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If a participant in this Test feels like he must understand the intent behind every question he encounters, this exam will frustrate him. The Teacher sees things in ways different from the way we see them.
“Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made; The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eye . . . (D&C 38:1,2).
His pre-creation view of eternity, and the presence of all things before his eyes, provide Him with a perception of our lives that we can never experience without divine tutoring. Thus the Teacher cautioned,
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation” (D&C 58:3).
Since we cannot behold the designs of Teacher, and since we cannot see the future with certainty of any kind, we must trust in His wisdom when challenges come for which we cannot perceive any reasonable purpose.
Nineteen years after the death of my father, my mother remarried. Within three years, her second husband was dead and she was living alone with her advancing blindness in the house he had left her. Even though I had a sister living near her, I felt a need to move to the city where she lived in order to be of assistance. I told those in charge of assignments for the Church Educational System (Seminary and Institute), my employer, that I wanted to be moved to the Logan Seminary if possible.
I explained my concerns about my mother and was told that every effort would be made to accommodate my request. My wife and I prayed often about this, keeping the Teacher informed of our hopes. No selfish desires clouded this request. Even though my wife and I met and married in Logan, we had no desire to live there again, except that my mother was there and she clearly needed me.
When assignments were made in April for the following school year, I was informed that I would not be moving to Logan to teach. There were no openings for me in the seminary there. I was disappointed, profoundly disappointed, but I resigned myself to the circumstance and resolved to apply again the following year.
In the summer before the new school year began I attended a meeting of CES personnel at BYU. While there, I encountered the principal of the Logan Seminary, a dear friend and former bishop. He had a question for me.
“Ted, why did you decide not to come to Logan?”
“I didn’t decide,” I said. “You didn’t have any openings.”
“No openings?” he replied. “Ted, we put three new teachers in the Logan Seminary for next year. They could have gone anywhere.”
Suddenly my feelings about the situation changed. I could not understand why my request—my righteous request—had not been granted. Why had the Teacher not intervened to get me to the place where I was needed? I knew what was best. Didn’t he?
These were my feelings on the day I met the principal from Logan, and for several weeks after that. What had happened made no sense at all to me. Everything I could see with my natural eyes suggested that I should be moving to Logan that summer.
But just weeks after school started, my mother, who had always been fiercely independent and who loathed the thought that she might become a burden to one of her children, surrendered her independence. She gave her home to the children of her second husband and moved to Orem, where I live, and into the home of an older sister one half mile down the street from my own home. Wouldn’t I have had fun in Logan?
And just a few months later, my sister and her husband accepted a call to preside over a mission beginning the following summer. Mom needed a new home for three years. When the time came for the move, we only needed a few hours to move her and her belongings to my home.
How grateful I was and continue to be that the Teacher did not give me what I had pled for. How thankful I am to worship a being who can see the wide expanse of eternity and allow things to work together for the good of his children.
On July 8 of 1838 the Lord spoke to Joseph Smith at Far West, Missouri. In this revelation, the Lord called the Twelve on a mission to Great Britain and gave the following instructions: “Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building spot of my house, saith the Lord” (D&C 118:5). In July of 1838 the command must have seemed reasonable enough. The Twelve were to go on a mission to England, and they had about a year to get ready.
The summer of 1838 was difficult for the saints. There were shadows of impending difficulties as the Mormons began to establish their new communities in northern Missouri. But nothing darkened the horizon to such an extent that an apostle might have questioned the command to depart for a mission from Far West the following Spring. But things would change dramatically by April of 1839.
The August 6th election day at Gallatin turned into a violent confrontation between Mormon and non-Mormon voters. Participants from both sides were injured. Rumors raced across the Missouri prairie unhampered by the moderation of truth. Threats were made against Mormon settlements. Two apostles, Thomas Marsh and Orson Hyde, turned against the Prophet. On October 24, three men, two of them Mormons, were killed at the battle of Crooked River. Again rumor did her damage. On October 27, Governor Boggs issued the despicable and disgraceful “Order of Extermination,” declaring that the Mormons must either be driven out of the state or exterminated. Three days later, two hundred Missouri militiamen attacked the small Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill. At least seventeen men and boys from the community were killed.
The next day, through the apparent treachery of Colonel George M. Hinkle, an officer in the Mormon militia, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were arrested. The Mormons were disarmed and Far West made defenseless before the Missourians. The town was plundered and women ravished by a mob without humanity or restraint.
