There are a few problems with the Mormon solution to the problem of evil. I’m not saying I disbelieve possible LDS solutions, but only to say they don’t come without downsides, however slight. First I’ll describe the problem of evil (over-simplistically) then I’ll address a problem with the LDS response.
“Theodicy” Briefly Explained:
Before serving a mission when I turned 19 I’d never heard of “theodicy,” theological responses to the problem of evil. The problem is that evil exists and we don’t like it. Theodicies are ways to justify God’s goodness and power in the face of the evil around us. How could an all-powerful and loving God allow such suffering and sorrow in the world? LDS philosopher Truman Madsen explained it quite nicely in his “Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights” lectures. Truman described a triangle with three points, any one of which would call into question the other two. Here’s my handy MS Paint attempt:
This triangle assumes that evil exists (some deny this premise from the get-go but I’m not addressing them here). What does the existence of evil tell us about God’s qualities? He is thought to be omnipotent (all-powerful). He is thought to be omnibenevolent (all loving). Yet evil exists. So, either God cannot prevent evil, and is thus not omnipotent, or he doesn’t want to, and is thus not all-loving. This problem is particularly acute for people who believe God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing). Ostensibly, God could have created a world without evil but didn’t.
Joseph Smith’s revelations give Latter-day Saints a different perspective on God’s relation to the world. Kathleen Flake described it this way:
[In LDS thought] evil is uncreated and co-eternal with good and God; so are we. Evil, like God and us, simply is, but evil pollutes, like a fly in the ointment, God’s order for the flourishing of human life in God’s image. Thus, in Mormonism, most of the bad experiences in this life are explained in terms of humans choosing the fly over the ointment. But, notwithstanding this interplay of independent agency and existence, evil’s uncreatedness does not place it beyond God’s power; neither is God blind to or unmoved by evil’s effect…[Evil's] limits are set, but God’s are not. Why God doesn’t prevent evil immediately is a function of a world comprised of competing agencies, pending final judgment…
For Latter-day Saints, God’s mightiness to save is defined not by his capacity to prevent evil, but to create good when only evil seems possible. He doesn’t turn evil into good, but he overcomes it with the good.1
Longer and more complex responses to the problem of evil have been crafted by Latter-day Saints.2 Our solutions don’t come without potential downsides, of course. One such downside was pointed out to me by a Catholic friend during a conversation about Verdi’s “Requiem,” which was performed last week by the Utah Symphony Orchestra. He commented on the lyrics of the piece:
To appreciate what is meant by Requiem aeternam dona eis [from the Catholic Mass], it requires a conception of a God who is able to satisfy the soul in a genuinely eternal way: so that by grasping him, we grasp the whole of our own happiness and need labor no further, just as God himself sanctifies creation by resting, and speaks of heaven and the temple as “my rest.” (Ps 132:4; Heb 3:11, cf. Ps 95:11).3
Of course, I believe this description of God resting overlooks other scriptures, including LDS verses about God weeping.4 Mormons also have uniquely LDS scriptures discussing eternal rest (e.g. 2 Ne. 24: 3; Jacob 1:7; Enos 1:27; Alma 12:34; 13:6, 29;40:12; 3 Nephi 27:19; 28:3, Moroni 7:3; 9:6; 10:34; D&C 15:6; 59:2; 121:32, etc.).
At the same time, we believe in “eternal progression,” which seems to imply action (D&C 101:31 has interesting implications, tying rest and glory together, considering D&C 76). One of Joseph’s revelations explicitly ties rest to works:
“If they live here let them live unto me; and if they die let them die unto me; for they shall rest from all their labors here, and shall continue their works” (D&C 124:86).
This goes to show how a Mormon view of the afterlife might not be entirely appealing to everyone, and perhaps especially to those who deal with great tragedy in life and look forward to eternal rest.
On the Mormon view, it is possible to say that evil itself may never entirely be overcome for everyone. A nice eternity of nothing but resting, where there are no more tears because God wipes them away forever (Rev. 21:4), doesn’t seem to be in the game plan for Mormons. Or maybe it’s an option in a particular degree of glory?
In short: many non-Mormon theodicies appeal to mystery–that our sorrow here is God’s mysterious will but that all will be made up to us in a wonderful eternity of rest. This doesn’t help confirm God’s goodness and loving nature in the here and now. On the other hand, the Mormon view exonerates God here and now by explaining that he is not the creator or delighter in evil, but that through Him evil can be overcome. Eternity, though, may not be that easy and comfortable rest hoped for by my Catholic friend.
Kathleen Flake, “Making Good For, Not From Evil,” The Washington Post, 7 September 2007.
For instance, see Blake T. Ostler, and David L. Paulsen, “Sin, Suffering, and Soul-Making: Joseph Smith on the Problem of Evil,” in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks eds., Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, (Provo: FARMS, 2002).
My friend goes by the name “Soren” at the online forum MormonApologetics.org. See the discussion here.
See Daniel C. Peterson, “On the Motif of the Weeping God in Moses 7,” in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks eds., Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, (Provo: FARMS, 2002).