All of my life I have known somewhat concerning the trials and tribulations of the early saints.
I have known about Haun’s Mill, about the saints being driven from one Missouri county to another. I visited and learned about the conditions that Joseph and others endured at Liberty Jail.
I know the stories – Majesty in Chains – Bishop Partridge being tarred and feathered – Philo Dibble’s healing – the healing of Alma Smith’s wounded hip – and many others. I grew up listening to these stories, and always admired the saints for there perseverance.
Two weeks ago, I began my lesson prep for Gospel Doctrine regarding the persecution of the saints in Missouri (27) and Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail (28). I read the lesson material, and read the stories in Our Heritage. For the most part, it was all familiar to me.
Then I began to dig a little deeper. With the miracle that is the internet, and the good people who research and publish their findings, I began to learn more and more about what the early saints went through as they were chased from one county to another, and finally – under the threat of extermination – from the State of Missouri.
I had no idea.
The more I would read, the more horrified I became. The search for more information became obsessive. There was so much I didn’t know. There is so much I don’t know. So much to learn and understand.
I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize, (or want to realize) how truly hellish it was. How Satan had turned neighbors into monsters. I did not know when depravity existed in that time period – I watch the news nowadays and see barbaric actions committed in the world and am sickened by how bad things have gotten – Unaware that our ancestors suffered equally:
How Mormon women were gang-raped until they died – in front of their own children.
How Mormon men were whipped to the point their intestines were falling out.
How innocent children were murdered.
How family’s homes were burned to the ground in the depths of winter.
The extent of the suffering was mind-numbing, and widespread.
I have always looked at Joseph Smith’s time in Liberty as tortuous and barbaric. Now I find that Joseph got off easy in comparison. Much of the suffering that Joseph experienced in Liberty was indeed barbaric, but the anguish that he must have felt as he heard the reports of what was going on to his beloved saints must have made the cold and hunger seem paltry by comparison. Equally repulsive would be listening to the guards boast of their atrocities, yet powerless to do something – anything.
I read, and studied, and watched speeches. I wanted to know. I wanted to know what these people endured, and how some of my own ancestors perished in this cruelty. But I started running out of time, and needed to study Sections 121 & 122 to prepare for my lesson.
I read the opening lines of 121,
Oh God, where art thou?…
How long shall thy hand be stayed?
How long shall they suffer?
Let thine heart be softened…
…moved with compassion towards us.
…avenge us our wrongs
Remember thy suffering saints, O our God.
And I burst into tears. And as I type this the tears return. I’ve read this section a thousand times- but it has changed for me. To understand more of what Joseph was suffering, and what his followers were suffering has broken my heart.
In Section 121, I hear the pleas of a man who feels abandoned, frightened, and beaten down. Not merely for himself and his fellow prisoners, but for all of the saints who were suffering – the saints he could not protect, or comfort. He had brought them to Zion as their leader, and now they were being terrorized and murdered, yet he was absolutely powerless – so Joseph turned to God for help.
And then he received his reply. There was to be no angelic visitation. No breaking the chains. No host of angels to vanquish the foe. The prison walls did not tumble down, as they did for Alma and Amulek. They did not shake as they did for Nephi and Lehi. (Those very stories that Joseph himself translated.)
There was to be no rescue. Instead, he received some counsel, almost a rebuke:
It won’t last forever.
It could be worse.
It will be good for you.
I can’t comprehend how that must have felt. I don’t think I would have felt comforted.
But, when i take a breath, and wipe my eyes, I go on to read one of the most profound revelations ever given to mankind. A revelation that changes the very way we look at life and leadership.
With the ultimate reassurance that God is, indeed, in charge, and that He will set things right in His timeframe.
Normally, I don’t search out the negative, the horrible the evil, but in this case it has caused an enlightenment within me that will forever change the way I look at three remarkable sections of scripture, 121, 122 & 123.
My love, admiration and appreciation of my ancestors has never been more profound. My love for the prophet Joseph has never been deeper. I testify that he truly was a prophet of God. The things that transpired in Liberty Jail were necessary – for his growth, and for ours.
We know so little, but it is there for us if we will just seek it out.
And there’s plenty more – if you dig in.