God is Not a Puppeteer

Seeing my son wheeled out of a complicated emergency surgery and intubated broke me. The nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit tried to assure us that intubation was hard for every parent, and that kids bounce back. It would be OK.

But it wasn’t.

My husband and I watched as child after child came and went from the PICU with ailments that seemed far worse than my own son’s, but drug-resistant pneumonia was killing him.  His lungs looked like Swiss cheese. When the first chest tube draining puss was removed, air leaked into his chest cavity causing a pocket of his skin to breathe up and down like something out of an alien movie. Sometimes air would hiss out from beneath his bandages. His blood was frequently being tested to see if his white blood cell count was beginning to go down, or at least not going up. X-ray machines were drug to his bed at least twice-a-day.  After endless complications, the head of pediatric surgery took us in a small room to have a heart-to-heart. There was one more surgery he could try. Our son was very sick. The surgery wouldn’t cure him, his body would still have to do that, and it wasn’t looking great.

I wanted it straight, and asked in haste if he could die.

He calmly told me, “Yes, there is that possibility.”

My husband and I and all of our family had already been praying for the many days he was in the hospital. He had been given a blessing. His name was in numerous temples. We couldn’t do more.

We gave our consent for the procedure and I left my husband to sleep on the fold-out chair by our son’s bedside, the chair he had slept in for three weeks. I went home to take care of our other son and our newborn who wouldn’t take a bottle-but was appeased long enough for my hospital visits by the breast of my sister-in-law.

My prayers were as earnest as they had ever been that night. I felt a keen sense of the reality of the resurrection, and fear for his life left me. And I felt an incredible peace that if he died, it would be OK.

He didn’t die.

************************

Trying to find consolation in purposeful suffering, months later a friend who was watching her own, young son go through serious health problems asked, “So what do you think you learned from it?”

Her query was understandable. But my answer brought no comfort.

“Nothing,” I said, “The whole thing was horrible.”

Looking back, my answer hasn’t changed. That experience was horrible. I’m grateful we happened to be with extended family when it happened, that we had people around us that loved us. I learned even more that they cared, but nothing else. Yet as Joseph Smith internalized in Liberty Jail,  I believe our suffering was not for nothing. God is good at making lemonade.

Too often, I think, a mark is missed by looking for a specified lesson, certain that life is a paint-by-number designed by God;  an idea that if we just paint the right colors where and when specified, we will return to Our Maker having learned all the specified lessons God set before us. But ultimately, God-as-puppeteer nearly negates the need for an atonement; and negates our need to urgently care for one another.

I believe not that God handpicks, or that we handpicked in a pre-mortal realm, the conditions of our suffering here; but that the conditions of mortality enable us to suffer.  Our physical bodies are necessary not to only come humbly before the throne of God, but to learn to succor others. In some small way we become like Christ as Alma described, “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.”

I’m not sure we could quite understand what it means to succor others without the painful experiences that result from having a physical body; often experiences thrust upon us by others. It seems that perhaps even the Savior could not take on our suffering without the physical element of experiencing it himself.

God is not a puppeteer. Not everything that happens, even the most terrible things (or of course not the most terrible things), for a reason.

When Paul says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man,” I think he means all our trials and tribulations are common to man. He is stating the obvious conditions of mortality.  There is nothing so terrible that God won’t allow it to happen. I think we misunderstand, “[God ] is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”  Or at least I have misunderstood.

It would have been OK if my son died; not because it was part of God’s plan, but because in Him all things are made whole. That doesn’t mean if he had died, the pain would not exist. It does not mean when I sin, the pain I inflict on others goes away. Or when I am hurt or injured or ill, or in emotional turmoil that Jesus heals it. But I go back to a heavenly home broken, made perfect in Christ. We can bear all things because he is God.

Comments

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. Thank you for this.

  2. In high school I remember thinking about not being tempted above that which we are able. I wondered, what if I am tempted to go to a party, and God knows I am able to withstand that temptation, but I choose to yield. What if at that party, I am tempted to drink, and I am NOT able to withstand that temptation? I could have avoided it because I was able to withstand that temptation of not going to the party at all, but now that I’m there… then what? (Clearly I had too much time on my hands to think of these scenarios.) As I got older, I realized that through any temptation or trial, we are able to get through because of God. So it’s not a matter of God directing our lives in the miniscule details so that we don’t happen upon trials we can’t handle, the point is that any person may encounter any trial or temptation and is still, always able to turn to God.
    This is still a hard lesson for me. Within the last 3 weeks, my husband quit his job (due to panic-inducing stress), I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks, I got 2 rather expensive speeding tickets in the mail (photo-radar), and then yesterday I rear-ended a BMW. As I sat in the car, I started laughing (possibly hysterically) and began to seriously wonder if I was cursed. It’s taking every ounce of energy not to obsess over what specific lesson God is trying to teach me. When I think rationally, I really don’t think it works that way, but for some reason I can’t let go of that idea. I realize these circumstances aren’t as dire as others– my family is alive and (mostly) well, but this post helps me. Thank you.

