I have often been asked, “If God really exists, and He is really as great as the scriptures say, why does He let so many good people suffer and so many bad people succeed?” It’s a good question. The scriptures seem to make it so simple: If you keep God’s commandments, you’ll be blessed; if you break God’s commandments, you’ll be punished. Why, then, does this not seem to hold true when you look around the world?
There are a number of answers to this question. None of them make the pain and suffering any less real, but they do help us understand why a just and loving God allows pain and suffering to happen.
The first important thing to understand is why God has put us here in the first place. We learn from the scriptures and modern revelation that we are here to learn and grow. The purpose of our lives is to one day become perfect like our Heavenly Father and return to live with Him (see Abr. 3:22-23, Moses 1:39).
In order for us to accomplish this purpose, God gave us agency, or the freedom to choose. When we use that agency to do good, we grow closer to God and become more like Him, bit by bit. When we use our agency to do bad, we have to face the consequences of those bad choices. Learning from our own choices is one of the main ways we grow and develop.
At some point in all of our lives, even when we’re choosing to do good, bad things happen to us. Sometimes these bad things are the result of someone else using their agency poorly. Other times they are simply the result of accidents or natural disasters. No matter how they come, these trials are an essential part of our mortal existence. They stretch us and help us to grow.
Spencer W. Kimball, a latter-day prophet and previous president of the LDS church, taught, “If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil — all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency.”
So what is the bottom line? God loves us and wants us to grow and develop so that we can one day become like Him. In order to accomplish this, we need to exercise our agency (freedom to choose) and go through trials. When and how our trials come is partially up to us and partially up to God, but whenever they come, we can rest assured that our Heavenly Father knows about them and will help us learn from them and overcome them.