Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

How to Build a Paradox: Making the New Jerusalem

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

How to Build a Paradox: Making the New Jerusalem

Article excerpt

The text the bishop suggested for my remarks today comes from Doctrine and Covenants 45:66: "And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God." This was a delicious topic for me to think about-the idea of a city on a hill, a heavenly city called Zion, is a subject that has occupied poets as often as it has prophets, and the vision of this city has inspired many of our loveliest hymns, which have been very pleasantly running through my head for weeks now.

Zion is the word we use more often, but it's worth thinking about the name "New Jerusalem" as well. The etymology of the name "Jerusalem" is contested, but one fairly common theory is that the word is a portmanteau of Yerusha (meaning "heritage") and salem or shalom, meaning "peace" or "wholeness." So, a heritage of peace. Prefacing the notion of heritage with "New" makes it a bit paradoxical, and building Zion-establishing a new heritage-is surely a paradoxical project. The verse I mentioned above is prefaced by an instruction for the Saints to gather money and purchase an inheritance, so we're alerted to the fact that this is not the usual sort of heritage, but instead one we are to be involved in creating. This is just the beginning of the paradoxical aspects of the description of the New Jerusalem; in fact, it seems to me that Zion is built on a series of paradoxes that I'd like to poke at a bit this afternoon.

First, there is the temporal paradox of Zion. Zion is, in the scriptures, always already fled; we know it only after it is gone. The New Jerusalem, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, will be built on the site of the Garden of Eden. Always there is this yearning for something lost, some place in the past. But Zion is also always yet to come; the hope of Zion is the promise of restoration. And restoration, it seems to me, requires the knowledge of what was lost. Zion is more precious because it fulfills the longing for a lost Eden. It is Zion in part because it assuages grief and loss-without the sufferings of the past and present, the hope of future glory cannot shine as brightly. The apostle Paul makes reference to this paradoxical linkage of past and future in our yearning for Zion in his beautiful litany of the forebears of our faith in Hebrews 11:3-16:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. …

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