The greatest force in all the world [is] to develop character, to bring righteousness into the lives of men and women.—Elder Matthew Cowley[i]
When we struggle over long periods of time to reawaken and rescue a wayward child, we might occasionally lapse and wonder, What’s in this for me? It is not necessarily a selfish question. Peter asked and was given an answer to this same query. Parents might apply the interchange between Peter and Jesus to themselves: “We have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them . . . Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”[ii]
Imagine! Sacrifices made for the sake of Christ’s work are rewarded “an hundredfold” and with “everlasting life”! Persistently and righteously dealing with a wayward child is counted as a sacrifice in time and selflessness, among other things.
When adversity strikes, we often focus on what it is doing to us rather than what it is doing for us. The process of experiencing adversity is designed to chip away at our rough edges and strengthen muscles of character and spirituality that are essential to becoming gods. Joseph Smith said, “I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else . . . all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.”[iii]
Adversity is a Propelling Force
Adversity is painful but necessary for spiritual fervency. As long as the brother of Jared was struggling in the wilderness, he offered consistent, urgent prayer, which not only guided him day by day but also opened the windows of heaven to the vast library of celestial truth. But when he experienced a season of calm, he, one of the greatest prophets, became spiritually lax, for which the Lord severely chastised him.[iv]
Likewise, because the Lord wants us to keep growing in spirituality and moving toward exaltation, He will give us pressing reasons to pray (praying for a wayward child is an example). The present adversity simply acts as a catalyst to bring us to the Lord. The brother of Jared prayed to overcome the adversity of darkness in his barges and he was brought into the presence of the Lord.[v] Joseph Smith prayed for deliverance from Liberty Jail and was blessed with astounding information about the functions and promises of the priesthood.[vi] Abraham prayed for deliverance from the wicked priest of Elkenah and was given an amazing promise of priesthood ministry through which all of God’s children would be blessed.[vii]
These prophets received answers to their individual prayers, but the Lord had even more to give them. Adversity got them there. Praying over anything, even wayward children, can unlock the treasury of heaven. Contemplated in this light, then, adversity can be a gift. Humans seem to be naturally incapable of maintaining mighty prayer without the motivator of adversity.
Remembering Lehi’s exposition on the law of opposites, we learn that adversity is also essential for happiness to exist.[viii] We wouldn’t know joy for what it was without pain to compare it to. In addition, happiness is only one of the rewards for enduring adversity in faith; gain is another: God “shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”[ix] Like the examples of the brother of Jared, Joseph Smith, and Abraham, compensation that goes beyond the price of our present adversity occurs when God consecrates our afflictions for our gain. Heavenly Father enjoys the perfection of this principle; He deals with the adversity of wayward children all the time and yet describes His life as having a “fulness of joy.”[x] That fact should give us hope as we progress toward godhood; we should remember that our adversity will not always overwhelm us but will actually propel us into a life of complete joy.
The Work of Redemption: Pain and Joy at Extremes
Sometimes we may feel exhausted in trying to comprehend all that is required of us to reach this eternal goal. One exasperated father who was struggling with a rebellious son, joked, “The terrestrial kingdom is looking better and better all the time.” We might feel the same way—Is forever dealing with difficult children the definition of life in heaven? Perhaps understanding the opportunity in adversity might help us set our sites higher.
But our residence is not yet the celestial kingdom. For now the scales are tipped in favor of adversity, not joy. To help us arrive where He is at, be like He is, and experience a fulness of joy, Heavenly Father is not timid about allowing us to confront adversity. Because we desired to become like Him and covenanted do His redeeming work, should we be surprised that He takes our desires and our covenants seriously and therefore hands us redeeming assignments? The work of redemption can be long-term, excruciating work, but, as missionaries can testify, no work is more satisfying to the soul than that of redemption. Or, as parents can testify, the only joy greater than giving physical life is giving spiritual life—that is, to see their children turn from error and discover the safety and joy of living righteous lives.
Likewise, the only pain worse than physical pain is spiritual pain.
A mother in Arizona wrote,
“Nothing could have prepared me for the excruciating pain of my first delivery. I had thought that I wanted to have the full experience, so I turned down the epidural. I did fine for the first few hours, and then my water broke. The sudden, blinding pain was more than I could bear, and I was only dilated to three—I had hours to go. When the nurse offered me the epidural, I gladly agreed. In fact, when the doctor was delayed because he was treating another patient, I began to panic. I couldn’t get relief from the pain fast enough.
“At the time, I thought, Who would knowingly go through pregnancy and delivery again? But for as much pain as I experienced that day, it was nothing compared to the spiritual suffering I experienced when that same, sweet little boy abandoned the Church and broke my heart. And I have felt no [greater] joy and satisfaction than from lovingly and patiently working with him, and finally seeing him return to God and marry in the temple.”
