Safety First

Last week the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that due to the coronavirus pandemic currently working its way through the human population, all public meetings of the church, including weekly worship services and weekday activities, are cancelled until further notice. On Sunday we had a church meeting in our home, with songs, prayers, and scripture lessons. We prayed for all of the people who are sick, and for the doctors and nurses who are taking care of them. I wonder whether I will soon be one of those doctors.

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection passed from person to person through casual social contact, similar to influenza, but the coronavirus is many times more deadly. By the time you identify your first case of the disease within a social group there are many more cases already incubating. If you want to stop the spread of the infection then you have to stop people from having a lot of in-person contact. Social distancing is the “safety first” approach to an epidemic. That is why schools and restaurants are closed, concerts and sporting events are cancelled, travel restrictions have been imposed, and even entire nations have gone under quarantine. Judging by what this virus has done in China, Iran, and Italy, and the fact that the number of confirmed cases is still growing exponentially in the world as of this is writing, these seem like prudent steps to minimize the harm from a very serious infection.

The elderly have a much higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than younger adults or children do. By restricting our social interactions to slow the spread of the virus, we hope to save the lives of our parents and grandparents.


This pandemic is an exceptional circumstance, but the logic behind the large-scale quarantine is familiar. Take the Word of Wisdom, for example. About 10% of us are prone to addiction, which is a genetic condition activated by exposure to habit-forming drugs.

Joseph Smith wrote that the Word of Wisdom is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints.” If all of us agree to abstain from using addictive substances, then it saves the vulnerable among us from having their first exposure, and it is impossible to become addicted to something you have never tried. Addiction is so much easier to prevent than it is to cure. You forfeit your best chance to save if you don’t put safety first.

One of my neighbors has addiction like tent worms all over his family tree. “I have an addictive personality,” he said. “But I was taught the Word of Wisdom when I was a kid, and so I’ve never touched any of that. I’m not even tempted.”


“Thank you for being safe,” my wife Marisa said to me.

“Safety first,” I replied.

“You’re right!” she said. “Safety does come first.”

Marisa grew up in a home with a dangerous father, and then a dangerous step-father, and she learned to live in fear of these men. But her favorite hymn was “Love at Home,” because she wanted someday to live in a happy family. The Church taught her that this was possible, and when she was a little girl she caught a vision of hope for her future. When we met and fell in love, she was afraid of moving forward with our relationship until the Lord gave her a special assurance that she could trust me. Without his endorsement I don’t think I could have won her heart.

Starting with safety gave us the confidence we needed to build a family together. Being Marisa’s husband and the father of her children is the greatest joy and blessing of my life. Faith in Jesus Christ is our foundation, supporting everything we have built.

I will quickly admit that I am not a perfect man or a perfect husband. But apparently I was good enough, and I am thankful that the Lord has been willing to work with what he had.

“You’re the best,” Marisa told me.

“Only the best for my wife,” I said, smiling.


I love the prophecies of the second coming of Jesus Christ and his final triumph over evil, when “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” One striking aspect of these prophecies is the safety which will be enjoyed by the Lord’s people during this extended time of world peace. For example, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

“6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

“7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

“8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

“9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9).

I’m not really sure how literally we should take this prophecy. It’s hard to imagine top-level predators becoming vegetarians, and I don’t think I want my small children playing around poisonous snakes. But I do want to live in a world of peace, brought about by widespread knowledge of the Lord. I want to see old enemies living together without fighting, and to know that my children are safe as they venture into the world.

But we don’t have to wait for the second coming before we can enjoy the blessings of spiritual safety in the Lord. He said, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.” Whatever turmoil happens in the world — whether pandemic, addiction, domestic abuse, or anything else — Jesus will be with us, and will give us peace if we have faith in him.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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