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.