A young missionary serving in Germany some 50 years after World War II encountered an older man sweeping his steps one afternoon. After speaking of the restored gospel, the elderly German had a question. He explained something that had perplexed him some 50 years earlier during World War II: If there is a loving God in heaven, how could He allow to happen the horrible things he saw?
In response to his question, the missionaries bore testimony of the Savior and the power of the Atonement.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).
The old man continued to push his point that he had witnessed too much suffering. The Allies and the Axis were praying to the same God for victory and this just didn’t make sense in his mind. World War II was devastating to his country and a just God would have intervened. The missionaries shared Joseph Smith’s trials in Liberty Jail and the response the Lord gave His prophet.
Nephi’s explanation of opposition was appropriate as well. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).
Unfortunately, the man would not open his heart to the missionaries and truly listen to their message. He dismissed them and sent them on their way.
“There will be times when it appears there is no light at the end of our tunnel or no dawn to a night of darkness,” said President Thomas S. Monson. “We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’ We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism. We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone.”
To those in complete despair, President Monson reminds us that the Savior can lift us up. “Yes, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is our Exemplar and our strength. He is the light that shineth in darkness. He is the Good Shepherd. Though engaged in His majestic ministry, He embraced the opportunity to lift burdens, provide hope, mend bodies and restore life” (“Peace in Our Savior,” Ensign, June 2005, pp. 2–7).
While times are good, we may feel confident in the Lord’s light, favor and blessings. But what happens when the lights go out and the blessings seem taken away? Even with a solid testimony, activity in the Church and obedience to commandments, we may feel baffled when it seems the Lord has withdrawn His blessings. When Nephi was asked by the Spirit of God if he understood the condescension of God, he was confused as well, but he did know one thing for sure. “And I said unto him; I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17).
Even though we don’t know what God ultimately has in store for us in our lives, we do know some things for certain. We know He loves us. We know He has our best interests in mind. We know He is merciful. We know He wants us to return to live with Him. Perhaps the steep hill upon which we have been asked to travel is necessary for our growth or even our salvation. To endure the climb, we trust in the unseen guide that knows us better than we know ourselves. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Understanding God’s will for us has everything to do with our submission to His will. The ultimate submission to God’s will of any being to walk the earth was shown by Jesus Christ. He lived His life in total compliance to the commandments. He served others, sacrificed His time and blessed the lives of all He came in contact with. He touched no unclean thing and showed no interest in the world’s enticements. Of all people, He should have been excused from any pain or torment because of His perfect life. But when approaching the appointed time of His suffering in the garden, the Savior said, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
We must be humble and trust God. At times we might feel we have no control over our challenges and trials, but what we can control is our obedience to the Lord. All the answers might not come in this life, but they will come. President Henry B. Eyring said, “Although His time is not always our time, we can be sure that the Lord keeps His promises. For any of you who now feel that He is hard to reach, I testify that the day will come that we all will see Him face to face” (October 2012 general conference, “Where is the pavilion?”).