I've been reading the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, which I admit is a bit of a struggle. If I have plenty of time to really be able to look up every "strange" reference and use the study manual, I can usually make heads or tails of it. But often I'm trying to fit in scripture reading with the rest of my hectic day and I don't always have the time (or patience) to thoroughly research it.
(And sometimes I just plain don't feel like it!)
What's struck me lately though is the phrase "For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (2 Nephi 15:25, 19:21, etc.)
This seems like a really strange phrase to begin with. I have a hard time picturing the Lord stretching out his hand to do something bad to someone... I always see Him reaching out with love and compassion. But then I realized that His anger is not turned away and His hand is stretched out in punishment because His people just will NOT listen to Him. He has tried every possible way to get their attention and persuade them to turn to Him, and it's just not happening. It's a bit like when we try to teach our child to stop doing some behavior that's not acceptable. We coax, we teach, we do everything possible to help them turn away from it, but often we have to resort to using punishment instead of persuasion. If we're lucky the child then decides that it really is best to stop the behavior and do the right thing. Sometimes, though, a child can be very ornery and stubborn. When that happens, we can't take back the punishment and we can't overlook the behavior. We are obliged to "stretch forth our hand still" and hope that the punishment is harsh enough to make the good behavior more desirable.
Imagine what Heavenly Father feels like when He has to take the same tactic with us. He pleads, He teaches, He gives us warnings and revelations... and yet we often strike back at Him like a stubborn child, intent on continuing what it is WE want to do. How often would He gladly pull His hand back from the punishment that is required, if we would just turn to Him??
I've seen this many times in the lives of people who have slowly turned away from God's commandments. It starts with a small choice... maybe they don't show up to church for a Sunday or two, then three... or they hear counsel from the Prophet and decide that it doesn't apply to THEIR situation... eventually those choices end up adding up and it's interesting to then see how their lives are affected by "his hand (being) stretched out still" towards them. Do you know of someone who has gone through multiple trials and is filled with self-pity and moans and groans about all the bad things happening to them... but are still unwilling to take the basic steps to come back to Christ?? His anger can't be turned away because they won't turn from the behavior that's causing the punishment in the first place!
I've gone through this cycle a couple of times in my life. Being a rather stubborn person, it took me awhile to wake up and realize that my bad choices were what was causing bad things to happen! (DUH!!) I try to be patient with other people who may be wandering around as blindly as I was, but occasionally it's hard not to want to confront them and tell them to "wake up!" And that's not out of a feeling of anger or of being judgemental, or thinking that I can solve their problems... I just know what a difference it made in my life when I finally learned that obedience to God is much easier than trying to walk my own path and I wish I could help others to find the same peace.
I want to do everything possible to make sure that His hand isn't stretched out toward me in anger again. It's not a fun place to be.
The flip side is that when you're doing what's right, God is quick to reward you with more blessings than you ever deserved! He's quick to forgive and to show forth more love. He's the perfect example with our own children. He's all about positive reinforcement. Just as we should be.
I'm thankful that Isaiah thought to keep that phrase in so many of his chapters. It's a great reminder to turn to the Lord and follow His plan. It's so much easier.