Making Sense of Darkness & Destruction (3 Nephi 8-11)

Monday, September 14, 2020


Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I'm Channing.

E: And I’m Elise. 

C: And this is The Faithful Feminist podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

C: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Third Nephi chapters 8 through 11 for the dates September 14th through the 20th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back, everyone. Thanks for joining us. On another episode. In this episode, things get really out of hand. I don't know how else to say it. In this, Jesus is coming. But before Jesus gets here, lots of people die. There's lots of destruction and there's a long time where the people sit in dark uncertainty.

C: Yeah, it was wild for me reading the chapters this week, because this is the point in the Book of Mormon where earthquakes are happening and lightning comes from the sky and lights entire cities light on fire and cities are swallowed up in the sea and swallowed up by the earth. And it's just pure insanity, basically, that happens, and this week here in Utah, where I live, there've been hurricane force winds that have been like toppling trees and blowing semi-trucks over and making it so entire cities don't have power. And so it was kind of surreal a little bit to read these chapters and also see everything that's happening.

E: And these chapters are already so difficult. And I can’t even – they’re difficult and I know what happens. They're difficult, and I know that Jesus comes and everything changes. But I think in today's episode, we kind of want to spend the majority of our time working through the terribleness that the people go through in these chapters. And so one of the first things that we notice in chapter eight, which is the first chapter of this section, is that, just like Channing said, there are these humongous and earth-shattering natural disasters that happen. There's tempests and storms and thunder, such that had never been seen before in all of the land. There is lightning and cities sink, cities catch on fire. The land splits and the whole face of the land is changed. The rocks are rent in twain and lots and lots of people die. And I think what I find difficult about this is not just that there's so much death here, but that in the next chapter, in chapter nine, a voice comes from the darkness and the chapter heading says that it's the voice of Jesus. And I find this troubling because the voice takes full responsibility for all of this destruction. It says, Oh yeah, you know that great city Moronihah? Yeah, I covered that whole city with earth. Oh, you know, that city of Gilgal? Yeah, I caused that city to sink and all of the inhabitants in that city. And it goes through, I don't even know how many cities, six or seven cities, where this voice that's attributed to Jesus says, yeah, that was me. 

C: That's a really tough pill to swallow. I mean, I've been sitting with that for the last couple of days. And even still hearing you read it out loud, I'm like, Oh yeah, it just feels uncomfortable.

E: And one thing I noticed in chapter nine is that when this voice speaks out about taking responsibility for the destruction, there's a repetition of why, a justification as to why this is happening. And in verses five, seven, eight, nine, and eleven, it says that this destruction happens to hide their iniquities, the iniquities of the people, and their abominations from before my face that the blood of the prophets and the saints shall not come anymore unto me against them. And I find this interesting though. God takes full responsibility for killing these people, this repetition as to why it happened makes me think that the voice of the prophets and the voice of all of the innocent people who have died because of the wickedness of this entire community, it makes me think that it's those voices that are calling to God from the earth, that are kind of knocking on God's door and saying, Do something about this. We were murdered, we were abused. We were trampled upon. We were treated like trash and pushed aside and forgotten and dismissed. And I just can imagine the voices of the people and the prophets who have suffered under the hands of all of this wickedness calling out to God from the earth, Do something about this. And so when God does, perhaps we could read it as a response to God, listening to the innocent and to the suffering and to the righteous people that have been killed in the midst of so much wickedness. 

C: I appreciate that reading and I think it's important to talk about possibly some other interpretations that we could have of the story, because my first reaction to reading it is like, Jesus did what? Right? The Jesus that I know from the New Testament sounds nothing like the Jesus that's showing up here and, what happened to turn the other cheek? What happened to that Jesus? It was just so foreign to me to read this vengeance and destruction in the voice of someone that I've experienced in other texts to be very gentle and kind and compassionate. So I'm glad that we're kind of working through that and we're offering a couple of different ways to interpret the text because honestly, I don't want to speak for both of us when I say this, but I think that…I don't know what interpretation feels right to me about this story. I'm not totally sure that I feel good about any one of them at all, you know what I mean? And so sometimes stories that show up in the text are just difficult and they ask us to wrestle with our understandings of the divine and ask us to understand things differently than what we have before. And so if you're feeling challenged by Jesus showing up to kill a bunch of people, that's okay. I'm feeling a little uncomfortable too. 

