Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mormon Eschatology

Or in other words, I like to use big words to pretend I'm smart. But seriously though, I learned the word eschatology back in a New Testament class at BYU and it basically means the study of the last days, the second coming, or the end of the world.
I just finished reading/skimming a book on early Christian history that covered the apostolic period through the papacy of Gregory around 600 (the same Gregory of Gregorian chant fame, but not the Gregorian calender- that was Gregory the 13th). I was struck by how obsessed the early church was about the second coming. There is evidence that even the apostles believed that Christ would come again soon, possibly within their lifetimes. The doctrine of an imminent second coming was ever present on the minds of early Christians, from what we can tell from the writings of the period. This focus on the second coming died down a bit with the realization that maybe He wasn't coming back right away, but tended to flare up again around significant dates like the year 1000 ad (and more recently, the year 2000). Many Christian sects and individual Christians tried to predict the time of the second coming using the Bible and sometimes other extra-biblical sources like astrology or Nostradamus.

It seems to me that the history of the Mormon church's belief in the timing of the second coming has mirrored the beliefs of historical Christianity, only in a much more condensed time frame. When the church was restored, language of building a Zion was common. When the early members spoke of building this Zion, they were not speaking of a nice place where they would all get along and were free to practice their faith, they were thinking of building the city were Christ would reign during the millenium, which would probably happen within their lifetimes (see any good book on early Mormon history- like Richard Bushman's bio of Joseph Smith). This belief in an imminent second coming provided an additional fervor to their belief in the restored church. It was appealing because of all the biblical prophecy in which the Lord promises to gather up his elect before the end times, and lo and behold, here is God restoring His true church, so He must not be that far away from coming! This was reinforced by all the passages in the D&C which say something like "Lo, I come quickly..." or "The time is soon, yea even at the doors, yada yada..." (yada yada not in original but meant for comic effect).

Then came section 130 of the D&C. Joseph inquired about the timing of the second coming- since the church had been expecting it for years and it had not happened yet. God says: "Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter." After Joseph died, many church leaders and members interpreted this to mean that Christ would return in the year in which Joseph was to turn 85, ie 1890, including, I believe, Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff. When it did not happen, no one lost their testimonies because that passage of scripture was sufficiently vague and did not come right out and say "Yea, verily I will return in 1890. Prepare ye a hearty feast for my arrival!". But the habit of trying to predict exact years for the second coming (doable since it only says we can't know the hour or the day, right?) persisted.

My grandpa was apparently one of those who persistently was trying to predict the second coming (at least according to my dad and an uncle). He was always paging through the scriptures, trying to find obscure references, tie them to current events, and from there calculate a date.
His patriarchal blessing, as I've noted before, even led him to believe that it was within his lifetime, to comical effect when he finally died in his mid 90's. And if you've ever been to church, you've probably met people who do the same, saying things like "Hey! Did you see what happened in Israel? Any day now!"

And so I come to the poll question of the week. Most of us seem to think that it will not be in our lifetimes. A few others think that if it does, we will be very old. Only a brave few think that it will happen when we are in our primes (40's or 50's). For those who voted, why do you think it will happen when you voted for?


apyknowzitall said...

I remember growing up, asking my mom when Jesus will come again and she would always say, "Probably not in my lifetime, but most likely in yours," one if not the only thing that led me to look forward to growing up. The thought that He would come in my lifetime was further enhanced by numerous "you're the chosen generation so be prepared" talks by youth leaders and rumors of someones something saying in their patriarchal blessing that the second coming will happen in their time. But now as I'm getting older and when asked by my kids when Jesus will come again, I find myself saying the exact same thing my mom told me 20+ years ago. I've finally come to the conclusion that you can speculate all you want, try to pinpoint a time, but the moment someone does, it will change.
What amuses me in all this, is when I hear people joke that they want Him to come, but not too soon hinting that they want to get some more sinning in. Personally, I don't think He'll come soon enough. I'd rather Him come when I'm watching Gladiator, chugging down a few Dews than 50+ years from now.

Nick, I will forever try to include the term eschatology in my vocabulary now.

apyknowzitall said...

And yes, I realize I did not answer the question you asked.

Julie C said...

ok - where were the pictures from? especially the first one.

JonnyF said...

Was there a 50-150 years category? I think that's the one I voted for. This is mostly based on the minimum amount of time needed to fulfill all the prophecies that I think need to be fulfilled - you know, the gospel preached in all the world, etc.
Katie and I were discussing this a few months ago and we discovered that we have somewhat different ideas about the timing. Katie thinks more along the lines of 100-250 years. I think more like 50-100 years. We decided that we would do a research project to see what the scriptures said. We weren't after dates or anything, but we wanted to see if it sounding like certain events had to happen before the second coming.
For example, we remembered prohpecies in the old testament about a temple being built in Jerusalem and a fountain coming from it which would flow down to heal the Dead Sea. But we didn't remember if that was supposed to happen before the Second Coming or during the Millenium.
Anyway, we are not done but some interesting things we have found out are:
1. The prophecies of Daniel haven't helped us at all.
2. The book of Zechariah seems very useful. Especially the later chapters and the footnotes.

We haven't even cracked the Book of Revelation or the D&C yet.

Warren said...

When I was young I thought it was way close, but the older I get the more distant it seems. I don't know why. Maybe because predictions have always failed so the best bet is to say after you die. If it happens in my life I expect to be old when it does.

I like the word Eschatology, or even better eschatological.

Nick said...

Or 'eschatologically'.

JonnyF said...

I forgot to mention that my Elder’s Quorum President thinks that the Second Coming will be on 12/21/2012. It has something to do with the fact that it is the end of the Mayan short calendar (20 years) and the end of the Mayan long calendar (52 years) and also something about the axis of the solar system being in alignment with the axis of the Milky Way or something. I’m sure I have some of that wrong. When pressed, he admitted that maybe it won’t be the Second Coming because no man is supposed to know the day nor the hour, but he contends that something is likely to happen that day – like the reversing of the earth’s magnetic polarity. I am skeptical, as I am of everything. (Which reminds me – there is this one lady in my ward who thinks everything is a conspiracy. (global warming, evolution, NAFTA, etc.) She says that it is so frustrating that members of the church don’t believe that there could be conspiracies in the government even after the Book of Mormon warns about secret combinations. As I said, I’m skeptical of everything. So, for example, I am skeptical of much of the prevailing global warming reporting, which she appreciates. I am also skeptical of her alternate conspiracy theories, which she doesn’t appreciate.) Anyway, I didn’t prod him for further details because we had to stop talking and start trying to reverse our fortunes because we were getting clobbered by our wives in our game of spades.

Warren said...

I've heard of that Mayan calander thing before. But I can't say that I think the second coming is linked to the Mayan long count. I, like Jon, have become skeptical of most things (especially after studying unintended consequences for so long).

Apparently there are people who arent so skeptical, and you can make some money selling books:

Carola said...

I think the coming of the Lord will depend in his people fidelity and faith, if we are not complying with little things that are constantly reminded in general conferences, It means that we are not yet prepared for the building of Zion upon the earth when will need to live the law of consecration for example.
In the scriptures it says that not even Jesus knows of his second coming just our Heavenly Father.
Instead of focusing our energy on predicting events we should focus in doing our best within our life time frame.

Anonymous said...