Recently, someone who should have known better taught in our stake conference that God designs all the bad stuff we have to go through.
He used those words, and he said it more than once.
Now, I don't want to condemn this person. He had recently gone through a lot of tragedy in his family, and I think he was searching for meaning and comfort and to cling to faith, and somehow he felt like if God planned this for his family, that meant it was for our good and he could take that bitter medicine and would be okay.
The trouble is, this is a false doctrine, and it can easily be explained why.
If God designs or plans something, then it is His will. Therefore, the people who are making it happen are doing God's will.
So if someone breaks into your house and kidnaps, rapes, and murders your five year old (as was in the news recently), that person is doing God's will and is, therefore, His servant. That means it would be unjust for God to punish them because they were doing God's work.
This flies in the face of reason, of the nature of God, and of God's words, which condemn soundly this kind of behavior in all kinds of ways. If we make this behavior God's work, then we make God a liar because he cannot both forbid us to do these things and condemn them and simultaneously have been the planner of these these things.
Furthermore, if we attempt to stop these kinds of tragedies and intervene in abuse, poverty, illness, we are working against God's will because he planned those things for those people. We would be sinning by trying to interfere with God's plans and trying to stop God's work.
This also is impossible in light of God's own instructions to us that we should obey the commandments, not hurt people, and try to help people out of poverty and illness, including by using God's own power to do so. If God designed and planned those horrible things to happen to people, he would be contradicting himself by asking us to work against his will to stop them!
So in two ways, God comes out a liar if we allow for the idea that God designed all the things we go through.
There is another danger to this doctrine as well. If we embrace the idea that God planned all the bad things that people go through, then we are less inclined to jump in and help when they are suffering. We instead are inclined to think that we should let them suffer because God wants them to, and who are we to interfere in God's plan for those people. It's a wicked belief that leads us to abandon actual commandments and let people suffer alone.
Fortunately for the man who taught this false doctrine, there is true doctrine that will give him peace and comfort and purpose, and these true doctrines come right from the scriptures.
It is important to remember that God is ultimately in charge of the world, and He is aware of our suffering. Knowledge of suffering is not the same as intention for suffering, though. But He does know and He can help. Allowing us to learn and grow and suffer does not mean he planned it, nor that he lacks power to intervene. He can and does intervene--but sometimes not how we want Him to.
Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God" and D&C 90: "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good." The promises is not that God designed these things, but that He has the power to turn all things to your good if you love Him.
God allows the hellish experiences (because earth life really is hell in a lot of ways), but we can be assured that He will turn those to our good (remembering that His eternal view of our good, which is rooted in our ultimate glory, is different from our limited earthly view, which is rooted in immediate comfort more often than not). When the scriptures say we have to submit to the will of our Father, it is talking about this--submitting to God's way of turning things to our good, not necessarily that we have to submit to awful experiences purely because they are God's plan for us.
The other comfort is Jesus. We can get comfort and peace and experience because Jesus suffered all things to help mitigate the realities of living in a fallen world. He saves us, not from God's will, but from the reality of mortality. If we embrace the false idea that God designed all our hells, then we risk not putting Christ at the center of things. Sometimes we have to swallow a bitter pill, for sure, but we don't have to do it alone, and God wants us to reach out for help and relief through Jesus. If we think God planned it, we might not take advantage of our privileges under the atonement and the priesthood, and God gave us those things so we would use them and benefit from them, not ignore them so that we can suffer. Suffering in and of itself is not noble or wonderful or glorifying, and we risk elevating it to this magical status, over Jesus, if we embrace the idea that God designed our pain. Martyr complexes benefit no-one.
In reality, embracing the true doctrine invites us to lean on Jesus. It is a gentle but powerful invitation to actively exercise faith and trust our Father. It invites humility and becoming as a child and understanding our true, proper relationship with our Father. The false doctrine, in contrast, leads us to be angry at God and push back. It makes God our enemy. It rewrites baptism to God pushing us under the water and holding us there for our own damn good, and that destroys faith.
But God is not our enemy, and we do not need to embrace doctrines that destroy faith. Gentle invitations to exercise faith are much better, and we should pursue and embrace those. "I know you are suffering, and I'll help you through it and ease your pain and make sure it benefits you" is much, much nicer (and more accurate) than "I planned this hell for you. Thank me."
We don't need to embrace the false doctrine, even though it is widely taught. Instead, we should cling to the actual doctrine: that God can turn things to our good if we love Him, and that we have Jesus to help us. This doctrine leads to a true exercising of faith. The other does not.