Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When He Ariseth to Shake Terribly the Earth

Has anybody else noticed the slight correction 2 Nephi 12 makes to verse 9 of Isaiah 2?  The 2 Nephi text reads:

And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not.
The "not's" are missing in Isaiah.

This is significant, because of the picture Isaiah paints here of universal haughtiness.  Here, the rich man is not humble, but neither is the poor man.  Everyone -- everyone -- is lifted up in strife, one against the other.  "O house of Jacob... ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways" (v. 5).

Isaiah is speaking here, of course, to his own time.  But in typical fashion, the prophecies aimed at his own time and his own people blend into future time and a universal judgment, into the "last days," the days when the Lord will come to "judge among the nations" (v. 4).

There's something else here that has struck me for the first time in these verses, and it has to do with the nature of God's judgment upon the nations, described in verse 4:

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The immediate, direct consequence of the Lord's judgments and rebukes is that "they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks—nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."  Is it that the wickedness that the Lord finds it necessary to correct here is our hatred of one another?  Our incessant warring against our own brothers and sisters?

This makes all the more sense when we read this verse against the larger context of the chapter as a whole.  Isaiah 2 / 2 Nephi 12 is a jeremiad against pride.  Look at the imagery in this chapter, "the cedars of Lebanon" and "the oaks of Bashan," "the high mountains" and "the hills," "the high towers," even the masts of "all the ships of the sea"!  Every one and everything that is "high" shall be brought "low"!

Pride is, after all, a root cause of war.  But so is idolatry, the other great evil Isaiah promises here that the Lord will "utterly abolish" (v. 18).  You don't have to -- it should be obvious -- own any actual graven images to be an idolater.  There seems to me to be a parallel in this chapter between the "silver and gold" which the "land is full of" (v. 7) and the "idols of silver" and the "idols of gold" (v. 20).  Idolatry and the pride of wealth are twin sins that both prosper together and fall together.  They're the twin evils of our own civilization.

Isaiah doesn't seem to offer much hope that we will save ourselves from these twin evils.  Verse 4 does say that the Lord shall rebuke many, implying that not all will be in need of rebuking.  It does say "every one who is lifted up... shall be brought low" (v. 12) implying that those who are not lifted up need not be.  Still, Isaiah also says "ye have all gone astray, every one to his wicked ways."

That is why, I think, the judgment described here is universal.  The text says, "the fear of the Lord shall come upon them and the majesty of his glory shall smite them, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth."  You shake someone when you want to wake them up.  And the Lord is going to shake the entire earth.

So there is a sense in which, I believe, that none of us knows the truth, none of us fully understands the Gospel.  We understand it in our own way.  We have our own appreciations of it, through a glass, darkly.  But we cannot understand it in its fullness until the Lord completes this work himself, until he rises up to shake the entire earth.

This shouldn't surprise us.  This is the way the Lord works.  None of Jesus' disciples, not even the beloved one who lay nestled in his breast at the last supper, fully understood Jesus' work until after the resurrection.  At his last supper, he announced to them, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night."  Judas betrayed him.  Peter denied him.  Everyone fled.  No one fully understood until after Christ had died and appeared to them again.

So it may be, that none of us will fully understand until we "shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24: 30).

And I believe that for that time, the only adequate preparation we can make is to humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and be kind to one another (for kindness is the practice of humility).  And to pray for that day, when the Lord will make this great work complete, when God will reign on earth as he rules in Heaven.


Holly said...

Isaiah 2:9 is a commentary on Isaiah 2:8:

8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:
9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not.

it's that both rich and poor, both weak and powerful, bow down to the idols they've created. Which is a pretty good assessment of Christianity: the whole theology is about an idol, a human creation, a false god who looks just like we do and loves what we love and hates what we hate, and rich and poor worship it.

And yeah, it's going to screw up all over. The belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old and God has complete control over events of the earth, therefore environmental disasters aren't real and can't do lasting damage to life on earth--that's how the idolatry of some will damage life for all.

J G-W said...

Holly - yes, it occurred to me that the unamended Isaiah 2:9 could be read as a reference to idolatry...

And I agree, too, that scriptural warnings against human wickedness generally evidence a larger, cosmic awareness. It is not just human beings who are harmed by human wickedness. All creation suffers. "The whole earth groans under the weight" of our iniquity (D&C 123: 7).

I've never understood the mentality that the earth is only temporary, so we can feel free to rape and exploit it all we want. It's not scriptural. Almost from the first words of the Bible, the earth is described as a stewardship, as something we are to tend and care for.

J G-W said...

Holly - One other thought...

I'm not sure the notion that God has "complete control over events of the earth" is biblical either. You hear things like that from diehard Calvinist fundamentalists... As well as the grotesque corollary notion that God wants us to cut down every forest and drill every last drop of oil, and then burn everything up with a nuclear war. (I didn't believe anybody could actually believe that kind of nonsense until I actually encountered it in real life...)

I prefer the Mormon understanding of human free will... It makes us accountable and responsible for what we do to the earth. At the same time, it recognizes that the earth and all things in it rightfully belong to the Lord (and not to us). It's not ours to do with whatever we please...