A few years ago we were standing in a large crowd of people gathered early in the morning along the waterfront of Apia Harbor in Samoa. It was the occasion of the National Holidays, when hundreds of people came to watch the Fautasi, or long-boat, races that sweep in from the ocean to the calmer waters of the harbor to cross the finish line.
The crowd was restless, and most eyes were turned toward the sea, watching for the first glimpse of the fautasis. Suddenly there was a roar from the crowd as the boats came into sight in the distance. Each of them had a crew of fifty powerful oarsmen dipping and pulling the oars with a rhythm that forced the crafts through the waves and foaming water—a beautiful sight.
The boats and men were soon in full view as they raced toward the finish. Even though these powerful men pulled with their might, the weight of a boat with fifty men moved against a powerful adverse force—the resistance of the water.
The cheering of the crowd reached a crescendo when the first long-boat crossed the finish line. We walked over to the place where the boats docked after the race had concluded. One of the oarsmen explained to us that the prow of the fautasi is so constructed that it cuts through and divides the water to help overcome the resistance that retards the speed of the boat. He further explained that the pulling of the oars against the resistance of the water creates the force that causes the boat to move forward. Resistance creates both the opposition and the forward movement.
Friction, or resistance, is an interesting phenomenon. Without this force, a person or vehicle could not move about, or if already in motion, could not be stopped except by collision. Simple things like nails, screws, and bolts would not stay in place; a cork would not stay in a bottle; a light globe would drop from its socket; a lid would not stay on a jar.
The law of friction or resistance that we think of as only applying to science seems to find application in our personal lives. This is probably what Lehi was referring to when he spoke to his son Jacob. He reminded Jacob of the afflictions and sorrows that had come to him because of the rudeness of his brethren, and told him how these afflictions would ultimately result in good. These are the words of Jacob to his son: “Thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Ne. 2:2).
In other words, the afflictions that had come to him in the form of opposition or resistance would be for his good. Then Lehi added these words that have become classic: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Ne. 2:11).
We came to mortal life to encounter resistance. It was part of the plan for our eternal progress. Without temptation, sickness, pain, and sorrow, there could be no goodness, virtue, appreciation for well-being, or joy. The law of opposition makes freedom of choice possible; therefore, our Heavenly Father has commanded his children, “Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you” (Moses 6:33). He has counseled us to yield to his spirit and resist temptation. Free agency, of course, permits us to oppose his directions; thus, we see many who resist the truth and yield to temptation.
Today the Church stands at the summit of a century and a half of progress. The terrain over which we have traveled is a grim reminder that struggle, persecution, and sorrow have been the lot of our forebears. Kirtland, Jackson County, Clay County, Haun’s Mill, and Nauvoo seem synonymous with suffering—a part of the tribulation the Lord promised that his people would have to endure (see D&C 58:3).
As we look back in retrospect, we see that it was because of the opposition encountered in our early history that our progress today has been made possible. Out of that caldron of persecution and heartache, the Lord answered the soul-cry of the Prophet Joseph Smith in these words: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7–8).
“If thou art called to pass through tribulation, … know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:5, 7).
By the tribulation well endured by numerous of our progenitors, a desert blossomed as a rose (see Isa. 35:1), a tried and persecuted people provided a heritage of faith, and Zion put on her beautiful garments for all to see (see D&C 82:14).
One hundred fifty years of Church history provide us with a lesson that when resistance and opposition are greatest, our faith, commitment, and growth have the greatest opportunity for advancement; when opposition is least, the tendency is to be complacent and lose faith. President Brigham Young said: “Let any people enjoy peace and quietness, unmolested, undisturbed,—never be persecuted for their religion, and they are very likely to neglect their duty, to become cold and indifferent, and lose their faith” (in Journal of Discourses, 7:42). This lesson, which applies to the Church collectively, also applies to individuals.
Documented in scripture are episodes from the lives of many former-day Saints who, by personal sacrifice, opposition, and adversity, achieved their exaltation. From their biographies of struggle, I offer their testaments of faithful endurance.
The classic example of faithful endurance was the Old Testament prophet Job. He lost all his possessions, he suffered great personal affliction and physical pain, some of his children met tragic death, and even his friends deserted him. Yet he proclaimed his faith: “[God] knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. … His way have I kept, and not declined” (Job 23:10–11).
We turn the pages to another exemplar of faith, father Abraham. He fought in time of war, went through a period of extensive famine, saw his own father turn away from the priesthood, and suffered persecution for his faith—almost to the point of his own death. After years of waiting for a son, he was ordered to sacrifice him to the Lord. He also experienced the sorrow of the loss of his beloved wife, Sarah.
To the early Saints of this dispensation, the Lord said, “I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them. … They must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham” (D&C 101:2, 4).
Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, was also no stranger to adversity. As a young man he was estranged from his twin brother and didn’t return home to see his father, mother, or brother for many years. He lived a life of mourning for a favorite son, whom he thought dead, but who had been sold into slavery. He buried his beloved Rachel after she gave birth to his last-born son, Benjamin. He knew the personal sorrow of sons who were not valiant, but still he blessed their days and posterity so that their descendants are honored to be called the House of Jacob, the House of Israel.
The New Testament records the life of one Paul of Tarsus. From the day of his dramatic conversion, he experienced great trial and personal affliction. He was imprisoned for his faith, beaten, stoned, and in his own words, buffeted by Satan. Yet he wrote: “Most gladly … will I … glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Comparing his own adversity to that of Paul, the Prophet Joseph once wrote, “I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation; for to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me” (D&C 127:2).
Last, I refer to the life of Nephi from the Book of Mormon as an example of faithful endurance. With his parents, he left prosperous circumstances in Jerusalem and then for eight years, in great affliction, journeyed in the wilderness. The family then crossed uncharted seas to a new land. During this period, Nephi was assailed, ridiculed, and persecuted by members of his household. Following the death of his father, Nephi and other family members had to separate themselves from his older brothers because they sought his life. Out of his despair, he declared, “My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep” (2 Ne. 4:20).
These are biographies of faith—men whom God has honored because they relied on him in times of their extremity. They learned the truth that God chose them “in the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10).
Today other biographies of faith are being written—Saints who, like Job, suffer physical pain, emotional sorrow, and even disloyalty from friends—yet remain faithful; Saints who, like Jacob, see sons and daughters not so valiant as they should be, but who bless them for their potential; Saints who, like Paul, endure great ridicule and endure to the end; Saints who, like Nephi, must separate themselves from family because of their commitment to the gospel. There are those who know pain and sorrow because of loss of loved ones; who know spiritual sorrow because children go astray; who experience loss of health, financial reverses, and emotional distress, and yet, like Job, resolve, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
We recently celebrated the birthday of President Spencer W. Kimball. Most of us are familiar with the fact that great adversity has been his companion for a great portion of his eighty-five years. He spoke from experience when he wrote these words: “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972, p. 98).
We stand on the summit of 150 years of Church history; yet there are other summits to climb before the work of God is crowned with victory. There will be tribulations collectively and hardships personally—that resistance so essential to the eternal plan.
What makes us imagine that we may be immune from the same experiences that refined the lives of former-day Saints? We must remember that the same forces of resistance which prevent our progress afford us also opportunities to overcome. God will have a tried people!
I witness today this truth from a verse of one of our favorite hymns:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
May God bless us to endure well the purpose for which we were sent, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.