Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Restoration: Why Did the Lord Wait so Long?

One of our most valued commenters, "Bishop Rick," recently asked an excellent question about the timing of the Restoration and why the Church or Christianity in general has been on the earth for such a tiny fraction of human history:
Why did Heavenly Father go to all the trouble to set up his church and sacrifice his only begotten . . . in the process, just to let it dwindle after only 1 generation before practically [anyone] (in the grand scheme of things) had an opportunity to benefit? Then wait nearly 2000 years before restoring it? In the thousands of years of human civilization, the gospel has only been on the earth for a couple hundred years. Doesn't that strike you as odd? That fact gives me great pause.
He raises an important and puzzling point that many of us have pondered.

Many mainstream Christians struggle with questions about why God would choose so few to even have a chance of hearing about Christ. In the LDS perspective, the kindness and mercy of God is made available to all through the great work of preaching the Gospel to the dead, allowing all an opportunity to hear the Gospel. For those who can accept it, there is also an opportunity to receive the blessings of baptism through baptism for the dead. With this beautiful perspective, we recognize that living and dying in a land or time devoid of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ does not result in guaranteed damnation, but we rejoice to know that God is not a "respecter of persons" and that He loves all His children and will treat them fairly.

But even with that perspective, we can wonder why did God wait so long to establish the Church of Jesus Christ, why did He wait so long to restore that Church after a rapid falling away, and why have so few been able to even have a chance at enjoying the blessings of the Gospel in mortality? I understand far too little to second-guess the Lord. But here are some points to consider:
  1. First, we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was available and was preached long before Christ came. It was taught to Adam, who was baptized with Eve, and they taught it to their children. It was taught by Abraham, and others, including Moses, but the fullness of the Gospel was withdrawn due to the rebellion of Israel, and they were given the lower law to prepare them eventually for the higher. It was had in the New World also, among at least some of the Jaredites as well as the later Lamanites and Nephites. And we understand that Christ has ministered to other groups anciently, whose records are not yet available to us. All this shows a pattern of the Lord reaching out to many peoples throughout history.

  2. The entire world benefits from the Atonement of Christ through resurrection. And all can benefit from the opportunity in this life or the next to hear and possibly accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  3. Our ability to be tested and to turn toward God does not require that the Church itself be present, though it is a great benefit. Of course, the love of God for each soul and the meaning of their journey through mortality is not predicated upon membership in a formal religious organization.

  4. While the authority of the original Church was soon lost, not by God's will or neglect but by the actions of men, Christianity in various forms with many precious parts of the Gospel did spread across the world and brought the basic message of Christ and the forgiveness of sins to millions. We must always be grateful to those of other religions who have so valiantly worked to spread the word and to preserve the Word over the centuries.

  5. I believe that God seeks to bless His children in all nations with as much light and truth as He sees fit to give or that they are ready accept at the time. Inspiration and spiritual guidance from the Lord, though diluted with the teachings of men, may have made important contributions to the spirituality of people in many nations over the centuries, both Christian and non-Christian. The light of Christ has enlightened and blessed many, both Christian and non-Christian.
We must not think that the Lord loves anybody less or that the meaning and value of their mortal experience is less just because they are not Christian or have not been baptized into the LDS Church. All will be treated fairly and have a fair chance to receive the blessings of baptism, if they so desire.

Yes, the presence of the Church in our day now is certainly a great blessing, one that I wish had been available to more generations in the past. But in any case, the presence of the Church in our day is also brings with it a great responsibility. It is hear to accomplish a great work. We cannot afford to be quiet or to be inactive in advancing the cause of Jesus Christ, now that we have this treasure in our midst. Those who fight it should soften their hearts and no longer bash their heads against Mount Zion, and those who sit on the sidelines should repent and serve the Lord with all their heart and might. This is the day to labor. Many are called, but the laborers are still too few.

I don't know why the Lord waited until 1830 to restore the Church, but it has been restored, and now is the time to build it up, in my opinion.

10 comments:

Pops said...

It is not only curious that true religion was not restored until the 19th century, but also that it took literally hundreds of years for the events preparatory to the restoration. Perhaps evil men plunged the world into such darkness that it took a great many years for its influence to diminish over the ages, such that enlightenment had any chance of taking root.

