For Our Good
Lindon J. Robison, "For Our Good," Religious Educator 22, no. 3 (2021): 128-147
Lindon J. Robison (email@example.com) is a professor emeritus of agricultural and food resource economics at Michigan State University and a former seminary and institute instructor.
Our faith can sometimes falter when we face hard times that are difficult to reconcile with a God who loves all his children infinitely and completely, both everywhere and all the time. We may sometimes feel like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, who complained to God, “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But [sometimes], can’t You choose someone else?” How do we respond to Tevye and others who wonder why hard things happen—even to innocent and good people?
How do we comfort a young family who lost two sons (and brothers) in a tragic car accident? What do we say to my athletic friend who lost his ability to run, ride a bike, and play soccer with his grandchildren—all because of a botched surgery? How can we explain to a young mother in our stake diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that her treatments must be delayed because physicians discovered that she has a brain tumor? And how do we later help the young mother’s family hold to their faith as they stand by her bedside as she peacefully passes away?
We simply do not always know why hard times happen to us or why they sometimes happen to others and not us. When hard times happen, they may feel scary, leaving us to wonder, How long will this last? How much will we lose? How much can we endure? Will we come out on the other side or will we just wither up?
Some have tried to explain why bad things happen to good people and those who appear deserving of something better (for example, Harold S. Kushner and C. S. Lewis). However, sometimes the best and only response to those suffering hard times is to remember, like Nephi, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). And knowing that God loves us may be for the moment all that we have to hold to.
Still, the Lord has a reason for including hard times in our mortal curriculum. Lehi confirmed that there must needs be opposition (hard times) in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught a similar lesson: “There are in the gospel warm and cuddly doctrines, and then there are some that are just outright wintry doctrines. [These doctrines are true, but] we avert our gaze [from them], because we don’t wish to contemplate them. One of them, frankly, is that we cannot approach consecration without passing through appropriate clinical experiences [because we don’t achieve consecration] in the abstract. Sometimes the best people . . . have the worst experiences . . . because they are the most ready to learn.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith endured a winter of hard times in a dark and cold Liberty Jail, causing him to wonder if God had abandoned him. God responded, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7). For his good? Can hard times be for our good? The answer is yes—if we endure them well (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8). Indeed, “for our good” is the Lord’s response to the question “Why does God allow men and women to suffer and sin?”
In what follows, I define hard times, detail their sources, and then list nine ways they can be for our good if we endure them well.
How Do We Define Hard Times?
Hard times, pain, suffering, and opposition are synonyms that we use almost interchangeably—although there is a subtle distinction. Hard times, pain, and suffering often refer to forces that oppose our efforts to stay put and enjoy the status quo. Opposition, on the other hand, often refers to forces that oppose our efforts to push on. What makes hard times, pain, suffering, and opposition nearly interchangeably is that they can all come at once and require a response—like the Nephite soldiers, to choose to become hard or soft of heart (Alma 62:41).
Hard times frequently disturb the comforts of our current conditions. If one is healthy, hard times introduce a virus. If one is prospering, hard times impose a fine. If one is enjoying peace, hard times stir up a conflict.
Sometimes God disturbs the status quo by calling us to move on. He called Jonah to travel to Nineveh and warn its residents of impending divine wrath (Jonah 1:2). Jesus called Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles to leave their lifestyles and follow him. And God called Joseph Smith out of obscurity to fill the world with the news of the Restoration.
On other occasions we meet hard times on the way to a new place. If one seeks a prize, hard times try to deny it. If one seeks to ascend, hard times resist our efforts. If one wants to leave, hard times bar the exit. If one travels east, he or she will be met by hard times traveling west. Hard times opposing our progress may include insufficient funds, confidence, hope, and time. They may also include a lack of support, difficulty in mastering a new skill, and uncertainty about which path to pursue. We may sympathize with the prophet Enoch, who worried about his ability to lead. He responded to his call, “I . . . am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). Sometimes, the pain of wondering if we can still count on God’s help to reach new places and achieve new goals leads us to cry out, as did Joseph Smith, “Oh God, where art thou?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1).
Sources of Hard Times
Consider four sources of hard times and opposition: (1) the natural man, (2) the world we live in, (3) the people we live with, and (4) God’s tests.
