1. Joseph Smith’s prayer in Liberty Jail, and the Lord’s response
This article gives context for Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123.
This narrative will help you contemplate the suffering of Joseph Smith and other captives in Liberty Jail and ponder the power of the revelations Joseph received there.
This page from the Joseph Smith Papers website gives the text of the longer letter that Doctrine and Covenants 121 and 122 were extracted from.
D&C 121:1 O God, Where art Thou?
‘It is expedient for all of us, particularly those who may be weighed down by grief because of acts of misconduct or misfortune, to recall that even the Prophet Joseph Smith had hours of despair because of his very trying experiences in the Liberty Jail. Perhaps he too was entitled to question, “What did I do wrong? What have I done to displease Thee, O Lord? Where have I failed? Why are the answers to my prayers and pleas withheld?” In response to the feelings of his heart and mind he cried out: O God, where art thou?’ (Marvin J Ashton, “If Thou Endure It Well,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 20)
D&C 121:7-10 Adversity
‘My purpose today is to assure you that our Heavenly Father and the Savior live and that They love all humanity. The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life. Then our spirits will be changed. We will become able to want what God wants, to think as He thinks, and thus be prepared for the trust of an endless posterity to teach and to lead through tests to be raised up to qualify to live forever in eternal life.
It is clear that for us to have that gift and to be given that trust, we must be transformed through making righteous choices where that is hard to do. We are prepared for so great a trust by passing through trying and testing experiences in mortality. That education can come only as we are subject to trials while serving God and others for Him.
In this education we experience misery and happiness, sickness and health, the sadness from sin and the joy of forgiveness. That forgiveness can come only through the infinite Atonement of the Savior, which He worked out through pain we could not bear and which we can only faintly comprehend.’ (Henry B Eyring, General Conference, April 2009)
‘I]t is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals, and that we be tried. But why is it that we should be tried? There is just the same necessity for it now that there was in former times. I heard the Prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.” Some people have wondered why so many of the Twelve fell away. God tries people according to the position they occupy.’ (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 24:197)
2. The Savior’s perfect understanding of our sufferings and adversity
“In the garden and on the cross, Jesus saw each of us and not only bore our sins, but also experienced our deepest feelings so that he would know how to comfort and strengthen us” (Elder Merrill J. Bateman, Ensign, May 1995, p. 14).
3. Purposes of adversity
This two-minute video features quotes from Joseph Smith about trials.
D&C 127:2 Deep Waters are What I am Wont to Swim in
“It is difficult to say for certain how many times Joseph was arrested or had lawsuits leveled against him. Brigham Young reported that Joseph was subjected to forty-six lawsuits. Some of these were simply harassments, the equivalent of claiming that he was a disturber of the peace…
“Joseph ever remembered the word of the Lord in the Liberty jail concerning trials: ‘The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?’ (D&C 122:8.)
“Still, life became a burden when at every turn was one more subpoena, one more arrest, one more skirmish with the law. Even the mobs who formed against Joseph and the Saints often did so claiming that the law was on their side.” (Scot Facer Proctor, Witness of the Light: A Photographic Journey in the Footsteps of the American Prophet Joseph Smith, edited by Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 189)
“The personal spiritual qualities seen in both Paul and Joseph Smith are impressively similar. Both men trusted deeply in God… To cite only one of numerous examples, in 1832 [Joseph] wrote to [Emma] of a delay in returning home, mentioning his heartfelt prayers to God for forgiveness and blessings, and speaking of God as his friend and comfort: ‘I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me, only to do his will.’
“Sacrifices for the work characterize the missions of both men. When the Corinthians doubted the Resurrection, Paul simply asked them why he would live a life of discomfort, risking his life every hour for something not true. On one occasion, he listed some of the adversity he had suffered in his ministry:
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:24-28.)
