In the Book of Mormon we read, "AND now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record- it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land, And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder. And there were exceedingly sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land" (3 Nephi 8:1,5-7).
Thus begins the account of what happened to the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla at the death of Jesus in Jerusalem. According to their record there were great earthquakes, terrible lightning storms, whirlwinds (tornadoes), and a "vapor of darkness" that was so intense that it could actually be felt (verse 20) and which prevented any light from showing or being made for three days.
Such a description suggests to some that this is an accurate description of violent volcanic activity that spewed black ash high into the air so that it covered the sky for miles, blocking out all sunlight and preventing any fires from burning. Those who are acquainted with catastrophic volcanic eruptions say that just the sound of the explosion itself is so powerful that it literally feels as though the earth itself is being completely blown apart.
As the Nephite account records, this upheaval of nature rent the ground in some areas, causing such deep fissures in the earth's crust that it swallowed large cities. In other areas, the ground rose, deforming the landscape, therein burying other cities under tons of rock and dirt. In other areas some cities slid into the ocean as the ground beneath them collapsed, while other cities caught fire and burned because of the many strikes of lightning. And then, when the rumblings, lightnings, and thunder subsided, there was complete and total darkness over the land for the space of three days where "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 that there could not be any light at all" (verse 21).
During these three days there was much weeping and wailing because of the devastating destruction that had occurred to both buildings and people. But as the mist of darkness began to dissipate, those who remained alive heard a voice, who later identified Himself as Jesus Christ, say, "Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen" (3 Nephi 9:2).
Then the voice made a very significant statement that is often over looked by most people. He said, "Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof. And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned. And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth, and the inhabitants thereof, to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face. And behold, the city of Gilgal have I caused to be sunk, and the inhabitants thereof to be buried up in the depths of the earth" (verses 3-6).
Several years prior to this cataclysmic event, there was a band of robbers who had murdered the chief judge of the land, thereby causing the collapse of the government. The leader of this secret combination was a man who was called Jacob. He was so powerful a leader that his followers made him their king, "and he was one of the chiefest who had given his voice against the prophets who testified of Jesus" (3 Nephi 7:9,10). The name of the city where they lived was called Jacobugath.
The voice of Jesus Christ told the Nephites, "And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them" (3 Nephi 9:9).
What makes these pronouncements by Jesus Christ so amazing is that He repeatedly says, "I caused " these things to happen. In other words, all these various disasters didn't happen by accident. They were deliberately and purposefully caused. More than that, with each city He named, there was a specific reason why Jesus had them destroyed the way they were. For example, the great city Moronihah He deliberately covered with earth in order to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before His face. He determined that the people in the great city of Moroni should be drowned and that the city of Zarahemla should be burned.
When it came to the robbers who lived in the city of Jacobugath, Jesus had a special punishment for them. Because of their secret murders that had destroyed the government and the peace of His people, their wickedness was above that of the whole earth. Since King Jacob was the chiefest of those who had persecuted the prophets, He and his people were singled out for harsher destruction than the other cities. Jesus explained, "therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them." It's as though He was saying, "I'm tired of hearing my slain people cry out for vengeance against you, so since you're all going to be burning in hell for your sins, it's only fitting that I send you there by fire."
What makes these statements so amazing is that we tend to think that when natural disasters occur they are unpredictable, random and indiscriminate. For example, we don't know when a tornado is going to form, let alone where it will touch down, how large or powerful it will be, where it will go, what it will hit, what it will miss, or how long it will last. We don't know where lightning will strike and when it does what kind of damage it will cause.
To put Christ's statement in perspective, imagine someone setting off a large pile of dynamite in the center of a building in such a way that they could predict with certainty what would be damaged by which piece of flying debris, how badly it would be damaged, and what would not be damaged at all. To most people, such a feat would seem impossible to do yet that is exactly what Jesus told the Nephites He did when it came to the explosive storm that ripped apart and devastated their land.
While most people will admit that God is all powerful, when it comes to the account of mass destruction to the land of the Nephites, to say that God had full control over every lightning strike, the path of every tornado, and the placing of every crack in the ground, is more than most people can believe. The image such a statement gives is of Christ directing the forces of nature during this three hour storm like a conductor directing an orchestra playing a prewritten piece of music.
Since we don't see God's hand directing the forces of nature, we assume that whenever something happens in nature, it happens by luck-of-the-draw chance. In fact, the very reason we use the word "nature" is because we see things happening naturally on their own. If someone or something were to direct the forces of nature then we couldn't say that they were occurring naturally.
