Chapter Eight: The Purpose of Signs

I'll never forget a vacation my family and I took to Alaska. We had a great time as we explored many areas of that incredible state. It was winter, and we saw many things that people aren't able to see when they visit in the summer. One day we decided to go to a place called Portage.

Portage is a glacier that has a lake at its base, where we parked our car. Over the years many large icebergs have broken off the glacier and floated to the middle of the lake. Because the lake was frozen during our visit, we decided to walk out on it so we could explore a huge iceberg--the biggest ice cube I'd ever seen!

We climbed on as much of the iceberg as we could, took pictures, and began our walk back to the car. As we approached our car, we noticed a sign we hadn't seen before. In big letters it read:

WARNING! STAY OFF THE ICE AND AWAY FROM THE ICEBERG. THE ICEBERG MAY FLIP AT ANY TIME!
We laughed at first, wondering how we hadn't seen the sign on our way out to the iceberg. Later we had a chance to speak with a ranger who said that a few years earlier a man had been out on the same iceberg when it flipped and killed him. We weren't laughing anymore. I wondered how we could have been so stupid as to not notice the sign the first time we walked past it.

Warning signs and messages are all around us. We see them on roads and highways, on medication bottles, and on video games. The funniest warning I ever saw was on the label of a bathroom spray can. It said, "Keep Away from Teenagers!" Signs are good for us because they make us aware of danger. That's one of the reasons we have signs of the Second Coming. If we heed signs that warn us of Christ's coming, we will have nothing to fear because we will be spiritually safe.

A second purpose for signs is to inspire us to take action and pre-pare for what's coming. Several years ago I had a student who was especially excited to get her driver's license. Her parents bought her an old car, finally giving her the freedom she had dreamed of. For months she told me how fun and thrilling it was to drive her own car.

One day near the end of the school year, I asked her how she was doing. For the first time, she seemed unhappy and somewhat frustrated. She told me that the oil light had come on in her car several months before. Because she didn't know what the warning light meant, she ignored it even though it stayed on. As a result, the engine in her car eventually froze up. The fun and freedom she had once enjoyed were gone. If she had taken action and heeded the warning light, she would have saved herself a lot of unhappiness.

We must heed warning signs, but we don't want to go too far. In responding to signs of the Second Coming, for example, we might focus on just one thing, such as food storage. We might buy so much food storage that we go into debt. That's a bad thing. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, "Over the sweep of Christian history, some believers have, by focusing on a few prophecies while neglecting others, prematurely expected the Second Coming. . . . Members of the Church need not and should not be alarmists. They need not be deflected from quietly and righteously pursuing their daily lives" ("`For I Will Lead You Along,'" Ensign, May 1988, 7, 9). We should be looking for signs of the Second Coming, but the Lord expects us to balance our response to those signs with righteous living.

A third reason signs are important is that they help us look forward to the coming of Christ. They give us hope, as discussed earlier. Even frightening signs are evidence that the coming of Christ and the peace he will bring are getting closer. Think about how signs help us look forward to events. Reflect, for example, on the last few months of the school year. What begins to happen? Days get warmer, birds start singing, flowers begin blossoming, and everyone comes down with spring fever and wants to be outside. Summer is on its way, and with summer comes the end of the school year and freedom--at least for a few months.

So it is with the signs of the Second Coming. The righteous look forward to the signs because they indicate that the coming of the Savior is near. We should all look forward to a day of no more temptation and no more war--just peace and happiness. So instead of seeing signs as a reason to be frightened, see them as a reason to rejoice that we are getting closer to our destination.

But here's a word of caution about signs. We must listen to the right sources when it comes to interpreting the signs around us. Our friends may tell us that there is no hope because of all the terrible things that are happening. Strangers on the news may predict things to come and tell us what we should or shouldn't do. But the people we should listen to the most are the prophets and apostles. Elder Boyd K. Packer said, "The Brethren, by virtue of traveling constantly everywhere on earth, certainly know what is going on, and by virtue of prophetic insight are able to read the signs of the times. . . . Come away from any others. Follow your leaders, who have been duly ordained and have been publicly sustained, and you will not be led astray" ("`To Be Learned Is Good If . . .'" Ensign, November 1992, 73).

If we will trust the Brethren, we can develop greater faith. Remember what happened in the year 2000? Companies paid thousands of dollars to protect their computers from crashing on midnight of the last day of 1999. It's easy to get caught up in the confusion of whom to listen to and whom to trust. President James E. Faust said: "Today many people are obsessed with the Y2K problem and worry about the date coming up right because of the way computers measure time. . . . While some glitches may occur, I am optimistic that no great catastrophic computer breakdown will disrupt society as we move into the next century. I have a far greater fear of the disruption of the traditional values of society ("This Is Our Day," Ensign, May 1999, 17). Listen to our leaders. They will help you look for the signs, and they will explain them to you. So as you read about the signs of the Second Coming in the next few chapters, remember why signs are given:

  • They warn us and protect us from danger.
  • They motivate us to prepare for the future.
  • They inspire us to look forward to the coming of Christ.
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