Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Theodicy

Why does a loving and an all-powerful God allow human suffering?

Here is an explanation I heard in Houston, Texas, and I think it has a lot of merit. It's distinctly LDS, it's very simple, and it combines several of the common theodicies.

  • The Good Adversity

  • The first type of adversity one might experience can be said to be "good." It is the kind of adversity that exists to strengthen the human soul. It may be a result of living in a fallen world. Just as a corollary to living we knock up against all kinds of adversity, such as natural disasters. I would add that not all people will choose to use this type of suffering as a chance to grow, but that is its purpose, and theoretically it is possible to overcome, and to learn from it.

  • The Bad Adversity

  • Another type of adversity that exists in the world comes as a result of bad choices that we make. This goes along with the scripture "Wickedness never was happinesss." In general, right living leads to peace, prosperity, and happiness, while wickedness, evil, and sin will tend to cause misery and pain. Note that this principle is not the only factor leading to suffering. That is why it may appear that a righteous person is experiencing much more adversity than his/her wicked neighbor.

  • The Ugly Adversity

  • Ugly adversity occurs when another person's free agency conflicts with someone else's life. God allows us to make our own life choices and rarely interferes. Thus innocent humans may suffer as a result of someone's poor choices. Latter-day Saints believe passionately that free agency is a vital ingredient for attaining sanctification. Thus ugly adversity must exist, causing unneeded suffering. Why did God organize the world this way? Because without choosing freely we could never develop the qualities necessary for godhood.

Now it's your turn! Tell me what works for you and what doesn't work in the above scenario.


Maraiya said...

My ten cents.

mormongnostic said...

I really have enjoyed the last few posts. I love philosophy of religion, and it doesn't get any better than the problem of evil.

The first thing is to be clear on what omnipotence means. On the traditional view the only limit to omnipotence is logical impossibility. In other words, the only limit to God's power are logical contradictions like creating a round square.

Due to the definition of omnipotence one condition that a successful theodicy must achieve is as follows:

(1) The suffering is shown to be logically necessary for the end that is attained.

In other words, if the end could have been achieved without the suffering involved then the theodicy fails. For example, one could not explain away the suffering of a child drowning by claiming that it was necessary for teaching other children to be careful around the pool. An omnipotent God surely could encourage children to be safe without drowning one of them.

The problem is that it appears that a (traditionally) omnipotent God could also have created free beings that were already morally perfect. There is no logical contradiction in that proposition. Therefore, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly doesn't meet that criterion.

Now on the Mormon view, God does not have the power to create us as free and morally perfect beings because we exist co-eternally with God. And even if God did not create us an omnipotent God would be able to perfect us without suffering. Again, because there is no logical contradiction in a morally perfect being that never suffered. But that would mean that the Mormon view of God does not meet the criterion of omnipotence.

sorry for the long post :) but you are talking about one of my favorite things.

Maraiya said...

Your statement that BiV's theodicy doesn't hold water is based on the postulate that God could have created "free beings that were already morally perfect." Personally, I think that's along the lines of a round square.

mormongnostic said...


I can see why it would be strange to think that God could create such beings, but they are not logically impossible. The reason why a square is impossible because it would be saying that there is an X that has corners & does not have corners. That is a contradiction in terms. I see no reason to think that beings that are created morally free and perfect is a contradiction in terms.

Maraiya said...

This is where we agree to disagree.

Ujlapana said...


If you disagree with MG, is it safe to assume you are afraid of God? By the round square argument, God either has no free agency or is not morally perfect.

Ujlapana said...

Maraiya has asked for further clarification on my last comment.

Calling a morally perfect free agent a round square is to say that such a thing does not exist.

Ergo, morally perfect free agents don't exist.

Ergo, God is either morally flawed or not a free agent.

Maraiya said...

U: I'm not arguing directly about morally perfect free agents, I'm arguing that creating them is a round square; I don't think God can. I think an important criteria of being a morally perfect being with agency is choosing to be perfect and I don't see that happening - not in this life or the last. It seems that there needs to a process to turn a being with agency into a morally perfect being who has agency.

Does that explain why I think it's a round square. Because I'm not afraid of God and I do think He is a morally perfect being with agency.

backandthen said...

I deal without a problem with the two first, I understand them and almost "love" them.
I am barely accepting the third one. the third one is all what the plan of salvation is about from the down side. If I don't accept that one can interfere with my life an ugly way how can I ask for forgiveness for my own mistakes since they rsult from the same right? Even if I know I will die before I let ugly adversity from myself interfer in someone else's life I have to admit that free agency is the answer (a tough one really) to almost all my question about it.
I understand now how so many people did not aggree with the free agency idea and thought it would be easier to be forced in a lesser way maybe to do what is right.
I don't know what was on my mind when I chose this side. Was it just plain if=gnorance and blind trust in God or was I aware of things I had to forget?
Anyway I start only now being gratefull for this knowledge I am acquiring. Not because it is sweet but because it was the only way for me to taste the fruit of the atonement.
I think I am almost able to say that it was worth it.

and make sure you save a copy of what I just typed because 6 months ago I would have killed you for telling me that before the end of the year I would be saying such a thing :o)