Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 3: "Adversity–Part of God’s Plan for Our Eternal Progress"

by | Jan. 30, 2016

Lesson Helps

Resistance to opposition creates our spiritual movement forward. Having to resist something forces us into a position of having to stand for something, to support something, to search for our true nature, to find where our loyalties truly lie. Without something to resist, without some sort of opposition in our lives, we would stagnate like a swamp. It is the fast-flowing, churning, and tumbling water that is purified, not the water that sits.

Part of God’s plan

Years ago I read a book called “Hind’s Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard (Wilder Publications). It is an allegorical tale of a little crippled girl named Much-Afraid who lives in the valley of Humiliation. She meets the good shepherd who promises her that if she will accompany the two companions he will send her, they will escort her up the mountain. He promises her that if she completes the journey the day will come that she too will be able to leap among the hills as the hinds (deer).

The two traveling companions he gives her are named Suffering and Sorrow. They make the difficult journey of life up the mountain. When she finally arrives, having conquered her fears and passed through her trials, she discovers that the true names of her companions are Joy and Rejoicing.

President Spencer W. Kimball once wrote:

“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 (1972), 98].

President Hunter said:

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. … We must remember that the same forces of resistance which prevent our progress afford us also opportunities to overcome.

What President Hunter and President Kimball are alluding to is the principle of needing to have opposition in all things. This principle is discussed and explained in 2 Nephi 2:11 by Lehi. Even something as basic as comprehending certain things requires we understand a degree of their opposing force. We cannot comprehend true joy without understanding the pain of sorrow. The greater the understanding in one direction, the greater comprehension is possible in the other direction. If we have only felt mild sorrow in our life then how could we ever truly appreciate overwhelming joy? We have to have something to compare it with.

Growth and experience

Part of our faith in God is that everything He does to us and for us is for our own good. We could not exert real faith in someone we truly believe to be fickle enough to want to bless us randomly one minute then want to hurt us for no reason the next. Our faith is in God’s unconditional and unchanging love for us, and in His desire to do whatever it takes to make us fit for His kingdom.

Yes, we all have difficult moments, individually and collectively, but even in the most severe of times, anciently or in modern times, those problems and prophecies were never intended to do anything but bless the righteous and help those who are less righteous move toward repentance.

Lest we think that pain and suffering is just something limited to us mere mortals, we should remember that Jesus had to suffer these same things as well. He may have far greater capacity than any of us, but the path to exaltation is the same for everyone of any degree. The law of opposition holds true for everyone. Even for the Savior of the world it was said in Hebrews 5:8, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

I have taken great comfort over the years in this explanation of some of life’s pain and disappointment. I take even greater comfort that the greatest of men and women, including the Son of God, have faced such opposition in order to better understand the contrast between righteousness and wickedness, holiness and misery, good and bad. From out of the dark, damp confinement of Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that if we are called to pass through tribulation, it is for our growth and experience and will ultimately be counted for our good (see D&C 122:5–8).

This concept that we trust that God will always make our experiences turn out for our own good is an important one. In fact, it is a vital part of our faith in God. We won’t often understand how it will work, but we can still choose to believe, and act on that belief, that any and all of our experiences can help to make us better in the long run. As long as we are trying to be obedient and faithful, the Lord will consecrate our sufferings for our gain. That is His promise to us.

If you have troubles at home with children who stray, if you suffer financial reverses and emotional strain that threaten your homes and your happiness, if you must face the loss of life or health, may peace be unto your soul. We will not be tempted beyond our ability to withstand [see 1 Corinthians 10:13; Alma 13:28; 34:39]. Our detours and disappointments are the straight and narrow path to Him.

I found this last sentence to be intriguing. How can our detours be God’s straight and narrow path? After much thought I have decided that, at least in part, the reason our detours are His straight and narrow path is because the Lord knows exactly what we need in order to be improved and perfected. We don’t understand what is needed, so often the detours in our lives, the setbacks and disappointments seem like a frustration of what we are trying to accomplish. But to the Lord such checks in our progress are because the shortest distance between two points really is a straight line. As we start to wander He tries to move us back into the shortest path back home. He sees it as doing what is expedient and necessary. We see it as a pain and a bother because something keeps getting in the way of our “progress.” What we aren’t seeing is that He is speeding up our progress by keeping us on the shortest path home.

Be optimistic and confident

Who has reason for a greater hope of salvation than the Latter-day Saints? We are the only ones in the world who make covenants with the Lord, founded on His priesthood. We have greater privileges than any other generation in the last 1700 years. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost, and living prophets and apostles who teach us daily. We have each been blessed with blessings of the priesthood and with the sealing power.

It is true that we will all have to individually go through whatever trials and tribulations are required of us to be perfected, but that has been true of every generation since Adam walked the earth. Our promises and blessings from the Lord far outweigh any negatives in our lives. We just need to learn to focus on the blessings and not the hardships. For just as we will have hardships a plenty, so too will we have blessings a plenty.

He will ease our burdens

The Savior told us to come to him “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28 - 30.) “Easy” is a relative term. We can try to carry our own load, which is heavy and burdensome or we can take our burdens to the Lord and He can help us carry those loads. This makes our loads lighter and our burdens easier to carry.

Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter? To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support, balance, and the strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality.

It is true that the Lord can help us with the physical burdens of life, but most of the really tough burdens of this life are emotional or spiritual in nature. He is the only one who can truly understand the weight and toll of those burdens. We need to turn to Him for relief and assistance in bearing up well under such adversities. Often the emotional and spiritual burdens of life are life-long in their duration. There really is no reason to have to struggle with these burdens by ourselves when Jesus is waiting for us to bring them to Him so he can help us more easily carry the load.

To one and all, Christ said, in effect: As long as we all must bear some burden and shoulder some yoke, why not let it be mine? My promise to you is that my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (See Matt. 11:28–30.)

The choice is yours. Will you continue to struggle under the full weight of your earthly trials or will you seek out the Lord’s yoke and carry one that is far easier to bear up under? Sometimes it seems that going to Christ and shouldering His yoke is adding an extra layer to our problems. Funny how that works. By accepting what appears to be on the surface an extra burden, we are actually shedding the weight of our own burdens as we replace them for His burdens. Truly God’s ways are not our ways.

Final Thoughts

As Christians, as true Christians, we have every reason to live our lives in a state of rejoicing. Even though our lives are filled with times of hardship and trial, we have the support and love of our God to help us get through with flying colors. We have every reason to be joyful in this life.

One of the key attributes of those who feel joy is the expression of gratitude. Sometimes we get so distracted by all the bad around us we forget to be properly grateful. When we concentrate on being grateful and expressing that gratitude, our hearts will swell within us and we will want to shout praises to our God and King, even in the midst of adversity.

Gratitude includes having an eternal perspective. Seeing beyond the current circumstance and looking to the future victory of those who remain faithful to the Lord. The Lord has told us over and over again to be happy because He has already overcome the world. Looking forward to our own victories is the key to our success. Looking back on our failures or our hardships only accentuates the negative. The Lord wants us to look to Him and rejoice, for in Christ there is hope. In Christ there is victory.

Read Howard W. Hunter's teachings at lds.org.

Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.

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