Why would God allow this to happen?
Life is full of hardship. All of us face various challenges that are unique to us. Some of them so overwhelming that they tax us to our greatest limit. Some mountains may look like mole hills to another, but many of them are mountains to us all. There is suffering throughout the entire world. Some tragedies affect many, but more often they affect only a small group. Sometimes they hurt only one. Why does God allow it? Why does God allow people to suffer? Doesn't it stand to reason that if there was a God that He would step in to stop it?
A common remark I have heard in the wake of any tragedy is "Well if I was God I would have stopped it!" Many people assume that because God did not stop a tragedy from happening, that He must not exist. If He does exist than He must not care. But this is not the case. There is a reason that He does not step in to stop tragedy.
This article looks at this question according to the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints using both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.
Tragedy comes in many forms. On rare occasion it comes from our own actions and choices, but more often than not tragedy comes into our lives because of the actions of someone or something else. Often times it is for no apparent reason at all when we are least expecting it.
One of the greatest tragedies of all
Probably one of the greatest tragedies we could face in life is the loss of a loved one. It is especially hard when someone is taken from us unexpectedly. There is no one that can understand that pain. Another person may understand it better if they have gone through it themselves, but it's never the same. Each life is unique, and brings a needed light into ours in one form or another. And to have them taken from us can often seem unfair. In all reality, it is unfair. Latter-day Saints are no exception from this pain. We mourn, we grieve, and sometimes we break. So why would God allow someone to be taken from us when we needed them so?
To answer this question properly we need to back up a little. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, birth was not a beginning, but a step forward. We existed before we ever came to this earth. We had a loving Father in Heaven that needed to send us here so that we could learn and grow. He knew it would be hard, painful, and at times, full of sorrow, but he knew that it would be worth it. And when we leave this life we are not going somewhere unknown. Our Father in Heaven is bringing us back home. Our Father in Heaven is happy when we are happy and is grieved when we are grieved, and you can be guaranteed that He misses His children when they are away.
We are returning home to a bigger family than we have ever known here. There are more friends on the other side of this life cheering us on than we have ever realized. And though death may separate us from our loved ones for a time, it is not forever. Latter-day Saints believe that families can be sealed together for time and all eternity. Your spouse, your children, and even your parents are meant to be a family after this life. So while those of use who are left behind may mourn, and we may be lonely, we know that it is only for a time and that we will be together again. We believe that God has provided a way for the righteous to be sealed together as a family even if they have already passed on.
Loss of a loved one is never easy, but understanding that this separation is only temporary, and that we will see them again helps with some of the sting.
Tragedies caused by the actions of others
Some tragedies come into our life from the choices or events of another person. Sometimes these events are unintentional, but often many of the worst of these actions are done on purpose. There are people in this world who believe that their actions have very little consequence. For one reason or another they believe that they can satisfy some internal desire or that they are justified in being unjust. We read in the news more and more often where someone has abused, harmed, or destroyed another. And for every one of those stories there are many who suffer alone in silence.
So why would God allow these people to commit such acts that bring about so much sorrow?
The answer is more complex than simple. However, one of the reasons that people are allowed to act in such a way is because God must be just. Those who would commit evil acts in life must be allowed to do them in order to be judged by them. This certainly unfair to those who have to suffer, but God, knowing this would happen, provided something that in the end would not just to make it fair and even the balance, but something that would entirely consume it. This is the Atonement of Christ.
God must be just
When the time comes that the work on the earth is complete, all of mankind will have to account for their time on earth. In most religions, including LDS belief, this is known as the Final Judgment. In Mormon doctrine a man is not saved by faith alone. If this was the case than the most wicked of men could gain the same entry into Heaven as the righteous. What happens after this life is much more complex than a simple Heaven or Hell. Because of the varying degrees of righteousness and faith of mankind there has to be more than this. While mankind may be initially divided into these two states before the Final Judgment, after the Final Judgment mankind will be separated into one of three separate kingdoms. Those who intentionally took away the life of another will receive the lowest kingdom. Those that abused children would also fall into this category. Of the latter it is said that "it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." While this lowest kingdom is considered a kingdom, it is still referred to as Hell in the scriptures. Those who obtain this kingdom can no longer progress (meaning they are damned; or literally stopped).
