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Combating COVID-19 with fasting, faith and reason

From their knees, the people of the world should look up, petition heaven for help and then rise up.

President Russell M. Nelson, center, waves at the crowd following the women’s session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. He is inviting the world to join together in a Good Friday fast to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

People knocked to their knees by adversity or calamity often find that in order to get up, it is wise to first pause while on their knees, look up and petition heaven for help.

The novel coronavirus has indeed knocked the nations of the world with a force that has rocked the global economy, baffled scientists and doctors, crippled communities, cost individual lives and tested leadership at every level of government and business.

One world-renowned heart surgeon, who also happens to be a world religious leader, believes that nations on their knees in fasting and prayer will be the beginning to rising up from this knee-buckling pandemic. Russell M. Nelson is president of the 16 million-member global faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also spent decades as a pioneering heart surgeon. To him, things of science and things of the spiritual are inseparable.

This past weekend, the faith’s annual general conference was held exclusively online instead of at the church’s 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City due to COVID-19. President Nelson said, “During times of deep distress, as when illness reaches pandemic proportions, the most natural thing for us to do is to call upon our Heavenly Father and His Son — the Master Healer — to show forth Their marvelous power to bless the people of the earth.”

President Nelson issued an invitation and call to a day of fasting and prayer. He said, “For all whose health may permit, let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again. Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic. I invite all, including those not of our faith, to fast and pray on Good Friday, April 10, that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.”

The 95-year-old President Nelson cited examples of people across the Old and New testaments who gave themselves to fasting, including Moses, David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Isaiah, Daniel, Joel and the Apostle Paul. He noted that Jesus Christ “Himself declared that certain things go ‘not out but by prayer and fasting.’”

President Nelson reminded people everywhere that the law of the fast and the principle of prayer unite the people of the earth in unique and powerful ways. He has a rare perspective emanating from his professional training as a surgeon and scientist, forged as an alloy with his rigorous pursuit of faith and spirituality as a world religious leader.

In a recent social media video, President Nelson emphasized that, “As a physician and surgeon, I have tremendous respect for the medical professionals, scientists and others who are working around the clock to curb the spread of COVID-19.”

I wrote recently that a pandemic is no time for the divisiveness of false choices. Science and spirituality are indeed complementary and connecting, elevating and empowering. A day of fasting and prayer should be combined with every citizen taking every precaution and pursuing every scientific solution that can be found. The people of the earth really should unite and give faith and reason a try.

Of his faith in fasting and prayer, President Nelson remarked, “As President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, I know that God has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; He comprehendeth all things, and He is a merciful Being.” He concluded, “Let us unite in pleading for healing throughout the world. Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!”

The strength of his scientific steel and the inviting gentleness of his velvet-touch faith are galvanized in President Nelson’s invitation to the people of the world to call on God through fasting and prayer. It is a velvet and steel combination that could transform the current calamity into a most extraordinary moment.

In one of the most trying times in American history, Abraham Lincoln recalled, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

In the midst of a global pandemic with nations brought to their knees, perhaps a day of fasting and prayer will be the beginning of better days to come. From their knees, the people of the world should look up, petition heaven for help and then rise up.