Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Dealings of God

And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 2:12

What are 'dealings?' Here are some definitions from the dictionary appropriate for the above instance:

  • a personal connection or association with someone
  • the particular way in which someone behaves toward others

We are children of God. His dealings with us are the dealings of a loving father toward his children. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9). Sometimes we hear faith-promoting stories of miraculous healings, blessings, guidance, and protection from above. At other times I read accounts of suffering, privation, and loss where God seems absent. My own experience is in between these two extremes.

In the above case of Laman and Lemuel, the account goes on to show that God was leading them out of a wicked and sinful populace, to miraculously guide and provide for them in the wilderness, to grant unto them beautiful and virtuous brides, to teach and empower them to build a fine seacraft to cross the great ocean, and to bring them to a beautiful land of promise. They were not without trials at times: hunger, hard work, and the normal, daily grind that we all face in providing and caring for our families. We could say their biggest trials were a direct result of their own pride, wickedness, and forgetfulness of/blindness to all that God had done for them. However, affliction came to all of them, both the wicked and the righteous. Their afflictions served to chasten them. Let's look at some pertinent definitions of chasten:

  • to bring to a state of submission; subdue; restrain
  • to discipline or correct by punishment
  • to rid of excess; refine or purify

To the wicked, trials are a punishment to subdue or restrain them, hopefully so they will learn and make better choices in the future. To the righteous – who are among the wicked (and sometimes switching places with them) – trials test their faith ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"), to further sanctify them, and to shape them and help them become more like Him whose children they are.

This is easy to say, but what about the situation of the woman in the story below?

Elder Benson and Brother Babbel later recounted, from a testimony they heard, the experience of a Church member who found herself in an area no longer controlled by the government under which she had resided.

She and her husband had lived an idyllic life in East Prussia. Then had come the second great world war within their lifetimes. Her beloved young husband was killed during the final days of the frightful battles in their homeland, leaving her alone to care for their four children.

The occupying forces determined that the Germans in East Prussia must go to Western Germany to seek a new home. The woman was German, and so it was necessary for her to go. The journey was over a thousand miles (1,600 km), and she had no way to accomplish it but on foot. She was allowed to take only such bare necessities as she could load into her small wooden-wheeled wagon. Besides her children and these meager possessions, she took with her a strong faith in God and in the gospel as revealed to the latter-day prophet Joseph Smith.

She and the children began the journey in late summer. Having neither food nor money among her few possessions, she was forced to gather a daily subsistence from the fields and forests along the way. She was constantly faced with dangers from panic-stricken refugees and plundering troops.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Each day, she stumbled over the frozen ground, her smallest child—a baby—in her arms. Her three other children struggled along behind her, with the oldest—seven years old—pulling the tiny wooden wagon containing their belongings. Ragged and torn burlap was wrapped around their feet, providing the only protection for them, since their shoes had long since disintegrated. Their thin, tattered jackets covered their thin, tattered clothing, providing their only protection against the cold.

Soon the snows came, and the days and nights became a nightmare. In the evenings she and the children would try to find some kind of shelter—a barn or a shed—and would huddle together for warmth, with a few thin blankets from the wagon on top of them.

She constantly struggled to force from her mind overwhelming fears that they would perish before reaching their destination.

And then one morning the unthinkable happened. As she awakened, she felt a chill in her heart. The tiny form of her three-year-old daughter was cold and still, and she realized that death had claimed the child. Though overwhelmed with grief, she knew that she must take the other children and travel on. First, however, she used the only implement she had—a tablespoon—to dig a grave in the frozen ground for her tiny, precious child.

Death, however, was to be her companion again and again on the journey. Her seven-year-old son died, either from starvation or from freezing or both. Again her only shovel was the tablespoon, and again she dug hour after hour to lay his mortal remains gently into the earth. Next, her five-year-old son died, and again she used her tablespoon as a shovel.

Her despair was all consuming. She had only her tiny baby daughter left, and the poor thing was failing. Finally, as she was reaching the end of her journey, the baby died in her arms. The spoon was gone now, so hour after hour she dug a grave in the frozen earth with her bare fingers. Her grief became unbearable. How could she possibly be kneeling in the snow at the graveside of her last child? She had lost her husband and all her children. She had given up her earthly goods, her home, and even her homeland.

In this moment of overwhelming sorrow and complete bewilderment, she felt her heart would literally break. In despair she contemplated how she might end her own life, as so many of her fellow countrymen were doing. How easy it would be to jump off a nearby bridge, she thought, or to throw herself in front of an oncoming train.

And then, as these thoughts assailed her, something within her said, “Get down on your knees and pray.” She ignored the prompting until she could resist it no longer. She knelt and prayed more fervently than she had in her entire life:

“Dear Heavenly Father, I do not know how I can go on. I have nothing left—except my faith in Thee. I feel, Father, amidst the desolation of my soul, an overwhelming gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of Thy Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot express adequately my love for Him. I know that because He suffered and died, I shall live again with my family; that because He broke the chains of death, I shall see my children again and will have the joy of raising them. Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.”

When she finally reached her destination of Karlsruhe, Germany, she was emaciated. Brother Babbel said that her face was a purple-gray, her eyes red and swollen, her joints protruding. She was literally in the advanced stages of starvation. In a Church meeting shortly thereafter, she bore a glorious testimony, stating that of all the ailing people in her saddened land, she was one of the happiest because she knew that God lived, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He died and was resurrected so that we might live again. She testified that she knew if she continued faithful and true to the end, she would be reunited with those she had lost and would be saved in the celestial kingdom of God.

This question is: could I handle it if God chose to deal with me in the same way He saw fit to deal with this sister? I am grateful for this story. Most of the stories we hear in church are about miracles and savings and healings. There is no such "happy ending" in this story. It is simply a woman lost absolutely everything, but kept on believing anyway. Even Job's story ended with him receiving twice as much as he had in the beginning. We are not told what this woman shall or did receive. Perhaps the very greatest blessing of it all, is her peace. I mean, what could she ever again be afraid of? She lost everything, and still persisted in faith.

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