There is no safe place on earth, except the temples of the Lord, and while we are encouraged to visit often, sadly we cannot live within their walls. Try as we will to make our earthly homes secure--baby proofing, burglar-proofing, fireproofing, etc--threats will loom, and monsters creep. Danger finds us at some time or other no matter the thickness of our walls. Echoing this truth of physical perils, spiritual hardships will also at times befall each of us, however righteous and faithful we are. Sometimes in mortality loved ones die, friends betray, bad guys victimize, family members fall out, ward members offend or are offended. Feet unerringly find mouths, noses poke uninvited, intentions are the best, and hearts break as if doing so were their primary purpose. The only truly safe place is nestled deep in the warmth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, encircled in Father’s love. (D&C 6:20)
This realization may cause bleakness or terror, or may be an unspeakable relief. It is incumbent upon us to do as much as we can to protect and provide for ourselves and our families, but even those who take the greatest care, make the most provision may suffer devastating losses or hardships against which they could not possibly have defended. These children of God will find themselves in the company of those who lacked the means or ability to prepare as thoroughly, but who did the best they could with what they had. Each of us will find that we are inadequate to face on our own the trials we must face, and that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)
The cry of the heartbroken, Why did God let this happen? is so like that of the non-believer, If there is a god, why does he let good people die/hurricanes wipe out villages/the innocent suffer abuse? He must either not care or be powerless to stop these things. Of course, blessed with the light of the gospel, we know that Father allows bad things to happen in part so that each of us may use our agency and be judged accordingly. Also, He must allow suffering so we’ll grow stronger, wiser, more humble, nearer to Him. 2 Corinthians tells us: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (4:17) Tribulations are not punishments meted out by an angry deity; death does not indicate God’s displeasure and righteous living does not guarantee long life.
Our loving father has only our best interest in mind. He hears our yearnings, prayed or unspoken, knows our fears, and weeps each tear with us. Through it all we are succored by an all-knowing father and a Savior who suffered every pain and indignity imaginable. “In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them, and bore them and carried them all the days of old;” (D&C 133:53)
The human condition is fraught with perils both temporal and spiritual that no one escapes--the wealthiest, prettiest, most righteous, friendliest, smartest, and luckiest of us face dark nights and the boogiest of men. And yet a common misunderstanding about faith is the following equation: belief in God + God’s perfect love = the outcome we desire. My youngest child spent 16 days in the NICU following his birth, while I was blessed to stay in the Ronald McDonald House nearby. Each room in the RMH had a journal in it for family members of the sick children to write in, so each set of parents might record their insights and experiences and draw strength and comfort from the words of those who occupied their room before. As I read through my room’s journal that first night I felt my heart aching for the mothers and fathers who wrote in desperation words to the effect of I know God will heal my son completely; the doctors don’t know anything, or, I believe in Jesus, so he will deliver my daughter and she will walk out of that hospital whole again, amen!
I envisioned a child holding her breath and crossing her fingers, as if doing this long enough will get her a pony on her birthday, or her parents back together, or an A on the math quiz. So many look at God in the same way we might a genie, with “faith” equivalent to rubbing the lamp correctly. That if we just believe hard enough, God will “answer our prayers,” meaning that He will give us what we want. There is no real peace with this way of looking at things. If the outcome isn’t what we desire it must either mean God refuses to answer our prayers, or that we are lacking in faith. Also, the gift of the Lord’s guidance and wisdom are lost, along with any opportunity for true humility, as we are the sole authors of our life’s story, having only to choose the course of events we desire, “believe,” and flatter the Lord adequately in order to ensure these outcomes.
True faith is the understanding that we have great power to bring about what we’d like through our actions, and that we must pray earnestly to know the Lord’s will and ask Him for that which is righteous, but that when it comes down to it, after all we can do, His will is best, though it may be painful and we may not understand it, and that whatever happens we will be all right. Obedience and faith are sisters; we must practice one to truly practice the other. Christ modeled this acceptance of God’s will in one of the final lessons He left us from His mortal life. Beginning the night of torment in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, asking to be excused from completing His mission, “ Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Our exemplar in all things once again showed us how to use our agency, asking that our righteous desires be granted, but steadfastly seeking to know and do Father’s will before all else. Our trials, so much smaller than the Savior’s, provide us with the opportunity to draw closer to Him, to feel true security in spite of great pain. Our perfect God, above all a devoted father, longs to protect and shelter us, hoping we will use our agency in such a way that he might “…gather his people, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice me and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer.” (D&C 29:2)
A dear nonmember friend provided the finest example of Christ-like faith and obedience that I have ever seen. She was really on a roll in her life after a couple of tough years that had seen her divorced and facing some challenges with her young adult daughters. She was newly married to her true love, recently promoted at work, and celebrating the births of her first two granddaughters, her daughters having worked through their earlier difficulties. In the midst of this joy she suddenly found herself fighting stage 4 cancer. I rushed to visit her as soon as I heard the news, unsure what to say to offer comfort, but I felt the spirit of the Comforter that already surrounded her grow stronger as she bore her testimony: God can do anything. The Bible tells us not to doubt Him, so we’re not just asking for remission, but for 100% healing, and we’re moving forward as if it’s a given. But, whether I’m living here or living in heaven I’ll be living in Christ, so I just ask God, “Lord, whatever brings you the most glory and lets me witness for you.” She took scrupulous care of herself, watching her diet and seeking out the best medical care, and faithfully followed the Lord’s commandments. She did all she could do, asked humbly for her righteous desire--an outcome God clearly could ensure--and prepared to accept whatever His will turned out to be, praising Him unceasingly. I am humbled and honored to call her my friend. (After her last course of chemo a new tumor was found, and yet her faith and love of Father is unshaken still.)
The most sobering lesson of my adult life (thus far) came when I realized that there was no physical structure or location on earth where my family’s safety could be guaranteed. There is no fortress that is impenetrable, immune to invasion or intrusion, and no means of protecting my children from everything that might cause harm. Yet in losing the illusion of security I gained a deeper understanding of God’s grace and the peace and freedom that come with doing all we can, seeking our righteous desires, and leaving the outcome in His hands. Whatever comes at us--natural disaster, human evil, illness or injury--the true rest and protection we find in Father’s merciful arms far surpasses anything we experience when things go our way, our wishes are granted, and big locks on sturdy doors feel impassible.
As my sweet friend taught, when we live in Christ and He in us the physical realities of mortality matter little. His victory is ours, His grace our only real home, His mercy the only safe place in this life. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)