Author Ted Gibbons passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. In honor of his memory and the wonderful insights he shared here on Meridian, we will continue to publish his work periodically.
Alma concluded a lesson he taught to Helaman about the journey through mortality to eternal life by saying, “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way” (Alma 37:46, emphasis added).
The “easiness of the way”? Not many travelers through mortality have complained that the route was “easy.” The problems along the way are often difficult, and the distractions along the straight and narrow way are intense, but the way is always easy to find, and regardless of the difficulty of the problems, the solutions are always simple.
The key to this ease, this simplicity, lies in remembering the purpose of the Test. And that purpose is to allow us to demonstrate that we will keep our covenants no matter what calamities may occur.
This principle is taught forcefully in the story of a righteous and wealthy man of Uz named Job.
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed [avoided, shunned] evil.
“His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3).
In a matter of minutes he lost everything, including his ten children. Job then said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Then came the disease. Keith Meservy wrote:
“From the symptoms, some have said that it appears that he had elephantiasis. Sore boils, one of the symptoms of the disease, had attacked Job’s body, forming large pustules which itched so greatly that a piece of pottery was used to scrape them. Job’s face was so disfigured that his friends could not recognize him. Worms or maggots were bred in the sores. (Job 7:5.) His breath became so foul and his body emitted such an odor, that even his friends abhorred him . . . and he sought refuge outside the city of the refuse heap where outcasts and lepers lived. Pain was his constant companion” (Keith H. Meservy, “Job: Yet Will I Trust in Him,” Sydney B. Sperry Symposium, BYU, January 28, 1978).
Most people are aware only of these two aspects of the suffering of Job: the material impoverishment and the physical affliction. But there was more. A person who had endured cataclysmic loss and who was suffering from appalling pain might at least hope to find some relief in sleep. But not Job: “When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions” (Job 7: 13-16).
He was humiliated. “But now they that are younger than me have me in derision” (Job 30:1). “And now I am their song, yea, I am their byword. They abhor me . . . and spare not to spit in my face . . . they push away my feet” (Job 30:9-10, 12). He lost the support of his friends and relatives, the very people who should have strengthened him during his crisis. “He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintances are verily estranged from me. My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:13- 14).
Job felt no divine support or comfort, and received no answers to his prayers. “Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?” (Job 13:24). “Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard. I cry aloud, but there is no judgment” (Job 19:7). “He hideth himself . . . that I cannot see him” (Job 23:9).
Job was so miserable that he longed for death and wished he had never been born. “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness . . .” (Job 3:3-4). “Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand, and cut me off” (Job 6:8, 9).
Finally, when three friends came to console Job in his anguish, each of them accused him of wickedness. The record says Job was “perfect and upright” (Job 1:1). There is not the least implication in the book that Job suffered because of his sins. But Eliphaz said, “Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same” (Job 4:7-9). Bildad declared, “If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous” (Job 8:6). And when Job insisted he was “pure and upright,” Zophar argued, “Should thy lies make men hold their peace? . . . Oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee; and that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom . . . know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth” (Job 11:3-6).
Job’s story has great power for participants in the Test who encounter terrifying, paralyzing problems; for those who labor constantly to discover and apply correct solutions to the problems of the Test, and suffer nevertheless. That power is in an awareness of why Job remained faithful, while others, with less cause, abandoned the kingdom and turned against the Teacher.
Job endured despite problems of inconceivable difficulty because he knew the simple solutions: his testimony, his trust, and his integrity carried him through his tribulations to triumph.
“Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:23-27).
“Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will. Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand? Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him . . .” (Job 13:13-15).
“As God liveth, who hath taken away my judgment; and the Almighty who hath vexed my soul; all the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils; my lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit . . . till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:2-6).
The message of Job is that if we understand the purpose of the Test and the Testing Center; if we have a testimony of the truth; if we know about the Teacher and His love for us; and if we are determined to keep the covenants we have made with the Teacher and obey Him, we can solve any problem that occurs, regardless of its difficulty.
Consider one of the problems on Abraham’s version of the Test of Life. Abraham grew up in a community much like the society of Mormon, who wrote, “A continual scene of wickedness and abomination has been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man” (Mormon 2:18). In the land of the Chaldeans, human sacrifice had become a way of worship. Never in the history of man was any practice any more repugnant than human sacrifice, especially the sacrificing by parents of their own children. And Abraham’s fathers had turned from righteousness to the “sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto . . .” their false gods (Abraham 1:7).
Abraham begins his record by telling us he has discovered that he must leave home. (Abraham 1:1). He then proceeds to tell us why. Because he preached against this unholy practice, an attempt was made to have him sacrificed. (Abraham 1:7).
Who made the attempt? The priest of Elkenah raised the knife to do the deed, but the content of Abraham 1 makes it clear that the moving force behind this attempted human sacrifice was Terah, Abraham’s father. In verses 5-7 of chapter 1, Abraham discusses the apostasy of his fathers, which led to the event depicted in Facsimile No. 1. He then informs us that a famine followed his rescue from the altar by an angel of the Lord, and explains that because of this famine, his father “repented of the evil which he had determined against me, to take away my life” (Abraham 1:30, emphasis added).