E: Right, yeah. And I think that's one of the hard things about scriptures, is that we read them and they ask us to make an interpretation, but it's up to us to do that. They don't tell us what's the right or the best or the only interpretation. There's so many different ways that we could take it. And it's our responsibility as readers, or I think that it's my responsibility as a reader, to try and read it through a lens of care and tenderness and generosity, but that makes it really hard when there's so much destruction.

C: Yeah, it really does. And when Jesus is like, That was me. Oh man, I can’t interpret it any other way now, like full responsibility for that. And so I could offer a bajillion workarounds, right, but the truth is the text said that Jesus is brushing His shoulders off and was like, I did. Yep. That was me.

E: Yeah. And in chapter 9 verse 12 it says that many great destructions have I caused have I Jesus, cause to come upon this land and upon this people because of their wickedness and their abominations, and this makes me -- I also wonder if we can help twist Jesus free of the responsibility that Jesus does take for the destruction because in the last few Come Follow Me sections that we've had, I've talked to Channing about this, but there's a repeating phrase that shows up and it says that “ye are ripening for destruction,” that the wickedness of the people they're basically, they themselves are bringing on this destruction. They are ripening for destruction. They've done it to themselves. And that is very harsh for me to say aloud. But I think in order for us to offer a really generous reading, I think maybe this could help us by thinking that, okay, maybe this isn't a vengeful and destructive God, but a God who is bound to justice first, justice before peace and that binding means that people have to reckon with the consequences that everyone has been warning them about, that the prophets have been warning them about that they've had time and time again to repent, and now as the day of reckoning. There are consequences and it almost makes this verse seem like, all right, maybe God doesn't necessarily want to be doing this destruction. And I think even for the people that die, of course, there are second chances after death, but God is bound to the innocent and the suffering and God is a God of liberation first. And so God shows up for those who have suffered under the hand of the oppressor. 

C: Yeah, I do appreciate that because it's true. And I also think it's worth pointing out that -- I think when I come to the text, I think, all people are like me, right? I tried to do this very -- for me, when I say I'm doing a generous reading, it's me interpreting everyone else as if they had the same intentions and the same thought process and the same values and care, “Oh yeah, of course. Everyone's just doing the best that they can.” That's what it means to me to do a generous reading, but that's not what these people are doing. Right? They are not doing the best that they can. The text literally says they're murdering people, they're killing the prophets, they're casting them out. The text doesn't get super explicit about what exactly they're doing, but literally 30 years ago they were going to murder people unless a star showed up in the sky. So things aren't looking hot. It even goes on to say in the text too, “I’ve sent so many prophets, so many teachers, and I've tried to share this message again and again and again, and even still you just do nothing.” And so I think the call and cry to repentance, I think I bristle against that a little bit sometimes because past interpretations I've heard have always said, “Oh, we need to dig in our heels and double down on our commitment to the church and double down on our covenants.” And not that that's a bad thing, but I don't always think that that's what God is asking for in repentance. But I think in this set of scriptures, repentance is referring to the care that they're giving to others in their community and not necessarily like how committed they are to the church. Because there's been other times in the text where people have believed differently and not everyone's belonged to the church and community gets along just fine. They're very respectful. There's not war. There's disagreement, but there's not necessarily contention. And I think that this is not one of those times.

E: Right, right. No, I think you're right. And I think that one of the verses that might even back you up on that is verses 13 and 14 in chapter 9. The voice of Jesus is speaking again and it says, “Oh, all ye that are spared because you were more righteous than they, will you not now return unto me and to repent of your sins and be converted that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you that if you will come unto me, you shall have eternal life. And my arm of mercy is extended to you. And whoever comes, I will receive them. Blessed are those who come unto me.” And I just think that the people that were spared, they aren't even perfect. They are still sinners who need to repent. And that makes me think that those that did die, perhaps they were totally, completely closed off from God's message, from Christ's message of love and forgiveness -- not about joining the church, but maybe they were closed off and totally hard, and then they didn't treat humans like human beings. Maybe they treated them like property or objects, or didn't even see their humanity.

