What does it mean to confess the Lord’s hand in all things? Does it mean that the Lord’s hand is literally in all things, that all things are done in his wisdom and with his foresight? Does it mean that the Lord condones and approves everything because it brings about the world that he envisions for all of us? Those are just a few of the questions I have had recently in reading some of the comments by some friends of mine. Some of these friends seem to indicate that the Lord truly is behind everything, that everything that happens, happens with his knowledge and approbation. Whether it’s the natural events that happen across the earth like earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, etc., or whether it’s gospel curriculum we study on any given Sunday in church. No matter the event or subject, the Lord’s hand is behind all things.
Justification for such reasoning stems, largely, from reading D&C 59:21, which states, “And in nothing doth man aoffend God, or against none is his bwrath ckindled, save those who dconfess not his hand in all things, and eobey not his commandments.” The wrath of God is kindled, seemingly, solely against those who confess not his hand in all things. Sure seems to make sense, from this verse. However, is there another way to look at this verse, another way to interpret this “confess not his hand in all things?” I think there is and think it merits a discussion of its own.
To be fair to this piece, I must confess that I have been doing a fair bit of reading lately on subjects which can be viewed as less than favorable, in at least one context, on the mainstream LDS Church. Many people might read the same things and take a different spin on the topics, but I seem to be taking a different approach. While I do not – as of yet – know where this road will lead, I have had my eyes opened by a number of things which make this essay all the more important. Important for me, that is. These write-ups help me understand, process and digest information and put them into a format which helps my interpretations. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I confess that one of the ways He teaches me is through these labors. This may not work for you and that is probably how it should be – differences are like that.
The first place I turned to in trying to understand D&C 59:21 was Section 59 in its entirety. While we should endeavor to liken the scriptures to ourselves, we should also try and understand the context of when and where a verse occurs. Nephi’s experience with locating the tools to build a ship may mean one thing when we liken that verse to us, but understanding what was happening in his life at this time can also take the meaning of the scripture to new depths. It is in this framework that I will try to understand Section 59 and the comment on confessing the hand of the Lord in all things.
Section 59 was given to Joseph Smith in Zion, Jackson County, Missouri on August 7, 1831. The land of Zion was already dedicated at this point, as had been directed by the Lord, and the site of the future temple had also previously been dedicated. According to the section heading in the Doctrine & Covenants, we read, “The Lord makes these commandments [Section 59] especially applicable to the saints in Zion.” This, likewise, is especially applicable to those saints who want to be in Zion. Zion, as an actual physical location today, is a mere figment of our imaginations and yet someday in the future the gathering principle will once again be in full effect. When that day comes, we would be wise to heed the counsel given in Section 59.
The Section heading breaks Section 59 into four distinct, yet complementary, parts, which follow:
Verses 1-4: The faithful saints in Zion shall be blessed;
Verses 5-8: They are to love and serve the Lord and keep his commandments;
Verses 9-19: By keeping the Lord’s day holy, the saints are blessed temporally and spiritually;
Verses 20-24: The righteous are promised peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.
The section this article focuses on, while acknowledging the other parts of this section, is the latter half, verses 9-24. Verses 9 through 14 speak specifically of some of the reasons why we must keep the Sabbath day holy and what it means to keep it holy while verses 15 through 19 talk about the blessings that flow from keeping the Sabbath day holy. Specifically, if we keep it holy, we are promised the fullness of the earth, beasts of the field, fowls of the air, and pretty much anything that climbs in the trees or walks on the earth. We are further promised herbs, good things which come from the earth, which can and should be used for food and clothing, buildings, gardens, orchards and vineyards. The Lord promises, in describing these verses, that “all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and gladden the heart.”
The Lord gives us these things that we might have clothing, food, delicious tastes, pleasing aromas, and that we might have strong bodies and enlivened souls. The Lord, quite literally, is describing the benefits of the earth, why it was created, what all things found on the earth are for and how we should view them. Knowing the nature and mindset of man, the Lord then provides a gentle reminder in verse 20, reminding us that God was pleased to give these things to men, to us, but that all things were to be used with “judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” This verse, then, brings us to the heart of this essay. It is in this context that we read verse 21 of Section 59. It will prove useful to read it again:
Now, with that in mind, I will discuss what I think this means, what it applies to, and what it does not apply to. Where I stray, I invite feedback and correction.
