Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Summary

This study certainly turned out to be rich with references and lessons. I hadn’t anticipated running with this subject for so long, but there just continued being more and more to explore. Frankly I think I could keep going for a while yet, but I think we’d start just making addendums to the principles we’ve already discovered. Let’s see if we can sum up what we’ve learned.

It is in Our Nature to Seek Immediate Pleasure

Each of us is born with senses that divide our experiences into those which give us pleasure and those which give us discomfort. On the surface level these serve a purpose of protecting us, such as learning to avoid touching a hot stove because of the immediate pain that follows.
Eventually, though, each of us will come to learn that not all sensations can be judged so immediately. Regularly overspending may provide instantaneous pleasure, but cause suffering when it comes time to pay the bills. Not only this, but some moments of immediate discomfort might be followed by a later reward, such as cleaning up a house now so one can relax in an orderly environment after.
Though our minds are able to eventually pick out these patterns, the body still struggles to adjust. Suppressing momentary pleasure is difficult. Enduring momentary discomfort even more so.
Hebrews 12: 11 (NIV)- No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Proverbs 20:4- The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.

God Empowers Us to Overcome that Nature

Added to our mind and body, though, is a spirit. Like the body, the spirit has its own needs. It develops certain habits to see that those needs are met. Some examples of this are how we crave to be good, and to make others happy, and to feel God’s love.
More than this, though, God also gives us a taste of His goodness even before we have earned it. Many a time I have noticed that He inspires me with thoughts of good things I can do and with the thought comes a sample of the spiritual pleasure that would follow such an action. Then He allows for me to carry the behavior out, rewarding me as if it had been my idea the whole time.
By this careful tutelage God plants in me the understanding and desire sufficient to overcome by carnal nature.
1 John 4:19- We love him, because he first loved us.
Hosea 10:12- Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy.

Doing So Reveals a Higher Nature

Though the spiritual blessings that follow good works are reward enough, there is the additional benefit of how they change us over time. Our divine nature is inherent in each of us, but needs to be cultivated over time to come to full bloom. Bit by bit, every time we choose the good over the carnal we change who we are.
Thus we see the necessity for trials before blessings and pleasure before anguish. Were things reversed and evil actions provided immediate pain while good actions provided immediate pleasure, then our behavior would be perfect, but never would we have learned self-mastery. We would do right things simply by default, not by any intentional will. Thus we would never actually discover our divine nature, which is God’s ultimate intention for us.
James 1:2-4- My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Hebrews 5:8- Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4, 12; Hebrews 5:8

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience, experience; and experience, hope.

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.

COMMENTARY

Knowing that tribulation worketh patience
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire
Yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered
There is no lazy path to perfection. If, in your efforts to follow God you find yourself struggling at every step, then good job! You are right where you should be.
I don’t know exactly why, but apparently our nature is such that real change requires the refiner’s fire. As a friend and mentor once told me: “There is a sacredness in suffering.” Never forget that he who suffered all things was also the only one to have risen above them, too.
Waiting on blessings is probably the most universal trial we face, and it is while persevering through this delay that we nurture essential characteristics like patience, experience, hope, and faith.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- 1 Kings 19:11-12

And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

COMMENTARY

But the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire
When one endeavors to try to become something better, they may be surprised that the Lord does not bless their efforts immediately. In fact, often it is Satan who comes to us first.
I have had my own journey through addiction recovery, at the beginning of which I was excited to finally meet the healthier, worthier me. I was shocked, then, when I instead met a very different version of myself: one that was extremely pessimistic and cruel. This version assured me that I would never get any better, that deep down I didn’t even want to get better, that soon I would fail, and that recovery would never work because I just happen to be fundamentally flawed to my core.
This voice was one that raged, too. One might say it came in like a great wind, or an earthquake, or maybe a fire…but the Lord was not in these furies at all. After that harsher version of me passed, another identity came. A still, small one that rang truer and far more hopeful. The one I had been waiting for.
I feel I have very good company in this pattern that I lived. Jonah tried to run before he eventually carried out his mission to Nineveh, Peter sunk into the water the first time he tried to walk on it, Zacharias doubted his son’s birth but later defended that boy, Moses doubted his abilities before leading Israel to freedom. It seems most all of us have the self of doubt before the self of faith.
The problem is when people meet that first doubting self and then assume that that is all there is. They may start to believe that some people have a good core, and others an evil, and there’s just nothing you can do about that. The truth is everyone has both identities, and the test is simply whether we will hold out long enough for the good to make itself known.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Exodus 32:1, Deuteronomy 8:2, Ecclesiastes 8:11

