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The following is part of an ongoing series on the test of life. To read the previous installment, click here.
A unique attribute of the Test of Life is that the Teacher is not the only one who submits problems to be solved by the participants. The Instructor, having fashioned the Testing Center according to His specifications, and having insured that it would fulfill the measure of its creation, set the people in the Center free. But with the freedom, came the injunction that if we want to pass the course of study, we must learn to solve all the problems correctly, whether they were prepared by the Teacher, a Teacher’s aide, or one of the other participants.
This characteristic of the Test would make participation a most difficult and frightening proposition, except for two other Test rules that accompany Rule #8. Those rules are:
A. Nothing eternal will ever be lost because of the agency of another participant. (See D&C 132:39; 135:6; 2 Nephi 4:5-7, etc.)
B. If we keep our covenants, search diligently for correct answers, talk continually with the Instructor, and trust and believe in Him, every aspect of the Test, every problem and every difficulty, will work for our benefit and blessing. (See D&C 90:24.)
In the last installment, we observed that many of the Test problems are prepared by the Teacher to bless and exalt and try us. But there are other kinds of problems, myriads of them, which the Teacher does not organize nor inspire, but which He permits. He is only responsible for creating a place where they can occur.
Alma and Amulek were on a mission in the city of Ammonihah. Jonah would have loved this place. These people (at least in this instance) make the Assyrians look like Boy Scouts. Following a fairly successful meeting, the missionaries were locked up by enraged religious and judicial leaders (Alma 14:1-4). These same misguided zealots then turned their attention to those who had believed. The men were stoned and driven out (Alma 14:7; 15:2), but a different fate awaited the women and children. The “wives and children . . . whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire . . .” (Alma 14:8).
This problem was not designed by the Teacher. The mission to Ammonihah was. The call to repentance was. But the cruelty that followed was initiated in absolute independence of the influence of the Spirit.
As a meaningful component to this story, note what happened when Alma and Amulek were brought from prison to witness the murder of their converts. Amulek was pained by the suffering of the women and children (Alma 14:10), and he suggested to Alma that in a display of priesthood power they put an end to the proceedings. At this point the Teacher intervened. Alma said, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth my hand . . .” (Alma 14:11).
But what about those who are dying? What about their agency? What about their lives and loved ones and families and freedoms? Might this not be a case where eternal blessings are lost because of the agency of the wicked followers of Nehor who have kindled and are feeding the fire? Alma continued, “For behold, the Lord receiveth them up unto himself in glory.” This promise of exaltation for the martyrs guarantees that no eternal blessings have been forfeited.
Alma and Amulek suffered privation and abuse for many days in the prison (Alma 14:22), waiting for the Teacher to communicate his will to them. The leaders of Ammonihah continued their war against the truth until they surrendered even their right to take up space in the Testing Center. (Alma 16:2, 3, 9). Alma and Amulek were freed and the entire city of Ammonihah–every living soul–destroyed!
Nephi faced a multitude of problems presented by his brothers rather than the Teacher. During the attempt to obtain the brass plates, Laman and Lemuel were infuriated by the loss of their family’s substantial property to Laban. They beat their younger brothers with a rod. (1 Nephi 3:38.) The beating was serious enough that a Teacher’s aide was dispatched to protect Sam and Nephi.
On the trip back to the Valley of Lemuel with Ishmael and his family, Laman and Lemuel and some of Ishmael’s family rebelled and determined to return to Jerusalem. Nephi pled and preached and they became exasperated with him again. Nephi said, “They were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts” (1 Nephi 7:16). Again the Teacher interceded to protect Nephi, who received strength to break the cords which bound him.
When Ishmael’s daughters murmured against Lehi and Nephi during the hardship and adversity of the desert crossing near Nahom, “Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael, Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi” (1 Nephi 16:37). This time the Teacher, in a rare occurrence, spoke to the rebels with his own voice. “The voice of the Lord came and did . . . chasten them exceedingly; and . . . they did turn away their anger, and did repent” (1 Nephi 17:39).
When the travelers arrived at the land of Bountiful, Nephi was instructed by the Teacher to build a ship and to enlist the aid of his brothers to complete the task. Laman and Lemuel were not enthusiastic about the project. “They did not believe that [Nephi] could build a ship” and “were desirous that they might not labor” (1 Nephi 17:18). They were certain their little brother could not build a ship to cross the Pacific Ocean, and they made their usual collection of accusations against him and his “foolish imaginations.” (1 Nephi 17:20). When Nephi preached to them they became violent again. “They were angry with me and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea,” Nephi recorded. (1 Nephi 17:48).
Again the teacher intruded. Nephi, filled with power, cried:
“In the name of Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed. And he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him” (1 Nephi 17:48).
