Imitating God is a fundamental concept of both Old and New Testament theology. This is the point of the concept of man in the image of God. Likewise many of Jesus’ disciples are reported to have followed him to violent deaths. James was killed by Herod, and tradition holds that Peter was crucified. Martyrdom wasn’t just limited to the apostles either. Stephen was stoned to death, for example. In this, we see a frighteningly literal application of the commandment to follow Jesus.
Mormonism expands on the idea of man in the image of God, rendering him a “god in embryo” capable of eternal progression. In this sense man is expected to literally follow God’s path of growth and progress, and this imitation of God would be a strong basis for Latter-day Saint morality. The oft-quoted ethical heuristic “What would Jesus do?” has a literal aspect to the Latter-day Saint. Just as the Son does “nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (John 5:19), we must also follow in God’s footsteps. To emulate God, however, we must know about his nature.
The First Vision
The First Vision was an important revelation about the nature of God, but Joseph Smith didn’t acquire a clear understanding of that revelation until long after the event had transpired. In the canonical account, Joseph Smith tells of having seen “two Personages” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17), and though we teach that these personages were God the Father and Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith did not identify them in the account. He continued referring to the being with whom he conversed as “the Personage.” Smith might have originally been confused about the identity of these personages, since his understanding of God at the time was Trinitarian. The existence of this confusion is supported by the other accounts of the First Vision, which refer to the visitation as being from “The Lord” or from “angels.”
Critics point to these inconsistencies in the retellings of the First Vision as evidence that it didn’t really happen. Taking a believer’s perspective, however, it may do us some good to explore how Joseph’s developing understanding of who God is may have informed his perception of the First Vision. What we shall find is not that Joseph Smith defrauded us, but that learning about God allowed him to better understand his own identity and history. Not yet knowing God, and having a vastly different understanding about Deity than he would later in life, young Joseph naturally would have been confused as to the exact identities of the two figures he saw in the grove.
Joseph Smith’s youth coincided with a wave of religious excitement known as the “Second Great Awakening,” a response to a brief upsurge in Deism that followed the publication of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, which had affected the views of Smith’s paternal grandfather, Asael. Notwithstanding Asael Smith’s views, Joseph’s parents held more traditional beliefs and influenced their children toward protestant Christianity. His family was Presbyterian, and he attended the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra for at least part of his childhood, attending Sabbath School there. During this time he must have been exposed to protestant ideas about the trinity, though that this was a superficial understanding of Trinitarian doctrine is apparent in the fact that much later in life he described it as follows: “Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow—three in one and one in three! It is a curious organization… All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—He would be a giant or a monster.”
That this naïve concept of the trinity as a sort of three-in-one monster was Joseph Smith’s understanding of the nature of God at the time of the first vision is apparent in the use of Trinitarian language in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, and in such language is retained to this day in the Testimony of Three Witnesses: “And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God.” The doctrine of the Godhead developed gradually in the early restored Church, and in 1835 was being taught as consisting of two distinct personages: The Father, who was understood to be a spirit, and the Son, who had a body. The Holy Ghost was taught to be the “mind” shared between the Father and the Son. Joseph Smith taught the modern Latter-day Saint understanding of the Godhead in 1843, as found in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” This was not too long after the canonical version of the First Vision was originally published in 1842.
The development of Joseph’s understanding of the nature of God culminated in two important sermons shortly preceding his martyrdom. “The Sermon in the Grove,” the latter of the two, was given on June 16, 1844, two weeks before his death. It touches on the necessity of restoration of the priesthood after periods of apostasy, but primarily treats the concept of a plurality of Gods in the context of eternal progression. “I belie
ve those Gods that God reveals as Gods to be sons of God… who exalt themselves to be Gods, even from before the foundation of the world, and are the only Gods I have a reverence for.” The earlier sermon is known as the “King Follett Sermon,” and was given a little more than two months before the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. In this particularly innovative sermon, Joseph discusses the origin of God himself, and compares it to the origin and destiny of man. He taught: “The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.” Although these sermons were never canonized, they have greatly influenced popular understanding among Latter-day Saints about the nature of God and man.
The nature of God, then, was both among the first and the last things taught to Joseph Smith between the First Vision and the martyrdom. He had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ, but in the end it was a lifetime of revelation that culminated in the understanding of what he had seen. If in the latter days of his life he understood that it was the Father and the Son that he had seen in vision, he yet referred to them only as “personages,” keeping some aspect of what he had experienced as something very personal to himself. And if the beings did not identify themselves directly as God and Christ, instead allowing Joseph to grow in understanding over a lifetime, we can ascertain that the proper understanding of the Godhead is not so immediately relevant to eternal life or damnation as Trinitarian Christians might claim. We can afford to be more tolerant of them than they are of us. The Mormon perspective allows us to understand that we have an eternity to learn just who God is.
God and His Family
If seeing humans as figuratively children of God, and therefore brothers and sisters, is a sufficient basis for pacifist theology outside of Mormonism, then the Latter-day Saint perspective of literal kinship to God ought to provide a greater impetus towards a Mormon pacifism. Our identity and our relationship to God have implications not only for our eternal destiny, but also for appropriate actions and relationships between each of us and the rest of humanity during our lifetimes. Our relationship to God is so fundamental to the divine plan that Joseph Smith taught: “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” In this sense we see an understanding of the nature of God as vitally important, though not in the traditional sense that eternal salvation or damnation urgently hinges on acceptance of Trinitarian doctrine before death. Knowing the nature of the Godhead is a necessary step in our eternal progress. It teaches us how to relate to each other, how to relate to God, and what are those God-attributes that we should be imitating. One of the major themes of the aforementioned King Follett Sermon and the Sermon in the Grove is that by learning about the progress of God, we can follow in those footsteps for our own progress. Our purpose and destiny is to become like God, and in order to do so we must know what God is like.
