It is a story referenced in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It is a story that can sound pretty scary, especially when “fiery flying serpents” are mentioned. It is a story that can also leave us dumbfounded.
“How could they not look?” we exclaim. “It is such an easy thing to do!”
The Israelites, as they were prone to do, began to murmur against God because of the hardness of their continued journey in the wilderness. This came just after He helped them “utterly destroy” their enemy, the Caananties. In the Book of Numbers we read that “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.”
Nephi also related the experience: “And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them.”
In spite of the destruction, the Lord prepared a way for the people to be healed.
“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.”
Simple enough, right? Not exactly. We learn in the Book of Mormon that many perished because they refused to look. On the surface, the Israelites seem totally foolish and we can find ourselves judging them rather harshly. However, when we take a look at why they kept their eyes downcast, we may find our experiences are more similar than we think.
Nephi tells us that “the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.”
The snake, lifted up, was a representation of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ is founded upon the truth that through the Atonement, mankind is saved. Not only will we overcome death, but we can find comfort, forgiveness, and yes, healing. But do we believe?
For many members, we believe up until we get to the point where we’re asked to believe God’s promises apply to us. We believe Christ lives. We believe Christ was the Son of God and did everything the scriptures and modern-day prophets proclaim He did. However, as Stephen E. Robinson has said, “To have faith in Jesus Christ is not merely to believe that he is who he says he is. It is not merely to believe in Christ; we must also believe Christ.”
So what hinders us from believing Christ? What keeps us from looking up and being healed? Here are three possibilities.
The Atonement Applies…to Everyone But Me.
We can look at someone else and know assuredly that God loves them and wants to help them. But when it comes to our own situation, we often think we’re without hope. We’ve sinned too greatly. We’ve gone too far. God can’t possibly love us, let alone want to help us. We somehow become the exception to the offer of Christ’s infinite love.
The Atonement Applies…but Only If I’m Good Enough.
The grace of Christ is freely given. Even though Christ wants us to follow him, and keeping the commandments changes our hearts, we can’t ever earn our way to heaven without grace. However, Satan can twist our sense of duty into something sinister. We believe the Atonement may work, but we’ve got to be good enough. If only we ready our scriptures more regularly, serve more regularly, do better…then we’ll be able to enjoy grace.
In Fact, I’m Just Not Good Enough.
Many people just don’t believe they’re celestial material. They look at their weaknesses and feel hopeless. Even if we feel we’re doing our best, it’s not enough for all God has promised. We think we will just have to settle for a lesser reward. There are even those who find the idea living righteously and eventually obtaining eternal life intimidating or overwhelming.
We may be imperfect now. We may fail time and time again. However, we need to remember God’s ultimate goal, and Christ’s, is our glory. They want us to look to them and live. It can be one of the hardest things for our minds to wrap around sometimes. You? Me? Really? But it’s true. It’s exciting. It’s joyful. No matter what flying fiery trial is causing you pain, no matter how stiff your neck may feel, there is healing available. We just need to try and believe.