There has been much discussion among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as among other Christians about what the future holds. In every age of man there has been talk about the eminent return of Christ and the judgment of God against the wicked that will either precede His second coming or follow it (depending on a person's interpretation of biblical prophecy). And that is just as true today as it was at the time of the original apostles.
There are many signs we see today that fit with what Jesus said would precede His second coming but there are several reactions to these ominous signs. One is that this is nothing new. There are those who say that these things have happened many times in the past and the world didn't come to an end. They shrug off any talk of danger as being nothing more than alarmist speechmaking, usually by someone who is trying to make a quick financial profit by pandering to a gullible audience who have been scared into expecting the worse.
They point out that people have been predicting disaster for hundreds of years and the second coming has still not happen. When the first World War came people were saying then that it was the final battle before Christ was to return and the same thing was said about WWII. As a result of these failed predictions, there are many who don't believe it when people make ominous forecasts based on events happening today.
At the other end of the scale are those who believe that the world will end tomorrow or shortly thereafter and they desperately try to convince as many people as possible to prepare themselves immediately for a cataclysmic event that is about to happen in the very near future. These people are on a mission to save others from an impending doom that they say will overtake everyone.
They point to things such as the Mayan Calendar prophecy, or the prophecies of Nostradamus or Edgar Cayce, or even the prophecies of Joseph Smith and other modern-day prophets as well as those of the Bible which they use to build their case that we are living in the end times.
Then there are those who feel that what will happen is going to happen no matter what they do so they do nothing. These are the people who will continue living normal lives with the attitude that if things do change they will worry about it when it happens.
Yet, regardless of which category people fall into, what is certain is that we do live in perilous times. Therefore, it is only natural when people see the political, spiritual, economic, and moral problems occurring in America and around the world that seem to be growing worse every day, for them to wonder what the future holds.
Because of this, there is much speculation about whether things will improve or if they will only become worse, is this the age of the anti-Christ that will usher in the second coming of Christ or will the world continue as it always has, will America survive as a constitutional republic, will we become a socialist state, or will our country be destroyed altogether?
While there is no clear, definitive answer to any of these questions there are some general guidelines that the scriptures give that can help us better determine what we can expect, and the reason why is because God always operates the same way. He doesn't change. He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow because, as the scriptures tells us, "in him is no variableness neither shadow of changing" (Moroni 9:9). If that is true then to determine the future, all we have to do is see how God had dealt with man in the past under the same kind of circumstances that we find ourselves in today.
Nephi taught that "in that day [when] they are fully ripe they shall perish" (2 Nephi 28:16). This message doesn't pertain just to the Nephites or to the Jews but this is how God operates with all people for God is no respecter of persons.
In the days of Noah, God destroyed the whole earth except for eight people because of the great wickedness of mankind. In the days of Abraham God completely destroyed the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their behavior. Joshua was commanded to utterly destroy the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:21) and King Saul was commanded to do the same to the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:18).
In the days of Isaiah God warned the people of Jerusalem that if they did not repent He would utterly destroy their land. He told them, "Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate… [and] everyone that is found shall be thrust through and every one that is joined unto them shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished" (Isaiah 13:9, 15, 16).
Despite having a sacred temple in their midst, this prophecy was fulfilled in its entirety when the King of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Those who were not killed were enslaved. In the book of Daniel Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed as a fairly reasonable and moderate acting person but in real life he was quite ruthless. He sought to expand his empire through invading weaker nations and his methods of conquest were brutal and devastating. Those who were captured were treated not much better than animals unless they were of nobility and then their treatment was only relatively better.
In 64 A.D. the Jews faced a similar fate as the Roman Empire laid siege to Jerusalem, completely destroying it and its temple. Those who were not slain by the sword were taken as prisoners and used as slaves. As with Nebuchadnezzar, being a Roman slave was much like the kind of life the Israelites had under Pharaoh in the days of Moses.
In 400 A.D. the Nephite nation fought its last war but, unlike the Jews, there were no slaves taken because they were all annihilated by the sword. At least the Jews were able to finally return to their land in 1948 but the destruction of the Nephites was so complete that there were none left who could return.
