On Long-Suffering and Afflictions
"And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls" (Alma 17:11).
I take comfort and courage from the experience of the sons of Mosiah while they journeyed as missionaries toward Lamanite lands. They had left Zarahemla full of hope. They had been scorned and laughed at for thinking they might have success with the Lamanites (Alma 26:23), but they had been undaunted. Their father had for "many days" resisted their appeal for permission to go but they had persisted in pursuing their call (Mosiah 28:5). They could not be dissuaded.
But something changed during their many-day journey toward their field of labour. Despite much fasting and prayer (Alma 17:9-11) they experienced such heavy discouragement that Ammon recalls, "our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back" (Alma 26:27). At that point, the Lord visited them with comfort and the assurance that there was significant suffering ahead, but their patience and good examples in the midst of that suffering would allow them to draw many souls to Him.
There's so much here for me to unpack.
The first thing is that being on the Lord's errand does not promise smooth sailing ahead. That's not how it works. Also, tempests in our path and even a loss of confidence in our previously precious and motivating vision do not mean we need to turn around. They mean that we now get to exercise patience and long-suffering. I used to believe that great faith meant being able to call down the powers of heaven at will. Now, I believe it means being able to trust in the Lord's timing and to carry on as directed when the way seems hedged up before us, when we experience unexpected setbacks, when the things we thought we could count on are torn away.
Of course, there's a difference between faith and obstinacy. It is faithful to bear in mind my fallibility, to learn from reverses and to consider the possibility that a tempest might call for a change of course. It is faithful to be open to and seeking new direction. But faith does not abandon a revealed course unless so directed by new revelation. I think this principle is clear in the example of the sons of Mosiah. They heard a call and heeded it despite intense opposition. Then, it seems they could no longer feel the call and felt a deadening sense of futility. But they didn't turn back without seeking guidance. And the guidance they got told them to carry on.
I see the same pattern at work in Church history. For example, when the Missouri saints were driven from Jackson County, rather than abandon their cause, the prophet Joseph led a force of some 230 Kirtland-area saints to help them recover their homes. They went forward, expecting the Lord to bare His arm (which He did at Fishing River on June 19, 1834) and to restore the outcasts (which He did not -- yet). Then, on June 22, 1834, the Lord gave new direction that Zion was not to be redeemed at this time (D&C 105:9) and Zion's Camp disbanded.
The same pattern repeats in the events leading up to discontinuing plural marriage and in the removal of the prohibition on ordaining Black brethren. I believe the underlying principle is that the Lord would have us carry on with faith in the direction in which He's called us, despite mounting obstacles and opposition. He would have us continually seeking direction about how to face those obstacles with patience in long-suffering and afflictions. And He will guide us in His due time -- whether to get through the obstacle or to change course. No matter how fierce the tempest, my job is to stay the course unless the Spirit of Peace pierces the storm and whispers new direction.
The second thing I learn from this verse is that how I face affliction may be my most eloquent witness of the truthfulness and goodness of the gospel. This is certainly the case with the sons of Mosiah. It was Ammon's undauntedness in defending the king's flocks that led to the conversion of King Lamoni and all his household. Then he had another setback. First, Lamoni's father ordered him to kill Ammon. Then, when Lamoni wouldn't, the old king tried to kill Lamoni instead. Ammon's firm but patient response to those difficulties -- letting the king live and declining his offer of half his kingdom, and instead insisting that his brethren be freed from prison and that Lamoni be permitted free reign -- astonished the old king and primed him to receive the gospel as well.
Meanwhile, his brethren were testifying clearly and boldly with negligible success. They were cast out of a succession of cities until they were stripped naked, bound with strong cords, and thrown into a prison with very little food or water. Alma 20:29 records, "nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings." I think it's significant that, immediately upon being released, "they brought many to the knowledge of the truth" (Alma 21:17).
And then there were the converts who, when attacked by their brethren, "would not flee from the sword... but ... would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword" (Alma 24:23). Their patience in long-suffering and affliction brought more of their oppressors into the fold than the number who died.
Affliction, roadblocks and adversity, then, are to be expected when I'm on the Lord's errand. And that's nothing to be afraid of. To the contrary, it's an opportunity flex my faith and practice patience. That response will bear more effective witness than anything I could ever say.