God knows something about the work of redemption that we are in the process of discovering. With His eternal perspective, He must find great satisfaction in rearing children through all the stages of their existence and patiently working them through their periodic bouts of waywardness until He finally brings them to the point that they embrace the truth and never again depart from it. To learn the satisfying and eternal work of redemption, we need training, and what better place and time than here and now when the need for redemption is so great and the stakes are so high?
The Plan of Happiness is Worth Our Sacrifice
Speaking of the plan of happiness that we first must learn and then teach, Elder Bruce C. Hafen made the following statement:
“We are away at school, trying to master the lessons of “the great plan of happiness” so we can return home and know what it means to be there. Over and over the Lord tells us why the plan is worth our sacrifice—and His. Eve called it ‘the joy of our redemption’ (Moses 5:11). Jacob called it ‘that happiness which is prepared for the saints’ (2 Ne. 9:43). Of necessity, the plan is full of thorns and tears—His and ours. But because He and we are so totally in this together, our being ‘at one’ with Him in overcoming all opposition will itself bring us ‘incomprehensible joy.’”[xi]
To increase our capacity to do the work of redemption, Heavenly Father gives us gifts that would be difficult to develop without the vehicle of adversity. Two of these gifts are experience and redemption.
All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience
The Lord’s words, “all these things shall give thee experience,” [xii] are not always comforting. Of course, by experience we usually mean adverse experience. One father from Idaho said, “This is at once the most frightening and comforting phrase in the scriptures.”
Somehow we anticipate that our experience might include, as Joseph Smith was told in the bowels of Liberty Jail, our being “cast into the pit” where we helplessly stand by as our enemies decide our fate; or our being “cast into the deep” amidst the “billowing surge” and “fierce winds”; or our being enveloped by gathering “blackness,” while “all the elements combine to hedge up the way”; or worse, our being threatened by “the very jaws of hell” that seek to devour us.[xiii] We feel the weight of experience when our children rebel and break our hearts and when there seems to be little we can do to stop them. At such times of difficulty, we may ask, How can such harsh experience be for my good?
Somewhere deep inside us, we know the answer: By means of harsh experience we will gain, not lose, and, beyond every other consideration, what we will gain is the power of redemption. In the process, we are being blessed with invaluable spiritual gifts, and we are developing the necessary qualities of character to do redeeming work.
Redemptive Power Preceded by Opposing Experience
Evidently, eternal law requires that the receipt of power be preceded and developed by experience. Lehi put it another way—that to gain anything desirable, we must experience its corresponding opposite: “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”[xiv] Therefore, there is opportunity in experiencing the adversity of weakness, sickness, financial woes, relationship problems, disagreeable people, wayward children, or, as Lehi listed, wickedness, misery, death, corruption, and insensibility.[xv]
Opposition “must needs be,” Lehi declared. We must experience the opposites or opposition in all things. Therefore, we are not sheltered from opposition here. Otherwise, there could be no righteousness, holiness, goodness, incorruption, happiness, sensation, and no existence.[xvi] Thankfully, in the process of experiencing opposition, we secure power through the Atonement to overcome opposition. That is, our opposition experience leads to power: “Ye receive no witness [blessing] until after the trial of [opposition to] your faith.”[xvii] To become like God, we must experience what He has experienced, so that we, like He, might gain the power to triumph.[xviii]
Here, we learn again that every effort we make to face and overcome opposition by sanctifying ourselves has a redeeming effect upon the person for whom we are praying. Sanctification infuses us with power to triumph over the opposition so that might better do the work of redemption. In the end, the redeemed do the redeeming. How do we sanctify ourselves? By accepting and learning from our experiences, by our efforts to improve ourselves spiritually, and by our encounters with the Holy Spirit. These things lead to wisdom, which leads to power, which collectively make us better partners with God in the work of redemption. Thus, the cycle of redemption is one of faith in Christ, repentance, purification through committing to and better living the covenants, becoming more sanctified through the Holy Ghost, divine rescue from adversity, then helping other to duplicate this cycle.
How the Prophets Gained Redemptive Power
Consider Enos, who went through the cycle of experiencing adversity then redemption by applying the teaching of his redeemed father, Jacob. Subsequently, Enos desired to extend the blessings of redemption to his family, his countrymen, and even his enemies. Once he had been redeemed, he could not rest without trying to redeem someone else. Evidently his desire and consequently bestowed power to redeem others remained with him to the end of his life. When he was about to die, he declared that he had been “wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.”[xix]
Consider Alma the Elder, who experienced adversity and then repented of his sins at the preaching of a redeemed Abinadi. When Alma experienced personal redemption, he “went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi—Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven.”[xx] The now-redeemed Alma the Elder had gained, through the cycle of experiencing adversity and being redeemed from it, the power of redemption by which he helped to redeem the entire Church and his own wayward son.
