Isaiah prophesied of a time when “darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” But he promised that, in the midst of this darkness, “the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isaiah 60:2-3).
The word translated as “gross darkness” in this passage, araphel (עֲרָפֶל), refers to a heavy cloud. Unlike darkness, which is simply the absence of light, araphel actually prevents light from getting to you. Other translations of the Bible render it as “thick darkness” or “deep darkness.”
When Nephi and Lehi preached to Lamanites in prison, their listeners “were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness.” This darkness was only dispersed after they prayed for deliverance (Helaman 5:28-43).
After natural disasters which coincide with the death of Jesus Christ, the people described in the Book of Mormon experienced “thick darkness…upon all the face of the land.” Mormon tells us that they “could feel the vapor of darkness; and there could be no light, because of the darkness.” This darkness lasted for three days (3 Nephi 8:20-23).
Joseph Smith experienced something similar in a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York. As he prayed to know which church to join, he was “seized upon” by an evil power. “Thick darkness gathered round me,” he said, “and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.” As he pleaded with God for deliverance, a pillar of light freed him from this thick dark cloud (Joseph Smith—History 1:15-17).
The thick darkness in these stories typify the confusion and despair which we can easily succumb to during our mortal lives. In 1837, during a very dark time for the Church, the Lord testified that the day prophesied by Isaiah had come:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face.Doctrine and Covenants 112:23
On March 31, 2020, shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, President Russell M. Nelson spoke of darkness and light in a social media post:
Amid the gloomy darkness of a troubled world, the light of Jesus Christ shines ever brighter. He can speak truth to our hearts and minds as we seek Him and learn to hear Him.
Today, I will remember that God’s light can pierce even the thickest darkness. When I am perplexed or when I feel discouraged, I will turn my heart to God and plead for deliverance with faith that He will send His light.