One of the most often asked questions in this world about God is this: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” It’s a question that has been with us as far back as the Old Testament.
After the children of Israel had made it to the Promised Land they still continued in their worship of false gods. A people called the Midianites came up against the tribes of Israel and caused them great misery. For a period of seven long years they would come like locusts at harvest time into the Israelites’ lands and carry away all of the crops of grain. The people were starving, and they cried to the Lord (Judges 6:1).
A mighty Israelite leader named Gideon was threshing wheat in a secret place when an incredible event occurred. A messenger from God appeared.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
“And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hand of the Midianites.
“And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hands of the Midianites; have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:11-14).
Gideon couldn’t comprehend the calming words of the angel declaring that the Lord was with him when all around him people were suffering. He asked the age-old question about God. “If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?”
Sometimes we ponder in our hearts similar questions as we feel the calming words of God and read the promises of the Lord to the faithful but all around us there are trials and pain. We demand an accounting from God when things are going badly in our lives, but we seldom demand an accounting from God for all of the good things that happen.
Psalm 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
If we are to follow the pattern of the living God throughout scripture, we must admit that adversity is not an unfamiliar guide. If this life is a school of learning, and adversity one of the greatest teachers, we can all plan on spending some time with this particular instructor.
C. S. Lewis 1898-1963 provided incredible insight into the ability of pain to bring us closer to God: “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain, 1940, Chapter 6).
President James E. Faust (1920-2007) of the First Presidency said, “Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. … For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process” (Ensign, May 1979, p. 54).
One of the hardest parts of an enduring trial is avoiding the temptation of comparing our lives to those of others. In the midst of adversity it can seem that only we are suffering. Everyone else is going along their merry way, being blessed by God and enjoying life. Bitterness and envy can soon come knocking, so we must be cautious.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is — downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012, pp. 31–32).
For some people, adversity can also create such bitterness that they want to have nothing to do with God. They are done with a God that can allow such suffering. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign, November 2012, p. 40).
Surviving a trial successfully has everything to do with trust. Do we truly believe that God is doing what is best for us even if the world around us is falling apart? “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency said, “There may be some among you who feel darkness encroaching upon you. You may feel burdened by worry, fear, or doubt. To you and to all of us, I repeat a wonderful and certain truth: God’s light is real. It is available to all! It gives life to all things. It has the power to soften the sting of the deepest wound. It can be a healing balm for the loneliness and sickness of our souls. In the furrows of despair, it can plant the seeds of a brighter hope. It can enlighten the deepest valleys of sorrow. It can illuminate the path before us and lead us through the darkest night into the promise of a new dawn” (“The Hope of God’s Light,” Ensign, May 2013, p. 75).