Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » In Our Ward: Lesson 28: “O God, Where Art Thou?”

In Our Ward: Lesson 28: “O God, Where Art Thou?”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 28, 2013

Lesson 28: “O God, Where Art Thou?”

Doctrine and Covenants 121-123

Purpose: To help class members better endure adversity by turning to the Savior.

Lesson Development:

1. Joseph Smith’s prayer in Liberty Jail, and the Lord’s response
2. The Savior’s perfect understanding of our sufferings and adversity
3. Purposes of adversity
4. The Lord’s counsel to those who experience adversity
5. The Lord’s promises to those who are faithful in adversity

Departure from lesson: Take a few minutes to review the Hans Mattsson interview in the New York Times and the discussions that have arisen from it. Note that while I think it is important to use Sunday School for its intended devotional purpose rather than exploring history and social questions unrelated to the topic we’ve been asked to discuss, I also think it’s important for class members with questions to be able to raise them in a devotional setting. Offer to take any questions about any topic, today and at any time in the future – not that I’ll have the immediate answers, but I can find the answers, or help class members find them, either in class in following weeks if that is feasible, or meeting with them privately. Promise to renew this offer regularly, and follow through. Keep this as brief as possible, but give class members a chance to discuss if they want to; remember to return to it at the end of class to ask if any questions have occurred during the period.


The plan for today’s lesson is discussing “enduring adversity by turning to the Savior,” and we’ll be doing that through the illustration of the Saints’ difficulties in Missouri and Joseph Smith’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail. “Adversity,” like “trials and tribulations” and “persecution,” is one of those words we use but very seldom really define. What does “adversity” mean? Does it apply only to life-threatening or liberty-threatening situations, like those in Missouri in the late 1830s? What kinds of things could we call adversities in our own lives? [Note that while the offered examples are (probably) much less dramatic than the Missouri examples, they *are* adversities if they cause us to be anxious, or mourn, or feel lost in any sense. No adversity, no matter how trivial it might appear to someone who is not suffering the crisis, is too trivial to take to the Savior.]

After the Saints were driven from Jackson County in 1833, they settled north of Jackson County, in Clay County. For two years there was relative peace there, as the Saints built homes and more of the Saints from Kirtland moved to Missouri. But the same animosities that had occurred in Jackson County began to build in Clay County, too, and non-Mormon residents began to hold meetings to argue for the expulsion of the Saints from Clay County. Before tensions had reached quite as high as they had in Jackson, the Saints agreed to leave Clay County and move still farther north, to Caldwell County – a county that was organized by the Missouri legislature specifically to give the Mormons a territory of our own, with the hope that there would be no further conflicts.

About 4,000 Saints settled in the town of Far West in that new “Mormon county,” while many others formed other small settlements in both Caldwell and Daviess counties – eventually 10,000 Mormons settled in the region. Two of those smaller settlements that you have probably heard of were Haun’s Mill and Adam-ondi-Ahman. Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, and other Church leaders moved from Kirtland to Far West; temple sites were dedicated at both Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman; a stake was organized; several of the apostles left from here to carry the gospel to England; and it was here that the law of tithing was first taught. Far West was an important era in Church history … although it lasted only about two years.

By 1838, the same animosities between the Mormons and their neighbors – and for all the same causes – had risen dramatically. The same internal conflicts had also risen – apostasy and excommunication reached as high as Oliver Cowdery. By the fall of 1838, violence broke out. Farms and homes were burned – not only Mormon farms and homes burned by Missourians, but also Missourian farms and homes burned by Latter-day Saints, some of them organized into a secret society called the “Danites.” (As much as we might like to see ourselves as innocent victims, it is important, I think, to acknowledge that we were not passive. This is one of those seldom-discussed issues that can take Latter-day Saints by surprise: we did wage war against the Missourians almost as much as they waged war against us.)

On October 25, 1838, an altercation so bloody and violent that we remember it as the Battle of Crooked River, killed two Mormons, including an apostle, David Patten. Two days later, Missouri Governor Boggs issued the Extermination Order: “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state. Three days following that order, on October 30, 200 Missourians attacked Mormon settlers at Haun’s Mill, killing 17, including very young boys.

The day following the Haun’s Mill massacre, Joseph Smith and 50 other Church leaders surrendered to the Missouri militia in an effort to bring an end to the violence. Most of these men were released within a few weeks, but Joseph, Hyrum, and four others were marched through several towns and jails and were eventually imprisoned in the jail at Liberty, Missouri. The Mormons at Far West and other settlements were driven from their homes and fled, mostly on foot, in the snow and cold of a Midwestern winter, eastward across Missouri to the Mississippi River. As much as there was any leadership during that flight, the evacuation was directed by Brigham Young, who brought the Saints together in the neighborhood of Quincy, Illinois.

In perhaps one of the greatest humanitarian services in our history, the 1,600 hundred non-Mormon residents of Quincy rallied to save the lives of 8,000-10,000 Mormon refugees by providing them food and shelter and raising money to assist them.

But Joseph Smith and his five companions were still imprisoned in the Liberty Jail, without heat or adequate food or clean water, and they suffered greatly during the cold of winter. The cellar where they were kept was to low to allow the taller men, like Joseph, to stand upright. They were subjected to the verbal abuses of their jailers. Worse than the physical hardships, perhaps, was the anguish of knowing what their own families, along with the rest of the Saints, were enduring as they were driven from the state, and being unable to help.

Despite the horrendous conditions, or maybe because of them, the jail became a kind of a temple, as Joseph Smith received revelations which he recorded in a letter that eventually reached Church leaders in Quincy. Sections 121, 122 and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants are taken from that letter. Let’s turn to Section 121 now.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-6:

1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

4 O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us.

5 Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs.

6 Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.

While I suspect no one in this room has ever faced conditions remotely like those that brought forth this cry from Joseph Smith, most of us have felt alone, and angered by unjust treatment from others. I see two parts to this anguished prayer:

First, Joseph feels that God has left him when he should have been there to comfort the Saints and fight their battles. Can you recall any time when you have felt the same way?

Second, Joseph calls on the Lord not only to remember the Saints but to punish their enemies. What do you think about that?

The Lord responds to Joseph in the next few verses:

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-10:

7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

10 Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.

What do you think about the Lord’s response here? Is it the kind of comfort or vengeance that Joseph asked for or that you might expect?

Let’s turn to a later part of the revelation, in Section 122:

Doctrine and Covenants 122:5-8:

5 If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;

6 If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;

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.

8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Again, the Lord reminds Joseph that he has endured more than Joseph. How do you feel about that reminder?

Centuries earlier, before the Savior was born at Bethlehem, Alma prophesied this part of the Savior’s role:

Alma 7:11-12:

11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Alma taught that the Lord would know how to help his people in their physical trials, that he would know through his own flesh, what the people were suffering. What do you think about that? How could Jesus know the physical infirmities of, say, a woman in childbirth, or the weakness of a very old man, when he had never been either a woman or an elderly person?

Even earlier than Alma, the prophet Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, taught this:

II Nephi 9:21:

21 And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.

Does that add anything to our understanding of how Jesus Christ could directly know and experience our physical trials?

How, then, was Jesus equipped to be able to comfort us?

Sunday School is designed to be a place of devotion, as well as of learning. It shouldn’t just be a mind game – we should give each other the opportunity to bear testimony to their experience with the principles we discuss. Is there anyone who would like to talk about some time when they have been comforted in adversity by recognizing that Jesus had suffered the same pains and had endured righteously?

Why do we have adversity, anyway? [Have class members read some of these verses, according to the ideas they offer in response to the “why” question:]

Testing us (why?)

Doctrine and Covenants 98:12, 14-15:

12 For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith.

13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.

14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.

15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.

Doctrine and Covenants 101:4:

4 Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.

Doctrine and Covenants 136:31:

31 My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.

Result of transgressions

Doctrine and Covenants 101:1-2

1 Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—

2 I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;

Experience and growth

Doctrine and Covenants 122:7

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.


Alma 32:5-6:

5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?

6 And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.

The Lord told Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail:

Doctrine and Covenants 121:7

7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

Do adversities seem to last only for “a small moment” when we are in the midst of them? What can we do to increase our patience and ability to bear adversity?

