Why does a God who is good, a God of love and compassion, allow evil men to prosper and righteous men to suffer?
Philosophers and prophets alike have wrestled with this dilemma over the years, and still it continues to haunt us. The question is a difficult one to resolve fully, especially as God himself has never seen fit to give a completely satisfying, rational explanation. Indeed, such an explanation may well be impossible within our limited perspective.
The book of Job is one of the most profound treatises to have been written concerning the problem of human suffering. And it seems significant that after all has been said and done in that discourse, the problem still remains unresolved at the rational level. Perhaps what the world needs most during the trials of life is fewer “Job’s comforters,” with their patented rational explanations, and more men and women with the Job-like faith that can still cry out from the depths of anguish, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. …” (Job 13:15.)
We know from the Book of Mormon that suffering can be directly related to the unrighteous exercise of man’s free agency. We have the example of Alma telling Amulek that they should not seek the Lord’s intervention in the brutal killing of the converts in Ammonihah. “… for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just. …” (Alma 14:11.)
Apart from this incident, the closest the Lord has come to a logical explanation of the purpose of suffering was when Joseph Smith was in Liberty jail in March 1839. Then, the Prophet cried out to the Lord, “Where art thou?”—as if to say, How long can you bear to watch our suffering? How long can you stand to listen to the cries of innocents? How long will you stay your hand?
The answer of the Lord came into the mind of Joseph: Your adversities and afflictions are only for a short time; all these things are for your experience and will be good for you; if you endure, God will eventually exalt you above your enemies. (See D&C 121; D&C 122.)
Though incomplete, the answer still is consoling. However, in terms of dealing with the problem of suffering, the most significant thought given to Joseph that day was the Lord’s: “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.)
According to Alma, Jesus was to suffer pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind. Further, he suggests that all of this suffering on the part of Christ was for one purpose—that he could be filled with mercy, knowing fully how to succor and care for us in our infirmities. (Alma 7:12.)
Isaiah outlined the life of Jesus in a realistic word picture. In Isaiah 53, he writes of the coming Savior to be devoid of beauty that would cause men to find him attractive; he was to be despised, rejected, and chastised; he was to be oppressed and afflicted; and eventually he was to die. In short, he was to descend beneath everything—all of this that he might know how to save us, how to redeem us, and most importantly, how to empathize with and love us totally.
Before leaving his disciples, Christ gave them a new commandment—to love one another, not as in times past with the qualification “as you love yourself,” but “as I have loved you.” (John 13:34.) Such a love is born out of compassion, a total understanding. It may well be that only those who undergo suffering can fully empathize with the suffering soul. Only those who go down into the depths of humility with a broken heart and a contrite spirit can fully understand the Master and the path he trod. Therefore, in times of suffering perhaps it is faith we need, rather than rational understanding. Perhaps our prayers should be for strength to bear up under the burden rather than to have the burden removed. (See Mosiah 24:13–15.) Perhaps the road we may have to tread through suffering leads ultimately to important discoveries of the soul.