We might reasonably conclude from these passages that signs are a bad thing. Except that there are plenty of counterexamples:
- According to Nephi, the ancient prophet Zenos said that three days of darkness would signal the death of the God of Israel to the people who “should inhabit the isles of the sea” (1 Nephi 19:10).
- The prophet Isaiah instructed King Ahaz, “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God.” When Ahaz refused to do so, Isaiah provided a sign anyway (2 Nephi 17:11, 14, Isaiah 7:11, 14).
- When Korihor (one of the antagonists mentioned above) requested a sign, the prophet Alma didn’t say, “You don’t need any signs.” He said, “Thou hast had signs enough” (Alma 30:44).
- Both Nephi and Samuel the Lamanite offered signs to the unbelieving Nephites in the city of Zarahemla.
- Nephi provided two signs which provided immediate evidence of his prophetic knowledge—revealing that the chief judge had been murdered, and then revealing the murderer (Helaman 9:24-25).
- Samuel provided a sign of the birth of the Son of God, which would happen five years after his prophecy. He also provided a sign of the Savior’s death, which would happen 33 years later (an expansion of the sign which had been given by the prophet Zenos) (Helaman 14:2-6, Helaman 14:14, 20-27).
It seems clear that, even though we shouldn’t demand signs from God, He will provide them to us. But why? What purpose do they serve?
Samuel the Lamanite gave two reasons for providing the signs of the Savior’s birth and death:
- “To the intent that ye might believe on his name” (Helaman 14:12)
- “To the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them” (Helaman 14:29).
So God gives us signs to spark belief, but also to empower agency. When we receive a sign, we can choose to accept it or to reject it.
In the first chapter that Nephi quotes from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet laments the fact that his people chose to ignore the clear signs he had given them. He had prophesied events which had subsequently happened. They had enough evidence to begin to believe, if they were only willing to accept it. Speaking on behalf of the Lord, Isaiah said:
Long ago I told you what was going to happen.
Then suddenly I took action,
and all my predictions came true….
I told you what would happen;
I told you beforehand what I was going to do.
Then you could never say, ‘My idols did it.
My wooden image and metal god commanded it to happen!’
You have heard my predictions and seen them fulfilled,
but you refuse to admit it.Isaiah 48:3-6, New Living Translation. Compare 1 Nephi 20:3-6.
I think the key is exactly what Alma told Korihor: “Thou hast had signs enough.” We all have reasons to believe that there is a God, that our lives have meaning, and that there is more to the world than what we see. The question is whether we have “eyes to see,” “ears to hear,” and “an heart to perceive” (Deuteronomy 29:4). Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we may later discover that all the evidence we needed was right in front of us (Luke 24:13-32).
Today I will strive to be perceptive, to identify and accept the signs the Lord has given to me. I will remember that His signs can form a basis for belief if I recognize them for what they are.