It would probably be safe to assume therefore that if there was a sin against which Abraham preached with particular fervor and zeal, it must have been human sacrifice, and in fact he must have spent much of his life preaching against this very practice, which followed him in the heart of his father from Ur to Haran. (See Abraham 2:1-5.)
Abraham, in his righteousness, sought for and obtained his “appointment unto the Priesthood” (Abraham 1:4). He obtained a land of promise, and later, the additional promise of innumerable posterity and eternal increase. Finally he was promised that all of these blessings would be offered to his mortal posterity. To claim these blessings, Abraham needed only two things: he needed mortal posterity, and he needed to pass the Test and demonstrate to the Teacher that he would keep his covenants, regardless of the cost.
This leads us to an important observation. If the Teacher really wanted to test Abraham to see if there existed any circumstance in which he would not keep his covenants, how could He do so? The answer is obvious. He made the father of the faithful wait a hundred years to have the son through whom the blessings would come, and then, years later, commanded Abraham to take the boy and offer him as a human sacrifice.
Joseph Smith said, “that if God had known any other way whereby he could have touched Abraham’s feelings more acutely and more keenly he would have done so” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, vol. 24, p.264).
But this problem was not a problem of human sacrifice alone. Abraham had to tell Sarah sometime, either before or after. He had to travel three days to the place of sacrifice. He had to explain enough to Isaac to get him on the altar. Isaac, whatever his age, was no infant. Genesis 22:6 indicates that he carried the wood for the burnt offering. And Abraham had to raise the knife himself. There was no priest of Elkenah on Mount Moriah to do the deed for him.
This was a formidable problem! But the solution was, as always, simple: Abraham, relying on his testimony, his trust, and his integrity, kept his covenants. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning . . . and went unto the place . . .” of sacrifice. (Genesis 22:3). He “laid the wood in order, and bound his son . . . on the altar . . . and stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:9, 10). The Teacher sent an aide to avert the sacrifice, but only after it was clear that Abraham himself would not capitulate.
“Joseph told the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo that the Teacher “would get hold of their heart strings and wrench them, and that they would have to be tried as Abraham was tried” (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, vol. 24, p. 264).
From the life of Heber C. Kimball comes an account of one such wrenching of the “heart strings.”
“Joseph demanded for himself what to Heber was the unthinkable, his Vilate. Totally crushed spiritually and emotionally, Heber touched neither food nor water for three days and three nights and continually sought confirmation and comfort from God. On the evening of the third day, some kind of assurance came, and Heber took Vilate to the upper room of Joseph’s store on Water Street. The Prophet wept at this act of faith, devotion, and obedience. Joseph had never intended to take Vilate. It was all a test. . . . Then and there Joseph sealed their marriage for time and eternity, perhaps the first sealing of this kind among the Mormons” (Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981.), p. 93).
Heber solved the problem and passed this part of the Test, because he had a testimony of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, because he sought comfort, peace, and confirmation from that Teacher in whom he trusted, and because he was honest: he wanted to keep his covenants.
These kinds of problems, often called “Abrahamic Tests,” come to many in the Testing Center, for the Teacher intends to prove us all. Richard Benson is a great example. An English convert sent by Brigham Young to Iron County, he settled in Center Creek, 250 miles from Salt Lake City.
In April of 1866 he traveled to General Conference, and while there, heard his name announced from the pulpit by Heber C. Kimball. He had been called on a mission to England. After the meeting, he and Heber spoke about the time when Richard Benson could leave for his field of labor. Richard explained that he needed to go home, say good-bye to his wife, plow and plant and put in the crops, and haul wood against the coming winter and the winter after that.
Heber said, “Why Richard, that would waste a month.” He promised to have Richard’s bishop say his goodbyes and watch over his family. “The caravan leaves day after tomorrow for the Missouri.”
When the wagon train left, Richard was with it. Why? Because he had been called by the Teacher’s servant, and he trusted the teacher, knew the work was true, and meant to keep his covenants. (See Ensign, Oct. 1972, pp. 89,90.)
Others did not do so well. The problem that Thomas Marsh failed to pass began as a small, almost insignificant difficulty,
“. . . sometimes it happens that out of a small matter grows something exceedingly great. For instance, while the Saints were living in Far West, there were two sisters wishing to make cheese, and, neither of them possessing the requisite number of cows, they agreed to exchange milk.
“The wife of Thomas B. Marsh, who was then President of the Twelve Apostles, and sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese than they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Small matters to talk about here, to be sure, two women’s exchanging milk to make cheese.
“Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings.
“Finally it leaked out that Mrs. Marsh had saved strippings, and it became a matter to be settled by the Teachers. They began to examine the matter, and it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings, and consequently had wronged Mrs. Harris out of that amount.
