In between this last visit and the one, the missionaries stopped by while I was upstairs and gave my boy (who was in fact Batman at the time and as such they addressed him much to his delight) a printed out copy of an essay by John Sutton Welch entitled Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity Among the Problems of Evil. I read through it once to take it in as a whole and then went through it again highlighting interesting bits and making my own comments in the margins.
I don’t know what the chances are that you’ve read this yourself, but the general impression I got, by way of summary, was this: I should be content to allow others to suffer and die just so that I can be aware of how glad I am that it’s not happening to me.
At one point, Mr. Welch writes, “Slowly but surely I have seen, in case after case, how evil, suffering, and injustice serve as essential creative conditions that allow us to develop nearly every Christian virtue, creating opportunities for goodness and the grace of the Atonement to cure us.”
I pointed out to myself that these are virtues and an Atonement that we would not need to employ or receive if there was no evil in the first place. What point is there in a cure if there’s no disease to begin with?
Welch goes directly on to say, “The development of such interpersonal virtues as forgiveness, mercy, generosity, compassion, and charity logically requires the prior existence of some form of evil, suffering, or injustice.”
Well, sure. But again, who needs forgiveness when there’s nothing to forgive? Who needs charity or compassion when there’s no suffering? Who needs generosity when you want for nothing? God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.
I got home about half an hour ago from a Mormon church service. Three hours, they said it’d be. I thought that sounded like a long-winded service, but they included what amounted to a Sunday school class and another gender specific service in there, so we got to stretch our legs in between.
It was a lot less formal than I thought it’d be, for all that they wear ties, button-ups, and slacks when they go knocking door-to-door.
I have never read John Sutton Welch’s essay. From what you are saying, it sounds like he’s trying to explain the existence of evil by saying that it is a necessary element of creation in order to furnish a world where we can develop attributes of the opposite nature. That’s an interesting way of looking at it and, if that is his total explanation, I would say that it serves better as a description of our current circumstances than it does an explanation of the origins of evil.
Before I give my full explanation of the matter, I must give you a little aside. By giving you this essay from a dubious source (I’m actually surprised they didn’t provide you something written by a prophet or an apostle, as this topic has been covered before by higher authorities) it’s apparent that the missionaries are trying to think of anything they can to help answer your profoundly deep questions. I know they’re hoping that something they give you may strike a chord with your understanding at some point. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to ask such questions; remember, the restoration of the Gospel began with a question! But I do think the Lord allows us to be backed up to the wall of faith at times where we must make our stand or otherwise falter.
This is why they want you to read the Book of Mormon and gain a witness of whether or not it is true. If it is, then—though you may not know the exact reasons behind the forces of good and evil—you can acknowledge their existence with an assurance that the truth of it may be learned when the Lord sees fit to reveal it. I don’t mean to make a witness of the Book of Mormon seem like an excuse for not being able to explain something, but it is the keystone of our religion and if it is true, then all that is claimed by it and the religion it supports is also true; If YOU find out that it is true, then your holdup in logic would transform from a brick high on a wall to a step high on a staircase: at some point, you will be given to understand it step after step.
Nonetheless, I don’t mind trying to help answer your questions where I am able. As you said, it is ‘enlightening and entertaining.’
Let me begin with a scripture:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… 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.
“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” (2 Nephi 2:11-12)
What Lehi here is teaching is that some things never had a beginning and will never have an end. This includes good and evil, light and dark, gods and devils, and you and I. Our doctrine teaches that all of us are eternal, meaning that our intelligence (what we might consider as our minds) never had a beginning and will never have an end. The interesting thing is that the implication here is that we are all as old as God Himself.
Accordingly, God doesn’t and cannot see Himself as better than any of us but—within the spectrum of eternal progression (for He is more progressed than us)—He knows that He is greater than us. The words I emphasized in the last sentence carry very different connotations. This is important. What I am trying to say is that to be better than another implies a differing degree of intrinsic worth, whereas to be greater than another implies a differing degree of development or attained attributes.
This is part of the reason God will not take our agency away from us, for if we cannot choose between opposing forces as He does, we lose our ability to act for ourselves, which thing defines existence (I wrote quite a bit to you about this before). Therefore if we are eternal, and if we exist due to the ability to choose, and the ability to choose requires things to choose between, then those options to us are also eternal. Those options are good and evil, or light and darkness, etc.
“God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.”
The thing to understand is that God did not create the evil and the darkness of the universe—like the matter with which He organized this world, it was already there when He came to it (remember that Hebrew bara means “to organize” and not “to create”). I agree that it would be bad parenting to throw your kids into a fire pit under any circumstances, but this analogy simply betrays your limited understanding of what this life really is (which limitation is completely acceptable at this point). This life certainly manifests evil—your ‘fire pit’—in its varied forms, but it is not a unique aspect to existence on this earth; evil is an aspect of all existence.
The difference is that in the holy company of Heaven, evil appears as it truly is: a detestable sludge that you wouldn’t touch with a 40 foot pole (or maybe it’s 40 lightyears); on earth, this same evil appears as a finely dressed gentleman to whom the world gives praise and power. In both places evil is a constant, but from the higher plane its mask is removed.
(It is possible to attain to that higher plane while living down here because perspective is an individual matter. To get there requires obedience to the principles of righteousness so that you may become righteous and more easily distinguish between good and evil. This is provided by obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)
But the question that begs to be asked is why, why must we come to a place where evil is so disguised? The answer brings us back to the fact that many things are as old as God Himself. When God was not yet a god, what was He? Recall my previous letter about the head of the gods, or the family of the gods, wherein I wrote that He was once a mortal, like you and I. The process, then, by which He became God—by which you and I are to become gods—is the way it has always been done on any other world that has ever been.
Combine this knowledge with these two facts:
- Our bodies have been created in a fallen world and so the flesh is prone to weakness (sin and evil).
- The veil of forgetfulness placed over our minds, which causes us to choose goodness by faith, also causes us to choose the opposite by faith.
Perhaps you can begin to see that this mortal probation is a place where evil can be presented to us in an appealing way because of where we are—a fallen world. We are left relatively alone to pick between good and evil for that is part of the test of this life, but it’s not because God created the evil or that He created a fallen world. The world became fallen when Adam and Eve fell, and they fell “that man might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added; also read my letter to you on the necessity of the fall).
The analogy you must consider should not be ‘[would I] throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll’? But rather this: would I subject my child to the shocking and undoubtedly unpleasant experience of being torn from the warmth of the womb to breathe cold air and lose all feeling of previous security just so they could learn to walk, talk, and grow?
The answer is a deliberate and ultimately merciful yes because whether cesarian or natural birth there is no other way to further your child’s development.
Think about that. I know that you would not go back and change a thing if it meant not having those precious ones in your life. Likewise is God a good parent to us, and we are born into a fallen world simply because of this same reason: there is no other way. There is only one way by which a body of flesh and bone can be created, and “it is sown in corruption[, and] raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42).
And when we learned we could come to this world in that premortal council that you and I attended, all of us “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
You made it through all three hours of church! That can be a feat for someone used to shorter stints. In our ward this past week, my wife and I gave the sermons during the sacrament meeting (that first and longest meeting). My wife spoke about Joseph Smith’s first vision and I spoke on the nature of the Godhead.
What did you think of the services? Anything strike you as peculiar?