Some people question how there can be a God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world. This comes from not really understanding how God’s plan work. God did not create evil, but He has to let it exist. Why is that?
From the moment God created our spirits, He gave us agency—the right to choose for ourselves. We had it before we were born and we have it today on Earth. We can choose how we want to behave, but we can’t control the consequences of our decisions; nor can we control who else is affected.
If God took that away from us, we would be nothing more than puppets, which is how Satan wanted the world to run—everything controlled and operated according to a carefully scripted plan so we couldn’t make mistakes or hurt anyone else, or even ourselves. This might sound good in theory, but we know from governmental experiments that people just aren’t meant to live in such a regimented way, and this would be even worse.
However, if we have agency, which is a great gift, we also have to permit it in others. Sometimes, that isn’t as pleasant as having it for ourselves, and sometimes it’s even terrible. But there is no way for me to have it unless you have it also.
We can’t eliminate all suffering in the world. Some suffering comes from natural consequences—we get hurt, feel sad, or have things go badly. Often it isn’t anyone’s fault—it just is the way life works out. Some comes from our own poor choices, and some suffering comes from the poor or even evil choices of others.
God can’t take away our agency. He gave it to us as a gift and it is an essential part of our purpose for living. He can help us through the trials, though.
The Book of Mormon tells of a prophet named Jacob. Jacob had, by any standards, a challenging life. His family was homeless when he was born. The father, a prophet, had been instructed to flee their home and life of wealth because of danger to the father’s life. They had traveled in the wilderness many years and then traveled by ship to what is today the Americas. His two oldest brothers were rebellious, abusive, and later, even willing to kill family members who didn’t do what they wanted. He had seen two more of his brothers persecuted and attacked by these oldest brothers. They had finally settled in a new land, with all the challenges that creates. As his father was dying, before he was even grown up, his father placed him in the care of Nephi, one of his righteous older brothers who had been chosen by God to be the next prophet.
In his last conversation with young Jacob, Lehi explained the role of trials, of which Jacob had endured more than his fair share, in our lives. He taught his son that although we are taught right from long, we can’t be saved or justified through the law. Salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.
6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
However, even though obedience to the commandments can’t save us, we do have to obey the commandments. We will be judged accordingly someday—this is in the Bible as well. Lehi then explained that all of this plays into why there is evil and suffering in the world.
Lehi said that there has to be opposition in all things (just like the science law about every action having an equal and opposite reaction) and that this means there has to be sadness to enjoy, appreciate, or even recognize sadness. There is no righteousness unless sin is possible.
“13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
Lehi said this was why, in the otherwise stress-free Garden of Eden, God placed one single temptation. It gave meaning to the perfection, and of course, the tree was essential if need for trials and experiences were going to happen. God allowed Satan to exist and to tempt us, because otherwise, there would be no purpose in life. We are here, in part, to be tested and tried. We can’t learn to resist temptation if none exists. There is no agency unless there are choices.
Having choices mean that sometimes things won’t go well. Others will do things that cause suffering and sometimes, we ourselves make choices that cause suffering. It is important to remember that when we suffer for the sins of others or simply because of the way life is, that these trials are for this life only. When we die, God will take care of it all and we won’t need to suffer again. In addition, He has taught that the suffering of victims will serve as a testimony against the sinner, who will presented to God after his own death to face the penalties called for by the sins and for the suffering he caused others. When a child dies at someone’s hand, the suffering ends with death and the child lives in glory forever. (Mormons don’t believe young children are capable of sin and will live with God automatically when they die.) In the meantime, the child’s suffering will be held up as proof of the attacker’s wickedness and he will be punished by God after he dies.
God loves us and watches over us. He can’t stop all evil or suffering because He promised never to rob us of our agency. However, He does stand by, ready to help us through them and He will ensure justice happens in the end. If we share our faith with others, we can help bring a stop to evil in the world by converting those who would otherwise be evil forever. We can step in to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and educate the uneducated. We can make sure our own children are raised well. There is a great deal we can do, with God’s help, to alleviate suffering and evil in our world.