, suffering and abandonment. However, as we see, do not have His omniscience we are unable to see the virtue in these kinds of deep suffering. We often struggle to see it in our own lives.  How, then, should we engage with the varying degrees of Jobidity around the world?

Christ’s example in His ministries and Atonement has cleaned-up any immediate qualms one might have about responsibility for suffering. If it is the case the God omnisciently causes suffering, His Atonement covers such and provides deliverance. It is then a moral imperative that we alleviate suffering, love victims/executioners, and prevent destruction we may cause. What, then about the stories we tell? How should our story-telling influence the present? Divine punishment and fulfillment of prophecy does not excuse abuse of our own moral agency in our own participation, through omission or commission, in atrocity. Chances are that if, as the ancient Egyptians found themselves, you are the Lord’s weapon you yourself are on the wrong end of the Law. Acknowledgement of atrocity in history, prophetic or not, then is required by us under our remit of compassion, understanding and accountability. These latter qualities should then, for any Christian, translate into selfless faith and works.

Application of this can be found in a narrow, but fruitful example. Prophetic destruction was visited on nation after nation of indigenous people from Columbian exchange to the achievement of Manifest Destiny, lauding “sea to shining sea”. Utah itself had a part to play in this march of progress, although perhaps not as aggressively or consistently as elsewhere. The vivid descriptions of forts being raised against the victims of Gentile atrocity in 2 Nephi 26:15 are historicized in texts such as Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. If reconciliation for such acts forms a gaping hole in the moral fabric of Western society, then action and historical revision is demanded on our part.

For centuries, reconciliation and recompense for this particular series of “American” episodes, has taken the form of cash and poisoned welfare: a capitalist solution for a human crises. We must look to our brothers and sisters and see from their eyes and from such a history start to heal broken futures. Just one indication of such a step forward was recommended in recent years by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was firmer respect and consultation of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples on land auctions in the Black Hills.[3] Since this, and many other sites, holds such great spiritual significance, of which most US lawmakers haven’t the foggiest, it would be a further step of reconciliation to consider the restoration of similar sites to Indian control.

In sum, it appears that God requires from us total submission: whether or not we directly/indirectly participate in prophetic or human atrocity, He seeks total Christlike acceptance of responsibility for past and present in our compassionate recognition of others as eternal equals in His family.


[1] See Christopher Powell’s Barbaric Civilization and Adam Jones’, New Directions.

[2] The same could also be said about the Assyrians, Babylonians, Lamanites/Nephites, Gentiles, and other instruments in the hand of God, although still through their own moral agency (2 Nephi 20:1-7).

[3] UN News Centre, “UN human rights expert calls on US to consult with indigenous people of land sale,” available at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/html/www.fao.org/story.asp?NewsID=42723&Cr=United+States&Cr1=#.Uv4Xp2RdWG4

17 thoughts on “Prophesy, Atrocity and History

  1. Annalea says:

    Interesting post. There’s just one thread running through it, an assumption that God creates suffering in the world, that doesn’t square.

    Moroni 7:14 — “Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God . . .”

    What we call God’s judgements are simply the way the demands of justice overtake those who refuse to come unto Christ and be saved. Prophecy of destruction isn’t God telling us what He’s going to do . . . it’s Him crying out to us, pleading with us, trying to show us what will happen when we step outside of His protection, His love, His will.

    Helaman 4:24-25 — “And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples—

    Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish.”

    Mormon 4:5 — “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.”

    The destructions of the last days are not the will of God, in that they are not the desires of the heart of a perfect, loving God in whom there is no evil, no darkness, no shadow of changing. They “might” be able to be considered His will in that He willingly abides by the law of justice, so He continues in His godhood, and can continue to extend mercy and grace to every one of His children in the hope that we will accept them, and Him. But accepting that definition leads to confusion on the meaning of “will”, so it seems counterproductive to adopt it.

    Alma 42:25 — “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.”

    Alma 42:22 — “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.”

    I don’t think this point changes the overall tenor of your article, (I love the conclusion–bang on!), but it might shift the progression of it a bit, straighten out the wrinkles in trying to reconcile the foreknowledge, warnings, and events of widespread destruction with our God, who is *made*, wholly and completely, of Good.

    • christopherpdavey says:

      Mormon 4:5 is certainly a key verse here. And undoubtedly there is tension between God’s “abiding” the laws of mercy and justice, and His execution of these laws: to abide He must act. He being perfect is able to do so (abide and act on the laws of mercy and justice), thus we have the declaration that “Eternal/Endless punishment is God’s punishment” (D&C 19:11/12). I cannot say that I have this set of principles neatly reconciled in my own understanding, hence my use of the word ‘tension’.

