The apostle Paul declared "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).
Whenever we see human suffering caused either by nature or man, we always hear the question, "Why did God allow this to happen?" Sometimes the question is phrased in reverse as, "Why didn't God prevent this tragedy?" After one particularly devastating disaster, one cynic was led to comment, "If God is all-loving and didn't stop this tragedy then He can't be all-powerful. But if we say God is all-powerful and could have prevented this but didn't then He can't be all-loving. So which is He?"
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that one of the reasons God has for us for living in mortality is to experience the bad so we can appreciate the good. According to this doctrine, it is expedient that man endure sorrow, grief, heartaches, and pain in order to know happiness and joy. For the same reason, there must be wickedness to understand righteousness. Without sin there couldn't be redemption. At the heart of this doctrine is that there must be opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). Therefore, LDS members feel that all these things are part of God's plan and are necessary for man's spiritual growth.
The evidence of this is that everyone experiences sorrow in most of its many forms. Everyone gets sick as well as feels pain, everyone has troubles of one kind or another, everyone experiences disappointments, frustrations, and failure, and nearly everyone experiences the death of a loved one. Some people have more of these experiences than others but no one is exempt from enduring most of them.
Furthermore, the LDS Church does not look at death as the end of life. As sad as death may be, it is merely the passageway to another stage of existence. Life on earth was never intended to last forever and every person born will die. Even Jesus died. We view our life here in mortality as a school where we were sent by a loving Father to learn certain lessons and death is the event where we graduate to the next stage of our learning. Therefore, no one is immune from this experience because it is necessary in order for us to grow and progress spiritually.
However, these beliefs are not commonly held by many Christians. To them, death is God's punishment for the sin of disobedience committed by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They further believe that man is inherently evil by nature and willing follows the ways of Satan instead of obeying God's commandments. To those who hold this view of life this explains why there is so much evil and suffering in the world.
However, they also believe that God loves man and wants to save him from his sins. In fact, God loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die in an effort to save us even while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Because of His great love for us, God wants us to live a life of bliss and happiness forever with Him and Jesus came to earth and taught us how our "joy might be full" (John 15:11).
But if this is true, then it would follow that God's great love for us would also prompt Him to save us from physical and emotional pain and suffering. And, in fact, the Bible relates numerous stories of God rescuing His people from harm. In the Old Testament, there are stories of Him protecting the Israelites as a nation during times of war and delivering people from harm as in the case of Daniel in the lion's den. In the New Testament there is the story of Peter and all the apostles being released from prison unharmed (Acts 5:18-20) and the same thing happed to Paul and Silas (Acts 16:23-26).
In modern times there have been many miraculous stories told of people having been saved from physical harm as a direct result of God's intervention and there are even more stories of people being miraculously healed after praying to God. All of these instances testify that God has the power to protect His people Therefore, when good, God-fearing Christians experience great difficulties in their life, some are confused as to why such a loving, all-powerful God would not rescue them from their troubles.
What makes this situation even more confusing is that the unpleasant things that happen to Christians also happen to non-believers in Christ. This would seem to indicate that God truly is no respecter of people when it comes to suffering because the righteous seem to endure the same difficulties as the wicked. This fact has led some people to wonder what value is there in being a Christian?
It's true that some of the problems we face are a direct result of our own actions. For example, it's no surprise that when people don't eat properly they become sick or a person who steals finds themselves in trouble with the law. But what about a person who is obeying the traffic laws but is severely injured in an accident by someone who wasn't obeying those same laws, or the innocent bystander who is killed by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooter?
While it can be said that these are the results of man's actions, the same cannot be said for natural disasters such as floods, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and forest fires started by lightening. There is nothing man can do to prevent these occurrences of nature nor can he create them. Yet, when they happen, people's lives can be devastated, homes and properties are destroyed, people are killed or severely injured, and disease often becomes prevalent, all of which increases emotional suffering and distress.
The same can be said of the natural laws of the body. Christians suffer from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a long list of other health problems as do non-Christians. Furthermore, non-Christians who live a healthy lifestyle are just as likely to avoid certain health problems as Christians and the effects of old age happen without regard to a person's religious beliefs. All of this seems to suggest that there is no benefit to being a Christian when it comes to avoiding problems in life.
Some Christian apologists explain that God is not so much interested in our temporal salvation as He is in our eternal salvation and that those who believe in Him will find full joy and happiness only when they are living in heaven. They further explain that our life here on earth is very brief therefore God views our suffering now as being a minor inconvenience compared to the life we will live during eternity.
Others say that when bad things happen, God-fearing people are able to call upon Him for strength and comfort to help them get through their difficult times while those who rely solely on their own strength and wisdom have cut themselves off from the additional divine help they could have received by asking for it.
However, as true as these statements may be, it still doesn't answer the question of why a God who has such great love for His children would allow bad things to happen to them, especially when He has the ability to protect them from harm and has done so on many occasions. Put in earthly terms, what parent would idly sit by and allow their children to suffer when it was in their power to save them from their pain?
It's true that when a child is sick and is in pain, the parent suffers for the child and would gladly take away their pain if they could but they can't. The child continues to suffer precisely because the parent is powerless to take away the pain. But that's not the situation with God. He has the power to stop any kind of pain, so when He allows suffering to happen when it's within His power to stop it, the only conclusion is that what happens to us is often the result of a deliberate, conscious decision on God's part to allow it to happen.
While that answer is true, it still leaves unanswered the question of why God allows bad things to happen. To understand the answer to that question we need to look at life from God's perspective.
