Laguna Beach, 1993. As fierce wildfires fueled by 70 mph Santa Ana winds swept through the Laguna Canyon and hurtled towards their neighborhoods, several families in our Laguna Beach ward found themselves literally racing to escape the 200-feet-high flames. When it was over, the fire had claimed 366 homes, and, though most of our ward members’ homes were spared, one family, the Hansens, only had time to grab a few photo albums and run before their house burned to the ground. At the next fast and testimony meeting, *Brother Jones, a former stake president, stood at the pulpit and testified that at the crucial moment when the flames bore down on his house, he had commanded the fires to turn back, and thus, because of his righteous use of the priesthood and his faith, his home had been spared. Meanwhile, the Hansens sat in the congregation, faces blank.

Now I must point out that Brother Hansen had been a bishop of that ward and that he and his wife are very good people who know how to exercise faith. So, did the fact that their house burned down mean that they were lacking in faith? That if Brother Hansen had only used his priesthood, their house would have been spared? (Imagine Brother Hansen sitting in that fast and testimony meeting, thinking, “Ah, yes—the old turn-back-the-flames-with-the-priesthood trick. Wish I’d thought of that one.”) In short, were the Hansens less righteous, less deserving of a miracle than Brother Jones?

Of course not. Most of us know that it’s not as simple as that. I recognize that while Brother Jones’ faith may have played a part in his home being saved—who am I to say it wasn’t a case of divine intervention?—I submit that he was being presumptuous and perhaps even arrogant, not to mention downright insensitive, in his assertion that his faith had saved his home. Likewise, most of us recognized recently that Pat Robertson was being arrogant and self-righteous and just plain silly when he claimed that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment for the deal the Haitians made with the Devil hundreds of years ago.

Both of these assumptions rest on the ideas that A. we know what God is thinking, B. what befalls us is God’s will and is the result of our righteousness or lack thereof (use of the priesthood and faith=house spared; deal with the Devil=earthquake), and, C. we can therefore control what happens to us. But we should know that if God in His mercy causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, it follows that—as a natural result of living in an imperfect world—fires, earthquakes, and other disasters, as well as the proverbial rain, also fall upon the just and the unjust. Yes, miracles can and do occur through the use of faith and the priesthood, and the Lord does bless us for our obedience and allow us to suffer the consequences of our disobedience, but God’s judgments aren’t always—usually?—easily recognizable or executed in this life, nor are we qualified to decide who is ultimately obedient or disobedient. In other words, life is much more complex than cause/effect formulas.

I’m guessing that most of us try not to be a Pat Robertson or even a Brother Jones, but how often do we make flawed assumptions about causes and effects, though perhaps on a smaller scale? “If I’d only had more faith, I might have been cured,” we might think, or “What did I/they do to deserve this?” “No wonder her daughter got pregnant out of wedlock—she let her wear tank tops and bikinis,” we might think, with a trace of smugness, or, “We reap what we sow.”

I have an LDS friend whose husband is a real estate developer; they’ve been financially well off for years—until the downturn in the economy. They are good people, generous with their time, talents, and means. Last February, when her husband was coming home every day, shoulders slumped, with one piece of bad news after another—more foreclosures, the possibility of bankruptcy—and my friend was lying awake at night, weeping, fraught with worry, one of her friends casually mentioned during a Relief Society meeting that the economic crisis was in part a judgment on wealthy church members, who were finally getting what they deserved.

Yes, sometimes we get what we deserve—for good or for ill—and sometimes God’s judgments and will are apparent. But most of the time it’s not so clear-cut. And let’s face it: in the grand scheme of things none of us really wants what we deserve, because we’re all lacking, and we all need God’s grace. We want mercy, not justice. The best we can do, then, when tragedy befalls another, is avoid judging and offer kindness and love and a helping hand. The least we can do—the very least—is refrain from kicking each other when we’re down.

*Name has been changed.

How can we avoid falling into the Pat Robertson trap in our own lives? How can we avoid being a Brother Jones? What false assumptions have you made about someone else’s trials? What false assumptions have others made about yours? How has another’s kindness helped you through adversity?

47 Comments

  1. anon

    January 26, 2010

    IME people do this to avoid having to “mourn with those that mourn” which is unpleasant, awkward, and scary, and also because if they admit that bad things happen to good people (sometimes for no good reason at all) then that means something bad could happen to THEM for no good reason at all. No, it is better to say that another’s trial was GIVEN to them by God for a reason, therefore, we need not fear the same trial, nor have to feel sorrow with them because hey, its “all part of the plan” or “maybe you just need to learn something”! Hmmmm. It is incredibly selfish, insensitive and amazingly presumptuious to assume that we know why or why not God did or did not do something, ESPECIALLY when one is assuming on the behalf of someone else. I cant stand Fast & Testimony meeting for this very reason…it has been to reduced to “I got what I wanted because God loves me, and I am so faithful and righteous!”

  2. Angela T.

    January 26, 2010

    Regarding “What false assumptions have you made about someone else’s trials? What false assumptions have others made about yours?”

