When Joseph Smith questioned his deepest suffering in Liberty jail, the ultimate answer was found in the details of the Savior’s Atonement and a subsequent question whose answer may instruct our struggle to understand God’s purpose in giving us the kingdom as He has.[1]

“If thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” DC 122:7-8

We each have such varied experiences that Elder Maxwell called our lives a “customized curriculum.”[2] We each, through differing circumstances of birth, birth constellation, location, gender, economy, family, religion, etc., etc., etc. are subjected to very differing privileges and trials. Yet, with all this variety we are both forbidden to covet and are given a universal plan of happiness that we are to then customize by revelation. 

Following the plan helps us avoid unnecessary and spiritually handicapping experiences but common to all of our curricula are trials from which we are to learn and grow.  Some of these trials and circumstances, overwhelm our understanding and hence our ability to constructively cope, like the Liberty incarceration did for Joseph.  Without a knowledge of our premortal deficiencies it is impossible for us to address fairness so we trust our Father, our mentor. Father’s loving solution was to give perspective from the pattern of the life of His beloved and triumphant son.

“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass.” DC 122:9

It is interesting that priesthood has set bounds that CANNOT pass.  We can’t help but wonder about the extent and context of these “set bounds.” Then, five years later, the prophet was instructed that all that Christ did here, was done before by The Father. Midst the questions that this engender, Is there not at least a pattern here?

“The first principle of truth, and of the Gospel, is to know for a certainty the Character of God, and that we may converse with him the same as one man with another, and that he was once a man like us and that God himself, the Father of us all, once dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did in the flesh and like us.  I will show it from the Bible.” TPJS  345[3]

“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.  For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” John 5:19; 26

“What did Jesus say? –As the Father has power in Himself, even so has the Son power in himself. To do what? Why, what the Father did. That answer is obvious; even in a manner to lay down His body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? ‘To lay down my life as my Father laid down His body that I might take it up again.’” TPJS346

Near the end of His life, The Savior taught His apostles:

“He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12

To do the works that He does is intimidating but to do the greater work requires us to see the scope of the work yet to be finished because “He had to go unto the Father.”  So, He has called his covenant saints to His work as saviors, yoked with Him.

“And that those who call themselves after my name…set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.” DC 103:4, 9-10

It is no wonder then that He can promise us “joint-heirship”[4] as well as enabling helpthrough the same kind of preparation and refining that He would endure, at our differing levels of capability. Thus, like Christ we each will serve to our capacity as saviors under Him, and then lay down our bodies and take them up again. Repeatedly and simultaneously, He both reassures and invites us:

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Though comforting, it is coupled with:

“For verily I say unto you, I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.” DC 64:2

And speaking of Christ,

he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” DC 93:12-13

Again, information about His process of progression is coupled with its application in our lives,

“if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.” DC 93:20

There are numerous examples that show the same pattern of becoming, by following the Savior, from baptism to receiving the promised fullness that results from instrumentally relaying divine grace received, to others in need. He enables our becoming by working through us better than by simply working on us. But here is where we might miss the implications of the pattern: 

“I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might…” DC 19:2

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” Hebrews 5:8

Like with all great champions, doctors, engineers, architects, or any other who is capable of benefitting others, there is a preparatory price to pay.  Much of what we read of the suffering endured by our Savior, that is comprehensible to us, was to make Him capable of “Kaphar;” “Atonement” or “to cover”[5].

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” Colossians 1:16

“I, having accomplished and finished the will of him whose I am, even the Father, concerning me—having done this that I might subdue all things unto myself—Retaining all power, even to the destroying of Satan and his works at the end of the world, and the last great day of judgment, which I shall pass upon the inhabitants thereof, judging every man according to his works and the deeds which he hath done.” DC 19:2-3

The earth was made by him for our benefit but also for His. He learned obedience through suffering here.  There were undoubtedly many unrecorded times in His life where His obedience in difficult situations helped build confidence in His Father until He could meaningfully pray, “not my will but Thine be done,” descending with faith into “hell” that He might have power over satan and his minions.  Thus, He learned, in the flesh, to obey His Father who always “can”, or as said in Hebrew, “Tsadek” translated as justice. 

Justice, often translated as righteousness, is in part, the divine nature of God that describes his capacity to keep His covenants, and always do what He says.[6]  It is only in difficult circumstances requiring endurance, patience, and faith that we learn to trust Him when everything and everyone cries out to abandon hope or just quit, wanting a different “cup,” another way.

