Summary: One of the important reasons for coming to live in mortality is to learn what evil is and to learn to choose good over evil. However, the consequences of living in mortality is that we also get to experience pain and sorrow, both physically and emotionally, and one of the greatest sorrows is death. A question many people ask is, if God is such a loving Being, then why does he allow so much suffering to exist? This article seeks to answer that question.
After Adam and Eve had partaken of the fruit they had been forbidden to eat, “the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22).
One of the important reasons for coming to live in mortality is to learn what evil is and to learn to choose good over evil. But because of what Adam and Eve did, “Unto the woman [God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy and sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (verses 16-19).
From this, we learn that one of the consequences of living in mortality is to experience pain and sorrow, both physically and emotionally. And one of the greatest sorrows and which causes the most amount of fear that resulted from Adam and Eve’s transgression is death.
The reason why people don’t like talking about death is because in their mind it means the end of living. Even though life is full of difficulties, problems, sickness, heartaches, and misery, no one wants to die, and when someone we love passes away, it can be one of the most painful experiences of our life. We refer to this as losing a loved one because it’s believed that we will never see them again.
Throughout the recorded history of the world, warfare has been almost constant, and with war comes the death of thousands of people. However, it’s one thing when a soldier dies, but it’s very different when innocent women and children are brutally slaughtered. In addition to this, war also brings a living death through acts such as torture and rape, and those who survive war often have to deal with great emotional pain for the rest of their life.
For this reason, a very common question many people ask is, if God is such a loving Being, who is full of mercy, compassion, and kindness, then why does he allow so much suffering to exist? If God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to save us, why doesn’t he stop all of this pain? Jesus preached about finding peace, joy, and happiness in him, but why does he do nothing when people are living in misery?
The answer that many Christian leaders offer is that God has given man his agency to freely decide what he wants to do, and too often man uses that agency to do evil. Even so, they argue, it’s not God who causes evil to exist, but it is man who brings evil upon himself. According to this logic, the only way that God can step in to prevent evil is to take away man agency, and if he did that then man would be nothing more than a puppet, doing only what God allows him to do.
But to follow this logic to its natural conclusion, we’d have to say that God is unable to stop evil, not because he lacks the power but because he has tied his hands by voluntarily choosing not to exercise his powers in order to preserve man’s agency. However, the scriptures are replete with stories where God has stepped in to stop evil by preventing someone from doing what they wanted.
For example, after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, the pharaoh had a change of heart and pursued after them with his entire army. Although he had it in his heart to destroy all the Israelites, God hedged up his way with a pillar of fire, and when that was taken away, Pharaoh’s army chased after his former slaves through the Red Sea, only to have the waters come crashing down and killing all of his soldiers.
King Sennacherib sent his mighty Assyrian army to destroy the city of Jerusalem and capture King Hezekiah. At that time, his army had been undefeated in battle, and they vastly outnumbered the Israelite army. But, despite this decision by Sennacherib, God intervened and destroyed the entire Assyrian army with a deadly plague.
During the American Revolutionary war, it was the decision of King George to crush the colonist rebellion and he sent the largest armada of ships and soldiers he had ever assembled to do just that. However, throughout the war there were many instances where God interfered in the plans of the British army, preventing them from carrying out their intentions. Throughout history, both religious and secular, we see that God has frequently intervened in the affairs of men.
But if the agency of man is so sacred that not even God will take it away, then why does he allow man to take someone else’s agency from them? For example, in communist countries, people are told which jobs they’re allowed to have, how much money they can make, and even where they can live. In some countries people are told how many children they’re allowed to have, how they’re to worship, and what class of society they must belong to.
All of these are examples of people not being allowed the freedom to decide for themselves. In fact, taking away a person’s life is the ultimate in taking away someone’s agency. Then why do we say that God will not infringe on our agency when he allows others to do that and he himself has likewise done that?
