In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (LotR), the character Denethor is an inheritor of a powerful, but dangerous magical artifact, a palantir. The palantir were a set of crystal balls that allowed the user to browse images from anywhere around the world and to chat with other people who also had palantir. Unfortunately, Sauron, the supreme representative of evil in the LotR, had a palantir and used it to feed Denethor fearful images. Denethor’s fears and anxieties, constantly fed and updated by Sauron, “overthrew [Denethor’s] mind.” (1) Denethor not only decides to accept the false futures on his magic feed, but also attempts to kill his own son to bring one of these fears to life.
This story, although only fantasy, is tragically moving to read. This misery of avoidable despair becomes even more poignant as we observe the exact thing happening to so many of us today. Like Denethor, many of us have access to a seemingly magic artifact that feeds us information through a glass surface. As humans, we are often drawn to sensation and tragedy; accordingly, our social media and news feeds increasingly feed us more sensation and tragedy slowly educating our choices. Soon we willingly search out doom and gloom. The internet has dubbed this condition, “doomscrolling.” (2) Like the situation in the LotR, Satan has access to our magical devices too and as taught by Lehi, “[the devil] seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2: 27). He wants us to be afraid; he wants us to be depressed.
Like Denethor, our increased access to information can convince us that we are wise and far-knowing. We may believe that we are preparing for a current or future threat, but when we are confronted with fears that we are unable or unwilling to do anything about, our fears won’t only not help us, but will surely hurt us. Fear leads to failure, is a principle culled from a prophecy by the prophet Joseph Smith: “men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88:91). Fear is a tool of the adversary, not the Lord. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Power, love, and a sound mind are gifts we should seek from the Lord.
We have to use the word to check the information from the world, the internet, or our social media feeds. Our prophet counseled us, “I plead with you today to counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life—each and every day. If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the Spirit will be diminished. If you are not also seeking the Lord through daily prayer and gospel study, you leave yourself vulnerable to philosophies that may be intriguing but are not true. ” (3)
Unfortunately, the feeling of despair is so thick today you can feel it. Everyone is talking about how terrible the world is, and almost no one is talking about how great it is. Is our situation really as bad as the internet depicts, or as Satan wants you to think it is? No. It is not. Yet, regrettably, even our youth, the ones who have the most to be excited about for the future, are afraid; they are depressed. A recent study from BYU highlights this growing fear in our youth, “anxiety and depression is becoming increasingly prevalent among young adults in the US. with both disorders increasing by 63% from 2005 to 2017.”
Sadly, social media platforms, the very tools used to connect us, also isolate us, which leads us to anxiety and depression. This same study finds that “young adults who use 7 or more social media platforms are statistically 3 times more likely to experience increased levels of depression and anxiety than young adults who use 2 or less. Although more research needs to be done. individuals may be up to 46% more likely to have depression if they are using social media more than 60 minutes per day.” (4) Our prophet is aware of this phenomenon and has taught: “The Lord has declared that despite today’s unprecedented challenges, those who build their foundations upon Jesus Christ, and have learned how to draw upon His power, need not succumb to the unique anxieties of this era.” (5) It is beneficial to realize that people are unique with unique problems that require individually-tailored solutions.
For example, my father and I dealt with fear and anxiety differently. Fear motivates him to action and I admire his courage. In contrast, fear demotivates me; it paralyzed me. I have unknowingly struggled with anxiety my whole life. What I have to do is rid myself of fear first. I have found that humbling myself before the Lord and surrendering to him helps me conquer fear. After Christ’s atoning power helps me dispel my fear, I can move. And so, in the words of Moroni, I say “I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written” (Ether 12:41). Faith in Jesus Christ will give us hope.
Alma taught: “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Faith and hope are connected in this definition. The apostle Elder Neal A. Maxwell expounded upon this connection, “Faith and hope are constantly interactive and are not always easily or precisely distinguished…Yet in the geometry of the restored theology, hope corresponds to faith but sometimes has a greater circumference. Faith, in turn, constitutes ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ and the proof of ‘things not seen’ (JST, Heb. 11:1; see also Ether 12:6). Thus hope sometimes reconnoiters beyond the present boundaries of faith, but it always radiates from Jesus.” (6) Jesus is the center of our faith, our faithful acts create a radius as we confidently walk the “straight and narrow” out from him towards the circumference of our hopes’ edges.
Our hopes are strengthened as our faith increases in Christ. Jacob instructed his people, “we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken” (Jacob 4:6). As we study the gospel, we find that the most important victory has already been won; Christ broke the chains of sin and death. When we meditate on Christ’s atonement, the spirit can increase our awareness of the resurrection’s reality. We will begin to hope more fully for the moment when we will meet Him. We might begin to “look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God” (Alma 5:15). We might imagine the Lord saying to us in that moment, “ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20). This moment should excite us!