Another necessary part of His divine nature is mercy or love which is linked by its pre-requisite;

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Hebrew 2:17-18

“he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” Alma 7:12

If these requisite capacities were learned through the mortal furnace of affliction, by Him who is the “most intelligent of them all”, then His “come follow me” pattern calls each of us to acquire His capacities through the same kind of process. So, we might ask, what has He provided where we might learn obedience and love, justice, mercy and then, in addition, to forget ourselves?[7]

Mortality is designed to furnish many “suffering opportunities” guiding us through personal values-clarification towards the same divine lessons.  The deepest suffering common to mortals, Gethsemane-like, that takes one to the brink of death, is childbirth.  Most mothers exit this birthing process mysteriously endowed with this deep self-sacrificing love that then seems to grow with time as they nurture their child.  It endows them with the endurance and selfless desire for the welfare of their children.  A Hebrew word for this kind of love is “raham” often translated as mercy.[8]

One author noted that scientists have identified some of the physiological and social differences  inherent in gender, “Since the development of artificial hormones there has been a growing body of both anecdotal and clinical evidence to support the idea that giving a person testosterone often causes them to feel more powerful, more confident, more self-assured, more aggressive, and more self-centered. In women, on the other hand, hormones like estrogen and oxytocin seem to play a role in increasing social awareness and natural empathy.

Studies have demonstrated that there are measurable differences in empathy and prosocial behaviors in males and females — not only among humans, but among a variety of social animals. Basically, females tend to be more naturally empathic, more likely to console or care for others who are hurt, more likely to share, more likely to seek out egalitarian solutions, and less likely to engage in selfish behavior. The most likely reason for this is that among social animals, males tend to be more competitive, while females tend to be responsible for raising the young and maintaining the community.”[9]

Of course, not all of us can be mothers, even the Savior was not.  However, just as a mother feeds her child from her own body, Christ gave His body to “feed” us eternal life. Isn’t it interesting that He used these words when He taught His disciples that they needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood?[10]  We symbolically do so in remembrance of Him each Sabbath. I remember my surprise at watching the birth of my children and then finding that nursing them, though a natural desire for both infant and mother, is not easily done and sometimes seemingly impossible.  Especially at first, it is painful, and milk isn’t always immediately available as physiology cycles through the trauma of labor and delivery.  Sometimes the infant has problems attaching or fatigues before nourishment comes.  The maternal pain can be intense and discouraging, even physically self-sacrificial. Those that succeed, find it powerfully bonding as the binding brain chemical, oxytocin, accompanies the milk let-down.  Christ used this metaphor when asking,

“Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not. For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” 1 Nephi 21:14-16

Christ’s example shows that sacrificing one’s self in divine service for another, true love-bonding ministering, sometimes descending below all desire or intent, can yield this same powerful capacity. Most of us do all we can to avoid suffering.  So, Father must help us along.  One psychologist said it best, “Our greatest joys and suffering will be either born to you or married to you.”[11]  So, when the welfare of another can be brought to a deep enough level that self-interest is subjugated and love grows, then this divine nature can also be endowed, as if from giving birth.  Raising relationships to this level requires a change in the selfish nature of the natural man.  It takes time and incremental investment for most, though is often gifted to others, mostly women in my experience.  We are to pray with “every energy of our hearts”[12] to acquire it. Is this why we receive callings to serve in God’s government or priesthood? Is this, in part, what ministering is supposed to yield as we learn to be divine instruments to each other? 

I sat in sacrament meeting today watching families.  I saw a child sit on the floor just behind the feet of a deacon waiting to receive a tray.  The father noticed, seemed to watch, but it was the mother who, apparently without thought rose to pluck the infant out of predicable danger.  I watched over and over as fathers lovingly sat, tended and at times corrected their children. But it was the mothers who took action, sacrificing to fill needs, cuddle, reassure, prepare and share the snacks, etc.  These parent “teams” were each different and obviously loved their children, and each parent did so in different necessary ways.  The fathers seemed as benevolent observers, guarding the order of things and allowing independence, while mothers nurtured, succored, cuddled, and allowed the children to depend on the parent for comfort, and provisions. And, there are infinite variations in parenting teams.

I marvel that the apostle Paul, though a man, grew from a disciplining even persecuting Pharisee to one endowed with this influencing powerful love, so that even in his first retained epistle it is evident, in the depth and motivation of his service, as he used this maternal metaphor to describe his own ministering.

“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” 1 Thess 2:7-8

The word for nurse here can be felt by following the etymology of the Greek: “trophós” (nourisher) from “tréphō” (to nurse or give suck).

