Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why bad things happen to good people

The question of why bad things happen to good people has often intrigued me. Soon after becoming a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the early 1970’s, I found myself serving as a missionary for the church in Germany. I often heard from Germans a similar question, “If there is a God, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?”
Whenever a German asked me this question it seemed to me that they were struggling to make sense as to why a God, who is all-powerful, would allow terrible things to happen at all.
It was apparent to me that many Germans, asking such questions, were still feeling the negative effects of WWII and the tragedy of war, which they had personally experienced. What always seemed to be absent from their query was the realization that people, not God, chose paths that led to such disasters. I got the impression that they felt that either God was partially responsible for what had happened, or at the very least, was derelict in not intervening and stopping such tragedies.
So, again to the question why do bad things happen to good people? Fundamental to understanding this question is the need to understand some basic truths. First of all, there is a God and He is our Heavenly Father and we are His spirit children. Second, God gave to His children the opportunity to learn and to grow and part of that opportunity includes a mortal experience. Along with the mortal experience, our Heavenly Father gave his children a valuable gift, the gift of free agency or the freedom to choose.
Because the freedom to choose is so necessary to our growth and development, God will not force us to choose wisely and He will likewise, not prevent His children from choosing paths that lead to tragedy. Aside from rare occurrences, our Father in Heaven does not interfere with our choices. Like any good and wise parent, He allows us to learn for ourselves the consequences of our choices, but in so doing, He does not leave us without guidance.
Aside from the scriptures and other sources of guidance, people come to this earth with a conscience, or the “light of Christ” and people are sufficiently taught right from wrong. If people will allow their conscience to guide their decisions and adhere to basic teachings of right and wrong, they are more apt to travel paths that lead to positive results. If, however, people disregard their conscience and willfully depart from teachings of right and wrong, they can find themselves, as the scriptures describe, “past feeling” and will assuredly find themselves traveling paths that contribute to the misery that exists on this earth.
Some of the perceived bad things that happen in mortality are a result of just living life. Disease, natural disasters, and accidents are part of the conditions of life on earth, but many of the “bad things” that happen to good people are a result of poor choices, either directly or indirectly, by the people themselves.
I can, for example, choose to take a severe risk by engaging in a dangerous activity, but having so chosen, I cannot control the outcome or consequences of that choice.
My decision may result in a brief thrill with no bodily or permanent damage to myself or it may result in my broken body and collateral damage to an innocent bystander, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when someone in their vicinity did something stupid and risky.
There is another truth that needs to be understood and an example of this truth comes from the counsel God gave to the prophet Joseph Smith, as he undeservedly languished in Liberty Jail in 1839.
As Joseph suffered in Liberty Jail and as he heard reports of the sufferings of the members of the church, being illegally driven from their homes in the dead of winter, he naturally began to wonder were God was and why He wasn’t intervening in their behalf.
As the prophet Joseph Smith plead to the Lord in behalf of the people, asking the equivalent question we are discussing here, namely where God was and why He was allowing bad things to happen to these good people, Joseph received a direct revelation and answer.
Among the many things the Lord revealed to Joseph in answer to his pleading, were these:  “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;” and “If thou art called to pass through tribulation etc. etc….know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”
I can’t help but see some clear truths in this counsel. First, this mortal existence is truly a “small moment” in the eternal scheme of things. We existed prior to this mortal life and we will continue to exist after. Having a correct knowledge of who we are, where we came from and what happens after this mortal life and why we are here, is paramount in enabling us to take the long view in understanding this life and to act accordingly.
Second, it appears that the things we face in mortality, both good and bad, are designed to give us experience and shall be for our good. It seems that the only way to have experience is actually to have experience.
As a parent, I recognize this wise counsel and see the value in allowing my children to exercise more and more of their free agency as they grow. By saying this, I do not imply that we should allow anything and everything. We all have a responsibility to each other to create a good society, but like God, we cannot, much of the time, deprive others their right to choose, even when we observe them making poor choices.
I may observe my grown and married children making choices I feel are unwise. I can give my counsel if asked, but they must decide for themselves. It is not permissible or wise for me to deprive them of their free agency, even when I can clearly see the outcome.

