Saturday, February 19, 2005

Has God decided when the Second Coming will be yet?

Before I make those predictions on the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ I promised you earlier, I thought I’d stir things up further by suggesting God probably has not even decided yet when the Second Coming will be. He is probably waiting to see when the time is right. But wait, you say, doesn’t God have perfect foreknowledge? As I have written before -- not necessarily. I have been reading Blake Ostler’s marvelous book Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God and in it he makes very compelling arguments that actual perfect foreknowledge requires a fixed future and a fixed future means we aren’t really freely choosing (even if we think we are). The good news is that, as has been discussed elsewhere in the Bloggernacle, perfect foreknowledge is pretty useless anyway.

So what about the Second Coming? Based on this idea that God is an extremely good predictor of the unfolding plot of our planet, I assume God has a rough date pretty well triangulated. This idea of an approximate date for the event makes for an interesting reading of some of the scriptural statements on the timing of the Second Coming:

I, the Lord God, have spoken it; but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes. (D&C 49:7)

Perhaps no Man knoweth yet either. It seems entirely likely to me that God is waiting to see how his truly free children will act and which of us will break out of the tendencies of the natural man and repent or not. Knowing what the scriptures say about God, my guess is he will wait until the last possible moment to allow the most time possible for repentance before giving the go-ahead for the Second Coming and the destructions that will accompany it.

Why does this matter? Because it means there is absolutely no room for fatalism among us. The things we do could very well make a difference not only in our own lives but in the world. They could very well affect the decisions of God on something as huge as the Second Coming!

Ok, so I may have freaked a few of you out with this. But don’t fret. If this theory is right it is wonderful news. It means that fatalism is wrong in our personal lives too. We really can talk God into things (and all those scriptural stories where people do so start making sense). If we can do that then we can make a real and miraculous difference in the world. That is good new if you ask me.


I don’t know where I will come out on the foreknowledge/freewill debate, however, if we take your premises as true, some interesting scenarios result. For example, the early saint’s millenarianism becomes a reflection of a profound and realistic hope instead of an overzealous naivety (or worse). Also, our current relative apathy towards Zion and the Rapture (as our evangelical brethren are wont to call it) would seem to push its realization perhaps hundreds if not thousands of years away. 

Posted by J. Stapley

2/19/2005 09:03:00 PM  

Good point, J. In fact that reminds me of the Lord telling Joseph:

"Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man" (D&C 130:15)

If there really is a fixed future why would God deceive Joseph like that? I assume believers in God's absolute and perfect foreknowledge must claim God just told Joseph that to get him off His back. ("It's not a lie after all because Joseph didn't live that long" is the standard line.) But I see this as evidence that the future is contingent on the actions of free agents. (Remember why Joseph turned himself in instead of fleeing in 1844? Because his friends called him a coward and insisted he return...)

As for the date being pushed out – the scriptures don’t make it exclusively contingent on Zion being established first but describe the world sufficiently ripening in iniquity as a cause as well. I'm starting to suspect based on the above scripture that the true establishment of Zion could have allowed us to avoid the "wickedness trigger". 

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/19/2005 09:47:00 PM  

The example of what God told Joseph Smith is not terribly good, as Joseph was left not knowing what he meant (down to the perhaps if he lived to be that old, then he would die and see God -- the time when each of us experiences the judgment of the second coming, regardless of what happens to the world at large).

Most of the discussions about what God does and does not know do not deal well with God being outside of time as we know it. I really think that we do not have all the necessary mental tools to deal with the issues because of our perspectives.

Interesting stuff though.

BTW, "No Blog is an Island" isn't a bad name either.

I need to get around to linking to this blog.


Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

2/20/2005 05:08:00 AM  

I agree that example is no proof, Stephen. But it makes for some interesting evidence. And as I (and Ostler) have written before, whether God is outside of our time or not is not a settled question . To quote that post: "(Ostler) makes some pretty compelling arguments on how much of this timeless and incomprehensible stuff we attribute to God today really had origins with Middle and NeoPlatonism instead of from God through prophets." 

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/20/2005 10:02:00 AM  

This is good stuff! I suddenly thought about the introduction to the Book of Mormon where it says that the purpose of the church is to prepare the world for the second coming. So, maybe it rests on us. As you say, had the Saints managed to create a Zion society, perhaps the Second Coming would have come already.

Posted by Ronan

2/20/2005 02:26:00 PM  

Blake Ostler is simply wrong on this point (about God being outside of time as we use time, though God does not seem be be outside of causality). He could do with some direct observation, which would lead to better discussions.

