One morning recently I was reading in second Nephi, chapter 26, which contains Nephi’s prophecy about the destruction of his people in later centuries. Nephi writes about those who reject and kill the prophets and saints, prophesying that “they shall perish”, because “the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them” (v 3). As a result, “they shall be as stubble”, and whatever is coming in the future will “burn them up” (v 4). In this prophecy, that meant the physical destructions that came to the Americas at Christ’s death – earthquakes, unquenchable fires, tsunamis, perhaps volcanic eruptions, landslides, tornadoes or a large cyclone (v 5-6).
It got me thinking about how this comes about – how is the destruction of the wicked the result of their rejection of God’s prophets and his saints? Is it vengeance on God’s part – His reaching down into the world and causing painful death through wars or environmental disasters? Or is it a natural result of these people no longer having the warnings and guidance God would give them as protection against such happenings? Or is it a combination of these? Going with the second idea, if those who want to continue doing what they’re doing and not be condemned for it, or feel guilty about it, or have anyone get in the way of their doing it, persecute and even kill true prophets and seers, and the righteous saints of God – those who do believe the prophets, follow their counsel and live righteously – and keep doing it until they are silenced and have disappeared from the sight of the wicked, those people will no longer have warnings about how to protect themselves from what will come, or how to prevent it. They will no longer see the example of the righteous pricking their consciences and showing them the right way. Those righteous souls will also no longer be in sufficient number to act as a protection to the rest of the population – whether through wise voices on councils, loving acts that soften hearts, or preparations for the future. That voice of warning can no longer go out to the rest of the people, and so the voice of nature becomes their warning – earthquakes, thunder, lightning, the rumours of war. These are the beginnings of the foretold destruction and the last warning for those who have made themselves deaf to more gentle methods.
Nephi describes these people as proud, and those who “do wickedly”. They are proud because they’re in open rebellion against God. They exemplify the “natural man” described by King Benjamin; an “enemy to God”, who imagines that he is independent, beholden to no-one and answerable to no-one but himself. A person who believes he can choose the consequences of his actions, or disdains their effects. He rejects the call of the Spirit of the Lord to follow the Light of Christ that resides in him. He prefers his own counsel, and loses the power of that light to save him. He dwells in darkness, and it becomes his motivating principle, whether he is aware of it or not. The Lord has explained, “Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation” (D&C 93:31,32). He also tells us that our spirits are innocent when born into this world (v 38), and that light and truth forsake evil (v 37). Our natural state – or that of our spirits – is to receive light and truth. In order to reject that, a person has to go against their natural spiritual inclinations, and follow darkness – a state and an act which is abnormal to their eternal selves. They place themselves in bondage to Satan, as he is the one most filled with this darkness and who has rejected the most light. Nephi laments this process:
And they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they go down to hell. (2 Nephi 26:10)
Those who reject the light emanating from God, the light that initially fills their spirits, obviously don’t want reminders of it. They don’t want their consciences pricked, or to see the light shining in others; they don’t want to be entreated by God, or hear from His prophets of their wrongdoings, or be told of how they can turn around and start to receive the light again. But God keeps sending them help. He keeps giving them messages and warning signs. He keeps placing in front of them the examples of righteous saints. I feel like in the scriptures it sounds all ‘vengeance and fire’, but God truly loves these rebels; He gives them every possible chance to turn back. He also loves those righteous ones, and sorrows for their sufferings (see v 3). In the natural order of things, the destruction of the wicked (because they didn’t listen to the warnings and therefore were unprepared) also leaves an opportunity for the righteous to experience peace. The “more righteous” who remained after the natural disasters foretold by Nephi and experienced by his descendants were blessed to live in peace and prosperity for two-and-a-half generations; free from persecution and the consequences of wickedness which until then they had had to endure in some portion alongside the proud and wicked. But for those who rebelled, who silenced the voices and examples of purity and hope around them; who received darkness instead of light, it was “everlastingly too late“. That Spirit of light and truth is eventually smothered out of their hearts and minds; those warnings eventually cease, and the true rewards of their choices become apparent. “For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man [struggle and argue with them]. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul” (2 Nephi 26:11). Speaking several hundred years later to Nephi’s descendants, now acting as he had foretold, the Lamanite prophet Samuel concurred:
And now, remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14:30,31)
There is a great balance in heaven and earth; to ignore it brings destruction, or a restoration of that balance once skewed. Knowing that men and women are likely to ignore it, that the “natural man” is rebellious and proud, God sends prophets to warn us not to. Rejecting them ensures destruction. The idea that we are without God in the world or in the universe is a manifestation of the pride that typifies the “natural man” who rebels against God. There are many other signs of this pride and of the wickedness of receiving darkness instead of light. In the end, when there’s no more time for prophecies or change, when the light has been rejected for so long that none is left, this is what remains:
Behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.