(October 23, 2015)
There are, of course, those times when calamity befalls us because of our own unrighteousness. We become prideful, or succumb to lust, or act in rebellion against God – there are dozens of ways we can sin, of course. When we live in that way, one of two things will happen. We can find ourselves without experiencing temporal consequences of our sins (a dangerous situation), and merrily live on in that manner. Or we can find ourselves in a disastrous circumstance, where exterior forces have brought home just how destructive sin inevitably is. And while the first option is transitory at best, the second tends to be at the end of every track that doesn’t lead to the tree of life.
But there are also times when we suffer from painful circumstances not of our making. Just as not every sin leads to painful temporal consequences (at least, not right away), not every righteous action leads to temporal peace. Sometimes we find ourselves facing a determined opposition who desires our destruction (in matters small or large), and our attempts to walk the pathway of discipleship become irrelevant to them (or may actually increase their determination to see us destroyed). And this doesn’t even consider the non-human events – it is rarely our level of righteousness that determines whether we get cancer, after all.
So when we confront painful experiences that are not of our making (or in response to our unrighteousness), what should we do? I have learned that it is important to recognize the difference between those situations we bring about because of our sins and those we do not (and the Lord can help us to know the difference). But while it is important to know the difference, we respond in largely the same way – we view these difficulties as opportunities to help to refine us and assist us through the repentance process.
No matter how much we strive to follow the Savior, we will not achieve that goal completely in mortality. We will, of necessity, continue to need to repent and to change. Tribulation is useful as a mechanism for creating and assisting us in making that change. Just as Joseph Smith was blessed by the refinement he encountered through countless days in horrible prison conditions, so we too can be blessed so long as we continue in faith and gratitude and allow our hearts to remain soft and humble before the Lord.