No, Masks Are Not Our Brass Serpent

Recently, I saw a tweet from current Lt. Governor of Utah Spencer Cox that really bothered me. Normally, I would just let something like this go, but it has been eating at me to the point that I feel the need to provide a little input. Here’s the tweet:

Here, Mr. Cox compares our wearing of masks during the coronavirus pandemic to the brass serpent raised on a pole by Moses when the children of Israel were afflicted by fiery serpents for their disobedience. I get the point he was trying to make that by doing something simple we can make a big impact. But I have seen this comparison going around on social media, and it is the wrong comparison to make for several reasons.

So that there is no misunderstanding my position, here are the assumptions for my arguments:

  1. COVID-19 is a real virus.
  2. COVID-19 is spread through person to person contact.
  3. Masks help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Let’s dive in.

Masks Do Not Heal

The serpent that Moses raised up was, in part, a representation of the healing power that Jesus Christ would show during His ministry. As Nephi states:

And now, my brethren, I have spoken plainly that ye cannot err. And as the Lord God liveth that brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, and gave unto Moses power that he should heal the nations after they had been bitten by the poisonous serpents, if they would cast their eyes unto the serpent which he did raise up before them. . .

2 Nephi 25:20

One of the big problems with comparing our use of masks during this pandemic with the brass serpent is that masks do not heal as the serpent did. Rather, we could say that your faith in Christ will not heal you by wearing a mask when it is done at the behest of medical professionals. But under the direction of Moses, your faith in Jehovah would have healed you as you cast your eyes upon the brass serpent. It was an act of faith. Wearing a mask is only an act of faith in the medical professionals who advise its use.

The Brass Serpent Was From God

Another thing, the brass serpent was a command from the Lord to 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” (Numbers 21:8). The prescription for healing was straightforward and simple. It’s easy to see why Mr. Cox and others would make the comparison. However, while the brass serpent was God’s instruction to His people, the use of masks is the instruction from men to the masses.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn the purpose of the brass serpent:

Yea, did [Moses] not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.

Helaman 8:14-15

The purpose of the brass serpent was not only to heal the afflicted but to point to Christ! Just as the way was simple for the children of Israel to be healed, the way for us to live eternally is simple. With this in mind, should we really be comparing the symbol of the brass serpent to something that bears no relation to Christ nor points us to Him?

God Has Revealed His Way of Healing

“But God hasn’t given us anything like a brass serpent for our day to be healed so we need to rely on the medical establishment to keep us safe and to heal us.” Or something to that effect, right?

Au contraire! God has revealed a way for His Latter-day Saints to be healed of their temporal afflictions.

In Doctrine and Covenants 42, or the “Law of the Church,” the Lord says,

And whosoever among you are sick, and have not faith to be healed, but believe, shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food, and that not by the hand of an enemy.

And again, it shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.

Doctrine and Covenants 42:43, 48

Did you catch the way the Lord says we can be healed? First, we should have faith in Him. If we don’t have faith to be healed, then we are to use herbs and mild food. How many of us actually employ this instruction when we’re not feeling well? Not enough, I would imagine.

These are not just obscure principles in the Doctrine and Covenants. The mere fact that they’re contained in the Law of the Church should be enough to merit a closer examination. Even so, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself taught these principles to the Saints over and over. On one occasion he wrote in his journal,

I preached to a large congregation at the stand, on the science and practice of medicine, desiring to persuade the Saints to trust in God when sick, and not in an arm of flesh, and live by faith and not by medicine, or poison; and when they were sick, and had called for the Elders to pray for them, and they were not healed, to use herbs and mild food.

History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 414.

Clearly, the Lord has established a way to get well when illness befalls us as part of our mortal probation, and there is no mention of masks, medical professionals, or isolation. If Christ could raise a man from the dead, don’t you think he could save you from a novel coronavirus if we follow His word and commandments?

If we don’t believe that Christ can heal us from our ailments it is because, as Moroni said, we have “imagined up unto [ourselves] a god who is not a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:10).

I’d like to assume the best of intentions from Mr. Cox. But it appears that he is misrepresenting religious principles in order to make an appeal to the religious community in Utah, an overwhelming majority of which are Latter-day Saints.

Personally, I don’t care whether you use a mask or don’t. That’s your decision. If you’re sick, you should probably stay home. What I do care about, however, is when people use the name of God in an inappropriate context. The fear, shaming, and hysteria surrounding the individual choices of others concerning masks are not from God! It is reprehensible to use religious principles as a bludgeon to get people to comply with governmental guidelines or policies.

During this time of social unrest and disease, the greatest thing we can do is to cultivate greater trust in God, not in man. In order for us to have trust in God, we need to know how He works and what He says. This pandemic is far from over, and a mask is not going to save you. But God can. Things are going to get much worse in terms of the virus, politics, and economics. We must ensure that we are rooted in Christ and His ways if we hope to be spared from the chaos and trials headed our way. He is the Way.

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