  3. I recently attended a lecture by Terry Olsen. One thing that has stayed with me was his statement to the effect that it is not so much the experiences we pass through that matter, but who we are when we pass through them. I believe as you do that our suffering and trials are not hand-picked nor do they have specific purposes. There is only one purpose in experience, to invite us to God through Christ. Our experiences do not need to be tailored, we do.

    Thank you for sharing this. The greatest peace I have found came when I stopped wondering whether or not God caused certain trials in my life and instead realized that the answer to that question didn’t matter because it didn’t change the answer to the deeper question of what to do with that suffering. In either scenario the answer is the same and it is one you have expressed here: In Him all things are made whole.

  4. Sometimes I wonder about things like this when others say that God plans every happening — but I have never believed that — we’re in a fallen world, with decay and sickness and sin and choices and so forth — as I have chosen to understand, God does not command every happening, every tragedy — but, in all this, his promises are sure — all things work together for good for those who love God, and the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for each of us.

    Certainly God is capable of commanding certain happenings, and he likely does command some, but not all.

  5. I agree- I don’t know that each trial has a specific lesson to teach us. I’ve never liked or felt the truth of the idea that God “sends” us all our trials- it negates the chaotic nature of mortal life, where we’re subject to consequences of the actions of others, illness, frailty…Maybe sometimes the only purpose of many of our trials is to add to our experience, to deepen our capacity for sorrow and pain while simultaneously deepening our capacity to feel love and joy. That’s enough of a “purpose” for me.

  6. Damn you for making me tear up minutes before my seminar. Other than that, this was absolutely wonderful.

    The first time I was exposed to this idea, which I fully agree with, was in my own moment of personal crisis. Someone very wise told me, “not everything happens for a reason, but God is the best optimist.”

  7. Wonderful post.

    So many times I have heard people testify that they “know everything happens for a reason” — the implication being that God arranged things so that they experience that particular circumstance, and I can’t help but think their belief is simple-minded. Obviously, many things happen based on the choices of others, something Mormons don’t believe God predestines, so this belief must be false. Personally, I believe that everything does happen for a reason, but the reason most often is because it’s simply part of mortality.

    And yet…there’s something about their simple faith, their fatalistic acceptance that if it’s happening, it must be God’s will, and their willingness to accept and bear up, that I find beautiful. I wish I were more that way. But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if they simply haven’t run into anything they couldn’t handle yet.

  8. Yes, thank you.

  9. I hate it when people say that, “Everything happens for a reason.” Because it’s technically true, just not the way they understand it in their heads…

    Of course everything happens for a reason, just not necessarily by God’s command.

    I got sick because I was exposed to a germ, while my immune system was compromised due to either lack of sleep, extra stress, or just because the bug is virulant. There’s always a reason why something happened, just not God’s reason. He set up an earth that obey’s natural laws.

  10. Here’s a picture that describes what I’m trying to say.

  11. Thank you so much. Having walked down a similar road, I can completely relate.

  12. Beautifully said. Thanks for writing this.

  13. Peter LLC says:

    This reminds me of the scene from Shadowlands that begins at 1:17 in this clip [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeWakPZkOho ] where Jack’s friends try to console him with platitudes.

  14. Bethany says:

    Thanks for your post. I believe that while God is control, he allows us to have mortal experiences. It’s part of the Plan of Salvation. Some experiences are due to our stupidity/inexperience and some are due to the natural forces of laws. We are not pawns or puppets to the Lord. If we over think our experiences, we don’t learn from them.

    I crashed on my mountain bike 4 weeks ago. My brakes weren’t working right and once I used both brakes at the same time I flipped over the handlebars at a high rate of speed. I landed face first into the dirt and have had a concussion since then. I’m sure God could have miraculously saved me from having the accident, but he didn’t. I wasn’t supposed to learn anything earth shattering special or life changing. The one thing I was grateful for was I had my helmet on, a choice I made, not God. The ER said it saved my life.

    However; I do believe that God saved me from being seriously hurt. I have all my teeth. I didn’t break any bones and I wasn’t hamburger meat from skidding across the ground. ER was completely amazed that I walked out with just a concussion. I know I was protected and that means a lot. He is aware of what we do even if he doesn’t always intervene.