C: Hearing you say that almost makes me feel like this is maybe the great flood of the Book of Mormon, how God just was like, Nope, it's time to start over like here. And it's not quite to that degree, but kind of.

E: But it is. Or the God that shows up in Exodus that says, let my people go, let my people go, let my people go. I'm sending plagues, I'm sending plagues. And time and time again, you've had all these opportunities to make it right. And I think there's such a clear connection that we can make to our day right now, especially with issues of racism and LGBTQ issues in the church. Time and time again, whose voices are we not listening to? How many times have people explained things to us and we have pushed them aside? And at some point, we have to reckon with what the consequences of that will be. And that's scary. And I think another thing, a hard question that I'm asking myself is, all right, I'm uncomfortable by this set of scriptures because there's so much death, but why wasn't I just as uncomfortable and just as upset with the scriptures when God did nothing? When God was hands-off and there were still murders and wars, and suffering filled the entire community. Why wasn't I this upset when God did nothing? And I'm thinking, if I was God, I'd be like, what the heck do you want from me? I do nothing, and you're only slightly irritated. Maybe you're a little bit more conscious of it, but you're not super pissed off enough to do anything about it yourself to save the people, your own people, yourself. So then I send prophets, I send prophets from the margins. There's people on the ground doing the work, preaching forgiveness, preaching repentance, and things still don't change. And in fact, people still don't listen and things get worse. But now when I step in to save the righteous, to side with the oppressed, and to be the God of liberation, now you're upset with me? And those are hard questions for me to ask myself because that means that I have to be more active and more responsible in doing the work of freedom and liberation now, here and now, and not waiting for God to sweep in and save us. I hope I'm counted in that, and destroy others. The work of liberation should be now.

C: Well, and I think too, at least from a trauma lens, it's difficult for someone who hasn't been through that experience to understand just how painful it is to be oppressed or to experience hate and all of the things that are happening in the scriptures. And it's one thing for us as readers of the text far removed, because technically we are, we're far removed from this story as it happened at this time. It's one thing for us to read into it and say, couldn’t God have done something different? Why did all these people die? Seriously, come on. You could have done better. We all know you could have done better. I've read the new Testament, you could have done better. But we weren't there, and we're not God. And so, we don't get to say or decide what is the best way to handle this situation. And we've always said this before -- there could have been stuff that happened that we don't know about that ultimately tipped God's hand. 

E: And I think as much as we can say, God, why didn’t you do it differently? I think God's might be like, People, why couldn't you get your act together? Why did it have to come this? 

C: Yeah. Yeah, I agree.

E: And to kind of add salt to the wound, this destruction and Jesus taking full responsibility for the death of the people, this all happens in pitch darkness. There is not any light for three whole days.

C: Yeah. And it's not even that the darkness randomly came upon the land, which in and of itself would be terrifying. But no, in chapter 8 verses 20 through 23, well, technically all of the verses that happened before that, before the darkness, literally right before the darkness comes, all of these cities have been destroyed. There's been earthquakes and thunder and lightning and cities swallowed up by the sea and cities on fire and just literally insane. And then as soon as it goes quiet, as soon as things stop happening, it says mists of darkness came in and the verses, they're kind of terrifying if you really think about it. In the verses, they say there could be no light because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches, neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood. So there could not be any light at all. They went to the exact point to carve into this piece of metal to say that they could not light fires with their exceedingly dry wood. They wanted to make it very clear that these people could not light a fire. And it goes on to say there was no light seen, no fire, no glimmer, no sun, moon or stars. So great where the mists of darkness, which were upon the land. And so, can you imagine that your city has been destroyed and then it's dark. You can't see anything. Maybe you've been separated from your family. You don't know where they are. You don't know if they're alive or dead. Like you can't orient. What if you're stuck beneath this gigantic boulder and you can't escape? It's just dark and no one can find you. And I can just imagine it's pure chaos. Literal insanity. And for three days, it's not even just a couple of hours, three days. I seriously can't wrap my mind around it. That's so crazy. And the people struggled. In verse 23 it says, and it came to pass that this darkness did last for the space of three days. There was no light seen. And there was a great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually. Yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them. And I don't know about you, how you're feeling about this, but when I read these verses, I get a little bit of an inkling of the Second Coming and my heart is pounding and I'm like, I really don't want this to happen. This sounds terrible. So I really don't, especially when I come to verses like this, I don't understand interpretations of the Second Coming as a hopeful event. A lot of times when we have lessons in gospel doctrine, I hear people saying, “Oh, if you're righteous, you don't need to be afraid or worried about the Second Coming.” And I read these and I'm like, “Uh, did you see that verse where Jesus is like, no, you've survived because you were righteous.” But these people still experienced trauma, so much. 

