All of us struggle at times to understand why seemingly bad things happen to good people, and why God allows some awful things to happen, especially when we pray with great energy and faith to the contrary.
The usual explanations of why bad things might happen don’t seem to apply to most of my experiences. Let me see if I can list some of rationalizations we use to explain bad things.
- God gave us a trial to teach us something important.
- We did something wrong and are being punished by God.
- Random accidents, human error, acts of nature, and other “larger than ourselves” forces create trials.
- Acts of others using their agency wrongly cause trails for the innocent.
- We made bad choices and God is nudging us back onto the path.
There is also a list of things we tell ourselves to make bad things feel better:
- Trials help us learn patience.
- Trials seem to proceed blessings.
- Trials shape us and prepare us for greater things.
- Trials teach us to find the good in all things.
- Trials result in exaltation if we are humble and teachable
Then there are the catch all reasons:
- Life is by nature hard.
- We were sent here to experience pain and suffering.
- We don’t understand why, but it is God’s will.
I acknowledge that each of these points may be true at some time, but they still doesn’t answer the question of why it is loving and just that these things happen at all.
I believe there is a greater reason why bad things happen to good people. It is because we, ourselves agreed to these things before we were born.
Even more than explaining trials and why they occur, factoring in our pre-mortal consent leaves us with a sense of God’s love and justice. He loves us enough to show us our lives before we are born, and then let us make inspired decisions about how we will reach our own goals. I believe that we happily agreed to the course of our lives, and God granted that it would be so. In fact, we “shouted for joy” when we at last understood mortality. It’s not likely we saw every happening, but I do believe we reviewed the major events, the defining moments. We were able to do this because we were in the presence of God, and He knew (and knows) all things about our future lives. I rather doubt we could see the outcome of every choice we made then, but He undoubtedly could, and we trusted Him implicitly to chart these harsh events which bring us to everlasting blessings.
Elder Maxwell taught: “Our premortal choices were made earlier. Our consent was given-in the first estate-concerning our second estate. This being so, enduring well becomes not only a prime quality but also a reasonable requirement. It calls for shoulder squaring and not shoulder shrugging.” (Neal A Maxwell, “Not My Will, But Thine”, p. 125.)
I also believe that we chose our parents, our children, our spouse and other major players in our upcoming mortal lives. I also believe we agreed to be major players in other people’s lives, and made covenants with them to that effect. In some cases we agreed to play devil’s advocate for them – of this I’m convinced. One of the reasons I believe we live with a veil over our minds in mortality is so that we won’t remember who we were before birth, or what we agreed to put ourselves through in order to triumph in the end. Knowing such things would render faith impossible. In this life we agreed to walk by faith – including faith that fairness, justice and love truly are why God lets our lives progress as they do.
This line of reasoning honors the inviolate nature of agency. God cannot force us to become like Him, either by assigning us trials by His choice alone, or by standing by and allowing random events to shape us without regard to our faith in Him and our prayers to the contrary. That would be dropping someone into a meat grinder with the full understanding that they would be changed against their will into hamburger – and calling it just, loving and compliant with agency.
In this world our lives are shaped by our own will. We choose every step we take, and we plot the course of our lives as fully as we can see with mortal eyes. We pray for inspiration, and having received it, we aim our lives at eternal goals and eternal rewards, sacrificing and consecrating ourselves to that path we best understand will take us to these greater things. This is how God deals with us now, and it stands the test of the unchanging nature of God, that our former lives were exactly this way as well.
We know enough of what happens beyond death to make informed choices here and now, that will sculpt our future life. We even know the laws by which most rewards are governed. If we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, then we are also making choices that shape our future lives in ways that can only be to our everlasting reward. Our premortal life had to have been very similar because even though we change, God does not.
This is the grand evidence of the love and justice of God which is not dimmed by human tears – that we ourselves chose our own path, and we, not God, placed these obstacles in our mortal path because, after seeking divine parental guidance, we determined that this path best blessed our yet-future mortal selves, and those whom we loved. This also makes it just of God to let hard events play through, because we chose them as tools to shape our souls. When we pray with the limited understanding of mortals to escape such trials, I believe God honors the much wiser choices we made while our eyes were viewing eternal vistas.
© February 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.