Latter-day Saint Life

Why Do We Suffer? Here's One Crucial Reason We Hardly Ever Talk About


One late August afternoon years ago when I lived in Connecticut, I was driving on one of the innumerable semi-rural roads flanked by endless trees. The summer light accented the trees, creating highlights of green so vivid that my eyes could scarcely take in the view.

Though the day was beautiful, the drive was unremarkable, as so many other drives like it I had made.

All that changed in an instant.

I rounded a bend in the road and spotted a three-foot-long snake crossing the road in the other lane. As I passed the snake, I looked ahead to see a large SUV swiftly approaching in the other lane. The SUV rushed passed me. Through my rear view mirror, I witnessed the SUV drive directly over the snake, crushing its body with thousands of pounds of force.

In a spasm of pain, with every nerve aflame, the snake stood on end, a nearly impossible feat for a snake, stretching itself out to its full body length before collapsing into a writhing ball of concussed, crushed bones, snapped nerves, and death throes.

The scene was so vivid, the suffering so visibly acute, I felt sick to my stomach. I myself have never suffered so acutely, so fully, so immeasurably as did that reptile. Still, in moments of serious distress, this memory of the pain-enthralled snake has taught me lessons both difficult and true.

I used to think that God would honor my life plan, would fulfill any and all of my righteous dreams and desires. I thought that if I simply was righteous enough, I could gain all.

I was totally wrong.

God will allow our righteous desires to be crushed and shattered right before our eyes–IF this will help us become more like Him.

God took all of my nice, little “righteous” dreams and let them get shattered right before my eyes. He didn’t stop the people, the events, the policies, the histories, the agency of others, the whatever, from crushing my dreams.

How could that be?

When my dreams were crushed, I wanted to find the source of my torment, to find who or what to blame, to stop it from ever happening again.

But what foolishness.

Could I really stop the flow of life, with all its multifaceted injustices whose wide gaps invite mercy, repentance, kindness, understanding, forgiveness, humility, and change? Would I really stop the world in order to get my way?

This is life (and death).

Just like that snake.

There was no ill-intent, no malice, no divine justice when that snake had its life pulverized right out of its body. The snake was doing what snakes do: moving from place to place to find food, mates, and shelter.

As for the SUV and the driver? They were doing what cars and drivers do: driving on roads.

These two worlds violently collided. Neither side is to blame. Structurally, such crashes are bound to happen because such crisscrossing of paths are inevitable in such a complex, complicated world.

Suffering happens.

Suffering is part of life.

We all experience suffering. And, sometimes that suffering is just a consequence of being alive. Sometimes there is no one to blame, no one to get even with, no anger that we should direct towards anyone, especially not towards God. Instead, we experience the pain and the suffering as a fact of life, as part of the plan of salvation. We thereby gain knowledge and experience and wisdom. If anything we gain a small bit of empathy for the Creator of the universe who descended below all things, to let His own created order crush Him until He bled from every pore causing such exquisite pain He could not fully describe it without a long pause, as I read it, (represented by a dash):

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all…But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—” (D&C 19:16-18).

Christ’s suffering is vividly apparent here, and so is His aliveness, humanity, and mortality.

To live is to suffer, if for a time, while the promise of sweet joy for the faithful is as certain as God Himself.

Lead photo from Getty Images
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