The prophet Lehi explained to his sons that “men are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the Mediator of all men or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). What we are free to choose is whether we want eternal life or eternal death, and it is the freedom to make that choice that God will never take away from us and no one else has the power to take it away from us either.
Even under the most brutal dictatorship, all of us have the freedom to choose to follow Christ and keep his commandments as best we can, as well as the freedom to choose to do evil, in all of its many forms and degrees. No one can force us to do what’s wrong and no one can force us to do what’s right.
The reason why God has given us the freedom to make this kind of a choice is because to gain eternal life is something we have to want with all of our heart and are willing to work for it. And it has to be this way because to inherit all that God has includes taking upon ourselves all the duties and responsibilities that go with it.
If after inheriting all the power God has, we cannot properly carry out the responsibilities that come with that power, it will have eternal devastating consequences and God cannot allow that to happen. Therefore, he tests us to see how willing we are to do whatever is necessary to gain eternal life.
To illustrate this principle, suppose someone wanted to obtain a Ph.D. No one is going to force them to get that high of an educational degree. Rather, it has to be something an individual sincerely wants and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. In the same way, God gives man the freedom to choose for himself whether or not he “will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:5). If men are not willing to do that, then they will not be worthy or capable of handling all the responsibilities that come with inheriting eternal life. In a nutshell, that’s what agency is really all about.
But death doesn’t happen just because of evil men. It can also be caused by illnesses, such as cancer, leukemia, heart failure, diabetes, pneumonia, and a long list of other deadly sicknesses and diseases. Then there are natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, lightnings, and volcanoes that can bring about great suffering and death. And as if all of this wasn’t bad enough, we are susceptible to accidents that can cause severe pain and death. All of these are acts of God that man has no control over, but why does God allow this kind of suffering to exist?
The reason we choose to live in mortality is to help us learn to become more like our Father in heaven, and all the experiences we have here are designed with that end in mind. Therefore, the pain, suffering, trials, problems, and evil that men do are all part of our training.
But if God lives in a place where no evil can exist, where there is no sickness or misery, then why do we need to experience those things? The answer is, because they are tools God uses to teach us important skills that are necessary to become like him.
For example, sports athletes lift weights to build up their muscles to become stronger, but they don’t take the weights with them when they go play on the field. In the same way, we don’t take pain with us when we get into heaven, but we do take the lessons we’ve learned from experiencing it. Perhaps we can better understand this principle through use of a different illustration.
Being sick with the flu is not a pleasant experience. It makes us feel miserable, possibly with dizziness or a headache, a fever, and with no energy to do anything. Even the thought of eating food can sound unappetizing. For adults, this could prevent them from going to work, which could mean a loss of income.
What good can possibly come from going through an experience like that? Actually, there are a number of things.
When a four year old falls down and scrapes their knees, to them it’s a major catastrophe, but as they get older and scrape their knees, even though it hurts a little, they think nothing of it, and the reason is because they’ve learned from many such experience that it’s not the end of the world, and over time they’ve learn how to endure the pain, that there are things much more painful, that it will heal and in time everything will be fine. In the same way, even though going through the flu is not pleasant, we learned to deal with it and that we will get through it.
And because having the flu is not pleasant, we also learn from the bad experience to take precautions to prevent ourselves from getting the flu again. Therefore, another positive effect is that it helps us to find solutions to our problems, which is something we can apply to other situations.
When we’re sick, we usually depend on others to help us do things that we are no longer able to do for ourselves, which then gives them an opportunity to care for the needs of others. In addition to this, because we know from painful experiences what it’s like to have the flu, this helps us better empathize with others who likewise come down with this sickness, which then provides the motivation for us to want to help those who are likewise sick.
One of the most obvious characteristics of Jesus is his compassion for others. Throughout his life we read of how he healed the sick, comforted the grieving, and gave aid to the needy, In speaking about the mortal ministry of Jesus we’re told “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind…that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12).