Anonymous said...

I think Pops makes a good point. I also think one of the reasons it did not happen until when it did due to how the country that the restoration took place in was founded; by people who wanted religious freedom, and a world void of a single person ruling the country. Because of when the church was restored it has had the ability to flourish the way it has. I think it took a God oriented people seeking to make their own free country ruled by a people that would use principals taught in the Bible to make it's laws to set up the perfect setting for the restoration. And isn't it funny since that time how great this country has become. Coincidence?? I don't think so. I still find it amazing how the people who came to this country were able to fight off the force they did to claim their independence. That alone tells me that the founding of this country served a serious purpose in God's grand plan for all of us.

Tiffany

schex said...

I visited the battlefield of Yorktown last year, and its almost painfully obvious that some sort of divine intervention took place there, from the misdirection of the British navy and the sudden military ineptness of the Redcoats, leaving Cornwallis unable to even retreat. Everything that could go wrong for them did go wrong, or in other words, everything went right for George Washington and company. How often does that happen in military endeavors?

But yes, a nation founded on the principles of liberty was the only environment in which the restored gospel would be able to flourish, though it got off to a pretty rough start. But once so established, there was no power on earth that could remove it.

Pops said...

...and even though the restoration occurred in an environment especially prepared for it, the early Church had to flee the country to survive. That's cutting it pretty close, I would say.

Bishop Rick said...

Pops,

That's a good point. That tells me that the US wasn't prepared for a restoration of the church.

Now if you want to say that the LDS church has florished in the US post Utah Statehood, I would agree with that to a point. Nowadays, the LDS church actually shows greater growth outside the US.

schex said...

Of course there's also the counterpoint that the USA was established prepatory to the restoration of the church, because again, only in an environment where the citizens at least understood and to some degree honored the founding principles of their nation, those being the precepts that all men are created equal and imbued with certain unalienable rights, only in such an environment would the truly restored church be even able to survive.

The fact that it would face difficulty is a given. Such has always been the case. But would it be able to persevere and establish itself? In in any other country, or under any other type of government the early Mormons might well have been hunted down and killed, every man, woman, and child.

In fact, such an extermination order was given, but again, it was in direct contradiction to the Constitution of the United States of America, so it was understandably difficult to carry out.

In retrospect, it seems to me there could be no other environ in which these events could have unfolded as they did.

Jettboy said...

I tend to think of the reason for such a late Restoration as a list of events rather than a timeline or a specific set of circumstances. There was so much history going on between the Great Apostacy and the Restoration that is isn't completely surprising it took so long. Even now those who are members of the LDS Church is less than one percent of the World population.

Shawn said...

Schex 5:19… The story at Yorktown is amazing. Along that vein, the Pacific carrier wars in WWII come to mind as US aircraft carriers were repeatedly in the right place at the right time (such as out to sea during the attack on Pearl Harbor or discovered too late during the Battle of Midway). Japanese carriers were decimated six months after Pearl. MacArthur might not have been able to make his triumphant "return" if the carriers were not able to own the sea. Our country has been blessed in times of war. Any members of the "Greatest Generation" reading this blog… thanks again!

Bishop Rick…

There's a difference between being prepared and the restoration being difficult. Stating that "the US wasn't prepared for a restoration of the church" seems kind of funny since the restoration happened. Many continents seemed to have political climates (existing or forthcoming) that would have not allowed the Church to flourish. Australia might have been able to pull it off but its population size and location would have probably been limiting. Had the Church been founded in Europe, the organization and leadership would have probably been eliminated during the Holocaust and we’d be 100 years behind where we are today. Instead, the Church has been allowed to spread and grow. And as other countries political climates have allowed, missionary work has been able to reach out all across the globe.

I think the preparatory work definately predates America. Had the work and martyrdom of William Tyndale not taken place in the early 16th century, bibles may have been less available, our social systems may not have been thoroughly developed, and Joseph Smith may have never read James 1:5. What if Martin Luther wasn’t able to run with his "95 points of error"?