“An appeal was taken from the Teachers to the Bishop, and a regular Church trial was held. President Marsh did not consider that the Bishop had done him and his lady justice, for they decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved, and that the woman had violated her covenant.
“Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council, who investigated the question with much patience, and I assure you they were a grave body. Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, as he was President of the Twelve Apostles, and a great man in Israel, made a desperate defense, but the High council finally confirmed the Bishop’s decision.
“Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his Counsellors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.
“This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.
“The then President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of his family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the “Mormons” were hostile to the State of Missouri. That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent to this state of affairs.
“Do you understand what trouble was consequent to the dispute about a pint of strippings?” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, pp.283 and 284).
The solution to this problem, indeed to all Test problems, is simple. The problem itself is simple! Compared to those challenges faced by Job and Abraham and Heber, the matter of the milk hardly deserves notice, except that Marsh missed the solution and lost his apostleship, and (for a time) lost his membership, and caused enormous suffering for the Saints. His lack of integrity in keeping his covenants cost him almost everything.
George A. Smith related the story of Elder Frazier Eaton, who came to the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. When a thousand people were in the building, which had room to seat only nine hundred and sixty, the doors were closed. Eaton was still outside. “This caused . . . Eaton, who had paid seven hundred dollars toward building the house, to apostatize, because he did not get there early enough to the meeting” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 9).
What counsel should be given to this man? “Keep your covenants. Life is a Test. Into every life comes a portion of frustration. But your soul and your family and your integrity are worth infinitely more than seven hundred dollars. Just keep your covenants!”
On another occasion, George A. Smith recalled the story of a man from Canada,
“who had been a Methodist, and had always been in the habit of praying to a God who had no ears, and as a matter of course had to shout and halloo pretty loud to make him hear. Father Johnson asked him to pray in their family worship in the evening, and he got on such a high key, and hallooed so loud that he alarmed the whole village. Among others, Joseph came running out saying, “What is the matter? I thought by the noise that the heavens and the earth were coming together,” and said to the man, ‘that he ought not to give way to such an enthusiastic spirit, and bray like a jackass.’
“Because Joseph said that, the poor man put back to Canada and apostatized” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 214).
Job said, “. . . till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go . . .” (Job 27:5, 6.) Marsh said, “Till I die I will not remove my integrity from me, except under the condition that someone challenges the honesty of my wife.” Eaton said, “My righteousness I hold fast and will not let it go, except under the condition that I don’t get a seat at the temple dedication.” The Canadian member said, “I’ll keep my covenants no matter what, except under the condition that someone important ridicules the way I pray.”
“Abel was slain for his righteousness. . . Abraham . . . was laid upon the iron bedstead for slaughter. . . . Moses . . . was driven from his country and kindred. Elijah had to flee his country. . . . Daniel was cast into a den of lions: Micah was fed on the bread of affliction, and Jeremiah was cast into the filthy hole under the Temple . . . all the saints . . . prophets and apostles, have had to come up through great tribulation. . . .” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Deseret Book ,Co: Salt Lake City, 1938), pp. 260 and 261).
The conclusion of the whole matter is simple: we will be tried and we will be tested, and through it all, we must keep our covenants. We must have testimony and trust and integrity. We must do our duty.
I knew a remarkable sister in the mission field. She was an incomparable blessing to our branch. Her testimony and love caused many struggling investigators to set aside fear and join the church. Her selflessness inspired her Relief Society sisters to greater efforts of service. But she had a great sadness in her life. Her husband was not a member of the church. In fact, during the eight months I worked in the city where she lived, I doubt I ever saw him. If the elders came to the front door, he left by the back. He opposed her service in the kingdom and resented the time she gave to her church.
President James E. Faust spoke of her.
“In a stake conference in Campinas, Brazil, I enjoyed a soul‑restoring experience of listening to the gifted, able, and charming president of the stake Relief Society, Sister Vilma Figuereda. She told of the great excitement and personal revelation she received regarding the truthfulness of the Church when she first heard its message from the missionaries. She was literally twice born, with energy, conviction, and a desire to tell all of her acquaintances and others of the healing and sanctifying message of the gospel. She walked over so many cobblestones and on so many sidewalks that she would wear out a pair of shoes each month. Her husband, at that time not a member of the Church but concerned about the many demands upon the limited resources of the family, asked her, ‘Couldn’t the Church at least buy you a pair of shoes?’ The soles of her shoes were worn thin, but the inner soul of her being was fully restored” (President James E. Faust, “He Restoreth My Soul,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 4).
In 1995 I was privileged to return to Brazil and was able to visit this dear sister in her home. She came to the door in answer to our knock and invited us in. Standing in the living room was a man I did not recognize. He introduced himself. He was her husband, and he was now a faithful member of the Church, and sealed to his wife in the Sao Paulo Temple. He had been serving as the patriarch in his stake.
I was thrilled for him but even more for his wife, who endured decades of bitterness from him but kept on doing the right things. What she did cannot have been easy to do. But It was simple for her to know what to do. She kept her covenants and did her duty.
The preceding is Rule # 10 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.