“Joseph Smith also proved his sincerity by sacrifice. Writing to the Church during unfair arrest attempts that kept him in hiding in and out of Nauvoo for months, he also looked back: “The envy and wrath of man have been my common lot all the days of my life … and I feel, like Paul, to glory in tribulation.” (D&C 127:2.) Indeed, although the Prophet didn’t summarize all his trials, any historian could easily take Paul’s format and adapt it to Joseph Smith’s life, as Joseph himself did in Liberty Jail in alluding to his lifetime burdens. (See D&C 122:5)
“For instance, a number of times professing Christians leveled guns at him with the threat of death. Once he was beaten, tarred and feathered, and left unconscious. Twice he was endangered by stagecoach runaways when on the Lord’s business. He took back roads and waded through swamps to escape his enemies. He endured years of inconvenient travel on land for the kingdom, as well as risking many steamboat journeys on waterways. He faced years of unjust legal harassment, which made his own home unsafe, and he was imprisoned for a long winter in a filthy jail on unverified charges. Through all, he maintained the responsibility of leading the Church, worrying, praying, and planning for the welfare of his family and his fellow Saints.
“Why did Paul and Joseph Smith do these things? Because they positively knew the truth of the gospel, the Resurrection, and the Judgment. Joseph explained that his lifelong persecutions for telling his visions made him feel ‘much like Paul. … [T]here were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise … though they should persecute him unto death … So it was with me.’ (JS-H 1:24-25)” (Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Parallel Prophets: Paul and Joseph Smith,” Ensign, Apr. 1985, 16-17)
D&C 101:4 Chastened and Tried
‘All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. How many of the Latter-day Saints will endure all these things, and be prepared to enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son? You can answer that question at your leisure. Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.’ (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.345; emphasis added)
4. The Lord’s counsel to those who experience adversity
Watch: If Thou Endure it Well
Elder Hales teaches about enduring trials (D&C 121:7-8). (2:12)
Watch: Come What May and Love it
The way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life.
D&C 24:8 Be patient in afflictions
‘Let us not presume that because the way is at times difficult and challenging, our Heavenly Father is not mindful of us. He is rubbing off our rough edges and sensitizing us for our great responsibilities ahead. May His blessings be upon us spiritually, that we may have a sweet companionship with the Holy Ghost, and that our footsteps might be guided along paths of truth and righteousness. And may each of us follow the Lord’s comforting counsel: “Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.”‘ (James E Faust, “The Blessings of Adversity,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 7)
D&C 98:1 and in everything give thanks
‘In this world upheaval, in this day of wanton destruction, we, as a people must look upward. There must be trust and faith in our hearts. Hope must walk by our side. We must remember charity also. We must treasure the warm words of the Father to His Church, “Be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you” D&C 68:6 We who have been called to leadership in the Church of Christ must lead our people from anxiety and fear and doubt, to trust and faith in the Lord, and certainty in the outcome of the Lord’s plan of salvation. We must repeat with gladness the words of the Lord, “Fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks” D&C 98:1′ (John A Widtsoe)
5. The Lord’s promises to those who are faithful in adversity
D&C 3:8 Extended his arm and supported you
‘The Prophet Joseph Smith learned from firsthand experience that the Lord expects us to avoid misery by living His gospel and wants us to understand that we can repent. When he lost the 116 pages of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon translation by giving in to the persuasions of men, Joseph was miserable. The Lord told him: “You should have been faithful; and [God] would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble” (D&C 3:8) Such is the case for each of you young men: be faithful, and you will be supported by the hand of God. ‘ (Marcus B Nash, General Conference, October 2006)
D&C 122:7 all these things shall give thee experience
“The Prophet was lying in a dungeon [Liberty, Missouri] for the gospel’s sake. He called upon God, ‘who controlleth and subjecteth the devil,’ and God answered telling him that his sufferings should be but ‘a small moment.’ ‘Thou art not yet as Job,’ said the Lord, ‘thy friends do not contend against thee.’ Job’s friends, it will be remembered, tried to convince him that he must have done something wrong or those trials would not have come upon him. But Job had done no wrong; it was ‘without cause’ that Satan had sought to destroy him. God said to Joseph: ‘If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; perils among robbers; perils by land and sea; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the billowing surge conspire against thee, 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.’
“There is the reason. It is for our development, our purification, our growth, our education and advancement, that we buffet the fierce waves of sorrow and misfortune; and we shall be all the stronger and better when we have swum the flood and stand upon the farther shore.” (Orson F Whitney, Improvement Era, Nov. 1918, pp. 5–6.)
D&C 121:8 If thou endure it well
‘Why is adversity often such a good schoolmaster? Is it because it teaches so many things? Through difficult circumstances we are often forced to learn discipline and how to work. In often unpleasant circumstances we may also be subjected to a buffeting, a honing, and a polishing that can come no other way.’ (James E Faust, Ensign, Feb. 1998, 5)