This is God's pattern for dealing with wickedness and, since He is an unchanging God, there is every reason to believe that this is how He will continue to deal with wickedness.
America has always had its share of wicked people but the great majority of Americans have been good, decent, God-fearing people. But over the last fifty to sixty years there has been a remarkable change in those percentages. Some have gone so far as to say that America today is more sinful than Sodom and Gomorrah was at the time they were destroyed. Whether that is true or not, no one can deny that the level of wickedness we have today is far beyond what God has tolerated in the past. Worse yet, there is a growing movement to eliminate the traditional belief in God and replace it with the kind of Christianity that will accept any kind of deviant behavior.
Amulek told his people, "If the time should come that the voice of this people should choose iniquity… they would be ripe for destruction." He further stated, "If ye will cast out the righteous from among you then will not the Lord stay his hand?… then ye shall be smitten" (Alma 10:19, 23). Over the past several decades we have kicked God out of our schools, then kicked him out of our courtrooms, then kicked Him out of our sporting events, and we continue to kick Him out of more and more of our public activities. The question has been asked, "How long will God stay His hand against America?"
The answer is that we don't know exactly when He will punish America for her sins but what we do know for sure is that when the time is ripe God will take action and the results will be devastating. Of that there is no doubt. If that is true, then what will become of America? Will she be totally destroyed and left desolate, will its people be killed by an outside enemy, will Americans become enslaved to a totalitarian government, or will we face some other kind of devastating fate?
The answer to these questions lays in understanding God's pattern of dealing with man.
Noah cried repentance to the people of his day, pleading with them to turn from their wicked ways and turn to God but his efforts were unproductive. As a result, the world was completely destroyed by water except for eight souls and they were saved from destruction because of their righteousness.
When three angels visited Abraham and informed him that they were there to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked "Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city?" When the angels said they would spare these cities if there were fifty righteous, Abraham kept bargaining with them until they agreed not to destroy the city if there were just ten righteous people in it (Genesis 18:23-32).
But even though there weren't ten righteous people in the city, there were three - Lot, his wife, and their daughter. Even though the city was full of iniquity and therefore ripe for destruction, Lot and his family were safely removed from harm before the two cities were destroyed.
When speaking to his people, Amulek told them, "If it were not for the prayers of the righteous who are now in this land, that ye would even now be visited with utter destruction… It is by the prayers of the righteous that ye are spared" (Alma 10:22, 23). Amulek's words converted a few people but they, along with Alma and Amulek, were cast out of the land of Ammonihah and it wasn't much longer after that when Ammonihah was overrun by the Lamanites and the city was completely destroyed. At the same time the righteous who had been cast out were saved from this destruction.
Just before Jesus came to visit the Nephites, there was great destruction upon the land. Entire cities were destroyed either by burning, or falling into the sea, or being swallowed up by the earth (see 3 Nephi 8:5-17) During that terrible and terrifying ordeal all the wicked were destroyed and the only ones who remained alive were the righteous. More amazing was that the one building that remained intact and standing was the temple in the land bountiful. (From the record it seems that this was the only temple the Nephites had built).
The pattern is clear. God saves the righteous while destroying the wicked.
While there is much wickedness in America, there is also much godliness as well. There are tens of millions of good, decent, God-fearing Americans who sincerely strive to worship God and follow His commandments. Perhaps it is because of them that this country has not already been destroyed for its wickedness.
But if that is true, then why were the ancient Jews destroyed? Surely there must have been some righteous people living in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. especially among the priests who worked in the temple. And if the temple is the House of God, why did God allow it to be destroyed? In 64 A.D. there was a thriving community of Christians living in Jerusalem with James, the brother of Jesus, as its bishop. Where they destroyed along with the temple?
In speaking of his day Isaiah lamented "there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee" (Isaiah 64:7) Isaiah described his people as "a sinful nation, a people burdened with iniquity, a seed of evil doers… they are gone away backwards…From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores… How has the faithful city become a harlot… thy princes are rebellions, companions of thieves, everyone loveth gifts and followeth after rewards" (Isaiah 1:4, 6, 21, 23).
