4

My question this evening is:

How does Mormonism (the LDS Church) answer "the problem of evil": if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely good and benevolent, why does evil exist in the world? (The premise is that a God with these attributes should know about the evil, be capable of stopping it, and be benevolent and good enough that he would necessarily act on that capability.)

I would appreciate it if answers would also explain whether the LDS view on God explains whether or not He knew humans would fall into sin. If so, why would He allow such a thing?

  • 2
    Can you please define the problem of evil as you interpret it for your question? I am not sure if you have two questions here or one. – Matt Nov 7 '16 at 21:28
  • @Matt The "problem of evil" is a well-known philosophical question: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely good and benevolent, why does evil exist in the world? (The premise is that a God with these attributes should know about the evil, be capable of stopping it, and be benevolent and good enough that he would necessarily act on that capability.) – Mason Wheeler Nov 7 '16 at 21:33
  • 3
    Two answers currently exist from you, both of which you've given positive feedback. What kinds of improvements on the existing answers would you recommend in order for an answer to be bounty-worthy? – Mr. Bultitude Jan 12 '17 at 23:14
  • 3
    Also, what sort of "credible and/or official sources" are you hoping to see that existing answers aren't drawing from? – Thunderforge Jan 12 '17 at 23:32
  • 1
    I would really appreciate it if you would explain what you mean by "credible and/or official" sources. I'm not sure if you get updates when answers are revised, but I did expand my answer to include quotes from the citations and to address your second question more fully and directly. – Tavrock Jan 16 '17 at 20:52
3
+100

Part of the "Problem of Evil" from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's perspective is that following the logic of the Problem of Evil was Satan's plan before this life (cf. Moses 4:1–4—that Satan "sought to destroy the agency of man" so "that one soul shall not be lost.") This life was a test to "…prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (Abraham 3:25). God also planned for the need for a Savior, Mediator, and Redeemer to permit all who would to overcome evil choices; Christ was therefore "prepared [for this role] from the foundation of the world" (Ether 3:14).

The only solution to the "Problem of Evil" is one in which we would have no choice but to be obedient. God, in direct opposition to His Plan, would be forced to take away our ability to be agents unto ourselves (cf. Moses 6:55–57—"And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves"— and Doctrine and Covenants 29:39—"And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves").

Alma 42 discusses the "Problem of Evil" from the perspective of why a loving and merciful God would choose to punish those who were disobedient. From the chapter synopsis: "Mortality is a probationary time to enable man to repent and serve God—The Fall brought temporal and spiritual death upon all mankind—Redemption comes through repentance—God Himself atones for the sins of the world—Mercy is for those who repent—All others are subject to God’s justice—Mercy comes because of the Atonement—Only the truly penitent are saved."

2 Nephi 2 discusses the "Problem of Evil" from the perspective of our need to have and exercise our free will—making evil our choice and not God's. From the chapter synopsis: "Redemption comes through the Holy Messiah—Freedom of choice (agency) is essential to existence and progression—Adam fell that men might be—Men are free to choose liberty and eternal life."

We also believe in the following council from God concerning our actions in this life:

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26–29

In more recent times, a talk was given in 1999 regarding Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil. This talk is probably the best overall answer to your question in all aspects. A year earlier, an article discussing "The Richness of the Restoration" of the Gospel was published which covered this topic in some detail as well and is worthy of inclusion in this list.

From the talk, "Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil":

For in addition to affirming that (i) God is perfectly good and (ii) all powerful, traditional Christian theologians commonly affirm two additional propositions that intensify the problem: (iii) God created all things absolutely—that is, out of nothing; and (iv) God has absolute foreknowledge of all the outcomes of His creative choices. Although apologists for belief in God have labored long to reconcile the world’s evil with God’s goodness and power, they have often overlooked the much more difficult task of reconciling evil not only with His goodness and power but with God’s absolute creation and absolute foreknowledge as well.

The Prophet Joseph Smith received revealed insights that do address the problem of evil in its broadest terms. His revelations suggest what might be called a soul-making theodicy, centered within a distinctively Christian soteriology (or doctrine of salvation), but both framed within a theology that rejects both absolute creation and, consequently, the philosophical definition of divine omnipotence which affirms that there are no (or no nonlogical) limits to what God can do. The Prophet’s worldview, I believe, dissolves the logical and soteriological problems of evil while infusing with meaning and hope our personal struggles with suffering, sin, and death.

The mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so. … I am going to tell of things more noble.

We say that God himself is a self-existent being. … [But] who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. God made a tabernacle and put a spirit into it, and it became a living soul. … How does it read in the Hebrew? It does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says, “God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam’s spirit, and so became a living body.”

The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself.

According to Lehi, there are apparently states of affair that even God, though omnipotent, cannot bring about. Man is that he might have joy, but even God cannot bring about joy without moral righteousness, moral righteousness without moral freedom, or moral freedom without an opposition in all things. With moral freedom as an essential variable in the divine equation for man, two consequences stand out saliently: (i) the inevitability of moral evil; and (ii) our need for a Redeemer.

