by John P. Pratt
Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (8 May 2003)
©2003 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.
|1. Visions of the Future|
|1.1 Jonah's Disappointment|
|1.2 Wilford Woodruff's Vision|
|2. Parallel Universes|
|2.1 Multiple Futures|
|3. Warning Revelations|
|3.1 "Greek President" Prophecy|
|3.2 The 1980 Which Wasn't|
Probably each of us has had a dream or other premonition warning us of some future danger. Sometimes we have ignored such warnings and suffered the consequence and other times we have heeded and been allowed to see just how close we came to calamity. Because we obeyed the warning, we apparently changed our future, perhaps to having a long life rather than an untimely death. In turn, that change could affect many others whom we would influence, perhaps including our yet unborn children. Let us consider in this article just how "real" the future was which did not occur.
We have been told that the Lord knows the end from the beginning (Abr. 2:8). He knows exactly what will happen in the future. If he didn't, his plans could be frustrated, and he has told us always to remember that his plans are never frustrated, but only those of men (D&C 3:1-3). In fact, in the time of Moses, he commanded that if any man made a prediction in the name of the Lord which failed, that he should be executed as a fraud (Deut. 18:20-22). So we have the assurance that God knows the future, which he has repeatedly demonstrated.
With God having such an impeccable record at prediction, there is a tendency for us to think that every vision had by every prophet must necessarily come to pass. But is that true? Consider Jonah.
Jonah preached a strong sermon, saying "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). In the Biblical account, the usual "... unless you repent" clause is not explicitly stated, but the king repented in sackcloth and ashes and commanded all to do likewise, which sounds as if Jonah mentioned something about repentance. It is clear, however, that Jonah did not expect them to repent, and that he was hoping for this enemy of Israel to be eradicated: "it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry" (Jonah 4:1). He then left the city and set up a booth hoping to see the city destroyed, but was disappointed. The prophecy had been conditional upon repentance, and the united actions of the majority of inhabitants prevented the foreseen disaster from occurring. Here we have a classic example of what is very common in the scriptures: a warning prophecy intended to induce people to repent to avoid coming calamity.
Now let us turn to the question of whether or not Jonah might have had an actual vision of what did not occur, but what would have occurred had they not heeded the prophetic voice of warning. In other words, if Nephi had a vision of what would occur in the future, might it be possible for a prophet to have a vision of what might occur in the future, but doesn't necessarily have to occur? Is it possible that a prophet can have a vision from God of a future that is every bit as real as the one Nephi saw, but which never happens? It was hard to find an example in scripture because the Lord usually has the prophets only publish the visions which he knows will definitely come to pass, unless they explicitly include the "unless you repent" clause. Otherwise, his prophets would have been executed as frauds. Let us consider at least one example of a prophet's true vision which was never fulfilled.
Shortly after the October Conference in 1890, at which the Manifesto ending the practice of polygamy was adopted, Pres. Woodruff explained:
The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice. If we had not stopped it, you would have had no use for...any of the men in this temple at Logan; for all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion. Confusion would reign throughout Israel, and many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice. Now, the question is, whether it should be stopped in this manner, or in the way the Lord has manifested to us ... (D&C Official Declaration 1).
That arrogant dream was shattered by about 1930 with the advent of "quantum mechanics." It was discovered that even in principle we cannot know the exact position and velocity of even one particle, let alone all the particles in the universe. What could, however, be known very accurately is the probability of the outcome of certain experiments. Since then, experiments based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which was developed to calculate those probabilities, have been so successful that it would be difficult to find a serious scientist who questions what they predict.
The pendulum has now swung to the other extreme in the prevailing scientific view from a totally deterministic universe to one in which nothing is determined. Probability has been enthroned as the new king. In modern physics, "free will" now has ample room to modify the future, if it can modify probabilities.
While scientists agree on the results of quantum mechanical experiments, there is a wide diversity of just how they are to be understood. Without going into details here, let us simply note that there are two popular interpretations, but we must caution that the results of quantum mechanics are so bizarre than neither of the interpretations is really believed by a majority of scientists.
This paradox led to another interpretation proposed in 1957, called the "Many Worlds," or better, the "Parallel Universes" interpretation. In this view, multiple universes all occur simultaneously, which are all equally real. In the cat experiment, at each instance when the quantum event has some probability of happening, a universe splits off in which the cat dies at that time. The good news is that now the scientist opening the box has been removed from the equation. That bad news is that now we have what most scientists find even more ridiculous, that zillions of equally valid universes are all really happening simultaneously. In this universe you are reading this article, but another version of you in a different universe is not. That's pretty hard to take seriously.
