Many people wonder why God allows bad things to happen to people when He knows what will happen and has the power to stop it. It seems to many that God could leave us all in the Garden of Eden forever.
The world did start that way. For Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden was their childhood. They were created as adults, but the Garden gave them that sense of safety, protection, and ease while they adapted to mortality. However, they couldn’t stay there forever. God never intended them to stay there forever. A perfect and easy life seems desirable, but in reality it is the most limiting life possible.
There is a Mormon scripture that says:
And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin (2 Nephi 2:22-23).
The Mormon faith addresses these types of issues. God understood that in order to fully appreciate life, we had to experience trials. It is after sadness that happiness becomes most meaningful. It would, as suggested by these verses, be impossible to raise children without the ability to experience the range of emotions—the joy, the fear, and even the frustrations. It would be a far less extraordinary experience without the powerful love we have for our children, which is made stronger by our fears for them.
There is another factor to consider in wondering why bad things happen. Agency is, in the Mormon faith, an essential aspect of our life on earth. What meaning would there be in life if we could not make any choices for ourselves? Why would God even send us to Earth if we were just puppets doing whatever God instructed us to do? Lucifer, in Heaven before the Earth was created, thought just such a plan would work. He wanted to be the puppeteer and in return, to receive all the glory and honor—in other words, to replace God in our hearts and lives. He felt this would provide more safety, guaranteeing us safe return home to Heaven. This is why, as the Bible says, Lucifer was a fallen angel.
God couldn’t allow Lucifer to get his way because it would make life meaningless to us. We might as well have stayed home with God. The purpose of life was to allow us to be tested. Could we find God and choose to follow Him if we couldn’t remember our time with Him? Could we develop faith, become unselfish enough to reject some worldly pleasures in order to live up to our heritage as children of God, and perfect ourselves as much as possible?
The only way such a thing was possible was to give us agency—the right to choose for ourselves. Being able to choose for ourselves means sometimes we will choose badly and that will always have consequences. Some of the negative consequences will impact us—but some will impact others. We are responsible for our choices. When bad things happen, we have to recognize that God didn’t cause it—He allowed us to carry out our lives as we choose. There are often wider issues involved. If someone is starving through no fault of his own, each person who doesn’t feed the hungry holds some responsibility for that person’s hunger. If a child is victimized by a person with a mental illness, we hold a responsibility to care for those with mental illness.
In other words, God doesn’t cause bad things—we often cause them through the choices we make. We need to be careful to place blame where it belongs. If we want less suffering in the world, we have to do something about it.
Some tragedies are the result of the natural laws of the universe. Storms will happen and floods will occur. Fred Rogers, the late children’s television program host and an ordained minister, said that he was often upset by tragedies as a child. His mother would tell him to look for the helpers, because there were always helpers. While the tragedies are terrible to go through, many people are touched and changed forever by the helpers who emerge in these situations—the people who show up after the hurricane to help complete strangers clear their homes of debris, the strangers who stop at a car accident, and the loving neighbors who bring in food after a death.
God can’t stop every trial. We don’t know why He stops some and does not stop others. He understands the greater picture in a way we cannot. We often don’t see what God really did in a situation. In Philadelphia, a child who had been kidnapped was left, cold and frightened, in a park in the very earliest hours of the morning. She was found by a good man headed to work, a man with a child just her age. He took care of her until the police were able to come. The tragedy of her abuse happened, but the helpers were there and will continue to be there to help her through it. God must have planned hard to have a kind and loving young father get the right job, live in the right neighborhood, and have to walk to work at such an early hour so he would be in the right place at the right time—before another evil person found her. Others made decisions that led to her suffering, but God sent in a helper when she was set free—and perhaps He also arranged for her to be set free because he knew something about her future. Elizabeth Smart, a Mormon who was kidnapped and repeatedly abused for six months as a young teenager, is today a happy adult who works hard to help other children and their families who have experienced similar situations. God didn’t plan her kidnapping, but he arranged for her to survive it, knowing she would put her trials to good use in the future and be able to help others.
God does not want us to suffer, but sometimes he has to allow suffering. It is up to us to find good in the trials. It is also our responsibility to step in and help others through them. When we help others, we deliver God message that He is aware of our needs and wants to send someone to help ease the pain.
Even Jesus, God’s own Son, suffered terrible trials and God did not step in to stop them. Without question, His heart was broken by His Son’s suffering, brought about by the sins of others, as He is by ours, but He understands certain things we do not. He can see the eternal perspective we don’t have. When the Savior suffered, it was essential that it happen so everyone else could be saved. When we suffer, there may be a lesson that can be drawn from it to help us grow and to encourage us to help take care of each other. “Love one another” can solve many of the world’s trials.
Listen to two Mormon scholars discuss this topic in detail: