In Joseph Smith’s translation of Psalm 12, verse 6 says, “Therefore the Lord shall sit in judgment upon all those who say in their hearts, We all sit in safety; and puffeth at him.” Why does God sit in judgment for those who consider themselves saved?
Let’s go back to Lehi and Nephi in the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Guess who they and all the other “prophets who came” were preaching at? Well, the people in Jerusalem, which was the seat of religious power in Judah (Israel had already been ransacked and carried off by this point). For some examples of what prophets in this time period were saying, we can check out Jeremiah, who said a lot of things like, “What hath my beloved to do in mine house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many and the holy flesh is passed from thee? When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest. The Lord called thy name, A green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it and the branches of it are broken.”
These prophets were condemning the Lord’s chosen people who had turned away from the God they claimed to worship and polluted his house. Lehi and Nephi were condemning the Lord’s chosen people. You can hear the incredulity in Laman and Lemuel’s voices as they recoil from their brother’s accusations, even years later: “And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him” (1 Nephi 17:22). These prophets didn’t come from among the leaders of the church, but instead came to explain God’s displeasure with those leaders and the people they led. And most of the people reacted like Laman and Lemuel, because they were God’s chosen people! They were righteous! They did ALL THE THINGS!
This is a pattern repeated over and over, not just in the Book of Mormon, but in all of scripture. People are offered blessings from the Lord, contingent upon obedience to his words, and eventually those people fall into a collective forgetting and altering and abandoning of those words and covenants. And every time, they don’t realize it, so God sends people who actually are connected to and approved of by him to shake them up a bit and remind them of their promises so they don’t get destroyed. And usually, those prophets are largely ignored, because they’re annoying and ridiculous.
People fall into apostasy. As far as I’m aware, there are actually zero scriptural examples of a people who managed to escape apostatizing indefinitely (minus the groups that were taken from the earth, but I’m not counting extraterrestrials here). Nowhere in scripture is anything said congratulating people collectively on their assured eternal faithfulness; in fact, almost every single thing considered important enough for holy writ is either a warning or a condemnation. We are just so darn intent on doing things our own way with our blessed little egos, and God spends a hefty amount of time trying to get us to understand that that’s a terrible idea. But people after people ignore him. This is the pattern.
Lehi was a nobody.
Nephi was a nobody.
Abinadi was a nobody.
Samuel the Lamanite was a nobody AND an enemy of the blessed bloodline, as commemorated by his title.
Again, it’s not just the Book of Mormon. Amos 3:7 says that the Lord won’t do anything without first warning his prophets, and guess who Amos was? A shepherd, a nobody, preaching repentance to Jerusalem, again. The whole Bible is full of weirdos popping up to yell at the chosen ones. When I finally read the Old Testament all the way through a few years ago, I was super shocked to discover that Israel was almost always the bad guy in the stories, and people from heathen nations kept having to remind them that they weren’t following God and were in danger of being roasted. It seems that being a chosen people is more often a risk factor than a safeguard. When you’re given preferential treatment, you get less leniency. You are supposed to pay attention.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, came as a nobody to the chosen people, a people who had drifted so completely from truth that they killed their God because of how he offended them when he asked them to return. They failed to find God because they were certain they already knew him and were pleasing to him. This is why he sits in judgment of those who say they sit in safety--because they give him no other choice. Our God wants us to come to him, but if we insist that we’re already where we need to be and refuse to listen, he can’t guide us. If we think we already have the truth, we’re not seeking, and we won’t find. In the end, we receive judgment because we failed to find the One who can give mercy.
There is a belief among Mormons that the Church can never go astray, that this is the final dispensation, so we’re able to breathe a sigh of relief and just trust that we’re on the right path. There is absolutely nothing scriptural about this belief; if anything, it contradicts scripture. Joseph Smith warned the Church many times that if they failed to be diligent and watchful, they would fall, and not just as individuals. He showed great anxiety about their ability to rise up to the challenges they faced. Why would we be so lucky as to be assured success when the rest of humanity was not? How is that just?
We have agency, and God honors our agency. Where much is given, much is required. He warns us repeatedly to watch carefully. He does not say that we are guaranteed anything, but instead warns, “wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!” (2 Nephi 28:24-25).
It matters to him and it should matter to us. If you are trusting someone else to do the heavy lifting when it comes to discerning spiritual things and telling you where safety and joy are, you will not find comfort in the scriptures. This is the job you came here to do, so it’s important to look alive ; ) Sitting back on your laurels isn't an option!
Sat nam, y'all.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.