Everybody knows that just because someone is facing a trial doesn't mean that person is being punished for their sins. This has been proclaimed loud and long. It is completely true. The Savior was perfect. But he still had to live his youth in Egypt because Herod wanted to kill him. He was still a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Joseph Smith was the "best blood of the nineteenth century" (D&C 135:6). But he was persecuted constantly through his life starting from the young age of 14.
In fact, Joseph Smith taught that:
"He that will war the true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days will have wicked men and angels of devils, and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against him. When wicked and corrupt men oppose, it is a criterion to judge if a man is warring the Christian warfare. When all men speak evil of you falsely, blessed are ye. Shall a man be considered bad, when men speak evil of him? No. If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him. But it will be but a little season, and all these afflictions will be turned away from us, inasmuch as we are faithful, and are not overcome by these evils. By seeing the blessings of the endowment rolling on, and the kingdom increasing and spreading from sea to sea, we shall rejoice that we were not overcome by these foolish things."
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842-43, p.259)
It is true that if are warring the "true Christian warfare against the corruptions of these last days" then we will find "wicked men and angels of devils, and all the infernal powers of darkness continually arrayed against" us.
However, all that being said, and perfectly true, there is another side to the coin, and I think that side is just as important.
The Lord blesses us for our obedience, and chastens us for our disobedience. Yes, as is pronounced among us with a loudspeaker constantly, that is not the source of all our difficulties. Christ himself demonstrates that, but it is still perfectly true that the Lord blesses us for our disobedience and chastens us for our disobedience and that fact is very relevant in our own lives.
It is also true that the Lord punishes the wicked.
There is a piece of literature, a puritan sermon, that I think we all become familiar with in high school. It is called "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." It was in my high school text, and I read it. Somewhere or other my father read it. I think it is interesting that of all the religious writings and teachings of the puritans, that one is the one we learn about the puritans with. It is obviously quite ridiculous, and I don't think the selection of a ridiculous sermon is unintentional.
Sadly, this doesn't just make people feel derisive of the puritans to whom we own this country's origins, it also makes them feel derisive of quite a bit of what the scriptures actually do teach, including Christ's own words about whether or not God will punish the wicked or chastise the righteous. No, many won't ever say they think what Christ said is wrong, but they don't seem to believe him either, no matter how blunt he is.
But there is more to the matter than just this. We really, really, don't like to believe that the Lord punishes people for their transgressions. But here are a few questions:
Would the Lord afflict and sorely chasten a faithful member for holding a grudge?
D&C 64:8 My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.
Would the Lord chasten members for treating his commandments lightly and departing from his ordinances?
We have been chastened by the hand of God heretofore for not obeying His commands, although we never violated any human law, or transgressed any human precept; yet we have treated lightly His commands, and departed from His ordinances, and the Lord has chastened us sore, and we have felt His arm and kissed the rod; let us be wise in time to come and ever remember that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 253)
Would the Lord visit his church members with afflictions for disobedience?
D&C 97:25 Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her.
26 But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.
Regarding the Lord punishing the wicked, one of the least believed of all scriptures is
Moroni 10:22 And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
It's one of those scriptures that one can hardly quote without being corrected. Which is part of what makes it interesting, as the scriptures is certainly true.
Is this scripture reconcilable with the fact that many of the prophets were persecuted and slain and that Christ himself is described as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief? Absolutely. The scriptures are completely correct. Those people who suffered for their righteousness still had the hope of eternal life. This scripture is about the despair that is felt by those who have no genuine hope of eternal life. It is about those who live their lives so that their spirit cannot genuinely hope for salvation, no matter how it rationalizes the matter, suffer an underlying despair for which there are only short term, frail cover ups. Some of them may even be members whose lives secretly differ from their principles.
Joseph Smith taught: "don't envy the finery and fleeting show of sinners, for they are in a miserable situation".