Disasters, disease, drugs, duplicity — when prophets, ancient and modern, see such things, the feeling that surfaces most often in scripture is "sorrow."
The Bible and Book of Mormon overflow with sorrowful prophets: Nephi, Alma, Mormon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea. Sorrow is part of a prophet's job description.
It's the same today.
And as I age — and age and age — I've come to believe that's not a bad thing.
In fact, sorrow in the face of suffering is the best response.
We see a lot of anger today about the direction of society; but I've never trusted anger, not in myself, not in others. Anger may be righteous, but behind its face lurks self-interest. We may claim to be angry over immigration, gay rights, war, pestilence, but usually that anger is because we've been made to feel insecure, uncomfortable, confused. Anger is almost always about ourselves.
Besides, feelings of anger — like feelings of fear, jealously, even happiness — leave little room for reflection and adjustment.
Sorrow turns our thoughts and feelings inward. We ponder, we try to understand, we change.
We constantly try to cheer up folks who feel sorrowful. We want them to "pull out of it."
But sorrow is how we grow, expand our horizons and see more clearly.
The pains of sorrow are almost always growing pains.
No one enjoys it. No one seeks it out.
But it has a purpose.
And those who weather deep sorrow often emerge as valiant souls.
I think of a quote from the Scottish minister Oswald Chambers. "You always know the person who has been through the fires of sorrow and has received himself," Chambers writes. "You never smell the fire on him, and you are certain you can go to him when you are in trouble … sorrow burns up a lot of unnecessary shallowness."
For me, that chimes in the mind with Alma 8:14. Alma has been on a long journey and is "being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul because of the wickedness of the people … while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him."
Anger closes doors.
Sorrow opens doors — it opens the doors into the lives of others, the realms of revelation and the doors into our deeper selves.
If something good didn't come from sorrow, what would be its point?
Show me a person who feels sorrow at the state of the world, and I'll listen to him.
Show me a prophet who feels such sorrow, and I'll gladly follow.
Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer.