Lessons from the Old Testament: Adversity, the Great Teacher

Monte J. Brough

Adversity, the Great Teacher

In 1959 while serving as missionaries in England, my companion, Elder Ronald E. Cluff, and I were working hard to find someone to teach. We had knocked on a lot of doors and talked to many people, but without much success.

I was born with birth defects in my feet and have struggled with them all my life. The cobblestones in England are hard on feet! One day one of my feet started to bother me a great deal. I noticed a shoe repair shop and decided to go in to see if there was some way I could find relief from the pain. The cobbler was very helpful and gave me a few ideas.

A day or two later, my companion and I were sitting in a park eating lunch when the cobbler, Gordon Everett, recognized us and came by on his bicycle to say hello. We asked him if he had ever heard of the Latter-day Saints. He hadn’t but agreed to learn more. The wonderful result is that we were able to teach him the gospel. He joined the Church and has been an active, strong member ever since.

There were times I thought my feet hindered my efforts as a missionary. Yet the Lord used that very challenge to lead me to someone who was searching for the truth.

What is the place for adversity in our lives? As we examine the history of the Church and accounts from the scriptures, we can see how the Lord uses adversity to bring about His purposes and to help us learn valuable lessons.

A Learning Process

In 1846 the persecuted Saints were driven to Winter Quarters and ultimately to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. It is clear that the Saints living in Nauvoo, Illinois, intended to make it their home. Yet this was not to be. They felt great disappointment and sorrow when they received word that they must pack their belongings and move to another place. As they crossed the bleak and dreary deserts and mountains of the pioneer trail, they did not know that the Church simply could not accomplish all it needed to while confined to the center part of the United States. The western part of the North American continent provided the economic and natural resources needed for the establishment of the Church. The pioneers could not have imagined how the adversity they faced would contribute to the vibrant growth of the Lord’s kingdom on the earth.

When facing a trial, many people have asked, “Why me?” Some have become bitter and angry. Others have recognized that their adversity is a teaching experience. Learning often becomes more acute and precise and has greater depth when brought about by adversity.

Many of the most important principles of intelligence cannot be taught at universities, from books, or through other temporal learning processes. Often these great principles are learned from afflictions, tribulations, and other mortal experiences. All that we learn in this manner will benefit us not only in this life but also in the next, for “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18).

Some time ago a doctor told me that I was suffering from a serious illness. I recall the shock and emotion I felt as the doctor explained the condition that would alter the course of my life. It is easy to become angry and critical in these situations. I have friends who have learned they have cancer or heart disease or who have faced impairments resulting from accidents. I have watched as these people have adjusted to their situations, and I have wondered why they were given a particular challenge. Many people are locked into political systems and economic situations that cause enormous distress. I have observed many people in different lands who struggle just to have enough food to eat. Yet there must be a learning process. Even the most challenged can learn from their trials and find consolation from a loving Heavenly Father.

Examples from the Scriptures

Many have asked, “Why do bad things happen to good people? If the Lord really loves us, why does He allow adversity in our lives?” Consider the example of Job. He “was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). Shouldn’t a person’s righteousness bring protection from adversity and tribulation? Even Satan asked, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1:9). There suddenly came into Job’s life the tribulation of losing his animals, his servants, even his children. He lost his health and was so physically changed that his friends did not recognize him. Understandably, he suffered enormous grief. Still, he continued to trust in the Lord (see Job 13:15), and eventually the Lord gave him “twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to adversity, having suffered from persecution, imprisonment, and long separation from his loved ones. Yet he declared: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Even Christ was tutored and mentored by the tribulations He suffered:

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8–9).

As we experience adversity in our own lives, let us, like Job, remain steadfast in our faith. Like Paul, let us seek to develop Christlike traits through our suffering. Like the Savior, let us learn obedience and meekly submit to our Heavenly Father’s will. As we do so, our suffering can make us more humble, more compassionate, and more receptive to the promptings of the Spirit. We can then find comfort in the Lord’s great promise: “After much tribulation … cometh the blessing” (D&C 103:12).

Helps for Home Evening

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.

  1. 1.

    Before family home evening, place a rock in one of the shoes each person is wearing. At the beginning of family home evening, ask everyone to try walking around in the shoes while you tell Elder Brough’s first story. Discuss the adversity he faced and how the Lord uses adversity to accomplish His purposes.

  2. 2.

    Challenge family members to find a scripture story that does not include adversity. Ask family members, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Discuss how scriptural figures remain true even through trials. Talk about ways your family can better handle problems in life and “develop Christlike traits through our suffering.”

[illustration] Judgments of Job, © Joseph Brickey

[illustration] Nauvoo Farewell: The Exodus Begins, by Frank Thomas

[illustration] Illustrated by Emily Dyches