Okay, so now you are glad that you've never studied quantum mechanics because it all sounds absurd. The lead article in Discover for September, 2001, was entitled "Quantum Shmantum." It included Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg's summary of the parallel universes idea, paraphrasing Winston Churchill's quip about democracy: "It's a miserable idea except for all the other ideas." Scientists clearly have a long way to go before they even come to a consensus, much less actually hit on what really is happening. But hopefully science is making progress toward understanding what is going on.
Those who can apparently predict the future are often scoffed at by scientists, but as quantum mechanics progresses, we might well see an acceptance of psychics into the formal scientific arena. Psychics usually only claim to see the "most probable" future, and hence prefer not to be executed if their prediction fails. Often people with this gift try to help others by warning them to avoid danger, such as not to take a certain plane which has a high probability of crashing. Somehow they can sense a future which is very real even though it has not yet occurred.
Unfortunately, many of the books which collect prophecies about the future do not distinguish between formal canonized scripture and other statements by General Authorities, or even second hand accounts or visions to Stake Presidents. Let us now consider just one such prophecy as an example, which has gained some popularity. It has all the earmarks of having been a warning prophecy, which describes a future which didn't happen, partly because of actions taken by the prophet who received it.
I have not personally taken the time to verify the source of this so-called vision, but for the sake of this argument, I will entertain the possibility that it describes a true vision which Pres. Smith received and did indeed share with his family, and that it is being reported accurately. Does that mean we should all be looking for a Greek President? Should we postpone getting our food storage until we have a Greek President? Was this a vision of what would happen or of what could happen?
Why would President Smith be given such a vision? If it was a vision of what would happen, it might have been for him to begin to prepare. If it was a vision of warning, then we would expect him to have taken action which might help erase that future.
Statements he made in October Conference of 1946 support both the idea that the vision indeed occurred and that it was a warning revelation because the word "if" is always associated with it. He stated, "I fear that the time is coming ... unless we can call the people of this world to repent of their sins and turn from the error of their ways, that the great war that has just passed will be an insignificant thing, as far as calamity is concerned, compared to that which is before us."
In 1980 Brezhnev was in power in Russia, having agressively expanded the Russian nuclear missile arsenal. We were going through a period of Russian appeasement by disarmament. There was much pressure to remove the Pershing 1 missiles, which had atomic warheads, from Europe. Our Minuteman missiles were in deep holes, which are indeed still called "silos." Also, it has since been found that Russia had plans to strategically place tanks around Europe by transporting them in large trucks. Michael Dukakis, of Greek extraction, had been elected governor of Massachusetts in 1974, and would later run for President against George Bush in 1988 on a strong platform of gun control. Thus, many of the points of the prophecy were bulls-eyes.
Did President Smith do anything that might have helped to change world history? Since we are in the realm of speculation, here's one possibility. After World War I, strong reparations were put on Germany to punish them and it caused a huge amount of resentment. In a very oversimplified analysis, that resentment fomented until it produced a Hitler who retaliated with World War II. The Allies might well have followed a similar course of action after World War II which could have resulted in the World War III in the vision. After the war ended in 1945, acting President Smith sent the apostle Ezra Taft Benson to Europe in early 1946 to reopen the missions and to head up a huge war relief effort, for members on both sides of the conflict. The LDS Church provided many needed supplies to the war victims. Elder Benson induced the devastated saints in victorious countries to donate needed supplies to their enemies who had so violently abused them. Thus, the Church set the example of forgiving ones enemies, which was nearly unheard of as a post war procedure. That example may have influenced the United States to follow suit with the Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe in 1947. Under that European Recovery Plan, 13 billion dollars was given to 16 European countries, with the most going to Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany. Clearly Elder Benson's work was noticed nationally because he was called to be Pres. Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture from 1953-1960. Because Germany was not punished for the war, it is much more of a friend to us now. So it seems just possible that the vision of George Albert Smith might have led him to contribute, along with many others, to changing the course of history in a way that prevented that particular scenario for World War III. I believe the Dukakis was the Greek President who never was, and that it is now too late for that vision to be fulfilled. Of course, all the prophecies in scripture will still be fulfilled, and a different World War III is still very possible, but we would do well not to wait for a Greek President to be elected before obeying the living prophet's counsel to obtain a year's supply.
One interpretation of modern physics is that there are parallel universes in which not only our "real" future occurs, but also other futures which do not happen to us in our universe, but which are just as valid. The scriptures include accounts of prophets who have some visions of events which are fulfilled and also some visions of events which are not fulfilled. These latter are usually warning prophecies given to induce the prophet to take actions which will prevent that undesirable future from occurring. When we see any prophecy which appears to be legitimate, we should consider the possibility that it might be either a vision of a future or of the future. We should look first to see if it is scripture or an official proclamation endorsed by the First Presidency. Then we should look for "if" clauses, which usually offer us the hope of having a better outcome if we repent. And we can remember that we personally can usually change the future for the better, and that we will be judged for our thoughts, words, and actions accordingly.