Tragedy is part of the human experience. Not one person goes through this life without challenges and trials. Sometimes we look around and see unspeakable crimes, rampant evil, unfair blows to innocent people, and it’s natural to wonder why God permits adversity of such huge proportion. Wouldn’t a loving God intervene to prevent these heart-wrenching incidents?
First of all, I believe he actually does intervene at times, but because nothing awful resulted, we don’t have a record of all those rescues. However, before we even ask about God preventing trouble, we need to address the basic misunderstanding behind the question. We need to identify what God’s purpose actually is, with us and with this earth.
God’s purpose was never to create an amusement park. A loving parent doesn’t fill their children’s lives with constant gratification for every wish; wisdom requires that we also provide learning opportunities. And those do not happen when everything is confetti and balloons. Sometimes we have to allow our children to learn through hard work, disappointment, and consequences. Look at your own life and the hard lessons you’ve learned. Some of your greatest skills have undoubtedly come from the toughest challenges.
The Roman lyric poet Horace said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” Truly some of our greatest strengths have been developed through the most trying tests.
Sometimes we also forget that prosperous circumstances are, themselves, a test. Will we be generous with our prosperity? Will we remember to pray fervently even when things are going great? Will we remember to help the poor and the orphans, of which many scriptures speak? Or will we get caught up in pride? Will we be humble despite worldly success? Will we lose our perspective, forget our covenants, follow strange paths?
Sometimes we forget that mortality is a field trip, not the rewards station. Over and over we see the wicked enjoy ease, and the truly saintly endure trials. The next life is where the scales balance and rewards are meted out. This life is where we demonstrate faith, obedience, sacrifice, love, and a host of other traits we would all do well to develop. As difficulties roll in with the regularity of the tides, that’s our opportunity to turn to God for help, to see what we’re to learn, to then help others who face similar challenges. I like the quote, “A blessing is anything that brings you closer to God.”
Look at the mountainous persecutions suffered by righteous people from the beginning of time—Abel being killed by Cain, prophets being jailed and stoned, martyr after martyr in religious history, massacres of innocents, all suffering unjustly. Even people you know—and this may include yourself—have endured unspeakable, undeserved grief and sorrow. In no way do I want to minimize the aching, white-hot pain of life’s worst blows.
But we err when we ask how a loving God could have allowed such things to happen. We forget the purpose of our creation and this sojourn on earth. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “If we look at mortality as a complete existence, then pain, sorrow, and a short life would be a calamity. But if we look upon the whole of life in its eternal perspective stretching far into the premortal past and into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may have more meaning and may fall into proper place.”
Suffering can teach us traits we need, build our character, humble us, purify us, expand our grasp of our purpose here, increase our faith, teach us to trust God, give us empathy for others, teach us priorities, help us appreciate Christ’s atonement, force us to learn in ways we thought we were unable, teach us to forgive, and clarify truth—in short, it can make us more like our Father and Mother in Heaven.
President Harold B. Lee said, “The blessing to be found in pain is a right-here, right-now blessing, taking place in the very midst of suffering.” The refiner’s fire does indeed show immediate results. And, while none of us want or pray for seemingly unbearable problems, we can pray for help to meet them, and for the wisdom to learn when they appear.
I was honored to speak at a recent conference in Nauvoo with LDS author and BYU Professor Brad Wilcox. I’ve saved many of his quotes over the years, including this one: “God would not put you through a refiner’s fire if you were not worth refining.”
I’ve heard some say that if “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25) is true, then why so much anguish? Again, we need to see joy not the way the world defines it, but the way God defines it. The joy that comes through faith in Christ is the kind that can comfort and buoy us up, even when life gets difficult.
One of the most important lessons in the greatest stories of all time, is how to cope with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to borrow a phrase from Hamlet. The heroes we love are not loved because they had easy lives or were basically nice folks. We love them because they rose to their challenges with integrity and courage. We love them because they persevered in the face of conflict, they did what was right, they gained victory over self. They inspire us to do the same. We are not simply to endure misfortune, but to remain faithful, willing to submit to all things, and valiant in our testimonies. Like Job, or like Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, we must be steadfast in our devotion to the Lord.
In his best-selling book,”12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” psychologist and author Jordan B. Peterson says, “Perhaps it’s not reasonable to ask God to break the rules of physics every time we fall by the wayside or make a serious error. Perhaps, in such times, you can’t…simply wish for your problem to be solved in some magical manner. Perhaps you could ask, instead, what you might have to do right now to increase your resolve, buttress your character, and find the strength to go on. Perhaps you could instead ask to see the truth.”
In this church we are blessed to know God’s purposes. We understand our premortal life, the key choice we made to come to earth, and the process by which we can become glorified beings. This understanding keeps us from railing against life’s unfair burdens, and makes us instead seek learning and growth. We also use our trials to help others along. We know how essential sacrifice and service are. This insight does not diminish our struggles, but it gives them purpose, and reminds us to take the long view. These harsh moments also give us greater insight into, and appreciation for, the amazing atonement of Jesus Christ, in which he took every one of our sorrows upon his shoulders.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Only the Master knows the depths of our trials, our pain, and our suffering. He alone offers us eternal peace in times of adversity…He is with us. He has promised that this will never change.” And if we can hang onto that one shining pearl of truth, we can better endure all the difficulties that life brings. If, from every trial, we learn one sanctifying lesson, we are always the victor. Always.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is not just for Christmas. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.