Why did God let me suffer? Why?
This is a question I've asked myself often. When my parents have at different times suffered from illness; when I have been ill and all that caused it was stress; when I can't control my anxiety. Hard things that happen that are not the result of my own mistakes often send me into a cycle of asking, sometimes the results of my choices make me ask as well. I feel like the answer is as complex as the situations that cause us to ask.
I'd like to take a moment and share the answer that I'm developing in hopes that it will help others as I think this is not a question that only I've asked. I'll answer it in pieces as that's how I've had it answered in my life, line upon line and precept on precept.
The first piece is that the trials are the price I pay to become acquainted with God. It's through these hardships that I learn who God is. This is exemplified in a story of a man who traveled on foot across the country to live in Utah with other early members of my church in the 1800's.
"A man who crossed the plains in the Martin handcart company lived in Utah for many years. One day he was in a group of people who began sharply criticizing the Church leaders for ever allowing the Saints to cross the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart company provided. The old man listened until he could stand no more; then he arose and said with great emotion:
“I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? … [We] came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.” (Our Heritage)
Building on that concept we begin to not only become acquainted with God in our sufferings but we also come to understand Christ in the same moment. Peter talks about this. He says:
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (2 Peter 4:12-13).
The first time I read that scripture I remember being surprise at the perspective. He invites us to not focus on the trial and how weighed down we feel under its weight but to focus on Christ and using out suffering to understand him. In another scripture in the Book of Mormon states the juxtaposition of this statement. Just as we go through trials to better understand Christ, Christ suffered to better understand us. “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” (Alma 7:11-12)
The word succor means to help or aid in times of distress. I love this scripture for how it frames the atonement, or Christ’s suffering. He knows us and he came to know us through pain. He understands our pain. The reverse of the statement can be true as well, when we approach our trials focusing on coming to know Christ we come to know him in the same way that he came to know us, through the sorrows of the flesh. (see also Galatians2:20) We know him because we have become like him.
This train of thought isn’t an answer all, truly it’s not even half of the answer to this question but for me it gives my sorrows propose, and points me to what is most important, my relationship with God. I’ve gone through hard things in my life and I believe I will continue to experience hard things. But I also believe that what is important is not how hard it is but how I use it.
I hope I’ve not come off preachy here. My prayer is that this strengthens someone else as it has strengthened me.