July 23, 2007

"Rejoice in God": Trials and Tolerance

Brigham Young August 1, 1852

“Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy,” (2 Nephi 2:25).
Though I'm about to say it, it goes without saying that life has ups and downs. This is a fact we’ve been acquainted with as far back as we can remember. A favorite song details some of the feelings I’ve had:

We emerged from youth all wide-eyed like the rest,
shedding skin faster than skin can grow…
The first chapters of lives almost made us give up altogether…
…but you must know

the same games that we played in dirt,

in dusty school yards has found a higher pitch and broader scale

than we feared possible,
and someone must be picked last,

and one must bruise and one must fail...[1]
The same little problems we had when we were playing at recess have only taken on a larger implications for us, though many of the underlying motifs remain the same. You’ve likely heard a lot of talks about “enduring to the end.” Sometimes I dislike those talks because they can make life seem like the biggest bunch of sorrow and drudgery imaginable, and that we must somehow white-knuckle our way through it gritting our teeth, faces drawn down in sorrow, hoping to make it out spiritually alive. Brother Brigham, whose discourse bears similarities to Lehi’s sermon in 2 Nephi 2, gave a different sort of “endure to the end” discourse:
These are happy days to the Saints, and we should rejoice in them; they are the best days we ever saw; and in the midst of the sorrows and afflictions of this life, its trials and temptations, the buffetings of Satan, the weakness of the flesh, and the power of death which is sown in it, there is no necessity for any mortal man to live a single day without rejoicing, and being filled with gladness. I allude to the Saints, who have the privilege of receiving the Spirit of truth, and have been acquainted with the laws of the new covenant. There is no necessity of one of these passing a day without enjoying all the blessings his capacities are capable of receiving. Yet it is necessary that we should be tried, tempted, and buffeted, to make us feel the weaknesses of this mortal flesh. We all feel them; our systems are full of them, from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet. Still, in the midst of all these weaknesses and frailties of human nature, it is the privilege of every person who has come to the knowledge of the truth to rejoice in God, the rock of his salvation, all the day long. We rejoice because the Lord is ours, because we are sown in weakness for the express purpose of attaining to greater power and perfection. In every thing the Saints may rejoice: in persecution, because it is necessary to purge them, and prepare the wicked for their doom; in sickness and in pain, though they are hard to bear, because we are thereby made acquainted with pain, with sorrow, and with every affliction that mortals can endure, for by contrast all things are demonstrated to our senses. We have reason to rejoice exceedingly that faith is in the world, that the Lord reigns, and does His pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth. Do you ask if I rejoice because the Devil has the advantage over the inhabitants of the earth, and has afflicted mankind? I most assuredly answer in the affirmative; I rejoice in this as much as in anything else. I rejoice because I am afflicted. I rejoice because I am poor. I rejoice because I am cast down. Why? Because I shall be lifted up again. I rejoice that I am poor, because I shall be made rich; that I am afflicted, because I shall be comforted, and prepared to enjoy the felicity of perfect happiness, for it is impossible to properly appreciate happiness, except by enduring the opposite.
Rejoice! When is the last time you really felt to rejoice? This view seems like a lovely pipe dream, but it’s true that we can find a certain sense of joy even in trial and sorrow, should we have the gift of the Holy Ghost with us; after all, he is referred to as “the Comforter” (see John 16:7). I don't believe Brigham wants us to skirt over our problems or to pretend all is well when things are collapsing around us. My mission president used to tell us it was alright to be disappointed, but that we should never get discouraged. There is a way to have joy, or at least confidence and resolve, in any difficulty. It seems we’ve practically been commanded by the Savior to “be of good cheer”; as he told his disciples, and tells us today:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
When people becomes overly concerned with themselves, they begin taking their “mood temperature,” so to speak, constantly checking to see if they are happy, odds are we won’t be. It is imperative to have the Spirit, the Comforter with us, and to be ready for the trials that come in order to learn from them without being overcome by them. Casting eyes down rather than up towards God can result in missing out on the support Christ has promised to give us in our darkest hour. Joseph Smith once described a vision he had of the Twelve apostles on their trying mission in England. Some of the Apostles said Joseph couldn’t relate this vision without weeping:
I saw the 12, apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle much fatiegued, with their clothes tattered and feet swolen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold him, the Saviour looked upon them and wept---[2]
Joseph knew Christ had suffered for us, prepared to help us in our troubles, and at the moment we need Him most we look away. It’s no wonder he wept. By shunning evil and cleaving to the good, as Brigham directs, we can live in joy, no matter what we encounter[3]:
