Mormon Beliefs on human tragedy

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When people face tragedies they sometimes ask themselves why. Some non-religious people may consider the existence of human tragedy as proof that God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about mankind. Religious people who have faith in God and include Him in the explanation of human events may try to explain the occurrence of tragedies in many different ways, sometimes by trying to distinguish between situations that are a consequence of human actions and situations in which God seems to have intervened more directly.

What does Mormonism have to say about human tragedy and its purpose in people's lives? There isn't any definitive official statement about this issue in the Mormon Church, but a lot can be said by analyzing the words of prophets, apostles, and other Mormon authors.

According to President Hugh B. Brown, "religious faith gives confidence that human tragedy is not a meaningless sport of physical forces. Life is not what Voltaire called it, 'a bad joke'; it is really a school of discipline whose author and teacher is God" (Conference Report, October 1969, Third Day—Morning Meeting, p. 107). In other words, human tragedy has a purpose in the eyes of God. It is a refining tool that helps men and women to improve their lives, even if this involves suffering.

The history of Mormonism is full of examples of suffering and tragedy that seem to contradict the belief of a religion that proclaims that "men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25). The Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, had to face many tragedies in his life and eventually was killed at the age of 38. Jesus Christ, the true head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was absolutely familiar with suffering, and He perfectly accepted it as part of His mission. Though He suffered more than any man who has ever lived, He knew perfectly of the existence and purpose of God. In contrast, Mankind cites human suffering as proof that there is no God.

So why do people need to suffer? Why are young, innocent children killed prematurely in car collisions? Or why could terrorists crash planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York? To understand these and countless similar events, it may be helpful to question whether God really caused the event or whether He merely allowed it to occur.

Mormons believe that God is omnipotent and that He has the power to control events in our lives, including eliminating all pain and preventing all accidents. However, it is clear that He doesn't do it all the time. Why?

Free Agency and the Three Stages of Life

Mormonism proclaims that one of the basic laws of the gospel is free agency, which fosters eternal development. If God were to force us to be careful and righteous all the time we wouldn't be able to learn and grow. Some people who live in this world cause a great deal of suffering. By allowing these men their free agency, God allows them to justify His condemnation of them, "that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (See Alma 14:8-11)

Another basic belief in Mormonism is that the plan of salvation, established by God the Father, includes three parts or stages. The first stage includes our pre-mortal lives as spirit children with our Heavenly Father (before we were born). The second stage is the one in which we are now, while we live on this earth, and the special purpose of this stage is to receive physical bodies and be tested. The final stage starts after we die and will include our resurrection and assignment to a kingdom of glory, based on our works here on the earth.

Mormons believe that although most people will receive a measure of glory and joy in the afterlife (the third stage), a fullness of joy and happiness is reserved for those who have obeyed God's commandments and have qualified for the highest degree of glory in the Kingdom of God. The Lord said: "for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full" (Doctrine and Covenants 101:36). We are now in the second stage, and we can't expect to be free from problems. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, "when we tear ourselves free from the entanglements of the world, are we promised a religion of repose or an Eden of ease? No! We are promised tears and trials and toil! But we are also promised final triumph, the mere contemplation of which tingles one's soul" (Conference Report, October 1974, 16).

In conclusion, Mormonism teaches that human tragedy and suffering are part of God's plan, something that we need to accept with patience and faith, a necessary schoolmaster that can teach us many important lessons. At the end, to know whether tragedies come in our lives because of natural forces, evil people, or our sins, is less important than the way we react to them. If we choose to learn from them and use them to get closer to God rather than complaining and rebelling, we will be better off when we finally meet our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ after our lives on this earth are through.

Learning Compassion

One of the major purposes of human tragedy, whether caused by natural forces or by accidents or man-made violence that God allows to occur, is to help mankind to learn compassion for each other. We can react to these events by rolling up our sleeves and helping as best we can, bearing "one another's burdens, that they may be light;...mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort." (See Mosiah 18:8,9) Mormons stand alongside many others who are moved with compassion and who seek to bring immediate and long-term help to those who are overwhelmed by tragic occurrences such as an earthquake, a hurricane or a tsunami. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sometimes called the "Jesus church" by those of other faiths in remote parts of the world as Mormon humanitarian aid reaches out to them.

Mormons believe that Christ's teaching about loving one another means that this is one of our primary purposes in mortality: to learn how to love each other. Many bridges of understanding and love are built after the devastation of a tragic event, as people come together in a spirit of compassion and rebuilding. Though the sorrow of loss of loved ones remains, an awakening of the power of Christ's love to heal hearts and find new beginnings can bring meaning and peace even in the face of great tragedies. The knowledge of the plan of salvation and life after death can also help to bring solace to those who mourn the loss of loved ones or of innocent children in a tragedy.