While I can understand and appreciate skepticism, I have grown impatient with those who belittle spiritual experiences that came as apparent answers to prayer or expressions of the mercy and kindness from God. I’ve seen many cases of that on this blog and elsewhere. I refer specifically to those self-styled intellectuals who, in response to an apparent blessing or miracle that someone experienced, put on a sneer and ask why God would help some individual solve their little problem when much bigger problems remain in the word. The latest example on this blog came in response to my post about Elder Groberg’s experience helping a Tongan woman in Peru. Here was the response:
What an amazing coincidence that Elder Groberg has turned into a miracle. I think a more amazing story would be to have all those starving mothers in Africa open their eyes during their prayers and find food enough to feed their malnutrioned children. Guess God cares more about a Tongan on vacation in Peru though. Sigh…
I’ve encountered this response in many forms. Any miracle, any blessing, any answer to prayer can be dismissed on the basis that there is a waiting list of much greater problems that God has not yet solved, so how we possibly accept a minor miracle in an individual’s life?
How can God help some Tongan woman find her daughter, or some lady in Kansas to find her keys, or some widow in Wisconsin find peace, and not help the masses in Ethiopia find food to survive? It’s an old question still worthy of discussion, but merely asking the question is not a reasonable argument to dismiss what others have experienced.
It is fine to not accept a spiritual experience of another (there have been plenty that I’ve doubted), but to mock such reports based on the knee-jerk recitation of Big Problems Elsewhere (the BPE rejection) is intellectually lazy.
People die. In fact, almost everyone ever born has died and suffered. Some more, some less. Some terribly. This is part of mortality, and we have a responsibility to alleviate such suffering. But what basis is there for expecting God to solve all the big problems – problems that have often been caused by man – before being willing to respond to the earnest prayer of an individual? And what basis is there to say that He doesn’t care for and love those who die or who suffer? Is divine love possible only if our personal list of demands has been completely satisfied?
To those who mock spiritual experiences by citing forms of the BPE rejection, I would ask this: “If you are so concerned about those who suffer, what are you doing to help? Or do you live a life of selfishness and indifference, in which you are part of the problem? Could it be that your rejection of God makes it impossible for Him to work through you, and that you are one of those people who make others doubt God because of the suffering you cause, or allow to happen? So what should He do about you? Snuff out your life, or take away your freedom to choose, so that you become a zombie-like robot helping the sick and poor for a change?”
Those who allow God to work in them inevitably minister to others. And those who minister to the poor and the suffering learn much more about the depth of sorrow and tragedy and pain in the world. Who knew the misery of the poor in India better than Mother Theresa, fully immersed in it daily in her valiant effort to minister and help? Her full recognition of the depth of human suffering did not turn her away from God in the least. She was daily an agent of God, more aware of Him and closer to Him than the rest of us.
To turn to God and to know Him is to turn to the suffering and to know them, and to help them. Who knew suffering better than Jesus Christ, the full embodiment of the Love of God? He who took all the pains of humanity upon Himself, at infinite price, not only perfectly knows our pain, but has done far more to free us from it than we can ever imagine. Yes, we may suffer from disease, poverty, and sorrow during this brief flash of mortal life, which is unfortunate, but it is not the ultimate tragedy.
Wonderfully, Christ has paid the price to liberate us from death, allowing us to enjoy the incredible joys and riches of immortality. Worse than the physical suffering we may endure, we through our sins fall and hurt one another and shut ourselves out from the presence of God, but He has paid all – far more than we can imagine – to cover the price of our sins and liberate us from sin and spiritual death, that we may be purified in his blood and return to the presence of God, to enjoy eternal life and joy beyond all mortal imagination, if only we will follow Him.
God has done far more than lift a finger to help us. He has lifted up His Son, and allowed Him to voluntarily give all, infinitely all, to redeem us.
