Learning From Hard Times
By Li Yang, China
I was arrested right after Chinese New Year in 2020 because of my faith. In the routine physical exam when I was admitted, they found dark spots on my lungs. That was when the coronavirus outbreak was really bad, so they didn’t dare take me. The police got in touch with my family to get them to take me home. On our way home, my sister said to me, “Dad got really sick last year and was found to have bladder cancer. The surgery alone was over six hours. They took out half of one of his kidneys and he almost didn’t make it out alive. They’ve kept him alive for now, but only by flushing his bladder with chemo solution every month. We don’t know how long he can hold on.” She was crying as she spoke, and shared some other things that had happened over the last two years. I felt awful in a way I can’t describe and silently prayed: “God, I’m certain that what I’m facing contains Your will within it. Please protect my heart and help me submit, without blaming You.”
When we got home, I saw that my dad looked really frail and his face was bloated. Compared to when I left, he was like a completely different person. This made me feel even worse. I also saw that a huge swatch of fruit trees in our orchard had died because of a major drought, and nearly all of the family savings had been spent on my dad’s treatment. The fruit trees, their only source of income, were hardly producing. Times were tough. Seeing all this was really upsetting for me and I didn’t know how to face it. I started to blame God before I knew it. A few years before that, I’d been arrested and held for a month because of my faith in God. Since getting out, I’d been out of town doing my duty. How could this happen to my family after everything I’d given up, all I’d suffered? This thought left me even more dejected and I didn’t know how to get through this. I couldn’t muster up motivation no matter what and was just preoccupied with getting a job to supplement the family income when the pandemic ended. After some time, I got a letter from brothers and sisters saying I wasn’t safe at home and I should go hide at another church member’s house for a while. I knew the pandemic was the only reason I wasn’t in custody, and they could take me back at any time. Leaving home would be safer, I could live a life of the church, and do my duty. But I didn’t want to do my duty, seeing my family in such hardship. I responded to their letter saying I wasn’t going to go. I felt really guilty after sending it off, but didn’t give it much more thought. The next day, on an e-bike on my way to work in the fields, I crashed and smashed my leg. I realized this was God sending me a message. I came before God and prayed, “Oh God, I don’t want to live within my satanic corruption and fight You. Please guide me to know myself so that I can submit within this environment.” I read this inafter my prayer: “What you pursue is to be able to gain peace after believing in God, for your children to be free from illness, for your husband to have a good job, for your son to find a good wife, for your daughter to find a decent husband, for your oxen and horses to plow the land well, for a year of good weather for your crops. This is what you seek. Your pursuit is only to live in comfort, for no accidents to befall your family, for the winds to pass you by, for your face to be untouched by grit, for your family’s crops to not be flooded, for you to be unaffected by any disaster, to live in God’s embrace, to live in a cozy nest. A coward such as you, who always pursues the flesh—do you have a heart, do you have a spirit? Are you not a beast? … Your life is contemptible and ignoble, you live amid filth and licentiousness, and you do not pursue any goals; is your life not the most ignoble of all? Do you have the gall to look upon God? If you continue to experience in this way, will you not acquire nothing? The true way has been given to you, but whether or not you can ultimately gain it depends on your own personal pursuit” (“The Experiences of Peter: His Knowledge of Chastisement and Judgment” in ). “Man’s relationship with God is merely one of naked self-interest. It is a relationship between a receiver and a giver of blessings. To put it plainly, it is akin to the relationship between employee and employer. The employee works only to receive the rewards bestowed by the employer. There is no affection in such a relationship, only transaction. There is no loving or being loved, only charity and mercy. There is no understanding, only suppressed indignation and deception. There is no intimacy, only an uncrossable chasm. Now that things have gotten to this point, who can reverse such a course? And how many people are capable of truly understanding how dire this relationship has become? I believe that when people immerse themselves in the joy of being blessed, none can imagine how embarrassing and unsightly such a relationship with God is” (“Man Can Only Be Saved Amidst God’s Management” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). Everything God exposed was my true state. I felt ashamed. Since seeing how sick my dad was and all those dead fruit trees, and with the family falling on hard times, I’d been misunderstanding and blaming God, even making excuses to Him. I felt like I’d been making sacrifices and working hard for Him, I’d been in prison and suffered a lot without betraying Him, so He should protect me and bless my family. I saw that in my duty, I wasn’t pursuing the truth or to change my disposition, but I wanted to use my sacrifices as a way to barter with God for blessings. Wasn’t that turning my duty into an out-and-out transaction? Having faith and doing my duty that way was no different from a job out in the world. It was in exchange for personal gain without any true feeling.
