When I spend time with my father, the topic of human suffering often comes up. For him, as for many others, it is hard to fathom why a loving God allows or even causes trials and suffering at times. Human caused actions are awful, but massive natural disasters perhaps even harder to explain.
On my mission and since, I have thought a lot about these questions. I met some people who had endured far more than their fair share of heartbreak and sorrow. I met individuals that had suffered crippling illness, addiction, and terrible loss. Yet, I was well aware that for some people these experiences had refined them and helped them to become much more humble and Christlike while on the other hand for others these experiences led to bitterness and resentment.
At the end of the great Nephite-Lamanite wars, the writers of the Book of Mormon reflected on a similar situation
“Alma 62: 41 But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.”
Is it any surprise that for some, as Charles Dickens noted, these truly were “the best of times, while for others they were “the worst of times”?
(Alma 50:23 “But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi”
In one of the darkest moments of American History, Thomas Paine Opined “”These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Likewise, as I have reflected I have realized that these moments of trial are what allow our souls to “Stretch” or to “Shrink.” These are the moments where God is able to “try us in all things” and to see if we will be obedient and faithful. Indeed, these moments are fundamental to allowing us to become more like the father and the son. It is quite easy to be a “summer soldier” or a “sunshine patriot ” for the cause of zion when things are going well and everything is fine. It is in the Valley Forges of our experience that we can truly show what our faith and fortitude is made of.
Indeed, without moments of trial and decision making is would be truly hard to become like God. The moments in our lives where we decide, for good or for ill, are those that shape our eternal identity and fate. For instance, when we decide to serve selflessly without thinking about ourselves, chose to turn the other cheek and withhold unkind words even when provoked or angry, or chose faith over disbelief even as darkness enters our life.
This continued believe even in the “dark night of our soul” can be incredibly difficult. It can push us to our very limits, It can break the faith of many, but ultimately when we endure we come across stronger and more committed.
Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience
is wasted.” Such cosmic conservation! He continues, “It ministers to our education, to the
development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer
and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters,
purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more
worthy to be called the children of God.”
Like Nephi, “I do not know the meaning of all things.” I do not know why a particular person faces a particular trial. I personally do not understand why my mother, on the most saintly people I have ever known, had to endure painful death from cancer. Sometimes the suffering we see is heart wrenching and utterly devastating. And yet, I know that God loves his children and that all that we endure comes from a loving father who knows us better than we can know ourselves.
2 Nephi 26: 23-24 For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness. He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
In conference in April 2012, President Eyring spoke about the suffering that he mother endured in her bout with cancer….
“My mother fought cancer for nearly 10 years. Treatments and surgeries and finally confinement to her bed were some of her trials.
I remember my father saying as he watched her take her last breath, “A little girl has gone home to rest.”
One of the speakers at her funeral was President Spencer W. Kimball. Among the tributes he paid, I remember one that went something like this: “Some of you may have thought that Mildred suffered so long and so much because of something she had done wrong that required the trials.” He then said, “No, it was that God just wanted her to be polished a little more.” I remember at the time thinking, “If a woman that good needed that much polishing, what is ahead for me?”
Like President Eyring, I know that my mothers trial with cancer ultimately ‘polished’ her and helped her to be ready to live with God forever. She endured and endured well. In her last moments, she spoke of her undying faith in God and belief that she would see her parents and see me again. I do not understand why she was taken, but I do know that ultimately that trial made her and will make me stronger and ‘more meet for the kingdom’
I bear witness that God does not allow suffering out of antipathy or indifference, but on the contrary he tries us because he loves us.
“God, as a loving Father, will stretch our souls at times. The soul is like a violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched. . . . God will tutor us by trying us because He loves us, not because of indifference!”
― Neal A. Maxwell