Bailey: This opinion-editorial was written by President Nelson, and appeared in the Arizona Republic today, the same day that he spoke to the Arizona saints at Cardinal Stadium in Glendale. Oh how fun would it have been to be there!
Editor's note: LDS President Russell M. Nelson wrote this piece as part of his visit to the Valley on Feb. 10.
My wife, Wendy, and I visited Paradise, California, last month to meet with and comfort those affected by the horrific Camp Fire that left as many as 86 dead and destroyed more than 18,000 structures last November.
When we planned our visit, we had no way of knowing that just 40 hours prior to our leaving, we would lose our daughter Wendy to cancer.
We flew to California with heavy hearts.
In Paradise, we witnessed utter devastation. The city was destroyed. The aftermath was staggering — families homeless, businesses gone, children still haunted by the night they fled for their lives.
But that tragedy also revealed the best of humanity — first responders racing to help others as their own homes burned, families helping older neighbors out of harm’s way, residents and neighbors working tirelessly to help the refugees.
Compassion is a powerful tool
As we tried to comfort those still reeling from the disaster, they seemed more concerned about how we were doing in our time of loss.
As we tearfully looked into each other’s hearts, the blackened chimneys and a sea of ash seemed to fade into the background. Our shared faith that God would heal our hearts and help us rebuild our lives knit our hearts together in love and allowed us to experience “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). We flew home sobered by what we had seen but also inspired by the goodness of so many. We were comforted by the reassurance that God watches over His suffering children.
If there is anything I’ve learned in my 94 years of living, it is that a life with God is far better — more filled with hope — than one without Him. Faith in God is, and has always been, the pre-eminent force for good in this world. It is the most enduring source of peace for minds and hearts.
What we experienced in Paradise, with men and women whose hearts were open to God, stands in stark contrast to much of what we see in the world today. I fear that many are standing on the edge of a spiritual and emotional precipice. Not long ago, belief in God was a given and expressions of faith the norm.
But in recent years, we have experienced a shift from a world in which it seemed impossible not to believe in God to one in which faith is simply an option — and far too often subject to ridicule.
When God is removed from our collective conscience, there are sobering ramifications. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, formerly Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, insisted that “what the secularists forgot is that Homo sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal."
"If there is one thing the great institutions of the modern world do not do, it is to provide meaning” ("Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence" , 13).
Indeed, human souls yearn to understand the purpose of life and to realize that God knows and cares about them.
As a young surgical resident at the University of Minnesota Hospitals in the early 1950s, I was on the research team that built the heart-lung machine that allowed the first surgical access to the open, beating human heart.
Working alongside brilliant minds (there and elsewhere) was exhilarating. But human intelligence has its limits. As a surgeon, I repaired hundreds of hearts. But my skills could not heal heartache, or erase grief, or salve emotional wounds. Nothing man-made can ever approach what God can do for His children.
The most able minds cannot offer redemption from sin or heal our hearts from emotional pain. They cannot generate enduring hope or joy. They cannot promise life after death or the potential of being with our loved ones beyond the grave. They cannot generate peace of mind.
But God can. Our spiritual DNA is His DNA. If our hearts are open to Him — if we believe in the divinity of the Father and His Son — we can rise from the ashes of our lives and become the men and women we were sent to earth to become.
I thought I knew how to repair hearts
After three decades of doing cardiac surgery around the world, I thought I knew a little something about repairing hearts. Then I was called as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. In that moment, my focus shifted instantly to healing hearts another way — by turning all who will listen to the Master Healer, Jesus the Christ.
For the last 35 years, I have traveled the world, meeting with millions of men and women in more than 130 countries. I’ve witnessed the effects of poverty and wealth, seen the impact of education and the lack thereof, met the high in station and the humblest of souls, and been gratified by humanitarian outreach from so many who care deeply about the human condition — including the Church I now have the privilege of leading.
But the most profound thing I’ve witnessed is the unrivaled difference that belief in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, has in a person’s life. There is simply nothing to compare with the refining, ennobling strength and meaning that come into the life of a devoted believer and servant.
This is not to suggest that faith in God eliminates challenges. It does not. We will all experience the vicissitudes of life.
Financial stress, ill health, fractured relationships and dreams, personal loss, unfairness at the hands of conspiring men and women — each of these can fill our hearts with anxiety and fear.
But it is my conviction that our Savior can strengthen and enable us to reach our highest highs and be able to cope with our lowest lows. As an ordained Apostle of Jesus Christ, I invite you to seek to know for yourself that He is the Master Healer. He has the capacity to heal you from sin and sadness, from despair and heartache. I saw this healing balm among the people of Paradise, California, and I have felt it personally again and again, including recently in the passing of our precious daughter.
Whatever your faith tradition or personal circumstances, as a servant of the Lord, I invite you to look to Him and make Him the center of your life. Pour out your heart to God and ask Him for His help. He will infuse your life with meaning and fill your heart with hope that transcends anything the world can offer.
Russell M. Nelson is president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.