I recognize that this Post deals with a sensitive topic, and so please proceed gently.
What About Cancer?
The first person in my life who died was my grandmother. She died of colon cancer.
I recall being a young boy and seeing my father break down in tears, crying on my mother's shoulder, in the kitchen of our home, great sobs of grief rocking his shoulders.
Because of that family history, I had my first colonoscopy at 40.
Did God give my grandmother cancer in order to take her out of this world?
I've heard a famous atheist argue that the proof for No God is the fact that innocent children get leukemia and die.
What kind of God would do that? he asked.
That is certainly an emotional argument, but I think it makes some big assumptions.
In order to make this argument, the man believes either:
1. God gave the child cancer, which he finds unforgiveable; or
2. God stands by when He has the power to cure the child, and chooses not to, which the atheist finds equally immoral.
The problem? Neither of those assumptions are correct.
The Problem of Evil
I think the most common "explanation" I hear in Church for the problem of evil ("bad things happen to good people") goes something like this:
God loves me, but really bad things are happening to me and my loved ones, and even though God could fix it, He chooses not to because this trial is helping me grow and become better and stronger, like when a doctor breaks a bone so it will heal right, is the reason God is letting me suffer through this trial so I can learn the lessons he sent me to earth to learn.
From this line of reasoning, we get the curious teaching in General Conference nowadays that if you're sick it takes even greater faith not to be healed than to be healed.
I would never presume to lecture another person about their pain.
Don't ask me why President Spencer W. Kimball suffered from painful boils, especially around his midsection where his belt rubbed against them as he sat on the stand, causing him intense agony despite his prayers to be healed.
We are called to bear one another's burdens, not to berate another for their burdens.
Inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.
That's good. But you know what's even better? Going the extra mile, as Jesus invited us to do in the Sermon on the Mount.
Inasmuch as they break my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities anyway.
(D&C 42:52, BPV: Brownie-Points Version)
We know Job's friends did their best.
But really, deep down, we know that Job's friends suspected all along that Job's suffering was . . . his own fault and God's just punishment.
"You know Job, it takes greater faith to sit here in your ash heap than to be healed, so be grateful, I guess, that your family died horrifically and you lost your job and camels and that you get to endure this misery unto death. You're lucky, when you think about it that way, because God must really love you. After all, God chastens those he loves."
My Own Experience
It's tough to compare people's trials because we're comparing apples-and-oranges.
For example, my wife can take returns back to the store without flinching; but for me, store returns are worse than having my toenails pulled out.
See? We're all different.
So it wouldn't do any good for me to spell out for you my list of trials and tribulations. I might get some pity (that's always nice), but I don't want to be defined by my burdens.
So instead of itemizing out my trials and tribulations as though I were filling out deductions on my Celestial Tax Return ("I'm going to get such a big refund when I die!"), I just want to share one thing that has helped me to carry on.
1. God has never contributed one ounce or inch to my pain. I know this may offend those who lean on fatalism and/or determinism to make sense of their suffering.
In the past, it's true that I have used the idea that something I was dealing with came from God, as a crutch, in order to find purpose in my pain.
But I want to testify now that God is not the source of our suffering.
What sort of crazy God pushes us into oncoming traffic so we will be so badly bruised we will have turn to him in our grief?
(Come on, that's the plot of a cheap stalker novel, or Stephen King's Misery.)
The Christ I know restored sight to the blind man and lifted the lame instead of crippling them; he made others whole, not broken; Christ's work of love brought healing to lepers, never telling them to "keep your chin up and make the best of it," but to present themselves to the priest and be declared clean!
"But Tim," someone says. "The way I have found to cope with my grief is to believe that God is using these bad things to make me a better person."
Well, I don't disagree.
I think God can spin gold from the soiled straw we've lined our beds with.
Just don't tell me God soiled the straw in the first place.
The Lord told Joseph Smith:
If the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
Everything in that scripture is true.
But notice what the scripture does not say.
It does not say God caused the heavens to become black; or God hedged up the way; or God opened the jaws of hell.
Taking Upon Us His Name vs. Taking His Name in Vain
What better mockery than to lay at Christ's feet the blame for our pain and suffering when those very feet walked beside us, sharing our distress and discomfort?
Perhaps the most common way we take God's name in vain is ascribing to Him things He is not responsible for.
Do we really believe Christ is cutting us with a dinner knife so, as a parent kissing their child's boo-boo, he can make it better?
He is the antidote, not the venom.
He stands at Ground Zero in Eternity, creating hope and beauty from the rubble left over from our armies and navies that, with blood and horror, salted the fields and burned the crops across heaven and earth.
This is what Paul said:
All things work together for good to them who love God and are called according to his purposes.
Do these words mean God causes bad things to happen so He can turn them to our good?
We dare not turn our Savior into a sadist.
Have you ever wondered why in the scriptures the devil and his angels are always laughing?
What do they find so funny?
Perhaps it is because we credit God for their handiwork.