Lesson 28: “O God, Where Art Thou?”

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), 157–62


Purpose

To help class members better endure adversity by turning to the Savior.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:

    1. a.

      Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–33; 122; and the other scriptures in this lesson.

    2. b.

      Our Heritage, pages 45–53.

  2. 2.

    Review the material for this lesson in the Class Member Study Guide (35686). Plan ways to refer to the material during the lesson.

  3. 3.

    In advance, ask one or two class members to tell briefly what they have learned and how they have grown from adversity. Be sure they are comfortable with this assignment.

  4. 4.

    If you use the attention activity, bring a piece of paper and a pen or pencil for each class member.

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.

Give each class member a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Ask them to write down a difficulty or adversity they have experienced. When they have finished, have them write what they learned and how they grew from that adversity.

Explain that this lesson is about enduring adversity by turning to the Savior. Tell class members that later in the lesson they will have an opportunity to share what they have written down.

Discussion and Application

Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

Briefly summarize the following events in Missouri. You may want to refer to Our Heritage, pages 45–49; the time line on page 155 in this manual; and map 2 on page 275 in this manual and page 30 in the Class Member Study Guide.

After the Saints were driven from Jackson County in late 1833, they found refuge in nearby Clay County until they were asked to leave in 1836. From Clay County, they moved about 60 miles north and established the community of Far West and other smaller settlements.

The Church prospered for a time in northern Missouri. The population grew rapidly, and temple sites were dedicated in Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman. However, there continued to be conflicts among some of the Saints. Several leaders were excommunicated, including Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.

In addition to dissension among some Church members, there continued to be conflicts with other residents in northern Missouri. In 1838, mobs and militia members began more attacks. On 25 October, three Church members were killed during a battle at Crooked River, including David W. Patten, an Apostle. Two days later, Governor Lilburn W. Boggs of Missouri issued an order that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state” (History of the Church, 3:175).

On 30 October, a mob of approximately 200 men killed 17 men and boys at Haun’s Mill. The next day, Joseph Smith and approximately 50 other Church leaders were arrested on false charges. Most of these leaders were released within three weeks. However, six of them, including Joseph and Hyrum Smith, were detained despite their innocence. In November they were marched first to Independence, then to Richmond, and then to Liberty, where they were incarcerated in Liberty Jail until April 1839.

Liberty Jail

Liberty Jail. While unjustly imprisoned here in 1838–39, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelations now recorded in D&C 121, 122, and 123.

Conditions in Liberty Jail were harsh. The prisoners were kept in the lower level, which was like a dungeon—dark, cold, and unsanitary. The food was inadequate and filthy. The Prophet and his companions had only a little straw on the stone floor for their beds, with meager blankets for cover. The ceiling was so low that some of the brethren, including Joseph and Hyrum, could not stand upright. They were also under constant threat of death.

While the Prophet was imprisoned, about 8,000 Saints in Missouri were forced out of their homes as a result of the governor’s extermination order. Many of them were robbed, beaten, and killed by the mobs as they fled to the state of Illinois. The Prophet heard reports of the Saints’ suffering and pleaded with the Lord for help. In response, the Lord gave some powerful revelations. The Prophet included them in a letter to Church leaders in Quincy, Illinois, who were directing the Saints’ exodus from Missouri. Portions of these revelations are now sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

1. Joseph Smith’s prayer in Liberty Jail, and the Lord’s response

  • Read D&C 121:1–6 with class members. What do these verses indicate Joseph Smith was feeling and thinking about at this time? What did he request of the Lord? What are your thoughts and feelings as you read Joseph Smith’s pleadings with the Lord in these verses?

  • The Lord’s reply to Joseph Smith’s prayer is given in D&C 121:7–33 and D&C 122. Read D&C 121:7–10 with class members. What did the Lord teach Joseph in these verses? How would you feel if these words were spoken to you? What can we learn about the Lord from this reply?

Point out that these revelations “made Liberty jail, for a time, a center of instruction. The eyes of the saints were turned to it as the place whence would come encouragement, counsel—the word of the Lord. It was more temple than prison, so long as the Prophet was there. It was a place of meditation and prayer. … Joseph Smith sought God in this rude prison, and found him” (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:526).

  • How have the revelations given in the Liberty Jail (D&C 121 and D&C 122) blessed your life?