Throughout Christianity God is understood to be eternal. Mormonism is unique in that it embraces the concept that man, or at least man’s spirit, is “co-eternal” with God. As taught in the King Follett Sermon, “The intelligence of spirits had no beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.” Although the speech isn’t entirely clear about the matter, a distinction is usually made between an “intelligence,” which is eternal, and a “spirit,” which consists of an intelligence clothed in a spirit-body. This is a necessary step in harmonizing the eternal nature of man’s intelligence with the principle that all “men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God… Every person who was ever born on earth is our spirit brother or sister.” Two important ethical principles are conflated here. First of all, each individual human is an eternal being ideally destined for godhood, and therefore merits a corresponding degree of respect. We ought to recognize the divine nature in others. The second has to do with our literal family relationship with every other human being. Just as we don’t kill family members under normal circumstances, we ought not be at all eager to kill other human beings. Even when we are ordered by our governments to kill others in warfare, honesty with our Mormonism would require us to treat the situation as if we were being ordered to kill our own brother or sister. This literal family relationship is between man and God as well: When killing another human being, we are killing the child of the deity we claim to worship.
Another important Mormon understanding with regards to spirits is the principle that they are material. Thus Mormonism does not hold, as did some dualist Gnostics, that matter is fundamentally evil, and that progress implies leaving the material for the spiritual. “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” In this way the Mormon concept of “spirit” differs from that of the rest of Christianity. When God says that “all things unto me are spiritual,” He is not describing some immaterial state of existence: even what we would call “temporal” is spiritual to Him. As we have seen before, God is a physical being, and the physical is sacred. Elder Talmage wrote: “We affirm that to deny the materiality of God’s person is to deny God; for a thing without parts has no whole, and an immaterial body cannot exist. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims against the incomprehensible God, devoid of ‘body, parts, or passions,’ as a thing impossible of existence, and asserts its belief in and allegiance to the true and living God of scripture an
d revelation.” The union of the material with the non-material, if there is such a thing, took place long before the creation when spirit was united with intelligence. Latter-day Saints, then, have no excuse for spiritualizing any of the laws or commandments given in the scriptures. When God says to take care of the poor, he literally means to provide for their physical well being. There is no scriptural distinction between physical and spiritual nourishment, as much as we might seek to create one.
So, here we are in the beginning, and yet God was active long before the beginning. The Mormon God has a history, an eternal development which we must follow to become like Him. It is sufficient to us, however, to know that at some point he was in a situation much like ours. Our own Gospel Principles manual quotes from the King Follett Sermon on this point: “[God] was once a man like us.” Violence against man, then, is violence against a being in the same state of life that God once found Himself in, and against a being who may someday find himself in a state of godhood as God now is. It is to harm someone who is like God.
The great council in Heaven is another legacy the Restoration has left us. We read in the Pearl of Great Price that “the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was… And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them… And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here I am, send me. And another answered and said: Here I am, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.” “Our Heavenly Father called a Grand Council to present His plan for our progression,” clarifies the Gospel Principles manual. At this council the creation was planned, according to our reading from Abraham, and there arose a division among the members present. In this there is more clarification from the Gospel Principles manual: “At this council we also learned that because of our weakness, all of us except little children would sin (see D&C 29:46-47). We learned that a Savior would be provided for us so we could overcome our sins and overcome death with resurrection.” The opposition arose as to who would be the Savior: “That Satan… is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here I am, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”
The dispute culminated in what is called a “War in Heaven.” Ironically, the basis of this war was the issue of force. As Talmage writes, “It is plain from the words of Isaiah that Lucifer, already of exalted rank, sought to aggrandize himself without regard to the rights and agency of others.” Force was not to be used in the establishment of the Kingdom of God; it had to come by peaceful persuasion. That God does not approve of authority in the sense of asserting control over another is apparent in Doctrine and Covenants: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” That is the principle of operation of the government of God: The Kingdom is to be established by preaching, not by violence or force of any sort. Indeed, “when we undertake… to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men… Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” Indeed, despite referring to the event as “war,” the only reference to force or physical violence involved is when the Michael and his angels, in the course of the war against Satan, “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” This occurred long after the Great Council, of course. It is interesting to note that it was the nonviolent party, the victim, that God ultimately declared the victor. The Saints fought not physically, but “by the word of their testimony” and by martyrdom. As already mentioned, the Kingdom is established by preaching, not compulsion. The human governments which function by force operate according to Satan’s pattern of violence, not Christ’s pattern of martyrdom. One Anabaptist apologist wrote that “sinful humanity is simply incapable of exercising impositional power without being corrupted by it.” Mormonism takes this a step further by claiming that not even God exercises impositional power.
It is also interesting to note John’s explanation of why heaven was relieved by the casting out of Satan: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” In these verses we are given three roughly synonymous terms to describe the dragon. διάβολος (devil), κατήγορος (accuser), and Σατανᾶς (Satan) mean a false witness, a plaintiff, and an accuser, respectively. In general, these words refer to someone who is accusing someone else. War rarely starts just out of a desire for bloodshed; it tends to begin with the satanic practice of raising accusations against another nation.
The Creation and the Fall
Sometime between the outbreak of war in the Grand Council, and the time when Satan “was cast out into the earth,” the earth itself had to be formed. The creation apparently carries some sort of significance in Mormonism, since between Genesis, Moses, Abraham, and the Temple we have four different retellings of the story. If you include the shorter creation narratives in John 1, Job 38, Proverbs 8, and 2 Nephi 2, among others, the emphasis on the creation in our religion becomes quite pronounced. Our purpose here is not to consider whether our creation myth is literally true, or allegory. Nor do we wish to discuss whether each day mentioned in the story was a twenty-four hour period, a thousand year period, or some potentially longer undefined period of time. Neither will we touch on whether the given order of steps was followed by God, nor the means which He used in creation, whether direct involvement or simply by setting things in motion through some event such as the Big Bang. Rather, we wish to discuss what meaning the story of creation holds for our relationships and actions. Barbara Sproul of Hunter College wrote the following regarding the effect creation myths have on us.
“Think of the power of the first myth of Genesis (1-2:3) in the Old Testament. While the scientific claims it incorporates, so obviously at odds with modern ones, may be rejected, what about the myth itself? Most Westerners, whether or not they are practicing Jews or Christians, still show themselves to be the heirs of this tradition by holding to the view that people are sacred, the creatures of God. Declared unbelievers often dispense with the frankly religious language of this assertion by renouncing God, yet even they still cherish the consequence of the myth’s claim and affirm that people have inalienable rights (as if they were created by God). And, further, consider the beliefs that human beings are superior to all other creatures and are properly set above the rest of the physical world by intelligence and spirit with the obligation to govern it—these beliefs are still current and very powerful. Even the notion that time is properly organized into seven-day weeks, with one day for rest, remains widely accepted. These attitudes toward reality are all part of the first myth of Genesis.”