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

2/20/2005 02:54:00 PM  

I agree Ronan. With this perspective a lot of things in church history and scripture start making more sense. It tastes good to me.

Stephen -- Is there any supporting evidence you could share to support your assertion? (Also, are we talking about the some thing?) The claim isn't that God measures time as we do, but rather that he is a temporal being.

BTW -- J. Stapley posted on the subject  of the temporality of God some time ago over at his blog as well. 

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/20/2005 05:36:00 PM  

I've thought about it and I think my post was too terse. I'm not certain that God is a temporal being as we think of temporal beings, but he is subject to causality. I think that the neo-platonic drivel has obscured the nature of God and our being in the type of world we are in obscures that time as we see it is not the same as time as it exists outside of this world.

I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing, but there are people who have had direct perception of the difference.

This leads to Blake having to explain away a lot of scriptures, such as the Urim and Thummin stuff. I think he does a reasonably admirable job of it. Yet at a certain point it ends up not being that persuasive. i.e. if you can explain away the plain meaning of scripture with respect to foreknowledge that well, why not do it will free will passages of scripture?

Comment by Clark Goble

We just do not know enough about time and causality.

For that matter, I'm not sure we know enough about the things we directly perceive to draw the conclusions we draw sometimes.

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

2/20/2005 07:04:00 PM  

Thanks Stephen. Well if it makes a difference, Clark has clearly stated that he is against the concept of causal determinism (it obliterates free agency). As I mentioned in my other post , he has an alternative theory but it is very counter-intuitive. (Something about all decisions of all people being made at the instant the universe formed and us playing out that fixed future now...)

Clark’s implication in the quote you provide that explaining away libertarian free agency would be as easy as it is to explain away the concept of absolute and perfect foreknowledge is not correct. There are precious few proof texts that imply absolute foreknowledge and the rest can be easily explained with the proposed model of God being the ultimate Predictor. The doctrine of true free agency is deeply engrained in Mormonism and attempting to explain it away would put one in direct conflict with mountains of clear statements by modern and ancient prophets.

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/20/2005 08:37:00 PM  

Well, as I said, I don't think we understand enough to draw conclusions. I watched it bend Chauncy Riddle, who concluded that we were free to become what we were, a very rigid sort of freedom.

I've seen others with issues, and I have no problem with God being able to see everything, yet all of us being free as well.

Does being able to see into the past make those in the past unfree?

We've probably exhausted what I think we can talk about. 

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

2/20/2005 10:00:00 PM  

Clark just posted another commentary  on his reading of the Ostler book this weekend. You may find yourself more in Clark's camp on this specific subject, Stephen. I obviously am not.

BTW -- yes, the past is unfree now. Neither we nor God can undo the past. But I believe the future is completely free and thus this post... 

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/21/2005 11:35:00 AM  

Geoff, you said:
"I thought I’d stir things up further by suggesting God probably has not even decided yet when the Second Coming will be. He is probably waiting to see when the time is right. But wait, you say, doesn’t God have perfect foreknowledge? As I have written before -- not necessarily"

Matthew 24:36 says:
36 ¶ But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

There are other verses which say the same thing, but the point is that our Heavenly Father is not just winging it, waiting to see what we are going to do, and when a good date might be... He KNOWS the day, and the hour.

I went through some trying times about the seeming paradox of how we can truly have free agency if God already knows what we are going to choose. But that is because we are too immature, just children really, and cannot truly comprehend the very nature of God, let alone understand the question to this riddle. Once I finally just accepted it, and trusted the Lord that both are simultaneously true, I found many more intellectually satisfying reasons, but none of them have taken the place of the comfort that I received from the Lord in just trusting that He understands it all, and loves me, and tells me that I am free to choose. And I take comfort also in the fact that He does already know how everything works out....

He sees the big overall picture, but we really cannot hold that view very long, if at all. But we can be meek and obedient, and trust that if we do what He has told us, things will all work out for our good. 

Posted by Peggy Snow Cahill

2/22/2005 09:36:00 PM  

"Once I finally just accepted it, and trusted the Lord that both are simultaneously true"

I don't think the Lord ever said he had perfect foreknowledge of every detail -- that is just a popular interpretation of scriptures. He does know the beginning from the end, but that could mean the overall plot while leaving details to us free agents.

The main consideration for me is that God is no less worthy of our worship if he is the ultimate predictor rather than a being with absolute foreknowledge. His ability to save and exalt us is unrelated to this issue.

BTW -- I'm glad you found this blog. Thanks for commenting here! 

Posted by Geoff Johnston

2/22/2005 10:07:00 PM  



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