Sometimes an earthly parent allows their child to suffer the consequences of their actions so they learn why it is wrong to behave a certain way. As a heavenly Father, God uses this same teaching technique on us, His children. However, this doesn't explain the suffering that comes as a result of other people's bad actions or because of natural disasters.
There are those who say that God's ways are not man's ways and that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God's ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). By this they mean that we can't fully understand why God does what He does because His ways are incomprehensible. Therefore, when Christians experience difficult times, it is often said that we really can't understand why God allows such things to happen but that we just have to take it on faith that somehow there is a good reason for it.
However, that is not an entirely accurate statement because what God is doing with us is the same thing that all good parents do with their children, therefore we can understand God's ways. In fact, the Bible plainly teaches us those ways and that is why good parents are able to imitate the ways of God.
The role of a parent is to teach their children and there are many things that children need to be taught. They need to be taught how to walk, talk, get dressed, tie their shoes, learn to count, how to read, and, most especially, how to behave. The scriptures tell us to "train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Parents may use many different techniques to teach their children but all of them have the same goal in mind - to train their children in the way they should go.
Our Father in heaven has the same goal for His children and, like us, He uses different teaching techniques. The way our Father wants us to go is the way of Christ. To help us better see that way, Jesus came to earth and set the example for how to behave in every situation and the Holy Ghost is God's gift to us in helping us learn from Christ's example. But, in order for us to learn how to behave in every situation, we must come face to face with many different kinds of situations because it is only then that the learning actually takes place.
It's one thing to read about how to do something but it's an entirely different matter to actually put that knowledge into practice. The way we learn most effectively is by doing something over and over again because each time we do something we become a little more skilled at it. That's why it's said, "practice makes perfect." And the same thing applies to becoming Christ-like. It's by facing challenging situations over and over again that we have the chance to develop the spiritual skills needed to behave like Christ.
But, when disasters happen, most people lose sight of that fact. Instead, all they see is the immediate effects of what is taking place right then and there. When a community is destroyed because of a flood, tornado, or hurricane, most people just see wrecked houses, lack of electricity, food, and other basic services, and the loss of life that leads to heartaches, hardships, misery, and suffering of those affected by the disaster. It is only natural for people to concentrate on these heart wrenching tragedies but most people, in their grief, refuse to see beyond these immediate hardships.
The reason why God doesn't prevent calamities from happening is because He uses them as opportunities to build the kind of spiritual character that will help us become more like Christ. In other words, calamities are one of God's teaching methods. It we didn't have troubles to overcome we wouldn't grow, therefore life is meant to be a struggle because it is in the effort to overcome our problems that we learn how to become a better person. And the more we grow in spiritual strength the stronger the challenges need to be if we are to advance in our learning.
This is why God protects us from harm sometimes and allows us to experience harm at other times. Sometimes we need protection and other times we need to learn a lesson. However, instead of seeing calamities in this light, many people tend to focus on the immediate circumstances. On the other hand, God looks at what a person can become as a result of the things they experience.
This is why the apostle Paul said, "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" God's purpose is to transform us into the kind of being who is fit to live with Him in heaven and He uses every means available to help those who love Him achieve that goal by having whatever happens to them work to their good.
Those who don't love God are crushed when bad things happen in their life but those who turn to God and seek His help, find that their misfortune can ultimately turn into a blessing. Take the case of a soldier named Dave Roever (pronounced Ree-ver) who had a phosphorus grenade go off in his hand while serving in Vietnam. Although he lived through that experience, it burned his face and hands, horribly disfiguring him for life.
At first he was deeply depressed but then he turned to God and today he is the president of Roever and Associates, an organization that is dedicated to bringing a message of hope, emotional healing, and spiritual inspiration to thousands of people throughout America. By sharing his testimony of how he was able to turn tragedy into triumph he teaches others how they can do the same. But his message and his organization would never have come into being if Dave hadn't had that terrible accident.
The greatest tragedy of all was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This was God's only begotten Son and if God ever had a reason to protect someone from harm, it was Jesus. He lived a sinless life and yet He suffered rejection, ridicule, the loss of loved ones, betrayal, and injustice. He was not spared from becoming acquainted with grief yet it was because of his suffering that He learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8).
Roman crucifixion was deliberately designed to be the most painful way to kill a person. The Roman Empire had developed this form of torture for the express purpose of being able to inflict the greatest amount of pain for the longest period of time on their enemies. Jesus knew this and so did His Father in heaven, yet God allowed His Son to be not merely beaten but severely scourged and then executed Roman style as though He were a common criminal. Not only did Jesus suffer extreme physical pain throughout this entire ordeal, but he was publically humiliated in the process.
Not many people today will ever come close to having that kind of an experience. Then why did God allow this to happen to His Son? As His apostles and closest friends looked at Jesus hanging on the cross, that question no doubt went through their mind, but all they could see at that moment was Christ's suffering. What they could not see but what God saw, was the resurrected, immortal Jesus coming forth from the tomb where His dead body had been lain. What they could not see but what God clearly saw was the salvation of mankind being completed.
If Jesus hadn't died the way He did, there would have been no atonement made for our sins, and if that sacrifice on the cross hadn't happened then all of us would be eternally and spiritually lost. The reason why God didn't remove the bitter cup of suffering from His beloved Son was because it was necessary in order to bring about a greater blessing of good.
On a much smaller scale, the same thing applies in our life. The apostle Peter wrote, "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled" (1 Peter 3:14). No matter what happens, if we turn to God He can turn all things to our good and this is especially true for the things we suffer.