There are 22 thoughts on “A Mormon Theodicy: Jacob and the Problem of Evil”.

  1. Val,
    Excellent comment!!! What I particularly like about your comment is that it answers anti-Mormon critics’ criticism that our desire to become as God is what Satan wanted. My reply to the critics – which is similar to your comment – is that Satan NEVER wanted to become as God – that is, Satan never wanted to be perfectly loving, kind, just, and merciful such that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3: 16). In this context I say that all Satan wanted was God’s power (NOT God’s perfect attributes) in order – as you say – to control all others (which is NOT obtainable by following the Gospel plan).
    You make an additional excellent point that I hadn’t previously thought of: that because God would cease to be god if He became unjust, Satan was wishing for something impossible: to have God’s power without having God’s perfect attributes.
    Thus, you are quite correct in saying:
    “Satan lives in a malignant fantasy world where the only thing that matters is his will. Since that puts him at odds with unchangeable realities built into the nature of the universe, he is doomed to be frustrated and miserable worlds without end.”
    Great comment!!
    The Gospel is full of such ironies. Perhaps, the most magnificent irony is that Christ is the only perfect one among all mortals, that He is truly unique – and yet has provided a way for all mortals – imperfect as the rest of us are – to become like Him.

    • Lanny,
      This is a great insight that I had never thought about in quite this way:
      “The Gospel is full of such ironies. Perhaps, the most magnificent irony is that Christ is the only perfect one among all mortals, that He is truly unique – and yet has provided a way for all mortals – imperfect as the rest of us are – to become like Him.”
      How can we who are imperfect become like one who was perfect? That is a paradox, as you suggest. The key to resolving that paradox, I think, is the lag between act and consequence in the execution of justice. The consequences of our acts are sure but not immediate. Christ interposes himself between our act and its consequence. He receives the consequence of our act. His suffering has no just cause. And consequently, it can rewrite history if we, the beneficiaries of the atonement, are open to being affected by it. So the lag between act and consequent (Alma’s probationary period) makes it possible for us sinners to be made perfect in Christ.
      Alma expresses this beautifully and artfully in the chiastic poem I discuss in volume 10 of the Interpreter. I note there, too, how insightful Adam S. Miller is on this topic.

      • Yes, 2 phrases enable this marvelous paradox:
        1) the atonement
        2) the Gift of the Holy Ghost
        The Gift of the Holy Ghost enables one to be purified and sanctified. Thus, when Joseph Smith was asked by U.S. President Martin Van Buren what distinguished our church from other churches, the prophet replied, the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
        The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church, organization on the earth that provides the power to become like Jesus Christ.
        David O. McKay said that the main difference between our church and other churches was the priesthood – which is the umbrella answer, the answer that covers all the differences.

  2. Jeff and Val, good comments!
    Jeff,
    I would like to repeat one observation about Satan’s plan in premortality that others’ comments have not given enough attention to. The details of what Satan recommended, must be seen in the context that ultimately what Satan wanted, was God’s power. That Satan’s plan would save no one is obvious to those knowledgeable in the Gospel. There should be more focus on Satan’s craving for power because it’s this craving for power – rather than just a philosophical difference with God – that caused Satan to recommend his own plan and rebel. Satan’s plan in premortality is less important than his ultimate goal: power. Once one understands Satan’s craving for power, we can understand that Satan will use any lie, any deceit, any half-truth, anything to gain power over men.