    I learned some valuable lessons that day on riding, especially my inexperience and making the sure the bike works before a trip. Also having someone else there and a cell phone is a necessity and of course a helmet. My son was amazing that day talking to 911 and getting the EMS to find us in the woods.

  15. Jacob H. says:

    This reminds me of how I think of the old Israelite atonement rites. The universe is falling into chaos, reversing the perfect order God created at the beginning. The only thing that destroys chaos and restores order each year is the atoning blood that not only covers the room that represents the world and the people in it, but also goes into the Holy Place and covers the altar there. Even in the heavens things fall apart without it.

  16. Mommie Dearest says:

    This helps me feel better about the random nature of suffering/absence of suffering. It helps me to see that my choices don’t prevent suffering, but help me to become the person that my burdens can develop. A most helpful distinction, thank you so much.

    I hear too many messages to the contrary; a family member frequently tells all who will hear (me, often) that blessings are predicated upon our obedience to the law God irrevocably attached it to in heaven, yada yada, obey better, etc. Our Gospel Doctrine teacher preaches the same gospel wherever she can find it in the Book of Mormon. It doesn’t help my attendance, but with your clarity, maybe I can be shielded from the hurtful misinterpretations and still attend. Thanks again. It’s not that obedience is unimportant, but it’s not the only aspect that is critical, and sometimes, other aspects (love? faith? repentance?) need more attention, and obedience is best not taught as being the magic elixir.

  17. Sorry to be a jerk says:

    13: There are lots of bike crashes. In some of them, the injuries are less than they could have been. You happened to be on that part of the curve. There are better people than you who have not been so lucky and ended up on the exceptional severity side of the normal curve. Events in this world occur according to natural laws of physics and statistics. Sorry to break it to you. God will accept your soul into his rest whether you spend the rest of your life with all your teeth or spend it horribly disfigured, as has occurred to so many people who were just as deserving of protection, if not more so.

  18. I am sure that God does not send us our trials. I am also sure that he could take them away if that was the right thing to do. But if he takes mine away and not yours, it looks like he loves me more than you. Of course that is not true. He loves each of his children equally and for that reason I believe he needs to let each of us suffer without interference. Whether or not we learn from our suffering depends on us. And sometimes we may not know what we learned until the suffering is far,far behind us.

  19. This was excellent. Thank you for sharing.

    I tend to agree, and it seems most above also agree, with your statement: “I believe not that God handpicks, or that we handpicked in a pre-mortal realm, the conditions of our suffering here; but that the conditions of mortality enable us to suffer.” Interestingly, just yesterday I was reading a compilation of near-death experiences in which one individual discovered while he was out of body that he did, in fact, volunteer to suffer from cystic fibrosis during his mortal life. He was told his choice would allow him to learn the lessons of life more rapidly than without the disease.

    Not sure what to think about this, other than that perhaps some individuals do choose the conditions of their suffering.

  20. Peter LLC says:

    Some experiences are due to our stupidity/inexperience and some are due to the natural forces of laws.

    Or a combination of the two, e.g., injudicious operation of your brakes, which responded exactly as they were designed to do, and inertia taking over the rest of your ride.

  21. M Miles says:

    Matt,
    Wouldn’t we all choose to learn things faster?

    Sorry to be a jerk,
    I think sometimes God intervenes. I’m not sure when or why. My own experience has been it is simply no other reason than extended mercy. It’s hard to judge when that happens for other people.

    nr[2]
    “And sometimes we may not know what we learned until the suffering is far,far behind us.”

    I kind of feel that goes to the same point of having experiences in order to learn prescribed lessons. True, that can happen, but I don’t believe it always happens (or that God teaches us certain lessons from each experience). We might look back and not feel anything but the sting of a painful memory. It’s not a failure, it’s because there was nothing in it but pain, and that’s OK. There most often will never be a point in the worst things people suffer here. In some of the the worst situations, innocent children suffer at the hands of others and then their lives end abruptly. They gain nothing.

  22. Peter LLC, Great clip.

  23. As it happens, I agree almost entirely with your post and for the same reasons and partly even because of similar experiences.

    However, I have also learned that some people take a great deal of comfort from the notion that God is a puppeteer (they wouldn’t put it that way) and I have learned not to argue with them. Perhaps they are as close to truth in their way as I am in mine.

  24. Adam G,
    My experience is similar, that many people get great comfort from that idea. I think it helps them feel like everything will be ok because someone is in control, making sure nothing goes wrong. But for me, that negates the need for the atonement in big ways. I also think much, if not most, of our suffering is caused by others (or us hurting others). God can’t orchestrate our sins or human foibles that inflict that pain or he would cease to be God. .