      I do believe that His will accepts the outcome of unrighteousness (much to the end of “Godly sorrow”) through the respect of our agency, thus the wicked who engage in destructive acts (Mormon 4:5) are both morally free agents and de-facto actors of God’s will.

  2. Forest Simmons says:

    Mormon 4:5 But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.

    God warns, people ignore the warnings, and many innocent people suffer along with the wicked. Latter-day Saints think that we will be immune to the destruction “as long as we continue in righteousness,” but (1) we have a lot of repenting to do before we can “continue” in righteousness, and (2) Job, Jesus, Joseph, and many other righteous suffered because of the wickedness of the world. If the green branches did not escape unscathed, then how about us?

    What purpose does their suffering serve? That is beyond the scope of this paragraph, but suffice it to say, nobody seems to understand the atonement.

    • christopherpdavey says:

      Indeed, our understanding of the Atonement is shallow, I think partly because we distance ourselves from suffering and do not apply widely enough the universality of God’s family. Suffering should at least two purposes: 1. teach humility and discipleship, and 2. serve as a rallying call to those in need of love, compassion, food, shelter, etc.

  3. LDSDPer says:

    Thank you for this. I’m going to have to think about it and re-read.

    Once a person begins to ‘see’ the suffering in the world with an open heart, he/she begins to ask him/herself, “how can I alleviate suffering?”–

    and then finds him/herself with a dilemma. Where does a person begin?

    Baby steps, sometimes, especially if resources are limited. But a mindset of compassion is imperative.

    This has been haunting me for years, and it has just recently become more intense.

    Is it enough not to support wars? And how do *we* exclude ourselves from support when tax money we pay funds the making of bombs?

    I think that fair trade is an important place to start, but that is just one opinion. As for the Lakota and other Sioux, atrocity is the correct word. I recently read a book by native Americans about what they endured (collectively) for centuries; I was too heartbroken to cry when I finished.

    And then I read a book about Jews during WWII; same thing.

    Anyway . . .

    • christopherpdavey says:

      Where we choose to start alleviating suffering is a deeply personal choice based on ones passion, desires and ability. There are several organizations that can walk one through doing more to withhold money from from the state for war making (War Tax Resisters being one of them).

      Fair Trade, a compassionate capitalist solution, is good, but any solutions generated by profit markets is bound to have, perhaps, more negative than positive outcome. A new economic system is required to make significant strides towards eradicating warfare and mass participation in such. All of which is a moral responsibility for a Christian.

      • LDSDPer says:

        I didn’t know about War Tax Resisters, and I appreciate the information.

        Yes, I know fair trade is only a temporary solution; one of my adult children reminds me that in the ‘millennium’ the economic system will be closer to communism than to capitalism, but so far communism has been quite bloody (at least as it is imposed, not voluntary) and hungry–

        as, of course, has capitalism.

        My adult child likes to remind me that it is the ‘regimes’ that have been to blame where communism has failed, but so has it failed with capitalism.

        In the meantime, I at least know that little orphans who have been enslaved are not producing my cocoa. What a heartbreaking thing even to have to worry about that, right?

        Again, thanks.

      • LDSDPer says:

        OH, and, by the way, the book to which I was referring is: Touch the Earth.

        It’s a collection of essays, so it doesn’t have an author, but if you want a compiler/editor, I’ll look.

  4. LDSDPer says:

    Oh, I would like to mention what I’m sure Mormon Worker already knows:

    liahonachildren.

  5. Annalea says:

    Just wondering if my comment submitted last Friday made it to you . . . it shows on my screen as awaiting moderation, but there have been several comments approved since Friday. Thanks!🙂

    • christopherpdavey says:

      Annalea, thanks for reminding me I thought I had approved it, but then it did not appear. I hope to reply to your thoughtful comment soon!

      • Annalea says:

        Thank *you*.🙂

        It’s kind of a favorite topic of mine . . . it wasn’t until I developed a coherent concept of God that I was able to feel His presence in my life in any power or consistency. As long as I accepted the common LDS POV that God made hard/painful/bad things happen in my life “for my own good”, or “because I needed to learn a lesson”, I simply couldn’t love or trust Him enough to open myself to Him sufficiently to actually let Him work the mighty change me. I don’t believe it’s humanly possible to love an all-powerful, yet infinitely dangerous being enough to abandon your own will sufficiently for Him to save you.

        The only test in this life is to see if we will turn to our God, loving Him with everything we have and everything we are, as the first great commandment shows.

        Have a wonderful, blessed day!

