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July 2, 2012 / andrewimiller

Defending Apologetics

I apologize (pun intended) in advance for the rambling nature of this post. I have a lot of thoughts in my mind about the topic, and it’s hard to bring them all together in a way is meaningful and flowing. Of course, I welcome (and love!) your comments and perspectives. So, please post your comments to this post.

Defining “Mormon Apologetics”

This blog deals somewhat with Mormon apologetics (if you’re not sure what Mormon apologetics refers to, read this first and then this). Apologetics refers to not apologizing, but defending a position (taken from the Greek word apologia which means “defense”). A person who is involved in apologetics is an apologist.

I’m an apologist. I’m not a professional. I don’t guess there really are any professional Mormon apologists, although there are some who are quite expert at it such as Daniel C. Peterson.

There are some great apologetic resources available  online for those who are struggling with their faith in the face of criticism. The most visible and helpful organization is called FAIR which was established in 1997. Years ago as a teenager I turned to FAIR to help me strengthen my faith and overcome doubts.  Today I volunteer as one of the apologists who responds to inquiries submitted to “Ask the Apologist” by people who have questions about criticisms of the Church. There is also an amazing wiki run by FAIR volunteers that has tons of information on nearly any and every topic related to Church history, doctrine, and criticisms leveled against the Church. I’ve contributed a tiny bit to the wiki effort including doing most of the translation of the wiki into a Spanish version (it’s a slow work in progress).

I’m not a very expert apologist, but I do defend my faith with reason and argument (not in the sense of “fight” but in the sense of rational persuasion). I believe in apologetics. I know there are many people who feel like trying to defend the Church against criticism or to “contend” over the meaning of scripture and so forth is pointless. Worse, some even suggest that it is “of the devil” since Jesus said that “contention is of the devil!.” I think that’s a misunderstanding of Jesus’ meaning and of apologetics. After all, Jude urged the ancient Saints to “contend for the faith” (verse 3). So, in this post, I wish to be an apologist Mormon apologetics.

So what do we hope to do by engaging in apologetics? What is the goal of an apologist? Commenting on the apologetic work of C. S. Lewis, Austin Farrer said:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish (Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, comp. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26.).

I believe this is true. Our hope as apologists is not to convince someone that the Church is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but rather to create an environment in which faith can flourish or in which the seed of faith can be planted. Ultimately, apologetics is not about proving that our position is right (or even worse, that someone else is wrong!). It is about sustaining and defending the kingdom of God in a meaningful and articulate way.  In other words, apologetics is necessary to 1) maintain faith in the face of criticism and doubt and 2) create an environment where faith can take hold.

Creating an Environment Where Faith can Take Hold

First, let’s talk about a common scenario where apologetics are necessary to create an environment where faith can take hold. You are talking to your very sincere and devout Christian friend about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the gospel. She seems receptive to what you are saying and interested. So, you offer her a copy of the Book of Mormon and invite her to read it and pray about it.

Then the crap hits the fan.

She responds by saying that although she appreciates your offer, there can be no more scripture other than the Bible. She has no need to read it to know if it is true since her pastor explained that Revelation 22:18 was written with the Mormons in mind. She also adds that she was taught that the warning in Galatians 1:8 was about the angel Moroni who would bring “another” gospel. This is especially obvious since the Book of Mormon is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

Sound familiar?  Have you ever had this discussion or one like it? Can you expect her to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon if she can’t believe in the first place that God could even give us more scripture? Are you likely to convince her to read the Book of Mormon by just sharing your testimony that it is true?

If you decide to engage her doubt, or explain why her pastor’s anti-Mormon remarks are misguided, you have engaged in apologetics. Having resolved your friend’s doubt, the seed of faith is given place in her heart and she gains a testimony while reading the Book of Mormon that it is true. “Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”  So, you see, everyone who has done any missionary work has probably engaged in apologetics. 

Maintaining Faith in the Face of Criticism and Doubt

The other use for apologetics is to help maintain faith in the face of doubt and criticism. Another scenario: a young man sits down to speak with his Bishop about some concerns he has about church history. He recently found out from his non-Mormon friend that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and that he apparently had married some women without Emma’s knowledge or consent. He is really shaken by this.