E: Well, and if we think too that if it's the wickedness of the people that has prompted this destruction from God, that also means that like wickedness has a communal effect. It's not just an individual thing. Yes, there are individuals that died, but the people that survived, just like you're saying, still suffered, still have consequences to work through. It's not just, “Oh, our righteousness gives us immunity from suffering.” 

C: I think that we literally think that even if cities aren't on fire and swallowed up in the sea, I think we believe that, but this shows that that's not true. And I agree, it does have a community aspect, especially when we're talking about oppression because people can't be oppressed if the community is standing up and taking care of them. And so, in some way we are all complicit when stuff like this happens. And so, yeah, Second Coming... I'm just to the point now that when I come to scriptures like this, that I'm like, Wow. I really just want to stand up in Gospel Doctrine class and say, the Second Coming is not like butterflies and unicorn farts, okay? It's not like, “Oh, Jesus is here! Yay!” No, it's literally a reckoning. 

E: Well, and I think that those Gospel Doctrine classes either go to one of two ways, 1) they just skip over all of the destruction, like you're saying, and, “Hooray, Jesus is here, we're all saved!” Or they swing way far to the other side and it's just no hope at all, everyone's going to die. And both of those are hard to sit with, I think. 

C: Yeah, I agree. I agree. This situation is difficult for everyone involved and I think that the text shows that the people are kind of coming to a recognition that this isn't just like some random coincidence that all of these terrible things are happening at once. I think they do recognize that this is directly connected to their unrighteousness. In chapter 8, verses 24 and 25, the text says, “and in one place they were heard to cry, saying, Oh, that we had repented before this great and terrible day. And then would our brethren have been spared and they would not have burned in the great city Zarahemla. And in another place, they were heard to cry and mourn, saying, Oh, that we had repented before this great and terrible day and had not killed and stoned the prophets and cast them out, then would our mothers and our fair daughters and our children have been spared and not have been buried up in the great city, Moronihah, and thus were the howlings of the people great and terrible.” I did want to make a little note about the women that are talked about in verse 25. I think if we read it in context of the verse before, this is just kind the writer's way to demonstrate that people of every age and gender suffered. I do think it's notable to see that the men are included in one verse and then women and children are included in the next, they're separated in that way, but just reading the language I can imagine that every gender mourns brethren and mothers and daughters and children. I don't think that this is an inherently sexist verse. I just think it's the way that it was written. We could make a commentary on why women and children are always included together, but that's a conversation for another day, but I don't think it's worth spending any time getting worked up over the way it's written, because I don't think it causes harm. And I don't think that it implicates that women are the only ones who die. But like I mentioned earlier, reading these verses while also experiencing some of our own natural disasters, definitely not to this extent, has been really challenging, but also really eye opening. And as I watch all of this insanity happen in the world around me and read about it in the text, just thinking again about those Second Coming discussions where it's like, “Yay, Jesus is coming!” I'm like, wait, is this something that we're excited for? And again, that same question. Do we really think that our righteousness will protect us from this kind of trauma and suffering? Because even if we don't die, there is still suffering here. These people have still lost family members. They've still lost their cities and friends. They've still lost any sense of safety, in the land or within themselves. And so they're still suffering here. It's not that they have been completely protected based on their righteousness. You know what I mean? So I just don't think that our righteousness excludes us from things like home evacuations or landslides or flooding or being swallowed up in earthquakes or ripped up in tornadoes. We even see that now, good people are being evacuated from their homes in California. Stuff like this happens and our righteousness does not protect us. It can serve us, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee us any kind of like safety or exemption from the things that are happening in our own communities. And kind of going along with that, I don't want to traumatize anyone listening because that's how sometimes I feel listening to the Second Coming stuff. But I do think that these chapters are kind of a wake-up call. But maybe in a different way than we're thinking, not in a, “Oh, I need to repent, and do this thing right away.” We do need to do that. But also, I don't think that looking forward to the day of the Second Coming and singing songs about when God's wrath will show up to the earth and “Aren't we all Christian soldiers, so happy about it?” I don't think that that should be our position when we're thinking about the Second Coming or what's happening in these chapters. I actually think that this portion of the text calls for a great mourning. I think the closer that we get to the last days, the more grief it should cause us and not in a fundamentalist kind of way where we say, “Oh, the world's getting so wicked. And I'm so sad for the wickedness of the world because of how it's affecting me personally. Oh, the world is making it so hard for me to be righteous. Everyone's being so unrighteous.” I think it should cause us grief and mourning in the way where we say, “Oh my gosh, I know what's coming. And I wish we could just turn it around. Can we just turn it around? We can all do it. It's so simple. All we have to do is make some different choices, please.” And I think it's sad to get to a point, at least for me, I've experienced that where I've just had these times in my life where I just look around at the world around me and I'm like, can we just not dump waste into the ocean? Can we just kind of maybe believe in climate change, like we have time to turn this all around, please just make a different choice. And like yet, like the trains keep on trucking. And I do, I feel that really intense grief inside. And so I think this text needs to remind us, or is here to remind us to mourn for others and mourn for others unrighteousness, because we know that it brings them suffering now, and we know that it will bring them suffering later.