  25. Rechabite says:

    Beautifully said, mmiles. My experience has been that the most useless question in the universe is to ask God any variation of “Why me? Why now?” Instead I am learning to ask, “Okay, now what…?”

    Great follow-up thoughts in these comments. Thanks, everybody.

  26. I don’t think God orchestrates our lives, and the circumstances thereof, but I cannot disagree more that it is useless to ask why me. I think it is an important question, and even if one never gets an answer, or ever feels satisfactorily placated at least they have vented the feeling to the heavens themselves. It can be a powerful release, if nothing else.

  27. But you did learn something from the experience…or at least had thought ratified….You have a greater capacity to be compassionate or to succor. Is that not a reason?

    I don’t think God plans our lives but I’m not sold yet that we didn’t.

  28. I read this at the perfect time. I’m on my way to visit a friend whose son is in the hospital after being seriously injured in a drive-by shooting. My awareness of her need comes, in part, from realizing how much I needed others who understood my pain when I was seeking comfort, and who didn’t try to lecture me about how I could’ve prevented something, or to explain it all with a cliche and presumably reserve it for a Sunday school lesson on why bad things happen etc. Thank you.

  29. Thank you for not sugar-coating God. He doesn’t need it. Mortality happens and he runs to us, loving being a merciful God (nods to Elder Holland.) I understand those who want a puppeteer God, but to me that God would be cruel. It is enough that he monitors our progress while we suffer, letting us know his faith in us when it isn’t removed immediately, and staying blissfully silent when there aren’t words to say besides, “I love you.” Props to people who can model him and keep their platitudes sheathed and their arms open.

  30. Bethany says:

    Sorry to be a Jerk,

    Love your screen name..LOL.

    Oh believe me, if I ended up horribly disfigured it would suck but crashing is the risk you take while riding a bike. You know the risks and do the best you can to protect yourself. You can’t expect God to make every trip safe and the laws of science are always there regardless of how good you are. However; I believe that God is aware of what we are doing and can/does intervene on the things we do if necessary. He knows we aren’t perfect. Just that not everything that happens to us is a life altering change or some kind of special revelation.

    Will I be out on a bike again? You bet. And I’ll crash more than once, just hopefully not from failed brakes. I gained some valuable experience that day and hope to be out on that trail in a couple of weeks…with a new helmet and fixed brakes.

    As for the blog post, I’m glad your son is okay. I can’t even imagine what you and your family has been through other than what you’ve posted. Again, thanks for the post and putting things into a different perspective.

  31. “God-as-puppeteer nearly negates the need for an atonement; and negates our need to urgently care for one another.”

    This is truly beautiful.

  32. mmiles, wonderfully written and important story. My life’s experiences have taught me similar lessons. God is not a puppet master indeed–well, unless you lose your keys.

  33. Stephanie says:

    Wow, mmiles, this is an incredible post. I have had a lot of similar thoughts lately as I have been contemplating tragedies happening to people I care about. I think you have identified some raw truths.

  34. #9. I, too, hate it when other people aren’t as smart as I am. No, really I do. It’s just that when I read it from someone else I realize now arrogant it seems. I’ll have to work on that.

  35. M Miles says:

    Apron Appeal,
    I’m not sure if that experience itself made me more capable of succoring others in times of trial. It could have. I suppose it made it so I at least understand that experience when someone is going through it. I hope it was clear in my post that our suffering allows us to learn to be with others in ways we could not without a physical body.

    In general I think mortal suffering allows us to learn to love and serve others. But our suffering in both quality and quantity will never be equal. That’s OK, I think. We understand others are hurting either way, simply because we have been hurt. That, for me, is a big part of the reason for mortality. But I don’t think each experience is a planned, chosen lesson. I don’t see how it could be. To me it also doesn’t make sense that we chose our trials (again, the greatest ones in my life have not been natural causes, but inflicted by others). Beyond this, how could we choose something when we didn’t know what we were choosing? We couldn’t comprehend our probationary state or we wouldn’t need one. How could someone choose cancer over the death of a child if they didn’t know what cancer was or what it would be like to lose a child? It would be akin to choosing from a Chinese menu when I have no idea how to read Chinese.

    Further, that still to me is an equation of Trial A= Lesson A; then we are ready to move on to Trial B=Lesson B. I don’t think we return to God to show him a report card of all the lessons we learned through trials because we are awesome and have overcome them; rather we all return quite broken, contrite of spirit and ready to be made whole in Christ.

