Virtual RS/PH: Stand Fast Through the Storms of Life

Hawkgrrrlabuse, christianity, church, Culture, curiosity, faith, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, religion, smith, thought 13 Comments

This week’s lesson is an interesting compilation of horrifying stories of persecution and suffering from the life of Joseph Smith.  Read on if you dare . . .

Rather than spend too much time deconstructing this lesson, I will refer the teachers to the write-up done by douglashunter on feastuponthewordblog.  I am not going to present this week’s lesson in the usual form, but instead just posit a few questions as food for thought.

The lesson brings up a few interesting points about Joseph’s views on suffering.  Specifically, suffering is a means to a religious end:

  • God tests us through our trials.
  • Suffering puts us on par with “the ancients.”

What the lesson doesn’t talk about is the fact that not all suffering fits these categories, and most of the suffering endured in the examples in the lesson is related to physical torture at the hands of individuals who were persecuting Joseph for religious reasons.  What is not addressed, but will likely be inferred by everyone in the class (and is somewhat implied by the picture of an intubated hospital patient visiting with family included in the manual) is that ALL suffering, even just inconvenience or illness, could be a trial of our faith designed to test us and put us on par with the ancients.  Nothing in the text really says that, and it seems like a problematic conclusion.  What about:

  • trials we bring on ourselves through our own stupidity or lack of foresight?
  • trials brought upon us through happenstance?
  • trials caused by individuals who are exercising their free agency to our detriment?
  • trials endured by an individual that have no basis in religion whatsover?

On the upside, the lesson does seem to encourage us to rely on others and on God in our trials.  On the downside, there may be a tendency to believe that our trials are always from God, are always a test of our muster, or are always ultimately for our benefit.  Obviously, being the victim of sexual abuse doesn’t really fit this stereotype, and there are many other possible examples.

The problem with this view is similar to concepts shared in the Karpman Triangle.  The Karpman Triangle explains mental games that people play (perceptions of reality) that are self-fulfilling and actually stall one’s progress as an individual.  In the Karpman Triangle, events and interactions are viewed as having a victim, a persecutor, and a rescuer.  In the example of the tarring & feathering that took place at the John Johnson home, the story is retold with the Karpman Triangle players all intact:  Sidney and Joseph are the victims, the mob is the persecutor, and Joseph’s friends and wife are the rescuers.  In this case, the model may be fairly accurate.  In many cases it is not, but it gives individuals an excuse for unproductive behavior.

The problem with this model is that it absolves “victims” of responsibility or the need to take action; it villifies “persecutors” in a very black and white manner, and it ennobles “rescuers” to an extent that they don’t necessarily merit.  Sometimes, victims are complicit.  Sometimes rescuers are self-serving busybodies, and sometimes persecutors are victims of circumstance, misunderstanding, or accident.

So, what do you think?  Is the view of suffering as a means to religious ends helpful or harmful or both?  Discuss.

Comments 13

  1. I remember the first time I commented on a Mormonmatters post was a piece by Stephen Marsh that had to do with evil and suffering. The sense I got then from him and others was that God put us through these things to see how we’d respond and, I guess, hopefully be the better for it. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. It is hard for me to conceive of a loving parent doing that to one or his/her children much less God who is supposed to be my literal father and know me and love me personally. I would much rather think of him like a father that sends his kid off to the army with his fingers crossed that he’ll come back in one piece but in the meantime he’s pretty much on his own.

  2. GBSmith, you didn’t get my point at all if that is what you got from it. I surely did a poor job of trying to say what I was trying to say.

    The lesson we are looking at goes past the “persecutors wear black hats” model — it notes in the specific example that when Joseph preached the next day, several of those in the mob were there, and that several people were baptized afterward. Our instructor pointed out that Joseph preached to the mob members he saw rather than attempting to retaliate.

    GBS, go back and read post two in the series, it may help provide a better perspective than the post you hit.

    Not that your personal perspective is bad, but the essence is that we will all come back in one piece, we just don’t realize it.

  3. My take may actually be worse. I actually think that what we think of as affliction really isn’t that bad, it is just our perspectives are affected by living within the veil and by being subject to time.