Although the idea is prominent in Mormonism that at least many individuals who live or lived on the earth played a role in creation, credit for the entirety of the work is given specifically to God. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” we are taught. From this alone follow several important principles. The first of these is that God is an actor—that is, He plays a role in the unfolding of history. Admittedly Deism allows for a creator-god who doesn’t play a role in human events, but this concept of God is negated by the Latter-day Saint concept of the creation. Even if we don’t take the details of the myth literally, one of the messages is that of a God intricately involved in the details of the creation of the world, of man, and what happens to man from thereon. God himself personally visits Adam and Eve in the garden, and even where He is not directly involved He is found taking detailed reports and giving specific orders. This is an important point, because it means that God is ultimately in control of humanity’s destiny. We cannot count on our own actions, beyond those that God has commanded us to perform, to effect whatever end we seek. We cannot establish God’s kingdom on our own. Therefore, in our efforts to do good, we have an obligation to limit ourselves to actions that fall within the realm of the moral guidelines already established in the scriptures. We cannot justify prohibited actions, such as killing—or, on a greater scale, war—via an “ends justifies the means” philosophy. We cannot do this specifically because we have no control over the end. As Isaiah stated, “Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.”
The second principle that follows from crediting the creation to God is that a god’s role is creation, not destruction. Genesis refers to God’s direct involvement in creation, yet the scriptures dealing with God’s decrees of destruction demonstrate fulfillment via third parties who, in most cases, are identified as wicked. “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.” The exceptions will have to be dealt with later on, but it suffices at the moment to point out that, unlike ancient Israel, no modern nation has received a direct commandment from the Lord to go to war. The point that God’s work is creation rather than destruction is emphasized by the non-violent, non-coercive stance of the Saints and the Lamb in the War in Heaven, as discussed previously. Understanding humanity’s role as gods-in-training and the corresponding obligation to follow or imitate God, our efforts also must be focused on creation rather than destruction—and particularly on non-destructive creativity.
The third principle is God’s ownership of His creation. This has some uncomfortable—and therefore generally ignored—implications for our concept of property. The point important to our purpose here is that it renders territorial disputes illegitimate. The only legitimate sovereign is God; the only nation that can legitimately claim territory on earth would be the Kingdom of God. The United States of America is no more that kingdom than was the Soviet Union. A dispute over territory, then, is not an appropriate excuse to go to war, and less of one for involvement in a war between third-party nations. Although we do speak of “inheritances,” the Lord has never authorized us to withhold those inheritances from others. Moses provided ancient Israel’s immigration laws which, rather than instituting a border patrol, welcomed foreigners and treated them as if they were citizens.
They were to be given the full protection of the law. Whether this was actually the case in the real world is another issue, but at least God had commanded respect for and fair treatment of foreigners. Likewise the gentiles were welcomed to participate in Lehi’s inheritance, as Jacob taught: “But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land… Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed [Lehi’s descendants], and them who shall be numbered among thy seed [the gentiles who are peaceful toward Lehi’s descendants], forever, for the land of their inheritance.”Not only was inheritance never limited by literal descent, it is also offered in the future tense; permission to live on the land is given here and now, and depending on the residents’ actions, they (Lehi, the gentiles, or anyone else) may someday be permitted to say, “it’s mine.” Those who get ahead of themselves and say “mine” in the present have excluded themselves from the blessing given by Jesus: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Assertion of one’s ownership of God’s creation puts one in some category other than “meek.”
Every step of creation is pronounced “good,” that is, not good for man to destroy. The creation is not finished, however, until human beings are made: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” The importance of this statement—man (and woman) in the image of God—cannot be overstated. It forms the basis of divine law regarding man’s interactions with his fellow human beings. After the flood, when man is first given permission to eat meat—but not without consequence of course—the image of God in man is given as the reason for the prohibition against killing other human beings. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Since man is in the image of God, killing is a form of sacrilege: Violence against man is a simulation of violence against God. For similar reasons, humane treatment of convicts was required even in the lesser law given to Israel, “lest… thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”
In God’s ideal little world in the garden, fruits and vegetables are the fare. “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.” Life is sacred, and explicit permission to eat meat is not given until after the flood. One particular piece of fruit is forbidden, which represents knowledge of good and evil. Since, according to Mormonism, man’s eternal destiny is godhood, the Mormon interpretation of Adam and Eve’s guilt is not that they sought to become like God, but rather that they sought a shortcut like Satan did before them. Instead of following God and waiting for His instructions, they followed Satan’s advice, which would presumably provide them with a much quicker apotheosis. “[Y]e shall be as gods,” the serpent promised, “knowing good and evil.” This event is referred to as “the fall,” since Adam and Eve figuratively “fell” from paradise into the lone and dreary world. By this transgression death was brought into the world, as Elder Talmage taught: “The Immediate Result of the Fall was the substitution of mortality, with all its attendant frailties, for the vigor of the primeval deathless state.” The apocryphal Book of Adam and Eve sees man’s use of animals as a symbol foreshadowing man’s own death: “Then Adam said unto Eve, ‘O Eve, this is the skin of beasts with which we shall be covered. But when we have put it on, behold, a token of death shall have come upon us, inasmuch as the owners of these skins have died, and have wasted away. So also shall we die, and pass away.’”
The particular fruit that was eaten is of interest. It isn’t the seeking of knowledge in general that constituted transgression; the fruit was a specific type of knowledge. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it,” says the Lord. We have no indication that upon eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were suddenly endowed with the intricate knowledge of some elaborate ethical system. Rather, this fruit represents knowledge of the concept of good and evil. Satan sought to convince them to eat this fruit, since the concepts of good and evil were the necessary prerequisites to teach them his trade of accusing others. This knowledge—or at least the abuse of it—has provided the theological underpinnings—the motivation, if you will—of all the great atrocities of human history, much like money has provided the practical means to carry them out. It is the concept that someone else is “evil,” and therefore must be punished—the ability to accuse—that enables us to justify our actions that are harmful to others and to call them “justice.” In this light it is obvious why Satan wanted Adam to eat the fruit and why God indicated that it wasn’t yet appropriate. Considering that the temple drama is presented less as a history of man’s origin and more as a metaphor for our own lives (we all consider ourselves as “Adam” and “Eve” respectively), it becomes clear that our own personal “falls” consist in learning to accuse others. The remedy, then, becomes obvious: The coming of Jesus with his message of forgiveness.