What does the Bishop do? What should the Bishop do? Sometimes in situations like this the response is entirely inadequate (e.g., “Don’t worry about it, just read your scriptures and pray;” or “Really? I didn’t know that;” or “That’s not true!;” or “That was just to take care of the poor old widows”).

What happens to the young man who receives little by the way of specific answers or perhaps even incorrect information from his well-meaning Bishop? Sometimes he is overcome by his doubts until he slips away into inactivity, temptation, or even out-right rebellion and apostasy. After all, “what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned.”  Much of this can probably be avoided through apologetics. As stated by Neal A. Maxwell:

Let us be articulate, for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions. (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p. 343)

Others Affected by Apologetics

It is important to realize that often there are “innocent by-standers” to all of these conversations. It isn’t usually just a discussion between you and your Bishop or you and your friend. Often there is a wife, a parent, another friend, looking on and listening (or on the Internet/Facebook/Twitter the whole world!). What about them? They are making judgments about our beliefs based on what you say.

A story from my mission in Argentina to illustrate this point: I once got caught up in a somewhat heated exchange with an anti-Mormon in the middle of the down town plaza. The main question at had was the veracity of the Book of Mormon. As this debate went on, people gathered around to listen. There were probably 20-30 people standing in a circle around us listening in. As I needed my hands to flip through the scriptures, I placed my missionary copy of the Book of Mormon on the ground (blue cover type meant for giving away). Needless to say, by the end of the conversation he resorted to making anti-American statements since he ran out of defensible things to say against the Book of Mormon. I had him thoroughly backed into a corner and he was very mad (I was calm and in control, however). Once he stormed off, I bent over to pick up my missionary copy of the Book of Mormon to discover that someone had already taken it. I would like to think that whoever took it did it not for its monetary value (which is practically nothing), but because they had gained an understanding of its potential true value and wanted to read it.

Apologetics, even the “rough and tumble” variety, can have a positive impact indirectly.

Scriptural Mandates

There are clear scriptural precedents and mandates for practicing apologetics. First, we are expected to worship God with all our hearts, mights, minds, and strength. Yes, God does expect us to think and use our intellect even at Church, even during Sunday School and Elders Quorum! But, I digress… The point is that we should not be afraid about engaging our minds, or the minds of others, in pursuit of gospel topics. It’s ok (even good!) to challenge our assumptions, ask difficult questions, and explore the deep things of God. It is, in my view, a form of worship and discipleship.

A very influential early convert to the Church by the name of Ezra Booth apostatized in 1831. He immediately went out and started publishing newspaper articles against the church. He was the first highly visible ex/anti-Mormon. He was causing considerable problems for the church’s missionary efforts in the area.

At this time, Joseph Smith was fully engaged in the very important task of translating the Bible by inspiration with Sidney Rigdon as his scribe.  They inquired of the Lord as to what to do about the Ezra Booth situation. The response they received is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 71.

Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, that the time has verily come that it is necessary and expedient in me that you should open your mouths

The command was to temporarily set aside the translation of the Bible and to open their mouths and preach the gospel. How were they to preach?

Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you–there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.

The Lord expected them to address the critics head on–face to face–in public and in private. He didn’t say “get them to shut their mouths” but “let them bring forth their strong reasons.” In other words, “bring it on!”  He didn’t say “ignore them.” While there may be times to “ignore” our critics, there often are times when we need to “open our mouths” and “confound [our] enemies.”

Perhaps the most famous scripture about apologetics is from the New Testament:

“Be ready always to give an answer [Greek: apologia, a defense) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear [Greek: reverence].” (1 Peter 3:15)

In other words, we need not always be ready to just share our testimony, but to give a defense to those who want a “reason” for our belief.

Example from Church History

I am currently reading “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism” by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. I highly recommend it. In fact, it was something I read in this book last night that sparked my idea for this post. All the information below can be found on pp. 185-191.

The first (quite successful) LDS mission to England came to a close in April 1838 with the departure of Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde with around 2,000 members baptized. The leadership of the mission was transferred to Joseph Fielding.

