"Why has God turned his back on me?"
That is the one question I get from nonmembers that I have no idea how to answer.
I enjoy going on exchanges with the local missionaries every once in a while. Last night we had the chance to teach a young agnostic/atheist couple, "living in sin" as it were, but nice kids who were more than happy to talk to us about the Gospel and the Book of Mormon and what religion means to them. Between the missionaries and myself, we came up with some great answers to their questions - answers that won't make them jump out of their seats and declare "Your church is the true church!", but answers that will get them thinking more, praying more, and so forth.
However, towards the end of the discussion, I found out that both the young man and the young woman had been fervent Christians until only a few years ago. The young man, who by the way was brilliant, had planned to study to become a Lutheran minister. His live-in girlfriend had been a Baptist who devoted many of her waking thoughts to figuring out how best to serve God, and who wanted nothing better than to be a missionary (I have no idea what the Baptist missionary program is like, but certainly it would require similar degrees of faith and determination as the LDS program).
Over several years, despite their professed faith and service to God, life just kept getting more and more difficult for them, and they encountered personal hardships, and couldn't help but conclude that God had abandonned them, or that maybe He didn't exist at all. I didn't think it would be proper ask them what kind of hardships they went through, although in retrospect maybe I was wrong.
I simply can't identify with their experiences. When I was growing up in my Presbyterian church, I didn't take the commandments and teachings very seriously (and for that matter, neither did most of the congregation). Once I started investigating the LDS church at age 22, and tried to implement those commandments for the first time, I saw the multitudes of blessings that came into my life, and I felt the confirmation of the Holy Ghost. Thus I have never had a situation where I was obeying God but my life kept getting worse and worse.
So my question for you folks is: How would you go about answering the these two young investigators who wonder why God would allow their lives to become awful even as they were faithful to the scriptures?
Here's a few potential (bad) answers I've come up with:
1. "You must have not been following the sciptures well enough." Very possible, but if I had actually said that without being able to know how hard they were really trying at the time, I can imagine that they would have gotten angry at my attitude and kicked me out of their apartment.
2. "God needed you to fall away from your old church so you could find the true church and be a Mormon." Again, they would probably be justified in kicking me out into the hallway.
3. "Consider reading the book of Job." I've only skimmed it, personally, but I'm sure it has some good insights.
4. "Pray and ask God what his goals are for you, and why he has put you in these situations." The danger here is the God may not answer right away - maybe not even for weeks and months. Perhaps He will try to answer them but they will not understand.
5. "You should keep on trying to follow God regardless of the consequences." That's an awfully big thing to ask for someone who isn't feeling the love of God and is doubting his existence. I would imagine it takes more faith than they have.
Anyway, like I said, I hope you good folks will tell me how you would answer this question, or perhaps how you actually have answered it in the past and what came of it. All ideas are appreciated.