I feel to urge upon every person who has named the name of Christ, the necessity of his being faithful to the requirements of his religion, and of shunning all evil, as quick as he becomes acquainted with the principle by which he can discriminate between good and evil; and cleave unto the good, follow after it, pray for it, and cling to it by day and by night, if he wants to enjoy the blessings of a celestial kingdom.
Note the parallel ideas: shunning all evil and cleaving to good. Here Brigham shifts gears and talks about some of the troubles the Church was having with the government at the time. The saints had been petitioning for reparations because of the property they left behind in Illinois when they were forced from Nauvoo. Reparations were never made. Rumors in the eastern newspapers called the Mormons dangerous, that they planned on overthrowing the US government and were establishing a mighty theocracy in the Utah territory. Brigham Young as governor was seen as holding a tyrannical power over the saints, and that freedom didn't exist under his regime. Brigham responded bluntly to these characterizations, mentioning his belief in freedom of speech:
I would rather be chopped to pieces at night, and resurrected in the morning, each day throughout a period of threescore years and ten, than be deprived of speaking freely, or be afraid of doing so. I will speak for my rights.
He discussed the right everyone has to worship how, where, or what they may:
There is no tyranny here, but perfect liberty, which is a boon held sacred to all men. They have aright to come and go as they please. I do not ask you to be a "Mormon." Can you point out one person who has entreated any of the emigrants to become "Mormons," since they came into our midst? Since their arrival here, we have been kind and hospitable to them, and have not cared whether they have been "Mormons" or Methodists...You may say you do not believe in God. Well, it is your privilege to believe as you like… You have a right to belong to what Church you please. Another may say he believes in and worships a white dog, for he has lived with the nations who have a tradition teaching them to do so. It is all right; you are as welcome to worship a white dog as the God I do, if it is your wish. I am perfectly willing you should serve the kind of a god you choose, or no god at all; and that you should enjoy all that is for you to enjoy.
This attitude should reflect in our dealings with people who don’t belong to our faith, or have differing opinions about our lifestyles, etc. Again, his emphasis was on people having the right to enjoy things; to have joy in life. The population of Latter-day Saints in Utah is large, and often this can effect political policy decisions, disenchanting those who are not members of the Church. Some members don’t allow their children to play with children of other faiths, (this behavior is not exclusive to Latter-day Saints, I should add, and is not encouraged by the Church). In numerous discussions in which someone is complaining about living in Utah I've heard the response: “then go move somewhere else if you don’t like it.” Elder M. Russell Ballard condemned this exclusionary take in General Conference a few years ago:
...if neighbors become testy or frustrated because of some disagreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or with some law we support for moral reasons, please don’t suggest to them—even in a humorous way—that they consider moving someplace else. I cannot comprehend how any member of our Church can even think such a thing! Our pioneer ancestors were driven from place to place by uninformed and intolerant neighbors...[4]
Brigham went on, referring to those individuals who oppressed the saints, who damaged their property, stole, persecuted, etc. and said they would get their reward; but he was not glorying in their impending judgment; in fact it made him feel sorry:
There are scores of thousands, I may say hundreds of thousands, of acres of land in the United States, for which we have paid money, but which we cannot possess. I am not willing you should drive your cattle into my cornfield, which has been done before my eyes, by men who have thought, "You are only poor damned Mormons anyhow, and we'll tread you down." I am willing every man should worship God as he pleases, and be happy. But the measure that has been meted to this people, will be measured to that people; and it will be heaped up, pressed down, and running over; and then as much again thrown in; all this good measure I am willing they should have when the Lord will. I shall not exult in the miseries that will come upon them, but weep over them. (JD 1:358-365)
We're all in this together and rather than taking joy in the suffering or failure of others we ought to love them. I know there was a lot of mention of weeping in this post even though I started out talking about joy, but I know sometimes our joy rather than our sorrow is great enough to make us weep, too. Don’t keep your eyes cast down; Christ is waiting above to help us find joy every day of our lives. Look and live for the joy. That’s why we’re here. Footnotes [1] Sounds Familiar, John K. Samson, The Weakerthans. [2] Joseph Smith Diary (1835–1836), Pg 136. See Dean Jesse, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, spelling and punctuation in original. [3] It should be noted there is an appropriate and healthy way of mourning, as well. A scripture in Alma chapter 4 seems to indicate there is a good and a bad way to be sorrowful: one including the spirit and the other dismissing Him: And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him (Alma 4:15 ). I hope to develop more on this verse later. [4] M. Russell Ballard, "Doctrine of Inclusion," Ensign, Nov. 2001, 35.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Thanks for that comment on Adam-God, no one has brought that up before! I wish I could publish it, but google locked me out of my blog long ago, and so it just sits there now. grego

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