This verse simply does not apply to a fatalistic view of the world, that everything that happens is condoned and approved by the Lord, or that the Lord’s hand is in all things. That may indeed prove to be the case, but this verse does not grant such an interpretation. This verse does not apply to a view that all the manuals, periodicals, statements or official pronunciations of the LDS church with the Lord’s will in mind, or with his “hand in all things.” This verse does not suggest approval for the actions of an institution or body of people to do whatever they will, in a unified voice while they profess it to be the “mind and will of the Lord.”
Rather, this verse applies directly and specifically to gratitude for temporal blessings which come from the fullness of the earth. It is true that nothing is strictly temporal. Nevertheless, this verse is specifically relating to the fullness of the earth, which the Lord makes clear in this section to be the fullness of blessings which come from the earth – food, plants, trees, herbs, beasts, wildlife, gardens, vineyards, orchards, etc. These verses describe those things which come from the earth – either as a fruit of the earth or something we can create (i.e. building) from earth’s abundance – things specifically given to us to “strengthen the body and … enliven the soul.”
To be fair to the argument at hand, I must acknowledge that I do agree with the idea that the Lord is in control of all things, that the Lord can and does use both the natural and unnatural flow of life to achieve his purposes. Regardless of what happens in the world –whether it is an orchestrated financial depression, or a man-made blizzard, or the pronouncements of apostate religions – the Lord will use those events to achieve his purposes to teach his sheep. I believe this is self-evident. What this does not mean, however, is that the Lord approves of all the actions which precipitate such events. I likewise think this to be self-evident, but nevertheless believe that the distinction must be made in light of the way D&C 59:21 can be used when used outside of the context in which it was revealed.
From an LDS perspective, I find it hard to believe that the Lord would approve of some of the actions of the leaders of the Church, especially when contrasted with the revelations given to Joseph Smith which are all too frequently contradict modern or past protocol and pronouncements. It is true that the Lord uses man for his purposes and understands that the “natural man is an enemy to God,” but that does not mean that the Lord approves of the actions in and of themselves.
To provide a specific example, let us discuss the role of the Presiding Patriarch within the LDS Church. Originally, with Joseph Smith, Sr., and Hyrum Smith, the role Presiding Patriarch held a position which ranked ahead of the Twelve Apostles in authority. The authority held by the Presiding Patriarch seemed to ebb and flow, depending on who held the position and who was President of the Church at the time. Originally, the Presiding Patriarch served simultaneously as both a church patriarch and a member of the First Presidency. Even as late as the 1890s, Wilford Woodruff stated that the Presiding Patriarch was “the next man to him in authority in the Church.” This viewpoint continued into the early 1900s with Joseph F. Smith, who was actually set apart as church president by the Presiding Patriarch on 17 Oct 1901, an ordinance which “presupposed that the Patriarch to the Church had authority at least equal to the church president’s”, a tacit statement which exceeded what Woodruff stated in 1894. Even through the late 1910s, the Presiding Patriarch’s chair in the Salt Lake temple’s council room was situated next to the First Presidency’s chairs and ahead of the senior apostle’s chair.
Then, Heber J. Grant became the president of the church and the role of the Presiding Patriarch was forever altered. At a meeting on 2 Jan. 1919, the First Presidency ruled that the “President Patriarch ranked after the Quorum of the Twelve” in authority. Grant further “demoted” the Patriarch by stating that the Patriarch only attended temple council meetings “as a matter of courtesy” and that the Presiding Patriarch’s vote was insignificant and could not even be a “tie-breaking” vote of the First Presidency and apostles. The Patriarch could no longer ordain other patriarchs, except by the courtesy of the First Presidency, and the Patriarchs chair in the Salt Lake temple’s council room was moved so that it came after the junior apostle’s. As Quinn notes in Extensions of Power, “In Grant’s view the patriarch had flown too high during Joseph F. Smith’s administration. As new church president he was determined to clip the patriarch’s wings.”
