The apostle Paul told the Roman Christians, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Christians quote this verse of scripture when they are going through hard times and tell themselves that no matter how bad something may seem that somehow God will cause our hardship to become a benefit to us. But when really hard times come upon us the common cry is that we can't even imagine how this could be good for us.
For example, Jesus told his disciples, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:11,12).
Persecution is never a pleasant thing, regardless of the reason for it, but Jesus not only said that Christians would be persecuted for their belief in him but they are blessed to be persecuted and they should "rejoice and be exceeding glad" when it happens. But why? Jesus answered saying that the more we are persecuted and suffer for His sake the greater our reward in heaven will be. Thus, because of our love for God, Jesus can ultimately turns our suffering into a blessing.
Paul further explained to the Romans that God did not spare even His own Son from suffering. Death by crucifixion was the most painful and horrible way the Romans could devise for someone to die but "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). And it was because He overcame all things, including what He suffered, that He was seated on the right hand of God, in his Father's throne. Jesus went on to say that those who overcome, as He did, will likewise sit with Christ in his throne (see Revelation 3:21).
What all of these scriptures teach is that no matter what happens, if we endure and overcome all things for Christ's sake, then the good that will come to us is that we will gain a great reward in heaven, living with Christ forever. As Paul put it, neither "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword" shall keep us from the love of Christ "who is even at the right hand of God, [and] who shall make intercession for us" (Romans 8:34, 35).
But is there a benefit to our suffering now, or do we have to wait until after the resurrection before we will be blessed for our allegiance to Christ? And there is another related question that many non-Christians, as well as Christian people ask which is: If God loves us so much then why is there so much suffering in the world? Or, stated another way, if God is so good and kind, then why is there so much evil and misery in the world? For that matter, if Satan is the source of so much of the evil in the world, why does God allow him to do what he does?
The answer is that all things - good, bad, and indifferent - work together for God's good. And because we are all God's children and He loves us, all things ultimately work together for the good of all people as well. The reason we can't see this is because we tend to focus on the here and now rather than looking at events in context. It's like we focus our attention on a particular piece of a puzzle that God is putting together that we don't see what the entire picture looks like.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that in the beginning, before the earth was even created, God presented a plan to His children that would enable us to become just like Him. That plan is grand and comprehensive, and covers the full spectrum of man's existence on the earth. It not only covers man's mortal existence but also his immortal and eternal existence on this earth. Therefore, whatever God does is designed to bring about the successful accomplishment of His overall plan.
The real answer to why there is so much suffering and evil in the world is because it's all necessary in bringing about God's purpose in the salvation of His children. Even the wars, bloodshed, and inhuman brutality that has occurred since the time of Adam are all part of God's grand design in order to help us become like Him.
This may seem like a hard concept to understand so let's look at some examples.
In the beginning God created a perfect world and created two perfect innocent beings we know as Adam and Eve. In the beginning God had planted a beautiful garden for them where everything they needed was provided. The scriptures tell us that Satan then came into the garden and tempted them to disobey God's commandment. As a result, man fell from God's presence.
To many in the Christian world, this event is seen as a catastrophe for mankind, but as Latter-day Saints we know it was absolutely crucial to God's plan for Adam to transgress God's word. If that had not happened, the entire plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
As Adam said, "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife… was glad, saying, Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient" (Moses 5:10, 11).
In time, the whole earth became wicked, so much so that there were only eight souls left who were righteous. The scriptures tell us that because the wickedness of man was so great, God flooded the entire earth to cleanse it of its iniquity. This sounds like a terrible judgment from an angry God yet the flooding of the earth was a necessary and important part of God's plan.
The Lord has revealed that "the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law- Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it" (D&C 88:25,26).
The earth is a living organism and it must abide by the same laws of redemption that we must obey. Thus, it was absolutely necessary for the earth to be baptized by submersion in water to wash it clean of its sins. But for that to happen, there had to be great sin on the earth. Without that wickedness there would have been no reason for God to baptize the earth through the means of a flood.
But there will come a time when the earth will be consumed by fire (see D&C 43:32), and many scriptures speak of receiving the Holy Ghost as a baptism of fire. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to God's plan for the earth to be burned, symbolic of it receiving the Holy Ghost. And, just as with us, it is crucial that the earth die so that it can be resurrected to a celestial glory. This is what the scriptures mean when it says that the heavens and the earth shall pass away and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).
But there are other examples in secular history where we can see how God's plan uses wickedness to bring about His purposes.
Around 509 B.C. the city of Rome was established on the principle of a republican form of government and it prospered because of it. However, because it was so prosperous, over time its senators became so corrupt that between 133 to 30 B.C Rome went through a series of bloody civil wars that was eventually brought to an end when Julius Caesar took control of the government. Through his capable administration, he was able to restore stability to the government.
After his death, his nephew, Octavius, took control of the government and declared himself as emperor, taking upon himself the name-title Caesar Augustus, thereby ending Rome as a republic. But it was through his able administration that he was able to establish the Pax Romana (Roman peace) throughout his entire empire.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus was born when Caesar Augustus was emperor of Rome and it was during the Pax Romana when Christianity got its fledgling start. It was those earlier civil wars, brought on by the corruption of Rome's senators, that led to the chain of events that allowed Christianity to be born in peace.
Rome did not invent the practice of crucifixion but they were the ones who perfected it to the point where it was designed to bring about the greatest amount of pain for the longest period of time. Many people died horrible deaths through this system of execution, yet, as cruel as this form of punishment was, it was a necessary part of God's plan so that when it came time for the Messiah to sacrifice His life to atone for our sins, He died in the most painful way possible. But this experience was necessary for Him to endure so that he could descend below all things. And because of what He suffered He is now better able to succor us in our pain.
