The Sunday School study manual asks these questions for Doctrine & Covenants 58:2-5 and 59:23 –
What messages in these verses strengthen your ability to bear tribulation? What blessings have you received after tribulation? Why do you think some blessings only come after tribulation?
Some blessings can only come through or after tribulation. They’re things which don’t arise, because there’s no need, outside it. For example, the experience of receiving comfort when things are very hard and you feel pain and cannot find the way not to yourself. So you pray and seek earnestly for comfort and other help in these moments. The comfort you receive fills you in a way you don’t need, and therefore don’t seek, when you’re not feeling that sort of pain. This blessing comes only from the tribulation. It would be nice not to need it, too – to feel okay – but because tribulation does come, this blessing is welcome.
Other things gained through difficulty include the development of our souls. Everyone says it, but we really do grow as we learn truths through experiences which stretch our understanding and increase our wisdom. These things we learn hurt, but it’s a bittersweet pain; at the same time, we understand things we never grasped properly before – and some we never considered. Reading or hearing a truth explained by others can be convincing and helpful, and can really help us learn; but knowing or believing something intellectually and knowing it through experience are very different. It actually changes who you are. Our souls are increased and expanded as a result.
The verses quoted above explain the neccessity for tribulation, and promise blessings as a result:
58:2: ‘he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.’
Verse 3: ‘Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, … the glory which shall follow after much tribulation’.
Verse 4: For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore, the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory….’.
59:23: ‘he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come’.
Blessings, including eternal life, are the reward for righteousness and enduring tribulation well. But our whole earthly lives are filled with tribulation. Does that mean we just have to endure it all throughout this life, and finally, eventually, after the Judgement, we’ll receive our reward in the heaven we’ve chosen through our lives? That seems like an impossible ask for creatures such as we are – weak in will, full of holes, with only ‘natural’ vision; sinful, imperfect, and still learning. And often the blessings we receive in the course of this process of tribulation-reward don’t seem to last. Something new comes along, and we fold under its weight.
Eternal life isn’t just something we will receive later on, after death and judgement. It’s not just a place, or a way of living that will start at this future point. Our trials aren’t just payment we deposit for many years and receive the benefits of much later on. As we live, as we experience tribulation – over and over, we ‘gather light into our souls’, as Elder Uchtdorf has put it. Our tribulation, lived with purpose and illuminated by growing wisdom, gathers eternal life into our souls. It’s the reward we experience right now for our faithfulness. Eternal life begins here, on earth, in the midst of affliction. As our souls expand, as we develop greater wisdom, as we come to understand what cannot be understood any other way, we begin to gain eternal life; because it begins in our hearts; our souls. Like Zion, it has to be inside us before we can meet it outside us.
So the reward for tribulation is given to us with the tribulation. It’s not reserved for a later time; it grows throughout our lives, here and hearafter. Here is a quotation and some scripture passages which teach this.
To have Faith in Christ means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.C. S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity’
He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.Doctrine & Covenants, 93:28
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.Doctrine & Covenants, 88:67
And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space – that light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed….
And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it…. For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even the presence of God the Father; that bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever….
They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened. Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.Doctrine & Covenants, 88:11-13, 17, 19-20, 28-29.
The fulness is what is received ‘at the end’ – meaning that it’s been growing in us until that time, but it will then be completed. The final installment, so to speak, of the light/truth/knowledge/life that is the reward for each right action and difficult experience; each hard-earned line of wisdom. Those who receive eternal life are those whose souls have already been turned into something resembling it. Whose spirits have been made more alive through their acceptance of the Saviour’s redeeming power, their development through tribulation, and their reception of the light which comes from God and makes all things alive and more alive. That is what leads to eternal life – because we’ve been gaining it bit by bit, receiving more light and growing in aliveness, until finally we reach a point where we’re full of it. Until we have a fulness of life and light from God, and He rewards us by making it permanent.