Thursday, March 19, 2009

Suffering and Sanctification

I guess this is very basic stuff. Brain damage does it to me. Sorry.

Not sure what I know and don't know any more, so I'm sorting through old memory banks. Please, be patient with me. I'm just a silly old man, waiting for the end, trying my best. Sometimes my best is not too good.

For example, I wet the bed last night, much to my chagrin. I am wearing diapers again for the first time in more than over fifty years. Keeps the bed clean, at least. But they don't do much for my sense of dignity. Better than wet garments, I suppose. Modern diapers really are pretty good, technologically speaking.

I believe suffering by itself does not necessarily make holy men and women of our brothers and sisters. Nor was anyone necessarily taking that position here. It depends on how we are disposed to react, I suppose. A former stake president gave much good counsel on this matter, but I lost my notes, my mind, and almost my life, so I'll wing it.

Stay with me to the last, because even though this is long, I saved some good stuff for the ending.

(Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith Article 3).
We believe that through the atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

(Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith Article 4).
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third,baptism by immersion for the remission of sins...

(Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith Article 4b).
....Fourth, Laying on of hands for the hands of the Holy Ghost.

And finally,

(Doctrine and Covenants section 84:33-40).
For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
(Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21).
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.

Liberty Jail

Elder Holland illustrates and elaborates further with ideas about enduring suffering with an eye single to the glory of God. Excerpts from his Liberty Jail fireside talk...
Everyone Faces Trying Times
Now then, three lessons from Liberty Jail: May I suggest that the first of these is inherent in what I’ve already said—that everyone, including (and perhaps especially) the righteous, will be called upon to face trying times. When that happens we can sometimes fear God has abandoned us, and we might be left, at least for a time, to wonder when our troubles will ever end. As individuals, as families, as communities, and as nations, probably everyone has had or will have an occasion to feel as Joseph Smith felt when he asked why such sorrow had to come and how long its darkness and damage would remain. We identify with him when he cries from the depth and discouragement of his confinement:
O God, where art thou? . . .
How long shall thy hand be stayed . . . ?
Yea, O Lord, how long shall [thy people] suffer . . . before . . . thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?  (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–3)
That is a painful, personal cry—a cry from the heart, a spiritual loneliness we may all have occasion to feel at some time in our lives...
...whenever these moments of our extremity come, we must not succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear our prayers. He does hear us. He does see us. He does love us. When we are in dire circumstances and want to cry “Where art Thou?” it is imperative that we remember He is right there with us—where He has always been! We must continue to believe, continue to have faith, continue to pray and plead with heaven, even if we feel for a time our prayers are not heard and that God has somehow gone away. He is there. Our prayers are heard. And when we weep He and the angels of heaven weep with us.
When lonely, cold, hard times come, we have to endure, we have to continue, we have to persist. That was the Savior’s message in the parable of the importuning widow (see Luke 18:1–8; see also Luke 11:5–10). Keep knocking on that door. Keep pleading. In the meantime, know that God hears your cries and knows your distress. He is your Father, and you are His child.
When what has to be has been and when what lessons to be learned have been learned, it will be for us as it was for the Prophet Joseph. Just at the time he felt most alone and distant from heaven’s ear was the very time he received the wonderful ministration of the Spirit and wonderful, glorious answers that came from his Father in Heaven.
Into this dismal dungeon and this depressing time, the voice of God came, saying:
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; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8)
 Even though seemingly unjust circumstances may be heaped upon us and even though unkind and unmerited things may be done to us—perhaps by those we consider enemies but also, in some cases, by those whom we thought were friends—nevertheless, through it all, God is with us.
Even the Worthy Will Suffer
Secondly, we need to realize that just because difficult things happen—sometimes unfair and seemingly unjustified things—it does not mean that we are unrighteous or that we are unworthy of blessings or that God is disappointed in us. Of course sinfulness does bring suffering, and the only answer to that behavior is repentance. But sometimes suffering comes to the righteous, too. You will recall that from the depths of Liberty Jail when Joseph was reminded that he had indeed been “cast . . . into trouble,” had passed through tribulation and been falsely accused, had been torn away from his family and cast into a pit, into the hands of murderers, nevertheless, he was to remember that the same thing had happened to the Savior of the world, and because He was triumphant, so shall we be (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:4–7). In giving us this sober reminder of what the Savior went through, the revelation from Liberty Jail records: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:8).
No. Joseph was not greater than the Savior, and neither are we. And when we promise to follow the Savior, to walk in His footsteps and be His disciples, we are promising to go where that divine path leads us. And the path of salvation has always led one way or another through Gethsemane. So if the Savior faced such injustices and discouragements, such persecutions, unrighteousness, and suffering, we cannot expect that we are not going to face some of that if we still intend to call ourselves His true disciples and faithful followers. And it certainly underscores the fact that the righteous—in the Savior’s case, the personification of righteousness—can be totally worthy before God and still suffer.
In fact, it ought to be a matter of great doctrinal consolation to us that Jesus, in the course of the Atonement, experienced all of the heartache and sorrow, all of the disappointments and injustices that the entire family of man had experienced and would experience from Adam and Eve to the end of the world in order that we would not have to face them so severely or so deeply. However heavy our load might be, it would be a lot heavier if the Savior had not gone that way before us and carried that burden with us and for us.