From the lowest person to the head of the nation, Isaiah said there was not one person in all of Judah who truly sought after God. The Holy city of Jerusalem was infested with prostitutes and their rulers were associating with thieves. They took bribes (gifts) and sought for rewards (much like modern-day lobbyists offer), and they had all become corrupted with iniquity.
Even their temple worship was so corrupted that God could no longer accept it. He lamented, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord. I am full (sick) of the burnt offerings of rams… I delight not in the blood of bullocks or lambs or of he goats… Bring no more vain oblations, [your burning of ] incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, [all of these things] I cannot bear it; it is iniquity… your appointed feasts my soul hates: they are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them" (Isaiah 1: 11, 13, 14).
The reason why God allowed the temple to be destroyed was because the Jews had so desecrated it with their behavior that His Spirit no longer resided there. By the time the Babylonians destroyed it, the temple was nothing more than an ordinary building being used by unholy people.
In 64 A.D. there were Christians living in Jerusalem but they left before the Roman army came. No doubt this was because of the inspiration from their church leaders but, regardless if that was the case, the fact is that there are no historical records to indicate that the Christians living in and around Jerusalem were killed or taken as prisoners as a result of the sacking of Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Jewish religious leaders, who were the ones responsible for having Jesus put to death, felt the full wrath of God , despite staying to protect the temple and its sacred contents.
But this is not the case today. While our political leaders may be corrupt from "the sole of the foot even unto the head," those who now lead Christ's true Church are not corrupt and the evidence is that their actions clearly demonstrate that they possess the fruits of the Spiri. As Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them." There are well over a hundred temples around the world and millions of Latter-day Saints can testify to the fact that God's Spirit is strong in every one of them. Furthermore, the Church of Jesus Christ is growing and its members are faithfully striving to live a Christ-like life.
Although we have seen a few corrupt ministers in other churches, most religious leaders are good, decent, God-fearing men and women who strive to live the teachings of Christ. While they may not be perfect they nonetheless diligently seek to protect their flock from spiritual harm as the Bible instructs them to. There are tens of millions of Christians in America who look to the Lord and honor the name of Christ in the way they live their life and it's because of people like this that the Lord will not completely destroy America.
There are those who wonder if America will someday become some sort of a Socialist state, where Americans find themselves enslaved under a dictatorial, tyrannical government. The answer to this is a resounding, "No" and there are several reasons why.
The first is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that they are the stone cut out of the mountain that will break in pieces the nations of the earth, as foretold by Daniel (see Daniel 2:45). In referring to this prophecy, the Lord said, "The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth" (D&C 65:2).
On March 1, 1842 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to John Wentworth, owner and editor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper in which he said, "the Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecution may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done."
Since the headquarters of the LDS Church is in America, if this country were to become an atheistic, Socialist country, the government would either ban the LDS Church from operating altogether or impose rules so detrimental to our beliefs that the Church would never be able to agree to follow them. For example, the government could dictate that all churches must promote alternative lifestyles, allow gays to be ministers, that gay marriages requests cannot be denied, and that all churches must sanction abortion. If a denomination didn't abide by those rules it's possible that they might be cited for promoting intolerance and discrimination and face heavy fines or the imprisonment of its leaders.
Since LDS temples are only open to those who meet a certain level of spirituality, the government could mandate that all LDS temples must be open to anyone who wants to enter them. The Church of Jesus Christ could never agree to any of these conditions, even if it meant they had to cease operating.
But God will not allow that to happen to His Church, especially when His people and their leaders are living righteously because this would hamper the Church from fulfilling its mission. Joseph Smith has said that "no unhallowed hand can stop the work [of the Church] from progressing" and Daniel's prophecy states that this stone will roll forth until it break in pieces all other nations, therefore all attempts to impede or stop the progress of this Church will fail just as it always has since the time of Joseph Smith.
Another reason why America will not become a Socialist state is that America is the true land of liberty. This country was founded on the uniquely held principle that all men have inalienable rights that come from our Creator and that governments were instituted for the express purpose of guaranteeing those rights. It was because of the liberty that comes from our Declaration of Independence that the Church of Jesus Christ was able to be founded, nurtured in its infancy, and aided it in its growth. If this kind of liberty should ever be taken from us as a nation there is no other place in the world where the Church could go to carry on its mission. Since nothing can stop the Church from carrying out its divine mandate, America will not lose its cherished liberty.
