God Shall Be With You Forever
I have had the opportunity recently to meet with the missionaries and a friend who is learning about the gospel. He lives in the United States but is from India, and the current situation in India related to COVID-19 has left him shaken and saddened. He has lost a family member and is worried about many others. The situation there is dire and today’s headline says, “More people are dying from Covid in India than at any stage of the pandemic.” In our discussion he asked a question that all believers undoubtedly ask themselves at one point or another—why does God allow this suffering to happen to these people? If He is a loving God, why doesn’t he stop the sickness and death? His sincere questions reminded me of the question that Elder Renlund related had been posed to him regarding the terrible Rwandan genocide: “If there were a God, wouldn’t He have done something about it?” I appreciated Elder Renlund’s comment that “this dichotomy is as old as mankind and cannot be explained in a simple sound bite or on a bumper sticker.” It is not a question we can brush away lightly or explain away in a quip. But it is an important question and I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ does have answers that help us make sense of suffering and, more importantly, help us through them.
The root of all real answers to that question, the only way to understand the suffering God allows His children to face while still knowing that He is perfectly loving and just, is found in Jesus Christ and His atonement. Elder Renlund told how he answered this man: “Without minimizing the suffering caused by the genocide, and after acknowledging our inability to comprehend such suffering, we replied that Jesus Christ has done something about infuriating unfairness. We explained many gospel precepts concerning Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His Church…. We then testified that all that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that by His authority families can be joined together forever.” Though we likely won’t fully understand why certain difficulties are thrust upon us or why the innocent must sometimes terribly suffer, we can know that through Jesus Christ we can overcome all trials and that ultimately they will prove to our eternal benefit. When the prophet Joseph Smith struggled to understand why his saints were suffering and he was locked in prison, the Lord told him and us: “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7). What “good” will they do us? His goal is not simply to help us guide through life with ease; rather, He wants to us to become like Him so that we can indeed experience a fullness of joy. He wants us to become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love” (Mosiah 3:19). That can’t happen in a life without trial or suffering. As Mormon commented about another group of righteous saints who were suffering, “Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” He will try us, He will allow us to suffer at times, but He will not leave us or abandon us. Mormon followed this statement up with this powerful declaration: “Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day” (Mosiah 23:21-22). If we put our trust in the Lord, no matter what trials we are called to pass through, He will see us through and never leave us.
I love the promise that the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph as he suffered in Liberty Jail: “Hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:9). The Lord is in control, He will not let our days be numbered less than they should be if we hold on faithful to His plan. Death is not the end and through Jesus Christ all that is unfair will ultimately be made right. He will be with us “forever and ever” no matter what man or the elements or any other trial may do to us. And with Moroni we can all be “brought forth triumphant through the air” to return to our heavenly home, “sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ,” made “holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:33-34).