Making Sense of Suffering and Sorrow

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Making Sense of Suffering and Sorrow" in the book The Fortunate Fall.)

An example of one of the many descriptions and cautions the Lord has given concerning the calamities of nature is found in His counsel to early Latter-day Saints: “How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!” (D&C 43:25; see also 88:90).

In the Gospel of Luke we read of the Savior’s invitation to a group of Jews to reconsider their apparent argument that God had allowed a group of Galileans (whom they despised) to be killed by the Romans because of the Galileans’ unrighteousness: “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?” The Savior’s answer to His own question is revealing: “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2–3). The Savior continued by reminding them of a group of their own people (Jews) who had also suffered a terrible tragedy but not because of sin: “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5). It is both interesting and even a little ironic to note that while the Savior is teaching this group of Jews that not all death and tragedy are connected to sin, He reminds them that if they do not repent, they “shall all likewise perish.”

Because the Lord and His servants have taught that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), we can conclude that tragedy, whether personal or global, isn’t always connected to the sinfulness or the righteousness of the people. President Boyd K. Packer has taught, “The idea that all suffering is somehow the direct result of sin has been taught since ancient times. It is false doctrine.” We can also conclude that while scientific principles are certainly a part of explaining what has happened, we must look to revelation to understand why.

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