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Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-33; 122; Our Heritage, pages 45-53
In the fall of 1838, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were arrested and imprisoned in a filthy frontier prison house in Liberty, Missouri, where they and a few of the brethren were kept shackled through the winter. Cold, hunger, and fear were ever present. Even worse, the mean-spirited affidavits of former friends had, in part, led to this imprisonment.
Joseph and Hyrum were also tormented by the knowledge that their families and their followers, driven from their homes by forces of the state of Missouri, were wandering the frozen prairie in search of shelter.
After four anguishing months, overwhelmed with frustration and a feeling of abandonment, Joseph cried out in prayer to the Lord: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?” 1
The trials we face in life often urge us to call out, as Joseph did in the Liberty Jail, “O, God, where art thou?” Illness, doubt, discouragement, and profound loss face every one of us at times in our lives. For some, those times seem to go on forever, and then we cry out, “How long?”
If thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee
The scriptures teach us that this telestial sphere serves us as a school, a place of opposition and struggle and adversity which we must necessarily pass through to attain exaltation and eternal life.
The voice of the Lord comforted Joseph in his trials with this promise: “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.” 2
The Lord provided Joseph a full catalogue of adversities that he-or any of us–might have to “pass through” to qualify to return to his presence:
If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; 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. 3
The ultimate purpose of our suffering adversity in this telestial sphere is to give us “experience” that will benefit us in ways we cannot foresee. There is a divine law at work here: without going through certain experiences that are tailored for our own good, we cannot be “exalted on high.” As we review D&C 121:5-7, we will recognize some of these experiences in our own lives.
For the faithful, trials come in the form of a calling from the Lord, as the scripture clearly says we are “called to pass through tribulations.” These tribulations might come in the form of betrayals by “false brethren.” We might be robbed and cheated in our lives. We might be falsely accused. We might be separated from the bosom of family members by force, by misunderstanding, by death. Through no fault of our own, we might see many of our hopes frustrated as “the elements combine to hedge up the way.” We might be “cast into the pit” of depression or illness or addiction. In extremity, we might find ourselves literally at the “very jaws of hell”-facing war, disaster, or tragedies such as the Holocaust that this past century has looked on with unbelieving horror.
Still, tribulations are calculated to help us toward our ultimate exaltation in the intricate plan of the Lord for each of his children. Our task is to “endure it well,” meaning to exercise patience and faith in the Savior. The Apostle Paul understood that when we face adversity with patience, the resulting “experience” is the basis of our hope for eternal progression in the kingdom of God: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” 4
What reward was the Prophet Joseph promised if he endured his trials well?
God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.
All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ. And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars-all the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times-according to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.
How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.5
The ultimate reward for those who endure valiantly for the gospel is knowledge-the kind of divine understanding that is prerequisite to the inheritance of “thrones and dominions, principalities and powers.” President Henry B. Eyring teaches that the Father and the Son have designed our mortal experience carefully in order to qualify us for the kind of life they live: “The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life. Then our spirits will be changed. We will become able to want what God wants, to think as He thinks, and thus be prepared for the trust of an endless posterity to teach and to lead through tests to be raised up to qualify to live forever in eternal life.” 6
He will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people
It is profoundly comforting to understand the divine purpose behind our trials in this life, and that someday, as Joseph Smith taught, “all your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful.” 7 Still, the pain of loss or disease or terror or a broken heart can be overwhelming to us. The only real remedy for the pain this telestial world can inflict on us is to turn to our Savior here and now.
When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden and the warm, comforting presence of the Father and the Son, they longed for that comfort once again. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observes, “When Adam and Eve willingly stepped into mortality, they knew this telestial world would contain thorns and thistles and troubles of every kind.” 8
To help them through their mortal trials, they were commanded to “call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.” 9 “Call upon God for what?” asks Elder Holland. “What is the nature of this first instruction to the human family? Why are they to call upon God? Is this a social visit? Is it a friendly neighborhood chat? No, this is a call for help from the lone and dreary world. This is a call from the brink of despair.” 10
Only the Lord can respond to that call and bring peace and comfort. Tenderly, the Lord reminded Joseph Smith in his cry for help, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” 11
We learn from the scriptures that only the Savior can truly “succor his people according to their infirmities” because he has descended below all things and personally experienced the pain that we experience. The prophet Alma taught:
He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and 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. 12
The term “succor” means literally “to run to, or run to support; hence, to help or relieve when in difficulty, want or distress.” 13 In all tenderness, he “runs” to our side when we need him. In contemplating the love of our Father in Heaven, Elder Melvin J. Ballard wrote, “I ask you, what father and mother could stand by and listen to the cry of their children in distress … and not render assistance? I have heard of mothers throwing themselves into raging streams when they could not swim a stroke to save their drowning children, [I have heard of fathers] rushing into burning buildings to rescue those whom they loved.” 14 In the same way, God rushes to our aid when we call on him.
For many, this is a time of adversity. Elder Quentin L. Cook observes, “The recent economic crisis has caused significant concern throughout the world. Employment and financial problems are not unusual. Many people have physical and mental health challenges. Others deal with marital problems or wayward children. Some have lost loved ones. Addictions and inappropriate or harmful propensities cause heartache. Whatever the source of the trials, they cause significant pain and suffering for individuals and those who love them.” 15
Peace of the Spirit can come to those who taste bitter trials if they will endure in patience and call on Father in Heaven for his help. The assurance the Lord gave to Joseph Smith is true for all:
“Hold on thy way . . . thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” 16
1 D&C 121:1-2.
2 D&C 121:7-8.
3 D&C 122:5-7.
4 Romans 5:3-4.
5 D&C 121:26-33.
6 Henry B. Eyring, “Adversity,” Ensign, May 2009, 23-27
7 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret News Press, 1965, 296.
8 Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Ministry of Angels,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 29.
9 Moses 5:8.
10 Jeffrey R. Holland, “I Stand All Amazed,” Ensign, August 1986, 68.
11 D&C 121:8.
12 Alma 7:11-13.
13 “Succor,” Webster’s Dictionary,1828,succor
14 Melvin J. Ballard, “Classic Discourses from the General Authorities: The Sacramental Covenant,” New Era, Jan 1976, 7.
15 Quentin L. Cook, Hope Ya Know, We Had a Hard Time,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 102.
16 D&C 121:9.