    I am regretful to say that for the longest time I was very judgmental about CHILD SPACING (weird and sort of anal right?) and although I was aware of the possibility of infertility for some couples, I overlooked or didn’t even consider other causes for large gaps between children.

    Now, after having a stillbirth in October, leaving a possible +3 year gap (or possibility a definite gap) between my firstborn and third child, I’m very aware that things don’t go as we plan, agency only goes so far.

    On the flipside, during that trial, when our second baby was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 and we chose to carry out the pregnancy to “term,” people made many assumptions about the cause of the genetic defect and often speculated that it was heredity that caused it, when in actually it is a very random outcome.

    A scripture story that is good to reflect on concerning trial is in ALMA 19. King Lamoni has fallen to the ground and his people begin to murmur, some saying that the King is being punished and that is why this “great evil” had come upon him. But, in actually, King Lamoni was seeing his Redeemer.

    That, if anything, is was I learned this past year. That a trial is not a punishment. It’s an opportunity for someone to see God and also to “prove” themselves.

    It’s all about perspective. And maybe if we think of trials that way, we can learn how to better support and care for others during those times.

  3. Sherry

    January 26, 2010

    I read a talk from Neil Maxwell which talked about different sorts of trials. He stated that the toughest trial of all is not having any “trials”. It was easy for me to look down on those who had addiction issues, or mental issues until I married someone and know someone who are dealing with those issues. Even after many years of dealing with his addiction, I still saw myself as a better person than he was. Only until I went to spousal addiction classes and studied the atonement did I stop judging him and stop feeling sorry for myself (which only added to my self-righteousness).

  4. Sherry

    January 26, 2010

    The feeling sorry for myself added to my self-righteousness. I don’t know if that last sentence made sense, I think I’m reading it too many times. Oh blah…

  5. SilverRain

    January 26, 2010

    I grant that I wasn’t there, so don’t know what Spirit his testimony was given in, but I don’t understand why it is wrong for him to have testified that the Lord turned back the flames through his use of the priesthood? Perhaps He did.

    Some people often get up and testify how the Lord has blessed them in their marriage because they [blank]. (Insert attended-the-temple, always-had-family-prayer, or whatever else your heart desires.) My marriage failed despite my efforts, but that doesn’t mean that the Lord hasn’t blessed others with strong marriages because of their righteousness. Nor does it mean I’ve not been righteous or that the Lord hasn’t blessed me for it . . . only that He hasn’t blessed me in that way.

    The sin is not in testifying of blessings, the sin is in expecting everyone’s blessings to be the same. It is not necessarily presumptuous or arrogant to testify to blessings. It may be, but it easily may not be. It is only presumptuous or arrogant to compare righteousness levels and make judgments.

  6. c-marie

    January 26, 2010

    This is a hard one. On one hand, it’s hard to see someone sporadically pay their tithing and see them make one foolish financial decision after another, and not think that there life would be easier if they changed their actions. On the other, I sometimes think that people have received certain trials BECAUSE they’re so righteous and are being purified (i.e. Elder Maxwell and his cancer).

    In the example you mention, I think it’s possible that BOTH Bro. Hansen and Bro. Jones were being “blessed” for their righteousness. Perhaps at the time Bro. Hansen needed confirmation that he did hold the priesthood of God (I have had friends receive spiritual witness that they’ve received certain blessings as a direct result of obeying certain commandments). While what Bro. Hansen needed were the blessings that would come from relying on the Lord after losing his house. Maybe someday he will stand in testimony meeting and testify about what a great thing that was for his family?

    I think this just underscores how we really can’t judge a person’s heart or what the Lord has planned for their lives to bring them back to Him.

    Basically… I like what SilverRain said 🙂

  7. jenny

    January 26, 2010

    Wow. We just had a high coucil speaker who used two examples of men who had strings of bad luck before they eventually died. He equated both of their periods of trial and harship to their loss of faith and eventually their leaving the church. I squirmed in my seat. What he said *might* have some truth to it. Who’s to say? Not me.
    Sometimes bad things just happen. (Um, anyone else thinking of Job?) The Brother Jones in your story probably thought he was doing a good thing by sharing his testimony of a monumental faith building experience, but the way in which it was presented unfortunately painted a broad sweeping picture that “righteous and faithful” people’s homes were spared. It is not an absolute: a+b=c. Sometimes a+b never equals c. We are all here to experience different things.
    It is a wonderful thing for people to proclaim their gratitude for blessings from Heavenly Father from the pulpit; the downside is that people, good people, are only human and the delivery, intention and interpretation of those testimonies are subject to human weakness as well. It is yet, one of Satan’s many tools to chip away at our own testimonies and feelings of self worth.

