Home Teaching and the Problem of Evil




The problem of evil is one of the greatest, most substantial, challenges to theistic belief.  Why do such horrific things befall often innocent people, including children?  Isn’t the whole Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest, in a natural world that’s red in tooth and claw, incompatible with the existence of a loving God?  Where was that loving God during the Japanese tsunami or the Indian Ocean earthquake or the Nazi Holocaust?  Given great evils, can we really believe in a  God who is both benevolent and all-powerful?


While I’m confident that an answer will someday be given, and while I suspect that some decent answers are available even now, I don’t think that any easy answer is on hand.  And I certainly don’t believe that any purported answer can or should be proposed that minimizes or trivializes suffering and pain.


But here’s a thought:  I’ve often been struck by the contrast between those, often very faithful, who — say — lose a beloved child to a terrible congenital disease and those, often speaking in fast and testimony meetings, who tell of divine help in finding a lost key or gaining title to a vacation cabin.  Truth be told, though I’ve never borne testimony about such a thing, I myself have had some very striking, virtually undeniable experiences of what certainly felt like divine assistance in matters that . . . well, just don’t seem very big or particularly significant.


How to deal with this, theologically?


The terrible thought has occurred to me that maybe we really do have guardian angels, and that, just maybe, some of them are like mortal Mormon home teachers.


In other words, some guardian angels are dutiful and reliable, and perhaps even a bit overzealous.  They love arranging vacation timeshares for their assigned people, locating lost rings, arranging “chance” meetings between old college roommates.  Others, though, are a bit like many real-world home teachers:  “Really?  Seriously?  My guy died five years ago?  Man!  I could swear it hasn’t been that long since I checked in on him.  I’m sooooo embarrassed!   But, really. that just doesn’t seem correct.  Could you check again, please?”


I know.  I know.  A flippant response to a really serious and troubling question.  But I mean it:  There may be answers, but they’re not easy ones.


The biblical Job isn’t really given an “answer” or an explanation for the problem of evil.  He’s basically told that God is unbelievably powerful and that he, Job, doesn’t know much, and that he should patiently submit.


Ludwig Wittgenstein said that, with respect to that of which we cannot speak, we should remain silent.  But perhaps a nervous laugh is okay once in a while.  And an acknowledgment that we, too, don’t know much.


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  • h_nu

    I think the story of Job says, in effect, “Stop asking and learn to be happy without knowing…”

  • Greg Smith

    In my experience, God helps us with the small things to teach us to trust him when the big things hit.

    • danpeterson

      That is, at least for some cases, precisely my answer. I had a really striking and distinct experience, on my mission, when I was prompted to act because of a strong and very specific premonition of the future. The “subject” of the experience wasn’t particularly important, not in the eternal scheme of things, but I’ve never doubted, since then, that it’s possible to be aware of things to come. It’s part of my testimony of prophecy.

      I may write a blog entry on the matter someday.

  • Maynette S. More

    I believe it was President Joseph F. Smith who stated that guardian angels were more than likely our ancestors on the other side who tend to be more interested in us than we are of them. I tend to agree with the thought whether by him or one of the other early Presidents. We believe that they can see what is going on on this side especially in respect to their descendants. Why should they not then provide a nudge or a “helping hand” when needed to help us stay not only on the strait and narrow path but walk beside us to assist in keeping us alive until it is time to return home. I’ve had a couple incidents that have convinced me that there is someone keeping an eye on me and my mother had an even greater experience which leans toward family members. That is not for the general public but does agree with President Smith’s conjecture. Just a bit of FYI.

    • danpeterson

      I tend to agree with you, and with President Smith.

  • Fred Kratz

    My Austrian grandmother was a devout Catholic who lived through the nightmare of WWII in Graz, Austria. She often invoked Satan as the reason for the terrible carnage and suffering she and her countrymen lived through. She also believed in ghosts. When I visited her in the 60′s, I can remember walking along a dense and dark forest trail as we searched for chanterelles . Every hundred yards or so, there would be a tree stump along the path with an “X” carved into the horizontal surface. When I inquired as to their purpose, she explained that this was done by local villagers years ago to protect them from the headless horsemen who would ride the paths at night. If you saw one, and sat on one of these stumps, your life would be spared.

    In my fifty two years on the planet, I’ve never seen a ghost or Satan nor do I believe in “evil”. It always bothers me when the religious broadcast themselves and explain to those watching that the latest natural disaster or human caused tragedy occurred because of the evil of humanity. Both Falwell and Robertson appeared on the 700 Club together in split screen laying blame (in part) on the ACLU, abortionists, femanists, gays, lesbians and those trying to secularize America, for the tragedy of 9-11, saying that these groups helped it happen. I nearly fell out of my chair. The narcissistic diatribe offered by the evangelicals for the Haiti earthquake ranks up there as well.

