So what's in the info-packed New York Times these days? Today's cover story is a tribute to a heroic firefighter who became trapped and later died while searching for residents in a burning Brooklyn high rise. It's one of many sad stories and the only one on the front page with any element of inspiration. Other stories include gruesome killings in Kenya, a racially-driven murder in Palestine, political tension with Germany after an intelligence officer was accused of spying, more information about the most recent in a long history of IRS scandals and an article encouraging readers to relax their values and stretch the definition of family until it breaks. America's most popular newspaper doesn't paint a very bright picture of the world.
News-induced melancholy is not limited to readers of the New York Times either, nor is the Times unique in its approach. Earlier this week there were several major and local news entities headlining stories of parents that have killed their children; military action or potential action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, North Korea, Congo, Columbia, and elsewhere; big earthquakes in New Zealand, Tonga and Alaska; athletes and actors who, despite the success they once enjoyed, now have lost their way in life and have been arrested for a variety of base and demeaning crimes; political conflicts caused more by wanting to get credit than any sort of convictions; murders so numerous it is almost hard to be shocked at each new story; growing acceptance of homosexuality and other spiritually grievous behavior; and every other sort of depressing, deflating and divisive content imaginable.
Sometimes I wonder if perhaps life in the 17th Century must have been nice. Then I remember my mother. I think she hated watching the news-- who can blame her?-- but growing up my dad and I would tune in often and usually discuss a few of the events that had been reported. Whenever our discussion began to take a sorrowful tone or the uncertainty just seemed too much to bear, my mom would exclaim, 'Bring on the second coming!'
What I think she was trying to teach me is that even though the world can seem overrun with evil at times, and our hearts will sometimes ache for innocent children and broken families and the rejection of truth, we need not abandon our hope in humanity, our brothers and sisters, nor in that Christ, our glorious Savior and Redeemer, who will come again.
What I've realized since my teenage years is that the last days can be as great as they sometimes appear to be terrible. We are able to use our agency to see only the hopeless gloom and doom that dominates news reports or, through the eyes of faith, experience the thrill of hope that can come as we see the fulfillment of prophecy and the hand of God preparing the world for the coming of His Son.
Ancient prophets saw our day and looked forward with rejoicing to this time when the world would be prepared for the Savior to come again. They wrote of the latter days so that we would be able to recognize the times in which we live and, by recognizing these signs, take courage in the knowledge that the glorious return of Jesus Christ is near. Christ himself taught of our day:
In that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men's hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.
And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.
And again, the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, or the destruction of the wicked (D&C 45:26-27, JST Matt. 24:32).
President Ezra Taft Benson wondered aloud in a 1982 address:
Are we not witnessing the fulfillment of these signs today? The gospel is being extended to all nations which permit our missionaries to penetrate their countries. The Church is prospering and growing. Yet in undiminished fury, and with an anxiety that his time is short-- and it is-- Satan, that great adversary to all men, is attempting to destroy all we hold dear. The greatest system of slavery ever devised by the forces of evil--communism--has been imposed on over one billion of the earth's inhabitants. We constantly hear or read of wars and rumors of wars. Atheism, agnosticism, immorality and dishonesty are flaunted in our society. Desertions, cruelty, divorce, and infidelity have become commonplace, leading to a disintegration of the family. Truly we live in the times of which the Savior spoke, when 'the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.'
The world hasn't become more virtuous since 1982. As the testimony of the servants of God is rejected on an ever-greater scale, the Lord has warned that then will come the testimony of earthquakes, thunderings, lightnings, and the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds (D&C 88:89-91). There will be desolating illnesses and a scene of conflict such as the world has never seen before followed by even greater signs in the heavens (D&C 45:31-33, 40-42). Are we hearkening to the signs that have been given and preparing for the things we know will come? Or are we letting information overload dull our sensitivity to the miracles in our lives and distracting us from seeing what would be of greatest lasting value to our faith and salvation?
At the same time the Church has grown to over 15 million members-- nearly three times as many as in 1982-- and there has never been more temples, more missionaries, or greater access to the ordinances of the gospel and the tools for family history work in the history of the world. Like the New York Times, truth and testimony are also more accessible around the world today than ever before. Are we focusing on these great and encouraging signs of the second coming or are we so focused on the gloom and doom that we have become blinded to all that would lift us up and give us the courage to carry on?
Through all of this our agency remains. We choose whether we will be shocked, offended, proud, without hope or motivated, steadfast, faithful, and even joyous that the signs of Christ's coming are being fulfilled before our very eyes. President Benson taught that 'an otherwise gloomy picture [has] a bright side-- the coming of our Lord in all His glory. His coming will be both glorious and terrible, depending on the spiritual condition of those who remain.' It is ours to choose, regardless of circumstance, whether today and tomorrow and the next day will be glorious or terrible.
For the people of ancient America, most days were terrible. The scripture records:
And the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen-- Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil... And thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing (3 Nephi 2:1-2).
Plagued by terrorists, government corruption and class warfare, the people would repent and remember the signs they had seen for a time, only to become consumed by selfishness and again forget the signs they had seen in order to seek for personal glory and gain. This philosophy eventually destroyed their government and divided the people into tribes that each subscribed to their own laws and 'relative morality'. Unprepared for what they had once known was coming, this people could only mourn their iniquities and their dead when struck by a three-hour earthquake with vicious thunderstorms, city-consuming landslides and sinkholes that swallowed their towns and dropped their villages into the sea.
We cannot afford to be blinded by pride nor soothed by the philosophies of the world. Our peace and joy in a tumultuous world depend more than ever on our willingness to make the gospel, particularly daily scripture study and prayer, a priority in our lives. Living the gospel softens our hearts and allows the Holy Ghost to help us discern the signs to the faithful, to feel of God's assurances, and to move forward with confidence because of the revelations we have received strengthened our testimonies. As we build spiritual strength and stand in holy places, we will be able to withstand the storms of evil and of nature that will come. If we are righteous, we may even feel to rejoice-- for the coming of the Lord is near.