President Russell Nelson says belief in God is ‘pre-eminent force for good,’ urges Latter-day Saints to boost faith at home

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The world leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson, encourages members in the Phoenix area to increase their faith practices in the home. He and his first counselor, President Dallin H. Oaks, spoke to Latter-day Saints in State Farm Stadium Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.

Lamenting a global decline of belief in the Almighty, President Russell M. Nelson argued in a piece published Sunday that faith in God is the “pre-eminent force for good” and the “most enduring source of peace for minds and hearts.”

In an op-ed for the Arizona Republic, the 94-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote that belief in God used to be the norm. “But, in recent years, we have experienced a shift from a world in which it seemed impossible not to believe in God to one in which faith is simply an option — and far too often subject to ridicule.”

Nelson — who addressed some 68,000 Latter-day Saints later Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the massive domed arena where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play — referred to a recent visit he and his wife, Wendy, made to Paradise, Calif., to meet with church members who endured the devastatingly deadly wildfires that tore through the northern reaches of the Golden State late last year.

The trip came just two days after Nelson’s 67-year-old daughter, Wendy Nelson Maxfield, had died of cancer.

“We flew to California with heavy hearts,” Nelson wrote. “ … As we tried to comfort those still reeling from the disaster, they seemed more concerned about how we were doing in our time of loss. As we tearfully looked into each other’s hearts, the blackened chimneys and a sea of ash seemed to fade into the background. Our shared faith that God would heal our hearts and help us rebuild our lives knit our hearts together in love.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) After his meeting in Chico, Calif., Jan. 13, 2019, President Russell M. Nelson met with Rob and Gretchen Harrison and their three children in front of what used to be their home.

Nelson, a renowned-cardiac-surgeon-turned-apostle, noted he “repaired hundreds of hearts.”

“But my skills could not heal heartache, or erase grief, or salve emotional wounds,” he wrote. “Nothing man-made can ever approach what God can do for his children.”

Spirituality, he said, offers solace secularism can’t match.

Stating that “[God’s] DNA is our DNA,” the leader of the Utah-based faith promised that belief in deity can help people “rise from the ashes of our lives and become the men and women we were sent to earth to become.”

Nelson emphasized that faith does not and cannot spare people from challenges, sorrow and physical and emotional pain.

“Financial stress, ill health, fractured relationships and dreams, personal loss, unfairness at the hands of conspiring men and women — each of these can fill our hearts with anxiety and fear,” he said. “But it is my conviction that our Savior can strengthen and enable us to reach our highest highs and be able to cope with our lowest lows.”

In his speech Sunday night, Nelson urged Arizonans to make their homes centers of learning and spirituality, according to a church news release, while advising them to “pray each day" to determine how best to do this.

Nelson’s wife, Wendy, encouraged members to share a Valentine’s Day gift with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by opening their hearts to “receive their love” and living their commandments with "ever increasing exactness.”

Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor in the faith’s governing First Presidency, pointed to the many changes enacted in the year since Nelson took the church’s helm, the release reported, and reminded members that improvements in their personal lives are even more vital.

“The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in church policies or practices,” Oaks said, "but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”

The church leaders’ visit to the Phoenix area was believed to be the single largest gathering of Latter-day Saints ever in Arizona, the release said. The Grand Canyon State is home to more than 428,000 members and five operating temples, including a sixth, in Mesa, undergoing renovation.