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The Saints are perhaps in their worst situation as yet. Thomas B. Marsh, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, signed an affidavit that will spur on the Missourian governor to drive the Saints from the state. There are many who have thrown their hands up in a plea for peace and have been shot down by mobs. There are many who have attempted to defend themselves and have found that any action they take only seems to worsen the situation against them. There seems to be no right step to take. Joseph and others have been taken to jail while the Saints once again find themselves in desperate circumstances, homeless and cold without resources. Perhaps one of the most painful parts is the fact that God seems to have abandoned them.
It is in these circumstances that Joseph Smith pens a prayer and receives an answer.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:1 O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
Joseph pleaded for deliverance against the enemies of the Saints. I imagine that Joseph was asking for deliverance from the mobs who drove the Saints away from everything they owned, and the Lord responds specifically to his prayer. However, the Lord doesn’t stop there. The Lord also takes the opportunity to teach about those who abuse the Saints within the church. Towards the end of Section 121, the Lord speaks about those who attempt to use the priesthood unlawfully.
Thomas B. Marsh
Thomas B Marsh apostatized. Thomas found himself extremely disgruntled with Joseph. He didn’t believe that the foreign missions could succeed without him, and he blamed the problems of the Saints on Joseph. His wife got in an argument with another lady, and Joseph took the side of the other lady, and that seemed to be the final straw. Thomas and his family leave under the cover of night.
Thomas did not only leave. He wrote an affidavit full of lies to the governor, blackening the name of the Saints. The affidavit claimed that the Saints were trying to take over the state, the country, and eventually the world. It was this affidavit that caused the neutral Missourian governor to take charge against the Saints. It was this notorious affidavit that led to the extermination order against the Saints.
I want you to think about the gravity of this for a second…let’s compare it in our day. This would be the equivalent of M. Russell Ballard getting mad at President Nelson and writing a letter to the President of the United States, telling him that the Saints were secretly planning a coup to take over the country.
Thomas, who had once dearly loved the Saints, hated Joseph so much that he was willing to call down destruction upon the entire group of people in order to “get back at” Joseph.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
Though this verse has come to describe countless people over the course of history, this verse could have easily been written about Thomas himself. Kicking against the pricks is as painful as you decide it’s going to be.
“Kicking against the pricks” is an agricultural concept. An ox goad (the prick) is a pointed, iron tool used by farmers to prod oxen when plowing. When the ox would rebel against the farmer, the ox would literally find himself pushing the iron prod further into his own flesh. Thus, the harder you kick, the harder the torment.
Now Thomas B. Marsh eventually repented (praise be to those Saints in Utah who forgave him), but let’s examine the pricks he kicked against. Let’s examine the wounds he might have felt had he not utilized the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Thomas was angry at Joseph. I like to believe that deep down, Thomas was not an evil man, just one who made some incredibly stupid choices (Please excuse the adjective; it’s accurate). He was angry. He stood by his wife even though she was in the wrong and was essentially stealing. He wrote a letter full of lies.
Imagine Thomas passing on without repenting. He would have gone to the other side, and he would have the truth of his actions revealed to him. He would have seen the scene of women and children being forced out into snow with nothing. He would have seen the desperate pleas for help and the crying children. He would have seen the fathers worried about their families. He would have seen the mothers exhausted from trying to keep their kids warm at night. He would have seen Emma’s face as Joseph was taken away into Liberty Jail.
Thomas may have hated Joseph, but he didn’t hate the rest of the Saints. They had been his people. He had no qualms with a grand majority of them. And yet, he would have had to live with those choices for eternity. Thomas would have realized his dire mistake too late, and I doubt he would have wanted to live amongst those who were once his people for the rest of eternity.
A solemn lesson for us
This story is especially poignant to me right now.
I’ve mentioned upheaval in the lives of my family. This has been over the course of the last few months, and interestingly enough, it has all come about because of a single letter written that was full of lies. Because of this letter, some of my family members found themselves without a home. My husband found himself without a job as well as a year of work completely down the drain. We found ourselves face to face with people who had the power to financially destroy us should they choose. If I could even begin to describe all of the problems that have resulted from this one letter, it would make this post far too long. Though this letter was directed to hurt my family, its nasty effects have found itself spreading out to others who were innocent bystanders and had nothing to do with the situation. Some of these people have likewise found themselves with uncertain housing circumstances as well as dashed future career options.
That letter was evil, and it was the result of an angry man who desired to control people.
I remember feeling powerless. I believe in the power of God and His ability to interfere and bring down miracles that save the day, and so I prayed. I prayed that those who sought our destruction would find themselves in the holes that they had dug for us. I prayed for the happy ending, the legion of angels that would come in and surely confound our enemies.
As I prayed, my words began to feel hollow, and I knew that the Lord was telling me He would not answer my prayers in the way that I hoped. Though I was essentially receiving a “no”, I felt an immense sense of peace and awe in the Lord’s wisdom.
The author of this letter was kicking against the pricks. Because he had chosen power over his family, he would be left without his family for eternity; the Lord opened my eyes and helped me see that he would receive exactly what he was asking for. The very things he sought for so diligently, at the expense of so many innocent people, would be “rewarded” to him, but those things would be the bane of his existence for the rest of his existence.
Anger blinds us to the things that matter most. Anger can cause us to make choices that drive iron deeper into our own flesh. Anger rarely serves the angry.
After this experience with the Lord, I found myself wanting to speak with the author of this letter. I often pictured how he would react. Sometimes I imagined him seeing the wisdom of the answer I had received from God. Other times, I pictured him getting more angry and threatening to come after me personally. That thought made me nervous.
Though the Lord used different words when He spoke to me, He gave me the same essence of what I find in the following verse.
Doctrine and Covenants 122:7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Lord reminded me that though things seemed rocky and unsure, I have all that truly matters. I have a dear husband who loves me, beautiful children who are happy. Someday, because of my Savior, I will be able to stand before my Heavenly Father with the hope that I can stay with Them.
Someday, we will all be placed on equal grounds. There will be no status to hide behind. Money will be good for nothing but a fire starter, and the illusion of control will vanish in smoke. We will be on equal grounds. The degree of happiness we have for eternity will rest completely on the choices we made here in life. That’s it. That’s what you get to live with. There will be no earthly inequities to distract us from how we lived our lives.You get your choices and your family. Will you find yourself happy?
I will not pretend to be perfect, but I do believe in my Savior. I believe that He has the power to change me to be better, to be less judgmental and less angry, to be more forgiving. He has the power to remind me that I have everything that matters and that no power on earth can take my happiness, choices, and family away from me. I am grateful for Him and His wise counsel.