There is a cryptic passage near the beginning of the book of Genesis. After listing ten generations from Adam to Noah, the author quotes the Lord as saying:
My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.Genesis 6:3
What does that mean? It sounds like an explanation for our shorter lifespans, compared with our antediluvian ancestors, some of whom lived more than 900 years.
Joseph Smith’s expansion of the passage, however, suggests a different meaning:
My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for he shall know that all flesh shall die; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years; and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them.Moses 8:17, italics added
God seems to be telling Noah that His patience will soon end: If people do not repent in the next 120 years, they will suffer the consequences of their actions.
The Book of Mormon paraphrases the first part of this passage multiple times:
- Nephi explains to his brothers the folly of returning to Jerusalem: “The Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and…if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them” (1 Nephi 7:14-15).
- Lamenting the future destruction of his people, Nephi writes, “The Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul” (2 Nephi 26:11).
- Mormon witnessed firsthand that prophesied destruction: “The Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind” (Mormon 5:16).
- When the brother of Jared reached out to God in prayer after four years, the Lord forgave him for failing to communicate, but with this warning: “Thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Ether 2:15).
In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants God reassures us that He forgives repentant sinners, but He adds this warning:
He that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.Doctrine and Covenants 1:33
Does a perfectly loving God ever run out of patience? In a way. He gives us guidance and waits to see how we will respond. If we are unresponsive over a period of time, He may stop providing assistance and allow us to experience the natural consequences of our actions.
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained:
If we resist correction, others may discontinue offering it altogether, despite their love for us. If we repeatedly fail to act on the chastening of a loving God, then He too will desist. He has said, “My Spirit will not always strive with man” (Ether 2:15).“’As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten,'” General Conference, April 2011
Today, I will be grateful for the guidance I have receive from God, and I will remember that continued guidance depends on my responsiveness to the instructions I have already received.
I think of the Spirit ceasing to “strive with man” similar to the learning of a language. If we don’t study the words and practice it repeatedly, the parts of our brain required to understand the dialect don’t develop in the proper way and the sounds are meaningless. If we don’t repent and self-correct repeatedly, our ability to hear and understand the influence that leads one to do good ceases to develop and the guidance of the Holy Spirit goes unnoticed, shrouded by our own bias and habits.
Thanks for your study of the scriptures. It helps keep me in tune with the Spirit.
Thank you for the comment. I agree that it’s about our capacity and willingness to hear rather than God’s willingness to provide guidance and direction. =