The Effects of an Over-Anticipated Millennium

We Mormons tend to look forward to the millennium with much anticipation.  And with good reason.  Descriptions of the millennium sound awfully good – no more war, no more poverty, love, peace and righteousness.  Who wouldn’t look forward to such a time?  In recent years, however, I have found myself wondering if we perhaps over-anticipate the millennium with negative results.

I remember being told as a kid that certainly the millennium would come during the year 2000, if not before.  There is a particular know-it-all in my ward who predicted the millennium starting within 5 years.  This prediction was made about 8 years ago.  Such anticipation can have it’s drawbacks.  Here are a few as I see them:

1 – Thinking the world is more evil than it really is.  Scriptural descriptions of the last days are pretty scary.  And it seems to me that the world is no where near that bad yet.  But those who think the millennium is right around the corner often see current conditions as terribly evil.  I am not sure it is healthy to look at ‘the world’ that way.

2 – Taking joy in bad news.  It appears to me that those who feel the second coming is going to occur any day are almost giddy when they hear of tragic events happening in the world.  It means Christ is on his way.  It seems an artificial optimism, and a lack of sympathy for those affected by the tragedy.

3 – Changing plans based on the expected timing.  When I was an EQP, I had a family ask my advice about whether they should save for retirement or for the children’s education since the second coming was going to come first anyway.  Such over-anticipation can zap one of wise decision making – such as forcing short term thinking.

4 – An apathy regarding negative circumstances.  If Christ is coming right away, then we have to expect life to be bad for some.  We might therefore shrug-off negative events as inevitable signs of the times.

That’s about all I have for now.  Are there other things that you have observed from those who are over-anxious about the second coming?  Is being over-anxious better or worse than being under-anxious?

Personally, I feel the second coming is a long way off.  And in many ways, I hope it is.

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22 Responses to “The Effects of an Over-Anticipated Millennium”


  1. 1 bandanamom January 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here Eric. These are always my concerns with people who seem overly obsessive about thinking about the millennium.

    A friend on facebook recently posed the question as to whether or not any of her friends felt the millennium was near and if so, how many years away did they think it was. I was surprised to see so many people respond that although they didn’t think it was going to happen immediately, they did not think it was many years off. I totally disagreed, but not many felt the same way I did.

    My personal opinion is that we just don’t know and that it’s kind of useless to think about too much. Regardless of whether you think it’s around the corner or not, your behavior should pretty much be the same right? I think it actually makes people make worse decisions and focus on the wrong things to think that’s it’s happening sometime soon, as evidenced by some of your examples.

    We have had some families in our Stake start stockpiling food and weapons like the zombie apocalypse is on it’s way. Some of these same families do not see the importance of attending church every week and don’t seem to participate much in terms of callings, etc., stating that they need time to prepare their families and that now is a time to focus on the home and family. I’m all for focus on the family, but these seems completely wrong headed.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson January 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Thanks Bandanamom. Hope all is well with you. Let me know when the zombies are coming.

  3. 3 Keith Held January 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I like this one:
    Elder Richard L. Evans said: “Some of the brethren … approached [President Wilford Woodruff] and … inquired of him as to when he felt the end would be—when would be the coming of the Master? These, I think, are not his exact words, but they convey the spirit of his reported reply: ‘I would live as if it were to be tomorrow—but I am still planting cherry trees!’ I think we may well take this as a page for our own book and live as if the end might be tomorrow—and still plant cherry trees! In worrying about things that are beyond our reach, we should not overlook our opportunities with our own families and friends; in worrying about possible eventualities we should not neglect the things that need to be done here and now, and that are within our reach” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 105–6).

  4. 4 WVS January 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    I’ve heard an isolated comment or two in recent years, but I don’t get the feeling that in my ward at least, that the end=time is awaited with bated breath. In my ward I think you would find it very common to believe that 2nd coming does indeed lie ahead, but this is not any sort of feverish thing. A small minority may believe that it is something akin to science fiction, another group think its up for grabs in the next year or so. I don’t know how representative this may be of the Church at large, but I suspect that among the devoted, its pretty close to that.

  5. 5 Ardis January 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    This may be a variant of your 4, or distinct enough to be a 5: Overanticipation makes us selfish and lazy — we don’t have to take care of or repair damage to the earth, because it will be renewed in a few weeks anyway when the Millennium arrives; we don’t have to work for peace, or learn how to be peaceable people, because peace will only come when Christ returns, so hey, why bother with it now?

    The greatest harm, I think, is that people who believe they know when the Millennium will begin, or even that it will be very soon without announcing a date, is that they’re listening to the wrong voices, living in a fantasy and not paying attention to counsel about what they really should be doing. I mean, if even Christ and the angels in heaven don’t know when he will return, anybody who thinks they have better information is getting that information from the wrong place. That can’t help but affect all areas of their spiritual life, not just questions directly related to the Millennium.

    (We had a gospel doctrine teacher announce a few months ago that the Second Coming will occur before 2020. He knows this because a friend of his, an employee in the Church Office Building, went to the Passion Play in Oberammergau last year, justifying his trip by announcing that it was the last Passion Play that would be held due to the imminent return of Christ. Our teacher believed him and taught it as doctrine! Ouch!)