Worth mentioning is the reference to the fall in the second Article of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” If we take this seriously, then death cannot be considered a “punishment” for the fall, since to this day men suffer from mortality, and we are taught that we aren’t punished for the fall. God, then, didn’t kill Adam for what he did in the garden. Death, rather than a punishment, is a natural consequence of the fall—or, abstracting away from the myth for a moment, a natural part of the universe. Nibley compares this to “the well-known second law of thermodynamics: everything runs down.” God’s work is to counteract this law which requires death: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” And the atonement apparently plays a central role in this: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” It is not death, then, that God works, but resurrection.
Cain and Abel
It is telling that the first sin recorded after the fall of Adam is murder. Mormonism has some unique details in its account of the story of Cain and Abel. After Cain’s failed sacrifice, the Lord visits with Cain and tries to reason with him: “If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” Cain’s bitterness is not quelled however, and we are told that he “was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.” Instead, he turned to Satan and made a pact with him. In this, we find the true motivation behind Cain’s murder. “And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder and get gain.” So Cain, bitter with God and His rules, was enticed by money, and after he had killed his brother, he “gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.” Nibley refers to Cain’s decision to kill his brother for money as the “Mahan principle,” and discusses how it is followed to greater or lesser degrees in today’s business world:
The “Mahan principle” is a frank recognition that the world’s economy is based on the exchange of life for property. This is most apparent, of course, in time of war—a Catch-22. Today the biggest business in the world is the selling of deadly weapons by all to all, with the advantage going to the most efficient killing machines. Not long ago it was drugs, but it is all the same in a descending scale of accountability, where none is free from guilt: the hit man, soldier of fortune, weapons dealer, manufacturer, plundering whole species for raw materials, destroying life in both processing them and getting them (by pollution, dangerous work conditions, and so on), and by distributing them (additives, preservatives). The fearful processes of industry shorten and impoverish life at every level, from forced labor to poisonous air and water. This is the world’s economy, for Satan is “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; D&C 127:11; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4).
One can’t be a moral actor, however, without having to face the consequences of his actions. The Lord once again visits with Cain and discusses the effects that naturally flow from the deed he had done. One portion of the conversation is of particular interest here. Cain said, “Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the Lord, and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that he that findeth me will slay me, because of mine iniquities, for these things are hid from the Lord. And I the Lord said unto him: Whosoever slayeth thee, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And I the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” The original proscription on killing, then, went so far as to include the death penalty. Human beings were not entitled to enact their version of “justice” by killing a murderer—or any other type of sinner, for that matter. Taking the life of a murderer doesn’t restore the life he has taken; justice can only be put into effect by resurrection, something far beyond the capacity of man.
Cain, then, was a moral teacher of sorts—from him we get our first post-fall lessons on right and wrong. The first wrong we learn about is murder, but this lesson is much more detailed than a simple commandment of “thou shalt not kill.” There is here a study of motivations: anger, jealousy, greed. In a loss of self control, Cain succumbs to these emotions and becomes the prototype murderer. Once the deed is done, further motivations are then dismissed, also being inappropriate to justify killing. This is done in the context of those who would kill Cain for what he has done. God has prohibited the use of the death penalty among mankind; they should be imitating the author of life who resurrects rather than kills. Neither desire for revenge nor seeking for so-called “justice” is a sufficient excuse for a violation of God’s prohibition on killing. Cain is the perfect prototype for a violator of this commandment: The avenger, the vigilante, the hit-man, the executioner, the judge, the soldier, the arms dealer, and the war-declaring politician are all described in the story of Cain.
Noah, Abraham, et al.
The picture of God painted by the Old Testament has been troubling peace-minded people (and not just pacifists) since the early years of the Christian church. This gave rise to the Marcionite heresy in the second century which posited that the Hebrew God was a lesser deity than the true, omnibenevolent God preached by Jesus in the New Testament. Nevertheless, here we have, through the stories of the creation and the fall, presented an image of God consistent with that in the New Testament (to which we shall turn our attention shortly). The difficulties presented by certain events in the Old Testament will require us to develop at least a superficial exegetical method for dealing with Old Testament texts.
Two issues affect our reading of the scriptures in general, and the Old Testament in particular. The first is common to all of Christendom, and it has to do with getting at what the original writer meant. This requires us to take into context the writer’s culture, beliefs, and the political climate at the time he was writing. Brigham Young tells us, “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households.” When we import our own worldview into the writings, it becomes easy to miss the point the author was trying to make.
The second exegetical issue we face, one unique to Mormonism, is our belief in the fallibility of the canon. Joseph Smith mentioned this in the Wentworth letter, from which our belief in an imperfect canon was canonized as the eighth Article of Faith. Brigham Young also spoke on this point, saying, “I have heard ministers of the Gospel declare that they believed every word in the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them, ‘You believe more than I do.’ I believe the words of God are there; I believe the words of the Devil are there; I believe that the words of men and the words of angels are there; and that is not all,—I believe that the words of a dumb brute are there. I recollect one of the prophets riding, and prophesying against Israel, and the animal he rode rebuked his madness.” In this instance, Brigham Young specifically made fun of the presence of such absurd ideas in the Bible as animals talking. Beyond the patently absurd, I believe we can consider as suspect anything that appears to contradict the consistent picture of the nature of God we have found in the story of the creation and that we will collaborate with the life and teaching of Christ. Such suspicious statements will have to be carefully reread with the goal of discerning the author’s intentions and motivations. Context should be brought in. After doing all of this we can pass judgment, whether it be a fresh interpretation of scripture, a rejection of a false idea, or the realization that we were taking a metaphor too literally. The ultimate decision, as with all things in Mormonism, ends up left to the judgment of the individual.
