Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Hard
Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not easy. There are many promises that we will be blessed if we keep the commandments. We learn that the Lord will reward those who hearken to His voice and have faith in Him. However, in mortality, it seems that the rewards do not always follow our level of obedience.
Adam Smith recently wrote a wonderful book that touches on how we ought to view our human suffering. Sometimes, it can be easy to blame ourselves when something goes wrong in our lives, asking ourselves where we sinned and what caused us to deserve such suffering. We frequently desire an if this then this explanation to life. There is a feeling of seeking to explain life’s suffering as a result of something that we did. Suffering is a part of this mortal experience. It is meant to shape us. It is not always a result for the actions that we have committed. This is the idea of looking at original grace over original sin.
The Old Testament seems to teach us the principle of divine retribution. We get the view that the Israelites are punished for their sins. This may be true, but it is not the only explanation for suffering.
He Chastens Us
Throughout the scriptures, there is an abundance of examples where individuals suffered something seemingly unjust. One of the examples that I often look to is the suffering that Alma and his people endured in the Book of Mormon. Alma was wicked. He was following idolatry, whoredoms, lyings, and other sins. He heeded the counsel of a prophet, repented, and got himself out of the situation that he was in. He even went about preaching to the people and got many to turn their lives to Jesus Christ. They had all experienced the divine grace of Jesus Christ and His redeeming power. However, after the great experiences that they had had at the Waters of Mormon, where many came to accept the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, they were compelled by the Spirit to depart that land.
Having left the Land of Mormon, they came to develop a city that they called Helam. They described it in a positive light. “And they came to a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water.” (Mosiah 23:4). It was here that they did establish themselves. They saw themselves as living here for a long time. They built buildings, planted crops, and became industrious. They were committed to creating a Zion but the Lord had other plans.
“Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their and their faith. Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.” (Mosiah 23:21-22)
Now that we have the entire story we are able to see that the Lord needed Alma to be with Mosiah and his people in Zarahemla. That is where they were needed and they would most prosper. Sometimes in our lives we feel that we have made it and we find ourselves working hard in one area thinking that this is where we will stay for quite some time. Other times we might be anxious to move on. In this case, Alma and his people were getting established and planned to be here for a long time. Our goals do not always align with what God wants for us. He infinitely knows us best and will direct our paths for good.
Be Prepared to Be Lead to Something Better
President Dallin H. Oaks firmly believed that he would be in the running for a federal judicial position but kept being directed in other areas until he was eventually called from the Utah Supreme Court to fill the Apostleship. President Russell M. Nelson was devoted to his service as a heart surgeon until he was called from the operating room to the Council of Twelve. President Henry B. Eyring was told by the Elder Spencer W. Kimball at his wedding, “Live in such a way that when the call comes, you can walk away easily.” (I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring by Henry J. Eyring, Robert I. Eaton). He was then ready to leave Stanford when it was time to go preside at a small church school in Eastern Idaho. He then passed up on high paying administrative jobs with fast-growing companies.
All three of these men gave up comfortable worldly situations for something better that the Lord had in mind. Each of these changes, and the events that lead them, were not easy. Some of them came at great financial sacrifices.
Back to Alma and his people; they were not in Helam long and they were taken captive by a power-hungry dictator. They were forced to submit to great burdens. They were unable to pray to their God. As they were forced to be compelled to the will of this dictator they cried out in their hearts and the Lord eased their burdens and provided a way for them to be delivered from Helam and lead to Zarahemla to join Mosiah and his people.
Life is About Overcoming Challenges
Life is full of challenges. Some of these challenges come from our own mistakes, some are from others, and some are driven by a God that desires us to be better. God longs for our progress. He knows what we can become. He has a purpose for us. Alma and his people may not have seen it at the time but they needed to be somewhere else so God allowed outside means to chasten them and drive them out of the land to a better place.
At the same Alma and his people were dealing with Amulon and his oppression, Limhi and his people were held captive by the Lamanites. In my reading, Alma and his people had much less to deal with because of their willingness to humble themselves and repent versus being compelled to be humble. As we are obedient and humble before the Lord, He will spare us much of our suffering. That is not to mean that we will be free from suffering, but it will likely be reduced as we choose to follow Him. We must remember that the Master suffered all things even though He was perfectly obedient in all things.
As we navigate the trials of life we are better off by realizing the mercies of God and that He is intimately involved in our lives. He loves us as the most perfect and loving father would. He knows us because we have been with Him for eternities. He will do what is best for us; even if that is chastening us.
Our Challenges Define Us
Joseph Smith learned these important lessons while in Liberty Jail during one of the lowest points of his history and that of his people. He learned the pains of Job. Suffering and trial help to define each one of us. Alma and his people were more valiant at keeping the covenants that they had made because of the trial that they had to go through. The furnace of affliction shapes us and purifies us so that we are more aptly able to follow the paths of the Savior.
In her most recent General Conference talk, Sister Michelle D. Craig taught us some very important truths about discipleship and how suffering develops us.
The requirements of discipleship are not to make us comfortable through mortality or to even “bless” us to have an easy life. Our loving Father in Heaven desires that we pass through the furnace of affliction to shape us and help us to become something great. He desires us to be moldable like clay because He knows what we have the potential to become and what is required to get us there. It will not be easy. It should not be easy. It requires the investment of time, talents, finances, and comfort to become who we are truly capable of becoming. If we are not willing to sacrifice what is required then we are not going to be capable of living the life that God has in store for us to live; ultimately, His life.
Alma went from being a priest to a wicked king through the repentance process and the furnace of affliction to becoming the High Priest over all the Church in Zarahemla. He was taught by God. He lead the people through some further trying moments. He was prepared. If we allow God to direct our paths then we too will be refined to become like God. We will be united with our Father and His Son.