For any new readers, or for those of you whose memories are as short as mine, a couple weeks ago I wrote a post introducing a discussion on why bad things happen to good people. In that post I divided the causes of our woes into three exhaustive categories. The first category is our own actions.
This may be dissatisfying to some people for a few reasons. First, if the “bad things” are due to our own actions, doesn’t that imply that we’re not necessarily “good” people? Second, when bad things happen to us, it seems like, even more than usual, we do everything we can to find a way to blame someone other than ourselves. However, even though this answer may be dissatisfying, this category still makes up a rather large piece of this puzzle, so I think it is still important to address.
The Book of Mormon is full of discussions about choices and our ability to choose for ourselves (see here, here, here, and here). Contrary to popular belief, Mormon theology is probably more centered around our ability and right to make choices for ourselves than it is around any other topic, aside from Christ’s sacrifice for us (which, non-coincidentally, is the event that gives us the ability to choose). This topic is so important to us, we coined a term for it: moral agency. The name is key to understanding this category of causes of our woes.
Essentially, we believe we need the ability to choose in order to fulfill our purpose in this life, which is to learn and become as much like God as we possibly can. How do we do this? By making both good and bad choices, then learning from them so that each time we’re presented with a choice we’re more likely to pick the good one. Who determines which choices are good and which are bad? Well, God does, but we can too. When Adam and Eve ate that fruit, they were given the knowledge they needed in order to know good from evil. We have all inherited that knowledge. Some refer to it as conscience, others refer to it as guilt. I think every culture has a word that describes the feeling we get in our gut that tells us which choice is good and which is bad.
Now, what does this have to do with bad things happening to good people? Well, sometimes good people make mistakes. Sometimes we make the wrong choices, and our choices have consequences. But why can’t God just make those consequences go away? Well, because if he did that, how would we ever learn? And if we couldn’t ever learn from our choices, then what would be the point of this life? It would be a total waste, like taking a class at school and just surfing the internet or listening to podcasts the whole time.
So, even though God probably hates watching us suffer through really hard times, He knows it is best for us to do so, because without those consequences for our actions we’d keep making the wrong choices and never reach our divine potential. But that doesn’t mean He leaves us comfortless. He is always available to us through prayer, and, more importantly, He sent His son to suffer all our pains and sorrows. Most of Christianity focuses only on Christ’s death on the cross as his sacrifice for us, but in the Mormon church we also focus on his suffering before he gave his life, where he “suffered all of our pains, afflictions, and temptations” so he could understand us and help us when the going gets tough. So even when the bad things in your life are due to your own actions, remember that he felt your pain and is there when you need him.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30