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And they brought their wives and their children together, and whosever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire. - Alma 14:8
The burning of women and children in Ammonihah is one of the more disturbing stories in the Book of Mormon. Not only is it a horrific scene to imagine, but it also raises questions about the nature of God. Many readers of the Book of Mormon find it hard to reconcile their belief in a kind and merciful God with the apparent apathy and neglect God showed toward the suffering of these women and children. Their story raises the classic question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” I don’t know if any of us can answer that question definitively, but the story of these women gives us valuable insight into why God allows suffering.
After Alma and Amulek were arrested for preaching the Gospel, the believers who were men were cast out from the city leaving the women and children. With the men gone, the women believers were vulnerable, and they, along with their children, were seized by the wicked people of Ammonihah. As a group, along with the records containing the holy scriptures, they were “cast into the fire” (vs. 8). Swift wrote,
Not only are believers burned alive, but even those who were simply taught by the two missionaries are martyred. We are not given a glimpse into how the women or children reacted; we have no idea how they were chosen or if some tried to be spared by denying what they had been taught. The text does not mention the terrible inner turmoil that many of the women must have felt as they saw their children burned alive . . . All such questions are left to us readers to struggle with however we may, to imagine the horror of the scene, to ask ourselves if we could stand at the edge of death, with our children, and still bear testimony as we step into the fire.
It can be hard to understand why God would allow someone to become a martyr, especially innocent women and children, while allowing the wicked to go free. I think Alma’s words give us hope that the wicked will not go free. Jesus taught that it is from the wicked that compensation for “all the righteous blood shed upon the earth“ (Matt. 23:35) will be required. D&C 135:7 also warns that “the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar . . . . will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth.”
Still, despite the promise that one day He will avenge the blood of the martyrs, God’s apparent ambivalence toward the suffering in the world can make it hard to trust Him or to even believe that He exists. Some people might even relate to Michael Berenbaum, the director of Holocaust studies at the American Jewish University, who, in speaking about the Jewish Holocaust, remarked, “I wouldn’t want to know the God who sacrificed these people.”
It doesn’t seem right that a God who professes to be absolutely just would permit atrocities to be committed against innocent women and children. I appreciate the insights of Chakell Wardleigh, a writer for the Ensign. She wrote,
When bad things happen, we might sometimes wonder where God is. If He’s really there. If He could have prevented it. If He could have sent a miracle. We know He is all-powerful. We know He is in control. We know He wants what’s best for us. But there continue to be horrific tragedies and pain and suffering throughout the world . . . Sometimes we just want to know why. What’s the purpose of all this suffering? Why does He allow bad things to happen?
Unfortunately, we might not always know the reason “why.” . . . Because of the beautiful gift of agency, people make their own choices, both good and bad. Many good things have happened in the world because of their agency, but many terrible things have come about as well. In those bad moments when the wrong choices of others cause you pain, remember what President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency taught:
“God rarely infringes on the agency of any of his children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them . . . He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside . . . Through all mortal opposition, we have God’s assurance that He will ‘consecrate [our] afflictions for [our] gain.
** The following was an excerpt from the book Walking with the Women of the Book of Mormon currently on sale at cedarfort.com