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Story time. Let’s talk about what’s happening with the Saints at this point in time, and then we can step back and look at it from a spiritual standpoint.
In July 1833, there were some pretty heated feelings between church members and native Missourians in Jackson County. It escalated until church leaders were forced to sign an agreement that the Saints would leave Jackson County, Missouri. In October, they announced they would be staying to defend their property rights. Eleven days later, the Saints were pushed out by mobs who had been told false rumors about them. Many of the men were beaten and whipped. Armed militias forced families out of their homes and onto the cold, wet banks of the river. Many families were separated.
Trials come to us for many different reasons. Sometimes it’s because we live in a fallen world, and it just happens. Sometimes it’s because the Lord has to allow for people to make their choices so that they can determine their own eternal destiny. Sometimes it’s because we need to be chastened.
In December of that year (the Saints were expelled in October, early November), Joseph Smith received Section 101.
Doctrine and Covenants 101:2 I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;
So in this particular case, the Saints received trials in consequence of their transgressions. They needed to be chastened. Now what exactly were their sins? There were different things involved, and many of them were listed by the Lord specifically. Some of them were rebelling against Joseph. Many were rushing to Zion before they were given instruction to (which the Lord had very specifically warned them about). Because so many people were heading down there too quickly, the law of consecration was falling apart to a degree. Many of the poor were looking to jump in, and many of the rich were nervous about giving the money over. According to verse 6, there was contention and envy and polluted desires among them.
There are three principles I want to pull from these events.
Zion and heaven
The Saints were expelled from Zion because they were not acting as Zion.
There are so many spiritual implications to this. One of the biggest implications is that of heaven. Heaven isn’t an externally sourced happiness; you don’t enter a room and find yourself filled with endorphins. At judgement day, the Lord will not look at us and tell us whether we get to go into this mystical happy room. Heaven is happy because it’s a bunch of happy, loving people living in the same place. I love this quote from Joseph Smith.
“I see no faults in the Church, and therefore let me be resurrected with the Saints, whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place. And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it.”
Heaven isn’t on a cloud. It’s in the moments watching your spouse play with the kids. It’s in the moment of a conversation with a dear friend. It’s in the satisfaction of a job well-done. It comes after you create something beautiful.
The Lord has prepared glorious, beautiful places for all of us to live. The differences in happiness between the kingdoms really just comes down to how you choose to live. If you are living in a happy, righteous, generous manner, then that’s simply the kind of eternity you will experience. You will be placed with people who are like you.
The Saints were exiled from Zion because they were not being Zion. The Lord has standards for Zion because if you simply let anyone in, it won’t be Zion-esque. The Lord has to have standards for the kingdom of heaven because if He lets anyone come in, it will quickly become less than heavenly. Can you imagine feeling like you live in heaven when you’re in a fight with a neighbor? It can’t be heaven unless the people are heavenly. It can’t be Zion unless the people are Zion-ly.
The Lord allowed them to be expelled because He needed Zion to retain the highest standards in order to naturally receive the highest happiness.
What happened to the Saints was tragic. I cannot imagine getting dragged out of my house into the snow without any time to grab anything to keep me and my family warm. I can’t imagine sitting by a river with my shivering kids, wondering where my husband is and how I’m going to survive without him if he was killed.
But what happened to the Saints as they were expelled from Zion will never compare to the consequences of eternity. There is simply no comparison.
The pain of getting separated from my family in the confusion of expulsion will never begin to touch the kind of pain I could experience from getting separated from my family for eternity because of my own choices.
When we look at verse 2 of Section 101 again, it might paint a picture of a cruel Lord. He allowed them to be expelled??? But when you come to the realization that the Lord was preparing them for heaven, it doesn’t seem quite so cruel. It seems intentional and poignant and deep.
The Saints were expelled from Zion. Some lost their families. They were separated from dear friends. The Lord gave them the tiniest taste of what it will be like to not live heavenly lives. He taught them, and though it seems severe to some, it’s one of the most important lessons you can learn.
The Lord’s counsel
There is a parable given in Section 101. There is a nobleman over a vineyard who tells his servants to build up a hedge around the vineyard and to place watchtowers to look for enemies. The servants decide that it would be smarter to give the money to the money exchangers in comparison to building towers they deemed useless. The enemy swoops in and takes over, and the servants realize they made a huge mistake.
I love putting this parable next to the classic parable of the talents. In the parable of the talents, the Lord expects His servants to go and be wise and make choices with what they were given. In the parable in 101, the Lord of the vineyard gave specific advice.
I think more often than not, the Lord wants us to do our best with the moral agency and talents we’ve been given. He has given us enough to build beautiful lives. Other times, He gives specific commandments. One of the specific commands He gave to the Saints was to wait before heading to Zion. He told the Saints they should be patient and move to Zion slowly.
Doctrine and Covenants 101:8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.
They didn’t listen, and the influx scared the people who already lived in Jackson County. The fear multiplied and grew into something ugly, and the Saints were expelled.
I picture the Lord face palming and asking the Saints, “Do you think I gave you that advice for fun??” Perhaps that’s just me projecting my own parenting style. The Lord isn’t arbitrary. He doesn’t do things randomly and then disperse random blessings. Let me give you an earthly example.
I ask Evelyn to wear a bright red shirt one day. She does so, and so I give her a jelly bean. Random, right? That’s not how the Lord works. He didn’t tell the Saints to be patient because He felt like it. He didn’t give us the Word of Wisdom and modesty and all sorts of standards for fun. He gives us counsel because He knows all things. Look at this comparison.
I ask Evelyn to wear a bright red shirt one day. She doesn’t know it (because she’s only 3), but today we’re headed to Disney World, and I want to be able to spot her in a crowd if we’re separated. I want to protect her.
The Lord knew what would happen if the Saints moved quickly, but they ignored Him. He allowed them to suffer the consequence that He tried to save them from because He needed them to “of necessity…feel after (Him).” He needed them to learn that He gives good advice.
I can’t think of a single better way to teach His children than what He did. There is no better way to help them feel the weight of their choices than by giving them a small taste of the consequences. He advised them, allowed them to act, let the natural consequences flow, and then taught them. Each step in that process was so essential to their learning, to their evolution into His “jewels.”
It’s not over
Doctrine and Covenants 101
3 Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.
4 Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.
5 For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.
It’s wise to listen to the Lord in the first place, but since all of us can be pretty un-wise sometimes, it would be wise to listen to His chastening. Fighting off the chastening would be like throwing a temper tantrum at the side of the river and refusing to leave. We all find ourselves at the edge of the river sometimes; find your way back by listening to Him!
One last earthly example. I tell my son to stop climbing onto the dresser. One day, he refuses to listen and falls off the dresser. He looks at me like I’m a bad guy because I allowed him to fall off. Imagine how the Lord feels when we’re sitting on the side of the river, bemoaning our fate and crying at the Lord for allowing trials to come upon us. Imagine how He feels when He warned us in the first place!
If you’ve found yourself on the river, stand up. Go back because He will still invite you back, and recognize that He tried to save you. Recognize His wisdom.
The Lord loves us. He advises us with wisdom. He lets us choose and learn. He allows consequences so that we can learn to be heavenly. He teaches us, and He paid for the entire process Himself.