Monday, March 09, 2015

Latter-day Fear vs. Latter-day Faith

When I was a child the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War, there was an energy crisis, the sky high inflation rate seemed to be here to stay, and drug abuse was becoming rampant. I recall my parents fretting about the potential for their sons to be shipped off to war, wondering how any of their children would ever be able to afford a home, and expressing deep concern about how their children would survive the mounting evils of that time. I remember people often opining that the prophesied end of times was certainly just around the corner.

Fortunately for our family, the war and the draft ended before any of my parents' sons were old enough to go into the military. Each of my parents' five sons gained a better education, got a better job, and ended up living in nicer homes than did their parents. All of those sons seem to have done remarkably well managing their spiritual and moral lives, despite the societal decline visible during our youth.

People often express nostalgia for simpler times. Indeed in about 30 AD the prophet Nephi (descendant of Alma) expressed this very sentiment (see 3 Nephi 7:7-9) when he wished that he could have lived in the days of the first Nephi six centuries earlier. In our day reenactment groups that try to relive the past (medieval, Revolutionary War, mountain man era, Civil War, etc) have become quite popular. But I'd wager that very few of us would willingly go back to the way things were just four decades ago.

Consider, for example, Don Boudreaux's contention that most people today would prefer to pay $16,950 for a new 2015 Toyota Corolla than pay $2,746 for a brand new (piece of junk) 1972 Chevrolet Vega. How about living in a home with 1970s technology? (Watch this humorous take on what the TV show 24 would have been like with older technology.)

The fact is that the average person lives a much plusher lifestyle today than did the average person 40 years ago. Yet I still regularly hear people decry the evils of the day, suggesting that the prophesied end of times is certainly upon us. Things are so bad that you hear people say things like:
Why should I date and get serious with a girl? I am not sure I even want to marry and bring a family into this kind of a world. I am not very sure about my own future. How can I take the responsibility for the future of others whom I would love and care about and want to be happy?
I hope I die before all these terrible things happen that people are talking about. I don’t want to be on the earth when there is so much trouble.
I am doing the best I can, but I wonder if there is much reason to even plan for the future, let alone retirement. The world probably won’t last that long anyway.
Now, it is certainly possible for lifestyles to have become more sumptuous while evil has simultaneously advanced. You'd have to be blind to be ignorant of the normalization (and increasing celebration) of sexual immorality in our culture over recent decades. On the other hand (and despite what we're bombarded with in our current 24x7 news cycle), Steven Pinker has documented in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature how violence has declined on all levels during this same time.

In 2010 Pres. Thomas S. Monson said:
This is a wonderful time to be on earth. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, there are many things that are right and good. There are marriages that make it, parents who love their children and sacrifice for them, friends who care about us and help us, teachers who teach. Our lives are blessed in countless ways.
Pres. Monson also has famously said, "Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith."

To add some context, consider the fact that the three gloomy quotes above came from a talk given by Pres. Howard W. Hunter (then President of the Quorum of the Twelve) 22 years ago at BYU. In hindsight, it looks like those that spawned those despondent quotes have had a generation to enjoy pretty decent lives.

To add some more context, consider the fact that Pres. Hunter's talk was interrupted when a man jumped onto the stage and threatened to detonate a bomb he had in his briefcase (see Church News article). Pres. Hunter refused to comply with the man's demands and the man was ultimately subdued by students and security personnel.

Despite the drama, Pres. Hunter "continued his address without appearing shaken." The remarks, which were prepared beforehand, certainly seem to have been prophetically inspired to address things like the assault that had taken place. Pres. Hunter said:
I am here tonight to tell you that Despair, Doom, and Discouragement are not an acceptable view of life for a Latter-day Saint. However high on the charts they are on the hit parade of contemporary news, we must not walk on our lower lip every time a few difficult moments happen to confront us.
He also said, "I want to say to all within the sound of my voice tonight that you have every reason in this world to be happy and to be optimistic and to be confident." Regarding the multiple prophesies about the calamities that will occur in the last days, he said:
Inevitably, the natural result of some of these kinds of prophecies is fear, and that is not fear limited to a younger generation. It is fear shared by those of any age who don’t understand what we understand. But I want to stress that these feelings are not necessary for faithful Latter-day Saints, and they do not come from God.
Pres. Hunter went on to encourage people to faithfully and joyfully go forward with their lives. Then he spoke more bluntly about living in fear of what is to come:
As children of God and descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we must seek to dispel fear from among people. A timid, fearing people cannot do their work well, and they cannot do God’s work at all. Latter-day Saints have a divinely assigned mission to fulfill that simply must not be dissipated in fear and anxiety.
And there you have it folks. There are lots of prophesies about nasty things to come. Get over it. Go forward in faith and you will be helped to deal with anything that comes. Hunkering down in fear is not God's way. If you are fearful about the future, those feelings come from a different source than God. John said (in 1 John 4:16) that "God is love," not "God is fear."

Perhaps the end of times is here. It's hard to tell, especially since no one except God knows when that will happen (see Mark 13:32). During World War II lots of people thought it was the end of times. Do current conditions even remotely compare to those calamitous times? Even if the foretold afflictions strike tomorrow, we are to face them with hope, love, and optimism. Fear is simply not an option for the faithful.

This is not to say that we should not prepare. The prophets have been clear about the necessity of appropriate preparations. Even if some present day Latter-day Saints pine for starker warnings such as they heard more than a generation ago, we are to follow the counsel given by today's living prophets. Sans fear. Optimistically. Happily. Faithfully.

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