Laman and Lemuel wisely refrained from any attempt to injure Nephi, and they contributed their labor in the construction of the ship.
On the boat, the older brothers gave themselves to “much rudeness” (1 Nephi 18:9). Nephi was fearful that their conduct would offend the Lord, and so he “began to speak to them with much soberness.” Nephi must have known by then how they would respond to his lectures, but there was nothing else he could do. “But behold they were angry with [him], saying: We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us. And . . . they did take [him] and bind [him] with cords” (1 Nephi 18:10-11).
This time the Teacher sent a terrible tempest. After four days, when Laman and Lemuel realized that they were “about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” and that “the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save they should repent . . . ” they untied Nephi (1 Nephi 18:15).
Once they were in the Promised Land and Lehi had died, Nephi took over the leadership of the colony. And, of course, “Laman and Lemuel . . . were angry with [Nephi] because of the admonitions of the Lord” (2 Nephi 4:13). And, of course, “their anger did increase against [him], insomuch that they did seek to take away [his] life” (2 Nephi 5:2).
This was at least the sixth time that Nephi’s siblings had determined to inflict bodily injury on Nephi. Four times they had endeavored to throw him right out of the Testing Center. But in every case the Teacher had become involved in some way to protect the fourth son of Lehi.
As these dangerous and even life-threatening problems occurred which were not prepared by the Teacher, He acted to ensure that they did not frustrate His plans for the Testing Center and those within. In fact, He transformed them into blessings for Nephi, increasing his faith, expanding his trust, and enlarging his experience. There are no guarantees, of course. The Instructor will not always douse the flames or send an angel or speak with a voice that shakes the Testing Center. The innocents of Ammonihah perished. But they went on to their glory. It is hard to imagine that they complained at the way the problem turned out. Their pain and agony carried them to their exaltation. Clearly, the experience worked for their good.
An important part of the Test is its uncertainty. Many of us have made promises to keep our covenants, no matter what. It is that “no matter what” that challenges our covenant-keeping power. We need to know, just as the Teacher needs to know, if there is any circumstance or any combination of circumstances that can turn us out of the path defined by our covenants.
“A man traveling through the country came to a large city, very rich and splendid; he looked at it and said to his guide, ‘This must be a very righteous people, for I can only see but one little devil in this great city.’
“The guide replied, ‘You do not understand, sir. This city is so perfectly given up to wickedness that it requires but one devil to keep them all in subjection.’
Traveling on a little farther, he came to a rugged path and saw an old man trying to get up the hill side, surrounded by seven great, big, coarse‑looking devils.
“’Why,’ says the traveller, ‘this must be a tremendously wicked old man! See how many devils there are around him!’
“’This,’ replied the guide, “is the only righteous man in the country; and there are seven of the biggest devils trying to turn him out of his path, and they all cannot do it” (Carlos E. Asay, “Opposition to the Work of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 67; also, George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol 5, pp. 363, 364.)
How many “great, big, coarse-looking devils,” how many challenges, how much pain would be required to turn you out of the path defined by your covenants? The Testing Center provides wonderful opportunities for us to keep our covenants in spite of unexpected, bizarre, even terrifying problems. And that is really all the Lord wants to know: will we keep our covenants regardless of the cost.
“Verily I say unto you, all . . . who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me” (D&C 97:8).
We must be willing to put everything on the altar. This is much of what it means to make a covenant:
“In rabbinic and Talmudic times, the phrase Abuilding an [email protected] was used as a metaphor to mean not only the observance of the commandments, but also the total consecration of all one possessedCeven the laying down of one=s own lifeCfor the sanctification of God=s name. Some of the ancient rabbinic sages, therefore, coined expressions like Aas if an altar was erected in the [email protected] to portray those individuals who were willing to do all that God required. Some of them well understood that sacrifice was first made in the mind and heart of the offerer. Their exemplar was Abraham. He had erected an altar long before he reached Moriah.
“Things are not so different today. We talk about being ready to “lay it all on the altar.” We covenant at altars to sacrifice all that we possess for the Lord, and in so doing we “build altars in our hearts,” as the rabbis said. (Andrew C. Skinner, The Old Testament and the Latter-Day Saints: “Genesis 22: The Paradigm for True Sacrifice in Latter-day Israel,” pp. 77,78.)
If we build and honor these altars in our hearts, and if we abide by the covenants we therefore make, we will arrive at the bar of God with the marks of our obedience etched into our souls.
“Let us remember . . . that each of us is being tested, just as the finest cars and planes are tested before they are put into service. They are tested for weaknesses; they are tested for flaws. Can you stand the test? At the bar the Judge will not look us over for medals, degrees, or diplomas, but for scars” (President Hugh B. Brown, Improvement Era, June 1969, pp. 98,99).
The preceding is Rule # 8 of 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.