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Heavenly Father and Theodicy

Posted by nebula0 on October 30, 2009


One of the most prickly problems theists face is the problem of evil and developing a theodicy in response.  If there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent Creator how can evil exist?  If he is all good and all powerful and all knowing there should be no excuse.  In response to the problem a number of responses exist from classic monotheists including the free will defense or arguing that from God’s perspective all really is well.   In the face of true evil however, these responses often feel thin.  Knowing that God, if he wanted to, have intervened in the Holocaust and prevented children from getting gassed, wouldn’t we expect a good God to do that, free will be damned?  What kind of God allows for the unbearable torture of the innocent?  These thoughts have in part led to the creation of new types of theologies, namely, process theology.  However, Mormonism also has an interesting potential angle.

One of the strengths of Mormonism, I argue, is that it has a very interesting solution to the problem.  In Mormonism God is relatively, not absolutely, infinite.  That is, as a mile wide piece of paper might as well be infinite to a speck of dust, God is relatively infinite in qualities to us.  God has so much more power, goodness and knowledge than we possess he is in effect infinite, though not in the absolute sense of the classical monotheist.  You can probably already sense where this is going, if God is not absolutely infinite, then perhaps his power is in some sense insufficient to prevent evils even if he wanted to.  What’s more, Mormonism provides a further avenue of thought on the matter by arguing that God became God by following pre-existing rules of the cosmos that just happened to be there, that he is in effect bound to them and to break them would cause him to cease being God.  We are, of course, also bound by these same laws. God wants to illumine these laws to us for our good and further our happiness.  He provides us succor and guidance as we learn, but cannot alter these laws.  So it is, that through the unavoidable operation of these laws people get hurt.  God can do much to alleviate suffering, but it is inevitable that suffering will occur and he cannot help that.  God in this theology remains truly good, without significant problem.

This is truly a great strength of Mormon theology and I hope it is not overlooked by the Mormon population.  The problem of evil is a disturbing one and the ability to salvage God’s character through the Mormon solution is not a trivial thing.

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11 Responses to “Heavenly Father and Theodicy”

  1. I’m sure someone from NewCoolThang will descend on me for saying this, but I’m really not all that impressed by the creatio-ex-materia/open theism solution proposed by Mormonism. It makes God into just a hapless guy who can’t help but let bad things happen. He doesn’t know the future which means He can only make a really educated guess on when is the best time to intervene, and since he’s under some sort of moral obligation to the laws of the universe to let humanity have its agency, most of the time, He doesn’t intervene.

    I get that classical theism has its own problems, namely that it makes God (in some sense or another) responsible for the evil in the world. Truth be told, I’m starting to be okay with that. There are several passages in the Old Testament which were traditionally translated to say that God creates evil (it’s the same Hebrew word, רָע [ra], every time). Modern-day apologetics and sensibilities have filtered in so that these passages now state that God creates chaos or calamity or something gentler like that.

    Sometimes, I think the KJV got it right.

    • nebula0 said

      That’s an interesting point of view Bridget, but I think from a philosophical perspective Mormonism has a leg up on at least two issues concerning GOd’s nature that I can think of: the problem of evil and free will (trying to yoke that notion with God’s omniscience). Your solution, as what essentially seems to be ‘oh well, so what?’ doesn’t really answer the central issue. God allows for children to die in agony from disease, to be tossed into gas chambers en masse, to be terrorized and tormented and then buried alive. In that case, how can we really call God good? I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question, though I agree with you insofar as I do not subscribe to process theism,, or obviously more extremely, Mormonism.

  2. Nebula ~ Can the Mormon God not stop these children from being tossed into gas chambers? Why does He intervene in human affairs some of the time and not others?

    My answer wasn’t meant to be “so what?”, it was merely an acknowledgment that I find more comfort in the idea that God is ultimately in control of these things and allows them to happen because they have a set purpose than I do in the idea that He can’t stop them because He’s obligated to let free will happen as much as possible.

    • nebula0 said

      I argue that Heavenly Father (Mormon God) cannot interfere without violating the very laws by which he is a God at all. In this case it would be the violation of the laws governing agency.

      Bridget, I think the base problem remains, that is, the character of God. The only reason anyone could find comfort in God being omnipotent is if he is in fact totally good (I doubt anyone would find much comfort in a partially evil God being omnipotent). But, how do you know that he is totally good? The events happening on the earth are a potential defeater to that claim.

  3. Seth R. said

    For me, the limits are not really a problem Jack.

    In fact, they aren’t even really limits. They’re just reality.

    God cannot make a rock so big he can’t lift it.

    And God cannot have truly loving relationships with beings who are not free to reject him.

    That’s just the way things are. It doesn’t imply any sort of “limit” on God. Unless you consider logic to be a limit.

  4. nebula0 said

    that’s interesting seth… because I’m not talking about logical limits but rather empirical ones. That Heavenly Father is relatively infinite rather than absolutely so is not a matter of logical constraint but rather an empirical claim. If it were an issue of logic, you would have to argue that absolute infinitude is an inherently absurd concept. It is within our ability to think of God controlling us like puppets- that is not a logical absurdity as demanding that God create a square circle is.

  5. Seth R. said

    Mormonism never states that God CAN’T control us like puppets.

    It merely says he does not – since doing so would mean you didn’t have a loving relationship anymore.

    In fact, you wouldn’t even have a relationship at all anymore.

    • nebula0 said

      Right– you’re making an empirical declaration, how things happen to be, rather than an assertion about logical necessity. That’s all that I meant. Those are two very different issues.

  6. Seth R. said

    Well, I’d argue that it’s logical too. At least, I thought so…

    • Anonymous said

      how so? I don’t think so. You’d need to demonstrate an issue of contradiction inherent in the concept itself for it to be an issue of logic.

  7. Peter said

    It’s logical to let all the suffering in the world happen so God can use his justice to send evil people to hell. And not taking away from the horror of the likes of the holocaust but the children that were murdered before the age of accountability (8yrs old) will be granted access into heaven as according to mormonism they haven’t sinned yet as they don’t know fully right from wrong. If God controlled us it would do away with the purpose of here being here therefore doing away with logic.

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