Later, the office of Patriarch stood vacant for ten years while Grant tried to get his son-in-law ordained as Patriarch. From the time Grant was ordained as President of the Church in 1918, through today, the office of Presiding Patriarch has dwindled in importance and, largely, authority. As Quinn concludes his discussion on the role of the Presiding Patriarch, he adds this statement:
“Whenever a patriarch after 1844 tried to magnify his presiding office, the Twelve and First Presidency recoiled in apprehension. However, when individual patriarchs seemed to lack administrative vigor, the Twelve and First Presidency criticized them for not magnifying their office. Few men could walk such an ecclesiastical tightrope. For various reasons the First Presidency and Twelve were in conflict with seven out of eight successors of the original Presiding Patriarch, Joseph Smith, Sr. The hierarchy finally resolved the situation on 6 Oct 1979 by making Eldred G. Smith an “emeritus” general authority without replacing him. This permanently “discontinued” the office of Patriarch to the Church. … Vacating the office in 1979 ended the conflicts. However, according to Brigham Young’s instructions, the 1979 action made the church vulnerable: “It was necessary to keep up a full organization of the Church all through time as far as could be. At least the three first Presidency, quorum of the Twelve, Seventies, and Patriarch over the whole Church … so that the devil could take no advantage of us.” It is beyond the scope of this analysis to assess such metaphysical vulnerability. Administratively, however, the decision to leave the patriarch’s office vacant after 1979 streamlined the hierarchy and removed a source of nearly constant tension.”
Was the Lord’s hand in the vacating of the Patriarch’s office in 1979? Did the Lord then, or does he now, approve of such a move? My answer to that question is that the Lord likely does not approve of such a move, nor did He likely approve of the near constant tension between the Twelve and First Presidency and those ordained as Presiding Patriarchs, tensions which put the church in a “vulnerable” position according to Brigham Young.
Likewise, other structural, administrative and ecclesiastical changes have occurred with the Presiding Bishopric and the Quorums of the Seventy. The reader is left alone to decide whether these changes represent the will of the Lord, and necessitate confessing “his hand in all things,” or whether these changes represent the struggles of the natural man as he grapples with power and authority, or something else entirely.
This much is true, Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 relates very specifically to gratitude within the context of obtaining a fullness of the earth and obtaining blessings from the Lord through our keeping of the Sabbath day as holy. To project that verse and its implications forward onto geo-political machinations is one each individual must determine, but the determination must rest upon a knowledge of the Lord’s usage of this verse in its appropriate context. What is equally true, in my mind, is that the Lord will use the situations in which we find ourselves to teach us lessons and instruct us when we are humble and willing enough to listen. This method of teaching and instructing the natural man, however, does not mean that the Lord approves of each decision we make in this life. We must be careful not to assume as much.
Rather, in conclusion, I think this verse is a simple example of the Lord reminding us that once we come unto Him, once we accept Him for who he truly is, once we learn to love Him for unselfish reasons, that the “fullness of the earth is [ours].” The blessings he would pour out upon us should we choose to love Him as we must are unfathomable. Let us truly confess His hand in everything we’re given on this earth…the food, clothing, beasts, fowl, water, houses, barns, etc.
 See 1 Nephi 19:23.
 See 1 Nephi 17:9-10, 16.
 See D&C 59, Section heading.
 See D&C 59:18.
 See D&C 29:31-32, 34-35.
 See D&C 59:19.
 See Mosiah 3:19.
 Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight to Joseph Smith, 24 June 1844, in History of the Church7:157.
 See Quinn, Michael D. The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pages 116-131, for a more detailed analysis of what became of the role of Presiding Patriarch.
 Heber J. Grant journal, 7 Oct 1894; Salt Lake Tribune 8 Oct 1894.
 Quinn, Extensions of Power, page 122.
 Minutes of meeting of First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and Presiding Patriarch, 2 Jan. 1919.
 Quinn, Extensions of Power, page 125.
 Quinn, Extensions of Power, page 125.
 Wilford Woodruff’s Journal 27 December 1847.
 Quinn, Extensions of Power, page 131.
 See Quinn, Extensions of Power, pages 132-140 for a discussion of some of these changes.
 See Quinn, Extensions of Power, pages 140-148 for a discussion of some of these changes.