  8. Melissa M.

    January 26, 2010

    SilverRain, you are right that there is no sin in testifying of blessings—indeed, we *should* express gratitude and bear testimony of prayers being answered. And I didn’t say that in Brother Jones’ case, the Lord didn’t intervene—because He very well might have. In this case, however, Brother Jones’ attitude *was* pompous—everyone in the ward knew he had a rather high opinion of himself, his gospel knowledge, and his righteousness before the fires occurred (he regularly called others to repentance during fast and testimony meeting, for example, and gave long sermons instead of bearing testimony). But when he stood at the pulpit and boasted that he had turned back the fires by using his priesthood—and it was said with an attitude of boasting—while the Hansens sat in the congregation, it was difficult for ward members to view his testimony as faith-promoting. It was extremely insensitive, at best. And perhaps that’s all it was—insensitive. So I guess the burden was actually on the ward members to overlook Brother Jones’ insensitivity and try to see his heart. Lessons to be learned on both sides. But I maintain that we need to be careful when interpreting events as the Lord’s will.

  9. Heidi

    January 26, 2010

    The tendency among LDS members to attribute all things to righteousness/lack thereof or even to “God’s Will” is of great concern to me. I always squirm when I hear people testify of miracles occurring as a result of their faithfulness because I wonder who in the audience was just as faithful, but received no miracle.

    I think the truth we all need to better understand is that while God is and will never cease to be a God of Miracles, most of the time he’s simply a God of Nature: physical nature, human nature, economic nature, genetic nature. If a child dies, I tend to believe that it’s not because “God took him home,” (and I can’t imagine the rage I would feel if someone told me something like that), it’s because something in the child’s body stopped working as it should.

    The scriptures admonish is to recognize God’s hand in all things, but that’s not the same thing as attributing all things to God’s will. I think what that means is recognizing that often He lets the evil, the tragic, the heartrending, the unjust happen, but that His hand is there to sustain us through it.

  10. Sue

    January 26, 2010

    My own take on this is that human beings tend to affix “explanations” (often in the form of judgments) to others who have trials so that they can be reassured subconsciously that they are “safe” from experiencing such trials themselves. They want to assuage their own fears of calamity by believing that if they do “x, y and z,” such trials will never befall them.

    In other words, based upon fear, people selectively remind themselves that Brother Jones kept his home by faith and priesthood power (choosing not to focus on the fact that equally righteous Brother Hansen did not), Brother Smith’s son is using drugs because his family didn’t have FHE every Monday, Sister Turner’s husband wandered because she didn’t try hard enough, etc etc. By giving “reasons” for the tribulations of others, we attempt to convince ourselves that WE are safe. We will exercise faith and priesthood power if a fire or natural disaster occurs; we are having FHE every single Monday to make sure our children are never led astray by the adversary; we will do everything Sister Turner supposedly failed to do to keep her marriage intact, etc. etc. Simply put, we will have Kings X because of actions we are taking to protect ourselves.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the actions we take can’t positively impact the various occurrences in our lives. Free agency is all about that. However, while our actions do make an important difference in the world, but they don’t make ALL the difference in the world, because we can only control ourselves. We cannot control either the people around us or circumstances in general. This means we are not bulletproof; there is no Kings X, and bad things do happen to good people…people who are doing exactly what they should be doing.

    The rain does fall upon the just and the unjust, and that’s a fact. We are here (by choice) to experience whatever the fallen nature of life on earth throws at us, and while the Lord sometimes does act to spare us, more often He lets the storm happen and comforts us. What is that saying? (I just looked all over the internet and couldn’t find a credit for it, but it’s as true as truth gets.) “Sometimes, God calms the storm. Sometimes, He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”

    Part of our journey here on earth is to learn acceptance and submission, both of which become more likely in the presence of humility and trust in the Lord. We do best when we remind ourselves that life is a hard job and that it is supposed to be. Our part is to sort of roll with the punches, to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to expect that the Lord will be there for us…not to bail us out, but to buoy us up. When that is our expectation, we free ourselves to follow the counsel to “comfort yourselves together.” We let go of fear and grab hold of each other.

    Sorry to go on for so long, but my point is that we can stop making assumptions about other people’s trials when we stop needing to pretend that, through our “good behavior,” we can somehow avoid experiencing them ourselves. There is no Kings X, and we don’t need it. What we do need is faith, humility, and willingness to go through whatever life throws at us, with the Lord’s help…and with the help of our neighbors, which given in the right spirit, amounts to the same thing.

  11. Allan

    January 26, 2010

    To me this brings up the question, was Bro. Jones home spared to increase his faith in God and God’s ability to save them, and he needed that experience? Or was it saved because Bro. Joneses faith couldn’t have handled the trial and would have tested him beyond his ability to bare it? Was Bro. Hanson’s faith strong enough to handle the devastation (obviously it was)and he was given a growing experience that he needed? In acts 12 it talks about God miraculously sparing Peter from death at Harod’s hand, an example of Gods power and ability to intervene and save. But the beginning of the same chapter tells us Harod killed James and there was no miracle intervention for James, …though He could have. You are right we do not comprehend the mind and will of God, though I know every thing He does is for our salvation, we just don’t have the complete vision of what we personally need to that end, but I know God does and our true purpose in having these experiences is to learn to trust/have faith, that that is true. Like Sherry I am beginning to learn if I truly trust God,I no longer Pray for things to go well, I pray for the growth that I need and for strength to meet the task, and truthfully there have been a few times that that prayer has tested me to the very core, but I absolutely know God is there and he cares. maybe that was what Bro Hanson was praying for too?

