The plan of salvation is very simple and, for the most part, easy to understand. We know that when we make mistakes we must suffer the negative consequences, and that is understandable and fair. But when terrible things happen to good and innocent people, it can be difficult to understand why God does not intervene. I have studied long and thoroughly for answers and have found the following:
Doctrine and Covenants 88:87-91 talks about the terribles calamaties that will happen in the Last Days, which we see all around us now. President Joseph Fielding Smith said concerning this:
“It is not the will of the Lord that there should come upon the people disaster, trouble, calamity, and depression, . . . but because man himself will violate the commandments of God and will not walk in righteousness, the Lord permits all of these evils to come upon him. . . .
“The Lord has made the declaration in our own day that it was his good pleasure to give to men the fulness of the earth, and the Lord is pleased to have them use it, and he would pour out upon them his blessings in abundance if they would only hearken and be obedient to the laws which he has given them for their guidance. But, men are rebellious; they are not willing to live in that law and profit thereby; they are not willing to receive the good things of the earth as the Lord would give to them in abundance; but in their narrow-mindedness, shortsightedness, and in their greed and selfishness, they think they know better than the Lord does. And so, they pursue another course, and the result is that the blessings of the Lord are withdrawn, and in the place thereof come calamity, destruction, plagues, and violence. Men have themselves to blame.”
Heavenly Father respects one of the greatest gifts and laws of eternity, that of agency. We are able to choose what we do, and with those choices come consequences that not only affect us but also others. If God were to always intervene, He would be taking away our agency--which is what Satan wanted to do--and the consequences of our actions, which also serve purposes.
President Kimball affirms the importance of agency:
“We find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored. … But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. …
“Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood.” (See also 2 Nephi 2:10-12)
When Alma and Amulek were preaching the gospel in Ammonihah, the wicked people there gathered all the wives and children of the believers, cast them into a fire, and forced Alma and Amulek to watch.
“And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
“But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day” (Alma 14:10-11).
If Alma and Amulek had stopped the people from burning the innocent, there would have been no testimony against them (see also Alma 60:13, D&C 103:3). Heavenly Father is always fair and it would not be fair to punish people for something they did not do even if their intentions were to do it. Although we are judged on our thoughts (Mosiah 4:30), the punishment for realizing our thoughts is greater. Therefore, it had to be done so “the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them.”
[Justice and judgment are often described in legal terms in the scriptures because God works much in the same way as a court of law (ex: law of witnesses, bar of God, trial of faith, records of our lives taken in heaven from which we will be judged, and so on).]
The most understood reason for affliction is to sanctify us (D&C 101:4-5, 122:5-7). To sanctify is to make holy, and only those who are holy and clean can live with God (3 Nephi 27:19). Therefore, God gives us trials to refine us and make us worthy to live with Him, which is His work and glory (Moses 1:39).
The Doctrine and Covenants Institute manual summarized chastening (or passing through trials) as thus:
“The scriptures teach the following about chastening:
1. Chastening is a cleansing process (see D&C 90:36 ).
2. Chastening may lead to forgiveness of sins (see D&C 95:1 ).
3. Chastening teaches us obedience (see D&C 105:6 ).
4. Chastening refines us as pure gold (see Job 23:10 ).” (See also Zechariah 13:9, 1 Nephi 20:10)
Other Related Points
- Good things happen to bad people for all the same reasons. But in the end, the righteous will be rewarded for their righteousness and the wicked will be punished for their wickedness (2 Nephi 9:15-18, Alma 41:12-15).
- Sometimes our trials are a result of our own wickedness and the Lord chastens us to humble us and motivate us to change (D&C 97:6-7, Doctrine and Covenants Institute manual).
- Along with respecting agency, Heavenly Father follows the laws of nature. For example, if a person is trapped outside in freezing temperatures, the laws of nature will prevent that person from surviving.
- Sometimes God does intervene for special purposes, such as to answer the prayers of the righteous (Alma 10:23, Alma 62:40), to perform a miracle, or to preserve someone who still has work to do on this earth (D&C 122:9).
Even knowing these truths does not automatically eliminate the sorrow we may feel when we experience or witness horrific things happening to good people. But there are things we can do to overcome it. We must remember that Christ suffered the same terrible things and is not asking us to endure anything He hasn't gone through Himself (D&C 19:16-19, D&C 122:8, Alma 7:11-13). We must also remember that Heavenly Father is merciful and loving and does not enjoy seeing us experience pain and despair although He knows they are necessary any more than we enjoy seeing our children undergo a painful medical procedure although we know it is necessary to save them.
During these times, the Savior wishes for us to come to Him and lay our burdens at His feet. He wants us to ask for His help and find peace, comfort, and hope through His Atonement. President Lee advised, “Don’t be afraid of the testing and trials of life. Sometimes when you are going through the most severe tests, you will be nearer to God than you have any idea, for like the experience of the Master himself in the temptation on the mount, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross at Calvary, the scriptures record, ‘And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.’ (Matthew 4:11) Sometimes that may happen to you in the midst of your trials.”
President Eyring, in his talk this last General Conference, told us to lay a foundation of unshakable faith to help us endure to the end. He gave these very encouraging words:
“I cannot promise an end to your adversity in this life. I cannot assure you that your trials will seem to you to be only for a moment. One of the characteristics of trials in life is that they seem to make clocks slow down and then appear almost to stop.
“There are reasons for that. Knowing those reasons may not give much comfort, but it can give you a feeling of patience. Those reasons come from this one fact: in Their perfect love for you, Heavenly Father and the Savior want you fitted to be with Them to live in families forever. Only those washed perfectly clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ can be there.
“If we have faith in Jesus Christ, the hardest as well as the easiest times in life can be a blessing. In all conditions, we can choose the right with the guidance of the Spirit. We have the gospel of Jesus Christ to shape and guide our lives if we choose it. And with prophets revealing to us our place in the plan of salvation, we can live with perfect hope and a feeling of peace. We never need to feel that we are alone or unloved in the Lord’s service because we never are. We can feel the love of God. The Savior has promised angels on our left and our right to bear us up. And He always keeps His word.”
Challenge: Have faith in the plan of salvation, find strength in the Atonement, and endure to the end.
For another discussion on trials, read the post "For God So Loved the World."