2. The Savior’s perfect understanding of our sufferings and adversity

  • Ask class members to think of their own trials as someone reads D&C 122:5–8. In what way has the Savior “descended below” all things? (See Alma 7:11–12; D&C 19:16–19.)

    Explain that because the Savior descended below all things, He has a perfect understanding of all our trials. Speaking of the supreme suffering of the Savior, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve said:

    “As part of His infinite atonement, Jesus … has borne the sins, griefs, sorrows, and, declared Jacob, the pains of every man, woman, and child (see 2 Nephi 9:21). Having been perfected in His empathy, Jesus thus knows how to succor us. … Nothing is beyond His redeeming reach or His encircling empathy. Therefore, we should not complain about our own life’s not being a rose garden when we remember who wore the crown of thorns!” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 89; or Ensign, May 1987, 72).

  • Do we experience any trials in which we cannot be comforted by the Savior? (See Hebrews 4:15.) How can a knowledge of the Savior’s suffering help us be faithful in our own tribulations?

  • What can we do to more fully partake of the comfort and strength that Jesus offers through His Atonement? (See Hebrews 4:16; 1 Peter 5:6–11.) How can prayer, humility, and faith in Jesus Christ help us receive strength during times of adversity?

3. Purposes of adversity

Explain that adversity is part of God’s plan for our testing and growth during mortality. We came to earth knowing we would experience pain, trials, and other difficulties.

The Prophet Joseph Smith experienced so many afflictions that he said they “have been my common lot all the days of my life; … and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation” (D&C 127:2). In addition to the comfort and counsel the Lord gave the Prophet in Liberty Jail, there were many other occasions when the Lord taught him about adversity. The rest of this lesson examines these teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants.

  • What does the Lord reveal in the Doctrine and Covenants about the purposes of adversity? (Read the following verses with class members. Summarize the information on the chalkboard.)

    1. a.

      D&C 98:12, 14–15; 101:4; 136:31. (The Lord allows adversity to come into our lives to try us and to prove us to see whether we will abide in His covenant.) Why does the Lord want His people to be “tried in all things”?

    2. b.

      D&C 101:1–2. (Some adversity is a result of our transgressions.)

    3. c.

      D&C 122:7. (The Lord allows adversity to give us experience and help us grow.)

  • How can understanding these purposes of adversity help us “endure it well”? (D&C 121:8).

  • Some people incorrectly believe that all afflictions are punishments from God. What are the dangers of such a belief? Why is adversity not withheld from the righteous?

    Emphasize that while transgression is one source of adversity, it is not the only source. Some adversity comes because even for the righteous “there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Some adversity comes as a natural consequence of the frailty and corruptibility of the mortal body. Some comes because of accidents, because of our own choices that aren’t necessarily transgressions, and because of other people’s choices—things that God can protect us from but sometimes does not because “the basic gospel law is free agency and eternal development” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [1973], 96). Adversity can also come “to accomplish the Lord’s own purposes in our life that we may receive the refinement that comes from testing” (Richard G. Scott, in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16).

    While serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Harold B. Lee said that “living the gospel of Jesus Christ is no guarantee that adversity will not come into our lives; but living the gospel does give us the strength and faith and power to rise above that adversity and look beyond the present trouble to the brighter day” (quoted by A. Theodore Tuttle, in Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 15; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1967, 47).

For other scriptural teachings about the purposes of adversity, you may want to see 2 Nephi 2:11; Alma 32:5–6; 62:41; and Helaman 12:1–3.

4. The Lord’s counsel to those who experience adversity

  • What counsel does the Lord give in the Doctrine and Covenants to help us when we experience adversity? (Read the following verses with class members. Summarize the information on the chalkboard. Select some of the questions to encourage discussion.)

    1. a.

      D&C 24:8; 31:9; 54:10; 121:7. (Be patient in afflictions; they will “be but a small moment”; see also Alma 17:11.) How can we increase our patience to endure trials? In what sense did Joseph Smith’s afflictions last for only “a small moment”? How can we come to see adversity from the Lord’s eternal perspective?

    2. b.

      D&C 98:1. (Rejoice and give thanks.) Why should we give thanks to God even when we are experiencing trials? What are some blessings we continue to have even during the most severe adversity?

    3. c.

      D&C 98:11. (We should remain obedient and “cleave unto all good.”) Why is it sometimes difficult to remain obedient when we experience adversity?

