In one month, we will come upon the tenth anniversary of the deadly tornado that coursed across Salt Lake. On August 11, 1999, Utahans stood in awe as nature unleashed a whirlwind packing wind speeds as high as 150 mph. As many of you may remember, the tornado cut a swath across downtown, shattering glass and ripping off roofs. The Delta Center took a direct blow shortly after the tornado touched down. Follow a northeast path; it then shredded a temporary tent set up for a retail event. Here is where the storm’s only fatality occurred. Moving quickly, the storm then hit temple square, ripping the east doors off the tabernacle, uprooting the famed ‘Sweetheart Tree,’ and shattering panes of glass of the rotunda in front of the Christus statue located in the North Visitor’s Center. The tornado then crossed North Temple and toppled a crane on the site of the assembly hall construction. Its final target was the area around the state capitol where roofs and trees were forfeited to the fury of the storm.
Here is a graphical representation of the storm’s path from Salt Lake City’s Tornado’99, a Deseret News book published shortly after the event.
This was a unique event. It was the only tornado to hit Salt Lake City in its recorded history. Such a rare event should be notable; but is there a deeper spiritual meaning to this event? Why would He who controls the elements allow such an event to transpire? Should we, as members of His church, have taken a message from this whirlwind that struck at the center of Mormondom?
As I pondered this question, I was reminded of the scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 112:
23 Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face.
24 Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord.
25 And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;
26 First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.
So… it appears here that the Lord is issuing a warning, not just to the church but to ‘all flesh.’ We are to look forward to a ‘day of desolation and lamentation.’ The image the Lord uses in this circumstance is that of a whirlwind or tornado. This is certainly appropriate given the images recorded of the devastation of 8/11/99.
The warning here is clear that we, the inhabitants of the earth, are in for some trying times. What should be of more interest to us is that the ‘housecleaning’ is to begin with us. I believe that ‘house’ as the Lord uses it here, can have a dual meaning. It can signify both His temple (D&C 94:1) and His people (D&C 103:22).
First, let’s look at those ‘who have professed to know my name.’ In Isaiah 52:6, we read that ‘my people shall know my name.’ I would suggest that there is a spiritual link between knowing His name and membership in His kingdom. I would suggest that this may have a deeper meaning and the topic of another discussion. For now I would assert that knowing the name of God means to know who He is, what He does and how He does it. A similar discussion on the conditions pertaining to His church is found here. But what if I only ‘profess’ to know the name of God but don’t really follow through? I would align this with ‘talking the talk but not walking the walk.’
We find a similar thought expressed in D&C 56:1 as follows:
HEARKEN, O ye people who profess my name, saith the Lord your God; for behold, mine anger is kindled against the rebellious, and they shall know mine arm and mine indignation, in the day of visitation and of wrath upon the nations.
The section continues with a chastisement of several members for stiffneckedness, pride, and selfishness. I suggest that the message here, as well as in Section 112, is that we, as members of His church, need to repent.
Next, consider what the Lord means in reference to those of us who ‘have not known me.’ Knowing Christ is essential to eternal life as we read in John 17:3:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
To gain eternal life, we must be cleansed by His blood and receive sanctification:
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; (3 Nephi 27:19-21)
We are sanctified by receiving a remission of sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. As stated in 3 Nephi 12:1, Christ, himself, administers the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. I believe that this is an essential component to knowing Christ and to Him knowing us.
The final warning in D&C 112 is against those that blaspheme against God in the midst of His house. Blasphemy could present itself in many ways. Certainly using the name of God in vain qualifies. To speak against God is another way it is presented in the scriptures. But what does it mean to blaspheme in the midst of his house. Is house, in this context, his people or his temple, or both?
First , as a people. Is it blasphemy to make light of the things of God? Do we utter mindless blessings on food or utter the pat answers with our head and not our heart? Is it blasphemy to stand before the congregation and announce our testimony of God by reciting a travel dialog?
Second, as a temple. Has the Lord’s temple been a site for conducting the business side of the corporate church? Is God pleased when we assign spiritual strength to the works of men? In 3 Nephi 27:11, the Lord speaks of His church in these terms:
But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.
Do we blaspheme our God when we replace His works with the works of men? It would seem so since those who do so end up at the same place as the rebellious described in D&C 56:1
So, in summary, I would suggest the long forgotten tornado of 1999 can easily be categorized as a warning to the members of the church. How important is the fact that this act of nature occurred where it occurred, that it struck with such force to the sacred places of the church, that it seemed to be aimed directly at the assembly hall under construction? Such should be the subject of our pleadings with our God. What does this mean to me?
What think ye?