- They warn us and protect us from danger.
- They motivate us to prepare for the future.
- They inspire us to look forward to the coming of Christ.
- "And there shall be a great hailstorm sent forth to destroy the crops of the earth" (D&C 29:16).
- "And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land" (D&C 45:31).
- "Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them" (D&C 29:18).
"And there shall be . . . many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me" (D&C 45:33; emphasis added). You would think people would repent after all this stuff, right? Maybe not.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt in Exodus 8. Moses was sent by God to persuade Pharaoh to let Israel go. The Israelites had been in bondage to Egypt for more than four hundred years, and now it was time for freedom. But Pharaoh didn't want to let them go. Moses was commanded to send famine, pestilence, and sickness to persuade mighty Pharaoh to give in. It seems at first that this was a battle of wills between Moses and Pharaoh. But there is so much more to the story.
What was God really trying to do with Pharaoh? Could it be possible that God was actually showing him mercy, trying to get him to repent and humble himself? When God's children reach a point that they no longer listen to the still, small voice, God unleashes another tactic to try to humble them (1 Nephi 17:45; D&C 43:20-27). The plagues on Egypt were not-so-subtle reminders that Pharaoh needed to change. Had he done so, he would have been blessed. You know the rest of the story. He never repented, and he ended up destroying most of his army in the Red Sea. It's important to remember that God got his way. He always has. Israel was set free.
Even the great flood in Noah's day was an act of mercy. It prevented his children from sinning even more, and it stopped spirits from being born into the wicked families that then dominated the earth. I hope that you're able to see that often God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and he will do whatever is best to save his children.
So why does God send us signs today? Is it because he's angry and enjoys watching his children suffer? Or is it an act of great mercy and compassion--one last attempt to allow his children to repent and come unto him. "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33).
All right, now that we understand a little more about why God uses famines, pestilence, and sickness, let's figure out how they will affect the righteous. When righteous people live among the wicked, they sometimes experience tribulations resulting from the unrighteousness of their neighbors. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that the "innocent are compelled to suffer for the iniquities of the guilty" (Teachings, 34).
It's not pleasant to hear, but we may suffer along with the wicked even if we're righteous. Remember, this life is a test, and our faith will continue to be tested. However, we have one great benefit to our advantage: living prophets and apostles. They give us counsel and direction on how to prepare for the days that will come.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, "I ask you earnestly, have you provided for your family a year's supply of food, clothing, and, where possible, fuel? The revelation to produce and store food may be as essential to our temporal welfare today as boarding the ark was to the people in the days of Noah" ("To the Fathers in Israel," Ensign, November 1987, 49).
The Lord does love us, and he wants us to be prepared. Could it be that our willingness to follow the counsel of the prophets is an outward demonstration of our desire to obey the Lord? I believe it is.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie told the Saints to prepare so they could be calm when the signs come:
We do not know when the calamities and troubles of the last days will fall upon any of us as individuals or upon bodies of the Saints. The Lord deliberately withholds from us the day and hour of his coming and of the tribulations which shall precede it--all as part of the testing and probationary experiences of mortality. He simply tells us to watch and be ready.I hope you don't feel overwhelmed or that you need to crawl under your bed and hide. Preparing and listening to the prophet will keep us safe. There is no reason for panic if we are ready. President Jedediah M. Grant, a counselor in the First Presidency, said:
We can rest assured that if we have done all in our power to prepare for whatever lies ahead, he will then help us with whatever else we need. . . .
We do not say that all of the Saints will be spared and saved from the coming day of desolation. But we do say there is no promise of safety and no promise of security except for those who love the Lord and who are seeking to do all that he commands.
It may be, for instance, that nothing except the power of faith and the authority of the priesthood can save individuals and congregations from the atomic holocausts that surely shall be.
And so we raise the warning voice and say: Take heed; prepare; watch and be ready. There is no security in any course except the course of obedience and conformity and righteousness.
("Stand Independent above All Other Creatures," Ensign, May 1979, 93)
"Why is it that the Latter-day Saints are perfectly calm and serene among all the convulsions of the earth--the turmoils, strife, war, pestilence, famine and distress of nations? It is because the spirit of prophecy has made known to us that such things would actually transpire upon the earth. We understand it, and view it in its true light. We have learned it by the visions of the Almighty" ("The Hand of God in Events on Earth," Improvement Era, February 1915, 286).A Primary song says it all, "Follow the prophet; he knows the way" (Children's Songbook, no. 110).