The Natural Man
Sometimes our efforts to do and be good are opposed by our natural man. King Benjamin described the natural man as an enemy to God who can only be successfully overcome by yielding to the enticings of Holy Ghost and becoming a saint through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:19). Failure to bridle the natural man subjects us to another set of hard times connected to breaking God’s commandments. Peter warned, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). And then there are the hard times we face simply because of mistakes we make ignorant of the consequences that result.
The World We Live In
The world we live in imposes its own hard times. God causes the “sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Natural laws have established independent cause-and-effect relationships. Economists are famous for the line, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” In other words, for every worthwhile reward there is a price to pay, a hard time to endure, or an opposing force to overcome. Many scenic views can be seen only after an arduous climb. To acquire new skills, diligent study and practice are required.
Of all the hard times we face, perhaps the ones we encounter while “earning our lunch” are the most easily explained because they can be connected to our choices. “Lunch” compensates for the price we pay. We don’t expect it to be free. To be successful, “earning our lunch” will require our might, mind, and strength—and a willingness to face opposition and hard times. The Lord promised Adam and Eve and their posterity, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread” (Genesis 3:19).
On the other hand, the world we live in can produce experiences that can seem unfair. Unfair experiences are more than the price of lunch. An unfair experience is like being refused lunch even after we have paid for it. This hard time may seem like the most difficult to bear. Elder Maxwell once quoted a friend who commented that “if it’s fair, it really isn’t a true trial; it’s a consequence.” Even so, as Elder Marvin J. Ashton once testified, “Greatness is best measured by how well an individual responds to the happenings in life that appear to be totally unfair, unreasonable, and undeserved.”
Some of the People We Live With
Satan opposes God’s plan and our progression by convincing us and others that success requires that we sacrifice the well-being of others: by lying, stealing, bearing false witness, denying God’s existence and love, encouraging the breaking of sacred covenants, disrespecting our temple-bodies, and murdering. And once Satan has entered the hearts of men and women, they produce hard times for others (Luke 22:3).
C. S. Lewis claimed that man was mostly responsible for the pain we suffer. “When souls become wicked they will certainly . . . hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs, it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork.” Lewis published his work on pain in 1940. Impossible to imagine at the time the pain and suffering the next few years would bring—World War II, the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the millions more who would die in armed conflict.
Still, sometimes more painful than the bruises imposed on us by others is the pain we experience when those we love make mistakes, suffer from their choices, or reject our caring. Yet, to avoid these personal pains, as a people we would have to stop loving each other—a price much too dear to pay.
Elder Maxwell wrote, “There is another dimension of suffering, and other challenges that come to us even though we seem to be innocent. These come to us because an omniscient Lord deliberately chooses to school us.” Then Elder Maxwell quoted the following scripture: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). Alma observed, “Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith” (Mosiah 23:21). Malachi added that our hard times administered by the Lord can be compared to a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap (3 Nephi 24:2; see also Malachi 3:2).
Finally, there is a distinction between tests God purposefully creates and those he will not prevent. Abraham faced the first kind of test when he was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abinadi faced the second kind of test after he chastened wicked King Noah and God allowed him to be martyred by fire.
Recognizing the Source of our Hard Times
One key to facing hard times well is to recognize their source. If our hard times are produced by yielding to the natural man, we must seek more earnestly the companionship of the Holy Ghost and learn how to avoid our mistakes and to repent if we have sinned. If they are a result of living in the world, we may need to learn cause-and-effect sequences consistent with natural law. If they are the product of being bruised by others exercising their agency, we should learn how to forgive. And if our suffering is the consequence of a loving God tutoring us for something greater, we need to learn the lessons he is teaching us and especially about our dependence on his grace.
And what about when we don’t know the source of our hard times, when we don’t know the meaning of all things? In the case of our own suffering, we should avoid two incorrect inferences. One is that the source of all our hard times are our own sins and mistakes. The second one is that God is unable to assist us or perhaps that he doesn’t care about us. Wondering about the source of a blind man’s hard times, Jesus’s disciples asked, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). The Savior responded, neither—that not all our hard times result from our sins or even our choices. Elder Ashton taught, “We must remember that all suffering is not punishment.”