    • Lanny,
      I think there is a connection between the plan Satan offered and his lust for power. Satan seeks to have a completely unconstrained exercise of his will. And his plan, as argued above, was to offer the same to others. But the unconstrained exercise of his will conflicts with the unconstrained exercise of other wills if those others have preferences—as they do–incompatible with those of Satan. The moment that happens, Satan turns into a tyrant because his will is all that matters to him. He promises liberty but rages and tries to compel us to conform if we choose anything contrary to his will. By contrast, God has arranged for us to receive precisely what we objectively choose to receive through our actions.
      The scriptures say that Satan wanted to claim the glory of God. I think it is probably not accurate to say he wanted the power of God. If his true objective had been to have the power of God, he could have achieved it by accepting the plan of God and Christ, for the promise of God’s plan is that we will receive all that the Father hath if we abide by the law he has given us. He wants us to become like him and we will if, though the enabling power of Christ’s atonement, we walk the path God has laid out for us. That option was certainly open to Satan, and he rejected it.
      The problem from Satan’s point of view is that God’s power is not unconstrained power. God doesn’t will the impossible. He is the ultimate realist. He exists in perfect harmony with reality, with the law of justice, which dictates that acts cannot be separated from their consequences. Were God to kick against the pricks and attempt the impossible—to violate the natural law that we call justice—he would cease to be God. Satan lives in a malignant fantasy world where the only thing that matters is his will. Since that puts him at odds with unchangeable realities built into the nature of the universe, he is doomed to be frustrated and miserable worlds without end.

  3. Jeff,
    Thanks for adding the additional reference (and all the incorporated references) in support of what I hope is becoming the standard interpretation of the two plans on offer from God/Christ and Satan. Satan will, of course, attack in any and every possible way, but at the end of the day, he seems to be an antinomian libertine with a paradoxical compulsion to be a tyrant. He promises liberty conceived of as an utterly unconstrained exercise of personal will. But that false promise crashes and burns when it slams into reality, which is constituted by an inescapable network of causes and effects. The only way we can escape the natural consequences of our immoral actions is to become a different, more righteous person, and the only way we can do that is through the enabling power of Christ’s atonement.
    Thanks for directing us to sources that show this theology has deep roots in Church history and the teaching of early prophets.

  4. Val–
    Thanks for a thoughtful and well-reasoned article–the number and quality of the comments it has generated speaks to its relevance and interest for many of us. Readers also may be interested in the following article which explores the theology of Joseph Smith on the nature of Satan’s premortal proposal by questioning commonly held assumptions assumptions relating to these three questions:
    1. What did Satan mean when he proposed to “redeem all mankind”?
    2. By what means did Satan seek to “destroy the agency of man”?
    3. Why was it essential that premortal spirits be given the opportunity to receive a body?:
    Bradshaw, J.M., and R. J. Head. “Mormonism’s Satan and the Tree of Life.” Element: The Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology 4:2 (2010), pp. 1-54. (http://www.templethemes.net/publications/1%20-%20Bradshaw%20Head%20-%20Mormonisms%20Satan%20and%20the%20Tree%20of%20Life.pdf)
    With respect to the first question, Joseph Smith taught the following about the contrast between Lucifer’s proposal and the plan of the Father that was advocated by the premortal Jesus Christ (J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 7 April 1844, p. 357):
    “The contention in Heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the Devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the Devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.”
    The most common understanding of this statement is that it implies a difference in the consequences of the two plans for mankind in general. In other words, it is assumed that according to the plan advocated by Jesus, only the righteous would be saved, whereas in the Devil’s plan, “all generations of man… would be returned into the presence of God.” (D. Williams, Idiot’s Guide, p. 24). However, if we can trust the accuracy of a retrospective summary of a discourse by the Prophet from the journal of George Laub, the controversy highlighted in this statement
    more specifically concerned the fate of the “sons of perdition” (J. Smith, Jr., cited in E. England, Laub, discourse apparently given 7 April 1844, p. 22, spelling and punctuation standardized. This statement is consistent with John 6:39-40):
    “Jesus Christ… stated [that] He could save all those who did not sin against the Holy Ghost and they would obey the code of laws that was given.”
    Laub’s version of the statement emphasizes the limits of the guarantee of salvation promised by Jesus Christ. While, of course, allowing for the possibility of exaltation for the obedient, its burden in context was to lay out the major differences with Satan’s proposal. The statement implies that Jesus’ Atonement could only provide absolute assurance of a minimal form of salvation, namely, that every soul, except those who sinned against the Holy Ghost, would be “resurrected to [at least] a telestial glory, escaping the second, i.e., spiritual death” (B. R. McConkie, Promised Messiah, pp. 271-275; cf. D&C 76:43-44, J. F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, June 1918, p. 434; J. Smith, Jr., Teachings, 10 March 1844, p. 339; 7 April 1844, p. 358).
    Satan, on the other hand, was reported in Laub’s recollection of the Prophet’s statement to have countered with an absurdly unconditional proposal (J. Smith, Jr., apparently 7 April 1844, reported in E. England, Laub, p. 22):
    “Send me, I can save all, even those who sinned against the Holy Ghost.”
    Apparently trying to do away with the need for an Atonement, Satan is here portrayed as having “sought… to redeem… all in their sins” (O. Pratt, 18 July 1880, p. 288; cf. S. J. Condie, Agency, p. 6, Helaman 5:10-11). It is at the very least questionable whether or not such a “redemption” really would “save” anyone in any sense of the word worth caring about. Be that as it may, however, it is certain that without the empowering Atonement, none could hope to ever attain the degree of righteousness and virtue required for exaltation and
    a return to the presence of God — for, as President Brigham Young said, “if you undertake to save all, you must save them in unrighteousness and corruption” (B. Young, 30 October 1870, p. 282). Following the logic of Laub’s account, this option presumably would have been most appealing to those spirits who would stand to benefit most from it; namely, those who had already manifested a proclivity toward the unpardonable sin and, preeminently, Satan himself.
    BTW, it seems doubtful to me that the “third part” of the spirits referred to in various parts of scripture means exactly 33 1/3 % of all of God’s children. Rather, consistent with the ideas in e.g., Revelation 8:7-12; 9:15, 18; 12:4, it refers to a certain *class* of God’s creations rather than to an exact number. I like to think that the actual proportion is much smaller.