Joseph spent the next five months in prison while Brigham Young and others organized to move the saints from Missouri. By the beginning of April of 1839, nearly all of the saints were out of Missouri, and glad to be out. The Twelve were scattered across western Illinois looking for homes and work, and relentless mobbers prowled the Missouri countryside looking for lingering Mormons, especially Mormon leaders, still west of the Mississippi.
In April of 1839, a council convened in Quincy, Illinois to deal with this perplexing question: was it possible that the Lord still expected the Twelve to return to Missouri and depart from Far West on a mission to England? Given the current conditions in Missouri, the requirement made no sense whatsoever. But Brigham and others were aware that the Teacher knew what conditions would be when He gave the instructions. And He gave them anyway. They were also aware that the problems on the Test don’t have to make sense. They just have to be solved. Those who understood that reality began to make their way back to Missouri. The mob had a copy of the revelation and had sworn that it could not be fulfilled. But shortly after midnight on the morning of April 26, a meeting was held at the temple site in Far West. When it was over, those of the Twelve who attended (including the next three Presidents of the Church) took their leave from the small number of saints there assembled. They departed for Illinois and, later, their missions across the Atlantic.
When the Israelites were afflicted by poisonous snakes and “much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6), the Lord directed the construction of a serpent-like artifact that would heal any snake-bitten sufferer who would go to the trouble of looking at it. No other effort was required. If a person could walk, crawl, or be carried to a point from which he could see the brass snake and would look at it, he could be healed. Does that make sense?
I had an acquaintance in Arizona who had the misfortune of being bitten on the ankle by a rattlesnake. By the time he got to the doctor, his left leg was swollen so much it looked like a quarter of beef. What if the doctor had performed a brief examination, recognized the symptoms of snakebite, and said, “Listen, Roger. The sign in front of this building has the figure of the caduceus. Go on out there and take a look at it. You’ll be fine.”
To such a prescription, Roger might have responded, “Doctor, my leg looks like a California redwood. Why are you telling me to go look at your business sign? I don’t need advertising–I need drugs!”
Among the Israelites, “there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them” (Alma 33:20).
Naaman, the Syrian general, came to the Prophet Elisha to be healed of leprosy, among the most dreaded diseases of his day. Elisha did not talk to him, examine him, or lay hands on him. The prophet sent his servant Gehazi to tell the soldier to go take a bath–in fact, seven baths–in the Jordan River.
“But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:11-12).
One can empathize with his rage. Bathing is not an often-prescribed cure for leprosy. The directions of Elisha made no sense whatsoever. Fortunately for Naaman, his servants prevailed upon him to try. He did, and was healed.
I have a relative who is a superb linguist. His senior year in high school he took the national German test and finished in the 98th percentile. He took the national French test and tied for fourth in the nation. He then decided to take the national Spanish test. He received a rating of “Excellent.” In addition, before his mission he studied, on his own, Norwegian, Hebrew, and Icelandic, and created a language of his own which he speaks with a little brother. He was the Sterling Scholar in Language Arts for the state of Utah.
My relative’s mission call was to England. In the four years I served at the Missionary Training Center, I watched hundreds of missionaries struggle with the Portuguese language. This young man could have learned it during lunch. Why send him to England? It doesn’t seem to make sense. But it doesn’t have to.
We may never in this life know the purposes behind some of the problems presented to us by the Teacher. Other times, developing circumstances may demonstrate clearly why we were directed to do what we did.
Jonah was called on a mission. His flight by boat from Joppa is more than the retreat of a reluctant missionary. His mission call was to Ninevah, capital city of one of the most violent and cruel nations on earth. Nahum called it the “bloody city” (Nahum 3:1) and said “there is a multitude of slain and a great number of carcasses; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses.” Violence was not the only problem. Nahum also mentions “whoredoms,” “the wellfavoured harlot,” and “witchcrafts” (Nahum 3:3, 4).
To comprehend the concerns of Jonah, consider the feelings a modern elder might have if called to go without a companion to Iraq or Iran or Libya with a message of repentance. But the message Jonah was to deliver was not a message of God’s love and an invitation to repent. Jonah was called to inform the people of Ninevah of impending destruction. Such a mission did not make great sense, and braver men than Jonah might have caught a boat as well. Consider Ananias, a disciple in Damascus at a time when “there was a great persecution against the church” (Acts 8:1). Saul was one who went about “breathing threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord . . .” (Acts 9:1). He came to Damascus for the purpose of incarcerating the Christians. Ananias knew why he had come. The Teacher’s directive to Ananias that he go heal and baptize Saul seemed unthinkable. We understand this problem because we know what had happened to Saul. But Ananias didn’t know, and the command made no sense to him at all. He said, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem. And here he hath authority . . . to bind all that call on thy name” (Acts 9:13-14). This problem made so little sense when it was presented that Ananias tried to talk the Lord out of it.
