“How to Face Three Types of Trials,” For the Strength of Youth, Mar. 2022.
Joseph of Egypt could have asked a lot of questions about the way his life was unfolding. You’ll be studying about his life this month, but here’s a quick summary of what happened to him:
His brothers sold him into slavery.
As a slave, he was wrongly accused of trying to seduce his master’s wife.
He then became a prisoner for two long years.
Imagine what you might have felt if you were Joseph. At the very least, you might be tempted to ask: “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once taught about three different types of trials we may face in this life:
Type 1: Trials that come from our own sins or mistakes.
Type 2: Trials that happen because this is a fallen world, full of sickness, disease, and fallen people.
Type 3: Trials that God is willing for us to experience because He wants us to grow.
In the midst of a trial, we might be tempted to ask, “Why me?” But that question may not be as useful as we hope. Elder Maxwell wrote that regardless of why we have the trial, “the outcome is obviously the same either way; God is willing for us to undergo that challenge. Yet He promises us that His grace is sufficient for us.”1 In other words, Heavenly Father doesn’t allow us to go through trials without providing us with the help we need through Jesus Christ’s Atonement.
Let’s take another quick look at Joseph’s first major trial: His brothers sold him into slavery.
Was this a “Type 1” trial? Did Joseph bring this on himself? Well, no. He did innocently share a couple of his prophetic dreams regarding his older brothers. Those dreams revealed that he would become their leader someday. Of course, his older brothers didn’t like hearing that. In fact, “they hated him yet the more for his dreams” (Genesis 37:8).
If you were in Joseph’s position, you might imagine yourself thinking, “If only I hadn’t told them about my dreams!”
Or was it instead a “Type 2” trial? Did Joseph’s trial come from living in a fallen world, which includes other people using their agency poorly? Perhaps. Again, it would have been easy for Joseph to shake his head and think about how all of his problems were his brothers’ fault. Or how Potiphar’s wife lied. Or even the butler who for two years forgot to tell Pharaoh about Joseph, even after promising he would (see Genesis 40:23).
Or was all of this ultimately a “Type 3” trial? In other words, were these things God allowed Joseph to experience to help him grow? On this question, Joseph himself felt the answer was at least partially yes. When he finally met his brothers again, he said, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5, emphasis added).
Now, remember, Joseph was sold into slavery at age 17. He was 30 when he stood before Pharaoh to interpret the dreams that would finally set him free. That makes 13 years, or almost half his life up to that point, where Joseph had lost his freedom through no fault of his own. But he had faith that “God did send [him]” to preserve life. No matter where the trial came from, Joseph ultimately knew God had a purpose.
That was enough for him. That can be enough for us.
We can spend enormous amounts of energy dwelling on the past. We may think, “Why did I do that?” or “If only so-and-so hadn’t cheated me.”
But dwelling on what-ifs and might-have-beens doesn’t do any more good than agonizing over why or how a trial comes into your life. In the end, peace and strength are found by coming unto Christ and trusting in Him, as Joseph of Egypt did. If we do this, all our trials can become the kind of trials that help us grow closer to God and become more like Him.
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency has taught, “You might reasonably wonder why a loving and all-powerful God allows our mortal test to be so hard. It is because He knows that we must grow in spiritual cleanliness and stature to be able to live in His presence in families forever.”2
If we have sinned, we must repent. If a trial is within our means to improve, we can and should do so. But many of the difficulties we face in mortality tend to stick around longer than we’d wish—sometimes for a lifetime. Here, too, the answer is to turn to God.
This life is meant to stretch and prove us. And God will walk with us if we seek Him! Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Your faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will be rewarded more than you can imagine. All unfairness—especially infuriating unfairness—will be consecrated for your gain.”3
Was it “fair” that Joseph went through what he did? No. But because he went through what he did, he was able to save the lives of nations, including his own family.
You might be in the middle of your own Joseph-like trials. You might not see the point. Or the end.
Just remember, God’s grace is sufficient. Turn to Him, and He will work wonders in your life.