Still, some suffering is a consequence of sin and poor choices, and these are important to identify. A friend of mine distinguished between clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is what is common to man, the bumps we experience living in a natural and fallen world, and natural law (that even God obeys). Dirty pain is the consequence of sin—our own and those committed by those we love. Alma the Younger described his dirty pain as bitter and exquisite. Describing Alma’s pains, Elder Matthew S. Holland wrote, “When Alma remembered ‘all’ his sins—especially those that had destroyed the faith of others—his pain was virtually unbearable, and the idea of standing before God filled him with ‘inexpressible horror.’ He yearned to ‘become extinct both soul and body.’” (Alma 36:13–15). We must all learn to obey and avoid dirty pain.
Nine Reassuring Reasons Why Hard Times Can Be for Our Good
The Lord told Joseph Smith that his hard times, if endured well, would be for his good (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8; 122:7). Joseph Smith’s hard times included being lied about, being betrayed by false brethren, helplessly witnessing friends and family driven from their homes, violated, and some murdered, being separated from his young family, being sentenced to die, and being cast into a dark and cold pit and mistreated by his captors to name a few (Doctrine and Covenants 122:5–7). But what was the good to which God referred, if he endured his hard times well?
In the gospel, “good” means those things that enable us to become more like the Savior (Luke 2:10; Alma 5:40; Ether 4:12; Moroni 7:13). Someone once claimed that we can endure almost any “what” if we know “why.” Believing this claim to be true, what follows are nine reassuring reasons “why” God’s plan of happiness requires that we experience hard times, or in other words, how hard times can be for our good. These nine reasons are not intended to be exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.
- To Become Righteous
Agency is our capacity to make choices, and righteousness requires that we choose good when we could choose evil. However, we cannot choose between good and evil if they did not both exist. If the response to a question cannot be true or false, right or wrong, continue or quit, or yes or no, there is no opportunity to choose—and no agency can be employed to become righteous. The Lord revealed, “And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:39). There are also choices of degree: When have we traveled far enough? Done enough? Sacrificed too much or too little? When do our efforts infringe on the rights of others?
Hard times may deliver the opportunity to climb higher by exercising our agency. Lehi confirmed that without opposition, “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility” (2 Nephi 2:11).
President Henry B. Eyring taught, “God’s purpose in the Creation of this world . . . was to give His children the opportunity to prove themselves able and willing to choose the right when it is hard. In so doing, their natures would be changed, and they could become more like Him. He knew that would require unshakable faith in Him.”
We need opposition because it provides us an opportunity to become Christlike as we exercise our agency righteously.
- To Gain Knowledge
To exercise our agency by choosing between good and evil, we must recognize the difference. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that we cannot “be saved in ignorance” (Doctrine and Covenants 131:6). After Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she taught Adam that “were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).
Knowing the difference between good (those things that lead us to God) and evil (those things that lead us away from God) can help us learn to treasure the good and forsake the evil. And unless we learn the difference between good and evil, we cannot be held accountable for our choices.
But hard times alone do not teach us the difference between good and evil. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wryly noted, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” Elder Richard G. Scott clarified why suffering is not enough: “It was intended that life be a challenge, not so that you would fail, but that you might succeed through overcoming.”
Hard times also teach us about our own strengths and weaknesses that we develop through the exercise of our agency. C. S. Lewis provided an interesting analogy by comparing our weaknesses to rats in a basement. If we make a lot of noise when we enter the basement, the rats disappear. But if we suddenly turn on the lights and the rats don’t have time to hide, we discover them. Hard times are like that; they are like turning on the lights before our personal weaknesses have time to hide or disguise themselves.
Nephi and his brothers faced many hard times: their family fortune was stolen, and their lives were threatened. The result was like turning on the light in the basement. Because of their hard times, Laman and Lemuel’s weaknesses were on full display: they wanted to give up and doubted that the Lord would deliver them. They reasoned, “Behold, [Laban] is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” (1 Nephi 3:31). In contrast, Nephi responded that the Lord is “mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?” (1 Nephi 4:1).
So what is our response when hard times reveal our mortal weakness and weaknesses we develop by misuse of our agency? We can turn to Jesus Christ. The Lord has said, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Hard times can help us understand the difference between good and evil, as well as our own strengths and weakness. By better understanding the difference between good and evil and our own strengths and weakness, we can better exercise our agency.
