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suffering (Why does God allow suffering?) *

Why does God allow suffering? by William Monahan


From the pain of divorce and death to financial setbacks or the loss of health, perhaps you have asked this question: If God really loves me, why am I suffering? Why would a loving God allow suffering? For many, the inherit injustice of war, disease and natural disasters seems to run counter to the New Testament image of a loving, merciful God.

Kevin was a devoted father to young children, a loving husband and a dedicated Phoenix police officer. He believed in God and lived his faith. Jovial in nature and always willing to help others, Kevin met a tragic death in his early 30s; he was electrocuted while helping a friend repair a water heater. He left behind a grieving wife and heartbroken children.

I said to myself, “This is so senseless. Where is the purpose in this?” At Kevin’s funeral, where hundreds gathered to honor his memory, a wise bishop offered comfort to the mourners: “No one is exempt from individual pain, but no one is excluded from relief of suffering through the grace of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his universal love.”

Some would argue that love has nothing to do with suffering, that fate deals its terrible hand, and God is not part of the equation. Others blame God when suffering emigrates from distant venues to their personal doorstep.

Through God’s plan of happiness, ultimate joy awaits those who come unto Christ and keep God’s commandments. This plan of happiness honors choice, or agency, as a precious gift. Without choice, no one would voluntarily submit to God’s will or choose righteousness (see 2 Nephi 2:13). So precious is the gift of choice that to interfere with it would thwart God’s plan of happiness, even when people choose evil that harms themselves or others. Indeed, without sampling our share of sadness, we could not know real joy. By its nature, adversity allows us to choose the fog of blame or the pure vistas of gratitude.

Perhaps we don’t know the depths of a sufferer’s grief, but Jesus Christ knows. He has suffered for us all. In the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, the prophet Alma taught, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11). In the example of Kevin’s untimely death, his family did not blame God. Their love of God and faith in Christ’s Atonement not only healed their grief, but brought hope of a joyful reunion one day.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “One cannot look at suffering, regardless of its causes or origins, without feeling pain and compassion. I can understand why someone who lacks an eternal perspective might see the horrifying news footage of starving children and man’s inhumanity to man and shake a fist at the heavens and cry, ‘If there is a God, how could he allow such things to happen?’” (see “Answers to Life’s Questions,” Ensign, May, 1995). Elder Ballard further explains that nature must also run its course as we are subject to the elements, both good and bad.

When doors of grief close our minds, the doors of heaven can open our hearts. The late President Howard W. Hunter explained, “Our detours and disappointments are the straight and narrow path to him” (see “The Opening and Closing of Doors,” Ensign, November 1987).

For all who bear the burden of suffering, consider that God’s plan of happiness did not exempt his Only Begotten Son from suffering. This universal sacrificial love allows us to individually bear our sorrows with the hope of ultimate healing.

One of the most difficult yet effective ways to begin healing our own suffering is to serve others, to reach out in relief of those who, like us, have suffered the pains of life and need a friend to listen, to empathize, and to show Christlike love in a world so desperate for charitable hearts. Such is the road to comforting broken hearts and repairing shattered roads — even our own crumbling footpaths.

The Savior said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). May we find that rest, not in blaming God for our troubles, but in the love of God which brings hope and the strength to bear our burdens and shoulder the sorrows of neighbor and neighborhood.

William Monahan is a former stake president and mission president, and practices law in Arizona.


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