First Presidency: Amid fear, isolation and sorrow of COVID-19 — the answer to conflict is faith

This is the conclusion of a series of counsel from members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the COVID-19 outbreak. Read counsel from President M. Russell BallardElder Jeffrey R. HollandElder Dieter F. UchtdorfElder David A. BednarElder Quentin L. CookElder D. Todd Christofferson, Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Ronald A. RasbandElder Gary E. StevensonElder Dale G. RenlundElder Gerrit W. Gong and Elder Ulisses Soares.

Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic limited religious observance globally, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed there is and has always been one answer to conflict — faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“The road ahead will always be bumpy; the destination will be serene and secure,” said President Russell M. Nelson.

Capping a series of Church News articles on the COVID-19 pandemic, President Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency — President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring — reflected on the pandemic that caused illness and death, stifled economies, altered missionary assignments, closed schools, and curtailed Church meetings and daily routines across the globe.

“What I feel about the pandemic is sorrow,” said President Nelson, speaking of those worldwide who have faced — and continue to face — dire circumstances or disappointment.

Then he added: “I’ve learned that even through clouds of sorrow, there can be silver linings found.”

President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday May 29, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson are interviewed in Salt Lake City on Friday May 29, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Some people look at COVID-19 as a punishment for the wicked, said President Oaks. “We prefer to look on COVID-19 as an opportunity for the righteous to grow.”

The “crucial thing,” added President Eyring, is to “connect with God” — to have the feeling that “God is walking with you. It is a feeling of trusting in the Lord, that He is watching over you. … The only way to deal with fear is faith.”

President Nelson, President Oaks and President Eyring said Church leaders saw what needed to be done and responded with “unprecedented action” — suspending meetings, closing temples and directing the return of thousands of missionaries to their home countries. Then, as circumstances allowed and opportunities arose, they also found ways for members to safely gather, for temple work to be performed and for missionaries to safely share the gospel message.

Timeline: How the Church has responded to the global COVID-19 pandemic

President Oaks said President Nelson’s leadership and measured response to the crisis reminded him of a verse heard in his childhood. “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

President Nelson “wanted to be sure that he was sensitive to difficulty” and made decisions “with a concern for people,” said President Eyring.

Peace

President Oaks said the challenges that have defined 2020 are not without precedent; in the lifetime of many Latter-day Saints, the world has faced war, pestilence, drought and depression, he said.

“The principles we want our members to understand about COVID-19 and dealing with COVID-19 are the same fundamentals of faith and obedience that our Church leaders have always taught our members,” he said.

The result of obedience to the commandments and faith in the Lord is peace, said President Oaks. Quoting John 14:27, he emphasized the Lord’s promise to those who suffer: “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, walk through the South visitors' center prior to a press conference in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 19, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, left, and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, right, walk through the South visitors’ center prior to a press conference in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 19, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

With this confidence, Latter-day Saints have taken advantage of opportunities over the past six months to increase their focus on service, embrace home-centered worship and complete family history work. “I’ve learned how marvelous our members are,” said President Nelson. “Individual heroes have emerged. For example, countless health care professionals and providers have risked their own lives to care for others.”

In addition, the home is now “reenthroned as the primary sanctuary of their faith,” missionaries “are teaching more than ever,” and Latter-day Saint voluntary fast offering and humanitarian aid contributions have increased, he said.

Church members, said President Eyring, “surprise you by how well they adapt and move through difficult times. I’ve been tremendously impressed with the response of the members to stay steady.”

President Russell M. Nelson shakes Carol Costley's hand at the end of the women's session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, on the right, at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson shakes Carol Costley’s hand at the end of the women’s session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, on the right, at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Credit: Colter Peterson, Deseret News

In the Book of Mormon, Lehi taught his son Jacob to remember the greatness of God, who “will consecrate thine afflictions, for thy gain,” said President Oaks. “That scriptural principle applies to what we’re going through in COVID-19.”

In referencing the 2 Nephi 2:2 verse, he said, “It would be a true principle to say that when faith is tested and when we respond, faith grows.”

Church members, added President Eyring, cannot see the end but are going forward with faith that the Lord “has set us on the path and it will be wonderful.”

Gathering

During the past six months, the First Presidency has most missed regular and personal contact with Church members worldwide, they each said.

