A couple of weeks ago, I had a wonderful discussion with some friends about why God lets bad things happen. This question was one that I came across a lot as a missionary. And one that holds a lot of people back from believing in God. Through my studies of the scriptures and words of the modern prophets, I have come to find there are many answers to this question, all of which surround one big truth–Jesus Christ is real.
So…God lets bad things happen because Jesus is real…
First, God has a plan, it’s called the plan of salvation, the plan of happiness, the plan of mercy. That plan is for you and me to come to this earth to gain a body and experience, both of which are crucial to our salvation. Here, we are to make choices based on what we know of right and wrong, and the consequences of those choices are essential to our learning good from evil. This is known as agency. Without agency, or the ability to choose, this life would be futile.
It is written that no “unclean thing [can] enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Nephi 15:34), unclean referring to anything that bears the stain of sin, even one single small sin. One mistake, one wrong choice, one little slip, and we would be unable to ever be in the presence of our maker. But of course, mankind is apt to sin. I remember after I was baptized when I was 8 and having been washed clean of sin, we were walking to the car and I punched my brother. Just like that, I became unclean. I didn’t make it one hour. However, a loving God, in order to make it possible for us to be able to make choices and not have those choices damn us, He provided a way for us to become clean again, which we know is called repentance. He lets bad things happen sometimes, so that we can come to know first hand that what we chose to do wasn’t good. Guilt can be a powerful tool to promote goodness.
But He also made it so that the consequences of our bad choices have a remedy too. I might be able to change my behavior, but I can’t change the scars I may leave on others due to bad behavior. But God made it so that the victims of bad choices had access to healing. He made it so when the natural, no-reason bad things happen, like accidents or illness or disabilities, we had access to strength. He made it so each of our weaknesses could be overcome. He made it so that the bad things of this world would never have to be permanent and so that we could endure and triump in the end.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe that in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind: and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:11-13). Jesus Christ offers the balance to the bad things that happen because He succeeded in His role as the Savior of the world.
God lets bad things happen because bad things are part of this mortal experience. God can’t zap everybody doing terrible things with lightening, although I often wish that sometimes he would (rapists and sex traffickers and kidnappers should all die instantly I think), but that’s not the big picture here.
Everyone is here to learn and to act as they will, even those vilest of sinners. The day of judgement will come for each of us, and for some, God does interfere in mortality. But until then, because of Jesus Christ, everyone, including the vilest, has a chance to change, to repent, to choose good over evil. “And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation” (2 Nephi 2:21). “Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatry, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye many receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel” (3 Nephi 30:2).
Everyone is here to overcome trials and hardships. It is essential, as awful as some of those trials and hardships may be. We each are given a lot to carry. One day, those will be gone, but until then, Christ offers us grace, comfort, and succor through His power gained through His atoning sacrifice. We read above in Alma 7 that His atonement makes Christ the only one who knows exactly how we feel, how hard what we face may be, and how to get through it because He has been through our every trial and infirmity as if He were us. His empathy is perfect. And so are His solutions and guidance.
God lets bad things happen because there is power wielded by Jesus Christ that we cannot even comprehend. Grace is “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ…[by which we] receive strength and assistance to do good works that [we] otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to [our] own means” (Bible Dictionary, “Grace”). Change from the darkest path is possible because of the grace of Jesus Christ. Overcoming insurmountable trials is possible because of the grace of Jesus Christ. Good can literally triump over bad because of the grace of Jesus Christ.
God lets bad things happen because Jesus Christ is the Master Healer. “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). Elder Richard G. Scott taught, “Complete healing will come through your faith in Jesus Christ and His power and capacity, through His Atonement, to heal the scars of that which is unjust and undeserved” (as qtd. in “The Master Healer” by Carol M. Stephens, October 2016, Ensign). My husband told me a story once told him by an institute teacher who attended the funeral of a little girl who had been raped and murdered. At the funeral, a general authority spoke and said, “One swipe of the Masters hand and this precious little girl can be healed from all the evil, the unjust, the terrifying.” Although I have no documented source for this story, the truth it teaches has changed my life. We can talk about the power of Jesus Christ and His atonement, but the ability our Savior holds to right every wrong, to bind up the broken-hearted, to heal the wounded goes so far beyond anything we can imagine. We are not destined to be victims eternally to the bad things that happen to us. “The Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane and His agony on the cross redeem us from sin by satisfying the demands that justice has upon us. He extends mercy and pardons those who repent. The Atonement of Jesus Christ also satisfies the debt justice owes to us by healing and compensating us for any suffering we innocently endure. ‘For behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam’ (2 Nephi 9:21; see also Alma 7:11–12)” (Elder D. Todd Christofferson). And healing doesn’t have to wait until after this life. The power of healing can have effect now if we seek Him and listen to what he tells us.
The power Jesus Christ can have in our lives can be increased as we do what He asks of us. He has taught us and shown us how to live so that we can avoid evil and escape the bad. This way is the gospel. Christ’s doctrine, His plan, His commandments cannot be separated from His power. He will teach us what to do to repent or to heal or to endure if we seek Him. “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:1-8).
God lets bad things happen because this earth life is not all there is. Our mortal life is but a blip in the eternities. It is for eternity that we are preparing for. God’s grand design is much bigger than what happens here. But what happens here does matter, in fact it is essential. And God wants us to succeed. He loves us. He knows bad things will happen. And because He is merciful, He has prepared a perfect solution. God lets bad things happen because Jesus Christ and His power and His Atonement and His gospel are real. His power to change hearts, to mold characters, to heal scars and wounds of the soul, to understand, and to lead us out of darkness are real. I have felt these as I have sought Him and to follow Him.