We have all been in sacrament meetings where we heard this: “I am thankful for the trials that I have been given and what they have helped me learn.”
It is a good sentiment. Acknowledging that our trials make us better people is an important step towards spiritual maturity. But I get concerned when I hear people imply that they have been given their trials, as if God somehow caused bad things to happen to them so that they can learn more.
Maybe we are not consciously thinking this, but I believe that for some people there is an unspoken belief that God gives us trials through his own actions, that somehow his will is to make us hurt.
I do not believe that is true.
We live in a fallen world. Bad things happen. Decay, death, and destruction are commonplace. All of the problems we face are because of a fallen world, not because of God’s intervention to make life harder.
When the universe started, all the subatomic particles were set in motion. Eventually all that we see formed, but it ended up in a less than perfect state, what Mormon theology generally refers to as fallen. Basically, the implication is that the world that we see now is not a perfect world. Whereas God lives eternally in perfection, we are still striving to become that.
When a typhoon hits, this is a result of our imperfect world. Did God make a typhoon go and kill people? No, that is ridiculous. The typhoon would have happened anyways due to the complex actions of our natural world. God allows it to happen so that his children can grow.
Does God make a person go murder somebody else because he wants a family to have a trial? No of course not. God did not make the Romans kill Jesus, or the Illinois mob to kill Joseph Smith. Those things would have happened anyways, and God makes the best of it.
I am not saying that God is inactive in our lives. I believe that he steps in to make miracles happen for our benefit. Whenever God steps in to protect or bless us, that is a miracle. That is the operation of God in our lives.
But I do not feel like he steps into my life to make things harder. That is not a loving God. A loving God is one who knows that bad things will happen, but will be there for his children when they do.
Now I am not just making this up. Through some research I have found what seems to be four types of afflictions that come about because we live in a fallen world. At the end of this post I will share some links to my sources. Here are the categories that our trials fall into:
- Our own poor choices. Much of the problems that we face in life come about because we make poor decisions. Often times, these are not necessarily decisions that jeopardize our eternal salvation, but are rather just poor decisions in our earthly life. An example of this would be buying a home that is too expensive for your budget.
- Sin. Willfully disobeying God’s commandments can lead to trials. The commandments are warning signs. They tell us what our choices are and what the consequences of those choices may be. If we choose the incorrect path, we may suffer because of it.
- The poor choices of others. This is also common. In our world there are people that lie, backbite, deceive, kill, rape, steal, and many other terrible things. If this happens to you, did God make it happen? No. God will not infringe upon the ability for anybody to choose. He will not make somebody disobey his commandments to give you a trial. People just choose poorly.
- Afflictions that come from living in a fallen world. Natural disasters, disease, accidents… these come about because we live in an imperfect world. Things decay, sometimes the world stops working. But I do not believe that God decides to give a person cancer or create a wildfire. I believe that he knows that these things will happen, and provides ways for us to learn.
Maybe that is not all, but none of the talks and scriptures that I read seemed to give the impression that God gives us trials, rather that he takes the opportunity to teach us.
What he does do is give us the ability to overcome our trials and be healed. That opportunity is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ atoned for us, he took upon us all of our pain and weaknesses so that we would not have to deal with them alone. He knows what we feel, and if we turn to him he will offer a way for us to better ourselves through our trials. That was provided to us by a loving God.
I do not profess to know everything, but what I described feels more correct to me. I am thankful for my trials, but I am also thankful that God has provided a way out of them.
We need to make sure to be more careful when we talk about our afflictions. Assigning them to the actions of God may seem reasonable, but it can also lead to people blaming God when bad things do happen. And that is something that needs to stop.