  12. Melissa M.

    January 26, 2010

    Heidi and Sue, profound and wise words, indeed. Thank you.

  13. heathermommy

    January 26, 2010

    I think that part of the problem is that we are often trying to explain and speak for God’s mind and will in things. When the truth of the matter is most of the time we have no idea why God does or doesn’t do things. I think having faith is being okay with not knowing. We have to stop saying “oh this happened because of this…” Most of the times we are wrong.

    In a recent stake conference our Stake President said it takes greater faith to endure not getting a miracle than the faith it takes to get a miracle. I love that. And in some of my recent trials I have really felt that it is true. I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to adeliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
    But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not aserve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” – But if not they would still be faithfull. That’s what needs to be our motto.

  14. Kristen

    January 26, 2010

    I found all of this interesting. And all of the points were well-articulated. Which leads me to conclude that looking for the “whys” in a mortal and dynamic world is really kind of futile. I always bear in mind that we are to acknowledge the hand of God in all things – but I tend away from the perspective that what happens to us is always “done” to us, or even given to us. HF designed a complex and wondrous system for this period of our education; I have a hard time seeing him tinkering with it to design an exact life for each of his children – either to bless or to burden (or both, since they seem to come packed in the same box a lot of the time).

    My father did teach me, long ago, that Testimony meeting was not a place where you take the high stand and publicly thank God for your specific set of blessings (My husband gave the baby a beautiful blessing and he lived). Rather, it is for the quiet statement of our belief – of those principles in which we have faith. We love the stories – love to hear the successes – yearn for miracles. But every such story told implies that one person has been blessed and another either punished, or abandoned by the same Father. Bearing testimony should not include a list of our own righteous actions, but a calm statement of our love for the Lord, and maybe for those who reflect that love.

    I understand deeply the need we mortal folks have to find reasons why we should be safe while another is not. The need to earn points and win rewards. And I am not in the place where I have conquered the need to pray that things will go well. Or where I no longer look for cause and effect beyond physics. But I am strengthened by statements like Allan’s last bit – without the tale of his trials, his testimony, and his feeling that prayer is more true when it is offered up for strength, faith and love.

    This is a hard test. A hard test.

  15. Marintha

    January 26, 2010

    Melissa,
    Great post!

    Kristen,
    “Which leads me to conclude that looking for the “whys” in a mortal and dynamic world is really kind of futile.”
    True words.

  16. ErinAnn

    January 26, 2010

    Wow. Not much to add here. I really enjoyed Heidi’s comments about God being a God of Nature. So true. We are mortals subject to a mortal world. We came to suffer the pains of mortality.

    I don’t believe that Bro. Maxwell was given cancer as a “refining experience”. We are all given our mortal experiences. If we *use* them as an opportunity for refinement, then it is that much better for us.

    We are given this life as a test. Not one where we merely check off right and wrong choices, but where our spirit, mentality, and bodies are tested, tried, made to suffer and where we find out what we do with what we have been given.

    My life is pretty easy right now. It’s definitely been worse, but overall I’d say that I have it waaaay better than most in the world — and even within the US. I just hope my attitude through adversity can hold up when it (as I’m assuming) gets a little worse in places.

  17. Em-Cat

    January 26, 2010

    We never truly know another person’s circumstance. The wealthy don’t always have a charmed, easy life and the poor may not be humble. The only judge is Christ and we’re here to build up our fellow men when we are needed without placing blame or judging why they’re in that particular situation. Easier said than done I know, but I think it’s something to strive for.

  18. JoLyn

    January 26, 2010

    Thank you for this post–it really needed to be said.

    Thank you Angela T. in comment 2 for your thoughts on King Lamoni. I’ve never thought of it that way before, but it is a great application to our lives.

    When I think of trials I remember a talk–I think by Elder Holland–where he said there are three reasons for trials. 1–because we are mortal, and have to endure the pains and trials of earth life. 2–because of the mistakes and bad choices we make. 3–because of the mistakes and bad choices of others and how they affect us.

    Who are we to judge where another’s trial fits? We have enough to worry about in dealing with our own!

