The record of dispute found in the OT provides outlines of a slow development in the Lord’s people away from the primitive view of violent tribal war gods, so typical of the worldview among ancient gentiles. Agents of wrath were necessarily agents of reconciliation and not separate entities.  Retribution was confused with restitution and punishment became a requirement of repentance rather than repentance being an escape from punishment.

This is largely due to Judaism moving from polytheism to monotheism.  The unforeseen consequence of this move from one to the other involved attributing both good AND evil to the sole actor YHWH.

“When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” (Amos 3:6)

“Disaster” here is actually rendered “evil” in the Hebrew.

“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isa. 45:7)

The ancient mindset held disaster and injury were, in and of themselves, evils.  God was seen as the author of evil in addition to good.  For instance, God is portrayed as “hardening hearts” and “deceiving” people:

“So now, look, the Lord has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours, but the Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22:23)

This is a morally troubling assertion that God “has decreed evil for you” by causing the prophets to lie. These evils cannot directly be attributed to YHWH, but can to human agency (agency that was imparted upon man by YHWH).  Evil is the consequence of choice (to whom we give our allegiance).  It is the natural law of cause and effect.

When Jesus arrives in the flesh, Judaism, although remaining monotheistic, had moved away from attributing evil to God. They recognized that bad things can happen contrary to God’s will. These were then attributed to the devil. The source of evil was the devil.

The OT attributes “sickness” to God’s will as just punishment for sin, but Jesus attributes it to the “work of the devil” which consequently does not affirm sickness, as it does in the OT, as God’s righteous judgment. Moving away from the view that God causes evil (rape, famine, sickness, war), towards a view that such evil is demonic, can be seen in the book of Jubilees.  The book of Jubilees (ca. 100 BCE) attributes evils, once attributed to God in Genesis and Exodus, to “Mastema” or the devil.

For example, Exodus says God killed the firstborn children in Egypt (Exo. 11:4), but the book of Jubilees attributes it to the “powers of Mastema” which literally means the “powers of hate” (Jubilees 49:2).  This demonstrates a shift from the time of Moses to about 100 BC in thinking that was occurring in Judaism during a time of obvious moral difficulty.

Of course, the book of Jubilees is not generally accepted as canon by the LDS. So let’s look at the canonical books of the OT themselves. (For a look at how Christ corrects Jewish misconceptions of God, click here.)

2 Samuel describes God telling David to take a census, and then punishing him for it: “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and take a census of Israel and Judah’” (2 Sam 24:1).  David subsequently recognizes this as sin:  “David was conscience stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done’” (v. 10).  God then punishes David: “So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of time designated, and seventy thousand people from Dan to Beersheba died” (v. 15).

This is morally problematic of God, which is revised in the parallel account of 1 Chronicles:

“Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chron 21:1). 

Instead of God deceiving David and inciting him to sin, this is now presented as the work of Satan.  Satan entices the covenant people to break their covenants that he may punish them. We can only attribute this to God indirectly, by allowing Satan to lead men into temptation, giving man agency to succumb to temptation, and permitting Satan to punish man when he succumbs. Satan lies in wait, ready to deceive, that he may destroy. His work and His glory is built upon justifications of law and the condemnation of sinners. God’s work, on the other hand, is demonstrated in Christ, which is not to punish sinners, but to bring about their compliance with the moral law through ministry, repentance, compassion, and personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  The work of Christ is to avert disaster (evil) by persuading mankind to repent.

The concept of the devil is rare in the early OT, but by the time of Jesus it was a common feature within Judaism.  So what do we learn from all of this?   When people sin, natural and man-made consequences follow.  These are the result of Satanic power and influence, but they can be averted through repentance, which is the work of the Father through the example of Christ.  If Satan can persuade men to disobey God, then he has the ability to punish them (the wicked destroy the wicked).  Remember the case where Jesus rejects the suggestion of his disciples that he follow the example of Elijah and call down fire from heaven, telling them that they are thinking like the devil: “You do not realize what spirit you are of.”

The law declares that God takes pleasure in destroying people, while the prophets, in contrast, emphatically state that the opposite is the case.  In Deuteronomy we read, “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you” (Deut 28:63). Ezekiel disagrees, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked!” (Ezek 33:11). The carnal commandments (punishments and judgments) are a concession to the wicked, thereby ordering them for the destruction of the wicked, according to their desires and thoughts. This demonstrates that God makes covenants with mankind according to their desires and thoughts, within inspired limitations. God respects agency. He does this that they might believe in Him and it is necessary that God make these exceptions for sinners in order to maintain an influence for good (to move them in the right direction).  Nevertheless, these works are the works of men in whose countenances we find Satan, but who attributed these works to God.

