adversityAdversity is the name of our mortal game. We cannot avoid it, and we should not try to avoid it. How we learn to deal with troubles and sorrows determines our eternal outcome. In this lesson we look at some of the instructions of the Lord to Joseph Smith, Jr. about the adversities he was called to go through, most notably those he encountered while in Liberty Jail.

A change in perspective

We all tend to think we are special, and that no one else understands the things we are called upon to bear in this world. But if my life’s adversities have taught me anything, it is that our trials are common, and are shared by all in one form or another.

When we think about the saints in the early days of the Church, we think of them being driven out of their homes in the dead of winter, of having their homes and barns burned, of starving or freezing to death on the plains, and many other such scenes of suffering. But what do we do to bring that home to our own lives?

True, I haven’t frozen to death on the western plains of America. True, I haven’t nearly starved to death from lack of rations while I walked thirty miles a day through deep snow with no shoes on my feet. True, I haven’t had my family driven from our house in the dead of night or had my barn burned by hate-filled people. So how do I bring a perspective of their suffering into my own life?

Think for a moment of your neighborhood. Do you know your neighbors? What is your relationship with those neighbors? Do you get along? Are they adversaries or friends? What about your relationship with your ward members? Are there people there whom you admire and look up to? Are you friends with them and get along with your ward members? What about the members of your stake? The same?

Now think about what happened to the early saints. There were hard financial times and some of the members who had been in good standing with the Church became disaffected and fell away from the Church. They not only stopped attending, but they also became antagonistic to the members of the Church. They printed slanderous things about the members and about the leadership of the Church.

Two of the Apostles were excommunicated. Some, whose faith was weaker than it should have been, saw even the highest leaders in the Church leaving the Church and becoming angry with the Church. They chose to believe the lies of those who had left the Church, and they left also, many joining in the persecutions of those who remained faithful in the Church.

Think about how you would feel if your Bishop or one of his counselors left the Church and became embittered against the Church and its members. How would you feel if your former friends became bitter enemies and sought to drive you from your home and neighborhood just because you were LDS? How would you feel if members of your ward family started to mock you and your children for your belief in the living prophet?

How would you feel if your former ward members physically evicted your family from your home in the dead of a winter’s night, not caring if you lived or died in the process? What sorrow would fill your heart? What anger would you be tempted to nurse in such hours as you watched your family members suffer like you have never seen before?

This is what the members of the Church went through, not just once, but over and over again. Those that remained faithful to the prophet and to their covenants became the backbone of those who eventually traveled across the plains as pioneers. And in that travel suffered even more hardships, and lost even more loved ones to the cause they had espoused.

Why is such suffering necessary?

At the heart of Joseph Smith’s prayer in Liberty Jail when he asked “O Lord, where art thou?” was the suffering he and all the saints were going through. He had always had suffering of some sort, but this seemed to be extreme, and beyond measure. And this time it was not just he who was suffering, but all those whom he loved. This time is was all of the Church who were being made to suffer. He lacked the scope needed to understand the reason for suffering on this scale.

The answer he received from the Lord gave him a better understanding for the need for suffering, and the result of learning to endure suffering well. In Doctrine and Covenants 136:31 the Lord gives this explanation for our need to suffer in this life.

My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.

The Zion referred to in this verse is the city of Zion, the name of the city of God where all those in the Celestial kingdom will live. To live where God lives we must be chastised, but what is this chastisement, and what is it supposed to do for us? The answer is found in Doctrine and Covenants 98:12, 14-15.

12 For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.

14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.

15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.

Just as we must learn line upon line, and here a little and there a little, so too must we be tested to see if we are converted enough in what we claim to believe that we can withstand any trial and still remain faithful.

The Lord says that we will need to be tried in “all things,” which includes, for some, even death. To obtain a celestial character we must be completely convinced that obedience and devotion to God is more important to us than anything else, including family, wealth, convenience, friends, social standing, power, and even our very lives. As He says in verse 15 above, if we are not able to continue (abide) in His covenants then we are not worthy of what He has to offer us.

In Doctrine and Covenants 136:31 He words these same sentiments this way:

My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.

More than one kind of chastisement

Adversity comes to us as part and parcel of the mortal condition. It can also come to us because we have made covenants then either violated them or not lived up to their requirements. Many of the punishments the Saints went through during the Missouri period of the Church were as a result of the members failing to take the Lord’s directives seriously.

Their behavior showed that they were not prepared, as a people, to live a Zion lifestyle. They were still consumed with jealousy, pettiness, and intolerance. These may not be reward-losing behaviors, but they still had to be purged of these things in order to become worthy of the blessings of a Zion people. So the Lord chastised them by allowing their neighbors to scourge them, burn their homes, and drive them out.

Blessings of suffering

Sometimes we feel that the experiences we face in life are too hard to bear. Yet once we have passed through such experiences we see from the other side of our sufferings that we have become different people, more tolerant, kind, sympathetic, etc.

I have a sister who cannot talk about her newlywed days without openly weeping. They were so poor that they sacrificed many necessities in order to get through school and provide for themselves. Life was extremely difficult, and at the time seemed so unfair. Yet having lived through these experiences she now will tell you that they learned lessons about life, love, and God that have enriched and blessed their lives ever since that time. They would not trade those lessons for anything, for the cost was too dear.

Come to the Savior

As a Church, we have lived in a time when the members have enjoyed the best relationship with the World the Church has experienced since the restoration began in the mid 1800s. But that time will soon be drawing to a close, never to be had again until the Savior returns. We won’t always be favored by the world.

Who will be able to help us stay grounded when the displeasure of the world pushes us to adopt their ways or be punished socially, financially, and emotionally? How will we stay strong?

The purpose of this lesson has the answer. “To help class members better endure adversity by turning to the Savior.” The Savior told Joseph Smith, Jr. in Liberty Jail that even though we all have to pass through suffering, we need to recognize that our suffering is limited to this life, and that if we endure well everything with which we are required to experience then we will be crowned with eternal glory in the kingdom of God.

In Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8 the Lord points out to Joseph Smith, Jr. that the trials he, and the members of the Church, were being put through are but for a “small moment.” It is true that the Lord’s definition of time is quite different from ours, but His definitions are always correct. He has a better perspective of time than we do. Here are the verses.

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Think about your studies in the scriptures. If there is one constant among all the prophets, it is that they are focused on the triumph of the Savior over the forces of evil in this life, and that those who remain obedient to His commandments, relying on God in all things for their support, will ALWAYS be triumphant in the end, even if that end requires the ultimate sacrifice of everything the prophet has, including his life.

Look at the writings of Abinadi, Nephi, Isaiah, Moses, and any of the modern prophets. They all have the same focus and same devotion to living a life that earns the approval of Christ and the Father. They all have become students of the Spirit, and seek to be worthy at all times to have His influence active in their lives.

Since we all must be proven in all things, and we must learn to endure these trials and become more Christlike in the process, we must also learn to turn to the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, for it is through His grace and forgiveness that we become purified, sanctified, and receive the strength to follow the Spirit and obey all the covenants we have made. And it is through this process that we will be able to remain strong when the great trials of the last days descend upon us.