  19. Melissa

    January 26, 2010

    Wow. I’m kind of speechless after reading the post. I was trying to read Melissa’s message, but was so distracted by Bro. Jones’ comment and that of the woman in RS that I may have missed the message. Maybe Bro. Jones’ meant well (testifying of the Lord’s power), but come on–one of the basic rules in Speech 101 is that you need to consider your audience when you are speaking. I would have been so grateful that my house was spared, but feeling soooo bad for the Hansens that there is no way on the planet I would have shared that experience in a public forum where the Hansen’s had to listen! And that RS sister sounds bitter. I’m not wealthy, so I can say that, right? If there is one thing I’ve learned in all my years on earth, it’s that we have no right whatsoever to judge another’s experiences or think that we are more righteous than someone else. The Lord is the ONLY person qualified to see what is in our hearts and judge accordingly. This knowledge helps me keep my mouth shut even when the thoughts come. I wish we could wipe out the self-righteous thing in the church. It would create more compassion for others and humility in ourselves if we could take care of our own beezwax and hold another’s hand while they are enduring their stuff. Everyone is on their own path, and only the Lord knows why and what learning is needed for an individual. I have enough of my own learning to pay attention to without looking over the fence and worrying about my neighbor. 😮

  20. Angie f

    January 26, 2010

    I think all our experiences are supposed to be refining experiences.

    I had a friend once whose son had decided church wasn’t for him. She cried and prayed and agonized over what she should have done better as a mother, even though she had done it all. It pained her greatly to hear every testimony of “if you will just have FHE, scripture and prayer, your children will be safe and faithful like mine.” Sometimes the implied promises of our testified blessings (if you do like ME, you will get the same blessings) can be disheartening for those whose blessings and trials come in different packages. During the years of r/e plenty, it used to drive me nuts when people would bear their testimonies of knowing the move was right because their home sold quickly and for at least as much as they asked. I don’t believe the Lord manipulates the housing market specifically to bless (then) or to punish (now) us. Our area has many people who have previously made their living in r/e or in construction and they are largely scrambling and struggling right now. When there has been perceived excess, it is easy to pass judgments. But righteous judgment is never snap and is never made without sufficient information and most of us are neither in a position of stewardship nor of information to be making those judgments about those around us. The trick for my friend was to not wallow in self-pity and doubt because of her son’s choices in the face of all he had been taught. The trick for all of us with our particular packages of troubles and blessings is not to question or assign reasons but to ask what the Lord would have us do with what we’ve received, good or bad. And that’s no easy thing!

  21. mom o' boys

    January 26, 2010

    Very well written post. Very interesting questions. I’m sorry I don’t have time to read all previously written comments before writing this (gotta run in just a minute…I’ll come back later and catch up on what I missed). A few thoughts of mine…I’ve heard so many people say things like “everything happens for a reason”. I don’t know of any scripture that backs that up (there could be some GA talks that do), but in my mind, the Lord allows all of us to experience life as it happens to most of us, whether good or bad. The blessings that come to us from living the commandments, in my mind, are more often intangible and invisible, such as having peace of mind even when things around us are falling apart. At tithing settlement just last month, the bishop was telling our family how we are blessed financially when we pay our tithing. Ironically enough, just a few weeks after we declared ourselves as full tithe-payers, we were hit with a couple thousand dollars of repairs and so forth. Am I blessed? Yes, definitely. But, it doesn’t mean that the blessings always follow directly the following of commandments (as in many inspiring stories of people paying their tithing and then being blessed with some unexpected inheritance). The Lord has promised us that we will have our afflictions consecrated for our well-being, not that we will always be spared the afflictions. Very sad for the family who had their home burned down.

    Along these same lines, I have known a few close friends and family members who have lost children to severe illnesses. They had faith and were living good lives, but their children still suffered and then eventually passed on. In absolutely no way do I see this as a punishment for lack of faith.

    Our own understanding of life’s ups and downs is clearly limited in this mortal existence. Thus, the scripture in Proverbs 3:5-6 about trusting the Lord. And, the kindest thing we can do for our friends and neighbors is not judge them based on blessings they do or do not receive.

  22. jendoop

    January 26, 2010

    I think this issue is about our illusion of control over anything. It is used to comfort us, to assuage our fears, but in reality it distances us from God. It keeps us from recognizing his hand in ALL things (not that we know exactly how, but all things are according to his will for one reason or another).

    This is also a great example of why we have been counseled to only bear testimony in testimony meeting, not try to one-up each other in miracles, blessings, etc.

    At the same time why not be grateful for another’s blessings? When I suffered from secondary infertility it was very hard to watch other people become pregnant. I tried to talk to another sister who suffered from infertility about my feelings. She acted surprised and said, “What does their blessing have to do with my trial?” Her comment taught me so much and I worked on changing my attitude.

    As to times people have assumed falsely about me… all the time! I know I do it too. Just the other day a woman made a comment about how blessed they were each time they moved because they got a good deal on their house. I stood up for myself and said that I knew our moves had been the right thing for our family but we went into debt each time. Going into debt to move made it a great trial of our faith to accept the move and not dig in our heels and refuse to go because God didn’t line it up perfectly.

    If God automatically blessed us every time we did some thing righteous there would be no faith.

  23. corktree

    January 26, 2010

    After a miscarriage a few years ago, I fully believed that God had punished me for not wanting the pregnancy enough. It seems crazy now, but at the time it was the only explanation I could wrap my mind around. I see now the source of such a negative thought, but the experience actually taught me some great lessons. I had to really decide how much *good and bad* I believed the Lord really caused directly in the world, and I concluded that it was probably MUCH less than most people think.

