Worse before Better
In many of life's struggles, we seemingly arrive at a point in time where we think the situation cannot become worse, but in fact it indeed becomes worse. On a bitter winter night, temperatures will plunge hour after hour until the rescuing heat from the sun halts the descent. Thus the saying goes; it is coldest just before dawn. The key to using this knowledge is that the situation will get better … that we should never give up hope.
If we review the various stories in the Book of Mormon, we can probably pinpoint the when each character's darkest hour arrives. Yet they did not give up hope. They endured and emerged from the furnace stronger than they were before they entered it.
After enduring murmuring from his brothers, being beaten and smitten many times, enduring the hardships of the wilderness, hunger, fatigue and other afflictions, perhaps Nephi's darkest hour arrived after being bound with cords aboard their ship for three days. Perhaps on the fourth day when they were about to be "swallowed up in the depths of the sea" (1 Nephi 18:15) Nephi wondered when the dawn would arrive. Yet he patiently endured the suffering and eventually accomplished his mission of arriving at the Promised Land.
Enos struggled all day and all night in prayer before he received forgiveness of his sins. I'm sure he exercised great faith believing that he would hear the voice of the Lord, yet he had to struggle for hours and hours in prayer to receive that witness and blessing.
Elder Scott related a similar experience in the April 2007 General Conference. He said, "Once I had an experience that caused me immense anxiety. It had nothing to do with disobedience or transgression but with a vitally important human relationship. For some time I poured my heart out in urgent prayer. Yet try as I might, I could find no solution, no settling of the powerful stirring within me. I pled for help from that Eternal Father I have come to know and trust completely. I could see no path that would provide the calm that is my blessing generally to enjoy. Sleep overcame me. When I awoke, I was totally at peace. Again I knelt in solemn prayer and asked, “Lord, how is it done?” In my heart, I knew the answer was His love and His concern for me. Such is the power of sincere prayer to a compassionate Father." (Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2007, 8–11)
Both the people of Limhi and Alma who were oppressed by the Lamanites and the priest of Noah were greatly afflicted. I'm sure they wondered if the situation would ever improve and if they would ever be free again. Yet we read of their deliverance. Limhi's people were delivered by the rescue party led by Ammon and Alma's people were miraculously delivered by the hand of the Lord.
Alma the Younger has faced many dark hours in his life. We read in Mosiah 27:28 how he "[waded] through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death" before the Lord "snatched" him "out of an everlasting burning." It seems as though Alma was almost at the point of no return before he was rescued. He says in Mosiah 27:29, "I was in the darkest abyss."
There seems to be a turning point in the one on one battle between Alma and Amlici. There is no mention of Alma having his back up against the wall, but we do know that "they did contend mightily, one with another." (Alma 2:30) The next verse then states that Alma exercised his faith and cried "O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people." (Alma 2:31) After saying these words, he was strengthened and killed Amlici.
By the time Alma and Amulek are bound with strong cords, I'm sure Alma's faith was so strong that he had absolutely no doubt that the Lord would deliver them. But as demonstrated above, the situation would become much worse before it improved. After being bound, the wicked lawyers and judges of Ammonihah forced Alma and Amulek to watch the women and children be burned alive. As suggested once by Elder Eyring, perhaps some of these women and children were relatives of Amulek. I cannot imagine the extreme pain of being burned alive. Their screams and the crackling of the fire burning their flesh must have been unbearable for Alma and Amulek. I'm sure Alma wished to rescue these souls too, but he had to be constrained by the Spirit.
The wicked lawyers and judges did not stop at the burning. They abused Alma and Amulek and mocked them. They were cast into prison, stripped of their clothes, had food and water withheld from them and beaten. This abuse continued for many days. After enduring all this unimaginable suffering, Alma cried out, "How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance." (Alma 14:26) At that moment in time, the Lord gave them strength and they were miraculously delivered. Despite being emaciated, Alma and Amulek appeared as lions emerging from the ruins of their prison.
This pattern continues throughout all the Book of Mormon. Our heroes endure extreme afflictions and when all hope should be lost, they are delivered because of their faith.
I cannot relate all the stories that demonstrate this idea, but there is one more that powerfully demonstrates this idea. Samuel the Lamanite had prophesied that the birth of Christ would be marked by a day and a night and another day as one day without darkness. As the years passed, some prophecies were fulfilled while others had not yet been fulfilled. Satan put it into the hearts of those in power to set aside a day in which if the sign of Christ's birth were not fulfilled, all the unbelievers would be put to death. (3 Nephi 1:9) Nephi prayed mightily that the sign would come and he received an assurance that it would. Can you imagine the faith of those members of the church who did not know as Nephi did? In what would seem like the darkest hour for them, the darkness that would normally come at night did not come. "At the going down of the sun, there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished." (3 Nephi 1:15)
What can we learn from all these examples? We learn that we must never give up … we must always hope for a better day. As bad as things are in our world today with terrorism, wars, murders, rapes, global warming and all sorts of natural disasters and wickedness, I am convinced that the state of our world will become far worse before we see a ray of hope.
Consider D&C 88:87-91: "For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig-tree.
"And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people.
"For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
"And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
"And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people."
But after all these things, Christ will come.
In our personal afflictions, we are not only to endure them, but we are to endure them well.
Elder Oaks quoted President Benson in a talk. President Benson said, “It is not on the pinnacle of success and ease where men and women grow most. It is often down in the valley of heartache and disappointment and reverses where men and women grow into strong characters” (in Conference Report, Stockholm Sweden Area Conference, 1974, 70).
“Every reversal can be turned to our benefit and blessing and can make us stronger, more courageous, more godlike” (in Conference Report, Philippine Islands Area Conference, 1975, 11). (Dallin H. Oaks, “Adversity,” Ensign, Jul 1998, 7)
Let us always hope.