The Book of Mormon records that upon the crucifixion of Christ, there was darkness upon the land of Lehi’s posterity for a period of three days. Out of that darkness, the survivors of the earthquakes and other calamities that accompanied Christ’s death heard a voice out of heaven. It was the voice of the Savior, and he asked his surviving but oft wayward people three questions:
“How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.”
“How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.”
“How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if we will repent and return to me with full purpose of heart.”
(3 Nephi 10:4-6)
These queries, posed to a people collectively, might fairly be asked of us individually, as we measure our own spiritual standing and our relationship with Christ.
The first question, to me, sparks our memories of how the “tender mercies of God” have been demonstrated in our lives. Each of us should be able to point to moments in our personal history when God’s mercy has rescued us from some danger, great or small. We might have seen a way of escape from a temptation, the avoidance of serious physical harm, or gentle comfort that could be found from no other source. We have felt the warmth of Christ’s protective wings, shielding us from dangers that might otherwise overwhelm us.
The second question reminds us of our occasional stubbornness in rejecting the Lord’s protection. Pride leads all of us to believe from time to time that we can see the path clearly for ourselves and that we are perfectly capable of traveling it alone. We seek our own avenues of escape and lean on the arm of the flesh for our protection. As we do so, we invariably experience the disappointment of learning that we simply aren’t that capable on our own, and that without the light of the Spirit, our vision is poorly limited. The Savior calls to us, but we choose to listen to other voices. No matter how good we are, each of us wanders from the safe gospel nest every now and then. And in those moments, we sometimes fear that we are no longer welcomed at home.
The final question is a message of hope. How often will the Lord gather us under His protective wings? As many times as we repent and turn to Him. Anyone who has been responsible for the welfare of others–I think particularly of parents–knows the frustration of offering help to those in our care, only to have our hands slapped away. Human nature is such that, after time, we weary of offering such assistance and leave the recalcitrant to their own devices.
Christ’s nature, however, is quite different. His message is that as many times as we stumble off into the darkness, He invites us back to the light. There always is room under His wings, and He will gather us as often as we need Him to. This promise of patient protection is a great source of hope, knowing that we do not run out of chances to take advantage of the blessings of the Atonement. When we find ourselves exposed to all of the harsh elements of mortality, we have the assurance that shelter always is available under the wings of He who never will forget us or forsake us.