    Because of this I have moved on to think more carefully about the situations of others and how I can help them instead of judge them. (I’m not saying I would ever judge anyone based on something like a miscarriage, that was just my skewed view at the time). It’s still hard to avoid the knee jerk reaction sometimes though, and I think anon #1 is right, that we do this to sometimes make ourselves feel better about avoiding our duty to those that are suffering. I think it’s subconscious though and that it takes work to make our first thoughts ones of compassion and charity rather than whether someone TRULY needs our help or not.

  24. Emily U

    January 26, 2010

    My own disappointments and challenges have led me to give up on trying to figure out why things happen the way they do, to me or to anyone else. I just focus on trying to be grateful for the good in my life and not losing hope because of the bad.

  25. Emily U

    January 26, 2010

    I also think it’s a huge falsehood that all things are according to God’s will. A great many things happen because of human agency. And a great many are due to variation in the natural environment (i.e. earthquakes). The idea that it’s all God’s will can be very damaging, I think.

  26. Natalie

    January 26, 2010

    I think a lot of things happen because of us — wildfires, disease, etc. We were given this planet and if we don’t take care of it, unfortunately, crap happens.

    Also, I believe God is bound to the laws of physics he created. Things like earthquakes and hurricanes happen because of how the Earth was made and how it continues to form.

    Of course, God has the power to do those things as well or stop them. I don’t know

    Maybe that’s just gospel according to me. But I can’t imagine God burning down someone’s house and sparing another due to faith or spite.

  27. Lisa

    January 26, 2010

    I think it’s pretty harsh to judge Brother Jones for having a testimony and sharing a spiritual experience. It seems hurtful to publicly doubt others’ testimonies and spiritual experiences.

    Also, I would agree with many of the other comments that perhaps the Hansen family had a different experience for a purpose/reason/etc. that no one else can understand at this time.

    And even if it was just random bad luck, there is no reason the Lord might not have chosen to use an otherwise terrible situation to help Brother Jones’ testimony…to build him up, and put him in the position to share such a testimony of the priesthood with others. Maybe someone needed to hear that testimony in that way to touch their heart at that particular meeting that day. Who are we to judge other’s spiritual experiences?

    Bad things happen to good people all the time…read the scriptures; it’s a part of life. We just have to do the best we can with what we get, and trust that they Lord won’t give us more than we can handle.

  28. Melissa M.

    January 26, 2010

    I appreciate so much all of the thoughts being shared.

    heathermommy, thanks for mentioning that scripture; I need to apply that phrase “But if not” to many circumstances in my life. I know this scripture was the subject of a recent Conference talk—I need to go look it up.

    Kristen, love your father’s thoughts about what should occur during testimony bearing.

    “I wish we could wipe out the self-righteous thing in the church. It would create more compassion for others and humility in ourselves if we could take care of our own beezwax and hold another’s hand while they are enduring their stuff.”—Well-said, Melissa.

    “The trick for all of us with our particular packages of troubles and blessings is not to question or assign reasons but to ask what the Lord would have us do with what we’ve received, good or bad. And that’s no easy thing!”—Angie f, so true.

    Loved your thoughts, mom o’boys and Jendoop. Corktree, thank you for sharing your experience about your miscarriage and what that taught you about trials.

    Thanks to every one of you who have commented—you’ve helped make this a rich discussion.

  29. Kathryn P.

    January 26, 2010

    Part of Job’s trial was dealing with the insensitive and judgmental comments of his friends and neighbors. That is also part of our mortal test. I have had 50 years of adversity and every trial has provided wonderful learning opportunities. I’ve learned to access the power of the atonement in healing from abuse. I’ve learned God is just waiting for me to ask for help and always willing to answer my prayers. My life has provided the opportunities I needed to develop humility and compassion for others. One of my primary girls is sad because her life is filled with grumpy people. My life was also filled with grumpy people when I was her age and the only thing I can tell her is the world is filled with imperfect people –including her primary teacher. Sometimes we’re in pain (physically or emotionally) and we say the wrong thing. Fortunately, we can pray to a Heavenly Father who NEVER says the wrong thing. We can pray to become more like Christ and love all the people in our lives unconditionally — even the ones (like us) who occasionally say the wrong thing. I just pray to see the Brother Jones in my life through spiritual eyes, because I know that I will never have pure charity until I can love EVERYONE. I hope I have another 50 years of adversity, because I still have so much to learn…but what an incredible journey… I love the plan of happiness!

  30. jendoop

    January 26, 2010

    Emily U, I understand your point of view about all things being according to God’s will, or not. The way I look at it is that free agency is God’s will, a key component in his plan. Therefore even the things that happen due to free agency are according to his will.

    Not that God wants us to unnecessarily suffer, but he does have the power to aid us, to heal us, to perform miracles on our behalf. Ultimately his goal is to help us become eternal beings to reside with him forever. While the momentary pain we feel does concern him, it is secondary to His grand purpose. So if a bad choice by someone else (or natural disaster, accident, etc.) may cause us to suffer, it will also school us and take us closer to him, so he allows it to happen to accomplish a greater good. Our ways are not His ways, thank heavens!

