The following is the eighth in a series of articles giving greater detail from the stories behind the hidden things in our recently released Treasures of the Restoration jigsaw puzzle. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, BUY IT HERE.
If you have, bookmark or print this page so you can hang on to the story to share with your family as you come upon the hidden phrase when you do the puzzle. Read the seventh article in the series HERE.
One of the three hidden scriptural phrases in our Treasures of the Restoration jigsaw puzzle comes from the harrowing account of Joseph Smith’s time in the Liberty Jail. Kept there on false charges of treason through more than four bitterly cold months, Joseph and his companions no doubt suffered loneliness, anxiety, isolation, illness, discomfort, and hopelessness.
Outside the prison walls, the saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri and there was much suffering that Joseph could do little about in his incarceration. In desperation, he cried out, “O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth they hiding place?”
That moment of despairing entreaty echoes the pained and desperate prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ as he hung in agony on the cross and called out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The Lord answered Joseph with a powerful series of verses with which we have all become familiar: “My son, peace by unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;” The Lord vividly expounds on the nature of those adversities by saying,
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon 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 side after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
The immediate question becomes, is it worth going through all that just to get experience? Why is experience so essential to our Heavenly Father’s plan for us? Why must we face such trials and tribulation to become like Him? Couldn’t we have stayed in our premortal home and had
Eons of time to study it out intellectually, wouldn’t that be just as good?
Apparently, it wouldn’t.
Our chance to gain a body and experience mortality for ourselves and mold our spirits through personal, physical experience was so important to our Father in Heaven that he lost a third part of the hosts of heaven in order to give the rest of us this chance.
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;”
The Lord never wanted children who would blindly do whatever they were told. He wants us to see as much of the picture as mortality will show us, and look into a storm and still choose Him when we can’t see Him. Or as the ever-insightful C.S. Lewis puts it in The Screwtape Letters as one devil advises the other, “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
How do we prove that we will still obey? In the most recent General Conference, President Henry B. Eyring said, “God’s purpose in the Creation of this world…was to give His children the opportunity to prove themselves able and willing to choose the right when it is hard. In so doing, their natures would be changed and they could become more like Him. He knew that would require unshakable faith in Him.”
We cannot develop unshakable faith by never being shaken.
We are not only proving to the Lord what we will choose when the circumstances challenge us most, but proving it to ourselves. We believe in a God of miracles, and it would be so much easier if He would just always send the miracles we needed right when we need them. Or as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it in the most recent Conference, “Shouldn’t His love and mercy simply part our personal Red Seas and allow us to walk through our troubles on dry ground? Shouldn’t He send 21st-century seagulls winging in from somewhere to gobble up all of our pesky 21st-century crickets?”
It certainly would be easier if that were true. But Elder Holland responded to his own question by referencing an address by Elder Neal A. Maxwell in which Elder Maxwell said, “Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’”
How can we share in the joy of the Lord’s divine purity if we skip the refiner’s fire that got Him there?
What of Joseph’s experience? What was the significance in his life of his time in the Liberty Jail?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell in a 1986 devotional address at BYU called that difficult place a “prison temple” for Joseph. He quoted Brother Joseph’s own words saying, “Death stared me in the face, and . . . my destruction was determined upon, as far as man was concerned; yet, from my first entrance into the camp, . . . that still small voice, which has so often whispered consolation to my soul, in the depth of sorrow and distress, bade me be of good cheer, and promised deliverance, which gave me great comfort.” In another instance, Joseph said of the hopelessness of the plight of the saints while he sat in prison, “[But] Zion shall yet live though she seemeth to be dead”.
So often, it is the experience of our lowest lows that teaches us not only our own resilience, but the unfailing trustworthiness of the hand of God. Sometimes we don’t even know how much closer we could be to Him until life gives us circumstances where we need Him desperately. Elder Maxwell noted that Joseph came from Liberty Jail testifying of the Book of Mormon more boldly than ever. As though that sanctifying experience had left him more determined and stronger, rather than leaving him beaten down as it might seem to do.
In a 2008 BYU devotional, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said of the Liberty Jail experience,
You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.
Now let’s talk about those propositions for a moment. Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not have been our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. We may face persecution; we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones; we may be hungry and cold and forlorn.
Yes, before our lives are over we may all be given a little taste of what the prophets faced often in their lives. But the lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace.10
A part of me selfishly wishes that I could have the consecrating blessings and power of the Lord without all the experiences. But it is difficult to appreciate the sweet relief of redeeming balm when you have never been burned.
And I think ultimately, I would be disappointed to come to the end of my mortal sojourn and find that the Lord had cleared all of the hard experiences from my path to spare me. I would be saddened to look back and think that I had missed the lessons I was meant to learn, in the place created specifically for me to learn them. I would come to the other side like an astronaut arriving back to earth after an extended stay at the International Space Station and find that without the resistance of gravity, my muscles had atrophied and my strength was a shadow of what it could be. Life is painful and confusing and overwhelming and disappointing and yet, the Lord promises us that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. And I believe Him.
 Doctrine & Covenants 121:1
 Matthew 27:46
 Doctrine & Covenants 122:7
 Abraham 3:25
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.