Sunday, May 1, 2016

The heavens shall shake for our good

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5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
6 For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory. (D&C 21:5-6)

This was part of a revelation given at the organization of the church, about following the prophet.

I wondered what it meant that the heavens would shake for our good. Happily, there are scripture references to explore for the footnote for “shake.”  Each one has a little something extra to add to the picture, with context and with extra details.

And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:7)

Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish; (D&C 35:24)

The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. (Joel 3:16)

For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble. (D&C 84:118)

Wherefore, be not deceived, but continue in steadfastness, looking forth for the heavens to be shaken, and the earth to tremble and to reel to and fro as a drunken man, and for the valleys to be exalted, and for the mountains to be made low, and for the rough places to become smooth—and all this when the angel shall sound his trumpet. (D&C 49:23)

And then shall the Lord set his foot upon this mount, and it shall cleave in twain, and the earth shall tremble, and reel to and fro, and the heavens also shall shake. (D&C 45:48)

After reading all this, I’m going to hazard a suspicion that the idea of the heavens shaking is symbolic, rather than literal, but I will say that literal fulfillment is also possible too. (How’s that for covering my bases? ;-))

If the imagery of shaking heavens is symbolic, what are we to learn from it?  When I think of the heavens, I think of the place God resides and His angels. But why should the holy inhabitants of heaven shake?  And how could that possibly be for our good?  Shaking makes me think of instability and even a little fear, and are we really to think that the organization of heaven and its inhabitants are unstable and fearful?  The notion is absurd, and I reject it.

So what other possible ways could we interpret heavens besides as the place God resides and His angels?  If these “heavens” aren’t holy, then it must be more worldly. Perhaps it is used here to refer to earthly governments that rule nations, states, cities, etc.  After all, rulers have high status. This would fit with the contrast set up in several of the above scriptures where Zion rejoices, while heaven and earth trembles and shakes.  The Lord roars out of Zion and will be the hope of His people, but the heavens and the earth will shake.

Why go to the trouble of stating it this way?  What purpose could it have? I think it is commonly the Lord’s practice to conceal things from people who are not ready to know it, until the time they are ready.  It is rather uncomfortable to know that governments will be unstable and fearful.  It would be a dangerous thing for the fledgling church to spread about.

But then it is a fact that the Saints’ committed mass of obedience to prophetic direction has always intimidated outsiders and governments. They fear the possibility of the Saints being commanded to do something that would threaten them. This issue was grounds for people accusing the Saints of being undemocratic back in Joseph Smith’s day. A prominent editor of a Warsaw, Illinois newspaper came to Nauvoo to observe the Saints and his alarm over their obedience drove him to write incendiary editorials that wrought up local animosity against the Saints and were instrumental in leading to Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.

So how would this instability end up helping the Saints? I don’t think this is a case where unstable powers that be get intimidated into giving us privileges. Rather, I suspect the unstable conditions will provide an environment for the Saints to develop greater faith in the Lord than they would gain otherwise.  If conditions are shaky and everyone is worried, then you have to choose whether to act out of fear or out of faith in God.

I want to go back to one of the other verses and look at another part of it.

For, with you saith the Lord Almighty, I will rend their kingdoms; I will not only shake the earth, but the starry heavens shall tremble. (D&C 84:118)

What could this mean when it says the Lord would use his servants to rend the world’s kingdoms? 

“Rending kingdoms” to me evokes the idea of something like the Civil War happening in nation after nation. The Civil War started over the ideological divide over slavery and states rights, and it fomented a while before it finally blew up.  And here it seems a future series of rendings will start over a major divide about the Lord’s servants.  (It is also possible that the rending may be political without being violent, such as if there is a peaceful way for nation entities to split. But those kinds of things can still be messy and acrimonious.)

This may sound very scary, but from a certain point of view, it is actually rather encouraging.  For a lot of church history, we have been a tiny minority facing an uphill battle against the prejudices and persecutions from .. well.. practically everyone else.  But if a kingdom is rent to pieces over the Lord’s servants, then that means that there will be enough people in that kingdom for us (or the principles we stand for) to make a significant outcry if we are abused or tyrannized over by those who are against us. And if it happens in multiple kingdoms, then we have more allies across the world.

I don’t know if this has happened yet, so this says to me that this is still future stuff.  But this verse suggests there is significant polarization ahead for the politics of the world’s nations and ideological divides that the Lord’s servants will find themselves at the focus of simply while carrying out religious duty.  I think it is part of how the Lord will test and thresh the nations to see which way they will choose.