Many Christians are fond of pointing out that I am not Christian. I used to rebel against this, since as a Mormon, I share with them a foundational belief in Jesus Christ and the Atonement. But as I came to learn more about those sects of traditional and especially fundamental Christianity that excluded my belief, I found that I am, in fact, not very saddened to be cut off from their ranks.
The particular problem of suffering happens to be one of those reasons.
The traditional line of Christian thought as I understand it is that we begin our existence at birth or conception or somewhere in between. We live a life. During this very short life, if we either die when we are too young or truly and sincerely accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we can go to heaven where all mortal ties are dissolved and weÂ live eternally happy with God. Otherwise, we go to hell where we suffer eternally with the devil. God is paradoxically all powerful (canÂ he create a rock he can’t lift?).
In this story, what is the point of suffering? There is none. If our goal is to have eternal rest, why should we bother growing? If all that we need to do is to accept Jesus Christ, and weâ€™ll have eternal joy, why complicate the issue?Â
Perhaps because the reality is already more complicated. Let me tell you another story.
Before we were born, we lived with Heavenly Father, but were not yet complete beings. In order to continue our development, we and God determined that we required a physical body and mortal experiences by which we could come to understand certain important concepts such as how to manipulate physical objects, compassion, joy, endurance, faith, etc. Death is the door to the next step in personal evolution, a process that God, our Heavenly parent, is helping us through.
In this context, suffering makes much more sense. Learning and improving oneâ€™s self has meaning. Free will is not arbitrary, but absolutely necessary, and so GodÂ cannot curtail the choices of men that cause others to suffer. Things can be learned from suffering that helps one to become stronger, more compassionate, feel joy more deeply, etc.
In a way, Clark is right. Both death and escaping death as well as sufferingÂ are part of this world that has been created for the purpose of us experiencing mortality. This is why such instances cannot be seen as evidence or lack of evidence for God, who is acting outside of our perspective. Science is not the appropriate venue by which to investigate such occurances, since we cannot gather data outside of what we know, but neither should the spiritual person ignore or deny natural processes.