  6. 6 Eric Nielson January 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Keith:

    Excellent quote. I should have offered some prize for the person who used it.

    WVS:

    I think my ward is stuck in a McConkieish time warp. Many feel that every time gas prices go up it is a sign. I imagine that the most prominent members of my ward would bet on the second coming happening within the next 18 months.

    Ardis:

    That is an excellent #5. Related to #4 but so good that it warrants its own category.

  7. 7 Thomas Parkin January 15, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I personally think the end comes when things are going really well. Nobody really sees it coming. There have been some earthquakes, and a whole lot of commotion, sure. Quite a bit of nasty business. Wars and rumors of wars (but the end is not yet!) But, we got it pretty much under control. We are marrying and giving in marriage, and everything is going on as before! There is nothing new under the sun, except that now we’ve finally got some peace.

    I agree that our paradigm of steadily augmenting darkness culminating in the Second Coming causes all sorts of problems. I think it colors our view of change, both within the church and without. Any significant change, especially social change, is sniffed out as part of the augmenting darkness, and we are slow to realize that at least as many changes are for the better as are for the worse.

  8. 8 Eric Nielson January 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Thomas:

    Excellent point on change. Particularly change we are skeptical of.

  9. 9 Steve January 15, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I think this post is dead-on.

    In the past year, I’ve known folks who have:

    * Sold their home and built a bunker in the basement, complete with weapons, to keep the neighbors from their food storage.

    * Quit their job because it doesn’t matter anymore. This person pulled everything out of their retirement accounts and bought gold — and buried it in their yard.

    * Another sold his business — put about 80 families out of work. Took the money and bought precious metals.

    Each of these folks had several factors in common. Most listen to Glenn Beck. All are obsessed with conspiracies. Each has a thing for food storage. One gave their small children 72 hour kits for Christmas, telling them they would need to live off it in 2011. Most have ties to the John Birch Society.

    I think all are stark-raving nuts. Each — when nothing happens — will have hurt their family or others.

    I fear most for the children of these families — they are growing up with paranoia, obsessiveness, etc. I can make a pretty strong argument that the parents are abusing the children and that all should be removed from their homes.

    No one knows when the Savior will arrive — not Glenn Beck, not any General Authority, not any commentator.

    Anyone who claims otherwise is by definition a false prophet. And, such should be shunned not embraced.

  10. 10 Eric Nielson January 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Wow. The examples you give are stiking and disturbing. Yet, I am not sure shunning them and removing their children is the answer.

  11. 11 Steve January 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Erik,

    I don’t know the solution.

    But, I worry about children raised in this environment.

    Parents are obligated to provide their children with as much security as possible. None should be raised fearful that they will never grow up, that all they know will end — soon.

    I think that creating such an environment is a form of abuse.

    Still, do you meet extremism with extreme solutions? But, I do know that such parental behavior has to have an impact.

  12. 12 Eric Nielson January 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I agree. It comes down to whether the disease or the cure is worse.

  13. 13 Peter January 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Just one comment concerning the statement that things are not bad enough yet:

    I do not know how old you are. I am 60 and can remember a much different time. I marvel at how quickly things have changed. I think that it is like the frog in water experiment. The water heats gradually so that the frog does not know and finally cooks to death.

    In the 50’s if someone ran into your car, they would usually leave a note. Now people will do a hit and run if they think that they can get away with it. Honesty used to be an important value. Our word was our bond. Today I think that many believe that honest people are just gullible.

    Television shows used to be uplifting (i.e. Leave it to Beaver, Father knows best). Many shows today would be considered porn in the 50’s.

    Homosexuality used to be in the closet as well as sex outside of marriage. Now sex outside of marriage is expected. Those who do not are not normal. Gay marriage was not even a term in the 50’s. Now people think you are a biggot if you do not support extreme immorality. The scriptures do not say if there was gay marriage in Sodom and Gomorah but I think things are just as bad.

    Kids and women used to walk safely outside. Now in many area’s, women cannot go for a walk by themselves because of fear of being attacked. If they have no one to accompany them, they are in bondage within their own home.

    The world is a mix of good and bad. In the end, God will finally remove the good folks and then, like Sodom and Gomorah, there will no longer be a reason to save the world.

  14. 14 Eric Nielson January 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Peter:

    I am 43.

    I understand and sympathize with your comments. I just think things are likely to get much worse before they get better. There are a lot of good things going on as well.

  15. 15 Jared January 16, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Great post. I enjoyed reading it and the comments.

    From what I’ve observed, those who go over-board in preparing for the second coming are rare in comparison to those church members who are inadequately prepared.

    Preparation for the Lord’s return involves much more than guns and food storage. I think seeking after the gift of the Holy Ghost should be first on our list, followed by the tangible necessities.

    I think the gentiles are in for some hard times, possibly in the immediate future, however, the Book of Mormon teaches how merciful the Lord was to the Nephites, I suspect it will be the same for the us.

    Fear and discouragement shouldn’t be the source of our motivation. Faith and optimism are better company and will see us through the days that precede the Lord’s second coming in glory.