Very early in the Prophet Joseph’s ministry, the Savior taught him this doctrine. After speaking of sufferings so exquisite to feel and so hard to bear, Jesus said:
I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they [and that means you and I and everyone] might not suffer if they would repent. (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16)
In our moments of pain and trial, I guess we would shudder to think it could be worse, but the answer to that is clearly that it could be worse and it would be worse. Only through our faith and repentance and obedience to the gospel that provided the sacred Atonement is it kept from being worse.
Furthermore, we note that not only has the Savior suffered, in His case entirely innocently, but so have most of the prophets and other great men and women recorded in the scriptures. Name an Old Testament or Book of Mormon prophet, name a New Testament Apostle, name virtually any of the leaders in any dispensation, including our own, and you name someone who has had trouble.
My point? If you are having a bad day, you’ve got a lot of company—very, very good company. The best company that has ever lived.
Now, don’t misunderstand. We don’t have to look for sorrow. We don’t have to seek to be martyrs. Trouble has a way of finding us even without our looking for it. But when it is obvious that a little time in Liberty Jail waits before you (spiritually speaking), remember these first two truths taught to Joseph in that prison-temple. First, God has not forgotten you, and second, the Savior has been where you have been, allowing Him to provide for your deliverance and your comfort.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote, the Lord has “graven thee upon the palms of [His] hands” (Isaiah 49:16), permanently written right there in scar tissue with Roman nails as the writing instrument. Having paid that price in the suffering that They have paid for you, the Father and the Son will never forget nor forsake you in your suffering. (See Isaiah 49:14–16; see also 1 Nephi 21:14–16.) They have planned, prepared, and guaranteed your victory if you desire it, so be believing and “endure it well” (D&C 121:8). In the end it “shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7), and you will see “everlasting dominion” flow unto you forever and ever “without compulsory means” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:46)
Remain Calm, Patient, Charitable, and Forgiving
Thirdly, and tonight lastly, may I remind us all that in the midst of these difficult feelings when one could justifiably be angry or reactionary or vengeful, wanting to return an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, the Lord reminds us from the Liberty Jail prison-temple that
the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only [or “except”] upon the principles of righteousness. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:36)
Therefore, even when we face such distressing circumstances in our life and there is something in us that wants to strike out at God or man or friend or foe, we must remember that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained [except] by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; . . . without hypocrisy, and without guile” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–42).
It has always been a wonderful testimony to me of the Prophet Joseph’s greatness and the greatness of all of our prophets, including and especially the Savior of the world in His magnificence, that in the midst of such distress and difficulty they could remain calm and patient, charitable, and forgiving—that they could even talk that way, let alone live that way. But they could, and they did. They remembered their covenants, they disciplined themselves, and they knew that we must live the gospel at all times, not just when it is convenient and not just when things are going well. Indeed, they knew that the real test of our faith and our Christian discipleship is when things are not going smoothly. That is when we get to see what we’re made of and how strong our commitment to the gospel really is.
Surely the classic example of this is that in the most painful hours of the Crucifixion the Savior could say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). That is a hard thing to ask when we’re hurting. That is a hard thing to do when we’ve been offended or are tired or stressed out or suffering innocently. But that is when Christian behavior may matter the most. Remember, “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled [except] upon the principles of righteousness.” And do we need the powers of heaven with us at such times! As Joseph was taught in this prison-temple, even in distress and sorrow we must “let [our] bowels . . . be full of charity towards all men . . . ; then [and only then] shall [our] confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and . . . the Holy Ghost shall be [our] constant companion” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46).
Remaining true to our Christian principles is the only way divine influence can help us. The Spirit has a near-impossible task to get through to a heart that is filled with hate or anger or vengeance or self-pity. Those are all antithetical to the Spirit of the Lord. On the other hand, the Spirit finds instant access to a heart striving to be charitable and forgiving, long-suffering and kind—principles of true discipleship. What a testimony that gospel principles are to apply at all times and in all situations and that if we strive to remain faithful, the triumph of a Christian life can never be vanquished, no matter how grim the circumstance might be. How I love the majesty of these elegant, celestial teachings taught, ironically, in such a despicable setting and time.
Do All Things Cheerfully
As a valedictory to the lessons from Liberty Jail, I refer to the last verse of the last section of these three we have been referring to tonight. In this final canonized statement of the Liberty Jail experience, the Lord says to us through His prophet, Joseph Smith:
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren [and sisters, when we are in even the most troubling of times], let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17)
What a tremendously optimistic and faithful concluding declaration to be issued from a prison-temple! When he wrote those lines, Joseph did not know when he would be released or if he would ever be released. There was every indication that his enemies were still planning to take his life. Furthermore, his wife and children were alone, frightened, often hungry, wondering how they would fend for themselves without their husband and father. The Saints, too, were without homes and without their prophet. They were leaving Missouri, heading for Illinois, but who knew what tragedies were awaiting them there? Surely, to say it again, it was the bleakest and darkest of times.
Yet in these cold, lonely hours, Joseph says let us do all we can and do it cheerfully. And then we can justifiably turn to the Lord, wait upon His mercy, and see His arm revealed in our behalf.
What a magnificent attitude to maintain in good times or bad, in sorrow or in joy!