  36. Peter LLC says:

    It would be akin to choosing from a Chinese menu when I have no idea how to read Chinese.

    On which the choices range from devil to deep blue sea.

  37. I agree with the sentiment that God is not a puppeteer. However, due to my personal musings, I do believe that all of life can be broken down into mathematical algorithms and functions etc. This life is only about learning and becoming. Everything is about learning and becoming. Not every event is of equal magnitude or design, but God knows the exact value and purpose of all things. To trust and believe, that although He is not a puppeteer, He is the ultimate designer of this grand mathematical story problem called life, is not wholly simple minded. It certainly can be, but it can also be so much more. It is granting God the ability to design such a complex system, that he knows every detail, and while he may not be concerned with which detergent you buy, or which hair you allow to fall out of place, he is still aware of it and has allowed the design to incorporate the event into the system. And all the while, the control variables are still our own actions and choices. It is not predestination, because that implies that someone else’s will is the design of our experience. But time is continually before God – past, present, and future. Do you imagine that he doesn’t know every detail of every moment within that non-linear time frame? Our failures? Our mistakes? Our triumphs and our boring minutia?

    I know for certain that my life is not arbitrary. My choices are not arbitrary. My trials are not arbitrary. How do I know? Because I have suffered enough to have had to find out. I used to think that the idea of picking and choosing trials was ridiculous. Well, that idea is more a misunderstanding of the purpose and design of this life. But I was most certainly included in the review of my life before I entered this mortal body and I’m certainly not a special case. Remember that according to LDS doctrine, we all helped make this earth. Which part do we imagine we made? A hill? A quantity of molten lava? No, we provided the blueprint of our own lives, by the very virtue of being. I’m not saying we should labor over every event to try to see what God is trying to teach us, but I am saying that we should allow our faith to give God his due for an amazing life experience, with both the good and the bad. God’s ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. One day, all will be made known to us, and then we’ll see the incredible design of this life. Until then, we rely on faith to enlighten our perspective, and use our intuition and our discernment to bring us closer to our ultimate potential. The atonement is of course the only reason any of this is possible, so here we are and the atonement is real, and it’s all so incredible!

  38. M Miles, thank you for sharing your experience.
    Some thought-provoking discussion…

  39. “But, you know… everything happens.”
    “Don’t say ‘for a reason'”
    “No, I’m just saying that everything happens.”

    Wise words from Dr. Horrible. My roommates and I used to express the same sentiment in much geekier terms, “God is not playing Starcraft.” I like to think that everything can and does have meaning for us in an eternal sense, only that instead of God doling out trials for us to learn specific preordained lessons we discover like prizes behind a curtain, we’re placed in a world where trials arise naturally and organically (not to mention unevenly and sometimes unfairly). To the extent we allow those trials to help us become better people and draw us closer to God, we are succeeding — but the meaning of our trials is created, not deciphered. Plus abandoning the puppeteer/starcraft model helps avoid the dilemma of the Man in The Sky from the Invention of Lying (because I’m in a quotin’ mood today):

    “This guy who lives in the sky and controls everything is also responsible for all the good stuff that happens.”
    “He’s the guy who saved my life on that fishing trip when the boat capsized?”
    “Yup.”
    “Did he capsize the boat?”
    “Well, yes.”
    ….
    “So he’s kind of a good guy, but he’s also kind of a prick too?”

  40. My biggest trial has had the opposite effect. It has made me cold, and unfeeling, and ambivalent toward death. I still feel something that I suppose must be like sympathy or empathy, but by and large I am as cold a vessel as a water fountain.

  41. Statsmath Center says:

    Everyone thinks they are the exception, but no one is. And humans are amazing at making up explanations with no counterfactual.

  42. laurenka says:

    EOR, my mother has been chronically ill most of my life. She has been on the thresh hold of death more times than seems fair. As a teenager the only way I could cope with being taken to that place of uncertainty, and lack of ‘resolution’ was to grow cold to the thought of death.

    Perhaps it will be for you like it has been for me; the return is slow, but there is a return. For me it took something stable in my life … something having nothing to do with my mom. It made me want to love more than I wanted to be protected. That alone did not make the change, but it gave me the courage to really search for my vulnerabilities, the things that still did spark emotion in me.

    It is now a process of being able to be at peace with those vulnerabilities, rather than ignoring them or disqualifying them. It is slow, and many days I do not wish to let go of my ability to separate myself from sorrow. It is requiring that I see emotions (particularly sorrow, anger, and embarrassment) as being more than just painful, out of control, and messy. But I am getting there.