But if what Christ told the Nephites is hard to believe, then consider another story. One day after Jesus had finished preaching a sermon to the multitudes, He and some of His disciples set sail (presumably on the sea of Galilee) in a small boat and while they traveled over the waters Jesus fell asleep. However, later, a strong storm came up and, as the boat was battered by large waves, it began to fill with water. Thinking that the boat was going to sink and they would all perish, the disciples became frightened. Then, seeing Jesus sleeping, they awoke Him, saying, "Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm… And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:36-41).
The power to calm the winds and order them to cease immediately is not natural. While we fully accept this story as being true, there is nothing in the scriptures that indicates that anything abnormal happened to cause the winds to cease. Instead, by all accounts, it appears that the storm suddenly stopped because of natural means. Yet, obviously, it didn't. It was directed and ordered to stop.
When we use the word "fate" we mean that when something happens it was unplanned, unexpected, and there is nothing anyone could have done to have prevented it. But God doesn't leave anything to chance. Everything He does is well thought out and precisely executed. To do this God must be in control of things much more than what we tend to think but the reason why we don't recognize His controlling hand is because He does it in a way that appears to be very natural.
Consider an incident in the life of a young man named Daniel. In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the nation of Judah and took a large number of people captive, one of whom was Daniel. Sometime later, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a statue that troubled him. The head was made out of gold, the arms were made out of silver, his belly and thighs of brass, his legs of iron, and his feet were a mixture of clay and iron. Then the king saw a stone that "was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:32-35).
As Latter-day Saints we believe this is a prophecy about Christ establishing His kingdom in the last days. From its small beginning in 1830 with only six members, the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter-days is rapidly spreading all over the world, preparing the earth for the triumphant return of its rightful owner and king. And when He comes in glory, all other governments will be abolished and become like the chaff that the wind carries away. Yet, all of this was foretold more than 2,600 years ago! The only way that God could make such a precise prophecy is if He fully intends to have these things happen, not by chance but by design.
At the same time, Satan is fully determined to prevent Christ from returning to reclaim His earth. If that is so then how can God be so sure that His plan will not be thwarted, sidetracked, modified, or thrown off schedule? How can He know with absolute certainty that every detail of Daniel's prophecy will come to pass exactly as it is recorded?
The only way that can happen is if God has total and complete control over everything. That doesn't necessarily mean He causes every single thing to happen but it does mean that nothing happens without His concurrence or approval. For example, evil exists on this earth as a result of Satan's influence. But Satan can only exercise that influence as long as God allows him. The moment God decides there should be no evil on earth, evil will cease to exist here.
The word "expedient" appears in fifty-seven verses in the Book of Mormon and in forty-three verses in the Doctrine and Covenants. The word expedient means "necessary, advisable, appropriate, beneficial, proper, or fitting." Jacob, the brother of Nephi, taught his people that it was expedient that men should be "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil" (2 Nephi 2:27). Thus, God allows evil to exist because it is expedient or necessary for our spiritual growth. The moment it is no longer expedient, God will abolish evil on the earth.
After God had placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and had given them commandments, He left for a short season. It wasn't long thereafter that Satan came tempting them and enticed them to disobey their Father. Then, once Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness and heard the voice of the Lord, they hid themselves in shame. Although God already knew what had happened, He nonetheless asked, "Adam, wherefore art thou?
When it was told Him that the serpent had beguiled Eve, God cursed the serpent. For his part, it seems certain that Satan must have taken a defiant stand against this curse, perhaps arguing that it wasn't fair. After all, it was Adam and Eve who had committed the transgression, not him. But, rather than getting rid of Satan, as He could have easily done, God declared that the devil would have the power to bruise mankind but that in the end man would crush the devil's head (Genesis 3:15). No doubt Satan didn't like that decision but there was nothing he could do about it.
Over the centuries, Satan has used the free agency of man to rule with violence, in blood, on the earth, literally and figuratively bruising and battering man's spirituality. But, try as he might, Satan was powerless to prevent the man Jesus from taking upon Him the sins of the world and atoning for them. When that happened, Satan's power to claim all men as his own was effectively crushed.
