The Problem of Evil Part 3 – The Mormon Solution

In Part 1, I introduced the problem of evil, and discussed Augustine’s view that evil is an illusion. I disagreed with this view, and gave examples of evil that would be difficult to consider as an illusion.  First, I summarized an excerpt of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan describes terrible evil to brother Alyosha. Second, I described some of the suffering in Haiti as a result of the recent earthquake. I concluded that those who think evil is an illusion are like Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter series, who see an illusion only because they have no experiences of true evil and suffering.

In Part 2, I introduced certain complications that enter into the question because of traditional Christian theology.  The first doctrine that causes complications is the creation ex nihilo, which makes an omniscient God an “accessory before the fact” to all evil done in the universe.  The second doctrine that causes complications is the idea that our post-mortal life will only be a rest.  If man is only working towards an eternal rest, then it is hard to see the necessity in suffering here in mortality.  Both of these Christian additions to the Problem of Evil make it rather impossible to answer the atheist’s charge that there is no God without help from restored truth.  I also discussed Hick’s “soul-making” defense and Plantinga’s free-will defense.  Both answer some questions, but neither are completely adequate.

Redefining God

We’ve already discussed some of the various responses to the contradiction which is the Problem of Evil.

It seems easiest to deny the existence of God (though as we all know, the easy answer is rarely the correct answer).  This is where atheist groups begin, and it is somewhat understandable since the western Christian world basically agrees on who God is.  Their definition of God leaves little wiggle room, so to speak.

Interestingly enough, the LDS position on the Problem of Evil begins with redefining God.  Latter-day Saints believe that the understanding of the nature of God has been corrupted by the creeds and philosophies of men.  Using the revelations given to Joseph Smith as their guide, they redefine God to correct the apostate traditions discussed in Part 2.

A Creation Ex Nihilo?  The LDS Take

LDS theology does not define God as a creator ex nihilo.  In fact, Joseph Smith taught that there are three things co-eternal with God.  The first two are “the mind or intelligence which man possesses” (or “primal person,” as Paulsen refers to it here) and “chaotic matter.”  Because these things are not created by God, he is not an accessory to any wickedness committed by them despite any foreknowledge he may have of their actions.

So why can’t God simply remove these sources of evil in the world?  He is still omnipotent, after all.  The third co-eternal entity is important in answering this concern.  Joseph Smith defined it as “laws of eternal and self-existent principles,” and this necessarily limits God’s omnipotence.  God is bound by these laws, and cannot bring to pass logical impossibilities.  Paulsen cites an example in Mormon theology regarding the happiness of man.  He writes that “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.”

Thus God’s role as creator and his omnipotence are both redefined.  Such limits to his creative power and omnipotence are not in the least bit heretical, for God’s power to save and exalt his children is not limited when he is bound by logic (i.e., he cannot create a square circle) or his own eternal principles (i.e., only righteousness brings happiness).

An Eventual Rest?  The LDS Take

LDS theology does not teach that rest is all that awaits us in the next life – that view, while true, is incomplete.  Instead, Joseph Smith taught that those who meet the requirements set by God shall one day experience godhood themselves. (This claim is one of the most controversial points of Mormonism, but it will not be examined here in detail except as it helps to solve the Problem of Evil). What is meant by “godhood” is simply living the kind of life that God lives. In essence, it is continuing family relationships beyond the grave, and continually growing and improving throughout eternity. With that much time, what could we not accomplish?

Joseph wrote, “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end;… then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20).  When considering this prize, and the strength of character that would be required to faithfully serve under such a stewardship, it is not hard to consider evil (even atrocities like those described by Ivan Karamazov or the evils happening in Haiti [see Part 1]) as a necessary part of earthly experience.  God could allow rest without allowing evil, but the “soul-making” necessary to live the kind of life that God lives could not be accomplished without it.

An Objection to Restoration

In redefining God’s omnipotence and role as creator, and in clarifying the end purpose of creation, the issues raised by the Christian Conundrum are completely circumvented, and both Hick’s and Plantinga’s  arguments are enhanced.  Yet many reject to these clarifications in fits of neophobia.  The theology of the LDS Church is unique among modern Christianity, and this distinctiveness is often met with disdain among other more mainstream theologians.  Still, it is important to note that the rejection of Joseph Smith’s teachings are primary an objection is to the manner in which Smith claimed to receive these teachings.

Those who reject Smith’s arguments against the Problem of Evil based on his experiences are accountable to provide their own arguments to defend the existence of God.  These arguments, though, have not sufficiently shown the Problem of Evil to be invalid.

It is clear that only with the teachings of the LDS Church is Christianity able to reconcile the presence of evil with the existence of God – a God that is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful (within his logical limitations); who organizes existing matter into creation; and who has created mankind for eventual godhood.

(Because this is a post from an older blog, I’ll include an appendix where you can view older comments and exchanges I had.)

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Haiti, Harry, and the Reality of Evil
  • Part 2 – The Christian Conundrum
  • Part 3 – The Mormon Solution
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