Anonymous said...

It's Cindy again...someday I really will figure out how to do this right!

If brain damage is what helps us get back to basics, let us all be so! It's actually one of the reasons I love serving in Primary instead of going to RS and SS--it's all basics there!

And humility is one of the attributes of the Savior--too bad sometimes it is so hard (or personally embarrasing) to find!

I really enjoyed these thoughts this morning--in the midst of dark trials the sun will still shine! Thank you Jim.

Love you,

Anonymous said...

And yet I can promise you that Joseph himself was not cheerful as the tar and feathers were being torn from his flesh.

I can pretty much guarantee you that he was not cheerful as he was tormented over and over again, and saw the faithful saints murdered and had his wife and children ripped from his side, not knowing what would happen to them.

Its all well and good for Elder Holland to talk about being cheerful in the midst of trials, but nobody really is, if they are sane, are they? I mean, joy cometh in the morning, right? Not in the middle of the hurricane or tornado, while your house is being ripped apart around you and your children are being crushed in the debris.

Joy cometh in the morning - aka in the light the Savior brings. I don't think that God had in mind for us to skip rope in the midst of our sorrows. I think he meant for us to have hope, and enough of that to get us through to that morning light.

Don't you think?

I'm just trying to be realistic, that's all. That's how I interpret it, anyway. Perhaps Elder Holland and I disagree on the interpretation, and I may be wrong, but it does seem to make more sense that way.

And sanctification seems to come through trial and sometimes suffering, which seriously hurts us at times, just isn't something to smile about while we're in the midst of it.

After we heal, and can look back with some distance, we can see the lessons learned, and find the cheerfulness in the lesson learned.

Jim Cobabe said...


"Cheerfulness" is decidedly inappropriate in some circumstances. When you describe displaying emotions, Jesus showed many. He did not "cheerfully" die upon the cross. He displayed anger when he twice drove moneychangers from his Fathers temple. He was a man of passion, but controlled passion, and he displayed the kind of control always that set the example for us that is most condusive to Heavenly Father's Spirit.

This is the lesson of Liberty Jail.

Incidentally, the senior missionaries sometimes looked the other way and let the elders camp out in the Jail at night when I was there in the area. I always declined, but thought I wasn't a good enough person to be in such a place. I did work as a missionary there for a time, taught some discussions, and got several good investigator referrals.