Innocent tourists gunned down in an airport while awaiting their luggage. Sleeping villages buried by earthquakes, swept away by tsunamis. Abused children. Lives cut tragically short. Betrayal by seeming friends. Both good and bad carried off by disease.
Suffering, evil and loss test our faith in a loving God. Piety doesn’t guarantee safety; sometimes, indeed, the wicked seem to flourish.
Job 21:7-15 presents this issue with forceful honesty, asking:
“Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power? Their seed is established in their sight with them, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf. They send forth their little ones like a flock, and their children dance. They take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave. Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?”
Malachi 3:13-15 represents God as having heard the complaints of the faithful: “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”
And he answers them:
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:16-18).
All will be explained, all will be made right, at some future time. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” says Revelation 21:4, “and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith offered independent corroboration of the biblical promise: “All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection,” he testified, “provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it” (History of the Church 4:78).
But Joseph offers more than mere corroboration. The evils and trials of this life still require faith, trust in a loving, wise Heavenly Father. However, the doctrines revealed through Joseph Smith provide a unique framework for understanding what we encounter.
On Sept. 21, 1999, David L. Paulsen of Brigham Young University’s Department of Philosophy delivered a powerful campus-wide forum address titled “Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil” that still deserves wide attention.
In it, Paulsen — who holds both a law degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Michigan — addresses the logical problem of evil as it’s been formulated by such religious skeptics as Epicurus and David Hume, as well as the problem of the damnation of those who haven’t heard the gospel and the personal challenge of suffering and evil as it hits us — all clever theories aside — in our personal lives.
I won’t attempt to summarize his remarks here. I encourage you to read or hear them for yourself, at speeches.byu.edu. I quote, however, from his final paragraph:
“As I have perused the philosophical literature on the problem of evil, noted men’s perplexities, and then returned to once more ponder the revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith, I have been constantly amazed. Joseph had no training in theology, no doctor of divinity degree; his formal education was at best scanty. And yet through him comes light that dissolves the profoundest paradoxes and strengthens and edifies me through my own personal trials.”
Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic studies, founded BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, blogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.