I realized I was so lucky to receive God’s work of the last days, to enjoy the sustenance and watering of His words, to have His judgment and cleansing, and the chance to be saved in the end. What an incredible blessing! But I wasn’t thinking of how to pursue the truth and do my duty well to repay God’s love. When I saw my family’s struggles, I wasn’t thinking of how to seek the truth and stand witness. All I thought about was personal gain, and calculating my own gains and losses. I even blamed and misunderstood God and didn’t want to do my duty anymore. That was betraying God and totally lacking humanity.
I read another passage of God’s words after that: “No one goes their whole life without suffering. For some people, it has to do with family, for some, with work, for some, with marriage, and for some, with physical illness. Everyone suffers. Some say, ‘Why must people suffer? How great it would be to live our whole lives peacefully and happily. Can’t we not suffer?’ No—everyone must suffer. Suffering causes every person to experience the myriad sensations of physical life, whether these sensations be positive, negative, active or passive; suffering gives you different feelings and appreciations, which, for you, are all life experience. If you can seek the truth and understand God’s will from these, then you will draw ever closer to the standard God requires of you. That is one aspect, and it is also in order to make people more experienced. Another aspect is the responsibility that God gives to man. What responsibility? You must undergo this suffering, bear this suffering, and if you can, then this is testimony, and not something shameful” (“Only by Resolving One’s Notions Can One Enter the Right Track of Believing in God (1)” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). This showed me that believers and unbelievers alike face all sorts of struggles and adversity in their lives. How much suffering we go through, how many setbacks we suffer in life is determined by God. God gives us tastes of the sweet, the sour, the bitter, to test us in life, to give us more experience and test our resolve through adversity. It is also Him handing us a responsibility. Seeing my dad so ill and my family’s struggles was really a struggle, but God wasn’t just making things hard for me. He was bringing to light the faulty outlook I’d had in years of faith, of pursuing blessings so I could turn around and take the path of pursuing the truth. But not understanding God’s will, I just tried to reason with God, and fought Him. I was so rebellious, and I’d really let God down. I knew I had to stop grumbling, submit to God’s sovereignty and arrangements, and stand witness through this.
I reflected on myself. I’d believed in God for years. I knew having faith was natural and right, and I shouldn’t conduct transactions with God. Then why couldn’t I help but pursue blessings and barter with God? What was the root of it? I read a passage of God’s words later, God’s words say, “All corrupt humans live for themselves. Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost—this is the summation of human nature. People believe in God for their own sakes; they abandon things, expend themselves for Him, and are faithful to Him, but still they do all these things for their own sakes. In sum, it is all done for the purpose of gaining blessings for themselves. In society, everything is done for personal benefit; believing in God is solely done to gain blessings. It is for the sake of gaining blessings that people forsake everything and can withstand much suffering: This is all empirical evidence of man’s corrupt nature. People whose dispositions have changed are different, they feel that meaning comes from living by the truth, that only people who perform the duties of a creature of God are fit to be called human, that the basis of being human is submitting to God, fearing God and shunning evil, that accepting God’s commission is a responsibility mandated by Heaven and earth—and if they are not able to love God and repay His love, they are unfit to be called human; for them, living for oneself is empty and devoid of meaning. They feel that people should live in order to satisfy God, to perform their duties well, and to live lives of meaning, so that even when it is their time to die, they will feel content and not have the slightest regret, and that they have not lived in vain” (“The Difference Between External Changes and Changes in Disposition” in The Discourses of Christ of the Last Days). God’s words showed me why I was just going after blessings even after years of faith. Satan’s poisons like “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost” had wormed deep down into my heart and made me put personal gain first in everything I did. I always considered my own interests. I could keep doing my duty when the CCP was hounding me and I couldn’t go home, but that wasn’t genuinely expending myself for God and doing my duty. It was hoping to be blessed by God and have a wonderful destination. When trouble struck at home and they were struggling to get by, my hopes of being blessed were shattered, so I became negative and didn’t want to do my duty anymore. I saw in my faith and duty, I just wanted to receive enormous blessings in exchange for the tiniest bit of effort. I was being calculating, using God. It was so selfish and despicable!
