“O God, Where Art Thou?”

Lesson 28 – D&C 121:1-33; 122; Our Heritage pgs. 45-53


Think about an adversity you have personally experienced, what you learned from it, and how you grew through having that experience.


Background: In late 1833, the Saints were driven from Jackson County and took refuge in nearby Clay County. In 1836, they were asked to leave, so they moved approximately 60 miles to the north, establishing the community of Far West and some smaller settlements.  The Church prospered for a while in that area; the population quickly increased, and Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman were chosen for temple sites.  But all was not well in Zion due to continuing disputes among some of the members.  Prominent leaders including Oliver Cowdrey and David Whitmer were excommunicated.  Conflicts with non-members occurred and in 1838, mobs and militias attacked.  In late October, 3 members were slain at Crooked River—one was an Apostle, David W. Patten. Days later, Missouri’s Governor Boggs issued the infamous extermination order which stated that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state” (History of the Church, 3:175). Within 48 hours, on 30 October 1838, a mob of about 200 men killed 17 men and boys at Haun’s Mill.  On the 31st, the Prophet and approximately 50 Church leaders were arrested on trumped-up charges.  All but six were released within 3 weeks, but despite their innocence, Joseph and Hyrum were among those detained. They remained imprisoned, mostly at Liberty Jail, until April 1839.  Kept in a lower-level dungeon-like room, the prisoners endured unsanitary, dark, cold conditions with little food—and what there was of it was filthy.  Sleeping on a little straw between them and the cold stone floor, they only had thin blankets for cover.  The taller brethren, especially Joseph and Hyrum, were unable to stand up because of the low ceiling.  In addition, they were regularly subjected to death threats.  While the Prophet was in Liberty Jail, some 8,000 Saints were forced out of their homes in accordance with Gov. Bogg’s order.  Many were robbed, beaten, and some were killed as they fled to Illinois. Upon hearing of the suffering and hardships, Joseph pled with the Savior for relief for his followers.  Responding, the Lord gave revelations which the Prophet sent in a letter to Church leaders in Quincy, Illinois.  Portions of these revelations have come to us as Sections 121,122, and 123 of the D&C.


Joseph Smith’s prayer in Liberty Jail and the Lord’s response

D&C 121:1-6 record Joseph’s entreaties to the Lord as he sought the welfare of the Saints. 

D&C 121:7-33 and section 122 are the Lord’s response to Joseph’s prayers.  In 121:7-10, the Lord tells the Prophet that this is temporary and that things could be worse!  Imagine in your mind how Joseph might have felt about that answer—and how you would feel in that situation!  In the midst of this deep tribulation, the jail became a place of heavenly instruction.  B.H. Roberts wrote: “The eyes of the saints were turned to [Liberty Jail] as the place whence would come encouragement, counsel—the word of the Lord. It was more temple than prison, so long as the Prophet was there.  It was a place of meditation and prayer…Joseph Smith sought God in this rude prison, and found him” (A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:526)


The Savior’s perfect understanding of our sufferings and adversity

D&C 122:5-8 taught the Prophet to put trials in perspective and learn from them. He also reminded Joseph that He was well acquainted with suffering, having “descended below” all things. (D&C 19:16-19)


Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke of the Savior’s suffering: “As part of His infinite atonement, Jesus…has borne the sins, griefs, sorrows, and, declared Jacob, the pains of every man, woman, and child (2 Nephi 9:21). Having been perfected in His empathy, Jesus thus knows how to succor us…Nothing is beyond His redeeming reach or His encircling empathy. Therefore, we should not complain about our own life’s not being a rose garden when we remember who wore the crown of thorns!” (Ensign, May 1987, 72)  Bro. Maxwell speaks from experience when he gives counsel on how to endure sufferings.  Knowledge of the Savior’s suffering can help us maintain our faith as we endure trials and troubles. 


