“Book of Mormon Principles: He Knows Our Suffering,” Ensign, June 2004, 15
When I was a new member of the Church, I heard the comment, “Nobody can read the book of Alma without coming to know the Book of Mormon is true!” This statement awoke my curiosity. It made me wonder: Who was Alma? When did he live? What did he teach?
Named after his father, also a prophet, Alma was rebellious in his youth. But in response to divine correction (see Mosiah 27:8–32), Alma the Younger mended his ways and became a great force for good. His conversion and continued diligence in serving the Lord prepared him for the call to preside over the Church in his time. He was also the chief judge to his people, a responsibility he resigned when he realized the only way to reform the people was to teach the gospel and bear a pure and vigorous testimony of Jesus Christ (see Alma 4:16–20).
A portion of Alma’s eloquent testimony of the Savior is summarized in Alma 7:10–13. First, Alma teaches that the Savior would have a miraculous birth in the flesh as the Son of God, explaining that He would suffer “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” in fulfillment of prophecy (Alma 7:11). Second, the Lord would take upon Himself physical death, that He might “loose the bands of death which bind his people” (Alma 7:12). And third, the Savior would take upon Himself the sins of His people, “that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:13).
Alma’s prophetic testimony of the Lord’s life and His Atonement and Resurrection—a testimony sealed with a prophetic blessing (see Alma 7:25–26)—was given about 83 years before our Savior’s birth. Central to Alma’s message is the fact that by Christ’s suffering and death in the flesh He would be filled with mercy, “that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:12). The Savior’s experiences were such that there is not a single trace of our problems or afflictions that He does not know deeply. He who was so misunderstood and despised, who suffered both physically and spiritually (see Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18–19), who was tempted by the adversary to forsake His mission (see Matt. 4:1–11), nevertheless remained blameless and without sin (see Heb. 4:15).
Thus the Lord knows deeply of our human afflictions; He is able to understand them and to be compassionate whenever we are involved in difficult situations, having perfect empathy.
Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord promises that “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). He continues: “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way, … for God shall be with you forever and ever” (D&C 122:7–9).
As we seek Him, the Lord, in the greatness of His love, teaches and counsels us, showing His care for us even in our afflictions.
The Savior can respond to our requests for help in several ways, including (a) relieving or lightening our burdens, (b) increasing our strength to carry our burdens, (c) allowing increased burdens to give us needed experience, and (d) not providing immediate help in order to test and strengthen our faith and to teach us.
The scriptures are replete with examples of the Lord lifting the burdens of His people (see, for example, Alma 36:16–23; 3 Ne. 17:7). And beyond the scriptural accounts are innumerable experiences in the lives of His followers in many eras that demonstrate the real fulfillment of the Savior’s promise: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Sometimes our burdens are not removed, but our strength to carry them is increased. One example is the story of Limhi and his people. The Lamanites “put heavy burdens upon their backs,” oppressing them (see Mosiah 21:3). The people of Limhi humbled themselves and prayed that God “would deliver them out of their afflictions” (Mosiah 21:14). Heavenly Father heard “their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 21:15; emphasis added). Just a few chapters later in Mosiah, similar help came to another group when “the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). Many times our brothers and sisters in the gospel offer talents, counsel, resources, time, care, or priesthood blessings to help us bear our burdens, “that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8).
Sometimes our burdens even increase to give us needed experience. I remember an occasion when I was a bishop. There were several members in the ward going through some dire problems; I felt a heavy responsibility on my shoulders. One night I poured out my soul to the Lord, supplicating Him to take from my shoulders the burden that weighed so heavily on me.
It was a special prayer. He heard and answered it. A few weeks later I was released as bishop and called to preside over a large stake.
Elder Helio da Rocha Camargo, a former member of the Seventy, once told of a ward clerk who sincerely prayed that he would be able to learn what he needed to know to fulfill his calling. At the time, all statistical and financial records were kept manually, without the help of a computer. That month, it seemed every possible problem occurred for this ward clerk: bank statements did not reconcile, records contained incorrect dates, and so on. These problems brought extra and overwhelming work. That clerk went to Heavenly Father in prayer and said, “Father, I asked Thee to help me learn to be a clerk, and then all sorts of problems happened with the records.” The response came quickly to his mind: “And didn’t I help you?”
Without a doubt, we learn more and develop ourselves more as we are guided by the Lord through the problems, challenges, and opportunities we face (see 1 Ne. 1:1), including our callings in the Church.
President John Taylor (1808–87) said that afflictions shouldn’t overwhelm us, but we should rejoice in our challenges, for we need these experiences for our eternal well-being with God.1
Our living prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, said that regardless of the tribulations that come to many and in various forms, “ours is the duty to walk by faith, rising above the evils and trials of the world.”2
If the Lord does not remove our afflictions when we want, it may be for our good and to fulfill His purposes, though we may not always understand why at the moment. Such times can be a test of faith or even a learning experience. Divine comfort, support, or deliverance may well come later. A scriptural example is the Savior’s intentional delay in going to Bethany to help Lazarus (see John 11:4, 6, 21–44).
Another example of delayed deliverance occurred on the Sea of Galilee, when the Lord did not immediately calm the storm. Even as gusting winds and waves tossed and covered the boat to the point that His disciples believed they would perish, the Master slept (see Matt. 8:23–26). Then in a majestic exercise of divine power, the Lord controlled the elements, subdued the storm, and brought calm. The disciples “marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” (Matt. 8:27).
I testify that He will not forsake us. He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of heavens and earth. He who calms the storms in our lives knows how to succor His people.