- To Know God
Hard times can help us recognize our dependence on God, and as we depend on God, we come to know him. Abraham Lincoln acknowledged, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” We could all write a similar refrain. Opposition and hard times may drive us to our knees, where we are then in a better position to receive God’s comfort and revelation. Hard times can attune our spiritual senses to hear God’s voice. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our health and prosperity, but, being hard of hearing, we fail to hear God’s voice in both. It’s then that God turns up the amplifier by means of suffering. Then His voice booms.” Perhaps this is because during our hard times we are much more willing to listen to his voice.
As hard times drive us to our knees, we become better acquainted with our loving Father in Heaven. A survivor of the difficult Martin and Willie handcart company trek declared, “We became acquainted with God in our extremities, . . . and the price we paid to know Him was a privilege to pay.” Elder Harold G. Hillam taught, “We will have opportunities to be called upon to suffer. There will be times when we will have feelings of hurt and pain—physical and mental as well as spiritual—and then we will know what adversity is, and we will know a little better what Jesus Christ might have suffered, and we will have done in similitude that which Jesus Christ did.”
In the early days of our marriage, our oldest child, our eight-year-old son, was diagnosed with leukemia and given a 50 percent chance of survival. In our grief, Bonnie and I turned to the Lord and confessed we didn’t understand the purpose for our son’s illness but promised to be faithful despite the difficulty. Then, we asked for the comfort and strength we needed to meet our hard time. In this moment of prayer, it was as though someone turned on a light in our souls and our pain was removed. We were profoundly comforted. And in that moment, we came to know the Lord in a way that could not have happened in any other way. Though it is not always the case, we had the additional blessing over time of witnessing the Lord and modern medicine restore our son to health.
Hard times can help us recognize our dependence on the Lord and can help us come to know him, his love, and his willingness to sustain us during our difficult days.
- To Learn Patience
Sometimes hard times include being denied or required to wait for something we deeply desire. These time-sensitive hard times can come from our own choices, from the world we live in and the people we live with, and sometimes from a tutoring and loving God. What these time-sensitive hard times are designed to teach us is patience, an essential companion to faith.
Sometimes patience requires that we learn to accept that sometimes our good deeds are rewarded with hard times. Peter acknowledged that hard times sometimes follow our good choices and that we should not be impatient when they do: “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Peter 2:20). Those who bring children into the world have been promised their own set of hard times—even though this is a noble choice. God said to Eve, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).
Elder Maxwell wrote, “Patience is not indifference. Actually, it means caring very much but being willing, nevertheless, to submit to the Lord and to what the scriptures call the ‘process of time.’” Patience is a partner to faith; faith, by nature, requires the exercise of patience. As the Epistle of James teaches, “The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:3–4).
Patience and faith precede miracles. Were the order reversed, there would be no need for patience nor faith, and these virtues would remain undeveloped. Therefore, since patience and faith in Christ are essential virtues, one must expect sometimes difficult delays between commandment keeping and miracles. Blessings from obeying God’s laws follow—not precede—our choices. When we receive a blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law on which it is predicated and waiting patiently for the results (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21). Hebrews 12:11 confirms the sequence that patience supported by faith leads to the fruits of righteousness: “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Assuring us that we won’t wait in vain, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught about the value of an eternal perspective: “Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often, we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.”
Elder Jay E. Jensen shared the following: “A member of the Twelve, returned to his home ward and a sister greeted him and said: ‘You may not remember me, but when you were our bishop, I was going through an “ugly” divorce and you told me two things which have sustained me all these years: “Now sister, don’t lose your eternal perspective; always keep an eternal perspective.”’ Again, she thanked me and said how much that advice sustained her over the years.”
Time-sensitive hard times can help us learn to maintain an eternal perspective allowing patience, a companion to faith, to produce its perfect work.
- To Learn Compassion
Charity requires that we empathize with others—to vicariously experience what they experience. This demand of charity most often is accompanied by hard times. Regarding Christ’s Atonement, Alma taught, “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. 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” (Alma 7:11–12). If opposition was essential for the Savior to learn how to succor his people, can our ability to steady, strengthen, and lift others be acquired in some other way? No! Hard times give us the privilege of acquiring Christlike empathy, which is essential for helping others.