    The planet earth can be a dangerous place and is such even in the absence of humans. As a thought exercise, it’s interesting to project ones self back in time when humans had no knowledge of the causes of the cataclysmic events occurring all around them. Why not cast blame of a devastating tsunami on Evil, when one has no other explanation? I think it’s high time we moved past such thinking.

  • Kent G. Budge

    When I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, I felt that my father, who had died of complications of Type 2 diabetes many years earlier, was just across a much thinned veil. Yes, they care.

  • Collin

    With respect to the problem of evil, keep in mind that if there were no good, then there would be no evil. So if there is evil, then we know that there is such thing as good. Whence the good? The atheist has this problem. He has no god to ground his beliefs, so if he tries to say, “I see evil in there world, therefore there is no god” then you should say, “Hogwash. How do you know it is evil? Doesn’t might make right? If not, why not?” He has no answer. A christian has many good answers.

  • http://plainandpreciousthing.blogspot.com/ Rozann

    I have felt and seen evil in my 55 years on earth. It is real and raging. My grandfather told me of experiences when he was permitted to see with his spiritual eyes and described that we are surrounded by spirit being, both good and evil, and that on seeing them he could immediately tell the difference. Why does God permit evil? I’ve learned from the scriptures it is so his judgements will be just. He could prevent tragedy, but if he did then how could he judge someone on their works? (We are saved by Grace and judged by works.) Why do people die in natural disasters? Because death is part of our mortal experience. It is graduation. The Lord says “All flesh is in my hands.” The only persons we should mourn are those who were not ready to meet their maker. If we are ready then what a glorious day it will be. We will be welcomed into the arms of the Lord and be at peace. I sure believe in guardian angels, as my life, my husband’s and our son’s lives have been miraculously spared. I can accept that some must be like the Home Teacher’s too. Great analogy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Alagoano

    I’m not sure that the standard answers (that we may know good from evil, or that the evil may be judged, etc…) are sufficient to explain the very worst of evils. Can’t these objectives be accomplished with much less tragedy?

    Would the plan of salvation be invalidated if God were to temporarily remove agency by preventing a man or woman from committing a particularly heinous evil act?

    Do we not believe that He intervenes to assist us from time to time? Why not, then, for these very worst of evils?

    I think I agree that there is no easy answer.

    I have been reminded many times to be grateful for my blessings, after learning about the difficulties a friend might be going through. I have two dear, sweet sisters-in-law who are devastated by the news their husbands (my brothers) have decided to leave the Church. I feel deep sorrow for my sisters-in-law, and through this experience, I have learned to better appreciate and cherish my wife for her faith.

    I can see the relationship between that level of tragedy and the lessons learned/blessings gained.

    It’s not so clear cut for the most tragic events.

  • robert landbeck

    “the whole Darwinian struggle for survival of the fittest, in a natural world that’s red in tooth and claw, incompatible with the existence of a loving God?” No, but it is incompatible with the claims of theistic religion as these claims have failed to resolve the issue. That is to offer any teaching that can overcome the potential for evil within all mankind. That can only mean such teachings are of men and not of God. It is more probable to say that God is not active in the affairs of humanity as tradition claims. No doubt when that ‘activity’ begins there will have to be a great measuring between what is of God and what is not? Are the theological foundations of tradition anything more than a theological counterfeit? History remains to judge! http://www.energon.org.uk

  • Dai

    The notion that God/angels care about our quotidien troubles and intervene in our daily lives has to be one of the grossest, most pernicious beliefs of Mormonism and much of Christianity generally. The scriptures and prophets have told us, in broad strokes, why there is pain and evil in the world – the fall, the exercise of free choice, and the opportunity to learn from adversity – and the scriptures meet further analysis of this question bascially with the story of Job: no one can understand the mind of God.

    The huge problem for those of you who believe that God helps you find your keys while women in Africa watch their children die of hunger in a world that has enough food to feed everyone 10 times over is this: if the coincidences/small miracles that help you avoid annoyance and frustration in your daily life (and yes, even losing $10,000 or not being able to send your kid to the best possible college count as mere annoyances in a wider world where people die of cholera for simple lack of $1-a-day of drinking water) are probative of the care of God, why isn’t every instance of NOT being spared pain and annoyance evidence that the world is just running at random? Why isn’t the fact that your child has cancer evidence that God HATES you? For every child with a miraculous recovery, how many die painful, horrible, pointless deaths? And more: If God does EVER help you find your keys while letting dictators destroy the lives of millions around the world when he could cut them off with a heart attack instead, what does it tell us about the character of God, that he has chosen you (or maybe some other already privileged person) for his magnanimity?

    I suggest some of you try much harder to develop a testimony of the random senselessness of the world. I promise you – if you look for the random senselessness of the world in your life, you will find it! It doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist just because he does not intervene. Build your testimonies on faith in doctrine, not what you think are miracles that, if true, really would just tell us that God is callous to true suffering, petty, and plays favorites.

