Considering “A Warning at Night”

Often, when we’re sleeping comfortably, we don’t like to be disturbed. And we especially don’t like the lights turned on because it’s too much for our dilated pupils. When I was in elementary school, just about every morning my mother would switch on the bedroom light and call cheerfully, “Up and at ’em!” I probably grumbled about that routine more than once.

Light of a different sort—divine light—can be shed on us in varying amounts over time. A little bit of correction from a caring family member, friend, or leader can decrease the darkness in our lives a shade. The Lord may send a message through the Holy Ghost or the scriptures that increases the clarity of our sight. His prophet, apostles, or missionaries may preach in ways that significantly increase our understanding. Sometimes that light comes a as a blatant and even urgent warning. But how do we receive that light? Do we embrace it, take it in, let it illuminate our steps—or do we fight against it and tell its Source to cut it out and leave us alone?

Prophesying of a future time where Jesus Christ’s gospel would be absent from the earth, Isaiah said, “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Isaiah 60:2). When the Prophet Joseph Smith came along in the 1820s, teaching the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that “righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 7:62), people in his community quickly became angry, continuing a pattern experienced by prophets of God throughout history.

In his final days, the ancient prophet Lehi feared for those of his sons who repeatedly turned away from the light of the gospel, and he issued this last, desperate plea to them: “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, … And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, … Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Nephi 1:13, 14, 21, 23). But these sons failed to listen even to this.

With that same kind of concern about the condition of His children, the Lord said in a revelation in 1831, “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:17–18). But as in the Parable of a Warning at Night, the new light glared too brightly for some.

This topic reminds me of a true story that shares some elements with the parable. Wilford Woodruff, an associate of Joseph Smith’s who later became fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, heeded a warning that involved a windstorm and a tree:

I drove my carriage one evening into the yard of Brother Williams [a local member of the Church]. Brother Orson Hyde [of the Quorum of the Twelve] drove a wagon by the side of mine. I had my wife and children in the carriage. After I turned out my team and had my supper, I went to bed in the carriage. I had not been there but a few minutes when the Spirit said to me, ‘Get up and move that carriage.’ I told my wife I had to get up and move the carriage. She said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ That is all she asked me on such occasions; when I told her I did not know, that was enough. I got up and moved my carriage. … I then looked around me and went to bed. The same Spirit said, ‘Go and move your animals from that oak tree.’ … I went and moved my horses and put them in a little hickory grove. I again went to bed.

In thirty minutes a whirlwind came up and broke that oak tree off within two feet from the ground. It swept over three or four fences and fell square in that dooryard, near Brother Orson Hyde’s wagon, and right where mine had stood. What would have been the consequences if I had not listened to that Spirit? Why, myself and wife and children doubtless would have been killed. That was the still, small voice to me—no earthquake, no thunder, no lightning; but the still, small voice of the Spirit of God. It saved my life. It was the spirit of revelation to me.

Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 47

As interested as the Lord is in the preservation of our mortal lives, that which is of even greater importance to Him finds expression in what happened several hundred years after those sons of Lehi were unmoved by the pleadings of his final days. When some of their descendants were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, they allowed it to change them, as typified by a spiritual experience of one of their kings: “the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, … this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God” (Alma 19:6).

The fact that our pupils dilate in darkness shows that we are created to seek light. Our Heavenly Father and Savior want us to seek and embrace light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). To embrace the light and truth that come from Jesus Christ is to embrace Him. I love this promise He gave in these latter days: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24). Receiving light, even when it startles us out of spiritual complacency or sleep—or, perhaps, especially then—will save us from the danger posed by the windstorms of life.

Photo by James Wheeler on

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