Part of the value of suffering is to help make us more compassionate towards others who are going through their own suffering and which then helps us know how to succor them in their infirmities. This is how “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2L52), and this is how we too will increase in becoming more like Christ.
What we see from just this one mild sickness is how many spiritual skills we’re being trained to develop, and the greater the pain, the more lessons we’re being taught and the more skills we’re learning to acquire. For example, it’s fairly easy to forgive someone who accidentally steps on our toes, but it takes a much greater effort to forgive someone who has deliberately and deeply hurt us.
It doesn’t take much effort to be patient when things are going well, but it takes much more effort when we have to deal with injustices, unfairness, inequities, and ill treatment. It’s easy to persevere when there are no problems, but the harder the task becomes the more effort it takes to persevere. Having faith in God is easy when all our needs are met, but the more uncertain life becomes, the greater our faith has to be to face the unknown.
There is a common saying that states, “What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” If God were to take away all suffering, including death, he would also be taking away the very means by which we grow. Growth comes from stepping out of our comfort zone and being stretched and pulled. If God took away all the bad things in life, we could never develop the spiritual qualities needed to become like him.
But what about death? How does that help us become more like God?
We often hear people say, “If God loves us, how could he let people die? How could God be so mean as to take the life of my loved one? How could God be so heartless as to allow someone to take the life of an innocent child?” What questions like these implies is that life on this earth is all there is and that death robs us of all the things that being alive has to offer.
Of course, the fact is that everyone who has ever lived or will live here is going to die, and there are many different ways that will happen. Since no one will ever escape this fate, then the manner in which we die is not as important as the fact that we will all die. What is important is how we deal with death itself, and therein lies the lessons we can learn from.
When we understand that everyone is supposed to die, then it becomes obvious that this life was never meant for man to live here forever. In that case, this life can’t be all there is. If that isn’t true then life here on earth has no meaning, and if that is true, then it means there is no God because everything God does has a purpose to it.
But if we believe there is a God, then we have to also believe that we will live forever somewhere else than here on earth., in which case we must also believe that death is not the end of life When understood from this perspective, we come to realize that death is merely a door we pass through as we go from one state of existence to another.
This is no different from when someone we love goes on a long trip overseas. Just because we can no longer see them or talk with them doesn’t mean they no longer exist. Someday, we’ll go to where they are and then we will see and talk with them again. When properly understood, death is nothing more than a brief separation from those we love. When viewed from this perspective, God is being neither mean nor heartless when he moves someone from one part of his kingdom to another in a process we call death.
But there is a significant spiritual purpose to death. If life here on earth is meant to teach us specific lessons and skills, then we can think of earth as being like attending school. But not all the lessons we need to learn are taught here. There are other lessons we’ll be taught once we get to the next life, therefore, death is actually the process by which we graduate from one level of our divine schooling and advance to the next higher level of our spiritual education.
This is not something new to us. As members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, we believed we once lived as spirits in heaven. In that realm, we were taught many important lessons by our eternal Father, and we learned them with our brothers and sisters.
But there came a time when we had to leave that environment and come to earth. When we did, we died as to that life, and when that happened, we left behind many of our brothers and sisters who we had grown close with. And those who we left behind were sad because they would no longer see us again. To them, it was as if we died.
If this is so, then we can think of God as the school principal who decides when someone is ready to move on to their next grade level. It’s when they are ready to advance in their training, and we plead with God not to let them go, then we’re the ones who are being cruel in holding them back in their spiritual advancement for purely selfish reasons.
Then how do we know when someone is ready to make that transition from one learning stage to another? The answer is, we don’t, but God does. Therefore, it’s perfectly permissible for us to ask God to preserve the earthly life of someone we love, but if his answer is not what we want, then we must be willing to accept it.
When we understand what God is trying to do for us, we see that death, suffering, and pain are not things that God inflicts upon us for no reason but are really blessings in disguise.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God.