Our mortal sojourn includes unpleasant experiences such as sickness, loneliness, injury, calamity, injustice, and death. Life may not always seem to be “fair.”
The question of why God allows bad things to happen to innocent people has been asked by most of us at one time or another. It is the gospel that helps us understand the necessity of adversity. If we understand the plan of salvation and view our experiences with an eternal perspective, we may come to understand and accept the lessons of mortality as necessary for spiritual growth. We recognize that we are blessed with agency to choose how to respond to those lessons.
In 1955 Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave an answer to this question in a talk titled “Tragedy or Destiny?” Elder Kimball listed several tragedies, then asked the following questions:
“Was it the Lord who directed the plane into the mountain to snuff out the lives of its occupants, or were there mechanical faults or human errors?
“Did our Father in heaven cause the collision of the cars that took six people into eternity, or was it the error of the driver who ignored safety rules?
“Did God take the life of the young mother or prompt the child to toddle into the canal or guide the other child into the path of the oncoming car?
“Did the Lord cause the man to suffer a heart attack? Was the death of the missionary untimely?” (Faith Precedes the Miracle , 96).
He then continued:
“Answer, if you can. I cannot, for though I know God has a major role in our lives, I do not know how much he causes to happen and how much he merely permits. Whatever the answer to this question, there is another I feel sure about.
“Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies? The answer is, Yes. The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if he will. But he will not. …
“The basic gospel law is … agency and eternal development. To force us to be careful or righteous would be to nullify that fundamental law and make growth impossible. …
“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, … 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 … agency, only satanic controls.
“Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 96–97).
Yes, some might rashly blame Heavenly Father for not preventing the bad things that happen to us and our loved ones. Some even become embittered. But after we have passed the portals of death and see with an eternal perspective, we will undoubtedly praise Him for His mercy, His love, and His wisdom in allowing precisely those experiences that are designed to help us reach our full eternal potential and become even as He is.
We all experience suffering. And suffering is not always the result of sin. Suffering sometimes has a larger purpose, part of which is our education. Our Heavenly Father loves us completely. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. We know that this life is a time to prepare, a time to learn, and a time to progress. All we have to do is endure in faithfulness as we trust in the Lord, work diligently to overcome our challenges, and avoid complaining against Him.
Ruben C. dela Cuadra,
Narvacan Ward, Narvacan Philippines Stake
When we regard hardships or tribulations as stepping-stones to return to our heavenly home, we will courageously and wisely confront those trials by seeking strength and guidance from the Lord. We will have faith that we will receive comfort and rewards either in this life or in the life to come.
Rei Cheng Tsai,
P’ingtung Branch, P’ingtung Taiwan District
God allows people to use their agency so that if someone injures an innocent person, he or she will be judged for having done it, and the injured person will have restitution in due time, even if not in this life.
But when something bad happens to an innocent person because of a natural catastrophe, it may also have a divine purpose. Perhaps it is to alert us about something; perhaps it is a test of our faith; perhaps it gives us an opportunity to serve our neighbor.
Ivonete Macedo de Almeida,
Jardim Maria do Carmo Ward, São Paulo Brazil Stake
Latter-day Saints are blessed to know the purposes and objectives of the plan of salvation. We also know that our tribulations, persecutions, and trials are a ladder that can lift us to God. The hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (Hymns, number 30) teaches us the answer to this question: Why get discouraged when we know eternal happiness awaits?
Franck William N’Sondi,
Ouenze Branch, Brazzaville Republic of Congo District
It was really difficult for my family when my father died a few years ago. I fervently prayed and asked the Lord what we had done to deserve this unfortunate event. Then the Holy Ghost assured me that my father’s death could actually make our faith in Jesus Christ stronger. We should always remember that adversity can make us strong and that adversity is part of Heavenly Father’s purposeful plan.
Nelfa Awing Gumarang,
Tuao Branch, Philippines Ilagan Mission
Sometimes Heavenly Father permits the innocent to be slain that they may enter His rest and His judgment may come upon the wicked (see Alma 60:13). He has promised that those who die in Him “shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:46).
Kololo Branch, Kampala Uganda District