In the context of natural disasters and wars in Old Testament writings, a particular piece of context we need to keep in mind is the author’s desire to present his God as powerful. The Hebrew scriptures present the story of a particular nation and its origin, and were written and maintained by patriotic members of that nation. As a religious text, one of its primary goals was to present the superiority of the Hebrew God above all other gods, and in the writers’ eyes that meant presenting Him as a powerful being—the omnipotent God who stands by His people. In Yoder’s words, “When we seek to test a modern moral statement, we are struck by the parts of the [Old Testament] story that do not fit our modern pattern; but the Israelite reading the story was more likely struck by other cases, where Israel was saved by the mighty deeds of God on their behalf.”
With this frame of reference in mind, we can proceed to discuss some important events in the Old Testament, beginning with Noah’s flood. Prior to the flood was a period of general apostasy, described by the author of Genesis as follows: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” The emphasis here is on two repeated words: “corruption” and “violence.” The inhabitants of the earth have become engaged in persistent violence and will be destroyed. This is interpreted by the writer as God cleaning the slate and starting fresh. Peter the apostle indicated that Noah preached to the people of the earth before the flood, suggesting that mankind was warned beforehand, Genesis narrative notwithstanding. In this sense, we can view the flood as an impending natural disaster that God tried to warn about to anyone who would listen. That God saw the aforementioned violence among humanity, and “it grieved him at his heart” speaks more to God’s character than a natural disaster He tried to warn humanity about.
The nature of the flood is an additional point of interest in this narrative. Bruce R. McConkie taught that in “the days of Noah the Lord sent a universal flood which completely immersed the whole earth and destroyed all flesh except that preserved on the ark… There is no question but what many of the so-called geological changes in the earth’s surface, which according to geological theories took place over ages of time, in reality occurred in a matter of a few short weeks incident to the universal deluge.” This is by no means the universal view of the Church, however. John A. Widtsoe took a more rational view of the flood, describing it in the following language:
The suggestion has been made that the flood filled every hollow and valley until the earth was a great sphere of water covering the highest mountain peaks twenty-six feet deep, Mount Ararat, seventeen thousand feet high, “upon the mountains” of which the ark rested, would according to this view have been completely under water. It is doubtful whether the water in the sky and all the oceans would suffice to cover the earth so completely.
Another suggestion is that the earth at that time was so flat that a depth of water of twenty-six feet would cover the highest hill. There is no existing evidence of this supposition; and Mount Ararat did exist then according to the record.
It has also been suggested that a blanket of water twenty-six feet thick lay up and down the sides of every hill, mountain, and valley. This would seem to be in defiance of the law of gravity, though under a long-continued, furious rainfall such a layer, not too thick, might roll down every slope.
The fact remains that the exact nature of the flood is not known. We set up assumptions, based upon our best knowledge, but can go no further. We should remember that when inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.
The details in the story of the flood are undoubtedly drawn from the experiences of the writer. Under a downpour of rain, likened to the opening of the heavens, a destructive torrent twenty-six feet deep or deeper would easily be formed. The writer of Genesis made a faithful report of the facts known to him concerning the flood. In other localities the depth of the water might have been more or less. In fact, the details of the flood are not known to us.
He continued with the admission that although perhaps the entire surface of the earth was covered with water, it would not likely have been universally at such a great depth as described by the writer of the Genesis story:
Though the whole of the earth was covered with water, the depth was immaterial. When a person is baptized, it does not matter how far under the water he is brought, nor whether every part of him is at the same depth. The essential part of the symbolism is that he should be completely immersed.
So with the story of the flood. All parts of the earth were under water at the same time. In some places the layer of water might have been twenty-six feet deep or more; in others, as on sloping hillsides, it might have been only a fraction of an inch in depth. That the whole earth, however, was under water at the same time was easily possible under a terrific, long-continued downpour, such as is described in Genesis. The depth of the layer of water is of no consequence.
We are lucky to be provided with Widtsoe’s explanation of the flood, as its existence excuses us from having to believe McConkie’s more fundamentalist reading. Without an apostolic consensus, Latter-day Saints are under no particular obligation to choose one narrative over another, and can decide upon the account that seems most reasonable to them. What this means for us is that we don’t have to believe in a universal deluge that completely destroyed the earth and the entirety of its living creatures; we can take a stance less contradictory to modern developments in the physical sciences, and more importantly, less contradictory to our understanding of the non-violent nature of God and His methods. This provides much needed relief to the Mormon pacifist.
We are still left with several concerns, of course. Does God control the weather and other natural events? If so, why does He allow these disasters to happen, with the great toll they take on human lives? Punishing the wicked is not a sufficient explanation for a couple of reasons. First, despite the assurances that the author of Genesis gives us that the entire world had become wicked, there most certainly were children among them, which Mormon doctrine holds as innocent. Second, it is hard for us to believe that everyone affected by recent events such as Hurricane Katrina, or the Chilean earthquake, or the Haiti earthquake, or the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, were all wicked without exception. The present work, however, is concerned with ethics and doesn’t purport to be a theodicy, so despite our concerns, I’ll leave this issue for further discussion at some future time.
For our present purposes, we can briefly mention that some of the metaphysical effects of the fall, as taught by Latter-day Saint leaders. President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that, “From the words of Lehi we learn that Adam could have lived forever and all things on the face of the earth likewise, had he not partaken of that fruit… We are also taught that, not being subject to death, Adam had no blood in his veins before the fall. Blood is the life of the mortal body.” From this view of the story of the fall, death did not exist at all in the world until Adam ate the fruit. If we are willing to take such a large metaphysical leap, why not include natural disasters? We can suggest that Adam’s transgression introduced imperfections into God’s perfect creation—the “second law” we quoted from Nibley—causing it to be in the process of falling apart. We do not need to take literally these concepts, as Talmage wrote that the First Presidency distanced itself from the idea that there was no death among animals—or even pre-Adamite humanoids—before the fall: “The decision reached by the First Presidency, and announced to this morning’s assembly, was in answer to a specific question that obviously the doctrine of the existence of races of human beings upon the earth prior to the fall of Adam was not a doctrine of the Church; and, further, that the conception embodied in the belief of many to the effect that there were no such Preadamite races, and that there was no death upon the earth prior to Adam’s fall is likewise declared to be no doctrine of the Church. I think the decision of the First Presidency is a wise one in the premises. This is one of the many things upon which we cannot preach with assurance and dogmatic assertions on either side are likely to do harm rather than good.” Nevertheless, even taking a metaphorical view of the fall allows us to attribute death and the natural disasters that often cause it to some force of nature or universal law other than and outside of God. This is sufficient for our present needs in identifying the nature of God as nonviolent.
