Do Big Tragedies Negate Small Miracles?

In a previous post (currently on hold while I consult with the source on what details I should share), I referred to the many small miracles that have blessed people I know and love. In one recent example, a mother I know was staying at a friend’s home when she heard a voice say “Run!” That helped her recognize her bold little toddler was not at her side but in danger, and she ran to find a stairway door had been opened by someone else and her wobbly little son, a boy with no respect for gravity, was standing at the top, toes over the edge, ready to plunge forward toward bare wooden stairs leading to a concrete basement floor. She snatched him in time, courtesy of a small little miracle. I mentioned that we don’t know when and why these small miracles come, and recognized that life is often filled with pain and sorrow even for the best parents, but when the little miracles come, we should rejoice for those who receive them. When I wrote that, I expected to get the response that I have often received when referring to a miracle that someone experiences. Skeptics will point to some of the tragedies that occur and insinuate that that miracles can’t be real, otherwise why would God help someone with something minor when such great sorrows and pains exist in the world? But the response was more painful or bitter than I expected. I should have anticipated some of the pain that might have been stirred up:

..and yet my son died. Am I to assume that I didn’t listen to the Spirit in some way to save him? Or that Heavenly Father just didn’t care enough to send any guidance?

Good to know Heavenly Father was more concerned about the possible broken arm [that child] than about my son getting the organ transplant that would have saved his life. . . .

Stories like these are equivalent to a slap in the face for all of us who have [unhappy] endings to our fairytales. It’s great that [one child] wasn’t hurt…but surely you can see that what the flipside of it implies???

Ouch. I’m so sorry about this. The loss of a child is one of the great tragedies of mortality. There are no easy answers, except for the far-off answer that comes through Christ and the hope of resurrection and reunion. Another great tragedy is the spiritual loss that comes when a child ultimately rejects God and the blessings of the Gospel. Again, only patience and love can be offered with hope that there might be a return one day.

Do these tragedies, though, negate the reality of small or even large miracles? Can God help someone by answering a prayer, healing an illness, or helping a car to start, when many are about to die from accidents, disease, or even terrorism in Texas? Is God unjust or unfair because He sometimes reaches down and lets the current course of mortality be stayed in an obvious way for some purpose we cannot understand but can only gratefully accept?

Thousands across the earth were blind or going blind 2,000 years ago when Christ touched the eyes of one blind man to give him sight. Did God love the others less than the one rare man who was healed? Thousands, maybe millions, across the earth were hungry or thirsty as He attended a wedding feast in Cana and turned water into wine. Does God love the hungry and destitute less because they were not given miraculous drink? If not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without God’s awareness (Matt. 10:29), we must understand that we, His children, are known, noticed, and loved, regardless of what trials we must endure. Shall we be skeptical of God’s love or His miracles because their more outward manifestations are not commonly and uniformly distributed according to our sensibilites?

Mortality will leave all of us bitter and scarred if we cannot accept the diversity of gifts, blessings, trials, lifespans, ancestries, and genes that God lets us have.

Miracles, large or small, stand out. They punctuate the normal course of the painful mundane world to occasionally, even rarely, teach us or remind us of God’s reality or serve some other purpose. We cannot expect them in all cases, every day, for all of us. We have no basis to demand them by right. Remember, His love is no less, His presence no more remote, for the child that dies than for the one that is spared, for His work is not about keeping us wrapped up in our mortal shells and the little things of earth life, but in our ultimate destiny in His endless presence. His timetable and plans for each of us take us through wildly different routes in our journeys. Some routes are tragic and seem senselessly painful, especially when the cruelty of man is involved, men who have abused the cruel gift of free agency to hurt others, for a terrible consequence of the merciful freedom He gives us to choose Him is also the freedom to reject Him and crucify His son anew by abusing His other children also created in His image. But we are also promised that the Atonement of Christ is sufficient and in the end, as we come into His presence, all tears can be wiped away.