In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Church of England severely persecuted a group of Christians known as the Puritans and it was because of such brutal treatment that caused a group of them to flee England in order to find a safe place where they could practice their religion in peace. If it had not been for that persecution, these Pilgrims would never have traveled across the Atlantic ocean and settled themselves in what they called the new England. And because of them, they paved the way for others to come here to escape religious persecution, which then led to the establishment of thirteen British colonies.
Had England treated these colonists with dignity and respect, they would have remained loyal to the British crown. It was precisely because of the harsh measures that England imposed upon their own citizens in America that literally drove the colonists to rebel and eventually declare their independence. That, of course, led to a long, bloody war. But without that war we would all be citizens of England to this day.
And because we won that war, America became a free land, built on the premise of freedom of religion which, in turn, allowed the gospel of Jesus Christ to be restored to the earth. So, while the persecutions, hardships, and wars that killed tens of thousands of people in America in the 1700s, they were all necessary to bring about God's purposes.
And the same was true with the early saints. The persecutions they faced were all necessary. For one reason, Joseph Smith had to seal his testimony in blood, as did many of the other prophets, but without persecution, that would never have happened. Furthermore, if it wasn't for the persecutions, the saints would never have moved to the Rocky mountains in accordance with Isaiah's prophecy that the house of the Lord would be established on the top of the mountains where all nations would come to hear the word of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2).
In the mid to late 1930s Hitler came to power through a systematic campaign of brutal violence. Because of his success in commandeering the government of Germany, he set his sights on doing the same with all of Europe and sought to do the same with Russia. The United States became involved in this conflict only when the British government pleaded with them for help in defending their homeland.
At this same time, the Emperor of Japan decided that he could easily take over all the islands and nations in the Pacific Ocean. America was faced with fighting two wars on two different fronts but, as a result of its efforts, by the end of World War II, America had became a superpower and gained the respect of the world. More than that, the U.S. dollar became the world's foremost currency.
Despite tens of millions of people who died in that conflict, the war helped America pull out of its great depression and brought on an extended period of growth and prosperity like we had never seen. Furthermore, Japan ended its thousand year old system of emperors and replaced it with a democracy that has brought the Japanese people greater freedom and prosperity, and has turned a once hostile nation into one of our best allies. Even Europe was better off after the war than before it began.
It isn't that God knows how to turn lemons into lemon aid. Whatever happens in the world is part of God plan, with God orchestrating everything that is happening - both good and evil - so that it brings about the results He wants. Our problem is that today we can no more see what the end result of all of this violence will bring than we could see in 1940 what good things would come from the devastation and carnage of WWII.
The full gospel of Jesus Christ was taught to Adam, who taught it to his children, and for a thousand years it was had on the earth, but then, it was lost. It wasn't until Moses came along that it was to meant to be restored but only to a small segment of the world's population, to a group of people known as the children of Israel. Yet, even they were not ready to receive it in its entirety so they were only given a portion of it.
It wasn't until Jesus came in the meridian of time that the full gospel was once again restored on the earth. Just before He ascended into heaven after His resurrection the Lord told His disciples to take His gospel and teach it to all the ends of the earth, but even so, shortly after the beginning of the second century, the teachings of Jesus became corrupted and then, for around eighteen hundred years, there was no place on earth where the true, full gospel of Jesus Christ could be found until Christ restored it in 1830.
If God loves all of mankind and wants to save them from their sins, then why would He allow His teaching of salvation to be missing from the earth for much of man' existence? The answer is that this was what God's plan called for. From our vantage point, it may not make sense but that's only because we are not be able to see the full picture of what God is trying to accomplish. Even so, here may be a partial explanation:
In many parts of the world they have four seasons, one of which is winter. When winter comes the land lays dormant and unproductive where nothing grows, yet farmers know that this time is necessary for the earth to rest from its labors. In addition to this, there are many beneficial things that happen because of a deep, cold winter. Yet when Spring comes, then farmers begin to plow their fields in preparation for sowing their seeds, and by late summer it is time to harvest what was planted.
Perhaps the same is true of the gospel. During the Dark Ages, the world was in a time of spiritual rest where the light of Christ glowed very, very dim and a correct understanding of the gospel lay dormant. Yet, during this time a number of beneficial things happened that were necessary to prepare the earth for the gospel's return. Then in 1830 came a spiritual Spring where the ground was cultivated in preparation for sowing the seeds of the gospel. Since then the fruits of the laborers have been growing, and the gospel is spreading quickly throughout the earth. But the time will come when the fruit shall be gathered and when that time comes, Jesus will return in power and glory and then the earth will rest for a thousand years under the rule of its rightful king.
Whether or not this is the reason for why the gospel was missing from the earth for so long is not relevant. What is important for us to know is that everything we see happening in our world, both the good and the bad, both the righteous and the evil, are all necessary to bring about God's plan for man's happiness.
In the LDS Church we sing a hymn that says, "Lead kindly light through the encircling doom. The night is dark and I am far from home. I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step is enough for me." (hymn #97) Today, perhaps more than ever, we are encircled by events of gloom and doom, and darkness seems to be spreading all over the earth. But we don't need to see the distant scene of how all of this will work out. It is enough for us to take life just one step at a time with faith in Christ.
Instead of having fear and doubt when things seem dark and bleak, we should take comfort in the knowledge that all these things are part of God's plan, that they are working together for our good and, whether we understand it or not, they are all designed for the benefit of God's children.
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