“The scriptures tell us to gather together to worship,” said President Oaks. Leaders look forward to the time members can again assemble in large groups, “even though we cherish the ways that have been authorized and promoted to carry on when we can’t gather together.”

Until then, some of the spiritual power of gathering has been duplicated with technology, said President Eyring.

President Oaks said the Church leaders have appreciated the importance of shaking hands and embracing, which can’t be done by video conferencing. “But how essential is that? We don’t know,” he added.

President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency participate in the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar, transmitted worldwide via technology on June 26, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency participate in the 2020 Mission Leadership Seminar, transmitted worldwide via technology on June 26, 2020. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

It is clear that there is power in leaders being with the Saints and in the Saints being with one another, said President Eyring.

“We are grateful for the technology that has allowed us to continue to communicate with our members and to allow our leaders to do the same,” said President Oaks. “And we appreciate the faithful way that our members have continued to teach and minister by a variety of means during this time.”

Church leaders

President Nelson, President Oaks and President Eyring said Church leaders continue to respond to the pandemic in ways that are prudent — not just because of their age, which puts them in a high-risk category, but because they are taking all the steps necessary to protect those around them.

“I am avoiding the situations which are obviously dangerous,” said President Eyring. “I am trying as much as I can to do everything not to be the one who exposes others.”

There has been little discussion about the age of Church leaders, said President Oaks, noting that high-risk members were taken into account when decisions have been made about gathering and temple work.

President Oaks said his hope for members of the Church during this time has been the same as always — that they find joy and peace through obedience and faith.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Massimo De Feo, General Authority Seventy, left; and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, Area Seventy, right, walk near the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019, after meeting with Pope Francis.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Massimo De Feo, General Authority Seventy, left; and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, Area Seventy, right, walk near the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019, after meeting with Pope Francis. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Now, in addition to that, Church leaders worry about the physical, financial and emotional effects of COVID-19.

“I ache when I think of the number of Latter-day Saints who because of the pandemic are in real difficulty,” said President Eyring.

Included on that list are young people completing their education and entering a job market amid great difficulty and those who are retired — whose financial savings and investments have been diminished.

President Oaks said much can be learned by reflecting on the suffering of the Prophet Joseph Smith. “He was in Liberty Jail, and he had been imprisoned, was faced with a possible death sentence, while his wife and children and the Saints were being driven out of Missouri in the middle of the winter. He pleaded with the Lord to relieve the Saints and to give some relief from this situation.”

The Lord’s reply is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”

Endurance, said President Oaks, is part of the challenge. “But peace and exaltation are the promised effects of keeping commandments and trusting in the Lord.”

A fundamental Christian message and promise — those who trust in the Lord will receive His promised blessings — is found in the teachings of Paul, added President Oaks.

Paul taught the Galatians, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Future

Though filled with appreciation for the efforts of public health workers, scientists and government officials during the unusual challenges, President Oaks said he is impressed with the fact the world is still dealing with “considerable ignorance about the most important questions we have about COVID-19.”

“It’s evident that scientists and public health workers and political leaders have struggled with incomplete knowledge of what to do and say and require, and when they have pretended to have more knowledge than they have, they have fallen short.”

Science is not a perfect knowledge, added President Eyring. “Science is a way of approximating reality.”

President Russell M. Nelson, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, look over items removed from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson, center, and his counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, look over items removed from the Salt Lake Temple capstone time capsule in Salt Lake City on Wednesday May 20, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Although he could, President Nelson — a surgeon with medical and scientific expertise — is not speculating on what will happen with the pandemic, they emphasized. Instead, he is gathering the best information, seeking inspiration from the Lord, and moving forward with deliberateness, the counselors observed.

“God is in His Heaven,” said President Eyring. “This is the true Church of Jesus Christ … both Heavenly Father and the Savior are guiding us and protecting us. And if we can rely on Them, all will be well.”

The way forward is clear, President Oaks added, quoting Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

The Lord directs His Church, said President Nelson.

“Through it all, we know that members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators,” he said. “They trace their family roots from four continents, so each contributes to a very diverse and powerful pool of wisdom. Each has been called to be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. …”

“We are not through with revelation or with the Restoration,” he said. “The Lord will accomplish many wonderful things before He comes again.”