As we continue on through Genesis, we basically repeat Noah’s story with the account of Lot in Sodom. Once again we are dealing with a writer who, in his eagerness to display his God as mighty, credits Jehovah with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Aspects of the story are troubling enough that even Joseph Smith rewrote the narrative about Lot prostituting his daughters in his translation of the Bible. The mention that Lot’s wife “became a pillar of salt” is just bizarre. It is my opinion that the writer had probably seen, or at least heard of, one of the geological formations by the Dead Sea which was considered to be like a woman in appearance. Taking this as Lot’s wife—it is admittedly speculation, but perhaps in the original story Lot’s wife didn’t make it out alive, or returned to Sodom and was killed in the disaster—he added this little embellishment to the story. It sure was a nice way to make God look mysterious and powerful, which was an obvious goal of the author. In fact, the geological formations in the area may have been the source of similar legends long before the author recorded his people’s traditions.
Nevertheless, as in the case of Noah, God sent messengers to warn the people of impending natural disaster, and found a willing ear in Lot’s home. The rest of the people of Sodom refused to hear the message, and thus were judged by the natural forces of the universe for their inhospitality. Indeed, they were likely engaged in the same sin of violence as the people in Noah’s day, as Nibley writes: “We are wont to think of Sodom as the original sexpot, but according to all accounts ‘this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom’: that great wealth made her people cruel and self-righteous.” In any case, their refusal to hear the prophetic warning left them to be destroyed in the city as part of the natural laws of cause and effect; the event isn’t necessarily read as an example of the active violence of God.
Moses and Israel
The story of Moses creates some unique problems and introduces somewhat contradictory ideas about God. The concept of a God that kills the firstborn of every living being from an entire nation may not have troubled early Israel, which may have even seen God as applying retributive justice for Pharaoh’s massacre of Hebrew children, but by New Testament times a child-killing ruler was deeply disconcerting. Maier mentions that “the massacre has been drenched with doubt by historians, biblical commentators, and biographers of Herod the Great,” though he ultimately concludes that the event was historical. If, however, Matthew wrote a somewhat fictionalized narrative here in order to link Jesus with Moses and the Exodus narrative, what does that mean about Matthew’s conception about the literal historicity of the Passover? Mythology, perhaps, had, in this particular New Testament author’s eyes, some truth value independent of the actual facts that seem to be presented therein. And if biblical commentators don’t feel the need to consider the Massacre of the Innocents as historically true, despite the human actor with a known violent nature, much less is the need to think of the much older Passover event as historically true, especially when credited to a supernatural being that embodies the concept of “good.”
It is more likely that Israel, in need of a good founding myth, repeated the tale of the Exodus as an oral tradition for many years before it was written down. Naturally the embellishments and exaggerations increased with each repetition of the story of the nation, and miraculous events were created to the nation’s God in order to display His might—never mind concerns about their implications for God’s other attributes, as this would only effect unknown future readers with a much more literal and analytical way of looking at mythology. Ron Madson writes: “I can also see how if Israel can spin, like Hamas, their narratives in just days after acts of aggression then how easy it would be for Israel over centuries of oral traditions (before reducing to writing) to come up with the ultimate taking the Lord’s name in vain after the Exodus: “God told us to invade Palestine and kill all men, women and children”— right. No wonder the Father had to send the Son to clear up the national self deceit that continues today in full glory because when the prophets told them how wrong they were they could not kill them fast enough.”
The question then becomes, what do we learn from the story of Passover? Do we learn that God avenges His people by indiscriminate killing that necessarily includes people who had no influence over Pharaoh’s actions? Such might be America’s god as easily as Israel’s, but definitely not Christ’s God. Rather than extract information about God’s character that implicates Him in horrific acts of violence, we should read the Exodus tale as the story of Israel’s escape from oppression without having to act in a violent manner for itself. Whatever the cause of the deaths throughout Egypt, it wasn’t Israel doing the killing. Whatever caused the waters of the Red Sea to part long enough to lure Pharaoh’s troops to a watery doom, it wasn’t Israel’s own actions that made it happen.
Israel’s story, unfortunately, did originate out of a violent act: Moses killing an Egyptian.Just as the Nephites weren’t ever able to escape their own founding act of violence, Israel never fully overcame theirs, and ultimately found itself caught between tendencies to violence and concern for the oppressed. These competing values are made strikingly apparent in the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses has both ceremonial and social aspects. Though the former are regularly discussed, the latter are more particularly relevant to our thesis. Both mercy and punishment are enshrined in the Law in a sort of merging of the divine and the human. A passage from Doctrine and Covenants clarifies the Mormon perspective on this: “Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.” The Law of Moses, then, is considered by Latter-day Saints to be a “carnal” law, a compromise between the divine and the human. God continues His non-coercive stance, allowing human society to have its death penalty and violent government, while trying to introduce the divine law of love into any cracks in the system.
A particularly interesting aspect of the Law of Moses is its limitations on war. Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy provides the exposition of certain laws given to Israel regarding the recruitment of soldiers and going to war. We are particularly interested in the limitations placed on the Israelite war establishment under the understanding that we’re under obligation to not only observe such restrictions, but to “go the extra mile” in our own personal and national lives. Particularly noteworthy are the requirements to excuse certain people who chose not to fight. We would have to broaden our leniency beyond strict definitions of “conscientious objector” in order to live up to the law given to Israel. Anyone who has recently built a house, planted a vineyard, or gotten married is allowed to be excused from battle. Furthermore, anyone may be excused from service just by virtue of being scared to go to battle. Although rabbinic interpretations make a distinction between voluntary wars and wars of national defense, abrogating the exemptions for the latter, this distinction is not made in the Law itself. It appears to fit the natural pattern of interpreting the scriptures to selectively apply the rules in a manner which suits oneself for which Jesus harshly criticized the Scribes and Pharisees. In fact, the introduction to these particular laws of war instructs the people not to be afraid when their enemies outnumber and out-equip them, a situation unlikely in a voluntary war for the expansion of national territory. The self-appointed teachers of Ancient Israel were not permitted to make the smallest change to the scriptures, but it was standard fare for them to write commentaries obscuring their meaning and granting exceptions.