Some of us are able to learn from the examples of others and thus avoid some pitfalls in life, but for some, it seems they have to learn for themselves, by going through the experience. Part of our education in mortality is to prove to ourselves what we are made of, how we deal with circumstances in life and what level of obedience to laws and God’s counsel we are willing to abide. Hence, this life, as stated by the Lord is a test. That is one of the main purposes for this mortal experience.
So what is the bottom line? For me, my perspective has changed over my 65 years of living. My personal point of view is that, in the eternal scheme of things, we are the equivalent of toddlers learning to get along with each other in the sandbox of life we call mortality.
Our Heavenly Father, who knows all things, the end from the beginning, has the long and perfect perspective. He allows His children to experience life, and yes, He allows bad things to happen to good people because of the truths stated above.
I accept the fact that He knows exactly what He is doing, and since everything He does is for the benefit of His children, “For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”, I can have complete confidence in both His ability and intent.

Our job in dealing with what we experience in life, as revealed by His counsel to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, is to “endure it well.” Our job is also to lift and serve others and do good in this life, for the power is in us. We are indeed free to choose.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The WHO and the WHY

Dear Ward,

Whenever I go to a bookstore or to the library for a recreational book to read, the first thing I look at is not the title of the book nor what is pictured on the cover – the first thing I look at is the name of the author.  Often knowing who the author is will give credence to the book or may immediately dissuade me from selecting that book.  Sometimes if I have not heard of the author I will take time to read the back flap to see if this might be an interesting person to read a book by.  This blog entry in some ways could be considered our “back flap” – the back flap of a book called “” by the Cedar Hills 10th Ward.  Hopefully after you read this you will not put our book back on the shelf…

WHO are we?  We are members of  a congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or as some call us, The Mormons.  For those who have not been through Cedar Hills Utah (and even many Utahns have not), our city is a small bedroom community, nestled against the Wasatch mountains, about midway between Salt Lake City and Provo.  It consists of a Wal-mart, a McDonalds, a gas station, two schools and seven pretty-much identical churches, each housing about 3 wards such as ours.

Our congregation is probably nothing special, except, obviously it’s special, to us.  It consists of a little more than 400 members ranging in age from about 90 years old down to newborns, with more on the way before the end of the year.  We are just a cross-section of middle-class America with teachers, engineers, dentists, sales reps, electricians, nurses, programmers, clerks, entrepreneurs, homemakers and a good number of retirees.  Our members love to run, bike, hike, ski, quilt, dance, scrapbook, golf, facebook, vacation and play video games.  Although ethnically we are not very diverse, members of our ward have come from or lived in most of the U.S. states and combined we have lived in over 40 countries.   Most of us are just ordinary folk – the ones you don’t find on the nightly news or on Entertainment Tonight – although we do count among our ranks a former Olympian and a bass player for a popular band.

WHY then would you want to read our blog?  While it may be true that any one of our lives may not be  engaging enough to hold your attention for an extended period of time, in the aggregate we have over 15,000 years of experiences.  We have experienced the joys of birth and young children but we also have had to deal with the death of parents, spouses and even children.  We have had extremely happy times but also deal with accidents, disappointments, and illnesses.  We deal with the natural challenges of raising children but also have to deal with autism, ADHD and other diseases that can afflict our youth.  We fall in love, marry and start a family but also we deal with the inability to have children or the loneliness that we might feel when marriage does not come or when it ends prematurely due to divorce or death.  We have been in wars, in politics, and in trouble.  We have had funny experiences, hair-raising experiences, heart-breaking experiences and everything in between.

WHY are we sharing this?  As a congregation, we spend much time serving each other – we visit in each other’s homes, we teach each other at Church meetings, we do activities with the youth, we take care of the needy among us, we look for additional ways to serve those in our community and we send our young men and women out into the world to share about Christ.  We too now want to share!  As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we each have a commission or “my calling” to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.”  Through sharing our collective thoughts and experiences, we want all to see that through both the good times and the bad, through both the easy times and the hard, that God is in our lives and that we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and all men.”  Through thousands of experiences we have found that the way to successfully navigate through each of our lives is with Christ at our side.  It is working for us.  We know it can work for you.

So, please, go ahead and take this book off the shelf and give this new author a read.  As we continue to post, we hope to become one of your favorites and do look forward to sharing our lives with you.

Warm Regards,
Bishop Curtis