When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord sent three angels to investigate conditions in Sodom and Gomorrah, for the evil of these cities was known to the Lord. Abraham was told that if the people really were as wicked as reported, those cities would have to be destroyed. Abraham asked: “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (See Gen. 18:23.)
Then began a curious bargaining as Abraham tried to pin the Lord down to a specific number. Would the Lord spare the cities if there were fifty righteous people there? The Lord would. But what if there were only forty-five righteous people, or forty, thirty, twenty, or even ten? The Lord finally promised that if even ten righteous people could be found within the region, he would spare the cities for their sake.
When Sodom and Gomorrah were visited by these three messengers from the Lord, they found the area so full of wickedness that even they were threatened by the wicked people there. Only Lot, his wife, and two daughters were found to be clean; and they were warned by the Lord to flee the city at once. As soon as they were safely out of the region, “the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;
“And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” (Gen. 19:24, 25.)
It has always been an impression that this destruction came about because of sexual impurity, that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had tampered evilly with the very fountain of life and abused the power of creation that God had given them.
But the Lord did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of sexual impurity alone. The inhabitants of those cities were, in the eyes of the Lord, also guilty of an even greater evil, which was made clear when the prophet Ezekiel pronounced his prophecy of coming doom upon Jerusalem.
“As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters.
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
“And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.” (Ezek. 16:48–50.)
So it was pride and haughtiness, added to all these other sins, that brought about this utter destruction. Such pride, haughtiness, and willful disobedience bring people into desperate conditions where repentance is almost impossible. When repentance becomes impossible and people refuse to change their ways from evil, then destruction by the Lord is the only alternative left. Otherwise, every person alive could soon become infected with increasing wickedness, and no one could be saved.
Compare the world in which we live with ancient Jerusalem and with Sodom and Gomorrah. Our world is filled with abundance and pride and haughtiness. Many people today are filled with so much pride and arrogance that it becomes almost impossible to reason with them. Hate has become so contagious among nations and individuals that reconciliation seems an impossible goal.
Both the scriptures and talks given by men of God suggest a cleansing by fire that must come in the last days to purify the earth before the second coming of the Lord. That time is rapidly approaching, although no mortal knows the hour.
The Lord has already said that “the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth.” (D&C 29:9.)
Now this wickedness of pride and haughtiness does not refer just to wealth or to money, for Paul did not say that money itself was evil, but that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10. Italics added.) Love of money, status, possessions, or position more than righteousness begets a kind of false pride that must be avoided. That is why the Lord also told us that “if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” (D&C 38:39.)
And to the Nephites the Savior said: “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:17–19.)
Wealth is given us as a holy trust, not to be used for ourselves alone but to assist others. How deadly prideful it is to have wealth, position, and influence and not to share with others less fortunate those gifts God has given us.
Centuries ago the prophet Mormon saw the day of Joseph Smith and told of a sacred record that would come forth out of the earth in a day when it shall be said that miracles cease to exist. He spoke of a day when the blood of the martyred Saints should cry out to the Lord because of secret combinations and the works of darkness. He prophesied of a day to come when the power of God should be denied and churches should become defiled and lifted up in the pride of their hearts. He told of a day when there should be fires, tempests, vapors of smoke in foreign lands, wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes in divers places.
Mormon went on to write that “it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day. But wo unto such for they are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.
“Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.” (Morm. 8:31, 32.)
With amazing insight, Mormon next spoke of the Christian world in which we live.
“Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you.
“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
“And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
“For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Morm. 8:34–37.)
Notice that the Lord does not stress the usual iniquities of crime and immorality, of atheism and lawlessness. Instead he stresses the intolerance, the lack of charity, and the vanity that exist in our present world. He warns us against pride, envy, arrogance, and malice. As the prophet predicted, we do not persecute the poor; we simply tend to ignore them and forget them.
Mormon is writing about the church-going, church-building, so-called Christians, and not the unbelievers. The unbelievers are the subject of the next chapter of Mormon’s message. I am concerned about some of our prosperous people who are beginning to criticize the poor for being poor. Some of our own church members believe that only shiftless, lazy people remain poor in this prosperous day and age and that welfare is necessary only to sustain those who are not competent enough to work. They simply do not realize the unexpected problems and expenses that can suddenly come to any one of us. On one occasion the Church came to my aid when I was sick and helpless to help myself, and I was truly grateful that it did.
Proud hearts were of great concern to Alma when he described the church of God in his day. The people then began to wax proud in the riches that they had obtained by their own hard work. They justified those blessings “which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.” (Alma 4:6.) This caused the church leaders much sorrow, for the church members became scornful of one another. There were contentions among them, and envyings, strife, malice, persecutions; and their pride was “even to exceed the pride of those who did not belong to the church of God … and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” (Alma 4:9–10.)
We must not criticize those who give up business opportunities in order to serve the Church as mission presidents. Many of our brethren resign jobs or dispose of businesses in order to respond to calls to serve.
We must not belittle those Saints who devote time and means and energy to do genealogical and temple work. I have heard some people comment that such work is done only by religious fanatics with nothing else to do.
We must stop wanting elaborate buildings and temples just to bolster the pride of Church members in areas in which they happen to live. When large sums of money are spent for elaborate and costly church buildings, it deprives the less prosperous Saints from having simple meetinghouses in which to worship and smaller, more functional temples wherein they may receive those blessings that God has reserved for all his children, rich and poor alike. There is only so much money available for the construction and maintenance of church buildings, and it must be distributed where it can do the most good for the most people. I do not decry the buildings we now have. I am humbly grateful that we have them. But we should constantly be on guard not to let our ambitions get out of hand so that we feel we must have the biggest and the best of everything.
Living in a day when the pride of men’s hearts leads them to wickedness, we must be alert for every sign of pride, haughtiness, and arrogance that may appear in the Church of God. This is why Helaman warned that “except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.” (Hel. 12:3.)
The Lord has thus far pretty well spared us as a people, but we can see the beginning of trouble ahead, and that should be a warning to us all. We must continually humble ourselves to receive calls to serve and to share with others the blessings God has given us so abundantly, for unless the present day of wickedness is shortened, even the very elect may be deceived. It is for this reason that the Lord said he would hasten his work in this time.
Sodom and Gomorrah and later Jerusalem were destroyed as a result of pride, selfishness, and the haughtiness of otherwise good people who refused to unite in the cause of righteousness. Our prideful, arrogant world, as we know it, will be destroyed by fire. Rebellions, dissensions, and contentions will continue because of the hardness of the hearts of those who refuse to listen to the pleadings of prophets sent by the Lord to warn them of what is to come. I therefore ask Church members to stand firm; to live in the world but not become part of it. God lives and will hold us to those conditions that he has determined as bases for giving blessings. We must keep those promises that we have already made, and take advantage of the opportunities that are given us for growth and for service. And I plead with those not of our faith to come out of the world and become the precious wheat of the harvest of God.