What God said, “To have an unchanged disposition is to be in enmity to God,” was entirely correct. Although I’d made sacrifices and expended myself on the surface over the years, and suffered in my duty, my corrupt disposition still hadn’t changed because I wasn’t pursuing the truth or focused on accepting God’s words’ judgment and chastisement. When things happened that didn’t fit with my notions, I rebelled and resisted God. I was in enmity to God. My outlook on faith was exactly the same as that of those religious people who just want to fill their bellies and use their sacrifices as a ticket to heaven. I was on a path against God, like Paul! Those who really pursue the truth and dispositional change don’t pollute their duty with bartering, but they go after the truth and wholeheartedly work to repay God’s love. They seek to love and satisfy God, and live lives of meaning. They’re like Peter, who sought to have a supreme love of God and obey till death. Crucified for God, he gave beautiful testimony. That gains God’s approval and it’s the only way to live with meaning and value.
Later, I saw a video of the reading of God’s words.says, “There is no correlation between the duty of man and whether he is blessed or cursed. Duty is what man ought to fulfill; it is his heaven-sent vocation, and should not depend on recompense, conditions, or reasons. Only then is he doing his duty. To be blessed is when someone is made perfect and enjoys God’s blessings after experiencing judgment. To be cursed is when someone’s disposition does not change after they have experienced chastisement and judgment, it is when they do not experience being made perfect but are punished. But regardless of whether they are blessed or cursed, created beings should fulfill their duty, doing what they ought to do, and doing what they are able to do; this is the very least that a person, a person who pursues God, should do. You should not do your duty only to be blessed, and you should not refuse to act for fear of being cursed. Let Me tell you this one thing: Man’s performance of his duty is what he ought to do, and if he is incapable of performing his duty, then this is his rebelliousness. It is through the process of doing his duty that man is gradually changed, and it is through this process that he demonstrates his loyalty. As such, the more you are able to do your duty, the more truth you shall receive, and the more real your expression shall become. Those who merely go through the motions in doing their duty and do not seek the truth shall be eliminated in the end, for such people do not do their duty in the practice of truth, and do not practice truth in the fulfillment of their duty. They are those who remain unchanged and will be cursed. Not only are their expressions impure, but everything they express is wicked” (“The Difference Between the Ministry of God Incarnate and the Duty of Man” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). When I thought about this, I saw that a duty is simply something we should do as created beings. It’s a responsibility we can’t shirk. It can’t be contaminated with transactions or involve personal benefit. It’s just like filial piety—it’s the natural order of things and goes without saying. We undergo God’s judgment and chastisement in our duty; our corruption can be changed and cleansed. That’s the only way to be saved and have a good destination. If we don’t pursue the truth, if we believe for years without any change in our corrupt dispositions, but hold on to our transactional mentality and extravagant desires, no matter how long we believe or how much we sacrifice, we’ll never gain God’s approval, and He’ll eliminate us. I thought of Job losing everything he owned, and even his children, but he didn’t blame God. He knew everything was given by God, and when God took it away, he had to obey unconditionally. That’s why Job said, “Jehovah gave, and Jehovah has taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah” (Job 1:21). He knew in his heart that whether God bestowed rewards or took away, he should . That was his duty. Job kept his duty to God and stood witness for Him. That is what a true creature of God should do. I had to follow Job’s example. I couldn’t use my sacrifices as a bargaining chip to demand things from God anymore, but I had to see my duty as a responsibility and obligation. Only that is having a conscience and reason.
Later on, since the police were going to arrest me again, I left home and stayed at an elderly brother’s house temporarily. I read this in God’s words after that: “If you can devote your heart, body, and all of your genuine love to God, place them before Him, be completely obedient toward Him, and be absolutely considerate of His will—not for the flesh, not for family, and not for your own personal desires, but for the interests of God’s household, taking God’s word as the principle and foundation in everything—then by doing so, your intentions and your perspectives will all be in the right place, and you will then be a person before God who receives His praise” (“Those Who Truly Love God Are Those Who Can Submit Absolutely to His Practicality” in The Word Appears in the Flesh). God’s words gave me a path and a direction. I shouldn’t just think of my family and fleshly interests, but I had to correct my motives and put my energy and thoughts into doing my duty well. Once I understood God’s will, I quieted my heart and spent my time reading God’s words at that brother’s home. After some time passed, I was given another duty. Thanks to God’s judgment and chastisement, my mistaken approach to my faith was corrected and now I have the right aim in my pursuit.