And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25: 7-9)

I rejoiced that one mother was miraculously aided: a voice spoke to her, “Run!”–how obvious can you get? But as I wrote of that miracle, I recognized that other outcomes are possible. Equally deserving and loving parents with equally wonderful children have suffered tragedy under similar circumstances. Indeed, I left out one detail in the story I related. It was especially poignant for me because my wife and I faced a similar danger years ago at the home of some wonderful devout Christians. During a Christmas party there that we attended while striving to be good friends and missionaries, a door to their basement was left open and our little fearless toddler son waddled over to the top of the stairs. He was about the same age as the toddler that was the subject of my last post. My wife spotted him just in the nick of time – well, almost. As she rushed toward him and reached out to snatch him, she missed by inches, a fraction of a second, and watched in horror as he stepped forward and fell head-first down the hard wooden stairs and crashed against the concrete floor at the bottom. We were horrified. We felt like the worst parents ever. We wondered how this could happen, especially when we were there trying to do good and help others, and then this. We were so worried, afraid he might have broken bones, a damaged brain, or even face death. He survived and was soon well, and perhaps that was miracle enough. But we heard no voice to get us there in time, saw no miraculous delay in our son’s trajectory, no hidden angel’s hand to hold him back. He was hurt, but our pain may have been even greater.

The fact that one child was spared a similar fate was not meant as condemnation to those of us who have faced and suffered the normal course of gravity and dare-devil toddlers. It was a miracle, an unusual departure from the normal course. How else can you account for the vocal command to run, a command which appears to have been perfectly timed for maximum drama and gratitude. To me, it does not mean that one child is more precious than another, or one parent necessarily better or more righteous than another, or that God is unjust in allowing danger to be ever present without omnipresent angels imposing a record of perfect safety. What happened to one mother was rare, unusual, and a cause for rejoicing, not guilt trips, pain, and bitterness. It does not mean that one person or family was more righteous or more loved than another. We do not understand why, but can only be grateful. We could speculate, of course, and even wonder if part of its purpose was to help some of us consider the implications of small miracles in the face of large tragedies, especially when I had a contrasting event under such similar circumstances.

Referring to some Galilaeans who had been slaughtered by Pilate while seeking to worship God, Jesus said, “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13: 1-3). And regarding 18 people who died in his area when a tower in Siloam fell, he said, “Think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13: 4-5). Towers fall, children fall, and people die, regardless of who is righteous and who is not. It is not death but rebellion against God that is the real tragedy.

If we only understood more and saw more clearly, we might recognize the hand of God in numerous things around us and rejoice more fully in the miracles of life, of love, of beauty, and of families. We might recognize small or even great miracles even in the painful trials he allows us to experience, some of which may have been tailored for us in His grace. We may be blind to most of the miracles that make our lives, but that should not makes us doubt or even be bitter when His kindness is more obvious to some.

Praise God for each child spared and for each parent given miraculous guidance. Weep for the larger number who are not spared. Do our best to keep doors to danger closed and children close enough to us that we will not need an angel’s voice to best fulfill our duties. And may we never judge or condemn those who are not the recipients of yearned-for miracles, or begrudge those who are.

Meanwhile, we must not lose our bearings and sail away from God because we journey in a world where oceans of trouble and islands of miracles coexist on a map wildly unlike what we would draw if we were the cartographer.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

100 thoughts on “Do Big Tragedies Negate Small Miracles?

  1. If we expand our focus a bit, there are also other reasonable explanations for the seeming inconsistency.

    Joseph Smith had innumerable miracles to preserve his life. Then the miracles ceased. He had finished his mission on earth and the Lord brought him home.

    Another possible explanation is that it wasn't about the child at all, but the mother that the Lord was concerned about. Perhaps the mother couldn't have handled the death or injury of her child at that point. Or, perhaps the Lord needed to teach her to listen to him.

    When we have faith that the Lord loves us and is working on our behalf, it makes all the little (from our perspective) inconsistencies fade away into in-consequence.

  2. Well stated Jeff. Coming from a family that has experienced both miracles and great heartache, the miracle that has meant the most to me personally has been the "miracle within" — experiencing the change of heart of going from shaking an angry fist at God for what has happened in my life, to acknowledging that I do not know all things but God does, and finally coming to accept and trust in His promise that through the Atonement of Christ all broken hearts will one day be made whole, and all tears will be wiped away.

  3. Jeff, that was a very diplomatic response. You said things that most LDS know, but few of us would have had the patience to put together like that.

  4. Your post Jeff, nearly brought me to tears. Not because I have faced a great trial with children (as our first born is still on his way), but because I have recognized and have great gratitude for the many little miracles that have occurred in my life. Focusing on our Savior and His Atonement has brought me to my knees, on more than one occasion, in humbleness and gratitude for His love for me and everyone who walks or has walked upon the earth.

  5. I think the root of this issue is the age old question — Why does God let bad things happen to good people? We don't know. All we can do when these trials come in our lives is to keep an eternal perspective as best we can and hope in the after life things will be better.

  6. I wouldn't refer to a voice speaking from beyond the veil (most likely the ministering of an angel or the Holy Ghost) a small miracle. It's actually a big deal, a genuine miracle.

    Moroni warns us not to let unbelief create the loss of the gifts of the Spirit (Moroni 10:24).

    Those who complain about miracles because they didn't receive one, and someone else did, are complaining against God. This is understandable, but unwise and needs to be repented of.

    Those who relate a miracle and then take heat for it from those who complain need to be careful not to be offended. If they are, they will stop relating the miracle. This can frustrate the work of the Lord. We're taught to appropriately relate things of the Spirit to increase faith (Elder Dallin Oak, Miracles, Ensign, June 2001.

  7. Perhaps an even greater tragedy is the spiritual loss that comes when a child rejects God and the blessings of the Gospel..

    Jeff, I liked the post. It was diplomatic, but sometimes you say things that just don't make sense.
    If I am reading you right, you are saying that you would prefer your son to die than to no longer believe in your church. A dead son would perhaps be preferable to him leaving the church and not believing in God?
    Jeff, are you under the impression that people that do not believe in your church or God are evil? And it would be better that they are dead? Any former member of your church, would be better off dead?

    Please tell me you wrote that without really thinking it through.

  8. to the previous commenter:
    Those who complain about miracles because they didn't receive one, and someone else did, are complaining against God. This is understandable, but unwise and needs to be repented of.
    That is a little flippant. To those that have children die and no miracle performed inspite of much fasting and prayer and then to hear someone stand up in Testimony meeting and tell of how they received a miracle of finding their keys in time to drive to an important meeting seems to pale in comparison.
    So to all those that had children die, just bite your tongue when someone testifies of how a prayer was answered for them in finding their lost keys while your child died in pain and agony.
    Lovely sentiments here on this blog.

  9. Wow…I am totally at a loss for words, 1st becausr of the post and 2nd because of some of the comments that persist in trying to find something in this post that isn't there.

    Jeff, if I didn't know better I would think you were a trained theologian – this post represents one of the best theological explainations of the mercy of God and the "problem of evil" I have ever read.

    Why does God "let bad things happen"…I think some are still missing the point – mortality was a choice, and all that follows that choice is ours including death even though it can be untimely. The miracles of Jesus were to show forth the glory of God – maybe it is those who have little faith that get the greatest miracles because it is they who need to experience God's intervention more than others whose faith is strong.

  10. Thanks for some kind words!

    To Anon @4:19 AM, I'm disappointed you would interpret my post as a pox on unbelievers. Christians, in approaching the subject of death and pain, often taken an eternal perspective. When I weight various outcomes, I must consider that perspective. You and I will still be around in a few thousand or million years. All of us and our children will have died, perhaps in great pain for some. The sorrows of this mortal journey, though, will then be like the blinking of an eye, so brief will it be in comparison what is ahead–but long enough to reveal who we are and Whom we wish to follow. When we compare notes about this short mortal journey and discuss our children, will we focus on how they died or at what age their last mortal chapter was written? No, we will consider their eternal state. Did they accept Christ and receive the gift of eternal life in the presence of God? Or are they elsewhere, incomplete and less happy than they might have been?

    From the perspective of immortal beings tripping through a brief mortal interlude, death is not the ultimate tragedy. It is the exit to this phase that all of us must pass through. The ultimate tragedy is of a spiritual nature, and thus it is fair to be more considered with the things of the Spirit than the things of the flesh, as painful and as tragic as these vessels of flesh can be here and now.

  11. "Jeff, are you under the impression that people that do not believe in your church or God are evil? And it would be better that they are dead? Any former member of your church, would be better off dead?

