Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
Many of us have friends who have “taken a break” from faith. Some still believe in God, others question His very existence. Some have been influenced by negative press or negative friends, and now they question authority or their testimonies. Some have been offended. Others are just burned out, tired of the work it takes to be active. Others dislike elements of our culture and assume the gospel is thus equally flawed.
But it’s the ones who have written God off that I want to address today. Some see calamities around the world and can’t imagine a God who would allow such things to happen. Or perhaps it feels like an even more personal betrayal– their prayers weren’t answered and they weren’t rescued from misfortune.
Each of us will endure grief, disappointment, and great losses in life. But when we quickly, perhaps even at the height of emotion, decide a loving God doesn’t exist, we are compounding our sorrows. We are closing the door on the one source of comfort and understanding that could bless us through the trials which are a natural part of life.
First let’s consider why God allows suffering. Let’s start with the anguish that comes because of the evil choices of another. We see people misusing their agency and making decisions that can even destroy lives, such as the heinous choices of evil dictators. President Dallin H. Oaks has said, “God rarely infringes on the agency of any of His children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them… He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside… “Through all mortal opposition, we have God’s assurance that He will ‘consecrate [our] afflictions for [our] gain’ (2 Nephi 2:2)” (“Opposition in All Things,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016, 117).
Years ago I read a wonderful explanation of why bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) by President Spencer W. Kimball: “If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the premortal past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.
“Is there not wisdom in his giving us trials that we might rise above them, responsibilities that we might achieve, work to harden our muscles, sorrows to try our souls? Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?
“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith.
“If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.”
Trials make us turn to God. They help us develop stronger faith. They empower us. They give us experience from which we can comfort others. They teach us the lessons that refine us, purify our hearts, and make us fit for the Celestial Kingdom. Just ask anyone who has triumphed over severe adversity and they will likely tell you how much it forced them to grow and learn. Even Christ the Lord endured trials. Should we then expect to sail through life, avoiding every schooling opportunity?
Hardships make heroes. Our nation was brutally attacked on September 11th, 2001. We all watched with horror as thousands of people were killed. But God did not reach down and stop the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center. It was a horrific event, but look what happened to those who survived. We learned. We grew. We drew together as a nation committed to fighting terrorism. We saw heroes whose lives will be eternal examples of selflessness and love for fellowman. It shook us to our core, but it also elevated us as a people.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently spoke in my area, and said the one thing that most worries children who are facing imminent death, is that they won’t be remembered. By remembering those who have suffered, those who have given their lives for freedom, martyrs of the restoration, those who have blessed us for however many years God has allowed them to live upon the earth, we can remember. We can vow to make them proud of us. We can learn from their righteous examples.
On ChurchofJesusChrist.org we find this: “Many people have been led to life’s greatest blessings through suffering. Their perspectives and direction have changed. Their desires for the things of the world have diminished. They are more open to hear the whisperings of the Spirit. ‘He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression’ (Job 36:15).
“Tremendous growth can be gained by suffering. Every illness and misfortune in life holds in parallel a life-affirming lesson, if we allow suffering to make us and not break us. The pathway to growth is steep and, at times, quite frightening. It demands that things once thought priceless be abandoned along the trail in exchange for making additional progress to the summit of experience” (my own italics).
When adversity mounts this is the exact moment to turn towards God, not away from him. And what a critical crossroads this is! If we can even mutter to ourselves, “This will not break me,” we will feel buoyed up by the Holy Ghost. When we determine to continue to reach out to God we can navigate whatever life throws at us. We will discover what we’re really made of, and watch in awe as God makes even more of us.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think we’re done, that it’s time to go home because we’ve just endured too much. But if we’re still here, then God isn’t through with us. There are additional traits we need to develop, areas of weakness to overcome. People we alone are suited to help. We aren’t the ones who get to decide when God is finished refining us.
Last November, President Russell M. Nelson spoke to Saints in San Antonio, Texas, and said, “…eternal perspective makes a huge difference in our comprehension of things that don’t seem fair in this life.” He said we should expect to experience “serious storms” and perhaps even tragedy during one’s life.
“But with faith in a loving God and trust in his divine plan, the pain of such a tragedy can be endured. And if we truly understand who we are and why we are here, we can face the future with faith in God and his eternal plan of happiness. Our understanding is broadened when we realize there truly will be another life after death.”
Patience, humility, long-suffering, and the ability to endure hardships are not traits any of us like to learn the hard way. But God wants us to learn them whichever way it has to be. He wants to fit us for his kingdom.
Let’s always remember what Joseph Smith was told in Liberty Jail: “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D & C 122: 7-8)
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.