  • Collin

    It is because God wants to teach us to turn to Him. So he will give little miracles here and there, not because we are supposed to not suffer, but to teach us that He is good and to give us hints of the blessings of the next life that may be devoid even of annoyance. But even if you do not believe what I say, please believe this: God has saved my house from burning down. If you’d like to know the story, email me at sakalava47@yahoo.com. To me it is an undeniable miracle. I don’t know why he doesnt’ prevent torture, murder rape etc. He hasn’t cured by health problems which are very troublesome to me. But he did help me then.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The best discussion I have read of the Problem of Evil and the Probkem of Pain is Truman Madsen’s slim book, Eternal Man, that presents his argument that the dictrine of our pre-mortal existence as conscious beings exercising choice is the strongest resolution of these issues. God did not create Lucifer as the Adversary, Lucifer and his followers chose to rebel. God is also not responsible for the evil and harmful choices we make. Additionally, each of us chose to be born into this world despite knowing the risks. We share responsibility with God for our experience of the random suffering that often occurs here.

    The natural world and its harms are intimately tied to its benefits. The earthquakes and tsunamis that devastated Japan (including areas where I served my mission) are an inseparable part of the same plate tectonics process that created Japan in the first place. The destruction wrought by volvanic eruptions also brings minerals to the surface if the earth that are essential to life. The same weather processes that create hurticanes and tornadoes also deliver life-giving rain. We are all much more familiar now with the fact that ecosystems depend on predators as well as prey for their healthy continuance. In the natural world, suffering and pain come from things that are essential for life and enjoyment.

    Another part of the answer of Mormons to the Problems is at the other end of life. Henry Eyring the scientist argued that if we believe in justice, there has to be life after death to balance the suffering of our mortal world. The good not only continue to live as spirits, without physical suffering, but also are resurrected in an imoerishable and glorious form that has compassion precisely because it knows suffering. And in particular, God is.not a distant sovereign of an immaterial nature who has no experience of our lives, but rather through Christ is a God who condescends to partucipate in the mortal circus with us, and voluntarily experiences through his oerfect knowledge and perfect love a.perfect empathy in which he has fully felt all of the suffering of each one of.us, not only what we have experienced, but also the post-mortal suffering we deserve to experience if we fail to repent and ask His forgiveness. Christ protects us from the worst suffering that comes from oyr mirtal experience.

    The atheist solution to the Problems of Evil and Suffering is to conclude there us no God. But then we are keft with all of life’s Evil and Suffering, with no hope of either relief, or compassion, or compensation. Why should we choose such a bleak resolution, if there is.any hope for.hope? The small testimonies, the words.of encouragement given to prophets and the small assurances we experience, sometimes unexpectedly without asking for them, are enough to asdure us that this world is.just the second act, and the shortest one, in a much longer three act drama, and it is worth sticking around for the wonderful trumph that comes in the end.

    • Fred Kratz

      Each of us has a unique story, and for some, God or Evil is not necessary, for many it is. Some stories are difficult, even brutish and sometimes short. Other stories are long, eventful, purposeful and prosperous, filled with accomplishment and meaning. Many are very similar in a broad sense, yet very different in a personal one. And there are many billions of such stories which are taking place in every habitable location on the planet as they have for many tens of thousands of years. Each unique story could fill a book, or many books or just a page or even a short sentence, or nothing at all. These stories grow and are deeply influenced by the cultures in which they originate as well as the historical period in which they take place. Time and events both cultural and environmental influence these stories. And these amazing stories of the ones that survive, are often quickly forgotten within a generation or two. Some are remembered. Sometimes the stories are so very memorable, that they strike an arc across the span of time. And so it is all over the world. And so it has been over the ages. It is the human story, and in my opinion, no intervening deity is necessary.

      What of the stories of the countless millions of our prehistory before any organized religion? What of the ones that left their stories on the walls of ancient caves in current day Europe? How amazing must the stories have been of the ancient cave painters, including the most famous Chauvet cave in France, whose paintings reveal an ancient people dating back 35,000 years (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_z6FLYCDzk&feature=related). And what of the unknown and unknowable stories of those hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions that lived, scattered across the planet from those years until writing developed around 3500 BC in what is now Egypt for which we have no record? What of the stories of ancient cultures in Africa, Central Europe, Asia, Australia, and the American continent? Vibrant and exciting stories. Stories of mystery and wonder. Stories of war, famine, birth, and death, conquest, and nation building, and every imaginable permutation of life and struggle and happiness and heartache that could fill endless pages and be as varied as the stars and planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. The never ending cycle of life is without a doubt as wonderful and mysterious as the history that brings meaning to the events we can record and understand. Each story is unique and important to the ones living. But no story is more or less important to the one living than their story, as it has been and will continue to be.