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Because we are invited, even commanded, to contact the Instructor as we work our way through the problems on the test of this life, and because the Instructor cares so much for each of us, it may be a temptation to believe that if we approach Him with enough faith, He will solve our problems for us. What kind of a test would that be? The difference between a test in which each problem has only one answer, and a test in which the teacher provides all of the answers, is negligible. Participants will learn very little in either situation.
A review of the Owner’s Manual indicates at least two reasons why the Teacher refuses to solve problems for us. The first is His desire to help us grow. Strength increases only as we exercise our muscles, physical or spiritual, that is, as we press forward with a steadfastness in Christ (see 2 Nephi 31:20) against all kinds of opposition.
The following story is attributed to Harold W. Wood:
“On my way to visit the James’s the other evening, I saw a wheat field that appeared to be greener and taller than the others. Thinking about it for a while, I concluded that occasionally some loving farmer drives over the field with his tractor and pumps manure all over it. I thought, “My, it’s just like life. Here we are minding our own business, growing our little hearts out. We’re really quite green, somewhat productive, and very sincere, when out of the blue, life deals us a dirty one and we’re up to our eyebrows in manure. We, or course, conclude that life as we have known it has just ended and will never be the same again. But one day when the smell and the shock are gone, we find ourselves greener and taller than we have been.”
Unfortunately, no matter how often we go through these growing experiences, we are never able to appreciate the sound of the tractor or the smell of the manure.”When I worked in the Mission Office during my two years in South America, I occasionally had the responsibility to contact missionaries who had been transferred and to inform them of a new assignment. In our mission there were some branches that had known little success, and few elders were anxious to be assigned to such locations. Still the assignments had to be made and when it was my obligation to make them, I would often preface the announcement with this phrase: “Elder, I’m going to help you grow.”
Even at the tender age of nineteen or twenty, I understood that difficult experiences have the capacity to increase spirituality. This is certainly one of the designs of the teacher with regard to his students. He wants us to be better than we are. C.S. Lewis explained it this way:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought ofCthrowing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan Co., 1960, p. 160).
Mahonri Moriancumer, The brother of Jared, obedient to a commandment from the Lord, built eight barges. They were lovely, sturdy over- and underwater craft, perfect in every way except three. People traveling in them would have a tendency to suffocate; no provision had been made to steer them; and the insides were as dark as night. Crossing the ocean in such a vehicle would be rather like taping one’s head into a black plastic garbage bag and leaving it there for around a year. Mahonri took his concerns to the Lord.
“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
“And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish” (Ether 2:18-19).The Lord promised to do the steering himself. “The winds have gone forth out of my mouth,” (Ether 2:34), He said. The Teacher explained to this Jaredite sailor how to solve the air problem and the brother of Jared went and did “according as the Lord had commanded.” (Ether 2:21).
Two of the three problems the brother of Jared had presented to the Teacher had now been solved, but it was still very dark inside the boats. He returned to the Teacher for another visit.
“And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22).
The Lord had given him solutions for the other two problems. Mahonri needed one more answer. But the Teacher would not give it to him. Instead, He asked, “What will ye that I should do . . .?” (See Ether 2:23.) Why don’t you work on this problem for a while and get back to me, the Lord seems to be saying. Why the difference? It is not possible to know the mind of God in all things (Isaiah 55:8-9), but an answer suggests itself in the remainder of the story.
Somehow, as this remarkable disciple wrestled with the problem, discovered a workable solution, and carried it out, he generated more faith than he had ever had before; so much faith, in fact, that he saw the finger of Christ. The Teacher himself even seemed surprised.
“And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?” (Ether 3:9).
Elder John B. Dickson described the value of this kind of testing:
“Our challenges may be physical, spiritual, economic, or emotional, but if we will treat them as opportunities and stepping‑stones in our progress, rather than barriers and stumbling blocks, our lives and growth will be wonderful. I have learned that between challenges it is very restful but that any real growth that I have ever enjoyed has always come with a challenge” (“Nobody Said That It Would Be Easy,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 45).
There is more to this Test than the simple discovery of the best answers to each question. An indispensable objective of the Test is to help us master mortality and grow in the spirit. As was the case of Mahonri Moriancumer, we see this growth taking place in the lives of struggling, faithful disciples.
Paul also had his problem, his “thorn in the flesh,” for which the Lord refused to supply a solution. But Paul’s attitude was splendid.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Paul, listening carefully, might have heard the voice of the Lord saying, “I’m going to help you grow.”
In a masterful sermon given in 1995, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of these enlarging experiences.
“Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more . . . He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain” (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, November 1995, pp. 16,17).
