Be Not Afraid (Reposted from 30 December 2007)

All the anticipation of and conversation around the upcoming anniversary has reminded me of a powerful experience. I attended a fireside with my wife several years back at which President Hinckley spoke. He was sharply dressed (a light gray suit with a jet black tie and matching pocket-kerchief). I remember being somewhat surprised at his remarks, not because he said anything earth-shattering in itself, but because he seemed to deviate from his more typical folksy conventional wisdom at least topically, if not stylistically.

He warned his audience against the dangers of pessimism, of fearfulness, and of cynicism. He decried the negative, prone-to-criticize, venomous nature of both syndicated columnists and letter-to-editor writers. He plead with us to “stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight,” suggesting that we “turn from the negativism that so permeates our modern society and look for the remarkable good” and allow “optimism [to] replace pessimism, [and] our faith [to] exceed our fears.” He suggested that there would be trouble ahead, but that we should not despair, but “Look for the sunlight through the clouds.” “I am not suggesting,” he reminded us, “that you simply put on rose-colored glasses to make the world about you look better. I ask, rather, that you look above and beyond the negative, the cynical, the critical, the doubtful, to the positive and the affirmative.” He relayed the story of the ruler of the synagogue who, while pleading for Jesus to heal his daughter, learned from his servant that she had already died. Jesus told him, “be not afraid, only believe.”

“I commend,” echoed President Hinckley, ” those tremendous words to you. Be not afraid, only believe.”

Now, I admit, there is nothing remarkable or obviously prophetic or revelatory in itself here. Indeed, at the time the words struck me as somewhat unexpected (I had never heard him speak with such emphasis on the subject of optimism and not letting fear drive us), but I didn’t really walk out a changed man. The following day, Monday, people on BYU campus said little about his remarks but were all abuzz about his cool suit. It wasn’t until Tuesday, when a group of very angry and very confused men flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, that his words rang with prophetic magnitude in my memory.

Presumably, if President Hinckley had used the fireside as an occasion to warn Church members not to go to work if they worked at the WTC, more eyebrows would’ve been raised. I personally very much doubt that he knew what was coming. And I also doubt that such a direct and explicit warning would have convinced anyone that he is a prophet, seer, or revelator. But the totality of the experience — the subtle intrigue of the moment, the gravity of the subsequent events, the forcefulness with which my mind was driven to remembrance of his message, the meaning and significance they then assumed in hindsight, and the spiritual intensity of that moment — for me constituted a powerful confirmation, not that he could read and predict the future but that he was a chosen servant of God to lead His people.

[President Hinckley's September 9, 2001 CES Fireside address, "Be Not Afraid, Only Believe," is available here .]

Comments

  1. I always found that President Hinckley had a very uncanny knack of being able to say the right things for the right situations and often they seemed to be in anticipation of upcoming events.

    Like you, I do not think he “saw” 9-11 before it happened, but I think he may have felt the spirit telling him trouble was on the horizon.

    Thank you for reminding us of how fortunate we are to have modern day church leaders who are in tune with our Heavenly Father.

  2. What I don’t quite understand is why some people would want or expect the prophet to foresee such a cataclysmic event. It seems that there have been attempts to do so (especially related to counselling on saving money, getting out of debt and building up a food storage) over at least the last couple decades.

    How would the President of the Church predicting the terrorist attacks, a natural disaster or the market collapse possibly have advanced the cause of the Kingdom of God? Frankly, I think that the institutional church spends too much time on what basically amount to life-coach lessons and not enough time on the Gospel of repentance. Why do some people want to push the prophetic mantle further and further from “preach[ing] naught but repentance”?

  3. #2, I agree we should not expect our prophets to foresee such events, but rather I would submit the real test of the mantle of President/ Prophet, or for that matter any follower of Jesus of Nazareth, is how one responds to the “cataclysmic” event—does one rely on the arm of the flesh and endorse state sponsored revenge (or in Isaiah terms confederate with Egypt) in the form of invading two countries? Or does one emphatically “renounce” war as a policy and proclaim peace as required in the “immutable covenant” found in our sacred texts? That is the real test. How we doing as a faith community? Did we pass the test?

    Brad,
    thanks for sharing that fireside. Like the teams sent in to Iraq to find WMDs, I have and continue to look under every nook and cranny to find evidence of explicit or even implicit renunciations by our leaders of our current wars of aggression into Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan. I did find this quote from President Hinckley’s First Presidency Message in August of 2005 when he was referring to lessons we can learn from the BOM— the last sentence is, IMO, spot on:

    “I know of no other writing which sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. But with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living. These evil schemers led the people into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final and total extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.”

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