Another reason is that the Church leaders are not worried about what lays ahead for our country. Although they are preparing us to face hard times in our personal lives, they are also optimistic about the future. The members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are very much aware of what is happening politically in the world because they have to conduct business in it in order to make the work of the Lord move forward. For this reason they have made close ties with many government officials around the world as they seek government approval for the church to function within the laws of various nations.
They closely follow events in our own country and are well informed on the issues of the day. Yet, despite what they see, they have not expressed any sense of apprehension about the Church being in danger. This is evident in the fact that they are building more and more temples both in America and around the world. The Church would not be doing this if they had the slightest concern that such buildings would soon become subject to government control.
The Book of Mormon refers to the American Continent as "a land which is choice above all other lands" (1 Nephi 2:20) and God has particularly blessed the land of America. Of all the nations on the earth, we are choice above all of them. This is evidenced by the fact that more people want to migrate to America than to any other place on earth. It was on the land of America that the garden of Eden originally existed, it is on the land of America that Isaiah prophesied that the house of the Lord would be built and to which all nations would come to hear the word of the Lord (see Isaiah 2:2; Mica 4:1), and it is on the land of America that Zion will return.
God did not raise up wise men to establish liberty and then redeem this land through the shedding of blood (D&C 101:80) only to have it become desolate both spiritually and temporally. This land has a great purpose in the eternal plan of God and He will preserve it in order to fulfill its purpose. But for it to fulfill its destiny, America must be good and if it has become full of wickedness, then God must, of necessity, cleanse it of its iniquity.
If things keep going as they are, there will come a tipping point when unrighteousness in America becomes too great for God to ignore and when that time comes America will feel the dreadful wrath of God. Why do we know this? Because this is God's pattern. This is what He has always done in the past and there is no reason to expect that it will be any different in the future.
Jesus illustrated this pattern in His parable of the wheat and the tares. He likened heaven to a man who had a field where he had sown good seed but during the night his enemy came and sowed tares or weeds among the seeds of wheat. But it wasn't until the two seeds grew up together that anyone knew what the enemy had done. By the time the servants realized this, the weeds had taken strong root and were threatening to choke off the supply of nutrients to the wheat.
When the servants asked the owner of the field what they should do, he said that if they tried to pull up the weeds now it would also uproot the young wheat plants therefore he instructed them "Let both grow together until the harvest and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather ye together first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matthew 13:24-30).
In this parable the "good seed" represent the believers in Christ while the "tares" represent those who seek to choke off or prevent the believers from growing in the gospel. For awhile God allows this situation to continue, where both the righteous and the wicked exist together, with each growing stronger and competing with each other. However, there will come a point in the growing process when it will be necessary to "harvest" or end this condition and at that time God will separate the two.
When the time is right God will take the tares "and bind them in bundles to burn." To bind something in a bundle means to gather and bring them close together in one place. At the same time He will gather the wheat and place them together in another place.
Concerning what was about to happen to Jerusalem in 600 B.C. the Lord said, "As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem…. They shall go out from one fire and another fire shall devour them… and I will make the land desolate, because they have committed a trespass, saith the Lord God" (Ezekiel 15:6-8).
When an enemy attacks, they not only use hand weapons such as the sword but, as a general rule, they also set fire to buildings as part of their strategy for conquest. Thus, when God speaks of burning the tares, this can have a literal meaning. But we also talk about people who are "consumed with hatred." The word "consume" can be defined as "burn to the ground, incinerate, destroy." Thus, the fire of hatred that burns hotly in a person's heart can destroy just as surely as can physical fire.
In riots, we see both of these conditions happening together as angry people, bundled together as a mob, literally set fire to buildings, while their hatred consumes their sense of reasoning and values. They behave more like wild beasts than as rational humans as they mindlessly demolish the very things they need to survive. For example, during the Watts riot in 1992 the people who did the rioting, in their great anger, burned down the very neighborhood they lived in and destroyed the businesses they depended on for food, clothing, and other necessities of life.