  6. Annalea,

    every thoughtful person must come to terms with the problem of suffering. Granting that God doesn’t cause it, why doesn’t he always prevent it (especially for the innocent)? President Kimball gave a classic talk on this topic entitled “Tragedy or Destiny.”

    Process theology is one approach that (in one form or another) appeals to some LDS philosophers. Here’s a rough sketch of my take: I don’t believe in the absolute god of Greek philosophy that took the place of the biblical god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after the death of the apostles. It seems to me that as Alma put it, “[god] works by means.” What does this mean? I think it means that god has spirit resources which he must allocate as wisely as possible. Even though those resources are so great that (for lack of better language) we say they are “infinite,” it would actually be possible for god to exhaust them if he were not a provident steward.

    Keep that in mind in the context of the following scriptures:

    2 Nephi 26: 11 For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul.
    Genesis 6:3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
    Doctrine and Covenants 1:33 And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.
    Moses 8:17And the Lord said unto Noah: My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he shall know that all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them.
    Ether 2:15 And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands.

    If the Lord has allocated a certain amount of spirit energy to protect a certain man from his own folly, and the man does not respond positively, the time may come to put that portion of his spirit to more profitable use.

  7. Forest Simmons says:

    Moses 1:37 And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.

    Moses found out that the creations of god are not numbered unto man, but unto god they are numbered. Since god can enumerate them, when he finishes counting them he arrives at some number N (which increases with the proper time of god).

    It seems to me that god is subject to certain natural laws, especially the laws of mathematics. If, for example, god has N creations and M units of spirit power (the “means” by which god works), then on average each creation has available M/N units of spirit power If some creature or creation needs more than this average amount because of some emergency, then some other creation(s) must do with less than this average amount until the emergency is over or until more such power can be generated.

    We who cannot even count the creations of god are in no position to judge how much of the celestial resources should be allocated to our favorite cause.

    Now for some comments on superstitious theology:

    We are so awed by the size of N we are tempted to exclaim in superstition that N is infinite. But mathematically any number that can be counted to by any real being (or machine for that matter) is a member of the set of positive integers, and hence infinitely small compared to any absolute infinity of standard mathematics. But since no standard mortal can wrap his mind around or “grok” N, we can honorably grant it a kind of relative infinite status.. This kind of relative infinity, is not be confused with any of the absolute infinities of standard mathematics.

    Internal Set Theory (IST) is the most natural mathematical setting for dealing with this kind of relative infinity. An Internal Set Theorist would say that such a number (though a finite integer) is greater than any standard number, hence “remote” in relation to the ordinary numbers that we are familiar with.

    In this sense of relative infinity god is infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, and benevolent in comparison with mortal man. He has all the power he needs to fulfill his promises, and those promises are great and marvelous. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard neither have entered into the heart of man the things …”

    The absolute omniscience and omnipotence of the god of Greek philosophy are nowhere to be found in the Hebrew bible. We cannot blame the philosophers; all of their quandaries and paradoxes concerning their concept of god derive from their ignorance of Internal Set Theory, which has been understood only through the work of Abraham Robinson and Edward Nelson within the last fifty years.

    The real, believable gods of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, gods who once dwelt on an earth like ours and progressed to their present status cannot be described accurately in the language of classical mathematics, where there is nothing in between standard finite qualities and absolute ideals. There can be no progression from a standard finite state to a state of absolute infinity; every standard finite state is infinitely inferior compared to absolute infinity.

    [This same barrier makes it difficult to model gradual (but discrete step) evolution of any kind with classical mathematics.]

    But (within the IST formalism) no such obstacle prohibits progression over a long time (i.e. a non-standard amount of time) from a standard finite state to a state remotely advanced compared to any standard finite state. We can still describe our god in superlatives, but with the understanding that those superlatives are not absolute infinities.

    If process theologians would like a formal language suited to their fundamental insights, they couldn’t go far wrong by adopting the language and formalism of Internal Set Theory.

  8. LDSDPer says:

    @Forest–

    You are over my head. LOL! I have never heard of such things before, and I find it fascinating. I want you to know that I tried to read this a week or so ago, and I’m back to try again.

    You are probably young and have had a very good education, from what I see. Most older people I know (including myself) aren’t aware of a lof of these fascinating concepts.

    But I could be wrong; maybe you are old and brilliant. LOL!

    • christopherpdavey says:

      Concerning my age and intelligence, it varies depending on who you ask😉 Regardless, these are important issues of which we think about too seldom. Thanks for reading!

  9. LDSDPer says:

    You say 50 years? Yes, I wouldn’t have been exposed to it, since I didn’t go beyond Trigonometry in college–

    I daresay my professors didn’t know about it either–

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