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Blaming God for disaster is endemic in our society.
Somehow, the popular conclusion in religious circles has been that, since God is all-powerful, absolutely everything that happens in the world is His will. This is a terrible accusation to lay on our loving Heavenly Father, but we see it every day. When a young man dies in the prime of his life, the sympathies often expressed to the grieving parents are, “God called him home” or “God has another mission for him in Heaven” or “It is all in God’s plan.” This implies that God arranged the death of this young man to get him from the mortal world to the afterlife a little more quickly.
It infers that this young man apparently had talents that God could not find elsewhere in heaven, so He arranged for the death of their son. What a terrible concept to suggest to grieving parents! In such sympathies, mourners essentially express their opinion that, “Yes, God did take the life of your son, but I am sure it was for a very good reason.” If they actually believed that God had taken their son, could his loving parents ever forgive Him?
To all parents who have lost a child, let me assure you that it was never God’s will that such a thing should happen. God joins you in your grief. He did not cause it.
But the idea that we should blame God for our difficulties extends even further. I have heard numerous Church members describe a painful physical ailment, a distressing family problem, or a serious financial setback and then exclaim that they have fasted and prayed to understand what God was trying to teach them through this awful event! The implication here is that God initiated a devastating loss of their happiness to get them to guess what they were doing wrong and correct it.
By this faulty logic, it would appear that God will arrange for cancer to afflict an elderly grandmother in order to further humble her, teach her pain, or cause her to repent of some unknown sin. Where did this belief come from? Religions have taught for many years that God influences even the smallest details of our lives. On one hand, it may be a comforting thought that God interacts with us so closely in each moment of our lives. Such a belief assures us of God’s love and our importance.
On the other hand, if we believe that God influences our lives daily, then God is on the hook for many disappointments. Did you get the flu because your body is susceptible to a virus or because God gave it to you? Did your car break down because you drove it so much or because God thought you needed another financial setback? Were you late for work because you left home too late or because God delayed traffic to teach you responsibility? Then, if we accept the premise that God causes the small, day-to-day difficulties in our lives, isn’t it a forgone conclusion that He is the author of the major tragedies as well?
This belief has caused many afflicted people to feel so much undeserved guilt that they consciously choose to become atheists. If God causes the calamities in our lives, they conclude, He must have a very sadistic side and does not merit their worship.
You may logically argue that God sends us difficulties and disaster to make us better people. By this line of thinking, God decides which tribulations are necessary in our lives to help us mature, develop empathy, and handle grief. Once He has made the decision, God then uses His power to bring the needed hardship into our lives. This concept is based on the fact that difficulties really do help us mature, develop empathy, and handle grief.
The truth of that principle has been proven in millions of life stories. We have a lot of learning to acquire from childhood to adulthood, but maturity is caused by life experiences, not age. Afflictions teach us perseverance, strength, empathy, patience, and appreciation of our normal day-to-day lives. Any negative mishap in our lives gives us the opportunity to respond and further develop our courage and resilience—or to retreat and ignore the difficulty. Life experiences motivate us to grow, and I am thankful to live in a world that provides them.
But there are problems with the conclusion that God custom designs our tragedies and springs them upon us. First, it has very little scriptural basis, which we will examine in a moment. Second, one has to wonder if the thousands of people affected by a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster were all due for both a near-fatal experience and a lesson in humility by losing their homes.
For example, in November 2018, the camp fire in Paradise, California, destroyed 13,053 homes. Did the families in those homes all need this particular hardship in their lives? Certainly not. It would have been an incredible coincidence indeed if almost all of the population in Paradise needed such a severe lesson in humility and appreciation. Will each of those 13,053 families learn to be more resilient and thankful as they build new homes and lives?
Almost certainly. So, while we know that disaster strengthens character, it is illogical to extrapolate that God sends those disasters. When a ship at sea sinks, drowning everyone on board, it is impossible to ascribe the disaster to God trying to teach those passengers a lesson.
Last, if God strikes me with tragedy to improve my obedience, is His plan also to cause my wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors new emotional pain to develop their empathy as well? Do they also deserve punishment, or are they simply collateral damage to the disaster sent to me? No, the longheld belief that God sends misfortune into our lives to teach us principles is rife with impossibilities, gaps in logic, and lack of proof. Joseph Smith stated,
So that it is an unhallowed principle to say that such and such have transgressed because they have been preyed upon by disease or death, for all flesh is subject to death.”
Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever blamed Him? Let us know your story and how you were able to overcome this.
*The following was an excerpt from the book Angry with God currently available at cedarfort.com