There was rampant anti-Mormonism during this period. In 1837 Orson Hyde published the first missionary broadside in England in part to combat some of the anti-Mormon claims. However, Joseph Fielding had a different approach. After Elders Kimball and Hyde left, he wrote that “It appears they [the anti-Mormons] want to provoke us to controversy, but we have washed our feet against them all so they may talk and write until they are tired, or till the Lord puts a stop to them.” In other words, he decided it was not worth the energy or effort to respond to the anti-Mormons.

During the time that Joseph Fielding presided and took this approach, there was no real growth of the church in England. It was stagnant.

In early 1840, the second mission in England got underway. Elder Parley P. Pratt, upon arriving, immediately started printing rebuttals of the anti-Mormon publications. He responded to their criticisms with somewhat biting sarcasm and even threw in some of his own criticisms toward them. He went so far as to call the Methodist beliefs of one anti-Mormon “a bundle of nonsense, contradiction and absurdity.” Elder Woodruff recorded that they had distributed around 50,000 such tracts that year alone.

That year, about 5,000 individuals were baptized whereas the previous two years with a “hands-off” approach to criticisms from anti-Mormons resulted in basically no real growth for the Church.

There probably are many reasons there was so much growth after the apostles arrived in England in 1840. However, I don’t think we can discount the effect of the articulate apologetics of Elder Pratt and others during that time.

Likewise, today, I don’t think we can or should discredit the need for strong, vibrant apologetics for defending the Church. I think there can even be danger in building “goodwill” with people of other faiths if we do it at the expense of not declaring our beliefs with firmness and articulate conviction. Perhaps we could learn from the experience of the early apostles in England?

EDIT: I found this fabulous video this morning that I think is relevant to the topic at hand. Notice that this is an official spokesman for the church who commends FAIR (though he gets the URL wrong. It is http://www.fairlds.org).

Click here to see it: Michael Otterson, Managing Director of the Public Affairs Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

January 22, 2012 / andrewimiller

O Remember, Remember!–Personal Musings

Every once in a while, I will read something in the scriptures that almost startles or shocks me. Usually it’s because it is something I need to hear. I recently had that experience again. The context of the scripture is the miraculous deliverance of the believers from the wicked in 3 Nephi at the time of Christ’s birth.

About 5 years before the birth of Christ, a Lamanite prophet named Samuel came among the people and prophesied that Christ would come in 5 years. He then predicted the sign that would be shown the day Christ was born, namely, a day and a night and a day where there would be no darkness. The account of what happened in the coming years is as follows:

“…behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people. But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite. And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain…

“But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain. Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which has been given by Samuel the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:4-9).

When the day arrived for the believers to be put to death, the sign came. “And there were many who had not believed the words of the prophets who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believe in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand” (3 Nephi 1:16).

This lead, of course, to universal belief for a while. Can you imagine such a sign? How could anyone dismiss it? And yet, within just a few short years, it was dismissed. This is the scripture that startled me–

“And it came to pass that thus passed away the ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen— Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away anddeceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing” (3 Nephi 2:1-2).

It seems incredible that such wonderful signs could be so easily dismissed, and yet it is true. I have since read over this passage again and again and pondered it’s meaning. I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. Am I like this? Aren’t we all like this? How many miracles have I seen and yet “begin to forget” and to be “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven” or even to some extent “begin to disbelieve all which [I] have heard and seen.” This, to me, is frightening. It’s frightening because how true it is.

I could reminisce, but one example should suffice. I have witnessed priesthood blessings given that have resulted in miraculous healings. And yet, I have at times been quick to give the credit to a good doctor or medicine or just luck–”that it was wrought by the power of men.” I could multiply my own personal experiences over and over to demonstrate that I am a lot like the people described in this scripture. And it scares me.

Stories like this in the Book of Mormon, for me, help reaffirm my faith that it is divinely inspired and true. The Book of Mormon contains so many “plain and precious” insights that it becomes self-evident to the sincere seeker after truth that it is true.  It also encourages me to try and live my life better and to remember what the Lord has done and is doing for me.

