Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Changes at the Lord’s Coming in a section about Missionary Work?

I was recently reading in D&C 133 and noticed the section heading said that Joseph Smith’s history about this section said, “At this time there were many things which the Elders desired to know relative to preaching the Gospel to the inhabitants of the earth, and concerning the gathering; and in order to walk by the true light, and be instructed from on high, on the 3rd of November, 1831, I inquired of the Lord and received the following important revelation.”  (emphasis added)

Now here are some verses from that section that caused me to ponder:

19 Wherefore, prepare ye for the coming of the Bridegroom; go ye, go ye out to meet him.
20 For behold, he shall stand upon the mount of Olivet, and upon the mighty ocean, even the great deep, and upon the islands of the sea, and upon the land of Zion.
21 And he shall utter his voice out of Zion, and he shall speak from Jerusalem, and his voice shall be heard among all people;
22 And it shall be a voice as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, which shall break down the mountains, and the valleys shall not be found.
23 He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land;
24 And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.
25 And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh. (D&C 133:19-25)

In these verses we are given a picture of some major geographic changes to occur at the second coming:
--the Lord’s voice breaking down mountains such that valleys disappear
--the Lord’s command sending the oceans into the north such that the islands become one land
--Jerusalem & Zion are turned back to their places
--the land is united as it was before it was divided

These are amazing changes, and it makes us excited as we try to imagine what it would be like.

This time as I was reading I found myself asking some questions.  Why is it so important to the Lord to tell us this, especially in connection with missionary work? How would it help the elders preach the gospel?  Further, why does it matter so much to the Lord that He would want to create these changes? Is there something wrong with mountains that He wants to break them down? Is there something wrong with the oceans where they are that He wants to send them north?  Is there room for all that water up north?  (Think Pacific ocean and Atlantic and South Indian ocean all thrown into the northern hemisphere.) Is there something wrong with how the land is now that He wants to bring the continents together again? 

Or is it possible that He’s trying to teach us something different here?

It may be that this stuff is a parable about the spiritual changes in people when He comes to set things right. Since the whole section was in response to questions about missionary work, what do these changes teach us?

In terms of missionary work, mountains are like proud nations that will not listen. Breaking down the mountains is like humbling them. The Lord can do that.

In terms of missionary work, oceans and land are symbolic opposites.  Land is a firm foundation to build on, but the ocean is not. The ocean is shifty, stormy, and unstable.  So if the Lord commands drive ocean away, then it is creating more of a foundation to build on.

If it says Jerusalem and Zion will be turned back into their own place, then that means repentance. (Why would Jerusalem need to be turned back to its own place otherwise? It is where it is.)  This change sounds like the least cataclysmic of the bunch.  If Jerusalem and Zion are doing their best to follow the Lord anyway, it will be the least revolutionary.

How does this help us with missionary work? I suppose it gives us a model for how we should approach it. If the Lord humbles the nations and creates dry land and a firm foundation where none was before, then we need to teach humility and help build gospel foundations on Christ.

Now, this leads to another question—if the Lord wanted us to understand these principles, then why go to the trouble of using such imagery?  Why not just come out and say that our message will humble the nations and give them something solid to build their lives on where they had only uncertainty before?  

I think the imagery shows us how amazing the great changes will be when the Lord appears and teaches. It will have a great effect. But it can perhaps also give a picture of the potential effect we can have as missionaries because we are taught elsewhere that those who receive the Lord’s servants will receive Him too. So the effect the Lord’s teaching has can be also the effect we have as we teach in His way.

Let’s look at some other amazing imagery from this chapter and see how it relates to missionary work.

26 And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
27 And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.
28 Their enemies shall become a prey unto them,
29 And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land.
30 And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.
31 And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.
32 And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim. (D&C 133:26-32)

What do we make of this? In v23 we’ve been told the great deep would be driven back into the north countries, and if there are people there, they would be in danger. Or we could try reading it more symbolically. 

It is possible that the north countries are being used to represent a state of cold and darkness, near-apostasy and ignorance.  Interestingly, there are prophets among them who have been keeping quiet. A quiet prophet is not a useful prophet, but an inactive one.

But once these people come in remembrance before the Lord, there is a great change there too. Suddenly the prophets in the north start speaking up. They smite the rocks, which could represent the stumbling blocks getting in the way of faithfulness.  They are suddenly warm with the gospel, such that they melt the ice in those around them, and the ice flows in their presence. (Don’t we all want to be the kind of person who warms up the faith of those around us?)

Then suddenly the obstacles they faced are less of a problem. Suddenly their uncertainty vanishes, and they know the way to go, which the Lord prepares, like a highway built in the midst of the ocean. Suddenly their enemies become a prey; it’s as though people and situations that previously frightened and oppressed them become golden opportunities for growth and prosperity and missionary work! (That’s quite a change!) Evil will no longer have any appeal to these people, and they easily resist temptation.

Where life was barren and deserted of the living waters, suddenly there is a fountain springing up in their souls, of doctrine and peace, and spiritual blessings and revelation.

They will bring rich treasures to the children of Ephraim, suggesting they will have much insight and experience to add to the church and be a great benefit to the Lord’s kingdom.

The boundaries of the hills will tremble at their presence. Those at the margins of the church who are less faithful will fear from the powerful warnings these newly activated members will give of the consequences of forsaking the kingdom. Their development will be inspiring and make others wonder if they could ever measure up.

Seen this way, these verses give us insights on the great benefit that newly reactivated members can be to the church and how to reach them. The prophets must break down the stumbling blocks with strong doctrine and testimony, and warm up those with cold hearts.

I won’t rule out the potential for these verses to be literally fulfilled, but I think reading them symbolically with reference to missionary work makes them much more instructive and helpful for our lives right now.  In that respect, they are a great gift of knowledge.