Be Not Afraid

Recent discussion at BCC 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 .]


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    A great, prophetic message indeed.

  2. Well written post Brad.

    President Hinckley makes another interesting point in that address, we “must distinguish between truth and sophistry”.

  3. Kathleen Petty says:

    Someone asked E. O. Wilson in an interview if he were an optimist or a pessimist about the future. His quick reply was, “An optimist of course. What choice is there?” I always remember we are asked to “have faith”, in the imperative voice.

  4. Brad–a great message to start the new year out. We are blessed to have a prophet. It’s great to see this kind of post.

    It’s takes these kinds of messages to keep us from sinking into the cares of the world and adopting road rage, word rage, economic rage, political rage, war rage, and so on, as a life style.

  5. Brad,

    I like this very much. In particular, I like the way you’ve situated prophecy not just in a particular kind of predictive speech act, but in the complicated, meaning-making nexus between prophet-speaker, disciple-hearer, and history. You suggest (I think) a certain appealing consistency between the process of interpreting scripture and interpreting contemporary prophecy.

  6. Wonderful, Brad. Thanks.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, excellent thoughts. I echo Kristine’s appreciation of how a prophet mediates both a predictive and a world-making model. Great stuff.

  8. Awesome.

  9. Brad,

    [what Kristine said]

  10. I haven’t commented here in a while… mostly I’ve just been lurking. I just wanted to echo the sentiments of the others who have thanked you for posting this.
    I wasn’t a member of the church when President Hinckley gave that fireside, but “Be Not Afraid” was the constant chorus I received from my LDS friends during my conversion process. It was their response to everything, pray, trust in God’s love, and Be Not Afraid. That phrase has held a very special place in my heart since then.
    The words mean so much more for me now that I know what they were originally meant for.
    I am so thankful that we have a prophet to relay messages like this for us.
    Thank you again for blogging this.

  11. Very cool. I hadn’t read that before, and I really like it. It gives me something to think about for the New Year.

    I was especially interested in your last sentence, as you explain why you found the moment testimony-building or faith-promoting. I think it would benefit all of us to read and hear more of that kind of analysis of our faith.

  12. This reminds me of the time he spoke forcefully about getting out of debt, food storage, and emergency preparedness in conference, and pointed out that he was not predicting a global calamity. This was the October conference of 2000 IIRC, and the next year the stock market went poof. Prophets provide us with sound counsel if we listen. The real interesting part from my perspective is that you have to listen when times are good for the advise to mean anything to you for when the times are bad.

  13. Typo alert: Presideny Hinckley.

    Other than that, great work. I like it.

  14. Thank, Brad, I had not seen this before. Too often I think the world is looking for prophets to talk about specific events and doom and gloom. This message of hope is wonderful, and I am sharing it with my youngest son who is off to college tomorrow, on his own for the first time. I think he is the perfect target audience for this message.

  15. Brad,

    Thank you for this post. As somone frequently entangled in cynicism and negativity I needed it. I have always felt that President Hinckley’s remarkable positivity and excitement has been his distinguishing trait as a Prophet.

  16. In other words, don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but don’t wear grey-colored ones, either.

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