Bonnie and I have a dear friend who gave birth to a son with a visible birth defect. Many in our ward tried to serve and provide solace to our friend. But later in a quiet moment, our friend reflected that the person who had helped her the most was a sister who had also given birth to a son with a similar birth defect. She seemed to be the person best suited to give her the strength and peace she needed to move forward.
In a conference address, Elder Maxwell taught, “Jesus knows how to succor us in the midst of our griefs and sicknesses precisely because Jesus has already borne our griefs and sicknesses. He knows them firsthand; thus, His charity is earned.”
Hard times can help us develop the compassion required to assist others facing similar difficulties.
- To Change Our Direction
If we choose to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and repent, we can be redirected after committing sins and making mistakes. Such was the case of Alma the Younger. He and his companions, the sons of Mosiah, took pleasure in doing evil. Then, as they were going about to destroy the Church and to lead the people of the Lord astray, an angel descended in a cloud and stopped them. Alma the Younger fell to the ground and found himself unable to move or speak (see Mosiah 27:8–19).
Alma the Younger’s hard time led him to repent and to follow Christ. Years later, when he described his conversion to his son Helaman, he recalled that at his moment of deepest despair he remembered hearing his father prophesy of Jesus Christ. Focusing on this thought, Alma cried within his heart that Jesus would be merciful. It was then that he could remember his pains no more, nor was he harrowed up by the memory of his sins. Alma bore witness, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:20–21).
Like Alma the Younger, we have hard times that are naturally connected to our choices. Elder Holland taught about repentance while serving as president of Brigham Young University: “Repentance is not easy or painless or convenient. It is a bitter cup from hell. But only Satan, who dwells there, would have you think that a necessary and required acknowledgment is more distasteful than permanent residence. Only he would say, ‘You can’t change. You won’t change. It’s too long and too hard to change. Give up. Give in. Don’t repent. You are just the way you are.’ That, my friends, is a lie born of desperation. Don’t fall for it.”
We can also be redirected to better opportunities through the opposition we face. In the Old Testament, we learn about the opposition Joseph of Egypt faced. Joseph’s jealous brothers desired to slay him. Fortunately, his brother Reuben convinced them to sell him as a slave instead. Then, as Joseph manifested his patience even during hard times, he rose in influence to become the most powerful person in Egypt next to Pharaoh. In this position of influence, Joseph was able to prepare and save the Egyptians from seven years of famine—and to save his own starving family. Commenting on his experiences to his chastened brothers, Joseph taught them about his changed direction: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Hard times are often required to relocate us to the right place at the right time so that we can do much good.
Early Latter-day Saints were to ultimately settle in the West, but before that could happen, they had to leave their prosperous homes and communities in Illinois. Opposition from their neighbors forced them to leave. Responding to the need to change and to relocate in the West, Brigham Young explained, “We wish strangers to understand that we did not come here out of choice, but because we were obliged to go somewhere, and this was the best place we could find.”
Hard times can help us overcome the inertia that prevents repentance and can redirect us in eternally significant ways.
- To Preserve the Agency of Others
The gift of agency is so precious and important that God is willing to allow the wicked and the world to inflict unspeakable pain on the righteous. And one explanation is that he can turn the suffering of the innocent to good.
Alma the Younger and Amulek were forced to watch the martyrdom by fire of the people of Ammonihah. Amulek urged Alma to prevent the wicked from inflicting such awful pain on those they loved. Alma responded, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day” (Alma 14:11).
Agency is required for all of us to become righteous. Allowing others to choose, even when it hurts when they make unrighteous choices, requires patience and faith. Time-sensitive hard times will require us to wait for loved ones to progress—respecting their agency and God’s timing. Waiting can feel like our most difficult hard times. While the Lord does sometimes intervene in the affairs of humans and nature, these instances may be less frequent than we assume. God’s work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,” and our goal is to join him in this marvelous work (Moses 1:39). This goal requires us to become more Christlike than we are now, and we cannot hope to become more Christlike without suffering a taste of what he suffered. This includes suffering because of the choices of others.
