As long as people have believed in a benevolent God (in other words, from the days of Adam), they have also struggled to explain why there has to be so much suffering in the world. Some have suggested that all suffering is the result of sin. Others dismiss the whole concept of sin and say that everything is just obeying natural laws.
I’d say that both explanations have some truth in it. First, if we look around us it is easy to see how much humans cause each other to suffer. And almost always, the suffering could be avoided if people would look at the Ten Commandments as a serious attempt to moderate human relations – and obeyed them. And since sin is to break the commandments of God, yes, much suffering is caused by sin.
Then there is the kind of suffering that is caused by natural phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, etc. Can we consider them reminders from God of how fragile human life is, in order to make us think about the purpose of our life? Interestingly, in the Doctrine & Covenants we have a warning:
And after your testimony cometh wrath and indignation upon the people. For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes… (D&C 88:88-90)
To me that does not mean that people who fall victim to these are necessarily any less righteous than people whose homes are not destroyed in an earthquake. It means that we all have to take a good look at what we are doing. It means that we, as we partake the sacred emblems of the Atonement, make an honest assessment to ourselves as to where we stand.
Then there’s the school that says that the Devil is responsible for all suffering. I agree that he wants us to be miserable, but I think he trusts us to make ourselves miserable by worshiping idols of bricks and mortar, silicon and steel and doing all kinds of unseemly things because of our worship. He will insinuate his ideas to us, but we are responsible for acting them out.
Finally, I think we can all benefit from an understanding that God can turn everything to our good if we look to him for our support. To Jacob, Lehi said God would consecrate his affliction for his gain (2 Ne 2:20). The Lord told Israel through Isaiah that he had refined and chosen him in the furnace of affliction (Isa 48:10). How well I know it can feel so unempathetic to have someone tell you that it’s all for your own good when you really are suffering. I’ve been there, and it can be really, really hard. Having lived through, I can say that I have at least some idea of what “refiner’s fire” means.
Our duty is to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. If we can do anything to alleviate suffering, we must do it. We can’t do it all, but we can do something (remember, dare to dream small). And when we do, our abilities strengthen, sort of like muscles in a workout program. I struggle with my inability to make much of a difference, but I do what I can.
For now, this is my last guest post here. I have started my own blog, and I seeded it with a couple of posts from here (with permission, of course). In a couple of days I’ll have some fresh material there. Drop a line.