Earlier, when I first introduced the logical problem of evil, I argued that most discussions of the problem were too narrow and especially unfair to the Christian believer in that they failed to take into account the problem’s strongest possible solution—the incarnation of God the Son in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and his triumph over sin, suffering, and death through His atonement and resurrection. But ironically, what I referred to as “the strongest possible solution” to the problem of evil when understood in traditional terms becomes, itself, part of the problem.

This problem that Morris and Davis state can be expressed in terms of an inconsistent triad, a set of three premises—all of which are apparently true, yet the conjunction of any two of which seemingly entails the denial of the third:

  1. God is perfectly loving and just and desires that all of His children be saved.

  2. Salvation comes only in and through one’s acceptance of Christ.

  3. Millions of God’s children have lived and died without ever hearing of Christ or having a chance to receive salvation through Him.

Many of you in the audience are, no doubt, smiling, recognizing that adding a premise 4 to the triad resolves the puzzle:

  1. Those who live and die without having a chance to respond positively to the gospel of Jesus Christ will have that chance postmortemly.

Confronted with what seemed to be overwhelming evil, Joseph found meaning in his suffering, maintained hope, trusted God, and kept the faith. And God spoke peace.

From "The Richness of the Restoration":

The Question of Suffering

Consider one example of a consequence of deprivation. Some, doctrinally perplexed, lament, “If God is good and all powerful, why does He permit so much human suffering? Why does He allow so much evil to be in the world He created?” A very prominent religious leader in England several decades ago spoke of this with unusual candor: “All of my life I have struggled to find the purpose of living. I have tried to answer three questions which always seemed to be fundamental: the problem of eternity; the problem of human personality; and the problem of evil. I have failed. I have solved none of them. … And I believe no one will ever solve them.” [Daily Express, London, England, 13 July 1953, 4.]

Without Restoration fulness, this problem is understandably poignant and persistent! Without the Restoration’s light on the plan of salvation, trying to comprehend this life is like trying to understand a three-act play while seeing only the second act. Without knowing beginnings and endings, the middle becomes muddled. What is really going on? Is there a director who will make sense of it all? Does the plot have purpose? Such questions are answered only by revelation.

Evil and suffering do take a terrible toll in the world, and we certainly cannot give glib answers to cover every wrenching human situation. But, through the blessings of the Restoration, we can see things as they really were, are, and will be (see D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). We can then better walk the straight and narrow way, inspired and informed by “faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). However, these added understandings provided by the Restoration clearly do not exempt us from either temptation or from suffering. There are no immunities, only variations.

Latter-day Saints also know that God did not create man ex nihilo, out of nothing. The concept of an “out of nothing” creation confronts its adherents with a severe dilemma. One commentator wrote of human suffering and an “out of nothing” creation: “We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God [who creates all things absolutely—i.e., out of nothing] must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.” [Antony Flew, “Theology and Falsification,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Antony Flew and Alasdair Macintyre (1955), 107.]

  • Thank you Tavrock. I shall print your answer off and study it. Thanks for your time in answering. – David Nov 8 '16 at 17:35
  • I researched the article you mentioned "Joseph Smith and the problem of evil"...a very good read on the subject. Thank you. – David Nov 15 '16 at 19:30
  • 1
    A few quotes from the two articles you mention at the end would be greatly appreciated and will keep this answer valid should those websites ever go down. – Thunderforge Jan 12 '17 at 23:37
5

The problem with the Problem of Evil is that aside from the stated points, it also includes an unspoken premise that this life is all that matters. If that premise is true, then the Problem of Evil exposes a very serious flaw in Christian theology: the very concept of the Christian God is self-contradictory, and therefore invalid.

Christianity, however, is fundamentally opposed to that concept, rejecting it in favor of what's known as "an eternal perspective": we believe that this life is a step along our eternal journey, that what truly matters is the afterlife, and that the most basic purpose of this life is to give us each a way to determine the state of our afterlife.

The Book of Mormon actually makes this explicit in various places. For example, Alma 34: 32-34 states:

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

This passage establishes that this life is "the time for men to prepare to meet God," and that a person's fundamental character will have been established by the point of death. This is a recurring theme; the Book of Mormon refers to mortal life as "[day/days/state] of probation" in nine different places.

The prophet Lehi explains the basic concept in 2 Nephi 2:11-27:

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

19 And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.

20 And they have brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the earth.

21 And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

Important points found here:

  • There must be an opposition in all things, in order for meaningful distinctions between things to exist
  • Good and evil exist in opposition to each other
  • This life is a state of probation in which we are free to make meaningful choices between good and evil, and to repent of our sins when we choose evil
  • Satan entices mankind to choose evil, and Christ (the Messiah, the great Mediator) entices mankind to choose good
  • "Men are that they might have joy," which can only be meaningful if they also have an understanding of misery
  • Our moral choices have eternal consequences on the destiny of our souls

Therefore, if God were to do away with all evil, as the Problem of Evil suggests ought to be the case, there would be no meaningful moral choices to make, which would nullify the entire plan.

  • Really appreciate this Mason. I have printed off the answer and will have a proper read and digest it after work. Cheers! – David Nov 8 '16 at 9:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.