Women, children, and animals aren’t part of the battle, so they must be spared. In modern times many men are non-combatants as well, so we would have to be even more selective about who we kill. This is a particularly difficult principle for us, since modern warfare tends to result in more civilian than military deaths. Additionally, fruit-bearing trees should not be cut down.
Since Israel was being given a lesser law, God didn’t force them to abandon war entirely, but He at least asked them to place severe limitations on its practice. These limitations would make actually going to war impractical; we definitely wouldn’t be able to prosecute our modern wars under such guidelines. Moreover, if the carnal law—effectively a “just war” philosophy—all but eliminates war, one is inclined to assume that the higher law must prohibit it entirely.
Jesus the Pacifist
One of the fundamental principles of modern Christianity is not to take anything Jesus said seriously. Gandhi is reputed to have said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Regardless of the accuracy of the quote, its truth is evident with a little observation. Christianity has conquered the world, and it has not done this through sharing Christ’s message in a friendly manner. Rather, we have the so-called Christian nations to thank for the development of destructive technologies so horrendous as to be unimaginable to previous centuries. This stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ message of “love your neighbor” and “turn the other cheek.”
The contradictions between the practice of Christians and the instructions of their God have not gone entirely unnoticed. The Anabaptist movement itself was a call to a return to Jesus’ teachings, and in particular his teaching on nonviolence. The great novelist Tolstoy independently came to similar conclusions as the Anabaptists, and in turn became an important influence to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Tolstoy cited the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s “Declaration of Sentiments adopted by the Peace Convention,” which noted: “We regard as unchristian and unlawful not only all wars, whether offensive or defensive, but all preparations for war; every naval ship, every arsenal, every fortification we regard as unchristian and unlawful; the existence of any kind of standing army, all military chieftains, all monuments commemorative of victory over a fallen foe, all trophies won in battle, all celebrations in honour of military exploits, all appropriations for defense by arms; we regard as unchristian and unlawful every edict of government requiring of its subjects military service.” We might also point out more recent authors supporting the conclusion that the true Christian must necessarily be nonviolent, including John Howard Yoder, Laurence M. Vance, and Stanley Hauerwas, among others. There is no shortage, then, of voices pointing out that war is contrary to Jesus’ message.
These anti-war Christians have arisen over the centuries despite the most strenuous efforts on the part of the churches and their theologians to reconcile Christianity with war. Assertions that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, prooftexting, citing Paul’s use of military metaphors as “proof” that the apostle was pro-military, claiming that Jesus using a whip to move animals somehow justifies killing human beings, stating that Jesus’ message was “spiritual” rather than literal, and Just War theory are examples of the efforts put forth to make Jesus’ message the opposite of what he said it was. Nevertheless, pacifists continue to show up, simply because nonviolence is the obvious interpretation of Jesus’ message.
In “The Politics of Jesus,” Yoder takes on the spiritualization of Jesus’ message—or, in his words, the conception that the gospel is “apolitical.” This is particularly relevant to Mormonism, since we so often hear, in our meetings, the counsel to help the poor interpreted as a missionary message: It is said to mean we should help the “spiritually poor” nonmembers find the rich blessings of membership in our church. On the other hand, the warrior metaphors take on a very literal tone when we reverence “the troops” in our talks, prayers, and testimonies. Yoder points out the ultimate meaning of this refusal to take Jesus at his word: “What becomes of the meaning of incarnation if Jesus is not normatively human? If he is human but not normative, is this not the ancient ebionitic heresy? If he be somehow authoritative but not in his humanness, is this not a new gnosticism?”
The obvious argument that Jesus’ message was indeed political—that he wasn’t talking about “spiritual” actions in a “spiritual” world, but actual nonviolent action—is that the establishment was threatened by His message to a great enough degree to have him crucified. Yoder points out that his message was indeed very down-to-earth and very political; he begins his ministry with radical politics in fact: An announcement of jubilee. All the way until his death he was very much a political figure, and his politics were those of nonviolence: “This is another of those points where the spiritualistic-apologetic exegesis has always emphasized that the Jews, or the Romans, or the Zealot-minded disciples, had Jesus all wrong; he never really meant to bother the established order. Then the illegality of the proceedings and the impropriety of the accusation must be demonstrated… Still the events in the temple court and the language Jesus used were not calculated to avoid any impression of insurrectionary vision. Both Jewish and Roman authorities were defending themselves against a real threat. That the threat was not one of armed, violent revolt, and that it nonetheless bothered them to the point of their resorting to irregular procedures to counter it, is a proof of the political relevance of nonviolent tactics, not a proof that Pilate and Caiaphas were exceptionally dull or dishonorable men.”
The importance of believing in a pacifist Christ is found in the implication a non-pacifist Messiah has for our understanding of the Atonement. Tolstoy argued: “People who believe in a wicked and senseless God—who has cursed the human race and devoted his own Son to sacrifice, and a part of mankind to eternal torment—cannot believe in the God of love. The man who believes in a God—in a Christ coming again in glory to judge and to punish the living and the dead, cannot believe in the Christ who told us to turn the left cheek, do not judge, forgive those that wrong us, and love our enemies. The man who believes in the inspiration of the Old Testament and the sacred character of David, who commanded on his deathbed the murder of an old man who had cursed him, and whom he could not kill himself because he was bound by an oath to him, and the similar atrocities of which the Old Testament is full, cannot believe in the holy love of Christ. The man who believes in the Church’s doctrine of the compatibility of warfare and capital punishment with Christianity cannot believe in the brotherhood of all men.”
Christ’s sacrifice, then, must have been a willing act of pacifism—a refusal to resist evil with evil, in accordance with his own commandment to us, rather than the work of a god who murders his own son because somebody has to be punished if some people are going to be permitted into heaven. The concept of the Atonement as penal substitution—that is, Christ paying the penalty for us, because God won’t forgive our sins otherwise—is incompatible with a loving God. Rather, we must recall the passage from Revelation we cited earlier, dealing with the war in heaven: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” The war in heaven was won on the cross: God declared as victor the party which refused to use violence in the fight. He brought Jesus back to life. This is the meaning of the Atonement, that the nature of the universe is not as perverse as it appears at present. Violence may be integral to success at this moment, in this mortal existence, but it’s nonviolence that ultimately wins in the eternal sphere. Violence can only result in death; it takes nonviolence to create eternal life.
