Once when I was a bishop I was meeting with a young couple and their very young toddler. To keep the child occupied, I gave him my keys, which he loved to jingle and play with. During the closing prayer of our meeting, I opened my eyes and looked up in time to see the child had moved a chair and was inches away from sticking the keys into the electrical socket.
I shouted his name loudly and the parents opened their eyes. They shouted too, and we all jumped up, knocking chairs over and creating a huge ruckus.
The poor kid was crying from all the noise and our tone, but it saved his life. Since then, I have really thought a lot about this. Once you start looking, you can see God’s love and mercy everywhere, but sometimes the tone feels a bit like people shouting to save a small child. Anyway, this has helped me reframe and understand things I didn’t used to.
For example, sometimes I struggle to reconcile the god of the Old Testament with Jesus of the New Testament, and always-forgiving Christ of the Book of Mormon with the stricter voice in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Beyond the scriptural record, in my own experience I have encountered over and over a loving Father and a gentle Savior.
So sometimes it is jarring to read something that feels more harsh. In case anyone else ever struggles with this, I believe there is an important key in D&C 19 that helps explain this.
The Lord explains the difference between eternal damnation and endless damnation. It is a pretty stunning chapter that turns centuries of theology upside down in a few verses.
But the Lord says something important to all of us. Why does he use certain terms? “wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.”
His glory is not some sort of vanity. We know that his glory is bringing to pass our eternal life. We also get a glimpse of the cost of suffering for sins.
“16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
So, the point of some of the terms and, by extension, I believe, the very strict language he uses is to help us avoid having to suffer as he did, which in this verse, sounds as if it is still very fresh and present to him, even though it’s been around 1800 years at the writing of this verse.
In this way, God is not unlike a parent who shouts at a child to prevent him from walking into traffic or to keep her from sticking a finger in a light socket.