  16. 16 nesquik405 January 16, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    All the kook stories here sound awfully close to my mom. I don’t know where she got all the fear, but “the last days” is her absolute favorite subject.

    The thing is, she’s 95 and probably going to miss the whole thing.

    It was tough to get away from seeing the world through her eyes. Was her obsession a form of abuse, when she meant well and believed she was going her family a favor? I don’t know. But it was certainly an unhealthy way to grow up.

    Would my basement be as well-stocked as it is if she hadn’t scared me so thoroughly? I don’t know that either. But I think the trick is to quietly prepare for disaster, all the while acquiring the skills we need to cope with the normal day-to-day world.

    One thing I know for sure: when somebody starts in on the hand-wringing and the panicky talk, it’s time for me to leave the room. I’ve heard my share and more, thanks.

  17. 17 Steve January 16, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    The irony is that the early Christians thought the end was near in the decades after Christ’s death.

    Then, there was another round near 1000 A.D. Joseph Smith and the early Saints thought it was around the corner. And, we had a repeat when 2000 A.D. was imminent (Y2K was my favorite).

    Today, the end is imminent because Obama is the Anti-Christ, or FEMA is about to round folks up or the Federal Reserve is boosting the money supply.

    I can even craft an argument that the world is an infinitely better place than it was a century ago — hunger is mostly gone, we live much longer, our diseases are those of the elderly and affluent, our ability to handle natural disasters is far greater, conflict today is at a fraction of the scale in WWII, etc. Toleration based on religion, class and societal place is far better.

    Are there cultural concerns? Sure. But, many today sound like the Victorians in the 19th Century, the parents of my parents in the 1950s (Elvis!) and 1960s (Those hippies!), etc.

    Is there wickedness today? Yes. But, even trends in immorality are blown out of proportion. How many realize that many of the Founding Fathers had multiple mistresses? Ben Franklin advised his boy — in writing — how to pick a good one. How many realize how widespread prostitution was in virtually every U.S. community, more so than today? My town a hundred years ago had multiple bordellos. Today, a bit on craigslist.

    Today, our divorce rate is down from a few decades ago. STDs are off. Abortions seem to have peaked. Drug use is down. Alcoholism is far less. Some things are getting better.

    So, the idea of a downward spiral doesn’t mirror actual trends.

    I think it is an even bet that we could be having this same discussion in two or three centuries hence . . .

  18. 18 Eric Nielson January 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Jared:

    I really like the bit about faith and optimism are better company.

    nesquick405:

    I think most of us are going to miss the whole thing. But I think most of us are well intentioned.

    Steve:

    Every era thought it was close, including ours. I suppose this might motivate in some ways. But it is good to keep in mind the good things that are going on around us.

  19. 19 Paul January 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I remember the anticipation we felt as we awaited Y2K, and the amazement that nothing happened.

    I also remember clearly the care with which President Hinckley discussed these matters. He was careful to be clear that he had no indication that there was an acceleration, but that, yes, we should prepare in a prudent way.

    As Steve points out, Millenniumism has been around since Christ’s time, and I won’t be surprised to see it again and again. In my freshman year at BYU, when Jimmy Carter was elected, there was a contingent ready to hunker down with their food storage since it was a clearly coming to an end.

    Yes, social mores are diverging more and more from ours. But, as President Hinckley taught, there are remarkable things happening in our world, too.

    Nice post, Eric. And I also like Ardis’ #5. I’ve been fortunate not to know people up close who were so certain the end is near.

  20. 20 Steve January 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Prudent is the key.

    No one should obsessive on the topic or engage in life altering behavior.

    My sense is that this topic frustrates leaders. They suggest reasonable steps to deal with job loss, family illness or death, etc. — like the current recommendation of three month’s food that you normally eat in the pantry. Then members turn it into buy inedible dehydrated foods and guns to protect it.

    President Hinckley and Monson have been rational on the topic. It is others who have not.

  21. 21 Allan January 26, 2011 at 1:54 am

    Humm… the things that have to happen before the final appearance of the Savior prior to the millennium would indicate it is still a ways off yet, that would include the building of the center stake (Zion) in jackson co. the return of the tribes to the fore mentioned city, gospel preached to all nations (currently there are many nations that we do not have much if any presents in) I imagine effectively bringing the gospel to China alone would take a fair amount of time. these are just a few things I can think of off the top of my head, surely these will take some time and as they unfold they will be good indicators of the season we are in.
    However we could have an earth quake tomorrow, our nation or a goodly part of the world could suffer financial collapse at some time in the future, their could at some point be civil unrest here. any of these things could happen before during or after some of the big predicted pre- millennial events.
    a wise person would follow the counsel of the prophets, and my guess would be that being spiritually prepared for the Saviors coming could be the most vital preparation of all, this would also include being obedient to the council of the prophets to store food, supplies,and cash for an emergency.

  22. 22 Eric Nielson January 26, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Well said Allan.

    The China example is interesting. Those who want the millennium right away would claim that the gospel has already been preached in China. The internet alone brings the gospel to the world. Just one example of how they would interpret the times.


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