“The Refining Fire of Affliction,” Liahona, Mar. 2022.
Adversity in life should not surprise us. Whether it arises from our own sins and mistakes or something else, adversity is a fact of mortal life. Some people think they should be spared from any adversity if they keep God’s commandments, but it is “in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Nephi 20:10) that we are chosen. Even the Savior was not exempt:
“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
“And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8–9).
For those of us who are accountable, hardship is often a crucial element of our eventually “being made perfect.” It is what makes life more than a simple multiple-choice test. God is not just interested in what we do or don’t do but in what we are becoming.1 If we are willing, He will teach us to act as He acts rather than simply to be acted upon by other forces (see 2 Nephi 2:14–16). We must learn to be righteous in all circumstances or, as President Brigham Young (1801–77) said, even “in the dark.”2
I believe that the challenge of overcoming and growing from adversity appealed to us when God presented His plan of redemption in the premortal world. We should approach that challenge now knowing that our Heavenly Father will sustain us. But it is crucial that we turn to Him. Without God, the dark experiences of suffering and adversity tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness.
With divine help, ultimately consolation replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. God will convert trial into blessing and, in Isaiah’s words, “give … beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). His promise is not to spare us the conflict but to preserve and console us in our afflictions and to consecrate them for our gain (see 2 Nephi 2:2; 4:19–26; Jacob 3:1).
While our Heavenly Father will not force His help and blessings upon us, He will act through the mercy and grace of His Beloved Son and the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain us when we seek Him. We find many examples of that support around us and in the scriptural record.
In the Old Testament we see obedient Abraham patiently waiting over many years for God’s promises to him—lands of inheritance and righteous posterity—to be fulfilled. Through famine, threats to his life, sorrow, and testing, Abraham continually trusted in and served God and was in turn sustained by Him. We now honor Abraham as the “father of the faithful.”3
Abraham’s grandson Jacob fled from home, alone and apparently with little more than his clothes, to escape the death threats of his brother, Esau. For the next 20 years, Jacob served his uncle, Laban. Although Laban gave Jacob safe haven and eventually two of his daughters in marriage, he dealt duplicitously with Jacob, changing his wages and their agreements multiple times whenever Jacob seemed to be getting ahead (see Genesis 31:41).
As they finally parted, Jacob remonstrated to his father-in-law, “Except the God of my father … had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away now empty” (Genesis 31:42). Instead, God being with him, Jacob returned home transformed from a penniless refugee to the husband and father of a large family. He had a goodly number of servants and was abundantly blessed with the wealth of the time—flocks, herds, and camels (see Genesis 32).
Joseph the son of Jacob is the classic example of one who consistently prevailed in adversity by trusting in God when others might have felt abandoned by Him. First, he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. Then, when he rose in position and esteem in the house of his Egyptian master, Potiphar, Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and jailed despite having literally run away from sin. Nevertheless, Joseph continued to trust in God. Even in prison he was prospered but was then forgotten by those he had helped despite their promises. (See Genesis 37; 39–41.) In the end, as we know, Joseph was rewarded with high office and the means to save his father’s family (and all of Egypt) in a time of famine.
These and other examples show us that adversity is typically overcome over time. There is a need for enduring and persevering. Still, our Heavenly Father watches over and helps us throughout the course of that enduring—He does not wait until the end.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once observed: “By itself, of course, the passage of time does not bring an automatic advance. Yet, like the prodigal son, we often need the ‘process of time’ in order to come to our spiritual senses. (Luke 15:17.) The touching reunion of Jacob and Esau in the desert, so many years after their sibling rivalry, is a classic example. Generosity can replace animosity. Reflection can bring perception. But reflection and introspection require time. So many spiritual outcomes require saving truths to be mixed with time, forming the elixir of experience, that sovereign remedy for so many things.”4
President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stated:
“Waiting upon the Lord does not imply biding one’s time. You should never feel like you are in a waiting room.
“Waiting upon the Lord implies action. I have learned over the years that our hope in Christ increases when we serve others. …
“The personal growth one can achieve now while waiting upon the Lord and His promises is an invaluable, sacred element of His plan for each one of us.”5
Patient enduring is a form of turning to and trusting in God. In the verses immediately preceding his counsel to ask of God if we lack wisdom, James says this about patience:
“Count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions;
“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
When we have our Heavenly Father’s help, our adversity and our afflictions will refine rather than defeat us (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8). We will emerge happier and holier beings. In a revelation to the then-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Thomas B. Marsh, the Lord said this about His Apostles: “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:13).
We could say that in adversity we come to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent” (John 17:3). In adversity, we walk with Them day by day. Being humbled, we learn to look to Them “in every thought” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36). They will minister to us in a process of spiritual rebirth. I believe there is no other way.
I pray that each of us will draw close to our Heavenly Father and Savior through our personal adversity. At the same time, may we learn to minister to others in their adversity according to God’s pattern. It was through “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” that the Savior came to “know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12). As for us, “when, for the moment, we ourselves are not being stretched on a particular cross, we ought to be at the foot of someone else’s—full of empathy and proffering spiritual refreshment.”6