As our “confidence [waxes] strong in the presence of God,” we will be more confident in our day to day lives too. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we will be able to have hope even when it is hardest to hope. Near the end of the LotR series, when darkness seemed poised to overcome the world, some found hope through one of the three types of Christ in the story. The resurrection of the wizard Gandalf in the following vignette helps two soldiers after they beheld one of the supernatural enemies flying over their head.
“‘What was that?’ Asked Beregond, ‘You also felt something?’
‘Yes,’ muttered Pippin. ‘It is the sign of our fall, and the shadow of doom, a Fell Rider of the air.’
‘Yes, the shadow of doom,’ said Beregond. ‘I fear that Minas Tirith shall fall. Night comes. The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away.’
For a time they sat together with bowed heads and did not speak. Then suddenly Pippin looked up and saw that the sun was still shining and the banners still streaming in the breeze. He shook himself. ‘It is passed,’ he said. ‘No, my heart will not yet despair. Gandalf fell and has returned and is with us. We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.’” (7)
As it was for Pippin, so can it be with us. Our testimonies of Christ and His resurrection can sustain us in our trials and challenges. It can bring us hope. We know how our stories end. We know who wins. All our trials will end and we will enter into His rest. Because of Christ, we can also know what we are supposed to be doing right now. And having this knowledge can bring us confidence and hope. The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “such was, and always will be, the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God they will grow weary in their minds, and faint.” (8) We are entitled to know by revelation what the Lord’s will is for us specifically. This is how we “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44).
This is my favorite part about the story of Ammon and the servants at the water of Sebus. Ammon is confident and full of so much hope, he can see opportunity in trials. He is this way because of revelation. He knows what God wants him to do. His father, king Mosiah, prayed and received direction from the Lord (Mosiah 28:6-7). Ammon and his brothers were sent by revelation (Alma 17:11) to the Lamanites and they were given promises (Mosiah 28:6-7). When difficulties arose, Ammon was not shaken, because he knew he was on the Lord’s errand. His confidence compared to the other servants at the waters of Sebus is so stark, it is comical.
Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways. Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already. Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words. And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren. (Alma 17:27-30)
Our experiences living by revelation will also give us faith and hope. When we have proven how “faithful” the Lord is to His servants (1 Corinthians 10:13), us, we will also become more faithful to Him. These experiences with God can inform our hopes, so when new trials come upon us, we can see them as opportunities to manifest God’s power. We can also see this at work in the story of the young shepherd David. When he sees the giant Goliath defying the armies of the Lord, he volunteers. He knows that the Lord will deliver him. He has history with the Lord. When Saul expressed doubts about sending a youth out to battle Goliath, David rehearsed two experiences when the Lord delivered David from harm: once against a lion and once against a bear (see 1 Samuel 17:34-37).
We too can compile our past successful experiences with the Lord into a portfolio of sorts, to bring out when we need to encourage ourselves or others. In this way, we can “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).
However, even with the memories of our previous successes, sometimes when we face Goliaths, we can still “misread” the situation. In fact, the scholar Malcolm Gladwell has argued that we may even be reading the David and Goliath conflict all wrong. (9) David with his sling actually had the advantage on that battlefield. A stone in the right person’s sling could have the equivalent “stopping power” of “a fair-size modern handgun.” Goliath has brought a sword to a metaphorical gun fight; it is actually the giant who should be terrified, not David. Gladwell reminds us that “the powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.”
The story of David teaches us repeatedly to look beyond the surface (1 Samuel 16:1-13). In this story, we can see ourselves as David, but we can also see Jesus as David. When we are up against giants in our lives, like the Israelite army, we can become scared. We may even doubt that Jesus has the power to deliver us from our challenges. But in the same way that David had the obvious and clear advantage over Goliath from the beginning, we can misread our own situations and forget that Christ is God. And “with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). He is “mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19). We can trust Him and have a “perfect brightness of hope” through his atonement (2 Nephi 31:20).
(1) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (New York; Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 838.
(3) Russell M. Nelson, “Make Time for the Lord,” (October 2021).
(5) Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundations,” (October 2021)
(6) Neal A. Maxwell, “Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” (October 1998).
(7) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 749.
(8) Joseph Smith Jr., Lectures on Faith, 6:4-7.
(9) Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013),6.
(10) Gladwell, David and Goliath, 11.
(11) Gladwell, David and Goliath, 14-15.