It has been foretold that the time will come when Satan will be commanded to depart and will be confined to what the scriptures call "the bottomless pit" (Revelation 20:1-3). For all of his supposed powers, Satan will be helplessly bound for a thousand years. But, "when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth (verses 7,8). It should be noticed that the prophecy does not say that Satan will escaped from prison but rather that he will be let loose and be allowed to deceive all the nations of the earth. But, despite his best efforts, he will lose and, in the end, be cast into outer darkness (verse 10) simply because God has ordered it to be so.
What this clearly shows is that, try as he might, Satan has no power except that which God allows him to have. The moment God decides to stop him, Satan has no other choice but to obey God's commands, no matter how much he despises those orders. Therefore, if Satan, with all of his angels, is powerless in thwarting even the smallest detail of God's works, then the most powerful man on earth is a thousand times less capable of having any effect on what God has planned.
What the scriptures show, in countless ways, is that God is not only in total control of the forces of nature but has absolute control over everything that happens on earth or in heaven, including what Satan himself does. In this way He assures that whatever He wants done is exactly what happens. And what He wants done is that which He feels is expedient.
But, when we say He controls everything that doesn't mean He controls our thoughts and our actions. It is not only expedient but critical to the plan of salvation that we remain free at all times to decide for ourselves how we want to behave. Since God will not force anyone to act in a certain way, including Satan and his followers, He allows each of us the freedom to do what we want - but only up to a point.
Perhaps we can illustrate this principle this way: A tiger is a swift, powerful animal that is born with the instinct to hunt and kill other animals. When left to itself, this is the only way it has of satisfying its hunger. However, when penned up in a cage at a zoo in a large metropolitan city, where it is fed all the food it needs, humans can safely stand just a few feet away from it without being in any danger. While the tiger's natural instinct to kill remains the same, its behavior is sufficiently controlled that it can live safely in an urban area without harming anyone.
In the same way, God is able to control human behavior without taking away man's freedom to choose for himself. For example, a robber has the desire to steal other people's possessions but, if He so chooses, God can easily see to it that the thief is prevented from carrying out his desired crime. In fact, the scriptures are full of stories where God has intervened to prevent evil men from harming His people and the scriptures are just as full of stories where people have suffered greatly because of the wickedness of others when God has removed His protection.
Perhaps the best illustration of both of these situations is found in the life of Jesus. There was a time when the people were so angry at what He told them that they took up stones to kill Him but, He "hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59). In this incident Jesus was able to prevent these angry people from carrying out their evil intentions. Yet, there was another time when He willingly allowed Himself to be spit upon, mocked, beaten, and crucified.
When He was arrested and Peter drew his sword Jesus told him, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53). Had Jesus offered that prayer there is no doubt that those angels would have prevented Jesus from being harmed. But, had that happened, it would have destroyed the plan of salvation, therefore, it was expedient that Christ suffer as He did.
And the same is true for each of us today. God doesn't cause evil to happen. Evil is the result of what's in a person's heart (Matthew 15:18,19). Yet, while God allows all of us the right to think as we want, He can nevertheless control our actions when He feels it is expedient without taking away any of our freedom to choose.
This is what happened to the apostle Paul when he was arrested and put in chains. He said, "that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace and in all other places" (Philippians 1:12,13).
According to Paul, God allowed him to be put in prison because it helped further spread the gospel by allowing him to preach about Jesus Christ in the palace of the emperor "and in all other places" that he otherwise would not have been able to go. Therefore, it was expedient for this evil to come upon him. In the same way God allows the death of prophets at the hands of evil men because it is expedient for them to seal their testimony with their own blood.
However, we often don't recognize His ability to control things because His powers appear very "natural" to us. To illustrate this point, the first chapter of the Bible tells us how God created the world and all throughout the Bible there is repeated reference to how God deliberately planned and built this earth. The scriptures also tell us that someday the Lord intends to destroy this earth and create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1, 2 Peter 3:13). The Lord further revealed to Moses that by His word He has built many earths like this one and by His word earths without number have been destroyed (Moses 1:29-35).
Yet, as astronomers look at the universe they see millions of stars being born and dying by what appears to be totally natural means. However, we know that God's unseen hand is nonetheless guiding and directing all of this "natural" activity. What appears to us as random occurrence in the heavens is, in reality, a well organized, deliberately planned, and carefully orchestrated symphony of creation
In the same way, God directs the affairs of men with meticulous precision even though it may appear to our untrained eyes that things are happening by chance. When we come to realize that God leaves nothing to chance, we can take comfort in knowing that whatever we see happening to us and around us, whether good or bad, there is nothing to fear or be concerned about because God is in control.