    In the end I agree with everyone that we’ll be held accountable for withholding compassion and support to anyone in need, regardless of cause, even when the need is a consequence of their own sin.

  31. Lindsay

    January 26, 2010

    We had a fire in our area–no houses were burnt, but the fire did come too close for comfort. One person stood up in fast meeting and said she knew her house would be okay because she lived next to the bishop! Fortunately the stake president is in our ward and he stood up and pretty much brought everyone back to reality.

  32. Velska

    January 26, 2010

    I just so saw Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau saying, “ah, yes, the old turn back the flames trick; wish I had thought of that one.”

    I am LOLling and it’s four in the morning…

  33. Velska

    January 26, 2010

    Other than that, yes, I second your notions. There are some things that we just need to experience, and we’ll be given the opportunity, if by nothing else, then by natural phenomena that don’t ask for your credit ratings or such.

    Sometimes we talk like there would be a way to completely avoid all sickness and other affliction just by being righteous enough. I suspect that were that the case, we’d be on our way back home sooner than we had thought. No more need for trials of faith… Prosperity can be a terrible trial of faith.

  34. Merry Michelle

    January 26, 2010

    Katheryn P, beautifully put; “We can pray to a Heavenly Father who NEVER says the wrong thing.”

    I also love this quote by M. Katherine Thomas. “…Often our love is based on the degree to which another person satisfies us…But our expectations are a function of a finite mind, the telestial and selfish mind, not the mind of God…We stand in a sacred relationship to the people in our lives, especially family, because they are not there by chance. The people in our lives were placed there not only for us to enjoy but also to cross us and to dissatisfy us from time to time so that we can learn that love is…to forgive the other, to cease to demand that the other satisfy us, and to seek to be able to bless that person.” (“Spiritual Lightening” pg.56).

    The bottom line is that we NEVER know the whole story, and there is always room for compassion, especially for those we are offended by and disagree with.

  35. teki

    January 26, 2010

    What a great discussion- I’m gaining many new perspectives on this topic.
    On Sunday, our TFOT lesson was Elder Oaks’ talk “Love and Law”. One statement that he made that really got me thinking was “God’s choicest blessings are reserved for those who are obedient to his commandments”(my wording). The word CHOICEST jumped off the page at me. Maybe His choicest blessings have nothing to do with our ease and comfort while here in mortality? but rather wonderful blessings to come? So maybe the “blessings” that some attribute to paying tithing, holding FHE, using the priesthood,etc., etc.,are really due to happy coincidence, natural consequences, whatever…but the CHOICEST blessings (eternal families/eternal life) are waiting for the faithful and are directly bestowed by a loving Heavenly Father as rewards for faithful obedience?
    I definitely agree that if every righteous choice or action brought immediate blessings (and vice versa), why would we need faith?
    It’s also very important to never look at blessings as a comparative exercise…just because Sister Jones has a certain blessing in her life that you desire, doesn’t mean that you’re without blessings…you have different ones.
    So, so much to think about.
    Thanks, sisters!

  36. nita

    January 27, 2010

    I just glanced at the comments will come back and look in more depth, but thanks for such wonderful remarks.

    I recall once reading something (I think in a church magazine) that mentionned a new parent stood in testimony meeting speaking of gratitude for their new child. However this person remained acutely aware in the comments about a family who had just endured a miscarriage. I think that is a good attitude. It must be hard to be thankful while realizing others suffer the situation for which you have gratitude.

    For me, no one has ever said it but I’ve self-inflicted the belief for me (not for others) that maybe i’m single due to not being good/righteous enough. Finally within the last couple years, I”ve read a couple of Church materials that have helped me realize my faulty thinking. One of the articles actually said something like “being single does not mean you are not righteous”

    As a health care worker, I think it is also improtant to realize that many good people do not recover from illness/disease or have miraculous healings. some do- but many don’t. It is a tender balance and we have to be sensitive.

  37. Emily M.

    January 27, 2010

    My father was counseled once by a stake leader that it is not appropriate to say in your testimony that you are thankful that all your children have been married in the temple and made good choices. There are too many righteous parents whose children have not married in the temple and made good choices, and it just sounds like you’re gloating, even if you say it with as much humility and gratitude as you can muster. Those expressions of gratitude, he said, and best given in private, to your own family members.

    If you have a sacred and miraculous experience, that is wonderful. I do not think it’s unreasonable, though, to try to be aware of those who have desired a similar miracle but not received one.

  38. Tay

    January 27, 2010

    Man, does that rain fall sometimes. I learned this lesson many times over the past few years. Mostly through tragic deaths of friends or friends’ family members. It brings things to light and the realization that I’m not drawing closer to my Heavenly Father so that bad things don’t happen to me. I’m drawing closer to Him so when they do happen I don’t fall apart, so I know I have somewhere to turn. Thank you for bringing this up. It’s nice to have the reminder without experiencing hard life events first.