E: Well, and I think too about all of this happening in the dark, where no one can see anything. And being in the dark and having your life ripped out from under you and people ripped out from under you, you're left with without sight. So the people around you are not the people that you feel comfortable with. You don't know who's around you and yet you still have to reach out to them and make sure that they're safe too, because in the darkness you're forced to rely on one another in ways that you haven't had to do in the light, because you thought you were self-sufficient, you knew the path to walk. You knew the way to the grocery store. You knew which right and left turns to take. And yada, yada, you knew how to get to work and make your money. But when your land is destroyed, when your people are split up, when your family has died and you can't see, when you can't make out your way that you felt so sure of, what else do you have to rely on but the other people around you in the darkness.

C: That's a really beautiful reading of this portion, Elise. And I think it's symbolic, too. It asks us to sit in the darkness and it asks us to think about what it would be like if our lives were suddenly different. If all of the sudden we didn't have what we have right in this moment, if everything that we knew is ripped away, all we would have is each other. And God, who just tore up the entire earth. So yeah, I think you're right. That's a beautiful and really symbolic way to read this. I think another way that we can interpret this darkness, too, and all of the destruction that comes before it, is kind of like we talked about before, there's this sense of cleansing, right? That the unrighteous of this community are being destroyed in order to preserve the integrity of the people as a whole. And I think we can kind of interpret this for ourselves, too. I think if we can look at this story as kind of an allegory, imagining the people as symbolic of different parts of ourselves, then maybe some of the questions that we can ask are, are there parts of myself that are willfully unrepentant? Are there parts of myself that aren't open to learning about anti-racism work? Are there parts of myself that are resistant to learning about patriarchy or feminism? Are there parts of myself that simply just don't care if other people suffer? And those are tough questions to sit with because even if you think that you have done your work and you're doing great, even for me, not that I'm the greatest person in the whole world, but I come up against those points of resistance, too. I do know that there are parts of myself that are willfully ignorant and unrepentant of that ignorance because it serves me, and that's just part of my privilege. It's not just part of my privilege. That is my privilege. And that needs to be checked and it needs to be repented up. So, we all got to get on that. Me included. Another question that we could ask is, are there parts of myself that need to be cleansed or made new before we are ready to meet God? And yeah, I think it goes great with the question that I just answered for myself. Yes, there are parts that do need to be cleansed or made new or learned from or built upon in order to open myself up further, to receive more love and more divinity into myself and increase my capacity to recognize the divine in others. Just to be love and spread love and all the love things. And so I think this darkness is a good teacher. And really, essentially for me, when I come across darkness, I essentially, I don't ever read darkness as a bad thing. Sure, in this text, it's scary, but darkness in and of itself is not a bad thing. I actually see it as an essential part of our rebirth. And if you think about the resurrection story, Jesus went through a period of darkness, too. His darkness was death, and waiting in the tomb until the day of resurrection came. And so, I don't look at darkness as a bad thing. I think that it's what allows for decomposition, for composting, for things in a literal sense, like mold and moss and moisture and life, to do work on a really subtle and micro level. Death and darkness is where the work happens. And I t's essential. You can't skip it. Things come apart and they come together in this space. And very often we do feel like we're being ripped apart, but it's all part of coming back together and becoming different and a new creature like Paul talks about. The darkness part is essential. We can't just skip over it as uncomfortable as it is. But I do think that it offers us a place of exploration and value and the text even verifies that in saying that this is the period where the people realize just how bad things are and just how bad things have gotten. And so, I think for us personally, we could do the same, take those periods of darkness into account and get really honest with ourselves about our own inner landscape, but also what's happening in our communities. To realize just how bad things have gotten, just how bad things are. Maybe not just for us individually, but maybe how they're worse for others. And then when Christ comes, or when the light comes, what are we going to do? And the text sets up the precedent that when Jesus comes everyone's called back in together. We do a big reset, and we learn how to love one another. 