With regard to these episodes, Elder Scott also made a sweet promise: “While you are passing through each phase, the pain and difficulty that comes from being enlarged will continue. If all matters were immediately resolved at your first petition, you could not grow. Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love” (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, November 1995, p. 17).
A second reason why the Teacher is not always willing to solve our problems or help us to solve them is that often we do not know, or are not willing to acknowledge, what the real problems are.
Israel, under the leadership of Moses, was not happy in the desert near Edom.
“And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread [manna].
“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people died” (Numbers 21:5-6).
As a matter of survival, the Israelites had become proficient at instant repentance. The Lord consistently informed them with firmness (sometimes with fire) when He was displeased. This time was no exception.
“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7).
“Take away the serpents from us,” they pled. But apparently the Lord did not, even when Moses prayed about it, because the serpents were not the problem. The real problem was lack of faith and an attitude that caused the Israelites to complain constantly, and to blame God and Moses for every difficulty. If the Israelites had gone to Moses and said, “Pray unto the Lord, that He might take away our rotten attitudes from us,” this story might have a different ending. But to them, bad attitude was not the problem. Snakes were the problem. The Lord’s response was to have Moses make a brass snake and place it on a pole where people could find it and look at it. With the sculpted serpent came the promise: “Everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:8.) The number of fiery serpents did not diminish at all. They remained in all their poisonous plenty to remind Israel about the genuine issue. As we would expect, the Lord’s response dealt with the real problem, and attempted to teach trust, faith, and gratitude, in much the same way as His response to the question of the brother of Jared about light in the barges.
The reaction of the House of Israel was not so moving as that of Mahonri Moriancumer.
“He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed, and the labor they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or because of the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17:41).
The Lamanites served a purpose similar to the fiery serpents: the Teacher brought them to America to remind the Nephites of the real problem.
“No matter how wicked and ferocious and depraved the Lamanites might be (and they were that!), no matter how much they outnumbered the Nephites, darkly closing in on all sides, no matter how insidiously they spied and intrigued and infiltrated and hatched their diabolical plots and breathed their bloody threats and pushed their formidable preparations for all-out war, they were not the Nephite problem. They were merely kept there to remind the Nephites of their real problem, which was to walk uprightly before the Lord” (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 376).
The Lord made this clear to Nephi while the family was still in the Valley of Lemuel.
“And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.
“For behold, in the day that they [the Lamanites] shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they [the Lamanites] shall have no power over thy seed except they [the Nephites] shall rebel against me also.
“And if it so be that they [the Nephites] rebel against me, they [the Lamanites] shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance” (1 Nephi 2:22-24, emphasis added).Yet it is certain that innumerable Nephite prayers ascended to the Throne of Grace, pleading with the Teacher to solve the problem of the Lamanites.
Immediately after Jesus fed the five thousand with two tiny fish and five loaves of barley bread and filled twelve baskets with the leftovers, some of the Jews determined to “take him by force, to make him a king” (John 6:15). He would have made a great king! He could feed the starving, heal the sick, raise the dead, pay taxes with money from the mouth of a fish; certainly He could defeat and expel the Romans. He could with a wave of his hand resolve every social problem faced by the Jewish nation. But the problems the Jews needed to solve were neither social nor political. They were spiritual. And until the Jews resolved their spiritual dilemma, they could not expect the Lord to help them solve other problems.
I often wonder if this failure to recognize real issues is one of the reasons why my prayers about my family do not receive more direct and meaningful answers. I fall to my knees and cry, “My children are not very grateful. Sometimes they are disobedient and indifferent. They have to be bribed to come to scripture study and they argue in Family Home Evening. Sometimes they miss church. And our home is at times filled with contention and anger. Please, help my kids be better!”
If I were more sensitive and honest, I might hear the Teacher in His still, small voice, whispering, “Go look in a mirror. The kids aren’t the problem here. Your Family Home Evening lessons (when you have them) are rarely prepared in advance. You get them ready while you call the children to come. And how many times in the past month have you missed family prayer or family scripture study because of trivial inconveniences? Remember what I said to you through the prophets?”
“We counsel parents and children to give highest priority to family prayer, family home evening, gospel study and instruction, and wholesome family activities. However worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely-appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform” (Letter from the First Presidency to Members of the Church Throughout the World, February 11, 1999).
Since the Test of Life is not like television and some problems take more than half an hour to solve, we must follow the examples of the brother of Jared and Paul. We must ensure that we are focused on the real problems, and then we must work and wait and trust, knowing that in the end we will be better for our efforts.
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God…. and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven”(Elder Orson F. Whitney, cited by Spencer W. Kimball in Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).
The preceding is Rule # 4 of Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of firstname.lastname@example.org. Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.