Why does adversity teach some people patience and faith, but embitters others?

What are some of the ways you have learned to bear adversity? Scriptural comfort? Advice from or actions by others?


After five months – a small moment? – in the Liberty Jail, Joseph and his companions were transferred to another town to stand trial. On the way there, their guards allowed them to escape. They made their way across the state of Missouri and joined their families and the Saints in Quincy, Illinois.

We have read only a few verses of this great revelation on enduring, even profiting from adversity. I think these three sections – Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123 – are among the great gems of scripture, lines that we should be thoroughly familiar with, in part to prepare ourselves for the times when we do face physical, emotion, or spiritual adversity.

We’ll call on [name] for our closing prayer. Then, if anyone has questions or issues they’d like to raise about Church history, as we talked about earlier, I’ll hang around to find out what we need to address.



  1. The “Lesson Departure” went over very well — at least three of the young men in class repeatedly nodded their heads very firmly, and there were some supportive comments (no questions, yet). We did have a couple of people who spoke up to say that nobody should be interested in those things “because it isn’t essential to salvation,” and to explain away concerns in other simplistic ways, but no real problem. When I mentioned in the lesson that Mormons had taken part in violence against their neighbors, there was a flurry of discussion from four or five people either denying Mormon violence or explaining it away as meaningless — the most insistent voice claimed that Mormons probably hadn’t done anything wrong, that the Missourians had burned their own homes as “agents provocateurs” to make it look like the Mormons were bad, thus justifying even more violence against us. I wouldn’t accept that, though.

    So, on the one hand, we have people who enthusiastically welcome the opportunity to bring up anything and find answers; on the other hand, we have some who are so firmly set in the “Mormons in white hats” version of history that learning more is very difficult for them. (And it isn’t like I intend to deliberately teach a more textured version of history, except in small doses when it comes up naturally, as in this lesson where I acknowledged Mormon violence — really, I just wanted to give people the green light to ask questions, and not to be able to say that we never talk about difficulties.)

    Had a really good chat with one man after class who wanted to tell me of his own experiences in encountering some of the things we don’t often discuss.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

  2. I’m going to totally plagiarize your “departure.”

    Comment by Brad Kramer — July 28, 2013 @ 1:34 pm

  3. “Not essential to your salvation” is an incredibly unhelpful response. To the extent that something affects your relationship with and faith in the church, it is hugely relevant, even if on it’s face it seems like a “less weightier” matter.

    Comment by Brad Kramer — July 28, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

  4. That’s it Ardis, I’m moving to your ward

    Comment by andrew h — July 28, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

  5. I agree with Brad. I used to be amongst the “not essential to your salvation” faction, but no longer. It’s a fob-off. How is it possible “to study things out in your own mind” if you don’t question? Good for you, Ardis, in opening communication. Too many panic and over-react, and do great damage in families and homes.

    Comment by anne (uk) — July 28, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

  6. I’ve been doing your “departure” with the Youth for years. I grew tired of hearing adults say that when they were young, “no one would ever answer my questions,” so I wanted to take away that excuse. Just like you, Ardis, I do it at the beginning, I’m comfortable if it takes time away from the *ahem* assigned lesson (especially with the new youth curriculum), and I promise to study more and come back next week if they are not satisfied.

    My experience with it is that the Youth usually have one super-esoteric question about belly-buttons or pearly gates and then we get on with it.

    Comment by Lonn L — July 28, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

  7. I was substitute teaching a Primary class of 10 year old boys when one of them asked how angels could come down from Heaven when there’s no air in space. I asked them to open to the Joseph Smith history where we read about the conduit that opened up from Heaven and through which the angel traveled. I explained what a conduit is, and they all agreed that it explained how angels could travel. The rest of the lesson went very well. I think they were so stunned that I took their question seriously that they forgot to be rude.

    Comment by LauraN — July 28, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

  8. Funny! But I do think that in most cases, it *is* the being able to ask that matters more than the answers.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

  9. ^ Yup

    Comment by Brad Kramer — July 28, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

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