Doctrine and Covenants 121 to 123 – “O God, Where Art Thou?”

Joseph Smith’s heart-wrenching question “O God, where art thou?” is felt by most people at some point in their lives. The answer from the Lord contains words of solace, perspective, hope, and redemption.


“Letter to the Church and Edward Partridge, 20 March 1839” at josephsmithpapers.org.

The letter of Joseph Smith to the Saints on March 20, 1839, is the original source for D&C sections 121, 122, and 123. Here find the original letter, the transcript, and a historical introduction. 

“Revelations in Context: Joseph Smith’s Letter from Liberty Jail, March 20, 1839,” Dean C. Jessee and John W. Welch, BYU Studies 39, no. 3. 

The lengthy March 1839 letter, directed to the Saints, is a significant spiritual message written by a prophet. This article contains an introduction to the letter, Joseph’s purposes in writing the letter, and a transcript of the letter. Joseph expresses his love for his friends, lists the injustices done to the Saints, and a petition to God. His grief at their afflictions is followed by a promise of peace. The letter gives counsel regarding Church matters and properties, with references to Abraham’s faithfulness. Joseph bears his personal testimony of seven truths about God and the restored gospel. 

“The Textual Context of Doctrine and Covenants 121-23,” Ryan J Wessel, Religious Educator 13, no. 1 (2012)

Some of the text of D&C 121-123 was extracted from the March 1839 letter, and seeing it in context helps us see the principles expressed here. 

“Historical Context and Background,” by Steven C. Harper and Casey Paul Griffiths, Doctrine and Covenants Central 

Read short descriptions of the Saints’ trials and circumstances surrounding these sections: 

Section 121, which puts a counterintuitive twist on the age-old problem of suffering and God’s power. 

Section 122, which describes the suffering as if they were rocks piling on Joseph.

Section 123, written in Joseph’s voice, not the Lord’s. 

“Mormon Land Rights in Caldwell and Daviess Counties and the Mormon Conflict of 1838: New Findings and New Understandings,” Jeffrey N. Walker, BYU Studies, Vol. 47, no. 1
Some Missouri persecutors in Daviess County profited from driving the Saints off the lands they had settled. In 1830, laws allowed squatters the first opportunity to buy land they had improved after the land was surveyed. If squatters did not make the payment deadline, other interested parties could buy the improved land at unimproved prices. Walker argues that some Missourians were motivated by greed in cleverly orchestrating the timing of their persecutions. The Extermination Order given by Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs and the siege of Far West occurred at the same time the Saints’ land payments were due. Walker explains that when the Saints’ preemptive rights lapsed because they were forcibly prevented from leaving the city to make their payments, their persecutors quickly purchased the most valuable improved land.