    I only know the tone of your comment as I can process it through my life lens, and I know that for me the lack of feeling has been a incredible source of guilt for multiple reasons, the foremost perhaps being that I have never felt I could truly connect with someone in actual grief, which made/makes me feel insincere or fake, when what I want more than anything at those moments is to be sincere and real. If any of that sounds familiar to you I guess I just want to say don’t feel guilty. You will get there. I will get there … this post is good example of the fact that perspectives, abilities, and views adjust. We are not the same our whole life. Thank goodness.

  43. EOR, laurenka,
    “You will get there. I will get there…”
    I’m not sure that’s true. We expect to come to some great understanding in our suffering and then know God. My own experience is that just sitting with the reality that I won’t get it, is enough. I think as a religious person I feel guilt too, as if I just had more faith, or more spiritual understanding–then I would get it (whatever “it” is). But for me the realization that I don’t have to come to some esoteric understanding and feel warm and fuzzy, that believing is enough-is really freeing.

  44. Rob Raven,
    You seem pretty confident in your belief in how it all works. I’m glad you found something that works for you. That doesn’t work for me–and it’s not because I have no imagination.

    “Do you imagine that he doesn’t know every detail of every moment within that non-linear time frame? Our failures? Our mistakes? Our triumphs and our boring minutia? ”
    Nope, I get that.

    “How do I know? Because I have suffered enough to have had to find out.” Are suggesting if I suffer more I’ll get that?

    “No, we provided the blueprint of our own lives, by the very virtue of being.” So the baby girl born into a brothel in India designed her life to be one of child prostitution, and then death at the hands of a pimp after spending year being beaten and raped by men? Did then, those men design themselves to commit atrocities? Because surely she couldn’t plan her life without them volunteering to be cruel.

    My intuition leads me quite another place.

  45. laurenka says:

    mmiles, I did not mean some warm and fuzzy place and I did not mean coming to know God. I simply meant that there is such a thing as change — that even when hard times take something from us eternally we do not have to be emotionally dead forever because of it. I do not think that I will be cold to the idea of death the rest of my life … I don’t think EOR will be either (unless he/she wants to be, in which case, like I said (and agree with you on) there does not need to be guilt in that). I did not mean for my comment to be a broad sweeping concept … I very much invest in the firm belief that “but if not …” I will be okay, I will live a good life, I will find a place where I can continue living my life in a state that makes me feel by and large on my way to completeness. That does not mean it will be rosy, it does not mean that when I say ‘things will work out’ I expect them to do so in a way that leaves me happy and content.

    In relation to your post I appreciate how it seems to me you are saying that if someone views life as some kind of divine formula (Bad Thing Y + Retrospect = God’s Way of Distinctly Improving my Quality X) she/he needs to get away from viewing life like that. But I also think there is value in even our worst experiences, not because God gave them to us (agreeing with you definitely), but because He knows how to help us let them shape our lives in progressive ways — if that’s what we seek.

    I also appreciate the direction your post and Jacob’s Deaths/(Re)births series have been steering my thoughts recently. Thank you.

  46. laurenka,
    I’m sorry we didn’t seem to understand each other, because I agree with you.

  47. Re 21 I don’t think I said we learn prescribed lessons from our suffering. If so, that wasn’t what I meant. My husband is terminally ill and receiving Hospice services. The past 9 months has been very difficult and I expect the next few to be even worse. I know that God created our bodies with death as the inevitable end. I do not believe that my husband chose this nasty illness as his death of choice. Whether or not he will learn anything from his suffering, I can’t say. He probably has learned a few things already but not necessarily things of eternal significance. What I have learned so far from this experience is that people who say they care don’t always follow through and some that seem to have no reason to care may care the most. I am not sure there is eternal significance in that knowledge either. The only thing that matters to either of us right now is that we do know the gospel is true and so we have hope, and that is is of eternal significance.

  48. There are a lot of “I thinks” in these comments, and there is some interresting discussion around them, but having gone through a similar experience my personal feeling is summed up by the last sentance “We can bear all things because he is God.” Going to intensive care to see my new born son, and seeing electrodes covering his little head and doctors surrounding him is a memory which is etched pretty deep. The susequent 6 months were the worst of my life. I don’t know how much God orchastrates or how much is just life (although I would feel pretty bitter if I though this was “just to test you”), but I understand how the Lord can make what should be crushing burdens seem light. I too begged my father in heaven in prayer and I too felt the peace that (in my case) even though he will not get better God is in control. The peace that came from that moment has sustained me to this day and I am grateful to have lived in such a way that when I needed him, he could get through, because I don’t know how I could otherwise cope. I love that you too were sustained by that peace!