  39. Kathryn P.

    January 27, 2010

    I think we also need to celebrate when people share miracles in their lives. When the parents of the little girl who fell several stories in the Harris Fine Arts Building and landed on her head, stood up and bore their testimony of the power of the priesthood in the miraculous recovery of their daughter, I joined the rest of the ward in weeping tears of joy and gratitude for their miracle. I also appreciate these words of Susan Tanner: “I delight in the Lord’s mercies and miracles (see “Bless Our Fast, We Pray,” Hymns, no. 138). I know that His tender mercies and His miracles, large and small, are real. They come in His way and on His timetable. Sometimes it is not until we have reached our extremity. Jesus’s disciples on the Sea of Galilee had to toil in rowing against a contrary wind all through the night before Jesus finally came to their aid. He did not come until the “fourth watch,” meaning near dawn. Yet He did come. (See Mark 6:45–51.) My testimony is that miracles do come, though sometimes not until the fourth watch. Right now I am exerting my faith and prayers and watching for miracles in behalf of loved ones who are physically sick, emotionally bereft, and spiritually astray. I delight in the Lord’s love for each of His children and in His wisdom to allow us individually tailored earthly experiences.” Susan W. Tanner, “My Soul Delighteth in the Things of the Lord,” Ensign, May 2008″

  40. Maren

    January 27, 2010

    This reminds me of an old neighbor of mine. Her husband lost his job and they began to have serious financial difficulties. Her testimony was seriously rocked because she believed that the fact that she and her husband had always been full tithe payers that they would be immune from financial trials. She couldn’t understand how God could not protect them from unemployment.

    She failed to understand that while yes, God does bless us for our righteousness, we are not able to dictate the terms of those blessings. Nor are we able to expect to not have trials in our lives simply because we are members of the church or pay our tithing or give to the poor.

    It grieved me that I could not help her understand this perspective. Perhaps with more years and more experience, she has learned it. I know I’m not immune to trials, and indeed am only worried about when the next one will hit.

    I feel so immeasurably blessed that I figure that the other shoe has to drop sometime. While I’m not expecting something horrible to happen, I have no illusions that I will not have any trials just because I’ve either already had my share or I’m just so righteous that I’ll be protected. Without trials how will I grow?

  41. Merry Michelle

    January 27, 2010

    While I do believe that we should be sensitive to the losses and pain of others, I also agree with the comment that we need to celebrate miracles and tender mercies of life.

    If we truly have covenanted to bear one another’s burdens and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, doesn’t it stand to reason that we share in their joys as well as their pain? Are we more ready to commiserate than we are to celebrate? While I do believe that there are appropriate times and places to share, I don’t think we should hide or apologize for the miracles in our lives.

    “…There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson

  42. Emily M.

    January 27, 2010

    I love tender mercy stories too–I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t share them. Just that it doesn’t hurt to be sensitive to the feelings of others when you do, and it’s never a good idea to be self-congratulatory about such things as miracles. Only humble and awed, you know? I have been grateful on many occasions for humble stories of how God touched others’ lives. And also grateful that, if I’ve been inadvertently self-congratulatory, my stories are received with mercy. I hope.

  43. mormonhermitmom

    January 27, 2010

    Good post. Needed to hear it.

  44. Melissa M.

    January 27, 2010

    Ditto to what Emily M. said. In writing this post I never meant to suggest that we shouldn’t share tender mercy stories, only that we shouldn’t do so with an attitude of boasting—or in a self-congratulatory way, as Emily said—and that we should be sensitive and humble when we share those stories, always trying to share them in an appropriate setting and giving credit where it is due. But mostly I was trying to illustrate that we shouldn’t assume that trials are an indication of unrighteousness (as Pat Robertson did) or that good fortune is an indication of righteousness and faith, since we all will be subject to difficulties in this life. And that rather than judge, we should extend compassion and love when others have trials.

    I have gleaned much from your comments and I appreciate those of you who have shared your thoughts and experiences. It has been an interesting and thought-provoking discussion. Thank you!

  45. Merry Michelle

    January 28, 2010

    Beautifully said, Emily M. and Melissa. I completely agree–especially that good health, prosperity, obedient children, etc. are not always the direct result of personal righteousness and should not be publicly flaunted or used to condemn others.

    I think I was just speaking out as one who has spent her life apologizing for everything. I wanted to empower those afraid to express gratitude for fear that once they do–“bad things” will happen. We have some funky LDS superstitions going on.

    Alma 26:11&12 “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.

    Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.”

  46. Faith.Not.Fear

    January 28, 2010

    Can’t help but think of the blind man in the New Testament — remember, the people thought he was blind because of something bad his parents did?
    Seems like our most important role is to “judge not” the blessings or trials of others, but to seek to understand and recognize the lessons and blessings the Lord sends, provides, allows in our own lives.
    Thanks for the reminder on being sensitive!

  47. bth

    January 28, 2010

    “Ah, yes—the old turn-back-the-flames-with-the-priesthood trick. Wish I’d thought of that one.”

    Ha ha ha!

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