There is a brief but dramatic story in the book of Numbers. The children of Israel are being bitten by poisonous snakes. Moses heals them by means of a small sculpture mounted on a pole:
And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.Numbers 21:6-9
Several Book of Mormon prophets referenced this story. Nephi and Alma, in particular, added a further dimension to it:
- Nephi indicated that some people refused to look. The action of looking at the brass serpent was just too simple for them. They couldn’t bring themselves to do it. (See 1 Nephi 17:41.)
- Alma explained the thought process behind this irrational behavior: “Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them” (Alma 33:20).
Tragic but relatable, isn’t it? How often do we refuse to try something because we’ve decided in advance that it won’t work? How much more could we accomplish, how many problems could we avoid or overcome, if we conquered our fears and took advantage of the opportunities God has made available to us?
One person who is not afraid to try new things is President Russell M. Nelson. After a successful career as a heart surgeon, he serves today as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Shortly after the COVID-19 vaccine became available for his age group, President Nelson posted the following on social media:
Later that day, the First Presidency of the Church released a statement which included the following guidance:
The Church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization. Individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination. In making that determination, we recommend that, where possible, they counsel with a competent medical professional about their personal circumstances and needs.“The First Presidency and Apostles Over Age 70 Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine,” News Release, 19 January 2021
About two months later, church leaders added the following to the policy section of the church’s General Handbook:
Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the Church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children, and their communities through vaccination.General Handbook, 38.7.13
In December 1832, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord lamented that His children are often unwilling to receive the gifts He offers them:
What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.Doctrine and Covenants 88:33
When the children of Israel were suffering from snakebites, they didn’t ask for a brass serpent. They wanted the poisonous snakes gone. God didn’t remove the snakes, and He didn’t stop them from biting people. Instead, He provided a gift which would nullify the effect of the snakebites. But the children of Israel had to do something to receive the gift: they had to look up.
Receiving God’s gifts often requires an act of faith on our part.
Today, I will accept the gifts God has given me by acting in faith. I will encourage my family and friends to be wise, to look up, and to receive the gifts God has made available to them.