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

COMMENTARY

When the people saw that Moses delayed…[they] said…Up, make us gods
The LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart
After the Israelites were led out of Egypt they struggled to maintain faith in God’s ability to protect and provide. At a time where patience was required, they instead sought the immediate gratification of a new god. Eventually they were given a test of forty years, and from the passage above we learn the purpose of it was prove whether they would remain faithful for a period so long.
Where many of us fall from our faith is during the waiting, because frankly most of us initially only do good for the hope of receiving a reward. If there is a delay on that reward, though, our true motivations eventually reveal themselves.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Similarly, many of us initially avoid evil only for the fear of receiving a punishment. If there is a delay on that punishment, though, our true desires eventually reveal themselves as well.
We are wheat and tares, indistinguishable in our infancy and still deciding what we are ultimately going to be. We are trying to learn how to do good things simply because they are good, never mind if we receive a reward right away. And we are trying to learn how to avoid evil things simply because they are evil, never mind if we feel their consequences right away.
If every good and evil act showed their consequences immediately, then we would never define our core selves, we would become dumb creatures of habit. It is only in the waiting that the core self is revealed.

A word of caution: some have interpreted passages like these to suggest that some of us have an evil core self and others a good core self. I want to take a moment to refute that notion entirely. All of us are good at our core. Tomorrow I’ll explain why this misconception arises, and why it is a misconception.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Galatians 6:7, 9; Hosea 10:12

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.

COMMENTARY

Let us not be weary in well doing: in due season we shall reap
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy
There are many, many scripture passages that make reference to growing one’s crops. We read about sowing and reaping, about a “time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted”, periods of rain and periods of drought.
Indeed a farmer knows firsthand about the long, hard work that happens before any benefit is received. They know that the reaping only comes after an entire season of putting in effort every day.
Honestly I sometimes wonder if our faith hasn’t lost something by no longer being such an agricultural society. But if these scriptures make anything clear it is that we are all farmers whether we grow crops or not, farmers of the soul. We are all have a spirit to cultivate, a goodness to grow, a divine identity to bring to blossom.
It isn’t easy, these crops aren’t going to make it if we only care for them on “good days” or “when we feel like it.” They are needy and require constant attention. And even after all we do to nurture our field we still depend on God bring the rain and keep back the locusts. No, it certainly is not easy, but the promise still remains to the faithful: “we shall reap.”

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- John 9:4, Doctrine and Covenants 64:25

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

Wherefore, if ye believe me, ye will labor while it is called today.

COMMENTARY

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day.
Labor while it is called today.
Yesterday we examined how it is difficult for us to choose unpleasantness in the moment, even when we know a greater good will follow afterwards. I mentioned how our bodies are constrained by the “now.” They do not feel tomorrow or next week, they only feel this moment. Therefore asking a body to experience discomfort in “this moment” is hard, no matter what. It always will be.
However there is a salvation in the body’s state of constant immediacy as well. It is this finite-ness that makes us wary of procrastination. Note how the above scriptures appeal directly to the our physical, time-bound natures: work during today, don’t procrastinate until the night.
Think of it this way: any time your body complains about discomfort in the now it is reminding you that the “now” is all you have to work with. Whenever I commit to repenting “tomorrow,” it is my temporal body that calls me out for making an empty promise. It knows that I can’t do anything tomorrow, only right now.
We are confined to only having a finite amount of time in this earth life, and in that finite time we are confined to only having the present to do any work in. These limitations are blessings! If we had infinity to work with then the pull of procrastination might be undeniable. It would become so much harder, perhaps even impossible, to feel motivated to accomplish anything. “Don’t worry, I’ll do it next century. I promise.”
It is the fear of our time limits that gives us the power to overcome the fear of present discomfort.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Hebrews 12:11 (NIV), Proverbs 20:4

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.

COMMENTARY

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Yesterday we discussed the phenomenon we see of enduring discomfort in the moment so that one might obtain a better reward later on. One example is exercising now so that we can feel healthier over time.
And yet we still struggle to endure even the momentary pain, and the reason why is captured in the two snippets above. Each of them is taken out of context to only show the pain and discomfort stages. Each of them sounds entirely unappealing once the promise of reward has been removed.
But this more limited perspective is the constant state of the body. In our minds and in our spirits we may know the promise of the future, but in our bodies we only feel the immediacy of right now. As Jesus observed “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
And so I knew I needed to study for my tests in school, I knew that would result in better grades and a better future, but for right now I really wanted to play this new video game. Telling me that I could always play the game later wasn’t much help because I wasn’t concerned about having fun later, I was concerned about right now.
Denying oneself pleasure for the greater good seems to go against our nature, then. More accurately, it goes against one of our natures: the physical nature. But we also have a spiritual nature, and it maintains constant tension against the physical one. But this isn’t to say that the physical nature is all bad. Perhaps it produces the conundrum, but as we will see tomorrow, it also delivers us from it!