However, these riots also snuffed out people's lives as well, both the innocent as well as some of those who participated in the riots. In every civil war we see people who are consumed with hate, expressing their emotions by physically burning down structures and killing people. And when this happens it's always because angry people gather (e.g., bundle) together to commit violence against others. Yet, when the violence finally does come to an end they discover that they have ultimately succeeded in destroying themselves.
Because America has the strongest military force on the earth today, there is a low risk of us being attacked by a foreign nation but America is crumbling from within and the prospect of civil war, where one segment of the country is in violent confrontation with another segment, is very real. So far in modern times we've only seen sporadic, isolated, and temporary rioting but the polarization between good and evil is becoming more apparent as the gulf between them becomes more pronounced. And, as the differences between these two sides widens, the rhetoric coming from the side of evil is becoming more vicious and more threatening.
In this kind of confrontation God's pattern has always been that the righteous will be protected and the wicked will destroy themselves. Exactly when and how this will happen remains to be seen but the pattern itself will be repeated. In the end, the wicked will perish and the righteous will survive.
To illustrate this process of separating the righteous from the wicked, we can liken it to ancient times when people separated the wheat chaff from the kernel by putting the wheat on a wire screen and shaking it around. This action loosened the chaff from off of the kernel. To separate them, both were thrown up into the air. Since the kernel is heavy it fell back onto the screen while the chaff, being light, was easily blown away. After repeating this process several times, all that eventually remained was the cleaned kernel of wheat.
In the same way, both the righteous and the wicked will be buffeted by adversity and distress but they will react differently to the same circumstances which will naturally separate themselves from one another. Then as they are tossed into the environment of hotly debated political ideology, those who are solid in the gospel and remain firm in their allegiance to Christ will be able to withstand the howling winds of dissent and anger swirling around them while those who have no substance to their belief will be blown away by the fierce winds of discord, hatred, and violence.
But this doesn't mean that the righteous will not suffer hardships. The apostle Peter declared, "For the time [shall] come that judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it first begin with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17). When God separates the chaff from the wheat He will also separate the faithful followers of Christ from the fair-weather believers.
After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, one of the people he took as a prisoner was a boy named Daniel. Twice Daniel's faithfulness to God was tested, once when thrown into a fiery furnace and once when he was put into a lion's den. Lehi was warned to flee Jerusalem with his family and, although they were saved from being destroyed along with the city, they nevertheless had to wander in the wilderness for eight years, afraid to light any fires for fear of being attacked, and had to eat their meat raw. Then they had to make a long, perilous journey across an unchartered and unknown ocean. During this voyage Nephi was tightly bound and his life was threatened while his father, Lehi, was unable to stop the mutiny perpetrated by his sons, Laman and Lemuel. Then, once they arrived in the new world and Lehi died, Laman and Lemuel tried to kill Nephi.
After the death of Christ, the early Christians in the old world faced severe persecution and some of them sought to save their own life by being a Christian in secret while publicly offering sacrifices to pagan idols so as to appear to be a non-Christian. While many faithful Christians were put to death rather than deny their faith, the church itself not only survived but grew in membership. But it was through this process that God separated the true Christian from those who just professed a belief in Him with their lips
However, these trials of faith can not only purge the church of the weak members but they can also increase the faith of the righteous and make them stronger disciples of Christ. Just as gold is purged of its impurities by subjecting it to extreme heat and caustic acid, so too we are refined spiritually by the experiences we face, some of which can include extreme difficulties and caustic situations. Those who cannot withstand the refiner's fire will not be able to survive the experience and will be consumed along with the unrighteous. It is in this way that when the fires of hatred and violence die down, only the truly righteous will be left standing, shining brighter and being more righteous than ever before. And because of that the work of the Lord will be able to go forth with greater vigor by those who have gained greater purity.
While we may not know when God will step in to cleanse and redeem America, we do know for certain that eventually He will if we as a nation do not repent of our ways and turn from the path we are currently traveling. And the reason we know this will happen is because the scriptures have shown us the pattern of God.