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I apologize for the length of this question, but it requires establishing some premises that refute the most common response, being that the purpose of suffering is for us to learn and grow, and be tested.

Abraham 3:25 - And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;.

I've been thinking about this a long time and have been unable to find satisfactory answers. Please point out any flaws in my logic or research.

According to the LDS Institute Doctrines of the Gospel manual:

Earth life, though brief, is crucial to us in our quest for eternal life. Here we receive bodies of flesh and bones and are tested in all things. Those who learn obedience and gain self-mastery will return to live with God the Eternal Father.

In the 1977 April Ensign, Elder Bruce R. McConkie teaches that children who die before the age of accountability will be saved in the Celestial Kingdom:

Are all little children saved automatically in the celestial kingdom?

To this question the answer is a thunderous yes, which echoes and re-echoes from one end of heaven to the other.... They are saved through the atonement and because they are free from sin. They come from God in purity; no sin or taint attaches to them in this life; and they return in purity to their Maker.

This leads to another question then, which McConkie answers also. Will they be saved into the highest possible Celestial Kingdom (in other words they are not worse off in any way for dying young)?

"Will they have eternal life?"

Eternal life is life in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is exaltation; it is the name of the kind of life God lives.... In the providences of Him who is infinitely wise, the answer is in the affirmative. Salvation means eternal life; the two terms are synonymous; they mean exactly the same thing.

Further down in the same page, the question of "Will children ever be tested?" is answered:

Absolutely not! Any idea that they will be tested in paradise or during the millennium or after the millennium is pure fantasy.

At this point, it seems logical to wonder, given the immense amount of suffering that people face in this world, would you not be better off to die young? McConkie seems to anticipate this logical progression:

Are those who die better off than those who remain in mortality?

We may rest assured that all things are controlled and governed by Him whose spirit children we are. He knows the end from the beginning, and he provides for each of us the testings and trials which he knows we need. President Joseph Fielding Smith once told me that we must assume that the Lord knows and arranges beforehand who shall be taken in infancy and who shall remain on earth to undergo whatever tests are needed in their cases. This accords with Joseph Smith’s statement: “The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth.” (Teachings, pp. 196–97.) It is implicit in the whole scheme of things that those of us who have arrived at the years of accountability need the tests and trials to which we are subject and that our problem is to overcome the world and attain that spotless and pure state which little children already possess.

All of this seems to suggest that:

  1. It is possible to reach the highest levels of Salvation/Exaltation without going through mortal life and all the suffering it entails.
  2. God can know our hearts and our purity without testing us in mortality (otherwise he could not know that those who die before the age of accountability are worthy of exaltation)
  3. The test (and growth) in mortality is therefore unnecessary, which means that mortal life is unnecessary.
  4. If mortal life is unnecessary than so is all of the suffering in the world.

So my question is, what is the purpose of suffering? It is not a requirement for us to learn and grow and be tested, otherwise kids who die before the age of accountability could not be saved (yet they are).

Why would an all-loving (omni-benevolent) Heavenly Father subject us to unnecessary torture (in many cases)?

Logically, it also seems that one of the best things a parent could do for their children would be to hope they die prior to reaching the age of accountability. This is obviously a disturbing thing to say and will no doubt create an emotional reaction (it's difficult to even type for me), but it does seem logical. By having your children grow, you are risking their exaltation and rolling the dice (they might grow up and reject the faith). If you love them enough to let them die, they could be guaranteed eternal exaltation. If that is not correct, where is the flaw in the logic?

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    Not a full answer, but taking your question at face value, you cannot leap from your 2) to your 3). If we accept that God knows whether or not we need the growth this life provides, that only means that growth in this life is unnecessary for some, not all. So that breaks your number 4). – BLT Apr 14 at 13:38
  • That's an interesting point, thank you. – Freedom_Ben Apr 14 at 14:31
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    Yes, I second @BLT's comment. I don't think point 3 can be extrapolated to everyone: some might not need to be proved in mortality (other than to receive a physical body) -- for whatever reasons are known to God -- while the rest of us do. Or God's plan has more of a purpose for those who die young in His eternal world than for them to accomplish here on Earth. – Matt Apr 14 at 14:41
  • The other problem I see is with point 1), which @depperm alludes to. There is a huge logical leap to go from a child or infant did not reach an age of accountability for their actions and claiming that the same infant or child never suffered. Replace infant or child with Shylock's comments about Jews, and I think the error becomes apparent: sparknotes.com/nofear/shakespeare/merchant/page_110 – Tavrock May 15 at 5:43
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I'll try to address your main two questions and a few comments on your four points, but there is plenty of material to address your concerns.