    4. d.

      D&C 101:36–38. (Care for the soul, not for the body, and seek the Lord.) How can we apply this counsel?

    5. e.

      D&C 122:9. (We should not fear what man may do, for God will be with us forever; see also D&C 98:13.)

  • Why are some people embittered by trials while others grow and are strengthened? What can we do to face our trials and adversities better? (See Alma 62:49–51.) What accounts in the scriptures have helped or inspired you during times of adversity?

  • What have others done to help you through adversity? How can we help others during their trials? How can we use what our own trials have taught us in helping others? What benefits can come from serving others when we are in the midst of our own trials? (See Luke 9:24; Galatians 6:2.)

  • What can we do if we feel ourselves become despairing and hopeless because of adversity? (See Alma 36:3.) How can we prepare now to be strong in future times when we may experience greater adversity?

5. The Lord’s promises to those who are faithful in adversity

  • What promises does the Lord give in the Doctrine and Covenants to those who are faithful in adversity? (Read some of the following verses with class members. Summarize the information on the chalkboard. Select some of the questions to encourage discussion.)

    1. a.

      D&C 3:8; 24:8; 112:13; 122:4. (The Lord will be with us, stand by us, and heal us in our afflictions; see also Jacob 3:1; Mosiah 24:13–14; Alma 36:27.) Why is it important to know the Lord will be with us in afflictions? What experiences have shown you that the Lord is with you during times of trial?

    2. b.

      D&C 58:2–4; 101:35–36; 103:12; 121:29; 127:4; 136:31. (Those who are faithful in tribulation will receive glory, joy, and other blessings.)

    3. c.

      D&C 98:3; 122:7. (All things will work together for our good and to the Lord’s glory; see also D&C 90:24; 100:15; 2 Nephi 2:2; Romans 8:28.) How can adversity be for our good?

      Ask the assigned class members to tell briefly what they have learned and how they have grown from adversity (see “Preparation,” item 3). If you used the attention activity, invite other class members to share what they wrote. If you did not use the attention activity, invite other class members to tell what they have learned and how they have grown from adversity.

      While serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder James E. Faust said: “In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. … It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1979, 77; or Ensign, May 1979, 53).

      Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve said:

      “I have seen the remorse and despair in the lives of men who, in the hour of trial, have cursed God and died spiritually. And I have seen people rise to great heights from what seemed to be unbearable burdens.

      “Finally, I have sought the Lord in my own extremities and learned for myself that my soul has made its greatest growth as I have been driven to my knees by adversity and affliction” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 60; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1969, 69).

    4. d.

      D&C 121:8; 127:2. (Those who are faithful in affliction will be exalted.)

  • What can we do during our periods of trial to feel more fully the peace the Lord speaks of in D&C 121:7? (See also D&C 19:23.)

Conclusion

In April 1839, after the Prophet and his companions had been held in Liberty Jail for nearly five months, they were sent to Daviess County and then to Boone County for trial. While they were being moved to Boone County, the guards let them escape because some officials concluded that they could not be successfully prosecuted. Joseph Smith and the other prisoners then made their way to Illinois, where they joined their families and the rest of the Saints.

Encourage class members to read the revelations given in Liberty Jail in times of adversity. Testify that through the Atonement, Jesus Christ has borne our griefs. If we turn to Him, He will comfort and lift us even in our darkest days. Express your gratitude for the example of Joseph Smith in dealing with adversity and the willingness of Christ to help us endure and learn from adversity.

Additional Teaching Ideas

1. The courage to stand up for our convictions

Prior to their incarceration in Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith and his companions were chained together under guard in an old vacant house in Richmond, Missouri, for over two weeks. Review the account of Joseph Smith’s response to the abusive guards in Richmond, as recorded in Our Heritage, pages 49 (last paragraph) to 51.

  • How can we develop the courage needed to face difficult situations? What are some situations where courage is needed on a daily basis? (Invite class members to share experiences when they or those they know have shown courage in upholding the principles of the gospel.)

2. Amanda Smith received inspiration to help her son Alma

Our Heritage includes an account of Amanda Smith receiving inspiration to help her son Alma, who was wounded during the Haun’s Mill Massacre (pages 47–48). If you did not review this account in lesson 15, you may want to do so in this lesson.