 

January 12, 2012 / andrewimiller

Does God Have a Body?

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)

This teaching, namely that God is embodied, is perhaps one of the most criticized points of LDS doctrine. I honestly don’t understand what the big deal is, though.

What’s so bad about believing God really did create us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27)?  

Is it any different to think that Jesus can be fully God and yet have a resurrected body than to think that the Father could be fully God and yet have a resurrected body?

Isn’t Jesus the express image of his Father?

Is there anything either in scripture or in reason that would demand that the Father be spirit only and not possess a body also?

 

January 3, 2012 / andrewimiller

The Grandin Press, The Book of Mormon, Abner Cole and the Internet

In 1829,  24-year old Joseph Smith walked into the red brick print shop of E. B. Grandin in Palmyra, New York with a manuscript copy of The Book of Mormon. That tiny press would print the first edition of a volume of holy scripture that has been revered by millions as the sacred word of God.

At the same time, in the same print shop on the same printing press,  one Abner Cole was printing the first anti-Mormon newspaper articles. He even stole copyrighted material (namely the Book of Mormon) and printed it without permission. He did this in an attempt to spoil the anticipation for the Book of Mormon and to try and ruin the market for the book before it was even printed. Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, and Joseph Smith each confronted him about his violation of copyright and Abner Cole stopped.

Thinking about this little known story, I decided that although times have changed a lot since then many things remain the same.

We have the Internet which, like Grandin’s Press, can be used to publish sacred scripture and truth or be used to publish anti-Mormon vitriol and hate. Anti-Mormons have even gone so far as to publish copyrighted and sacred material online  (such as the temple ordinances)  in order to deter people from further investigating the truth.

Of course, I think Joseph, Hryum, and Oliver were right to confront Abner Cole. So, shouldn’t we also confront those who are using the Internet to tear down the kingdom of God? I think we should. The trick is how do we do it? A lot has been said about that. Let me just say that truth is its own advocate. The best thing we can do is speak the truth in love. That is, we speak up to be heard, but do it in a way that is not contentious or that puts others down. But above all, let’s speak up!

 

December 31, 2011 / andrewimiller

The Weeping God

Traditional Christian ideas, based on Greek philosophical understanding, requires God to be absolutely independent of all other beings and substance (I touched on this in my last post). This has led some to postulate that God must be “without passions” or that he must possess impassibility. Basically stated, the idea is that if God is affected by our behavior in some way, he isn’t absolutely independent of all creatures. It is impossible, then, for God to be truly sad as a consequences of our actions. Further, another traditional Christian concept of God is that he is completely “simple” or indivisible, and therefore cannot feel or express conflicting emotions like you or I can. He is, as stated in a familiar creed, “without body, parts, or passions.”

As stated in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Th[is] doctrine…was a regular tenet of philosophical theology among the Greeks, and its foundation in Christian sources is probably due to direct Greek influences” (3rd. ed., p. 823). In other words, this isn’t particularly a Biblical concept–at best it is man’s philosophy mingled with scripture.

It has always fascinated me that in answer to Joseph Smith’s question asking what church he should join, in his First Vision, Jesus directly criticized the then existing Christian “creeds” as an “abomination in [his] sight” (See Joseph Smith History). Of all the things Jesus could have told Joseph Smith, this was among the very first and prominent.

I believe that a major part of Joseph Smith’s calling was to restore the ancient Biblical understanding of God–one who is not “impassible” nor “simple” but who is very much involved in our struggles, disappointed in our sins, and who very much is further glorified and exalted by our progress. In short, God needs us and we need Him.

In the Book of Moses, a volume of scripture revealed to Joseph Smith as part of his inspired translation of the Bible, we gain a window into God’s emotion and concern. In the seventh chapter, we are given insight into the prophet Enoch who was translated into Heaven with his people in the city of Zion.

We sense that Enoch is somewhat proud of his accomplishment–”Enoch talked with the Lord; and he said unto the Lord: Surely Zion shall dwell in safety forever!” God’s response to Enoch’s statement is somewhat startling–”Zion have I blessed, but the residue of the people have I cursed…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept”(!) (Moses 7:20, 28) This statement about God weeping over the wicked is so profound that the author of the book adds “and Enoch bore record of [God weeping]” (Moses 7:28).