  5. Excellent points! I particularly like the clarification of the nature of the 1/3 who rebelled with Satan. Too often I have heard Latter-day Saints say that Satan’s power to persuade was so great that he deceived the 1/3. But the 1/3 were of the same nature as Satan – not so brilliant or talented as Satan – but as evil as Satan. It’s absurd to think that Satan had more persuasive power than our Heavenly Parents or the Savior. The 1/3 would have been willing to come back into God’s presence not only because they were so brazenly evil, but also because God – under Satan’s plan – would no longer have been God but, instead, would have given up his power to Satan. Satan and the 1/3 would have had power over all others.

    • Great point about God’s persuasive power being superior to that of Satan. That Satan’s power is in every way overshadowed by that of God and Christ is very apparent in scripture and in the temple.

  6. The more I think about Satan’s plan being consequence-free rather than compulsive, the more I think you’re right.
    There is possibly one idea that may favor the compulsion plan: Satan might have thought that it would be easier to persuade God to be compulsive rather than permissive. But even this idea can be countered by the possibility that Satan thought it would be easier to persuade God by changing the views of spirit children, who would then join Satan in persuading God to change His plan. And there’s no question the consequence-free plan would have had far more appeal than a compulsion plan to other spirit children.
    Good thoughts! The world understands too little of Satan’s plan. Most of the world is in a boxing ring with an invisible foe who keeps pounding away. Although not the most important material in the temple, part of the great truths in the temple is the depiction of Satan as an attractive, well-dressed, articulate liar and deceiver with an array of types of lies: e.g. the big lie (Satan says that the creation is his – just after we’ve seen the creation under the direction of the Father and the Son), the simple lie (Satan tells Adam that if he partakes of the fruit, he will not die), the half-truth (Satan tells Eve the same simple lie but adds the truth that if she partakes of the fruit, she will become “as God, knowing good and evil” [2 Nephi 2: 18, Alma 42: 3; First Presidency counselor George Q. Cannon had also said that “as God, knowing good and evil” was true, being the true part of a half lie]
    Thank you!

    • If we accept that Satan proposed the consequence-free plan, I believe a number of things fall into place. One is the dividing line between those who did and didn’t keep their first estate. We don’t have much information about our pre-mortal existence, but there is one thing we know about our post-mortal existence that is very much germane to pre-mortal life: none of us who kept our first estate will be able to bear God’s presence if we stand before him still guilty of sin. We will prefer non-existence, will long for mountains to cover us so we need not face him rather than stand before God as a sinner (Alma 12: 14). That is, all who kept their first estate are God-fearing beings. That is why they deserve a degree of glory. We had to leave God’s presence both literally and psychologically (with the veil covering our memories of him) to have power to fully exercise our independent will and choose our own destiny. While with him, we were incapable of doing anything contrary to his will. That follows from the description of how we will feel if we come back into his presence having violated his will.
      What about Satan and his third of the host of heaven? They were cut from a different cloth. They demonstrated that they could defy God face to face when they rejected the plan he had for them and, following Satan, rebelled against him. These were brazen souls who did not share the God-fearing nature of those of us who kept our first estate, or they could not have defied God face to face. Comfortable in God’s presence as rebellious sinners, they had to be driven out of heaven.
      So how attractive would Satan’s plan have been for us when he proposed it? If we understood our own feelings—that we could never bear to come back into God’s presence as a sinner—Satan’s plan would have had no appeal for us. Whatever he might have promised, we would know for ourselves that his plan was impossible. If we sinned, our feelings would make the presence of God hell for us, not heaven. Our own feelings would drive us out of God’s presence.
      But what about the third who felt perfectly at ease defying God face to face? Satan’s plan would have seemed plausible and attractive to them: go to earth, do whatever one pleased, then come back again and be with God, entirely unfazed at having violated God’s will on earth and at now standing before him as a sinner. So I think the dividing line between those who did and didn’t keep their first estate was whether one intrinsically feared God or didn’t fear/respect him to the bottom of one’s soul.
      My understanding is that a son of perdition is someone who, having a perfect knowledge of God, denies and defies him. In other words, it is someone who does on earth what Satan and his minions did in heaven: defy God face to face so to speak and, thereby, undo what they did when they kept their first estate. That is why they, alone, are sent to outer darkness, the abode of those who did not keep their first estate.

  7. Thank you for replying.
    When you said, ““It is just as damaging to agency to have rewards follow from bad choices as to have punishments follow,” I thought you were referring to the world’s rewards for evil (e.g. money, fame) rather than God’s rewards. The world’s rewards for evil do make evil more tempting, and thus make the exercise of free agency more difficult; but do not damage free agency.
    In regard to God’s rewards, I completely agree with your comment:
    “On the question of agency being damaged when good consequences follow from bad choices, the key word you use is “seem” to follow. In the long run (as Alma’s poem makes clear in its double return in the Chiasm where ultimate consequences occur only in the second return) evil acts always lead to evil consequences for the evil doer unless grace and repentance intervene. And it is arguable and, increasingly is argued, that what Satan actually proposed in his pre-mortal plan was to let us do whatever we wanted and then return to heaven without any negative consequences, e.g., Nehor’s gospel and Nephi’s “eat, drink, and be merry…few stripes…at last saved in the kingdom of God” false gospel. Heaven wouldn’t have been Heaven if that plan had been implemented and God would have ceased to be God because his acts must be in harmony with what is, not with the delusion that good consequences can somehow, by fiat, follow from bad actions.”
    Previously I had not thought of Satan’s plan in terms of eat, drink, and be merry. I had thought of his plan as coercing people to be good. You may be right. Your idea of Satan’s plan would have been more tempting to other spirits than my idea of Satan’s plan of coercion. I’m not sure which of the 2 plans Satan was offering, but in either case it was a con job in an attempt to gain God’s power. In both of Satan’s 2 possible plans man cannot achieve exaltation which requires, instead, the use of free agency to exercise faith in Christ, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost in order to be purified, sanctified, and spotless.
    Thank you for your article and your reply.

    • Here are three sources that develop the argument that Satan’s plan was to sever act from consequence, which would have destroyed our ability to determine our own destiny. This account of the plan has roots in the early days of the Church. It was W.W. Phelps’ understanding of the war in heaven, for example.
      Greg Wright, Satan’s War on Free Agency (Orem, UT: Granite Publishing, 2003); Terryl Givens, “Agency and Atonement,” Meridian Magazine, Wednesday, March 9, 2011; http://www.ldsmag.com/article/7616; Givens and Givens, The God Who Weeps, 91–92.
      I think this interpretation is very much on the rise, in part for the reason you note: it seems like a plan that would have had a lot more appeal than the compulsion plan. And it is the plan Satan keeps pushing here on earth that has proved popular whereas no one has ever been able to sell compulsion per se, though it has been an adjunct of some utopian visions, e.g., communism.

  8. There’s a lot of interesting thoughts here. Just a few comments:
    1) I don’t think that Job 42 merely has an intimidated Job accept what has happened as unfathomable mystery. He admits his previous lack of knowledge (“Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.” v.3), but his following statement that “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (v.5) suggests that his direct experience of seeing God has taught him something that could not be put into words, and it is the seeing that has given him peace. It may remain an unfathomable mystery to the reader, but not, I believe, to Job.
    2) Regarding the Allegory of the Olive Tree, there seems to be a bit of a conflation of different evils and different goods here. The issue of the corruption of the fruit can only refer to Human evils (the only sort that can really be addressed with reference to agency), but not to others, such as those that Job experienced. Likewise that God is doing everything to produce good fruit isn’t the same as ensuring that only good things “enter the lives of his children”; after all, what theodicy in many cases boils down to is the question of why bad things (including many things not caused by any human agency) happen to good people. The distinction between these can be illustrated by the very fact of the poor ground mentioned in this article: the branches planted in the poor and the poorer spot of ground bear good fruit (Jacob 5:21-23), while that planted in a good spot of ground bears wild and tame fruit (v.25). There’s a difference between trying to get people to do good things and ensuring that good things happen to people, and it seems this distinction could be better elaborated. Human agency didn’t pick the poor spot of ground, and many the evils we experience in this life are not directly due to any human agency. God *does* permit many of those sorts of evils, but he also knows what he is doing, hence ‘counsel me not, I knew it was a poor spot of ground’ (Jacob 5:22).
    3) I think the equation of what is happening to the tree with Fukuyama’s “End of history” thesis and democratic capitalist states is mistaken:
    A) Firstly, in Zenos’ allegory the balance between the root and top is not presented as a spontaneous development of the tree (that is to develop all kinds of fruit, *all* of them bad (v.32) – it is the deliberate result of the those pruning the tree following divine direction to ensure the bad is cleared away as the good grows (v.65-66). Verse 73 records their actions and verse 74 the final results, which are not part of the overall conditions of the current dispensation but rather the millennial state (v.76). There is certain nothing in the allegory that demands this “must be attributed to a change in human consciousness and social practice”, particularly since it is describing a process of divine judgment and the gathering of Israel (a central concern of the Book of Mormon).
    B) As Bushman points out in “The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution”, the equality Mosiah is talking about in Mosiah 29 is moral accountability (Mosiah 29:30-32,34), as seen by the conclusion of that very verse 38: “and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins”, rather than a posited “open access state”.
    C) The picture painted by the Book of Mormon and other scripture certainly doesn’t seem to depict the “end of history”, least of all the picture implied here of a gradual spread of democratic capitalism marking time till the second coming inaugurates a new order. The Book of Mormon (and the allegory in Jacob 5) is centred upon the dramatic divine intervention that will gather Israel and bring judgement upon its oppressors *prior* to the Second Coming (indeed, when the Book of Mormon talks of restoration, it is mostly talking of the restoration of Israel, not the Church). Certainly at least one competing social system will emerge prior to the Second Coming – namely Zion itself. It is divine power, not “societal commitment”, that will protect the saints.
    D) The “end of history” has had a rough course at the hands of history in the last few decades, and frankly shows every sign of having it rougher yet. *Democratic* capitalism is not expanding, but has been retreating in the face of rival models. If people in previous ages have apostatized from the Gospel, after all, it seems somewhat unlikely that they cannot “apostatize” from democratic capitalism. And it appears to be a big assumption that any “firm societal commitment to mutual recognition and toleration of even unpopular beliefs and practices” will continue. In the West, every sign seems to point in the opposite direction.

