Good and Evil

Today I had a thought about the problem of evil that I wanted to run by you all. In traditional Protestant theology, the Fall contaminates human nature. The Fall explains the problem of evil. Contrast this with some “Gnostic” theologies that explain evil by means of a wicked creator-god who produced a defective world. In these same theologies, human beings have their origin in the upper divine realm, and are fundamentally good. They sin out of ignorance, but by nature human beings are divine. In the first model, God is good, but human beings are bad. In the second, God is bad, but human beings are good. How does this play out in Mormon theology?

For Mormons, it seems that we are committed to both a good God and good human beings (sort of). We explicitly deny the negative view of human nature found in Protestant theology and we certainly believe in the fundamentally goodness of the divine. Does this leave a gap in our ability to account for evil? All sorts of solutions to this problem have been put forth to explain the problem of evil in LDS theology. Some, like finitism, resemble in some sense the Gnostic view of a imperfect creator. The world is not perfect because the cosmos is not perfect. Others emphasize human agency as the source of evil, but this stands in tension with the fundamental goodness of humanity. If humans are fundamentally good, and fundamentally free, why would they choose evil?

Certainly, there is no easy solution, but these typologies of good God/bad humans and bad God/good humans seem durable and resilient in the history of the West. As Latter-day Saints, must we eventually embrace one of these models more fully, or can we continue to claim both the goodness of God and the goodness of humanity without philosophical tension?

3 Replies to “Good and Evil”

  1. great post. i don’t have an answer. if i had to choose between the two, it would be the ‘gnostic’ position. without a demiurge (and sophia/achamoth myth) you end up with the god in romans 9:12-22 who seems a little too capricous for me.

  2. Interesting post! Not to restate the obvious, but doesn’t the question of whether God is “good” or “bad” turn on what we mean when we say “good” and “bad”?If God has the power to stop women being brutalized and killed in Darfur while I’m here typing away on my expensive laptop snuggled under the covers in bed on a Sunday morning after eating yummy pumpkin muffins for breakfast, then yes, God is evil. But perhaps God is also a human actor himself constrained by the “Laws of the Universe” – isn’t this what Mormons believe? I can’t get a straight answer, but I think so. Especially since Mormons do believe God was once a man himself. It’s confusing, but our world would make more sense if: (1) God is evil or (2) God is constrained by natural laws preventing him from being involved in the lives of his children (which directly contradicts Mormon beliefs that God will help us find our car keys if we pray with enough faith).

  3. Sorry for not responding to these comments earlier…I’ve been away for a long weekend. I am very interested in both your responses, and I tend to think that LDS are moving more towards this position, not necessarily an evil god, but a less-than-perfect one. I think that this has very interesting theological implications.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *