Adversity and Agency


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By M. Russell Ballard

"Critical to our knowledge of the plan of happiness is an understanding of the great governing principle of agency. A person does not have to spend much time in the schoolroom of mortality to realize that Heavenly Father's plan does not provide for blissful happiness at every step along our mortal journey. Life is filled with harsh realities that tug at the heart and tear away at the soul. One cannot look at suffering, regardless of its causes or origins, without feeling pain and compassion.

I can understand why someone who lacks an eternal perspective might see the horrifying news footage of starving children and man's inhumanity to man and shake a fist at the heavens and cry, 'If there is a God, how could he allow such things to happen?'

The answer is not easy, but it isn't that complicated, either. God has put his plan in motion. It proceeds through natural laws that are, in fact, God's laws. Since they are his, he is bound by them, as are we. I recognize for purposes we mortals may not understand, the Lord can control the elements.

For the most part, however, he does not cause, but he allows nature to run its course. In this imperfect world, bad things sometimes happen. The earth's rocky underpinnings occasionally shift and move, resulting in earthquakes. Certain weather patterns cause hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and drought. Much adversity is man-made. Men's hearts turn cold, and the spirit of Satan controls their actions.

In foreseeing the day of suffering in our time, the Savior said, 'The love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound' (D&C 45:27). Violence, immorality, and other evils run rampant on the earth. Much adversity has its origin in the principle of agency. We tend to think of agency as a personal matter. If we ask someone to define 'moral agency,' the answer will probably be something like this: 'Moral agency means I am free to make choices for myself.'

Often overlooked is the fact that choices have consequences; we forget also that agency offers the same privilege of choice to others. At times we will be affected adversely by the way other people choose to exercise their agency. Our Heavenly Father feels so strongly about protecting our agency that he allows his children to exercise it, either for good or for evil. The plan of happiness is available to all of his children. If the world would embrace and live it, peace, joy, and plenty would abound on the earth.

Much of the suffering we know today would be eliminated if people throughout the world would understand and live the gospel. We mortals have a limited view of life from the eternal perspective. But if we know and understand Heavenly Father's plan, we realize that dealing with adversity is one of the chief ways we are tested. Our faith in our Heavenly Father and his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, is the source of inner strength.

Through faith we can find peace, comfort, and the courage to endure. As we trust in God and his plan for our happiness with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understanding (see Prov. 3:5), hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all we do. It can give us comfort in the face of adversity, strength in times of trial, and peace when we have reason for doubt or anguish."

(M. Russell Ballard, "Answers to Life's Questions," - General Conference, April 1995; see Ensign May 1995, p. 23)