A weeping God!

A God who weeps at the loss over the wicked as much as he rejoices over the unequaled righteousness of Enoch’s Zion!

Enoch is surprised by God’s weeping–

“How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?…How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of they creations….How is it thou canst weep?” (Moses 7:28-30)

God responds in a moving way–”Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; and unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…” (Moses 7:32-33)

God reminds Enoch time and again that the wicked are his brethren, his own flesh and blood, and that God created them with his own hands in the beginning. He gave unto man understanding and agency. He gave unto them the two great commandments–love and serve God and love and serve each other. Yet, “they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.”

God patiently taught Enoch how it is that he can be God (and all that entails) and yet experience real ‘human’ emotion. It is because he truly loves us.

Here, then, is the true and living God. He weeps when we do not love and serve each other. He weeps when we choose Satan instead of Him (our own Father!). He is a God with body, parts, and passions. He is not the god of the philosophers. Their creeds are, in fact, an abomination because they actually rob God of his very nature.

Likewise, God weeps for joy. In Moses 7:63, God speaks of a future day when the righteous will join Enoch’s city and what that day will be like. “And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other” (Moses 7:63).

What a wonderful day that will be!

Praise God for restoring an understanding of his true nature again through the prophet Joseph Smith! How grateful we should be to have a God who is affected by us, who longs for us to repent, who suffers with us and who has the power to lift us to the higher plane where He is.

December 27, 2011 / andrewimiller

Mormonism’s Solution for the Logical Problem of Evil

I laid out in a previous post the logical problem of evil. This post is the promised follow-up explaining how the revelations and teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith resolve the logical problem of evil.

The premises that comprise the logical problem of evil are as follows:

  1. God is absolutely all-powerful. He can do anything he wants that is logically possible (for example, God cannot create a round square).
  2. God is perfectly good.
  3. God created everything out of absolutely nothing (creatio ex nihilo).
  4. God knows everything and therefore has absolute foreknowledge of all the outcomes of his creative choices. That is, he knows what the consequences would be of creating a world like ours and the people in it.

As I stated in the last post, premises 1, 3, and 4 require that God is responsible for all that is bad in the universe which in turn would force us to deny premise 2. If we insist on premise 2 being true, then we must reject premise 1, 3, or 4.

The revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith deny premise 3, and thereby to some extent logically necessitates the denial of premise 1 and a different understanding of premise 4.

God created everything out of absolutely nothing (creatio ex nihilo)?

You ask the learned doctors why they say the world was made out of nothing; and they will answer, “Doesn’t the Bible say He created the world?” And they infer, from the word create, that it must have been out of nothing. Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means…to organize the world out of chaos–chaotic matter….Elements had an existence from the time He had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning, and can have no end (Joseph Smith in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 350-352).

From this we come to understand that the universe was created out of pre-existent material (mass-energy?). In other words, God isn’t the ultimate absolute source of everything–the material out of which the world was created “had no beginning, and can have no end.” Just like God it is self-existent.  Therefore, it can be assumed that the physical laws that govern how this material acts and interacts may also be eternal.

We say that God himself is a self-existent being….But who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles…The mind or intelligence which man possesses is co-eternal with God himself. (Joseph Smith in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 352-353)

If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal (The Book of Abraham 3:18, revealed by Joseph Smith)

In other words, not only was the material universe created out of pre-existent eternal material, but the mind or intelligence of man is also pre-existent and “co-eternal with God.” God did not create (out of nothing) the intelligence of human beings. We are “co-eternal with God himself” and likewise “shall have no end” and “have no beginning.”

Therefore, premise 3 is rejected in Mormon thought.

God is absolutely all-powerful and can do anything he wants that is logically possible?

If God did not create the universe out of absolutely nothing, and if man is in some way co-eternal with God, it follows there are some things God can’t do. For example, he apparently can’t absolutely create or absolutely destroy matter (“The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed”). He apparently cannot create spirits out of nothing (“Spirits…have no beginning…they shall have no end”).

