Alma 8: 29 — LeGrand Baker — the Lord’s anger
Alma 8: 29
30 And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy unto this people, saying—Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger; yea, and I will not turn my fierce anger away.
It is very easy to misunderstand some of the words that are attributed to God in the Scriptures, especially when those words suggest anger, violence, or retaliation. We are accustomed to overlook or discount some such statements in the Old Testament because they do not reflect the attributes off the Saviour in the New Testament. Yet, we find some of those same kinds of statements in the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants also.
It seems to me that they can best understood if one puts them into separate categories. The first category is those statements that are editorial comments by Old Testament authors and editors. Such statements as “the Lord in his anger brought the Egyptians to do his vengeance on the king,” are entirely editorial, and may or may not reflect the attitude of the Lord. I did not use an actual quote there, but rather an example that characterizes many places in the Old Testament. My own feeling is that they are only as true as the author was inspired.
In my view the greatest difference between the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament, in that regard, is that there is no question about whether it the author of the Book of Mormon was inspired. For example, Mormon’s frequent “and thus we see,” are editorial comments to which I give absolute credence.
The other groups are either direct quotes from God, or present themselves as being such. Of those that represent themselves as being quotes from God, those found throughout the Psalms are among the very best examples. The Psalms’ frequent statements that seem to reflect the vengeful character of God, are a form of blessing.
One of the best examples of the seeming belligerence spoken by God is in the 45th Psalm, which contains a blessing from Elohim to the king. It reads:
3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things.
5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.
This is typical of many statements in the Psalms. If one reads it, and the others, carefully, one discovers a consistency is what is said and under what circumstances. The pattern is this: at the end of a covenant or a blessing, the Lord promises a kind of invincibility to the recipient. When the Psalms were written, the primary motive for local wars was to acquire loot—but the most important loot was the people themselves—to become slaves. Similarly, a man going from city to city, who was carrying property of any value, had better take an armed escort with him or he could expect to be robbed. In those times when the Lord promised someone spiritual or eternal invincibility, he expressed it in the language of the times. That is, in military terms. Thus at the end of Psalm 21, which is spoken as one approaches God, his plea is couched in martial terms. At the end of Psalm 25, which has the same tone as Nephi’s Psalm in 2 Nephi 4, the Lord promises invincibility in military terms. In Psalm 2, where God affirms that he has chosen the king, and the king tells his new covenant name, the chorus warns foreign kings of the danger of their not giving obeisance to God’s chosen king.
In each of these instances, the statement that sounds like belligerence is in fact a promise from God that he will support and protect the one with whom he has made the covenant. That is, that one will have sufficient strength and power to overcome whatever obstacle might be put in the way.
The other category of statements from God – those quoted by the prophet – carry the same overtone. Three examples are found in the Lord’s words to Nephi:
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.
21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. [Those who rebel against God cannot be in his presence.]
22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler [king] and a teacher [priest] over thy brethren.
23 For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed [God will protect the righteous] except they shall rebel against me also.
24 And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed [The Lord cannot protect the Nephites if they are not righteous], to stir them up in the ways of remembrance. [Sometimes when people realize they are in physical trouble, they will repent so God can bless them again.] (1 Nephi 2:19-24)
The Lord explained that principle to the Prophet Joseph:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—
2 Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face;
So Alma’s words, “Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger; yea, and I will not turn my fierce anger away,” do not reflect God’s anger, but rather his concern. He was aware, as they were not, of the Lamanite’s plan to attack. Implicit in his words is the promise that if they will repent, he will either warn them, assist them, or otherwise protect them from their enemies. But if they do not repent he can not help the because they will neither listen to him, nor accept his help. He says that in terms that express their own attitudes and their own language. One cannot help, as one reads Alma’s words, to remember the Lord’s tears when he showed Enoch the destruction of his people.
We are not substantially different from that sometimes, President Hinckley does not always relay the Lord’s instructions to us in words that only evoke promises of blessings. Sometimes we, like the ancients, need to hear about the consequence of disobedience rather than the blessings that would accompany obedience.
So whenever I read a statement couched in words of anger or retribution, that are attributed to the Lord, I consider the audience to whom that those words are addressed, and conclude that the words are in their language—expressed in terms that they can understand—and not really an expression of God’s anger at all.
I believe the best statement ever made about the personality of God comes from a sermon by Heber C. Kimball, delivered in the Tabernacle, February 8, 1857. He said,
I am perfectly satisfied that my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is— the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, “I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance. That arises from the perfection of His attributes; He is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man. (Journal of Discourses, 4: 222.)