Nothing like that super stood out to me from Conference: there were no prophets announcing an imminent Second Coming or anything like that. No fists pounding on the pulpit as they charged us to repent.
The perpetual warning process
But as I was pondering this, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus came into my mind.
Luke 16:19–31, New International Version:
|Moroni visits Joseph Smith.|
From the scriptures cited by the Prophet in Joseph Smith—History, we can see that Moroni did not select random passages to outline the future of the Lord’s kingdom. They were chosen specifically to introduce the Prophet to his work. In them the following aspects of the mission of the Church in the last days are discussed:In other words, members of the Church should not necessarily be waiting for the prophets to announce over the pulpit that judgments and so forth are nigh. They have literally been doing this the whole time.
—The calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Mal. 3:1; Isa. 11:1, 10–12).
—The opening of the heavens through the Restoration (Joel 2:28–29).
—The restoration of the priesthood and of the sealing keys (Mal. 4:5–6).
—The gathering of the elect (Isa. 11:10–16).
—Destruction and purification before and during the Second Coming (Mal. 3:2–3; Mal. 4:1, 3; Acts 3:22–23; Joel 2:30–31).
—Deliverance for the faithful (Mal. 4:2; Joel 2:32).
—The Second Coming (Mal. 3:1–2).
—The premillennial and millennial state of the faithful (Mal. 3:3–4;Mal. 4:2; Isa. 11:1–9).
|Remember the rich man and Lazarus.|
What would it take?
In the meantime, whether or not the Tribulation begins in the near future, we will be judged on our faith, and if we had the faith to act as if the words of the prophets were coming true immediately anyway. I say this as someone with maybe like a month of food storage, instead of the recommended 10 years' worth. And as someone who routinely snaps at her three-year-old out of impatience, instead of acting out of 100% charity all the time. We all have a lot to prepare and repent of. The issue is: are we operating as if these necessities are urgent, or not? For all we know, it is urgent: our probation ends to a large degree at the moment of death. Whether or not the Tribulation and Second Coming are night doesn't matter, because your personal Tribulation and end of mortal probation could be tomorrow. Or today. Or this hour. And you really couldn't know unless God told you ahead of time.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
So at church they always talk about how the Ten Virgins represent the Church--not just all Christianity or the whole world or something. And we're warned that like the parable goes, half of those Ten Virgins/Church members will not have enough oil to make it to the time when the Bridegroom actually comes. Weddings typically take place at dusk, but in the story, the Bridegroom doesn't show up until midnight--hours later than expected. To me, this seems like a reference to the Tribulation: once things get Very Bad, we will all expect Christ to come right away, at dusk, except that the scriptures teach that there must be seven years of struggle before the Second Coming. So the oil here is what will get the believers through those seven hard years.
|I have always loved this painting. Image here.|
But in the past few days I feel I learned something.
I have a friend getting married soon. We're not close. I like her but I have just not been feeling a wedding. Not feeling a reception, not feeling getting dressed up, just plain old not feeling it. Honestly, I'm too lazy to find a babysitter. Ugh. Whatever.
I realized as I was thinking about this: this is the same way for the parable of the Ten Virgins. The whole Church is invited to the wedding. And we know that ten women show up to attend.
But seriously? Ten? Out of the whole city? You think the Bridegroom seriously only invited ten people to come? Yeah right.
I realized: Christ has issued this invitation to all of His sheep and lambs. But I wonder how many, like me, are too lazy to hire the babysitter. Or who just don't feel like buying a present and dressing up. Don't want to drive for an hour to attend the reception.
From a wedding website:
Alas, it’s not a perfect world, so how can a couple estimate their expected wedding guest count? We consulted Southern California event diva Julie Pryor of Pryor Events, who offered: “The rule of thumb is 80 percent acceptance, but I caution clients not to ever count on that as it can vary greatly. Some factors to keep in mind are the time of year; the location (destinations that are hard to reach typically have a larger percentage of regrets); and holiday weekends, which can be a difficult time for some people to travel.”
Joyce Scardina Becker, award-winning wedding designer and author of Countdown to Your Perfect Wedding, also advises: “If you’re planning a destination wedding, the average percentage of guests who will be unable to attend is about 30-40%.”With the Second Coming, we already know that the invite is at least a spiritual destination wedding, if not a physical one. It will involve holiday weekends and be difficult to reach. God is literally asking us to pull out every unclean thing from our whole entity. He's asking us to get our bodies in shape (your body is your spirit's temple! Do you treat it like that?) and our spirits in shape (do you have the faith to survive and to want to survive if everything starts falling apart?). That is tough stuff.