  49. whizzbang says:

    This is a total grey area for me as I don’t know what to believe and who to believe. I went through a tragedy some years ago, not of my own total doing, that negates portions of my Patriarchal blessing and so I am totally stuck on what to believe now about this “liahona of light” that it is too painful to read. I also have no clue as to why some people’s lives get to the point where they become so despondant and commit suicide, every year people do it I just wonder how that all came about it. My Great Grandma according to the family “rusted out” she just existed after two grown children and her husband dying before her, the depression and trying to make a go that she just existed and not much more. Yet other people are priviledged to have the Holy Ghost telling them where to find lost car keys and other small acts but he isn’t too interested in helping out other people with major stuff. I don’t get it and I have no answers

  50. whizzbang says:

    IIRC correctly Elder Maxwell said that there are three avenues of trials in life, poor choices, God and that’s how life is that you had nothing to do with it but I can’t tell the difference what is coming from where. I have made what I thought was the best decisions at the time that turned out to be the worst I ever made.

  51. nr[2]
    Bless you. May you be both be surrounded with love and find peace at this time.

  52. If you don’t believe God has a hand in our trials and our suffering, then I don’t think you can really believe that he has a hand in our blessings and in overcoming trials. I think he lets things happen to us so that we can humble ourselves before him while he helps out of them. If he’s absent during the bad times, then he’s also absent during the good times. (Which I don’t believe.)

  53. queuno,
    I’m not sure anyone suggested God is absent in that sense.

  54. whizzbang says:

    @52-what happens with people who just give up during trials and turn away from God because of their trials? Life can be so unrelenting and so overwhelming and some people just break. My friend’s Mom died and the dad just snapped and he went missing and after awhile he was declared dead and some years later they found his remains near a river here but I just wonder where God was with the dad or why he was like that or to snap like that.

  55. laurenka (42) I do feel like I am not genuine even when I mourn with others. I am quick to anger, but not quick to cry at all. It takes quite a lot. I don’t necessarily lament my current state. I was lucky in the sense that I DID learn lessons from my suffering, and trial by fire is a relish to me. I think it may be the only way I can learn. To compare it, I am like a child who you cannot impress upon them that the oven is hot, they just have to touch it. While outwardly I cannot show it (and that is to my detriment in many ways) in my heart I try to have as much charity and grace as my anger-ridden body/soul will allow me to have.

  56. I whole-heartedly agree. Saying that everything happens for a reason is borderline offensive to me. That means things like murder, rape, genocide, molestations, etc happen for a reason. And that is absurd. I think there are lessons to learn from everything (even if it is minute), but that lesson learned is not the *reason* it happened.

  57. I don’t think there are fable-like “and the moral is . . . ” endings to everything we experience in life–sometimes what we belatedly realize is the humiliating reality that we are not in control of much of anything in this life. We have to accept that things happen that are not controlled by anything or anyone–in fact, we are at the mercy of chaos, of forces beyond our control. We are nothing (“which thing I had not supposed”)–literally nothing, cut off from God. We are fragile ants schmucking our way through our existence, trying to make something meaningful out of it.

    The reality we are stuck with is that we are nothing, we are losers–we have no business even breathing, and in our impertinence, we presume to be able run our own destiny and even find a reason for everything. Life kicks us down all the time through circumstances beyond our control. Our own appetites, insecurities, our “baggage” all belie our attempts to control things and our struggle to make it on our own – Despite our attempts to convince ourselves that we’re personally on top of things Pres. Utchdorf quipped “don’t judge me because I sin differently than you” – he said, “we are all beggars before God and equal in our nothingness” –

    In stark contrast to our nothingness, we possess this miracle of life and the God-like capacity to direct that life, but in the end we are all appointed unto death (Alma 12:27). And yet we continue to struggle, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps (whatever that looks like), as if we can make a difference in the face of certain death, we try to carry on.
    But being in our Fallen state and being appointed to die, we “become lost forever, yea become fallen man” (Alma 42:6). Yet, it is our fallen state that allows us to “follow after our own will. (Alma 42:7). But following after our own will is what gets us into trouble, yet it’s the gift of our free agency that allows us to be like God, knowing and choosing good and evil. Yet this time of carnality, sensuality, devilishness becomes a state to prepare, a probationary state, to prove ourselves. But, we are pathetic and cut off from the presence of the Lord. So, we can be like God, but fail at it. What is the point of this? Is it a setup to amuse God? Seems like a cruel absurd joke to play on sentient, thinking beings like us.