Therefore, Christ gave us a new commandment replacing “love thy neighbor as thy self” so that we might be willing to do the work of salvation under His direction:

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34-35

In hearing that we are to become joint-saviors, under-shepherds, in a recent class, one brother exclaimed, “That is a bit strong isn’t it?  I mean, a savior? …could we just say a minister or servant?”  The very idea is overwhelming to our mortal, fallible sense of identity.  Even the Brother of Jared seemingly wallowed in his “unworthiness.”[13] Yet, it is interesting to me that as Christ images the fifth seal in the book of Revelation, this thousand years representing the meridian of times, John notes, “the martyrs” coming from under the altar of sacrifice[14] where the blood of sacrifice is poured out in the tabernacle.  Wait!!!???  Christ was the greatest and most important of all the fifth seal martyrs and His sacrifice transcendent and eternal, yet He receives no special mention.  To help us understand this seeming omission, another prophet noted that when describing the righteous spirits that anxiously awaited “the Son of Man” to pass through the veil of death, he included this in the description of those faithful spirits,

“who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.” DC 138:13

Though, like the brother of Jared, we may consider ourselves and our offerings and service fairly insignificant, He who offered His all and invites us to do the same, considers our “all” a “similitude” of His own transcendent offering.

Reaching that “all” requires, at the very least, a deep and abiding trust in God and His prophets.  The prophet Joseph Smith captures this refining process saying,

“You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary that you be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God . . . God will feel after you and he will take hold of you, and wrench your heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the celestial kingdom of God” –Joseph Smith. As quoted by John Taylor, JD, 24:197.

By willing sacrifice, we are to “learn through the things that we then suffer,” to seek, trust, plead with and obey Him, and thereby also acquire the greatest of all gifts; charity or Christ-like love, that we might also learn to succor each other[15] through Him, “the same as Jesus Christ Himself did”.

[1] DC 29:5; 35:27; 38:9; 42:69; 43:10; 45:1; 50:35; 62:9; 64:4; 65:2; 72:1; 78:18; 81:2; 82:24; 90:2, 14; 97:14; 128:10 – After 17 times saying “I give unto you the kingdom”, one would think that Father is serious about our having and managing the kingdom so that we can learn to be kings and queens, not just puppets or servants following orders.  Learning includes trying, observing, learning, asking, listening and then trying again. Revelation, throughout the ages to all prophets, has come incrementally after much effort, trial, and patience.

[2] May God bless us with that kind of commitment, with the capacity to be serious disciples and to accept both the agendum that he has prepared for each of us because he loves us and the curriculum, prepared for each of us, which he has customized to teach us the things we most need to know, because he loves us. Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Speeches Sept 1, 1974

[3] Joseph Smith, General Conference 7 April 1844, Listed as the King Follett Discourse in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Originally four clerks were assigned to record the address:

  1. Thomas Bullock: Thorough stopping only for ink
  2. William Clayton: Thorough stopping only for ink
  3. Willard Richards: minutes, abbreviations
  4. Wilford Woodruff: notes on crown of his hat transferred to journal in detail

  It was published four months later in Times and Seasons then an amalgamation was made and published in 1855 by Jonathan Grimshaw which is the version in Teachings.  In 1977 BYU Studies published a new amalgamation after comparing all the original documents.  It is this last publication that is quoted here.

[4] Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

“All they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” DC 84:35-38

[5] Please see https://latterdaysaintmag.com/understanding-the-doctrine-behind-justice-mercy-and-law/ and https://latterdaysaintmag.com/discovering-the-atonement-behind-the-razor-wire/ for how mercy describes the covering (kaphar) that permits a probationary time. (Alma 42)

[6] Moses 4:30 “my words cannot return void, for as they go forth out of my mouth they must be fulfilled.”

Please also see https://latterdaysaintmag.com/understanding-the-doctrine-behind-justice-mercy-and-law/ for a more detailed exposé on justice and mercy by this same author.

[7] Matthew 16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

[8] Please see https://latterdaysaintmag.com/reconciling-the-wrath-of-god-with-the-love-of-god/ for more example of this love/raham

[9] Patheos, “The Central Spiritual Struggle of Women: Open Letter, part 2” Melinda Selmys, Oct 24, 2019

Also: “Scientists explain the unique bond that exists between mother and child in terms of chemicals. According to studies, a woman’s body releases powerful hormones during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, causing her to connect emotionally with her new baby. This special bond is apparent to anyone who sees a new mother holding her child – underneath her exhaustion is an unmistakable joy and radiance that cannot be denied.” Michelle Bauman, Catholic News Agency, https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=477

[10] John 6:54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

[11] Expressed by Professor Sterling Ellsworth, BYU Phycologist, in a fireside talk attended by the author.

[12] Moroni 7:44-48

[13] Ether 3:2 Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless…

[14] Revelation 6:9, 11And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held…And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

[15] 3 Nephi 27:21-22 ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.