Why Do Bad Things Happen?


Our souls were deeply touched when we opened the September 6-12, 2021 Come, Follow Me lesson and read this idea for personal scripture study: “Some of our afflictions are caused by our own choices. Others are caused by the choices of others. And sometimes no one is to blame—bad things just happen” (italics added).

The reason that these words moved us so deeply is that both of us have experienced traumatic events as children and adults. Sometimes well-intentioned people have tried to console us with clichés, such as: “It’s all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.” As we have reflected on our experiences, we have learned, however, that it is not always possible to know why something devastating happened. Instead, we simply need to strive to learn from traumatic experiences and move forward with faith in God.

Missouri Saints Faced Severe Trials

Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced traumatic events. In response to a June 7, 1831 revelation, faithful members began to settle in Missouri, “which is the land of your inheritance” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:42). Beginning in the summer of 1833 and continuing throughout the year, Missouri Saints had crops burned, lost livestock and personal property, were persecuted by mobs, driven from their homes, were beaten, and threatened with death (“Heading,” Doctrine and Covenants 101).


Shortly before hearing about these attacks, Joseph Smith received the following revelation about how Church members should respond to harassment, “Be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:14). Latter-day Saints were counseled not to fear, but to live worthy, and even die faithful to the covenants they had made with God.

Four months later, Joseph Smith received another revelation about how members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ should respond to societal persecution or personal trials: “And all they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory. Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full. Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and the life of the soul. And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:35-38). Regardless of any tragic events that have or will happen to us, Christ counsels us to strengthen our faith and seek to know and follow Him.

Jesus Christ

Remembering Christ’s Example

The life of Christ demonstrates how He survived and faced great hardships and trials. Shortly after Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord warned Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt, thus avoiding murders resulting from an edict by King Herod to kill all children under the age of two years old (see Matthew 2:13-18). When Jesus began His ministry, He sacrificed the security and comfort of his home in order to teach the gospel to the children of Israel, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). On numerous occasions, scribes and Pharisees threatened to kill Him, but each time Heavenly Father miraculously protected Christ’s life (see Matthew 12:14-15; Mark 3:6; Luke 11:53; John 8:59; 10:31; 11:53).


Yet the Son of God was prepared to sacrifice everything when His ultimate test came. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). His suffering was so great that He did “tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18). Jesus willingly partook of that bitter cup and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).


It is in memory of His great atoning sacrifice that we partake of the sacramental emblems—covenanting to remember that He gave His body and shed His blood for us (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79). The ordinance of the sacrament teaches the importance to remember—always—who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us.


To Heal, We Must Remember

The sacrament can also serve as a strategy for how to heal from personal losses and tragedies. Many people try to forget or downplay distressing events or situations. Even though it is hard to re-examine traumatic experiences, remembering is how to heal. Through the process of remembering and seeking ways to move forward, we can discern and rediscover personal purposes for how to live meaningfully.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered traditional approaches of comforting the terminally ill and mourning with family and friends at funerals. We need to pray to find ways to help others. Some ideas could include the following: phone calls, social media messages, mailing a card, sharing photographs, delivering a meal, or sending a thoughtful gift. In these distressing times, we need to seek the Lord’s inspiration to remember those who have experienced suffering and loss and to show gratitude for those who have made sacrifices to serve others.

When we do not know what to do, we should remember this counsel given to the pioneer Saints in Missouri, “Be still and know that I am God” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:16; see also Psalm 46:10). Those words reminded them that ultimately faith in God is what will help to endure trials—even unto death. Regardless of who, what, or why traumatic events have occurred, we can receive divine healing from devastating life trials. Despite the injustices and sufferings that happen to us, we still can know that God will help us heal step-by-step (see “Press Forward Saints,” Hymns, no. 81). By keeping our priesthood covenants, we are faithfully striving to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).


Concerning the Messianic command to become perfect, President James E. Faust has taught: “Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process” (“The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May, 1979).