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Suffering in the World

by Carlfred Broderick

Suffering is inherent in mortality. Physical bodies are subject to pain and discomfort from hunger, disease, trauma, violence, and exposure. As a social being, man is vulnerable to emotional suffering that often rivals physical pain—anxiety, rejection, loneliness, despair. Among the sensitive there are also other levels of profound suffering. They may relate, for example, to the awareness of the effects of sin or the anguish of the abuse or indifference of one's loved ones. And there is vicarious suffering in response to the pain around one and the sense of the withdrawal of the Spirit. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus' words on the cross "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is a measure of the depth of his suffering (Matt. 27:46).

Mankind's attempts to explain the necessity of suffering are varied: (1) it is an essential element in testing and building moral character; (2) it is the unavoidable side effect of agency; (3) it is illusory or utterly mysterious. Whatever partial consolations these attempts provide, suffering remains.

LDS doctrine provides two explanations that are uncommon in the Judeo-Christian tradition. First, all mankind chose to enter mortality with full knowledge of the great price that would be required of the Christ and of discipleship in his name. Second, one's suffering is to be in the image of that of the Lord, whose suffering was requisite "that his bowels [might] be filled with mercy…that he [might] know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12). In no other way could the redemption of the universe and the unleashing of authentic love and compassion be achieved. Jesus described his own mission almost entirely in terms of healing: "to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; …to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:18-19).

Only in the life to come amid the glories of the New Jerusalem will the full effect of Christ's mission "wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev. 21:4). Even so, for Latter-day Saints the embrace of his messiahship and the proclamation of his gospel were intended to relieve needless pain and suffering. They do so in many ways. First, they provide a foundation for hope that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ one may find reunion with God. Second, they offer continuous access to the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and, through this, to an inner peace that "passeth all understanding" (Philip. 4:7). Third, they teach the law of the harvest, that many blessings follow naturally from obedience to the laws that govern them and that much unhappiness can be avoided, including sin and its accompanying pain, shame, and spiritual bruising. And finally, they establish a community built on kinship, a society of mutually supportive and protective fellow believers whose charge is to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-9).

Latter-day Saints do not believe that pain is intrinsically good. In their teaching there is little of asceticism, mortification, or negative spirituality. But when suffering is unavoidable in the fulfillment of life's missions, one's challenge is to draw upon all the resources of one's soul and endure faithfully and well. If benefit comes from pain, it is not because there is anything inherently cleansing in pain itself. Suffering can wound and embitter and darken a soul as surely as it can purify and refine and illumine. Everything depends on how one responds. At a time of terrible desolation and imprisonment, the Prophet Joseph Smith was told, "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…. Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way,…fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever" (D&C 121:7-8; 122:7-9).

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page)

Bibliography

Kimball, Spencer W. "Thy Son Liveth." IE 48 (May 1945):253, 294.

Kimball, Spencer W. "Tragedy or Destiny." IE 69 (Mar. 1966):178-80, 210-12, 214, 216-17.

Madsen, Truman G. "Evil and Suffering." Instructor 99 (Nov. 1964):450-53.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3, Suffering in the World

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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