So my question is, what is the purpose of suffering? Why would an all-loving (omnibenevolent) Heavenly Father subject us to unnecessary torture (in many cases)?

I highly recommend What is the Purpose of Suffering. A very condensed from scripture says (D&C 122:5,7)

5 If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;

7 ... 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.emphasis added

And quoting the article:

What seems to be a tragedy (and a cause for suffering) may from an eternal perspective be a blessing and a cause for rejoicing. Sufferings have the potential of blessing man. They may strengthen us for future tasks. They can make us sensitive to the pains of others and more willing to sacrifice for others. (Christ suggests that one must lose his life to find it.) They may help us appreciate Christ’s atonement; they may help to purge our imperfections and to purify us.

Another article that also addresses this issue is What the Scriptures Say About Suffering

The unnecessary point in your question is unknown. God is omniscient, there is a reason something is happening, we just don't always know why because we are mortal and not omniscient.


  1. It is possible to reach the highest levels of Salvation/Exaltation without going through mortal life and all the suffering it entails.

A few quick points:

  • mortal life is the time from birth until physical death.1 Even infants/children have attained mortal life.
  • When we lived with our Heavenly Father, He explained a plan for our progression. We could become like Him, an exalted being. The plan required that we be separated from Him and come to earth.2 So no it is not possible to reach exaltation without going through mortal life.
  • Personal observation as a father, childbirth is not a pain-free experience for the child. I bring this up to point out that everyone suffers some, even if it is before the age of accountability.

    1. God can know our hearts and our purity without testing us in mortality (otherwise he could not know that those who die before the age of accountability are worthy of exaltation)

Man has agency3 and as we accepted His plan of salvation (we are here on earth) it is my understanding that we understood the need to know for ourselves what we would do in mortality.

  1. The test (and growth) in mortality is therefore unnecessary, which means that mortal life is unnecessary.

See comments, you can't jump from #2 to this.

  1. If mortal life is unnecessary than so is all of the suffering in the world.

Suffering while unpleasant, in the grand scheme of things, does not last long in terms of eternity. D&C 121:7-8

7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

1 https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/mortal-mortality

2 https://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-47-exaltation?lang=eng

3 https://www.lds.org/topics/agency?lang=eng


Other references:

  • All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, by Neil A Maxwell
  • Thanks for your answer. If I'm accurately understanding what you are saying, then this is a great answer. Would it be accurate to say that you agree that for God we wouldn't need to be tested in mortality (because he is omniscient), but that for us we do need to be tested? In other words, some of us would be satisfied with God's judgment without passing us through mortality (those who die young), but those of us who don't die young would not have been satisfied with His judgment unless we took the test ourselves? If my question doesn't make sense, let me know and I'll try to restate it – Freedom_Ben Apr 15 at 19:27
  • Yes that is my belief, I don't have any hard doctrine to back this up though. I don't know why, nor will I guess at why, some die young. 2/3 of the host of heaven chose God's plan so I believe we trusted God. All I can say is God knows best – depperm Apr 15 at 20:28
  • Cool, thank you for taking the time to respond. That's a pretty satisfying theory (even without doctrinal backup) :-) – Freedom_Ben Apr 16 at 5:05
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    I would add that mortal life also shapes us, obviously, so instead of seeing it as test, it might also be helpful to see it as school? – kutschkem Apr 16 at 6:29
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You are very right. And that is why little children will NOT be exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Bruce is flat wrong. that is an absurd assumption. Joseph Smith taught the truth on the matter :

It was on 18 May 1843 that William Clayton, Joseph’s personal secretary and Recorder of Revelations, asked him “whether children who die in infancy will grow.”Joseph answered, “No, we shall receive them precisely in the same state as they died i.e. no larger. They will have as much intelligence as we shall but shall always remain separate and single. They will have no increase."

  • It looks like you are quoting from a source. Can you either link to the source or say what it is? – Freedom_Ben Nov 5 at 17:57
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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! This information is useful but please cite your source. – Null Nov 5 at 17:58

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