So with real life wedding invitations, any introduction to "hard" stuff like being on a holiday weekend, being a destination wedding... those things can drop attendance significantly. And that's for something as simple as a wedding.
Now think of it in terms of making the gross (by gross I mean large, not disgusting) changes we need to make on a spiritual and physical level in order to attend THE upcoming wedding, and think about how many people are accepting that invitation.
Overall, my new understanding is that when we talk about the parable of the Ten Virgins, it's not just that the Ten Virgins are members of the Church, they are members of the Church who actually decided to act on the invitation, grab a lamp, get dressed up, and go wait. This is a very different picture, to me. It implies that of those who are attending church every week, getting dressed up, taking the sacrament, going to the temple, and actively getting their bodies and spirits ready for what is to come--of that crowd, half will be unprepared for what is coming. That is my new understanding. Maybe it's wrong. I don't know. But to me, it feels about right.
|Oil lamp. Public domain.|
And in that day, those with oil will not be able to share. It won't be a matter of wanting to share. Sharing will be physically and spiritually impossible.
Please note that the article I linked about the Ten Virgins is from 2009. It quotes from Spencer W. Kimball from 1972. The scriptures it quotes come from ancient days as well as the 1800's. The article says, "We do not know the timing of Christ’s Second Coming, but we should prepare for it as though it could come at any time—whether soon or late."
But now check out this General Conference address, from 1974, entitled "A Time of Urgency" (emphasis mine, but go read the whole talk):
It can be properly and appropriately concluded that the ten virgins represent the people of the Church of Jesus Christ, and not alone the rank and file of the world. The wise and foolish virgins, all of them, had been invited to the wedding supper; they had knowledge of the importance of the occasion. They were not pagans, heathens, or gentiles, nor were they known as corrupt or lost, but rather they were informed people who had the saving, exalting gospel in their possession, but had not made it the center of their lives. They knew the way, but were foolishly unprepared for the coming of the bridegroom. All, even the foolish ones, trimmed their lamps at his coming, but their oil was used up. In the most needed moment there was none available to refill their lamps. All had been warned their entire lives.
Today thousands of us are in a similar position. Through lack of patience and confidence, preparation has ceased. Others have lulled themselves to sleep to a complacency with the rationalization that midnight will never come. The responsibility for having oil in our personal lamps is an individual requirement and opportunity. The oil of spiritual preparedness cannot be shared. The wise were not unkind or selfish when they refused oil to the foolish in the moment of truth. The kind of oil needed by all of us to light up the darkness and illuminate the way is not shareable. The oil could have been purchased at the market in the parable, but in our lives it is accumulated by righteous living, a drop at a time.
How can one share the blessings that come through visiting the sick? How can one share in the blessings that come from assisting the widow or the fatherless? How can one share a personal testimony? How can one share the blessings of conference attendance? How can one share the lesson of obedience learned in living the principle of tithing? Certainly each must accumulate this kind of oil for himself. Let us not procrastinate. Midnight is so far and yet so close to those who have procrastinated. “But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure. …” (Hel. 13:38.)
There is an urgency in this day for us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. For you who have heeded the warning and continue in your preparations to accumulate the oil of righteousness in your lamps, great blessings are yours.He goes on later:
Brothers and sisters, we are living in a time of urgency. We are living in a time of spiritual crisis. We are living in a time close to midnight. “Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.” (D&C 87:8.)
In 1974, this was urgent stuff. We are by definition closer to the Tribulation and the Second Coming than we have ever been, and therefore, this stuff is more urgent than ever. My goal here is not to be an alarmist or something, but it is to point out that spiritual preparation has always been considered urgent. Our preparations today are urgent even if there are no worldwide plagues, natural disasters, wars on our soil. To a large extent it doesn't even matter when or if those things happen. The important thing is that we are spiritually--and therefore physically, since all temporal things are spiritual--prepared for them.
There is an urgency to our spiritual and temporal preparation for the things that are coming. This is not undue alarmism; this is merely an echo of the message of prophets both dead and alive. We have been warned in the scriptures that if we don't heed the dead prophets we won't heed the living ones. Reminders that the Second Coming--and therefore the Tribulation immediately preceding it--is nigh have been going on for decades. By definition we are now closer to that time than ever. Are you ready?