To understand this better, let me ask you a simple question. Would it be fair to judge you on the sin that you could not commit?
It would be unjust of God to condemn a person for an act they could not do. Even if the intent of the heart was there, would it be fair? How many of us have been quick to anger, but before we could do anything rash took the time to calm down? If God stopped such tragedies, then those who would commit them would receive a greater reward than they deserve. On the same hand, if God judged us by the intent of our heart then we would all be condemned for that which we never would have followed through on. The only way for Christ to be a fair judge over those would cause such grief is to allow them to cause the grief, even if it means that it is not fair to those who suffer. Knowing that this would happen, God prepared the Atonement to not only pay for the sins of mankind, but to overcome and swallow all of the grief and tragedy and unfairness that we would have to suffer through. That, when the work of the earth was complete, the infinite Atonement would overcome all of it.
God must be merciful
In the same token, God must also be merciful. God cannot step in to stop tragedies from happening and give us the same mercy that He could have if he allowed the tragedy to occur. Imagine a world were there is no murder. No children are hurt because of another, and no one was ever taken from life until they had reached their old age. A world, where every time that a person had it in their heart to harm another, they were stopped. A place where the tsunamis never landed on shore because the raging waves just couldn’t pass the shore line. It would be a beautiful world, but also a world in which faith was no longer needed to believe in God. We would know that something was there, stopping the tragedy. And in such a world, those of us who broke the commandments of God, or who outright rebelled at one point in our life, would do so with a great deal of confidence that there was a God, and that what we were doing was wrong. In turn, we would have to be held more accountable for those actions. Because "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Or as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants, "for of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation."
This is one of the reasons why miracles happen after faith has been proven, and not the other way around. For the same reason, Christ cannot appear to mankind and offer them the same mercy afterwards if they break the commandments. This is why He calls prophets. Until the day of His coming, when He will come in great glory and the wicked are removed from the earth, He will call a prophet to speak for Him, giving mankind the chance to repent.
Tragedies caused by nature
Tragedies don’t have to come from another person. Sometimes nature is responsible for tragedy as well. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent. Some of these cost more lives or damage than we can precisely count. The Bible tells us that in the last days these would increase before the Second Coming of Christ. But why would God allow these natural disasters to happen?
Latter-day saints believe that God is a God of order. In contrast to the idea that God created the earth from nothing, Latter-day saints believe the earth was organized from existing materials according to natural laws. The earth still obeys those natural laws. It will shake and shudder, move and quake according to its nature. We believe that God can override those natural laws, creating miracles, but that He does so according to the faith of the people in Him and His power, for the same reasons discussed above. Do we, as a whole, have that type of faith?
Until that time, the earth will follow its natural course. This means that disasters will happen. Seas will overflow their bounds, the ground will shake, the winds will blow, and the righteous, the wicked, and the innocent will be caught in the wake. Some of us, and some of our loved ones will have to return home to our Father earlier than we planned.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ
Yet through all of this tragedy and disaster, God has provided a counterbalance. The Atonement of Christ not only rights the wrongs to us and our loved ones, it's infinite power consumes them far beyond the mark. Latter-day saints believe that Christ suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross not just for the sins of mankind, but for all the tragedy, sorrow, and pain that each and every one of us would have to suffer through. This means that Christ has experienced your pain, and understands your sorrow. It's what allows Him to be a fair and merciful judge. It's what saves the innocent children who have done nothing wrong, and allows us to repent when we ourselves do something wrong without that full knowledge. And it is this Atonement that allows us to be with those who have already gone before us. It is this Atonement that will heal and make up for all the abuse and unkindness and horror that we have suffered. Our suffering is incredibly great, but the Atonement is infinite.
In the words of Quentin L. Cook:
"Think of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane during the Atonement process, suffering agony so great that He bled from every pore. His cry to His Father included the word Abba. This might be interpreted as the cry of a son who is in distress to his father: 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.' I testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all of the trials and hardships that any of us will encounter in this life. At times when we may feel to say, 'Hope you know, I had a hard time,' we can be assured that He is there and we are safe in His loving arms."