It happens to all of us. We're going about our lives, we have a plan, we know where we're going, what we're going to do and how we're going to get there. We know that we're going to get married, have four kids, go to college, start a career, buy a house, raise our children to be happy, healthy, successful adults, and die happy and fulfilled. We know how things are supposed to go. We expect certain things to happen and for our lives to take us in a certain direction.
But then...something unexpected happens that throws a wrench in our plans and seems to change everything.
Sometimes the hardest question to ask in life is why. Why did God let me lose my job? Why does He let me worry about how I'm going to feed my family? Why did I have that miscarriage? Why did He let my loved one die? Why did He let my wife leave me? Why did He let my heart get broken? Why did God let my family abandon me? Why is God letting this happen to me?
We've all done it. Every single one of us has faced a trial or circumstance in life that have caused us to cry out to God: "Why is this happening?" It's all too often that prayer seems to go unanswered and we cry out in anger, despair, or even desperation. God seems distant. He seems to be ignoring us. The answers to our prayers don't seem to be coming. We have been trying so hard to be good. We've done our best to do all the right things. Sometimes it's hard to understand.
Sometimes, God just doesn't make sense.
In Doctrine and Covenants 52 we read a revelation given to Joseph Smith in which the Saints are told the next Church conference will be held in Missouri and counseling some of the elders, including Joseph Smith, to travel there. By 1833, more than one thousand Saints had arrived and settled in four counties in Missouri.
The Saints faced a great deal of persecution in the land that they believed was to be their Zion. Amongst attacks by mobs and threats to leave the county, Joseph Smith himself was attacked on numerous occasions, dragged from bed, tarred and feathered. Forced to watch his family and his fellow Saints under constant threat of attack from local mobs, Joseph Smith was faced with a great deal of persecution himself.
The governor of Missouri, Governor Boggs issued his famous Mormon Extermination Order, or Executive Order 44 two days after a battle between a local militia and a militia formed by the Saints. The text of the order read, in part: “…[H]aving made war upon the people of this state…[t]he Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace--their outrages are beyond all description.” The order also authorized the militia to increase their force and to intercept Mormons who tried to flee north from the threat of the growing troops. Arguably before having a chance to see the order, Colonel William O. Jennings led a group to Haun’s Mill where they attacked an massacred the Saints, leaving seventeen men and boys dead. The Saints fled Haun’s Mill and arrived in Far West, where the militia under the command of Major General Samuel D. Lucas, laid siege of the settlement. After the Saints in Far West were disarmed, numerous attacks by Missourians occurred there.
On November 1, 1838 Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, and others were taken as hostages and were subjected to an illegal court martial, where they were found guilty and ordered shot, but were spared when another general refused to obey the order. The imprisoned Saints were taken to Independence and held in Liberty Jail.
It is during this time that we received the 121 and 122 section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Here, Joseph Smith and fellow Saints had been obedient to a revelation to move the Saints to Missouri. Their obedience had caused them to face immense prosecution and loss. They suffered. Mothers lost their sons, wives their husbands, and children their parents. Joseph Smith had been abused and beaten. The Saints had, on numerous occasions, been driven from their homes, being forced to leave their belongings and their lives behind.
The words of D&C 121 reflect Joseph Smith’s growing frustration. To him, God wasn’t making sense. To him, he had done what he could to follow the direction of the Lord. He had done his best to lead the Church, to perform the Lord’s work, and to share the Gospel. Here he was, chained to a floor in a dark, dirty, cold jail cell in the very place the Lord had asked him to go.
Joseph Smith’s prayer in that section reads:
2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
4 O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us.
You can almost hear the pain in his words. He’s crying out to the Lord, “Where are you? Why are you hiding from us? How long are you going to just let us suffer? Why is your heart hardened? Please, help us. Come back to us. Don’t hide from us anymore. Remember us.”
How many of us of been there? How many of us, in our times of deepest sufferings, have cried out “God, where are you?” How many of have become angry, even bitter, against the God we claim loves us? How many of us become angry or frustrated, having followed the Lord’s promptings, when we find ourselves feeling left alone or forsaken?
The Lord’s response to Joseph Smith’s prayer is a beautiful reminder of who we are and what the Lord thinks of us. It reads:
7 My son…
The Lord begins by reminding Joseph Smith of who he is. He is God’s son. He then gives him a blessing and a promise:
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
The Lord blesses Joseph Smith with peace, urging him to hold on just a little longer, but also giving him the peace he needs to endure it. He promises Joseph Smith that he will be exalted…a promise also given to all of us as read in Romans 8:18.
The truth is, God is closer than we think. Always. His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us is true, and the Lord always keeps His promises.So what are we to do when God just doesn’t make sense? What do we do when we find ourselves faced with trial and struggle, seemingly as a result of our faithfulness?
First. Remember who you are. You are a son or daughter or God. He loves you. He has promised not to leave you. Indeed the Savior of the world promised, “I will not leave you comfortless.” John 14:18.
Second. Remember that the Lord has your best interests at heart. Even though at times it seems impossible that trials and suffering can help us, the Lord knows exactly what you need in order to fulfill the purposes He has for you. He knows exactly what you need in order to become more like Christ. He knows how to bless you. He knows how to succor you. He knows how to comfort you. His timing and His plan are perfect.
Third. Remember God is good. Remember that He is perfect in His love and He is perfect in His mercy.
Fourth. Remember that it does not end here. We are promised glory, beauty, joy, and fulfillment. 2 Nephi 9:18 says: “But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.”When God doesn't make sense hold on to simple truths. God lives. He loves you. He knows you. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. When God doesn't make sense remember who you are. Remember where you came from. Remember where you're going. Endure. Endure with faith.
You are strong enough. With the help and strength that comes from your testimony, from the gift of the Holy Ghost, and from the power of the Atonement, you can do this. Never. Give. Up. Even when God doesn't seem to make sense.
-Exec. Order No. 44. (MO, October 27, 1838). Available at http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/resources/findingaids/miscMormRecs/eo/18381027_ExtermOrder.pdf.
-Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri (Univ. of Missour Press Columbia 1987).
-Parkin, Max H. ed. (1992), Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Missouri Conflict”. Available at http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Missouri_Conflict.
-Stephen C. LeSueur, “‘High Treason and Murder”: The Examination of Mormon Prisoners at Richmond, Missouri, in November 1838,” BYU Studies 26, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 3–30, 8
-Robert Nelson, Enemy of the Saints: The Biography of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri (PublishAmerica). Pg. 93.
-Doctrine and Covenants 121
-2 Nephi 9:18