The Father’s plan of happiness required a Savior to atone for our sins and mistakes and those of others as we learn how to become better. Can we expect to participate in this plan without contributing? In our case, our contribution will be to endure the bruises and embarrassments of others as they practice and sometimes misuse their agency. In extreme cases, it is a matter of trusting Christ to make all things right in the end and heal all hurts.
Because God is merciful and will not take away anyone’s agency, even that of someone making unrighteous choices, hard times will inevitably result.
8. To Learn How to Forgive
The Golden Rule enjoins us to do for others what we hope they will do for us. Perhaps a “Celestial Rule” could be doing unto others that which we ask God to do for us. And what do we most need God to do for us? To forgive our trespasses and sins as we forgive the trespasses of others.
Forgiveness, an essential Christlike attribute, is preceded by many preliminary virtues. Can we truly forgive if we lack faith in a divine Judge? Can we truly forgive if we lack the patience to allow others to learn from exercising their agency? Can we truly forgive if we lack the humility to recognize that we are all beggars before God, and that none of us is without sin and qualified to cast stones? And when and how are we going to practice this encompassing virtue of forgiveness if we are never exposed to hard times inflicted by the choices of others? Furthermore, forgiving others is likely good for our hearts.
Part of what the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Saints endured in Missouri resulted from a letter William W. Phelps wrote to then-governor Lilburn W. Boggs. Later, repenting of his role in the persecution of the Saints, Phelps wrote Joseph asking for forgiveness. Joseph, who perhaps had suffered the fires of afflictions heaped upon the Saints more than any other, responded, “Come on dear brother since the war is past / For friends at first, are friends again at last.”
Of all the gifts we ask of God, the most important one is to be forgiven, which he freely offers as we are willing to forgive others. Sometimes hard times caused by others provide the opportunities we need to practice forgiveness.
9. To Experience Joy
Growing up, my mother prepared for me a scrapbook of remembrances. On the inside cover of the scrapbook, she included a quote from the poet John Butler Yeats. He wrote a letter to his son William Butler Yeats that included these lines: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”
Growth or progress is moving beyond where we are now. For a runner, progress is running farther or faster than before. For the student, progress is learning something that was not known before. For the tradesperson, progress is mastering a skill.
Despite what Yeats pronounced, not all progress leads to joy. Becoming a better thief, for example, would not qualify as progress toward ultimate joy. Only a certain kind of progress can promise joy—progress toward becoming more Christlike. President Russell M. Nelson explained, “Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.” Then, emphasizing the connection between joy and the Savior, President Nelson said, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation . . . and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”
God’s plan for our mortal experience is referred to as the “plan of happiness” or the “great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8,16). Note that that happiness can be used interchangeably with joy in this case. BYU president Kevin J. Worthen noted that when presented with God’s plan, we shouted for, not with, joy. President Worthen then suggested that perhaps it was the possibility for joy that led to all the shouting. And since opposition plays such a prominent role in God’s plan of happiness, hard times seem to be crucial to the plan’s success.
Progress requires calling forth a greater effort, a greater resolve, and a more prolonged exertion than before to become more Christlike. Opposition has the capacity to compel us to try harder. Quoting Lehi: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).
Elder L. Todd Budge once quoted the thirteenth-century poet Rumi, who connected suffering and joy: “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge also taught about the connection between hard times and joy. “Suffering and joy are not incompatible but essential companions. You can suffer and never know joy, but you can’t have joy without suffering.” Opposition and hard times can divert our attention from the Savior, which will lead us to sorrow. To produce joy, opposition is overcome by increased focus on the Savior. We become more Christlike as we increase our focus on him regardless of our circumstances because, as President Nelson taught, “He is the source of all joy.”
Eve recognized the connection between hard times and joy as well. She exclaimed, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).
So what are we willing to suffer to maintain our focus on the Savior and receive his joy? Hard times can feel mean, scary, unfair, undeserved, and seemingly insurmountable. But perhaps we should ask ourselves: Are there any hardships or tragedies that God cannot turn to our good? Are there any of our weaknesses that, with God’s help, cannot become strengths? And is there any sin so fleetingly pleasant that is worth the sacrifice of true joy?
The Savior promises everlasting joy to those who hold to their faith even during hard times: “But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Nephi 9:18).