  4. GBSmith – I agree with your analogy, although it may not be consistent with the quotes by JS in this particular lesson, making me glad I was not the instructor for this one. I suppose we can have a “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” attitude, and that’s not all bad, but when we see persecution every time someone disagrees with us, or trials from God in everything that doesn’t go our way, surely we’ve missed the point.

  5. Speaking of bringing things on ourselves, this mob consisted of one of the Johnson sons, Eli, and his friends. Eli was outraged that Joseph had bedded his 16-year old sister, Marinda Nancy (or Nancy Marinda) while Joseph & Emma and the twins were living with the Johnson family. Readers may remember this incident as the one where the mob brought a doctor along for the purpose of castrating Joseph, but the doctor declined to participate.

    This really wasn’t about persecuting someone because of his religion, at all.

    As in this 1832 incident, so too in his 1844 murder: people really thought that Joseph should have remained faithful to Emma. Apparently, everything else was forgiveable.

  6. Micah – not to dispute the theory of that motive which is part of the speculation surrounding this incident, but it doesn’t explain away the religious component to the attack. Sidney Rigdon was even more brutally attacked (heel dragged) and left for dead, and one of the attackers said, “This is what it feels like when the Holy Ghost falls on ye” as he scratched JS’s skin with his fingernails. Some of the motive clearly falls outside of the adultery theory. I’m just glad vigilante justice isn’t the norm today.

  7. We had this lesson last week and I wish I’d had GBSmith’s analogy. I sometimes think God gets blamed for too much.

  8. hawkgrrl, I really appreciate the perspective you’ve given to what hard times do and probably don’t mean. I’m not a scriptorian but my sense is that there’s not much there to explain why bad things happen. Most of the writing is just people trying to make sense of it all which, I guess, is one of the functions of religion. One of the downsides is that those opinions sometimes get offered as advice and consolation to a person who’s in the midst of a tragedy and only make things worse. Telling someone that “mortality is but a small moment and if you bear it well…” might not go down very well since eternity may mean just trying to make it to tomorrow. I think it’s best to figure out what makes sense to you for your situation but if you have to say something to someone else just say that you’re sorry for their troubles. IMHO

  9. Ann, the Mormon God is a **selectively** interventionist God – intervening whenever He chooses to intervene and not intervening when He chooses not to intervene.

    Isn’t your last paragraph just another way to say what you criticize in your first paragraph – that stuff happens because God lets it happen? If God chooses not to intervene (if he is Voltaire’s watchmaker), isn’t that a choice He makes to let stuff happen?

    I don’t see how “the Mormon God” is ANY different in that fundamental way than the one you say we must let go of. In both cases, things happen because God chooses to let them happen. We simply disagree about how often he chooses to intervene directly.

  10. hawkgrrl,

    Thanks for linking to my lesson notes (as hasty and incomplete as they were) also thinks for mentioning the Karpman Triangle. The dynamic that it describes is one of the reasons that I like Levinas’ thinking about the inter-human in that he addresses the role of the sufferer in terms of a responsibility, not one that is imposed, but responsibility as something the sufferer recognizes when they later come into contact with the suffering of the other. For me that is a model that fits quite nicely. Really it allows the sufferer to create a dual narrative, they may claim their suffering as part of a theodicy or as a religious trial if they choose to do so, but it also allows them to have a direct connection to community that does not insist upon suffering having religious meaning, or some form of positive value that tends to be assigned in religious narratives. This works well for things such as sexual or other forms of abuse. I presented this view in my lesson yesterday and believe it or not the Stake President in attendance seemed to be totally on board.

  11. God let his son Jesus be crucified and take the sins of man upon himself. Jesus accepted the will of his father in all things. Why would we do any different? Are we better than Jesus? We are told to always forgive others. This world is for us, but it is not about us. It is about serving others and doing the will of God.

  12. And,I think,learning to submit to God in all things,as did the Son.In doing so we begin to acknowledge our true relationship with Him,one of absolute dependance.I begin now to understand how the Saviour could address Deity as ‘Abba’,or’ Daddy’.This always made me cringe as I found it demeaned the Saviour in my eyes,infantilised Him.Of course,I did not understand that this was actually the correct manner of address,indicating the depth of intimacy and dependance we need to attain,often,sadly only through our own suffering.I just wish there was another way,but personal experience would indicate otherwise.

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