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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why do bad things happen to good people

A few months ago I taught a lesson in Elder's Quorum that had a story in it that didn't set well with me. It was about how a four year old girl without warning became critically ill and was hospitalized. Her father prayed and prayed, but she was not healed. She eventually died. The story was suppose to teach the lesson of "thy will be done," but it just left me feeling pretty low and empty. I left this story out of my lesson but continued to ponder on it. Could the taking of this little four year old been part of the plan. Is that what God wanted? Did he want her not to have the chance to learn and grow and become like him? Did he want to cause her family grief and anguish? Is that really what he wanted? As I continued to ponder on this, an idea came to me and that is what I'd like to discuss for a bit. What if that wasn't part of God's plan? What if it isn't what he wanted? Does God always get what he wants?

I came to the conclusion that God doesn't always get what he wants. He wants us all to live in such a way that we will become like him and return to his presence, but that doesn't always happen. He wants us to love one another, but that doesn't always happen. He wants us to serve one another, but that doesn't always happen. God doesn't always get what he wants because of agency. His children have agency, and because of this, they don't always listen. They don't always obey. I began to wonder, does this principle extend farther, beyond us? Does everything have the agency? Even the elements? If this were the case, then perhaps there are elements that are disobedient just as we are. Take a young four year old with cancer for example. God wants her to live. God wants her to experience all that life has to offer so she can learn and grow and become like him. God wants the cancer cells to stop their destructive presence. But if they have agency, perhaps they do not listen. Perhaps they do not obey. Could God force them? Can he force us? If God takes away agency, then he would cease to be God. Could this explain why some are miraculously healed through prayers and blessings while others are not? Sometimes the destructive presence (cancer cells, disease, infection) listens and obeys, sometimes it does not. It comes down to agency.

So, do things other than us have agency. Can they choose to obey or disobey. There are a few references that make a case for this.

In a discourse given by Brigham Young on Feb. 12, 1854, he said,

"There are multitudes of spirits in the world. Everything we see, and have a knowledge of, has got its own peculiar spirit, or else there is no life in it. The spirit constitutes the life of everything we see. Is there life in these rocks, and mountains? There is. Then there is a spirit peculiarly adapted to those rocks and mountains. We mark the progress of the growth of grass, flowers, and trees. There is a spirit nicely adapted to the various productions of the vegetable kingdom. There is also a spirit to the different ores of the mineral kingdom, and to every element in existence."

In the creation account in Abraham chapter 4, there are several verses that refer to things other than mankind that "obeyed"

(1) And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth. (2) And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters. (3) And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light. (4) And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness. (5) And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. And it came to pass that from the evening until morning they called night; and from the morning until the evening they called day; and this was the first, or the beginning, of that which they called day and night. (6) And the Gods also said: Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and it shall divide the waters from the waters. (7) And the Gods ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so, even as they ordered. (8) And the Gods called the expanse, Heaven. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and this was the second time that they called night and day. (9) And the Gods ordered, saying: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the earth come up dry; and it was so as they ordered; (10) And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, Great Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed. (11) And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered. (12) And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb to bring forth herb from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed. (13) And it came to pass that they numbered the days; from the evening until the morning they called night; and it came to pass, from the morning until the evening they called day; and it was the third time. (14) And the Gods organized the lights in the expanse of the heaven, and caused them to divide the day from the night; and organized them to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years; (15) And organized them to be for lights in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so. (16) And the Gods organized the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; with the lesser light they set the stars also; (17) And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. (18) And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. (19) And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time. (20) And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; and the fowl, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven. (21) And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good. (22) And the Gods said: We will bless them, and cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas or great waters; and cause the fowl to multiply in the earth. (23) And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time. (24) And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind; and it was so, as they had said. (25) And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey. (26) And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (27) So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them. (28) And the Gods said: We will bless them. And the Gods said: We will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. (29) And the Gods said: Behold, we will give them every herb bearing seed that shall come upon the face of all the earth, and every tree which shall have fruit upon it; yea, the fruit of the tree yielding seed to them we will give it; it shall be for their meat. (30) And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, behold, we will give them life, and also we will give to them every green herb for meat, and all these things shall be thus organized. (31) And the Gods said: We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and they numbered the sixth time.

It seems very clear that there are things other than man (and woman) that have the ability to obey...and hence disobey. They have a spirit. They are intelligences.
Man was "very obedient" in the beginning, but eventually, due to agency, fell. Mankind has continued to become more and more disobedient. Could this be the case with the rest of God's creations, including the very elements. Could this explain increasing disease and natural disasters?
All intelligences have agency. They can act for themselves (D&C 93:30). They have the ability to submit to the will of God and obey, or rebel and disobey. Some will obey and some won't. God doesn't want bad things to happen to his children. God doesn't want us to suffer in pain and anguish. God doesn't want four year old girls to die from disease. But because of agency, there are some things that just disobey. God with his infinite knowledge will work it out, but I don't think things happen the way he wants them to all the time. If our loved one wasn't healed or protected when we prayed and someone else's was, we don't have to wonder if God loved them more. We don't have to wonder why God abandoned us. He didn't. He does love us, every one of us. It's just some things obey and some things don't. It's just…agency.