We are immersed in evidence of God’s love and kindness to us, in the majesty of the Creation, in the gift of life, in the gift of His Son, in the guidance He has given to a rebellious world to lead us to love and bless one another. It is not His fault that we choose to kill and oppress. It is not His fault that we often neglect those who are needy, or victims of tragedies. Yes, He could prevent each tragedy, and stop each crime, and cure each disease, and eliminate all sources of pain, but we must not confuse lack of love with His wise plan that puts us here in messy mortality to be tried, to be tested, to have opportunities to love and bless and serve, or to have opportunities to steal and maim and kill. His plan calls for that most terrible and frightening gift, freedom to choose, freedom to follow Him or reject Him, freedom to do good or evil, freedom to ignore the suffering or freedom to sacrifice and show compassion. Without such terrible freedom, we could not become who He wants us to be, who we are meant to be, beings like Him. There are reasons why this world offers so many opportunities for compassion, for service, for patience, for enduring, for faith, for sacrifice, for humility, and for all that is opposed to such virtues as well. This is where each of us, in whatever setting we find ourselves, show who we are and who we wish to become.
Yes, many children die before they can make such decisions – and pure, they return to the presence of the Lord and will resurrect and become glorious adults in the kingdom of God. How merciful the Lord is, though their short flash of mortality may have seemed grisly and tragic. It is not our few years here that ultimately matters, but our eternal destination. This life is vastly less than 1% of our existence; indeed, compared to the expanse of eternity that awaits, our mortal span occupies vastly less than whatever minute fraction you can imagine. No matter how painful, it is temporary and brief, and worth enduring all for the eternal end that we choose during this mortal trial. And during this brief time of trial, it is worth doing all we can to serve and love one another, for that is what matters most in the end.
For those who can, there is an urgent need to serve others, to help them in this mortal journey and to bring the love of God to them, rather than sitting in our recliners and complaining about Big Problems Elsewhere that supposedly prove there is no loving God. And once you get off the Whiner’s Recliner and strive to follow Him, you’ll inevitably find that even your weakest efforts to serve others might sometimes put you in the awkward position of seeing tears of gratitude from someone whose prayer you just answered (or rather, whose prayer was answered by God with you as an instrument in His hands). Those are moments to cherish, no matter how great the other Big Problems Elsewhere are that you haven’t gotten to yet.
Now there are atheists who, not understanding God, still are filled with a love of mankind and naturally give expression to the divine inclinations within them, loving and serving others, tackling big and small problems here and elsewhere. These are good, noble people who perhaps have not been properly taught or have been put off or even deceived by the failings of organized religion. I have great hope for them and believe many will be with the finest Christians in heaven – though they will at some point need to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But I have much less patience for those who close their eyes to God and use suffering as a crutch to prop up their lack of faith, not lifting a finger to help others as they condemn the Christian God for allegedly not lifting a finger Himself. Moan as they may about human suffering, I feel they are blind to the depth of human misery, more focused on their own pain and their own selfish needs. They may claim to be sympathetic, but there is more for them to understand through accepting God and working for Him rather than against Him.
There are miracles that occur daily, and whether they be small or great, we should rejoice when there is an additional encounter with the Divine. The evil of vicious men in one land in no way obviates the fruits of faith in the lives of those who turn to God anywhere in the world.
God is real. He loves us deeply, as does His son, Jesus Christ, who came to redeem us. They hear and answer prayers, though often not according to our timetable, and rarely in response to our list of non-negotiable demands. His love extends to Kansas, to Peru, to Ethiopia, and His call for us to cease from doing evil and begin to do more good is a global call as well. Rather than complain about how little we think He has done, let each one of us do more. And let us turn to Him in prayer as we seek to do His will, that He might guide us and help us be true instruments in His hands. As the scriptures sy, or almost say, the whiners are many, but the laborers are few.
Yes, there is suffering and pain and tragedy enough – enough to keep all of us busy in trying to serve God and our fellow men. And the best place to begin our service is to understand and embrace the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we might have power to most truly and deeply bless our fellow men.