Tragedy has struck! Close to home and a half a world away.
On May 22, 2017 a suicide bomber attacked a crowded arena at the end of an Ariana Grande concert. The bomber killed 23 people and injured 119 others, nearly two dozen critically.
On June 3rd three men in a van careened into pedestrians on the London Bridge, continued on to Borough Market where they attacked more bystanders with weapons. At least seven people were killed and many more injured.
On May 26th in Portland, Oregon a man who was spewing hate speech at fellow passengers attacked three men with a knife who stood up for the women who were the target of his speech. Two of the men died while the other survived.
These are only a few of the many attacks that happen around the world every day. The question in everyone’s mind and repeated on many lips is: “Why?” Why do these people do these horrible things? What kind of belief system allows the murder of innocent people? And one of the most perplexing questions is: Why would a loving God allow these sorts of things to happen?
Why Does God Allow Evil To Happen?
In the Book of Mormon there is a story of two missionaries who were preaching in a city whose leaders did not believe the word of God. The missionaries names were Alma and Amulek. These two had not known each other very long. They were not the life-long friends that the sons of Mosiah were.
When Alma came to the city of Ammonihah he was rejected and forced to leave the city. That he did. But upon being prompted by the Spirit to return he came back to the city and was met by a stranger who took him in, fed him and gave him shelter for many days. This stranger was Amulek.
Amulek and his family listened to the message Alma shared and became believers. The record doesn’t say how long Alma stayed with Amulek and his family, but I expect it was probably a few weeks at least. After this time Amulek went with Alma into the city to preach.
Their preaching got them into trouble again with the leaders and many of the people of Ammonihah. They were arrested and thrown into prison, subjected to beatings, torture and starvation.
Martyrdom of Good by Evil Men
But it was not just Alma and Amulek who were subjected to this discriminatory treatment. The leaders commanded that all the people who believed in the words of these men should be brought together. Then those who were unbelievers had the opportunity to stone the people, spit on them and commit cruelties. Ultimately they dug a pit, set fire to the pit and began throwing in the books and records that taught about Alma’s god.
But they didn’t stop there. They brought Alma and Amulek from the prison to the pit and made them watch as they began throwing the believing people into the pit of fire. The two men stood and watched as people they had taught, and known personally, were thrown to an agonizing death. Just listening to the screams would have been torture for them. I’m sure they turned their faces away, closing their eyes and tried to close their ears to the screams of pain coming from the pit.
Amulek was so enraged that he said to his friend, “How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.”
But Alma responded, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, 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.”
Alma had had the same thought as Amulek. He wanted to use the priesthood power he had to rescue those people from the awful death. And he could have too. He believed it. He knew it. But he received a prompting from the Spirit not to exercise that power. What a disappointment that must have been! To be told to do nothing! To stand there and witness the murder of dozens, if not hundreds of people, many of whom Alma probably knew as friends.
But the Spirit had also told him the reason he could not. The Lord “suffer[s]… that the people do this thing unto them,… that the judgements which He shall exercise upon them… may be just.”
What Kind of Reason is That?
This reason is very difficult for many people to accept. Shouldn’t a God who is loving, kind and our father want to alleviate and even prevent the suffering of his children, especially those children who are obedient? That makes sense to me. But it goes much deeper than that.
The Book of Mormon, and other modern revelation, teaches us that we lived as spirits in a pre-mortal world. That we took part in a grand council where two plans were presented. One was a plan of redemption, the other a plan of compulsion. Jesus Christ offered Himself as a mediator and redeemer, while Lucifer offered himself as a compulsor, he would force everyone to do what needed to be done to return to our heavenly home.
You see, we all knew we would make mistakes while we were in our mortal forms. It was inevitable. A Redeemer created a way for us to overcome our faults and retain one of the most important gifts we have ever received: Agency, the freedom to choose. Under Lucifer’s plan we would lose our agency in order to “cheat” our way back to heaven.
Now, keeping this in mind, let’s return to the question. Shouldn’t a loving and kind father want to alleviate, even prevent, the suffering of His children? Of course He does! Then why doesn’t He? Why does He allow the innocent to suffer? Just so that He can be justified in His punishments? Isn’t that just cruel?
Choice and Accountability
Assuming God is all-powerful and all-seeing, it makes sense that He would know what is in a person’s heart, that He would know that person A is wanting to do harm to person B. If God is all-powerful He could stop person A from executing his plan, right? Sure. God could stop the person, saving person B from a lot of pain, suffering and even death. The world would be a better place for it, right? Sure. So why doesn’t He do that?
The first and most important reason is this: we all have our agency, the ability to choose our actions. If God stops person A from hurting person B, He has gone against one of the fundamental principles that our mortal experience is based on: Agency, or Choice and Accountability. It is fundamental to our learning and progression in this experience we call life.
Could God strike down person A before he commits an act of violence? He sure could. The Book of Mormon shows us that He has. When the missionary Ammon was serving among the Lamanite people there was a time when he was incapacitated. A Lamanite warrior seeking revenge on him came forward, readying his sword to kill Ammon. He suddenly fell to the ground dead, apparently struck down by God to save one of his servants. So it does happen, just not that often and usually under extenuating circumstances. The circumstance in this instance was that God had promised Ammon’s father protection for his sons as they served as missionaries among the Lamanites. God was keeping a promise.
But is it right for person A to be struck down for something that he hasn’t yet done? In many ways it seems that it would be just. Evil would be prevented, innocent lives saved and the world would be a better place without those who would commit such evil acts. But are we then taking from this person the very gift of Choice that God gave to him? There is the ethical quandary. Watch the movie Minority Report for insight into punishment before the crime and the ethical quandary that is.
There are ways God will protect us though. He doesn’t leave us completely alone. Sometimes we receive promptings warning us about a certain place or route we should avoid, other times there are angels sent in the form of other people who step in to protect us, still other times delays or other coincidences keep us out of harm’s way. If we only look for them, we can see the many ways God’s hand is in our lives and the lives.
No Easy Answer
This is not an easy question to answer. Many of you probably have more questions and counter arguments to what I have written. I don’t have all the answers. If I did, I don’t think I would be writing a blog that is seen by maybe a few dozen people. There would be more important things for me to do. But in this, as in all things spiritual, we must act on faith.
When we are blindfolded and led around by someone else, we have no choice but to trust them. That they will lead us in the right direction and not into a wall, a door or off the edge of a cliff. It takes much trust. The better we know someone the easier it is to trust them. Getting to know our Heavenly Father is essential for us to have faith in Him. Even though I can’t see the answers, I know He will not lead me down a dangerous path. That is the essence of trust. That is the essence of faith.
I trust that the victims of these horrible attacks, and others past and in the future, are received “up unto [God], in glory.” I trust that those who commit the acts will be punished according to their deeds and receive their “reward.” I trust in God our Father.