As the Teacher views our mortal experience from an eternal perspective and tries to prepare us for His presence, He may ask us to solve unusual problems. We may be unable to perceive the purposes of those problems when they first appear. In fact, we may never perceive them while we are in the Testing Center. On such occasions, we may be tempted, like the Israelites of old, to resist or ignore those problems, or like Ananias, to try and talk the Teacher into deleting the problems from the Test. The consequences of such an attitude could be fatal.
The scriptures and the prophets have expounded on the proper attitude about problems that seem to make no sense. Others have as well. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Connecticut legislature who responded to a puzzling problem in a wonderful way. On May 19th of 1789, a total eclipse of the sun darkened the sky and caused chickens to go to roost at 2:00 in the afternoon. The Connecticut legislature was in session, but the sudden darkness caused great concern. Many thought the darkness heralded the Second Coming. The part of this poem quoted below describes what happened as the startled lawmakers sat in the darkness.
Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts
Sat the Lawgivers of Connecticut,
Trembling beneath their legislative robes.
“It is the Lord’s Great Day! Let us adjourn,”
Some said; and then, as if with one accord,
All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.
He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice
The intolerable hush. “This well may be
The day of Judgement which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty and my Lord’s command
To occupy till he come. So at the post
Where he hath set me in his providence,
I choose for one to meet him face to face,–
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do his work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the Candles.” And they brought them in.
(John Greenleaf Whittier, ed. Horace E. Scudder;
Houghton, Mifflin Co., NY, 1984, p. 259. Emphasis added).
The voice of the Teacher makes clear that the attitude of Abraham Davenport must be our attitude as well. To the saints who were deeply troubled by the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County the Teacher said, “Be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16). Through King David, He said the same thing to the recalcitrant Israelites: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
We must remember who the Teacher is, and that He has our welfare at heart. While preparing the Test He has “looked upon the wide expanse of eternity” and He can therefore say, “all things are present before mine eyes” (D&C 38:1-2). He is able, because of His perspective, to write problems that deal precisely with our needs and our potential.
Brigham Young, the great leader who led members of the Twelve from Illinois back to Far West, taught this principle with power:
“We shall attempt to build a temple to the name of our God. This has been attempted several times, but we have never yet had the privilege of completing and enjoying one. Perhaps we may in this place, but if, in the providence of God, we should not, it is all the same. It is for us to do those things which the Lord requires at our hands, and leave the result with Him. It is for us to labor with a cheerful good will; and if we build a temple that is worth a million of money, and it requires all our time and means, we should leave it with cheerful hearts, if the Lord in His providence tells us so to do. If the Lord permits our enemies to drive us from it, why we should abandon it with as much cheerfulness of heart as we ever enjoy a blessing. It is no matter to us what the Lord does, or how He disposes of the labor of His servants. But when He commands, it is for His people to obey. We should be as cheerful in building this temple, if we knew beforehand that we should never enter into it when it was finished, as we would though we knew we were to live here a thousand years to enjoy it” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.1, p. 277, February 14, 1853).
Brigham made the statement above on the day of the site dedication and ground breaking for the Salt Lake Temple. On the day the cornerstones were laid he said,
“Some will inquire, ‘Do you suppose we shall finish this Temple, brother Brigham?’ I have had such questions put to me already. My answer is, I do not know, and I do not care any more about it than I should if my body was dead and in the grave, and my spirit in Paradise. I never have cared but for one thing, and that is, simply to know that I am now right before my Father in Heaven. If I am this moment, this day, doing the things God requires of my hands, and precisely where my Father in Heaven wants me to be, I care no more about to‑morrow than though it never would come” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.1, p.132, April 6, 1853).
Adam understood this. Even when he did not understand the requirements, he was obedient. Following his eviction from the Garden of Eden, he and his family received a commandment to “offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.” For us the concept of animal sacrifice is powerful symbolism, but for Adam, who did not yet know the reason nor understand the similitude, it must have seemed strange. What purpose could there be in taking lambs and goats and killing them?
An angel asked Adam the question he must have asked himself more than once during the “many days” in which he kept this commandment: “Why dost thou offer sacrifice unto the Lord?”
And Adam, teaching a great lesson to all of his posterity about problems that don’t make sense, replied, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6).
The preceding is an excerpt from Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of [email protected] Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.