    But, this is not a cruel God; it is not His purpose to mess with us. It is by His love that this is all set up because it is for a purpose. God’s grace smiles on us to approve, validate our struggles as purposeful (giving them purpose) – without divine grace our struggles are pathetic little ant-like delusions that we matter when we might just all end up as compost. It is by grace that our struggles suddenly become noble, maybe heroic, and certainly purposeful.

    It is very modern of us (and self-reliant) to want to try and work things out for ourselves. Modern New Age philosophy has us standing in front of a mirror to affirm our worth, but in the end we are alone in front of ourselves. And that is the misery of being cut off–the being alone, the fear that we don’t make much of a difference in this universe – and why it’s impossible for us to make it on our own as we struggle to matter.

    Christ’s atonement brings us back into play—no longer begging in front of the mirror, but rather brought before God as true beggars–we no longer die a lonely meaningless death on a middling blue planet at the edge of an endless galaxy and that’s it. We now have hope, a future, and a purpose for being who we are. But this atonement isn’t some magical gateway into a land where we leap around gumdrop forests, on rainbow unicorns, under a marmalade sky. Sometimes we also pray, and yearn to have our “bitter cups removed”, foolishness erased, our problems and challenges eliminated, “get this monkey off our backs”, but then what would be the point of our existence?

    What would we say if our children would pray for us to not give them chores, or make them clean their rooms, or brush their teeth, or practice the piano? Who would I be without my own particular troubles, temptations, insecurities, flaws? Who would I be if someone took away everything that was hard or a challenge, or unexplainable or unfair. I wouldn’t be me. And I wouldn’t be Potential Me.

    As safe and cozy as it sounds, we are not little children peeking around the corner of life wondering what daddy is going to do for us. We are now the adults in our own lives and face the future not knowing what is really coming, but putting on a courageous face for the sake of the kids just like our daddies did for us and their daddies did for them. We might lose our jobs, our car door might get a dent in the parking lot, our tree might fall on our neighbor’s carport. What are we going to do about it? Wonder if God caused those things to happen to test us? How about something infinitely more scary and adult . . . life just is. Period. (period added for emphasis)

  58. The picture of your son is pretty heart wrenching. So glad he made it!

  59. Thank you so much for this article. I lost a sister to cancer and so many people have tried to tell me the “reason” this happened. I don’t believe there was a reason other than the fact that we live in a mortal world with mortal ailments. Sometimes I think looking for a reason is just an attempt to cope with a random and sometimes devastating world. I believe that God is with us every step of the way and will never leave us alone but He is not the one causing these things to happen.

  60. I would never claim to know what the ‘reason’ is for any particular event, but that doesn’t mean there ISN’T a reason. There can be reasons that are simply what someone above mentioned from Elder Maxwell. Sometimes, it’s just because we live in a fallen world. Three of my grandparents died of cancer, one of my uncles, and one of my aunts had breast cancer but is okay now. I have had relatives with MS, heart disease, kidney stones, strokes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc., some of my relatives had more than one of those things. When my grandparents died, I didn’t stop to analyze what the ‘reason’ was for their deaths beyond bone cancer, metastasized colon cancer, etc. I just knew that they were dead, that this wasn’t the end, and, quite frankly, that they were likely a lot happier after dying than they had been in the last few years of their lives.

    I’m not one to analyze every tragedy and try to decide if there was something I was supposed to learn from it…but there have been difficult, sometimes horrible things I’ve gone through that, although perhaps the lesson I learned was not the ‘reason’ for it happening, I learned something nonetheless. Going through more than a year of what amounted to psychological and emotional abuse from a woman in authority over me wasn’t because God wanted me to learn to lean on Him and others more than I want to, but still, I did learn that. …but at the same time, do I wish that I hadn’t had to go through that? YES! Absolutely. If I could go back in time and get rid of that period of my life, I would be ecstatic. I would do it in a heartbeat. There is fallout from that which I’m still dealing with, and I might be for a while longer. I HAVE tried to find something positive coming out of this if only because I want to give that period something more than the misery I felt.

    What does that mean about me? Perhaps that I just can’t accept that there’s nothing one can get from a period of tragedy and horror. Does it mean that there has to be a reason God let me go through those things? I think it’s nothing more than the fallen nature of the world and the unthinking cruelty of some people in it. I don’t think I deserved it. I do think that God understood my pain, my anguish, even before I realized what was happening to me. …and right now, that’s enough to get me through the day, even as I wait with anxiety, fearing that the same thing is going to happen again.

    I agree that God is not a puppeteer, but I think He’s still there…and if nothing else, that’s a lesson to be taken from every trial. “For all this, his hand is stretched out still.” That’s enough for me.

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