I teach the youth at church and yesterday one of my students asked me this question – I have some ideas but not much evidence to back up my thoughts, can you help? “If God really created and designed this world, would he not have made it perfect? Why then do we have natural disasters and suffering? Is God making this happen and making us suffer on purpose?”
This is a very common question.
Why does a benevolent God allow innocent people to suffer?
The short answer is: To determine if we are truly human. If you’re interested in what that actually means, read further.
I believe that this world with all its “imperfections” is indeed “perfectly suited” for the purpose for which God intended this world to be. How can that be? Let’s start with the purpose of mortal life. We’re to be tried and tested. How can we be tested if there are no tests or challenges in life? Additionally, we have to truly understand what it is we’re being tested for.
I can think of many a child whom I have cared for that declared,”I would always be a good boy/girl if (insert name of antagonist) didn’t make me so angry!” What do you think of that statement? Pretty childish, isn’t it? How about,”I’d always be happy if the world weren’t so depressing!” Not much different. And the truth is that this is really no different than,”I would always be happy if I weren’t so sad all the time.” Is it getting kind of ridiculous?
The truth is that these types of thought processes are no different than behaviors of animals. All forms of life can react to stimuli around them. We alone, among all of our Heavenly Father’s creations, have this unique ability to respond with knowledge and wisdom rather than instinct. We are not merely creatures of reflex that will always have the same reaction to the same stimuli.
So, what makes humans different?
And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment. Moses 6:56
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. 2 Nephi 2:26
We can choose for ourselves what our responses will be regardless of the stimuli. Hence, we are not acted upon like someone/something else is pushing our buttons like a computer. Instead, we act for ourselves. We have the ability to think whether the impulsive response is the appropriate one. We can choose to react as an animal would, or respond by the promptings of the Spirit.
Basically, we are being tested to see if we are truly human.
It is an observable truth that this world is filled with calamity, evil, dread, and things that make people downright depressed or even afraid of walking out the door each day. But the great secret about humanity is that we alone have the power to rise above it. And if we only focus on the calamities of this world, we will never be worthy of that precious jewel that is called “The Human Spirit.” It is mankind, alone that can be the cure for that calamity around us. That is the way Heavenly Father set it up. That’s why He created a world filled with so many dangers and sources of death and destruction.
If there is an earthquake, what is the immediate reaction from those outside the earthquake? Usually, it is a united call out to all who can help. And even in today’s world where evil runs rampant, the vast majority of people will respond to that call. Where can such good come from? It isn’t from animals or plants, or the earth. It is from children of God all around the world. And the truth is that that level of nobility is only allowed to truly shine when in the face of such horrific adversity.
Recently, there has been a fire in Northern California. It has been called one of the largest wildfires in history. Thousands lost their homes. Many died. It sure sounds like a tragedy. But what do we think of the firefighters who labored days on end to contain that fire? What do we think of the families, friends, and charities who have donated their time, talents, and means to render aid to those so harmed?
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
Is there any way to render service if there is no need? If there is great need, then great service can be rendered.
I’ve lived a great many years and have seen many calamities in my life. But within each calamity (whether natural or man-made) I’ve also seen the potential to see true humanity strengthened by the hand of the Lord to overcome them. And at times, I’ve been privileged to be a part of that humanity. The scriptures have a term for human beings. They’re called “Children of God.”