5 comments:

The Jack Mormon said...

A very thought-provoking post. Consider this other possibility: Perhaps the four-year-old girl had made sufficient progress in the spirit world that she was not required to remain on Earth long enough to reach the age of accountability and be exposed to temptation. So her primary purpose in coming down here was little more than to fulfill the requirement to claim her mortal tabernacle.

This does not imply that all premature deaths are pre-planned. Many die prematurely due to deliberate risky behavior, or by choosing professions which, by virtue of their missions, requires one to be placed in harm's way in the normal course of events. They then meet their end in the course of their normal duties.

But considering that the little girl was taken from the earth despite the prolonged prayers of her father, this implies that the little girl had fulfilled her mission and the disease was her ticket "home", so to speak.

I derived much of this insight from a book entitled "Life Everlasting" by Duane Crowther. In addition, the books of W. Cleon Skousen and Joel Skousen have also been influential.

Robby C said...

I won't deny that this could be the case, however, I do have some problems with this often expressed theory. The major problem I have is that I think it completely negates the necessity of a mortal probation. If we could progress to the point of exaltation in the pre-existence, and the only reason that we need to come to earth was to get a body, then why isn't that the standard method? Let everyone remain in the pre-existence until they have progressed to the point of exaltation, then do a short stint here on earth to "get a body" and then enter into their exaltation. No pain, no suffering, no heartache. Seems a much more pleasant route. Unless we radically change our standard LDS view of the pre-existence, then this theory denies the oft taught LDS doctrine that we need a mortal probation to learn and grow through faith.

I just can't see this theory holding water. It would mean that this four year old girl would have progressed even farther in the pre-existence than Christ. Christ did not come to this world ready to be exalted. He, like we, needed to become perfected here. And it took him 30+ years to do it. Yes, Christ became exalted.
In a talk called Building Bridges of Understanding by Elder M. Russell Ballard, published in the June 1998 Ensign, he said the following:
"The scriptures inform us that Jesus grew from ‘grace to grace’ until he received a fullness of the Father’s grace…Thus He increased in the divine attributes of godliness until he was perfect."

"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;" (Hebrews 5:8-9)

It seems clear to me that if even Christ needed this mortal probation to become perfected, that we too need it for the same reason. If Christ didn't progress to a point in the pre-existence where all he had to do was come here to get a body, it seems very unlikely to me that anybody else progressed to that point. This life is about becoming like God. About becoming perfected. Those that are taken early by tragedy are denied this opportunity. I don't think that is how God wanted it. Will they still have the change to become perfected? I believe that God in his infinite wisdom and mercy has developed a way for them to still have the opportunity to become perfected, but I believe that he wanted it to happen in this mortal probation.

The Jack Mormon said...

Actually, no one reaches exaltation without first undergoing mortal probation. It's just that, for reasons unknown to us, some people made more progress in that direction and qualified for a shorter mortal probation than the rest of us. Some even qualified to be removed from earth prior to reaching the age of accountability. But even such people suffer while on earth.

Jesus Christ is a different story. His mission required him to reach the age of accountability and then suffer extensively despite living a sinless life. This was the only way He could gain the power to become a Savior and to resurrect himself after three days, thereby opening the door to the remainder of humanity to ultimately follow suit.

The prevailing LDS view that everyone needs a mortal probation remains in effect, but no two people get an identical probation since no two people have identical needs, requirements, or made identical progress in the spirit world.

Dallas said...

Jack, as far as your comment, "prevailing LDS view that everyone needs a mortal probation" that isn't the issue here, the issue is how many of those mortal probations does that person need in order to, like robby states "become" perfected or "become" like god.

Another question for you, you mention that Christ "resurrect[ed] himself" how does one resurrect onself? I believe resurrection is a Preisthood ordinance and with all Preisthood ordinances, it takes someone else to preform it. Someone who has had it preformed on them.

Dallas said...

Rob, I like the idea that some spirts or elements are more stubborn to the promptings of the spirit than others. I am missing something. Isn't commanding the elements a part of what I will call "true preisthood?" By true preisthood I will go with the March 20 1842 definiation from Words of Joseph Smith of "their is certain key words & signs belonging to the priesthood which must be observed in order to obtain the blessings" If you are worthy to use the key words & signs doesn't Satan himself have to obey, or am I getting mixing up doctrine and movies. So wouldn't every element in exisitance also have to obey?