A Message of Hope in These Troubled Times: 1st in a Series!

This is the first in a series of articles that will offer counsel and encouragement to people everywhere as we face the pandemic currently sweeping the earth.

By Apostle Gary R. Whiting

And it came to pass that when they had done all these things, they got aboard their vessels or barges, and set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land: and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind. And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep, there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; Therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters, they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters. And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land, while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind; And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the Brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord. And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water. And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water; and they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land, they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them. And it came to pass that they went forth upon the face of the land, and began to till the earth (Ether 3:5-15).

This is a story which happened thousands of years before our day and yet has contemporary applications. I am writing from my home in a county of the United States which just entered a 30-day lock down or stay at home order issued by the Chief Medical Officer of the county. The intent of this order is to halt the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is now sweeping across the world and the United States.

An effective way to stop person-person spread of an illness is to separate people and isolate sick people from those who are well. From a public health perspective, keeping people separated and in their homes is a good and effective way to prevent illness.

How does this relate to the Jaredites in their barges?

The Jaredites were a group of people, a community, who had spent a long time together. They were in the midst of a journey together and now they were facing a long separation from each other. They knew they would be separated and there was no way of knowing how long they would be isolated from each other.

From the description in the text it seems unlikely that they had the opportunity to travel as a fleet or even able to contact one another. Once they boarded the eight barges, they were eight groups in isolation. They started on the same journey, but what was their assurance that they would arrive at their destination—their mutual, hoped for promised land—together.

Ether 3:5 uses the phrase “when they had done all these things, they got aboard.” We know this refers to all of their pre-voyage preparations. As we begin to apply this event to our current situation, this phrase refers to all of the things we did before the current pandemic and the public health response. As cities, we lived together in relative freedom. We lived our lives as we had always done, more or less following the course of our desires and hopes. We counted on friends, family, relationships, jobs and plans to move forward and now we are isolated.

The Jaredites boarded their vessels voluntarily. The same cannot be said of us. Their reason was an ocean that needed to be crossed. Our reason is to survive a viral pandemic. A different start and yet similar.

The Jaredites were as prepared as they could be for their journey. They had been working towards it for a long time and yet when they got on their boats, they entered new territory. They did not know how long the trip would take and despite some experience making and using boats, an ocean journey was new to them.

Many of us were unprepared for the situation we find ourselves in. In the memory of most people, there has not been an illness of this proportion come upon us so quickly. Physically and spiritually most of us were not prepared for this. In this we are not the same as the Jaredites, but in another way we are. We do not know how difficult the journey will be and we do not know how long it will last.

The Jaredites did not appear to have a gentle cruise across the great sea. They were driven by a “furious wind” sent by God to push them across the sea to the promised land. The barges were “tossed upon the waves of the sea.” They were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. (Ether 3:7)

There are two important items to note in the verses that follow. Their vessels were designed by the Lord and they held up against the waves and the wind and when they were in peril or distressed they cried unto the Lord and He set them on top of the water again. (Ether 3:8-9)

This is a good time to back up and point out an important item of their preparation. In Ether 3:5, when they boarded the vessels to go forth into the sea, they commended themselves unto the Lord. They were on the Lord’s journey and had faith that He would lead them through until they reached the promised land. When trouble hit them, they did not abandon their faith in God, they clutched all the more firmly to their God.

At the outset of this journey through a sea of unknowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we who have faith in Jesus Christ, commend ourselves unto the Lord. When the journey gets rough we know it is time to hold onto Christ and His word. Satan will tempt us to give up on God saying, “Look, he can’t protect you!” The proper response to this is, “Get thee behind me Satan!”

The text relates that the wind never stopped blowing and they were driven across the sea. It does not sound peaceful and yet it seems they had peace. There is an aspect of the doctrine of Christ that is hard for us to fathom sometimes—enduring to the end. It is a reference to keeping the faith until the end of our mortal lives, but it is also a key to coming through the trials of life we all face, such as a bouncing boat ride across an ocean for 344 days. How did they do it?

Their endurance was in doing the thing they began with, commending themselves to the Lord. They sang praises to the Lord and gave thanks to the Lord through the days and nights of their journey (Ether 3:11). They kept doing it every day for the entire 344 days.

Everyone of us, wherever we are in the world dealing with this health crisis, can and should follow the example of the Jaredites, in their isolated and difficult journey. Commend ourselves to the Lord now, cry to the Lord in our peril for mercy and deliverance and spend our days in worship and praise of our God through the name of Jesus Christ until He sees us through to the other side.

What happened to the Jaredites when they reached the promised land? They all arrived safely and together. There is no report of any deaths on that journey, nor mention of any lost or unaccounted for boats. When they “set their feet upon the shores of the promised land, they bowed themselves down before the Lord, humbled themselves and shed tears of joy because of the tender mercies of the Lord unto them. (Ether 3:14)

This present crisis will end some day. Unless the Lord tells us, we will not know how long it will last. The Jaredites have taught us how to begin, how to endure through the event and they have taught us how we must complete this journey. When it is over, “as soon as our feet touch the shore,” we must be ready to bow down, humble ourselves before God and thank him for his tender mercies toward us. We do not know if he will preserve all of us from COVID-19, or not. That should not change our reliance upon Him or our worship of Him. We must believe He knows where we are being driven and ultimately it is into Zion, the kingdom of God. The promised land He gave to us and our children for an inheritance in D&C 38.

There is one more lesson to be learned from the Jaredite adventure. The land they stepped into from the boats was altogether different than the one they left when they stepped into the boats. In Ether 3:15 we see that they set about establishing themselves in the land. They began to till the earth.
Brothers and sisters, it is quite likely that the land into which we step after COVID-19 will be significantly changed from the one we knew before the pandemic and the isolation orders. The economics will be different, some laws will change, the political situation will be altered, people are likely to be stressed and the influence of the church may be diminished even more than today because the Saints have not gathered together as before.

One thing will remain the same, the God who designed and directs our lives does not change. We can be sure we will be closer to the coming of Christ at that time than we are now. Remember to commend yourselves, your family, your friends to the Lord each day and thank him when this crisis is over by worshiping our God in the name of Jesus Christ and then get back to the kingdom work in the new landscape where we find ourselves.