Assurance through God’s Prescience
“No one has a crystal ball.” Those who make this statement, even with resignation, are most often trying to assure themselves that we are all on an equal footing, because no one knows the future. Everyone must plan as best he or she can without that advantage. Interestingly, however, the statement is only partially correct. It is true that no human in and of himself has access to the future, but heavenly beings do. In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that angels “reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord” (D&C 130:7-11). Divine beings, it would seem, do have a crystal ball of sorts that allows them to see the future. God particularly has the power of prescience and from time to time manifests it to mortals in the form of prophecy. By prophecy I mean those insights God shares with us about the future.
I am intrigued not only by God’s ability to foresee the future, but also with His desire to share what He knows to his faithful followers. By doing so, He prepares them for what is to come.
God’s display of his prescience, however, has another purpose. He uses it as a means to prove that he is God and can be relied upon. When he called Abraham out of Haran, he assured him, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Moses 2:8). With these words, the Lord assured Abraham that with Him there are no surprises and, therefore, He could protect Abraham from anything untoward.
A millennium later, the Lord tried to bolster flagging Israel’s faith by appealing to the same power. Using history as his text, he said, “I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God” (Isaiah 43:12). His words pointed them back to previous prophecies that had been fulfilled. He pointed out that Israel could not credit them to some other god than He, for, at the time, they worshiped none other.
Showing that He still had the ability, He went on: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it”? (Isaiah 43:19). He then prophesied to them right there and then. In the process, He even named their future deliverer, the Mede Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Castigating Israel’s lack of devotion to Him, He went on: “I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them. Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them. They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not” (Isa. 48:3-7).
In these verses, we see God using prophecy, with which He alone can empower a prophet, as the means through which He verifies and authenticates His position as the God of Israel and of the nations. Thus, by using explicit statements about the future, Jehovah proved to the Old Testament people that He, and He alone, was God. There was a moral corollary; they should trust, worship, and obey Him alone.
A question naturally arises, “Just how does God interact with the future?” Does he know the future and express it, or does He engineer the future and share what He makes happen? In other words, does the future exist for God as something already concrete and unchangeable which He can see? In that case, prophecy would be God sharing His vision with the Saints, allowing us to see from His height the inevitable course of events flowing within the stream of destiny. Or is the future something fluid that God creates? In that case, God knows the future because He has predetermined the course it will flow and shares His plans with us.
Joseph Smith gave us some insights into the question. He announced that for the great Jehovah, “the past, the present, and the future were and are, with Him, one eternal ‘now.’” Does the phrase “one eternal ‘now’” mean that time is static for God—that everything that has existed, does now exist, and ever will exist actually abides with God right now? Does the “eternal now” freeze events into a predetermined, unbreakable whole? The Prophet went on to say that Jehovah “knew of the fall of Adam, the iniquities of the antediluvians, of the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family. . . . He was acquainted with the situation of all nations and with their destiny” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 220).
On the surface, the Prophet’s comments make it look as if God interacts with the future as an observer, but that is not the case. In the same discourse, Joseph Smith said that Jehovah “ordered all things according to the council of His own will.” The phrase suggests that God shapes and directs history within the parameters of human agency. That makes prophecy God’s sharing with humans His “ordering” of all things. Thus, it seems that God creates the channel in which history flows. History, therefore, is not inevitable or fated until God makes it so. The revelation of God in Isaiah reinforces this view.
But does God still share with his people what will happen? Having studied prophetic and apocalyptic literature for much of my academic life, I am impressed that He still uses the power of prescience to direct and prepare his people for the future.
The Restoration is full of examples of prophecies fulfilled. One of the more dramatic is God’s disclosure to Joseph Smith on Christmas Day 1832 concerning the upcoming Civil War. The Lord declared that the wars of the last days would begin with “the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls” (D&C 87:1). He had already hinted at this event in March 1831, saying: “Ye hear of wars in foreign lands; but, behold, I say unto you, they are nigh, even at your doors, and not many years hence ye shall hear of wars in your own lands” (D&C 45:63). Though it took three decades before that prophecy was fulfilled, as foretold, it was one of the bloodiest wars in history and started with the rebellion of South Carolina.
That prophecy went on. It declared “that war will be poured out upon all nations” (D&C 87:2). Indeed, one of the prophetic themes of latter-day scripture is that “peace shall be taken from the earth” (D&C 1:35; see also 29:23; 43:31; 43:31-32; 56:11) and there shall be “wars and rumors of wars” (JS—M 1:23; D&C 45:26; 63:33). Since 1832, the world has not only seen the Civil War but two brutal world wars and scores of lesser wars. Today, rumor is full of the prospect of nuclear war looming on the horizon.
There are, fortunately, other prophecies that bode well for the righteous. One of these is God’s assurance that “this 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” (JS—M 1:31. See also D&C 10:49; 14:10; 18:28; 35:15; 38:33; 42:63; 90:11). When these prophecies were first uttered, some of the Church’s detractors felt they were nothing short of delusions of grandeur, but look at the breadth of the Church’s reach today.
In association with that the Church’s spread is prophecy concerning temple building throughout the world (see for example, Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:372; 10:254). We are living in the age where temples can be found on every continent, in many nations, and upon the isles of the sea—and their numbers will continue to grow.
But the Lord through prophecy also tells us that the world will not be converted. Indeed, until after the Millennium opens, the Church is not destined to be popular. God’s word tells us that the Saints will be found “upon all the face of the earth,” but that “their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness” that will prevail (1 Ne. 14:12). It also tells us that, “among the nations of the Gentiles,” there will be those who “fight against the Lamb of God.” Nonetheless, the Saints have little to fear, for “the power of the Lamb of God” will descend “upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who are scattered upon all the face of the earth,” and they will be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Ne. 14:13-14; compare D&C 45:66-70).
I wish I had time to elucidate the many prophetic statements that have been made to us by a loving Father, but space does not allow that. I can say in sum, however, that God has not departed nor is he asleep, but continues to direct his Church though living prophets who have access to his Spirit. There are no surprises coming (see D&C 106:4-5) and, therefore, I find great comfort in God’s prescience and knowing that he speaks through living prophets today. Though the future is full of evil portents, the scriptures combine to give a tremendous assurance to the faithful that God governs history and has protected and will protect His saints. For me, no scripture rings truer than this: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). Knowing what is coming, we have no excuse not to be prepared and, therefore, we have no reason to fear the future.
Richard D. Draper (Ph.D. in ancient history, Brigham Young University) is an Emeritus Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, where he continues to work with other professors in producing the fourteen-volume BYU New Testament Commentary Series. He is the author of several books and articles, including Opening the Seven Seals: The Visions of John the Revelator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2006) and The Savior’s Prophecies: From the Fall of Jerusalem to the Second Coming (Salt Lake City: Covenant Communications, 2001).
Dr. Draper has served as Associate Dean of Religious Education, Associate Manager of the Religious Studies Center, and Graduate Coordinator for the College of Religious Education.
In the Church, he has served as a bishop, on the high council, and, three times, as a scoutmaster (thus making his calling and election sure).
He and his wife, Barbara, have served a mission at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. They are the parents of six children and the grandparents of fourteen.
Posted February 2013