If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 23
For Come Follow Me, lesson 23, June 8-14, Alma 8-12
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Do you think the Book of Mormon helps with the problem of evil?”
Things to consider:
- The problem of evil is a philosophical argument against the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-caring God. It can be summarized as:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? (RationalWiki attributed to Epicurus, but there seems to be some controversy as to whether he stated this).
- I think Mormonism, however, makes unique claims that may address the problem of evil better than many theist religions. Mormon apostle Elder Neal A. Maxwell makes this case with the three quotes I list below from his talk The Richness of the Restoration:
- “Latter-day Saints also know that God did not create man ex nihilo, out of nothing.” Elder Maxwell’s point is that if God organized things, but did not create them, He is not the creator of evil. The things He organized were evil, at least in part or in potential, from eternity past in Mormonism.
- “Furthermore, God will not coerce men since all intelligence is free to act for itself ‘in that sphere in which God has placed it. … Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man’ (D&C 93:30–31)” (ellipsis as found in source). Elder Maxwell did not specify how this addresses the problem of evil, but it is commonly argued among the devout that God gave us the gift of moral agency, and He values it so highly He will not violate that agency by intervening to prevent evil.
- “In the Restoration, we further learn that, built into the existing structure of mortal life, there is ‘an opposition in all things’ (2 Ne. 2:11).” This verse teaches that without opposition, all things would be as dead, that there would be no happiness. Since the purpose of man’s existence is happiness, evil seems to be necessary to oppose righteousness so that happiness may be possible.
- To Elder Maxwell’s first point, that God is not the author of evil, there is still the issue that God knows everything before it happens, but still allows horrific evil to occur. “[T]he Lord knoweth all things which are to come” (Words of Mormon 1:7). So then the question for many is why God does not stop evil since He knows it would happen before it does.
- And that’s why Elder Maxwell’s second and third points are so important for Mormonism in addressing the problem of evil. Moral agency is taught to be a gift God gave to us to act for ourselves, even if it be unto evil, but such evil seems necessary in the plan of happiness. I don’t think this argument necessarily contradicts the idea of omnipotence (all-power). I think it’s more like the idea that God is honest, so he cannot lie because it’s not part of His nature. It could be argued this is God pursuing a higher purpose (human happiness) and having to follow the laws of the universe to achieve that.
- This week’s reading confirms that moral agency result in the ability to do evil. “[H]aving first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves [Adam and Eve] in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good” (Alma 12:31).
- So there you have it. Mormonism destroys the problem of evil because God will not intervene on behalf of the innocent due to moral agency and its role in achieving happiness. Except … the most correct book on earth teaches us otherwise.
- “[T]hey [Alma and Amulek] had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them” (Alma 8:31).
- Alma preached, “And have ye forgotten so soon how many times he delivered our fathers out of the hands of their enemies, and preserved them from being destroyed, even by the hands of their own brethren?” (Alma 9:10).
- Alma, still preaching, “For he [God] will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people” (Alma 9:19).
- And, Alma continues to preach about the intercessory blessings God gave the Nephites, even unto the blessings of the prosperity gospel: “Yea, and after having been delivered of God out of the land of Jerusalem, by the hand of the Lord; having been saved from famine, and from sickness, and all manner of diseases of every kind; and they having waxed strong in battle, that they might not be destroyed; having been brought out of bondage time after time, and having been kept and preserved until now; and they have been prospered until they are rich in all manner of things” (Alma 9:22).
- These examples are just from this lesson’s Book of Mormon reading. This kind of intersession to prevent the affliction of the innocent by evil is throughout the Book of Mormon. If you search for "problem of evil" (using the quotes) with the Google search bar near the top, on the right side of the page, it should pull up more than another dozen such instances that jumped out at me. These intercessions seem to render the idea that evil exists because of moral agency indefensible in the context of Mormonism because the Book of Mormon teaches that God is able to prevent evil, but He’s often not willing. If that is true, and if the reasoning attributed to Epicurus is sound, then doesn’t this apply? “Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent” (RationalWiki).
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- An example of how to win enemies and have very little influence (Alma 9:31-32).
- A claim of descent from Ishmael more than 500 years after Lehi and Co. leave Jerusalem, so lack of DNA evidence is a challenge (Alma 10:2-3).
- Lehi and his group were not Levites, and some critics argue they would not have authority to perform ritual sacrifices. I don’t think this is as big a problem as some critics argue (Alma 10:3).
- The Miracle precedes the faith for Amulek (Alma 10:6-7).
- Swords seem to be anachronistic (Alma 10:22-23 and Alma 12:21).
- Barley seems to be an anachronism (Alma 11:7, 15).
- Jesus is the very Eternal Father (Alma 11:38-39, 44).
- It seems Amulek (who wasn’t even a prophet) could silence a critic by catching him in his lies. That seems almost like the opposite of how the prophet, seer, and revelator Jeffrey Holland works (Alma 12:1).
- The apparently ambiguous or misleading term “everlasting” is used to describe “destruction” (Alma 12:17, 36).
- It teaches that agency came by the transgression of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, so how could 1/3 of God’s spirit children be judged and condemned to outer darkness prior to receiving agency (Alma 12:31 and “Line upon Line: Before Birth”)?
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 23