    Okay, so now your true colors come out. You're a bitter ex-member. This was all just games for you. The whole thing was just sick manipulation. Pathetic.

    Hey Jeff, please restore your previous post, and just delete this sicko's manipulative comments. It was all an RFM game. They're probably cackling and high-fiving that they got you to delete a post.

  12. I have buried two of my own children, so I suppose I'm qualified enough to comment here. Jeff, I understand what you're saying and I know that for some people the finding of lost car keys is a miraculous solution to probably the deepest tragedy of the week for them. But to have such trivialities shoved in my face week after week by people who know my circumstances, with the implication, or sometimes outright statement that they know they received their miracle because of their righteousness, is downright insulting. Thanks, so glad to know my children died because I'm a sinner.

    And to a previous commenter: Honestly, "bite your tongue"? Advice noted, but I'm in enough pain already. Perhaps people should heed the counsel to treasure their sacred experiences privately instead of using them as bragging points. Really, who is being served by sharing such stories? Whatever happened to "mourning with those that mourn"?

    I really do hope that in the end it's true that I will be reunited with my precious children that were taken from me too soon. But for now it's a long and bitter road, and grief needs no reminder.

  13. The scriptures tell us to mourn with those that mourn, but are also filled with examples of personal revelation and miracles involving small things. The brother of Jared was given marvelous revelation and divine assistance in seeking help to overcome the inconvenience of darkness for their transoceanic trek, while thousands remained blind. Nephi sought and obtained revelation about where to hunt to feed his family, while thousands were starving. Must we shut out these joyous small miracles and refrain from sharing them because the course of mortality left so many others blind or hungry, as it will, both among those who believe and those who don't?

    If your grief makes you upset when others speak of small miracles, the problem may not be theirs, except to the degree they fail to recognize the grace of God and attribute the miracle to their own righteousness – something that might not be their intent at all, in spite of you reading that implication into their words.

    I am so sorry that your have experienced such grief. I also suspect that some further healing and perhaps softening is needed for you to be able to accept other's blessings, however small they seem, without feeling insulted or slighted.

  14. Wow, I'm surprised at some of the comments.

    Regarding death of children. I'm very closely associated with a family that lost three of their children. Parents are active members, but like all of us, by no means perfect. Two took their life, and one may have. Depression a factor in all three cases.

    In my opinion, having adult children die as they did is more difficult to cope with than young children.

    I observed how the family dealt with these tragedies. They accepted the comfort the Lord provided them. I wonder if some reject the comfort the Lord sends.

    The scriptures promise that the Lord will support us in our trails and difficulties.

  15. Talk about looking for excuses to be offended! Now Jeff wants children to die, eh? Atrocious. Djinn, fair to assume you're a TBA? True Blue Anti.

  16. Djinn, come on. That's a pretty vicious way of spinning my desire for others to enjoy the blessings of eternal life. But to reduce the opportunity for deliberate offense or misunderstanding from those who are looking for reasons to be offended, I have altered the wording to say "Another great tragedy . . ." instead of "Perhaps an even greater tragedy. . . ."

    Surely you know that I don't want any child to die, Mormon or not. But given that we are all surely going to die sometime, I prefer that each person go out of this mortal existence in the best possible shape, which means as one who accepts and follows Jesus Christ. You can disagree, but I do believe that our relationship with Christ matters greatly.

    We believe in a just and loving God who goes out of His way to make a way for all mankind to hear and accept the Gospel. We believe missionary work goes on after death to provide fair opportunities even for those who never heard of Christ in mortality. It's a beautiful concept, in my opinion. But there is still that nagging problem of human agency. Some will choose to reject Christ, and they will not be able to receive the infinite gifts made available through Christ–not because God is evil and unjust, but because we are. A million years from now, the real tragedy that counts most will not be how and when each of us died, but whether we rejected Christ or not. That doesn't mean I wish anyone to die or any parent to suffer grief, and I'm genuinely bothered that you would reconstruct my thoughts into such a large stone of offense. Those are street preacher tactics unworthy of you.

    Stepping back from that million-year perspective, here in mortality I want each child to live and have a full life, LDS or not, ex-Mormon or not.