During our trip together, we discussed some of the theological issues that we have considered. My friend's biggest question and concern about religion and theology was the question, "If God loves us so much, why does he let bad things happen to good people?" I sensed it wasn't the right time to launch into a discussion of the LDS answer to that question, but I offered to share an answer at a later time if she was interested.
After returning from our trip, I ran across a copy of the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" written by Harold S. Kushner, a Jewish Rabbi. He shares his personal theology on why there is suffering in this world and God's responses to it. A summary of his main points follows:
1) God is obligated and required to respect the moral freedom of man to choose. Therefore some people make bad choices which hurt and causes others to suffer. God cannot stop this suffering.
2)In the creation, God made order out of chaos but some chaos remains in this life. Therefore some human suffering happens as a result of chance--mere randomness. Maybe in time, the Spirit of God will bring order out of the chaos. Chaos is not the will of God but an aspect of reality that stands independent of His will.
3) Laws of nature are ordained by God and cause problems that lead to human suffering. Gravity makes people fall and get hurt. God does not cause these problem to happen and does not have the power to stop it.
According to Kushner, basically good people's suffering is not caused by God. It is not punishment for sins in this life (yours or your relatives). It is not to teach people to be better followers of God and it is not a test to see if his followers will be faithful. And ultimately, death is not intended in God's plan to liberate us from the suffering of this life.
Kushner's main point in the midst of his discussion is that no matter the cause of our suffering, it is God who offers us the help we need to deal with our suffering. The author testifies of that help that God gives.
While I agree that Heavenly Father has the power to comfort and help us in times of suffering and grief (and I have been the recipient of that succor many times), my understandings of the doctrines of Latter-day Saint theology does not let me accept his explanations for the causes of human suffering.
Modern-day scripture reveals: "saints to learn obedience by the things they suffer (D&C 105:6)", "saints to reap eternal joy for all their suffering (D&C 109:76)", "know thy son that these things [afflictions] shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7)", "all things shall work together for your good (D&C 90:24, 98:3,100:15 and 105:40)", "God shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain (2 Nephi 2:2)", and "many are softened because of their affliction (D&C 62:41). These indicate that God indeed does intend that people will learn and be rewarded for their suffering.
I know that it has been through suffering that I have learned some of the most important lessons in life and I have benefited from them (my conversion story is evidence of that). But when in the midst of affliction and trial, I am not comforted by that knowledge of God's will and often I am very resentful. It comes "after the rain" that I can see the purpose of the suffering and reap the benefits of the lessons learned.
The Latter-day Saint scriptures also substantiate Kushner's claim others claims but those will have to be saved for another blog, another night.
This is a topic that I will continue to study and pray about seeking understanding to Heavenly Father's plan and purpose for suffering in this life. It is such a large topic that a book in response to Kushner's from the LDS perspective could be written, and I will be searching LDS publications to find one that fully discusses the topic, of which I'm sure there are quite a few.