Hard times can provide opportunities to choose good over evil, they can reveal our weakness, they can help us draw closer to God, they can teach us patience as we wait on the Lord, they can teach us empathy and compassion for others, they can teach us how to forgive, they can help us change directions, they can help us respect the agency of others, and they can increase our capacity for joy as we focus our attention on the Savior.
Shakespeare expressed an understanding of the good that hard times and adversity can produce when he had the duke in As You Like It declare, “Sweet are the uses of adversity, / Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, / Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”
A poem quoted by President Spencer W. Kimball has pain and adversity claiming credit for much of the good in our lives.
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
“I will not have you with me anymore!”
I stamped my foot and said, “Be on your way,”
And paused there startled at the look he wore.
“I who have been your friend,” he said to me,
“I who have been your teacher—all that you know of understanding love, of sympathy and patience, I have taught you. Shall I go?”
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast.
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears and lifted up a song—
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.
Knowing that blessings are often carried on the wings of adversity, Nephi wrote, “Having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days” (1 Nephi 1:1). I hope we can write a similar refrain, that we have been highly favored of the Lord even though we have faced many afflictions in our day.
 Those familiar with the writings of Neal A. Maxwell will recognize my dependence on his insights throughout this work. I also thank Rebecca T. Robison, Lana R. Bailey, Valerie Russell, Julie Taylor, Sue Ann Walker, David E. Spencer, Jay E. Jensen, and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments and suggestions. Finally, I thank Devan Jensen, Religious Educator editor, for his encouragement to continue working on this article.
 Norman Jewison, Fiddler on the Roof (1971).
 Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Schocken Books, 1981).
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940)
 Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 20.
 Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 31.
 Marvin J. Ashton, “If Thou Endure It Well,” Ensign, November 1984, 22.
 Lewis, Problem of Pain, 86.
 Aileen H. Clyde, “‘Charity Suffereth Long,’” Ensign, November 1991, 76.
 Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, 28.
 Ashton, “If Thou Endure It Well,” 20.
 Matthew S. Holland, “The Exquisite Gift of the Son,” Ensign, November 2020, 46.
 Henry B. Eyring, “Tested, Proved, Polished,” Ensign, November 2020, 96.
 Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead—Diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929–1932 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973), 214.
 Richard G. Scott, Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 248–49.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 164–65.
 Quoted by David O. McKay, in Conference Report, April 1979, 76–77.
 Harold G. Hillam, “Strength in Adversity” (BYU devotional, June 25, 1996), BYU Speeches.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “Patience” (BYU devotional, November 27, 1979), BYU Speeches.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” Ensign, November 1999, 38.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience,” Ensign, May 2010, 58.
 Jay E. Jensen, personal correspondence with author, March 13, 2021.
 Neal A. Maxwell, quoted by Bruce Hafen in A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 23–24.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “For Times of Trouble” (BYU devotional, March 18, 1980), BYU Speeches.
 John A. Widtsoe, comp., Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1941), 474.
 In response to this line, an anonymous reviewer wrote, “This [learning to forgive] is the hardest part about being Christian. Please recognize that it is a gut-wrenching wrestle that can take years and years.”
 Ross W. May, Marcos A. Sanchez-Gonzalez, Kirsten A. Hawkins, Wayne B. Batchelor, and Frank D. Fincham, “Effect of Anger and Trait Forgiveness on Cardiovascular Risk in Young Adult Females,” American Journal of Cardiology 114, no. 1 (July 1, 2014): 47–52, doi: 10.1016/
 “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” p. 1083, The Joseph Smith Papers.
 J. B. Yeats, Letters to His Son W. B. Yeats and Others, 1869–1922 (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1946), 121.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, November 2016, 82.
 Kevin J. Worthen, “Enduring Joy” (BYU devotional, January 7, 2020), BYU Speeches.
 L. Todd Budge, “Consistent and Resilient Trust,” Ensign, November 2019, 47.
 Lawrence E. Corbridge, “Survive or Thrive,” Days of ’47 Sunrise Service address, Salt Lake City, July 24, 2019, Sons of Utah Pioneers, sup1847.com/
 Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” 82.
 William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, scene 1, lines 12–17.
 Quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972), 99.