It's an age-old question every religion has attempted to answer for centuries: Why do bad things happen to good people? If God blesses and loves those who follow Him, why does He still allow immense suffering to enter their lives?
Most the time when I've heard answers to this question given in church, teachers or speakers rely on a few standbys: 1) God will not inhibit the agency of ourselves or others, 2) living in mortal bodies brings pain and decay, 3) living in a fallen world brings unexpected suffering and disasters.
Yes, our sins and the poor choices of others can impact us, bringing misery, stress—even genocide and war. And yes, bodies designed to decay and die inevitably bring pain, limitations, and weakness even while unexpected worldly events like fire and hurricanes cause destruction and loss.
But even then, those answers don't feel complete. Our Savior, the Son of the living God, who had control over the elements and lived a perfect life, endured more pain and misery than any being that ever lived. Why did He suffer so much if He was sinless, could calm storms, and was literally a Son of the divine? And all of those questions fail to answer the essential question of why. Why does God intercede in some moments, but not others? Why does God allow such pain and horrible events when there are many ways He could test our valiantness or increase our strengths?
It's because pain and suffering have a greater purpose. Pain is purifying. Suffering is a blessing. As President James E. Faust stated, "There is a divine purpose in the adversities we encounter every day. They prepare, they purge, they purify, and thus they bless."
In addition, pain deepens our ability to feel joy, empathy, love, and charity.
I think the overarching reason Heavenly Father allows us to suffer is that He is lovingly helping us develop a greater capacity for pain. Undoubtedly there are millions of moments Heavenly Father has shielded us from hurt or torment, but like any loving parent, He understands that if we are to reach our eternal potential, we must learn how to confront and overcome devastating fear, sorrow, and pain.
In the Bible, we learn that even God weeps: "the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?" (Moses 7:28, see also John 11). And it makes sense. Any being who opens themselves up to loving another person—fully and vulnerably—opens themselves to an expanded capacity for joy and pain. The scripture, "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things," is an eternal principle, meaning we cannot have joy in the next life if suffering does not also exist (2 Nephi 2:11). "If vulnerability and pain are the price of love, then joy is its reward. That was the lesson Adam and Eve learn in the Garden, but the principle was rooted in the heavens. As surely as the dark gives meaning to the dawn, so does pain give meaning to pleasure, and sorrow to joy. All that we love, all that we strive for, all that we relish, we know only by contrast" (Terryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps).
We know our Heavenly Fathers' love for us is as complete and perfect as any love in existence and that He holds nothing back, “for He has set his heart upon us" (Terryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps). That level of caring carries with it an equal capacity for hurt.
As Elder Bednar testified, "Jesus, who suffered the most, has the most compassion for all of us who suffer so much less. Indeed, the depth of suffering and compassion is intimately linked to the depth of love felt by the ministering one."
How could Heavenly Father not weep when looking upon His children as they kill, rape, hate, hurt, and blame one another? How could God not ache with our absence when He sees us sin and turn our backs on Him?
While pain will still exist in the next life, this truth shouldn't be met with fear. Many prophets have promised of the beauty that will fill the next life, of the perfected world and our bodies, vivid gardens, and blissful family associations.
With perfected bodies, the pains of illness, aging, mental illness, and disease will not plague us. In the next life, we will find the truths that help combat hate, prejudice, misunderstanding, and ostracism.
As Brigham Young stated, "I [will] have passed from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguish and disappointment into a state of existence, where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. My spirit is set free, I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more, I run, I walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor, and I enjoy the presence of my heavenly Father, by the power of his Spirit."
And an important part of what will make that next life so glorious is our ability to understand the purpose and significance of pain and love. As Terryl and Fiona Givens write:
"The astonishing revelation here is that God does set His heart upon us. And in so doing, God chooses to love us. And if love means responsibility, sacrifice, vulnerability, then God’s decision to love us is the most stupendously sublime moment in the history of time. He chooses to love even at, necessarily at, the price of vulnerability. . . . This vulnerability, this openness to pain and exposure to risk, is the eternal condition of the Divine."
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In a world increasingly prone to doubt, a foundation in Christ is the only sure basis of a durable discipleship. And for Latter-day Saints, the Jesus Christ revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith is, in some very significant ways, a different kind of Christ than the Jesus of modern Christianity. The Christ of the restored gospel collaborated with Heavenly Parents for our salvation even before the foundation of the world, "does not anything" save it be for our benefit (2 Nephi 26:24), and is determined to patiently guide and nurture every one of God's children into an eternal heavenly family. Most significantly, this Christ does not rescue us from a condition of original sin or depravity. Rather, He is primarily a healer of the wounds incident to a long-planned sojourn, one intended to immerse us in the trials, pains, and soul-stretching of this mortal schoolroom. He is not only the most remarkable being in the history of religious thought; He is, in fact, The Christ Who Heals.