    • On point 2, I think we agree. We get to decide what kind of fruit we will be. God’s interventions take the form of pruning, digging, and dunging, and locating us in various kinds of soil. Natural evils are elements of the pruning, digging, and dunging we face. Job probably experienced as much dunging as anyone else who ever lived.
      I totally agree with your point that doing everything to produce good fruit isn’t the same thing and ensuring only good things come into our lives. Indeed, the opposite is clearly true judging from the Book of Mormon. We very much need some degree of tribulation to stay connected to God. But an adequate theodicy probably must make natural evil a function of human evil. If we didn’t require it, God would not send it. Its randomness is also mandated by human nature. Were it not in some measure random, we could not be free moral agents.
      On point three, I suppose one must ask what the equality of the fruits means. If equality of the fruits means something like human rights and political and economic liberties, then there certainly seems to be a human cultural dimension to it. Our mutual recognition of each other’s dignity and rights are constitutive of that equality. If we don’t recognize, it doesn’t exist. And that recognition is a function of our agency.
      And one must ask who the workers are. I believe they include Church leaders and missionaries but probably also political leaders like the founders. They are human beings who improve social and economic conditions by serving God’s children in various ways and, thus, serve God: “when ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Perhaps you see them as heavenly beings, and if so, I can see why you might not accept my reading.
      There is no clear point between verse 70 and 77 when Christ seems to come and inaugurate the Millennium, but the transition from verse 74 to 75 seems to be the most likely point. If so, the increasing equality persists through and is an element of the last days, as argued in the article.
      Mosiah seems to propose and envision a shift in sovereignty from the king to the people. Thus, he thought they would play a role in the selection of their leaders that had not previously characterized their polity. In concept, that would make theirs an open access state. In practice, the leadership remained hereditary.
      I don’t see the dramatic divine intervention you mention. I see laborers who are few (70) laboring over time with all their might. The wild branches are gradually, not suddenly pruned away (73-74) as they labor with all diligence. But then, in 75, we seem to be in the millennium.
      The end of history doesn’t mean the end of historical events. It is the end of competition between major models of societal organization. What system with mass global appeal provides an alternative to democratic capitalism? China? ISIS? There is no prospect that major political movements in the Americas and Western Europe will demand that society be reorganized on Chinese principles or around Sharia law, but the leaders of China still seem to fear another Tiananmen uprising, and the leaders of most Muslim countries fear the spread of Western values and religions and exercise state power to keep them out. The Church exists precariously in the shadows of those countries. By contrast, its continuance seems secure in the democracies. It may lose tax exemptions as secularism expands, but forcible closure doesn’t seem to be in prospect. Chances seem good that democratic capitalism will survive in a number of places and may yet expand. Those few laborers Zenos mentions will be able to keep laboring and gathering in the democratic capitalist countries. Elsewhere, not so much. So if the gospel is destined to spread to the whole world, that may indicate that democracy and the rule of law are also destined to spread.
      Thanks for posing such thoughtful questions, objections, and alternative readings.

  9. I like the article, but it was too long winded. I minored in philosophy, and remember the theological arguments about why evil exists.
    The answer is simple: consider the alternative as Spencer W. Kimball said. President Kimball said that if God punished evil quickly every time, no one would commit evil. Thus, the Lord has to allow evil to happen with no instantaneous penalty in order for people to be truly tested. An American University professor once said to me that he didn’t think evil existed. I replied: if there is no evil, there is no good, because good consists of choosing between good and evil, and if there is no evil, thus there is no good but just reality. It’s just that simple. That’s what Lehi meant when he said there must be opposition in all things.
    In the restored gospel the answer to why evil exists is simple – in contrast to the answer in orthodox Christianity. Orthodox Christianity taught – and teaches – that God created everything out of nothing. This concept led to 2 impossibilities: God’s creation of evil; man’s having no free agency (because men are the way that God made them). The famous Catholic theologian Augustine tried to be clever by saying that God didn’t create evil, that evil was just the absence of good. This supposedly clever answer is stupid because that means that God created areas where there was no good: another impossibility.
    Joseph Smith received revelation that clarified these dilemmas that existed in orthodox Christianity. We’ve always existed. Evil has always existed. God organized matter; he didn’t create it out of nothing. God prepared a plan for intelligences to become like Him if they wanted to.
    It’s all very simple. The article states these simple truths in a long-winded manner. Keep it simple.

