Gospel Doctrine Lesson 27: “They Must Needs Be Chastened and Tried, Even as Abraham”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

This lesson deals with the difficulties the Saints were having in Jackson County, Missouri in 1833 and the revelations that are related to these difficulties (D&C 101; 103; 105). In the Fall of that year the Saints were driven from Jackson County, where the revelations had designated Zion would be built, to areas surrounding Jackson County, particularly Clay County. Joseph organized Zion’s Camp in response, a mostly failed endeavor, inasmuch as the purpose of the Camp was to retake Mormon lands. Later, it would be retroactively seen as providentially preparing particularly loyal men to assume positions of responsibility and leadership among the Saints.

We can little imagine today the collective devastation and confusion the Saints would have felt at being denied the Zion so strongly prophesied by their prophet. And it would only be a precursor of what was to come, as the Saints were forced out of Missouri almost entirely 5 years later, in the late Fall of 1838. Zion never was completed. For all of the steam and flourishing of  Nauvoo, Nauvoo was not the prophesied City, the New Jerusalem, the mirror of Enoch’s City. They built and re-built, and would know exodus and gathering yet again, but not to the Zion of their Prophet’s visions. Zion would take on new meanings, and eventually be interpreted to be anywhere there is a stake of the Church assembled.

And yet we live in the shadow of that Zion that was never built. Now Zion is our ward, our stake, and even the pure in heart, one with other hearts and minds, where there is no poor. Interestingly, then, a new, seemingly unattainable ideal is set before us, one before which we are constantly driven in exodus, and re-gathered, to start anew, again and again. Of one heart and mind, where there are no poor–that Zion has yet to be built in its entirely as well. In fact, it often feels like this Zion is exponentially even less possible than Joseph’s beloved city that never was.

Two Zions, then, intimately related yet significantly different, though the failure to complete either is understood to rest with the would-be builders:

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

For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.

Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.

They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.

In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. (D&C 101: 4-8).

I’m initially not very comfortable with the thought that God might be the cause of my suffering, even indirectly. Of course, the word “chasten” can mean to have a restraining or moderating effect, not simply punishment. In any case, the last verse does observe something starkly true about human nature, that usually only “in the day of trouble” do we “feel after God.”

I can accept that the Lord might sometimes genuinely chasten us for sin or transgression, not because the Law of the Universe demands punishment, but because perhaps such chastening (such moderating and restraining to another, less disastrous direction) might really be salutary for us. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty of knowing when something happens because of divine correction or simply because we live in a fallen world in which truly terrible things really do happen to good people. At best, we might interpret our own experiences as having experienced a chastening from the Lord, but we are not in position to assign that kind of judgment to others. We do more harm than good if we suggest that perhaps a particular trial is happening to Sister so and so because there is something for which she needs to repent. In any case, the Lord follows up these verses of chastisement with words of comfort, compassion, and promise, actions that we would never be remiss in emulating. Learning from our mistakes and willful misdeeds, offering compassion and comfort to others undergoing the same; this is how Zion will be built. The Lord is clear in these verses that though sometimes we must wait for Zion to be redeemed, Zion’s construction is still our task and no one else’s.

Perhaps, considering the enormity of our task, every generation will pass away still wandering in the proverbial desert, Zion always on the horizon but never fully built, its completion billions of years in the future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t leave its foundations fortified a little more strongly, its walls built a little higher, its lights shining a little brighter.

Comments

  1. Wonderful contemplation on a theme that occupies my mind constantly — the quest for Zion.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Really good stuff. Lovely.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    Next year in Zion.

  5. Sharee Hughes says:

    “Perhaps, considering the enormity of our task, every generation will pass away still wandering in the proverbial desert, Zion always on the horizon but never fully built, its completion billions of years in the future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t leave its foundations fortified a little more strongly, its walls built a little higher, its lights shining a little brighter.”

    I really liked this last paragraph, especially the last sentence. May we all strive to do that–leave Zion a little better than when we found it by being the very best we can, for we are Zion’s foundations, we are its walls and its lights.

  6. Jacob, great reflections. Any thoughts on how this Abrahamic comparison fits into this story of Zion? It occurs to me that both stories require people to relinquish a specific realisation of a promised blessing but there are also difficult implications with these parallels.

  7. Colin D. says:

    There is this in Section 58:44–after giving instructions to several brethren in Missouri, the Lord says, “And now, verily, I say concerning the residue of the elders of my church, the time has not yet come, for many years, for them to receive their inheritance in this land, except they desire it through the prayer of faith, only as it shall be appointed unto them of the Lord.” There are the two sides of the coin, our desire as expressed in the prayer of faith, and the Lord’s appointment. While I once had occasion to ask Roy Doxey, “What stands between us and the true Zion?” He immediately opened to Section 105 and read verses 9 and 10 aloud. “We are still in that time of preparation,” he said. Then he said that there has always been a core of Saints who are prepared, but it has never been large enough, that as the Church grows that core will grow, and one day we will achieve a critical mass, and it will happen. It will come, and there will be a center stake in Jackson County. What I fear as that we have allowed ourselves to become so enmashed in Babylon that to break us out the Lord will need to break Babylon, and when he does the Saints will suffer; but on the other side of that suffering will be a Church of great high priests and priestesses, and they will obtain Zion. I pray for it every day.

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