Christ wasn’t sacrificed because somebody had to be punished; He allowed himself to be killed to show us that nonviolence is the only way to truly imitate our God.
 Yoder writes: “This status of ‘image of God’ is not questioned. The Old Testament neither preaches nor teaches it, but simply presupposes it universally. The founding of the sabbath law in the reminder of God’s resting after creation (Exod. 20) or through reference to how ‘humane’ God was to free Israel from slavery (Deut. 5) is meaningful only if we presuppose some sort of correspondence between God and the creature.” John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 114.
 This tradition is probably based on John 21:18-19, which is read as a prediction of Peter’s death by crucifixion. Tertullian wrote that Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero, and Origen wrote that he was crucified upside-down (as told in Eusebius, Church History).
 Spencer W. Kimball wrote, “Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights.” Edward L. Kimball, ed., Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 28.
 Joseph Smith—History 1:7. Joseph’s mother, on the other hand, indicates an acquaintance with various churches and an aloofness from all in the years preceding the birth of Joseph Smith. She writes, “I found a minister who was willing to baptize me and leave me free from membership in any church, a course I continued until my oldest son attained his twenty-second year.” Lucy Mack Smith, Preston Nibley, ed., The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956), 36. Alvin Smith turned 22 on February 11, 1820, leaving open the possibility that the family united with the local Presbyterian Church just before the first vision.
 John Matzko, “The Encounter of the Young Joseph Smith with Presbyterianism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40:3 (2007), 70. Matzko writes, “How often Joseph Smith attended Palmyra’s Western Presbyterian Church is unknown; but late in life, a childhood acquaintance, Lorenzo Sanders, recalled that the first time he ever attended Sabbath School he went with ‘young Joe Smith at the old Presbyterian Church.’”
Lectures on Faith (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2000), 57-58. Though the authorship of the Lectures on Faith is unknown, Joseph Smith at least did not disapprove of their content, having been a part of the committee that elected to publish them in the 1835 edition of Doctrine and Covenants.
 Victor Ludlow summarizes Joseph Smith’s teachings on spirits and intelligences thus: “At some point in the past, God brought eternal intelligence and other spirit elements together in the form of a spirit body.” See Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 142.
 Doctrine and Covenants 121:37. One might point out the qualifier here: “in any degree of unrighteousness,” but every action mentioned is in itself unrighteous, whether covering up sins, gratifying pride, or exercising dominion or compulsion (taking away agency). The qualifier just makes it clear that even a little bit is unacceptable, no matter whether one might try to justify it as being for a good cause.
 McConkie writes, “Elohim, Jehovah, Michael, a host of the noble and great ones—all these played their parts.” See Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings Of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 182.
 Genesis 9:6. Note that God was not implementing the death penalty here; rather He was making a statement about the cycle of violence that can only be ended through atonement—through a refusal to take revenge. Jesus repeated the same principle to Peter when he said, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).
 John Peter Anderson, “Marcionites” in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1913). http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Marcionites.
 This is not to imply that I have a good answer to these concerns. They are, and always have been, tough questions. Admittedly they do have a certain impact on our thesis, since they seem to contradict the non-violent nature of the God we have presented. Nevertheless, since it’s contrary to the God we see presented in both the creation story and the story of Jesus, we do not need to accept it as a definitive statement on the nature of God.
 James Edward Talmage, Personal Journal (7 April 1931) 29:42, Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. As cited by The FAIR Wiki: http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_science/Death_before_the_Fall.
 This argument admittedly leaves a lot to be desired, and serves as more of a possible way to read the scriptures than anything else. I think that’s appropriate here, since this isn’t intended to be an apologetic work that seeks to prove a certain viewpoint to potentially hostile “outsiders,” but more of a reflective dogmatic piece that seeks to find an understanding of the scriptures in harmony with the premise of a nonviolent God.
 Maier writes, “One of the most doubted episodes in the New Testament has stronger historical credibility than it has thus far been accorded in critical scholarship.” Paul L. Maier, “Herod and the Infants of Bethlehem” in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, ed. Ray Summers and Jerry Vardaman (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1998), 189.
 Ron Madson, “’What Would You Do’ If you were the Israeli PM?” The Mormon Worker, January 6, 2009, http://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/what-would-you-do-if-you-were-the-israeli-pm/.
 Joshua Madson notes that “Nephite civilization was founded upon a violent act: the slaying of Laban. This founding murder marked Nephi and his family as a separate and distinct people by differentiating them as a group from the people in Jerusalem and differentiating Nephi individually from his brothers as their king. The significance of this foundational act cannot be overstated. Not only did this act create a new and separate society, it served as the theological and historical foundation for Nephite ideology and traditions about one’s enemies. This tradition held that violence could be redemptive at bringing about righteous ends.” Joshua Madson, “A Nonviolent Reading of the Book of Mormon” (paper presented at the Claremont Mormon Studies Conference, March 18-19, 2011). Likewise we see throughout biblical history a regular return to violence as a liberating tool for Israel.
 “The Talmud delimits two categories of permissible war: 1) Obligatory; and 2) Authorized… many of the restrictions placed by Jewish law on the type of conduct prohibited by war is frequently limited to Authorized rather than Obligatory wars.” Michael J. Broyde, “Fighting the War and the Peace: Battlefield Ethics, Peace Talks, Treaties, and Pacifism in the Jewish Tradition,” Jewish Law, accessed May 23, 2012, http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/war2.html.
 “It is worth noting that almost all wars since 1900 have featured larger civilian, than military, casualties.” Brian Orend, “War,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, July 28, 2005, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/war/.
 Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Vol. 1 (London: William Heineman, 1894), 6. http://archive.org/details/kingdomgodiswit00tolsgoog.
 With regards to Luke 4:18, Yoder informs us that this quote from Isaiah was understood by rabbinic Judaism as a reference to jubilee. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 29.