    • I think your analysis is still more briefly stated in the first part of footnote 31, but the last part of that footnote suggests that it may not be adequate. One needs to dig into the question a little deeper to understand what is at stake. It is just as damaging to agency to have rewards follow from bad choices as to have punishments follow. The author discussed the issue more from that point of view in an earlier article:
      https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/restoration-a-theological-poem-in-the-book-of-mormon/

      • You’re right that the first part of footnote 31 is a good simple explanation of evil and should have been in the main article rather than in a footnote (which many readers won’t read). The first part of footnote 31 could have replaced many paragraphs in the article.
        You’re also right that the article does discuss a part of the question of evil that I didn’t discuss: nature’s disasters (e.g. earthquakes, floods, tornadoes). The article answers that pretty well. It might have been simplier to say that that nature’s disasters – like war – bring out the best and the worst in man: men help each far more in nature’s disasters than they usually do; some men, however, take advantage of victims of nature’s disasters. Thus, nature’s disasters become a part of the testing process that the Lord purposely puts us through in order to achieve his objective: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal of man. Of course, at least in some cases nature’s disasters result from men’s iniquity (e.g. flood in Noah’s time).
        In your comment you did make one statement that I disagree with:
        “It is just as damaging to agency to have rewards follow from bad choices as to have punishments follow.”
        That “rewards follow from bad choices,” that evil often wins, that evil often seems to be the more profitable choice does not damage free agency – but, instead, provides a tougher test: following your conscience no matter what. This tougher test is necessary when the ultimate reward for passing this test, is exaltation.

        • I want to add to the author’s correct statement about Satan’s plan in premortality in footnote 31:
          “An alternative and probably more persuasive reading of Satan’s plan suggests that he would have destroyed agency with Nehor’s popular doctrine (Alma 1:4), by guaranteeing that all human beings returned to heaven regardless of what they chose to do. If all choices lead to the same end, agency is destroyed.”
          This statement by the author also should have been in the main article rather than in a footnote. I add to this good statement by saying: Satan’s plan was that of a scam artist in order to get God’s power. Like a con man, Satan promises everything to everyone – with the provision that he will receive all of of the power, and all (including God) will be subordinate to him (Satan). It was a power play that seemed to promise everything, but would have robbed men of what David O. McKay said was man’s most priceless possession: his free agency.

          • Lanny,
            The things you say I should have emphasized in this article got more attention in the other article I linked above on Alma’s theological poem. Theodicy isn’t the only point of this article. Close reading of texts associated with Jacob is also important, as is a discussion of things like how God can guarantee that this is the last dispensation.
            On the question of agency being damaged when good consequences follow from bad choices, the key word you use is “seem” to follow. In the long run (as Alma’s poem makes clear in its double return in the Chiasm where ultimate consequences occur only in the second return) evil acts always lead to evil consequences for the evil doer unless grace and repentance intervene. And it is arguable and, increasingly is argued, that what Satan actually proposed in his pre-mortal plan was to let us do whatever we wanted and then return to heaven without any negative consequences, e.g., Nehor’s gospel and Nephi’s “eat, drink, and be merry…few stripes…at last saved in the kingdom of God” false gospel. Heaven wouldn’t have been Heaven if that plan had been implemented and God would have ceased to be God because his acts must be in harmony with what is, not with the delusion that good consequences can somehow, by fiat, follow from bad actions. To be sure, Christ helps those who are bad (all of us) to do the works of grace and become good if we receive him. But his grace empowers us to become good and thus deserve good. Even he cannot abrogate the natural law that is justice–that acts, in the end, determine consequences.
            Thanks for your comments. As this long response may indicate, there may be some foundation for your charge of prolixity.

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