When Facing Doom, There is Room for Opportunities

Paul prophesied that “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Especially in our current pandemic experience, it feels like those perilous times are already here. At times like today, it is important to remember that with every prophecy of doom there is room for opportunity; opportunities to bring salvation to you, me, and others. While “the whole earth shall be in commotion” (D&C 45:26); and “many hearts shall fail” (D&C 45:26), we should “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us] (1 Peter 3:15). Hope is always in short supply, when fear barks out its demands. 

Sustained anxiety and fear have a powerful effect on the human psyche. The continued commotion caused by sensationalized media from news outlets and social media feeds can blind people to the truth. “[T]here are many yet on the earth…who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men…who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). In this age, we can easily confuse truth with information and be “ever learning,” but “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Being inundated with data is not the same thing as having “[our] whole bodies [being] filled with light” (D&C 88:67). What I am suggesting today is for you and me to find our light. If we have “misplaced” it under a bushel (see Matt.5:15), then let’s get it back, and rush out into the darkness to those who feel alone on an island of isolation surrounded by a sea of fear.

One need only to crack open the scriptures to feel that heavenly light chase away the darkness. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught that “[t]he scriptures hold the keys to spiritual protection…they offer hope.”[1] Sharing this hope through the scriptures can open up the “windows of heaven” (Malachi 3:10) to those “walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:6). The Book of Mormon is particularly relevant to our chaotic circumstances. As pointed out by the church scholar Grant Hardy, Mormon spends most of the Book of Mormon’s space on times of conflict.[2] It is informative to note that it is in those same times of conflict in the Book of Mormon that there are so many narratives about miracles. Mormon and the other narrators in the Book of Mormon knew our day, they knew we needed to know how to find miracles within the most dysfunctional times of our lives. Somehow, the Book of Mormon creatively blends stringent didacticism and literary artistry into a piercing message of hope in the face of the tragedy of its own narrative—the entire destruction of its own people. It is a miracle in its own right that we can read this heart-rending narrative and come away healed, full of hope, and rejoicing because of the Savior. I know the Savior, because of the Book of Mormon. He is real and I love him.  

It was during the years of continuous warfare between the Nephites and Lamanites that the sons of Mosiah convert thousands of their mortal enemies to Christ. This once bloodthirsty people, have such a mighty change in their hearts that they end up burying their weapons of war as well as “the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more” (Alma 23:7). They make an oath never again to take up arms against another soul—an oath they never break. Their conversion was so thorough that despite all the trials that continuously materialized on their covenant path,[3] they “never did fall away” (Alma 23:6). Such is the power of a Christ taken seriously. Christ was not an abstract concept to these converts. He visited them. They were “washed bright through the blood of the Son” (Alma 24:13). They came to know personally that “[God] love[d] [their] souls” (Alma 24:14). I often use the following pleading from their king as a spiritual ruler to measure my own devotion to the Savior:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy. (Alma 22:15)

And then this same king prays:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. (Alma 22:18)

When was the last time I prayed with such fervor? Am I willing to change, to give up the me of today in order to follow God? I love Alma’s question to the people of Zarahemla, “if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love…can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26). If quarantine has caused you to distance yourself not only from others, but from God, “now is the time and the day of your salvation” (Alma 34:31). “Draw near unto [him] and [he] will draw near unto you” (D&C 88: 63). We are at our closest to God when we are on our knees. We don’t even need to don a mask before we “call on his name,” he will “converse with [us]” anyway (Alma 12:30).  

It is in a population of defiant dissidents that Alma and his group of missionaries rescue a group of humble converts for Christ. For these converts, “their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6). Our current quarantine has likewise humbled many and prepared us for the word. The word is Christ. And we have no idea how many people our words about Christ could change. His redemption is “immediate[…]” (Alma 34:31) and life altering. Although the converts from Alma’s party at this time were limited, their effect was lasting. 

In a dark prison 40 years later, a man recites their words to a cowering crowd, who asked “what shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?” He responds:

You must repent, and cry…even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. (Helaman 5:41) 

As a result of this dialogue and the ensuing miracles that followed, the “more part of the Lamanites were convinced” and “did lay down their weapons of war” (Helaman 5:50-51). On top of this, the Lamanites “did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possessions” (Helaman 5:52). Church scholar Michael Perry points out that this recovery of territory was something that years of war could not bring about (compare with Helaman 4:18-19).[4] This is the power of the word, which “had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). Like Alma, we “should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5) in our own lives and share this power with others.  

As it was with them, so it is with us. Under our despairing circumstances, living in a world prophesied to be the end of days with commotion, contention, persecution, disasters, diseases, and the worst of human behavior, we can expect to see most clearly the tender mercies of the Lord. And even more, we can expect to be the instruments of his tender mercies delivered to others! Serving the Lord has never been comfortable, but sometimes God needs to discomfort us so we will bring comfort to the comfortless. We can be emboldened to “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power…with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). Let’s let the Lord into our lives to lead us to reach out to someone today and every day his voice comes to us. If we listen, he will call us on his errand. I know this. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Endnotes:

[1] Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” October 2013: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/the-key-to-spiritual-protection?lang=yap

[2] Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 107-108.

[3] “My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love. He invites us to ‘come, follow me.’” President Nelson described it this way in his talk: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/46nelson?lang=eng

[4] Michael F. Perry, “Supremacy of the Word: Alma’s Mission to the Zoramites and the Conversion of the Lamanites,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, v. 24 (2015), 135-136. 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.