E: I'm so glad that you ended on that kind of like hopeful note, because I think that for the destruction and the darkness of these chapters, there is that bit of hopefulness. And I think that also provides contrast between the way that we understand God and Jesus in these chapters, because in the beginning of these chapters, we see a destructive God, an angry God, but then we also see God as a mother hen gathering her chickens. That feminine motherly image is also attributed to God here. And I find that such a striking contrast between the God who was very masculine and aggressive and destructive. Now we have the feminine divine showing up in the same voice of Jesus, right? Both the masculine and the feminine energies existing at once. And the feminine energy says, my arms of mercy, my wings are always extended. I'm trying as hard as I can to gather all of my chicks so that I can protect them. I want them to come to me. And I think that's a beautiful contradiction that exists simultaneously within the same text. And I think for any of you listening that feel like, “I don't want to read these chapters, they're too violent. I don't know how to make sense of these chapters with so much contradiction, the darkness and the light, the destruction and the mercy and the gathering, the justice and the mercy and the love. How do I make sense of all of this?” I think there's a hopeful understanding that we can come to in Third Nephi chapter 11. This is when Jesus is here. He's with the people and he says “Arise and come forth unto me that you may thrust your hands into my side, that you may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and my feet. “And then the entire multitude, all of the people came forth one by one individually to come and see, to come and see for themselves. And I think that's a loving, beautiful promise that we could close the episode with. If this is hard, if the gospel's hard, if faith is hard right now, if trying to engage with the scriptures, especially during these destructive chapters is difficult for you, Jesus will meet you there. Jesus says, come and see. Come and see for yourself, my arms are extended, come and grapple with my wounds. I'm here for you. We can have this individual experience where you get to see for yourself what the gospel is all about.

C: Thanks so much for joining us today for this crazy ride through the scriptures today. We saw a lot of destruction. We saw a lot of mourning. We saw darkness and natural disasters, and then we saw Jesus. I know it was a trip. And I know that there was a lot to cover and talk about this week, but we really encourage you, maybe before or after, or multiple times listening to this episode, going to the text and discovering all of the treasures and gifts that it has for you there. Because like always, we offer one interpretation, not the interpretation of the text and for all of the wildness that are here in these chapters, there's a lot of love waiting for you, too. 

E: And remember, the next few episodes like Jesus is here, you know.

C: Unicorn fart!

E: Get ready! Get ready. So thank you so much for listening. We hope you enjoy it, and we hope that it offers you some new insights and encourages you to make your own interpretations as they feel most meaningful. So we love you all and we'll see you next week. Bye!

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