Purposes of adversity

Adversity is part of the plan that God proposed and we chose.  It was incorporated into mortality to test us and cause us to grow in this life.  Experiencing pain, trials, and difficulty was something we knew would occur here and we accepted it as part of the test, knowing that success in the testing would bring eternal rewards and enlarged ability.


The Prophet Joseph Smith experienced so many afflictions that he said they “have been my common lot in all the days of my life;…and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation” (D&C 127:2)  There were numerous occasions, in addition to the times in Liberty Jail, when the Lord taught the Prophet about adversity. 


Purposes of adversity include:

·        D&C 98:12, 14-15; 101:4; 136:31. Adversity tries us, allowing us to be proven worthy by keeping our covenants in spite of the difficulties

·        D&C 101:1-2. Adversity may come as a result of our transgressions and bad choices

·        D&C 122:7. Adversity can teach us truths, give us experience, help us develop empathy


D&C 121:8 promises blessings if we “endure it [adversity] well”.  In class, let’s discuss what you think it means to “endure it well”.


Affliction is not just for punishment.  It may come from transgression—that is one cause, but committing a sin or making a bad choice is not the only reason for adversity.  Some adversity comes just because we live in a telestial world and it’s part of the requirement for “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11).  Another cause of adversity is the condition that others be allowed their free agency.  In exercising their free agency, others may cause accidents or may choose to cause pain and suffering for us, taking actions that God could protect us from, but He may not do so because of His respect for our free agency.  And in some cases, adversity is a learning opportunity—maybe a really difficult one—but an opportunity all the same.


Elder Harold B. Lee said that “living the gospel of Jesus Christ is no guarantee that adversity will not come into our lives; but living the gospel does give us the strength and faith and power to rise above that adversity and look beyond the present trouble to the brighter day” (Improvement Era, Dec. 1967, 47)


The Lord’s counsel to those who experience adversity


·        D&C 24:8; 31:9; 54:10; 121:7 encourage patience in afflictions and placing things in perspective

·        D&C 98:1 is counsel to rejoice in affliction and be thankful for it

·        D&C 98:11 teaches us to remain obedient and continue seeking to do good

·        D&C 101:36-38 counsels caring more for the soul than the body and seeking the Lord

·        D&C 122:9 reminds us that God will be with us and we should not fear what man can do

Also, remember that it is not what happens to you that matters, but how you handle it!  Some react with bitterness, despair, hopelessness, or anger.  Others are refined by the experience and learn empathy.


The Lord’s promises to those who are faithful in adversity


·        D&C 3:8; 24:8; 112:13; 122:4 give us assurance that the Lord will be with us and heal us

·        D&C 58:2-4; 101:35-36; 103:12; 121:29; 127:4; 136:31 promise rewards of glory, joy, and other blessings for those who are faithful through their tribulations

·        D&C 98:3; 122:7 teaches the principle that all things work together for our good and to the glory of God


Elder James E. Faust said: “In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong…It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd” (Ensign, May 1979, 53).


Elder Marion G. Romney said: “I have seen the remorse and despair in the lives of men who, in the hour of trial, have cursed God and died spiritually.  And I have seen people rise to great heights from what seemed to be unbearable burdens. Finally, I have sought the Lord in my own extremities and learned for myself that my soul has made its greatest growth as I have been driven to my knees by adversity and affliction” (Improvement Era, Dec 1969, 69).


D&C 121:8 and 127:2 promise the blessing of exaltation to those who are faithful in affliction


In April 1839, after nearly five months of imprisonment, the Prophet and his companions were sent to Daviess County and then to Boone County for trial.  They were allowed to escape while being transported to Boone County because some of the officials concluded that they couldn’t be prosecuted successfully.  Making their way to Illinois, they were reunited with their families and the surviving Saints.


Remember that in times of adversity, reading the revelations received in Liberty Jail can be comforting and instructive.  The Lord will lift each of us if we turn to Him in our trials.


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