Mormonism and the Blossoming Rose of Isaiah 35:1

by Sharon Lindbloom
9 July 2018

An article appeared online last month that took a critical look at water usage in the state of Utah. Journalist Nathalie Baptiste wrote,

“Utah is one of the driest states in the country, but you couldn’t tell by how much water its residents are using. The average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons a day. In Utah, each individual consumes approximately 248 gallons of water a day.

“Are they taking exceptionally long showers? Even that would not explain the excessive use of water, which is, in fact, the result of an unusual combination of biblical prophecy and Utah history.” (“God Said to Make the Desert Bloom, and Mormons Are Using Biblical Amounts of Water to Do It,” Mother Jones, May 9, 2018)

The article goes on to note that the Mormon population of the state (60%)

“have long been determined to transform the desert and fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 35:1, which states that ‘the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.’”

LDS apostle Russell M. Nelson (who today is the Church’s president) agrees with Ms. Baptiste’s comment regarding Isaiah 35. During a talk in 1997 at Church-owned Brigham Young University, Mr. Nelson explained:

“The [Mormon] pioneers turned their wilderness into a fruitful field and made the desert blossom as a rose—precisely as prophesied by Isaiah centuries before (see Isa. 32:15–16; Isa. 35:1).” (“The Exodus Repeated,” Ensign, July 1999)

The article on Utah’s water consumption and fulfilled biblical prophecy reminded me of my first trip to Utah in 1988 when I was surprised by the luxuriant beauty of the city of Salt Lake. My own home in Minnesota was then in the middle of a drought; what was normally pretty countryside was ugly and brown. But the greenery of downtown Salt Lake City was striking. The streets were (and still are) lined with boulevards that were lush and thick. Flowers flourished everywhere. There was no drought in this city, even though it was in the middle of a desert. When I asked the locals how they escaped the water problems that were plaguing most of the country, I was told that the city had an extensive underground irrigation system that brought water from the nearby Wasatch Mountain streams to bring life to the dry land in the valley. “Just like Isaiah prophesied,” they told me, “the desert is blossoming as a rose.” Indeed, to my eyes, Salt Lake City was desert in full bloom.

Two years later I returned to Utah. This time, on the airport shuttle to my hotel, I saw some areas of town that weren’t worth irrigating as we drove through railroad yards and warehouse districts. What I saw in these places was not the beautiful “blossoming rose,” but a wasted, scrubby land. And this, too, was striking, but for a different reason. I was struck by the parallel that can be drawn between the irrigated desert and Mormon precepts.

The LDS Church does not teach the same kind of born-again experience that the Bible teaches. The Bible says God takes a sinful human being, dead in trespass and sin, and makes him alive in Christ, a new creature. God replaces a heart of stone with a new heart of flesh. The old has passed away and the new has come. By God’s grace, He takes us just as we are and changes us from the inside out. (See Ephesians 2:1-10; Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 5:17; John 6:35, 37.)

Mormonism goes about this heart-transformation backwards. The focus is on good works and outward appearances – a continual, personal striving in an effort to achieve lasting, internal change. Speaking on the topic of unity in General Conference, President Eyring (of the First Presidency) taught,

“Those who would believe the truth He taught could accept the ordinances and the covenants offered by His authorized servants. Then, through obedience to those ordinances and covenants, their natures would be changed.” (“That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 66)

LDS.org explains the Mormon concept of being born again:

“All who have truly repented, been baptized, have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have made the covenant to take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, and have felt His influence in their lives, can say that they have been born again. That rebirth can be renewed each Sabbath when they partake of the sacrament.”

Mormon leaders tell members to do things–to clean themselves up and behave well (i.e., follow the LDS repentance process, join the LDS Church, be obedient, etc.)–a sort of good-works irrigation system; but it is not a doctrine of Mormonism to rely on God alone to replace cold hearts of stone and make people into new creatures.

The man-made efforts in the southwestern desert bring temporary beauty and productivity to the city of Salt Lake. But when human beings leave the Salt Lake Valley or tire of the effort to keep it green, it will return to what it has been all along—a desolate, barren wasteland. Human beings, through all their ingenuity and hard work, have not actually changed the land. It is not a desert that has become a paradise; it is only a desert that has been watered and cleaned up.

Likewise, hard work brings a certain respectability to LDS lives, but when people with unchanged hearts tire of keeping up the effort of looking good—obeying all the commandments and keeping all their covenants—they will once again take on the appearance of what they have been all along—spiritually dead, spiritually lost, and burdened by unresolved sin in those unchanged hearts of stone.

Mormonism frequently takes what the Bible presents as a work of God and declares it to be a necessary work of man. That is what the Church has done here. Truthfully, only God can change a desert into a paradise; and only God can change death into life. Without being truly born again, the carefully cultivated life is merely an irrigated desert in temporary bloom.

In Isaiah 35 the Old Testament prophet goes on to tell us more of this desert that God makes blossom as a rose:

It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing…
They shall see the glory of the Lord,

The excellency of our God…
The redeemed shall walk there,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads. (Isaiah 35:2, 10)

When God turns a desert into a blossoming rose, the desert is everlastingly changed, not merely spruced up. When God turns death into life, we are not like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled with dead men’s bones (Matthew 23:27); we are new creatures, born again in an instant to life everlasting. God, in His mercy, changes us for eternity from the inside out. This is why Christians sing with joy about the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our amazingly great God.