Therefore, premise 1 in Mormon thought is also rejected.

Things as they really are.

Mormon doctrine as revealed through Joseph Smith completely dissolves the logical problem of evil. If God did not absolutely create me, or Hitler, or Satan, or any one else, then he cannot be held responsible for our actions. We are, in a sense, completely independent of God. Likewise, if God didn’t absolutely create the material world out of nothing, it follows that he cannot be blamed for natural disasters, sickness, or for someone burning to death or drowning. There just simply are laws that govern how the material world acts. The same water that sustains life can take it. The same fire that provides heat and energy can burn and destroy. That’s just the way things are.

Ultimately, God isn’t responsible for the evil in the world. He is struggling constantly against it. Although it isn’t possible to explain why God allows each particular instance of evil, it is helpful to understand that God isn’t the direct or indirect cause of such evils. God too is struggling with the evil in the universe. He has provided means whereby we can overcome evil, namely the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His work is to bring about our immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39). It never was and never will be his intent to bring about mortality, death, and evil. That is the work of the adversary and the natural tendency of the universe we live in. God waits on our faith in him so that he may be able to work with us to eradicate more and more evil.

The infant in the hospital, the suicidal youth,  untimely deaths–God didn’t create these. He has given us the opportunity to struggle, learn, and reach out to others to try and eradicate these problems. He has provided a Savior who has eradicated death and who will eradicate in so far as possible all the problems of existence so long as we allow him.  God participates actively in our struggles. He rejoices when we overcome. He suffers when we suffer. Both the Father and the Son understand the mortal experience because they have also endured it (another doctrine revealed by Joseph Smith). God is our fellow laborer.

…That is, at least, if you accept the revelations of Joseph Smith.

December 26, 2011 / andrewimiller

The Logical Problem of Evil

I suppose there is nothing that tests our trust in God more than the challenges we face in life and our inability to understand them. Imagine in a hospital a newborn infant with an incurable fatal disease that is of no fault of any person. Imagine the fire that burned down a home, destroying all a man’s property and taking the lives of his wife and children. Imagine the young woman who is completely overcome by depression and gives into suicidal thoughts. Imagine that woman’s family.  Multiply those poor souls by a million, and it wouldn’t be even a single stitch in the tapestry of human suffering and misery. The fact is that in many places around the world right now there are people who are absolutely overcome with grief due to circumstances that are completely out of their control and which they do not “deserve.”

How can God let such things happen?

This is the logical problem of evil. It revolves around some underlying assumptions concerning God’s nature and the nature of the world we live in.  The inability of many to understand how God can let such things happen grows out of the theological underpinnings and assumptions of the Christian creeds.

  1. God is absolutely all-powerful. He can do anything he wants that is logically possible (for example, God cannot create a round square).
  2. God is perfectly good.
  3. God created everything out of absolutely nothing (creatio ex nihilo).
  4. God knows everything and therefore has absolute foreknowledge of all the outcomes of his creative choices. That is, he knows what the consequences would be of creating a world like ours and the people in it.

Premises 1, 3, and 4 require that God is responsible for all that is bad in the universe. However, it would require denying premise 2. If we insist on premise 2 being true, then we must reject premise 1, 3, or 4.

Twentieth century philosopher Antony Flew put it this way:

We cannot say that He would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others [out of nothing]. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe. (Antony Flew, “Theology and Falsification,” in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Antony Flew and Alasadair Macintyre, p. 105).

The soundness of this reasoning can’t be denied.

So, does the Christian God exist? If He does, can he be trusted as good? A few have lost their faith in God because of this problem. Prominently is Dr. Bart Ehrman (See his book–God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer). Others seriously question God’s existence or his goodness, including my dad’s friend who lost his wife to Alzheimer’s and mused on these things when considering my son’s chronic sickness and ultimate death.

In coming post(s?), I will show how the revelations and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith resolve the issues associated with the logical problem of evil and give us the confidence we need to trust God in our most difficult and devastating circumstances.

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