Consider Alma’s son, Alma the Younger, who experienced adversity, then also repented of his sins after remembering the teachings of his redeemed father, who had developed the power of redemption to the extent that he could call down angelic help from heaven. When the now-redeemed younger Alma had experienced the adversity-redemption cycle, he declared that he had been “redeemed of the Lord . . . redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity.”[xxi] Thereafter, the redeemed Alma the Younger went about “from this time forward” to teach the unredeemed people, “preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them” [xxii] in order that he, along with the sons of Mosiah, might become the redeeming “instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.”[xxiii] Within eight years, the redeemed Alma the Younger developed the power of redemption to the point that he could succeed his father as president of the Church and thereby extend his redeeming influence to embrace many people.
Consider the sons of Mosiah, who Mormon described as “the very vilest of sinners.”[xxiv] Nevertheless, by the teachings and prayers of their redeemed father, they were rescued by the same angelic experience as Alma the Younger. Now having experienced the adversity-redemption cycle, they sought to become the redeemers: “Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thought that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”[xxv] Through experiencing adversity and redemption, the sons of Mosiah gained the power of redemption and helped to save “many thousands of [their] brethren . . . from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love.”[xxvi]
And so it is with each of us who experiences adversity followed by redemption. Once we are redeemed we begin to gain the power to redeem others, and as we seek to sanctify ourselves through righteous living, that power to redeem increases.
Desiring and Being Empowered to Redeem Others
One mother expressed how her personal cycle of redemption resulted in her increased capacity to help to redeem others. We will call her “Joy.”
After having been redeemed from her own suffering during a difficult recovery after childbirth, Joy felt a desire to redeem others. One day, while she was bathing her newborn child, she felt an overwhelming gratitude for Heavenly Father’s mercy in helping her overcome that difficult delivery; she thus offered a prayer asking how she might extend that mercy to others. Suddenly, a beautiful woman appeared before Joy and told her that she was Joy’s third great-grandmother. The woman said that she loved Joy as if there were no generational distance between them. She desired to be sealed to Joy and asked Joy to help her.
Although Joy had never done family history work before, she began immediately and was filled with the testimony of that work. Over time, her capacity grew, and her happiness eventually exceeded the suffering of the former difficult recovery that had brought her to this point. Having now experienced the Lord’s redeeming mercy in her life, Joy received the desire and divine power to become a redeemer. Through her efforts, Joy not only brought the blessings of salvation to her third great-grandmother but to thousands of her kindred dead.
Within every experience of adversity there is a waiting blessing that will transcend the experience, and that blessing will usually come in the form of greater ability to redeem others.
So here is the point: If the only way we can gain the power of redemption is through personally experiencing redemption, it stands to reason that we need something to be redeemed from. Therefore, Heavenly Father places us in a fallen situation where weakness and adversity are certain and where sin are inevitable. The plan of redemption provides that once we are hurt or slip up, Jesus would be there to heal and redeem us. Then, having experienced redemption firsthand, we gain the desire and power to become the redeemers for other. Over time, as we exercise the power of redemption, we grow in our capacity to redeem until we become like God, who has infinite redemptive power.
Thus, the Fall was necessary and potentially a huge blessing. Nevertheless, experiencing its effects and watching it break those whom we love can be heart wrenching. During such times, we pray for perspective to see the opportunity in the present adverse experience, and we plead that God will increase our ability to redeem so that we likewise might help to rescue wayward ones. Our ultimate hope, of course, is that the wayward soul will overcome the adversity and experience redemption firsthand. When that happens, the cycle will repeat itself, and the redeemed soul will gain the power of redemption and desire to redeem others.
Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.
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[i] Matthew Cowley, Matthew Cowley Speaks, 47.
[ii] Matthew 19:27–29.
[iii] Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304.
[iv] See Ether 1–2.
[v] See Ether 2–3.
[vi] See D&C 121.
[vii] See Abraham 1:15–19.
[viii] See 2 Nephi 2:11.
[ix] 2 Nephi 2:2.
[x] 3 Nephi 28:10.
[xi] Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign, May 2004, 98.
[xii] D&C 122:7.
[xiii] D&C 122:7.
[xiv] 2 Nephi 2:11.
[xv] See 2 Nephi 2:11.
[xvi] See 2 Nephi 2:11.
[xvii] Ether 12:6.
[xviii] See Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 297.
[xix] Enos 1:26.
[xx] Mosiah 18:1–2, emphasis added.
[xxi] Mosiah 27:24, 29.
[xxii] Mosiah 27:32.
[xxiii] Mosiah 27:36.
[xxiv] Mosiah 28:4.
[xxv] Mosiah 28:3.
[xxvi] Alma 26:13.