I’ve been thinking about this topic extensively for the past two week, but from another direction having to do with the Canaanites. Having a worldwide apostasy isn’t that much different that a smaller scale cultural apostasy, IMHO. I had the opportunity to have a wonderful two hour long discussion with a Muslim pre-med student two weeks ago. It was thoroughly enjoyable as he had never met a "real Mormon" before and had lots of questions. As we discussed "the meaning of life", the subject of the Canaanites came up along with God’s divine command for the Israelites to "utterly destroy" them, inclusive of women and children. Apart from being utterly destroyed (I mean, we all die anyway, right?), according to many religions, the Canaanites’ belief system justifies them to "not pass go" and head straight to hell. Does anyone else have a problem with this? How could a loving God be O.K. with this? Check out the Canannite link above for a more indepth theological discussion.

Bishop Rick asks the question why God would not have a more durable Church. I’m wondering why God would create societies that seem doomed to failure and then justify their annihilation. I relate those two questions because on a simplistic level, as a more "durable" Church, I believe, would stave off cultures that are disposable. Maybe that’s too much of a stretch. :) Maybe any other way would violate our agency to the point of nullification. But, in any case, thanks for your blog, Jeff. I keep finding topics that further my amazement in the Plan of Salvation.

So to attempt to answer BR’s question (and my own), I think our pre-existence (Muslims, interestingly enough, do not believe in that concept… the human soul is created after conception) ... our pre-existnece coupled with our agency makes our experiences here on Earth more important than our actual life. The Church is eternal and the work of salvation can be done after the fact, even if the Church's availability on Earth is only for a short period of time. Thus our ability to grasp right from wrong, even if we do more wrong from right is very valuable. In the pre-existence, I believe our biggest challenge was the fact that we "would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for [we] knew no misery; doing no good, for [we] knew no sin" (2 Ne 2:23-ish). The atonement of Christ is the reconciliation mechanism for us getting our hands dirty in this existence. Don’t get me wrong as I am a big proponent of "avoiding even the appearance of sin". But this line of thought comforts me… even in hard to swallow areas such as the loss of a child or whether or not God will sometimes intervene on our behalf (topic of past discussions).

On a side note, it explains why the Sons of Perdition are judged so harshly as God can not be mocked but other that commit horrible crimes still have a chance through Christ.

Regarding the Canannites, I can picture God talking with His soon-to-be Canaanite spirit children, informing them of the trials and sin they would face/endure, encouraging them to break the cultural cycle of grievous sin, but if not, welcoming them back (if they posthumously accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour) with their new found understanding, and finally congratulating them on being the stumbling block that helped the Israelites to retain their Abrahamic culture focused on God. How’s that for a stretch!

Sincerely,
Shawn

Bishop Rick said...

Shawn,

Hmmm, interesting take, stretch yes, but we all do a little stretching on this blog.

Here are my observations:

I don't think whether the restoration occurred has anything to do with whether the US was prepared. If it was going to happen anyway, then why the need for preparation (which I think was inconsequential in hindsight).

The US is not the only country that has been "blessed" in times of war, in fact, non-christian nations can make the same claim with validity. If the US was blessed during WWII thru devine intervention, we must be in a fallen state since then.

The story of the canaanites is troubling. It doesn't support any of the things we are taught today.

Killing every man woman and child due to being expendable doesn't sit well with me. If the canaanites are such a bad people, then the spirit children born into that culture must have been lesser supporters of the cause (if you will) to end up there, and the little ones would have been denied the experiences that you say are so important, so we can't say that they didn't need the experiences, because they had already proven themselves in the pre-existance.

Having heavenly father tell his spirt children that they will be born into tough circumstances, and encouraging them to break the cycle, doesn't really work since they can't remember having that conversation.

Stories like the Canaanites and Noah's flood make no sense to me. I used to never give them a second thought until one night, while reading about the story of Noah's flood with my children, my 10 year old daughter asked, "so all the people on the earth were wicked so they had to die?" and my conditioned answer was, "Yes" then her innocent reply was, "Even the kids?" That sent an arrow right thru my heart and started me down the path of more intense study and analysis, rather than just taking what I was taught to be truth.

I can no longer take either of those stories (as well as many others) to be literal.

Bishop Rick said...

Forgot one other observation:

At best, the apostacy would have been regional (as opposed to global) since at the time, christianity was such a small, regional religion.

Interestingly, the tremendous growth didn't happen until after that period.