We read in the law the declaration that God punishes sons for their father’s sins: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers” (Exo. 20:5; Deut 5:9) This punishment is “inherited” as a consequence of King David’s sins.  Samuel prophesies, “Because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die” (2 Sam 12:14).  “David pleaded with God for the child.  He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground” (v. 16). David’s prayers were not heard and the “Lord struck the child” (v. 15) with sickness, and he soon died.  In this account God kills the child in accordance with the Law because of David’s sin.

But Ezekiel records the account thus, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel” (Ezek 18:3).  “He will not die for his father’s sin, he will surely live…. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son” (v. 17, 19).  “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  The power of sin is the law and the Lord fulfills the law.

“This is what the Lord Almighty says…attack the Amalekites…. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants” (1 Sam 15:2-3).  Ezekiel contradicted such direct “thus saith the Lord” statements.  Jeremiah condemned the child sacrifices committed by Israel in a repudiation of culture, “I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing!” (Jer. 32:35).  It is clear that many practices in Israel were adopted of their own free will and agency.  It is clear that Israel attributed the use of their agency to God, regardless of whether it resulted in good or evil.  Nevertheless, what God permits is not the same thing as commands.  The Israelites wanted to become more like the gentiles.  They rejected the countenance of God in order to embrace the countenance of Satan found in the kings of the gentiles: To lord it over each other while calling themselves benefactors. Literal judgments are the natural consequences of our own hate, fear and loathing.

NOTE: “Authority” to destroy is permitted by God to man.  In this sense the destruction of the wicked is ordained or ordered, but not necessarily moral or legitimate. All human action is attributable to God in the sense that God is the author of individual agency.

Many Called and Few Chosen

“None are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God… would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves.” (Joseph Smith Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, pp. 593-95)

The belief in authority to destroy is insufficient (Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-46). Those who believe in authority are called because they believe they may cover their sins, gratify their pride, and vain ambition under the color of law.  They often do so because they believe individuals are obligated to obey them. Those who believe in authority are called because they believe the individual’s obligation to obey condones the exercise of compulsion in all degrees of unrighteousness to secure individual compliance to their authority. Authority is tautologous to those called. Such as these who believe in authority are not chosen because they have no power given them from heaven.

“They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.” (D&C 95:6)

Circular claims of authority cannot be found among the chosen.  These realize that the power of heaven cannot be controlled except upon the principles of love unfeigned, persuasion, long-suffering, compassion, gentleness, meekness, and kindness, acting no hypocrisy, and without guile. Their power is manifest through the voluntary willingness of individuals to cooperate with them. These need not resort to force because power to the convincing of individuals comes from within them–the Holy Spirit of God. These need not believe in appeals to authority because the heavens have not withdrawn from them.

Satan has been given authority, not power. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement does not see the creditor in the parable of debtors as being played out by the Father. It is true that law, as ordered by the Father, authorizes Satan to have a claim upon persons. The law is meant as a curse and not a blessing (not for the wicked who seek to be justified by law anyway). The law, like the Lamanites (2 Nephi 5:25), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:4-11), and Caesar (John 19:11), exists to scourge persons in their wickedness. This is not to say those who exercise authority are righteous. It is by the wicked that the wicked are destroyed. It is not by authority and law that one is justified. It is by power that one is justified and power comes by faith.

Faith upon the Atonement, as having fulfilled the law and lifted the curse by satisfying the claim of Satan upon the souls of persons, both body and spirit, is empowering. It recognizes the collector as Satan and the Atonement (debt payment or ransom) as having been paid by the Son doing the will of the Father. The Father is not both the payer and collector of a debt, but the Father is an observer of law. The Father renders unto Satan that which and those whom the Father authorized, by law, to belong to Satan (sinners). As the law’s enforcer, Satan may give authority to whomever he pleases in the collection of debts (publicans). The role of tax (debt) collector merely requires the bowing down and worshipping of Satan.

Our ransom has been paid by the Father through the Son. The good news is that the curse has been lifted for those who are chosen and seek justification by faith. Those who seek justification by law remain under the curse. Seek righteousness through power and faith, not authority and law. Remain separate from the dominion of Satan (Luke 4:6-7). Follow Christ in spreading the good news and say to Satan, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

Those who have faith on the Atonement recognize that all persons are now free to be wrong, but the same persons do not seek occasions to the flesh in their liberty. They understand that freedom to be wrong is freedom to cultivate the thoughts, desires, and dispositions that are rewarded by God in a gradation of glories even if they fall short of the glory of God. Seek to minister unto persons as servants in the Lord’s church. Resist policing persons as ones who seek to lord it over others upon the self-deceit of calling oneself a benefactor. If your dominion flows unto you by the authority of force as justified by law and not by power of persuasion to the convincing of persons by faith on God, then you are doing it wrong.

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L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

L. Richard Nielsen

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