LDS Doctrines, especially the doctrine of a pre-existence, can allow us to solve one of the biggest and oldest concerns people have expressed about Christianity, and that concern is expressed as an argument known as the problem of evil. As I will show in this analysis, the problem of evil is not a problem for the LDS Church, but only a problem for those Christian Churches which have lost the ancient doctrines Joseph Smith restored to us.
At first glance – and second, and third glances - the problem of evil may seem highly intractable. In fact, I dare say the difficulty of the problem has likely changed the course of many people's lives for the worse by turning them away from the Christian view of God because they assume that the problem of evil makes Christianity logically inconsistent.
It starts with the fact that Christianity teaches that God is all-powerful, all-benevolent and all-wise. This teaching may also be found in other Abrahamic religions, but usually as a matter of opinion rather than clear doctrine.
To briefly summarize the problem, it basically consists of trying to reconcile the existence of evil (defined variously, but essentially defined around the concept of suffering) with the existence of an all-powerful, all-wise, all-benevolent being called “God.”
In solving the problem of evil, I would like to first point out that the problem itself seems to make a concession about the meaning of “all-powerful” and “all wise.” If a being possesses these two attributes, would they not naturally be all-benevolent as well? Being wise, they would recognize the reasons for wanting to be all-benevolent, and being all-powerful they would simply make themselves so. Yet by listing all-benevolent as a separate attribute, the problem seems to imply that either it is not necessarily wise to be all-benevolent, or that being all-powerful does not necessarily mean having the ability to make oneself all-benevolent.
This may seem like a minor point, but we may then ask the question of whether evil itself is always unwise. Surely evil contradicts benevolence, but what if it does not contradict wisdom? What if wisdom calls for evil in some circumstances? If a being is all-wise and all-benevolent, would this then put the two attributes at odds? I say no, because I say the very meaning of benevolence must be determined by wisdom. Therefore, benevolence always answers to wisdom. Thus, if wisdom calls for evil in some situations, that cannot be seen as contradicting benevolence.
At this point, the reader may accuse me of using semantic games. So let us transition to real terms.
If God is all-benevolent, that would mean God loves the imperfect as well as the perfect. Thus God would not be bound by benevolence to create only perfect things. To illustrate, consider that if God only created perfect things, then we would not exist. That's because we are imperfect.
Critics might respond to this by arguing that if God is all-powerful then God could have still made us but would have made “perfect versions” of us, meaning versions of us which could do no evil. To put this counter-argument another way, one could say that any good reason that anyone can conceive of for God allowing evil is wiped away by the claim that an all-powerful being would be able to achieve all the good results without allowing any of the bad.
To see if this criticism is valid, let us consider what it means to be all-powerful.
I have heard it asked whether God is powerful enough to make a rock that is so heavy that even God can't lift it. It is argued that if God can do it then God is not all-powerful because God would not be able to lift the rock. If however God cannot do the task, then God is not all-powerful because God cannot make the rock. Therefore, according to this thinking, God cannot be all-powerful, period.
Our job presently is to determine whether this type of paradoxical question really indicates that God is not all-powerful, or if it merely indicates that language can create logical conundrums which have nothing to do with reality.
Let's examine the question a little more closely. What prevents an all-powerful God from doing the task is that the task requires God to be two contradictory things: all-powerful and not all-powerful. So, failing to be all-powerful is required in the task itself. The whole question could just as easily be summed up by asking if an all-powerful being is powerful enough to not be all-powerful. Obviously, that question proves nothing about the power of God. The error here is that this question falsely presumes that a lack of power is a power.
Thus we see that the task itself does not make sense. Before a task can be said to be impossible for God, the task must first make sense logically.
Now let's apply this principle to the task of “creating perfect versions of us.” This must first make sense before we can require it of an all-powerful God. However, we don't know what it means to be “us.” The question begs a number of unknown variables, and touches on things we do not understand at their fundamental level – like matter and energy - and other things we don't understand at even more basic levels, like conscious experience and continuity of consciousness (see next chapter). There is no way for us to determine whether the task makes sense logically.
Now, one might argue that people change throughout the course of their individual lives, and therefore it is possible to be a “more perfect” version of themselves. The question would then be why God didn't make them more perfect to begin with. But in fact, LDS Doctrine does not teach that God takes imperfect entities and makes them perfect, but rather that God shares God's own perfection with them. This raises another unknown variable, which is how the process works of God sharing His perfection. That very process might not make sense logically without the possibility of evil.
Now, if God created imperfect beings like us because God loves us, we might ask why God didn't create us but use His power to only allow us to do perfect things. I suppose here is where Aquinas' argument comes in. Preventing imperfect beings from doing imperfect things is denying their free will. And in God's wisdom, we should not be denied free will. I would add that from my perspective free will does not mean that God doesn't know what we are going to do, it means God lets us be what we are even though God knows what we are.
Ultimately, God will only let us have that which we will not abuse. But that is in the next life. This life is where we have a chance to abuse what God gives us. By only letting us have what we won't abuse, God will be effectively limiting our free will in the next life, but that will be only after we have demonstrated in this life what we are willing to not abuse. Even though God knows what we will do, it is wisdom in God to allow us to abuse what He gives us first and then, based on what we have actually done – rather than what God knew we would do – limit what God gives us from that point on. From this perspective, the purpose of this life is to establish our profiles of will. This world provides a limited, temporary state where we cannot do any lasting harm.
Another question which may arise is whether it is fair for God to create us and then put us into a world of suffering, even if God has a purpose. This is I think a valid question, and I would answer it with the LDS doctrine of pre-existence which states we lived with God and were created as heavenly spiritual beings. Our free will was limited by not having physical bodies with which to sin, and by being in the presence of God and God's perfection. From there, we chose to come to this life, with full knowledge of what we were getting into. So, this life was not forced on us in any way.
One could say God is responsible for giving us the tools in this world which we abuse, since God knew beforehand that we would abuse them. However, the way this was done was by God giving this world to Adam and Eve as a punishment for transgression, therefore it was Adam who created the tools by which we could sin. In turn, God atoned for Adam's transgression, and also the wrong-doing of all of Adam's children, thereby correcting the problem resulting from the creation of “tools by which we could sin.” God allowed us to sin but then took those sins upon Him, thereby eliminating the existence of the evil and only allowing the “results” of the evil to remain as suffering which is logically necessary if God is to share His perfection with us. Jesus suffered for our sins.
I maintain therefore that in order for the problem of evil to actually be a problem for LDS Doctrine, it would require at least two suspect premises: the notion that we could have been made initially perfect and yet still have been “us,” and the notion that granting us the ability to be ourselves (free will) is somehow unwise or anti-benevolent. The only other problem is the idea that God in any way forced suffering or evil upon us by putting us here in this mortal life, but that idea is not relevant to LDS Doctrine, because we believe we chose ourselves to come here and experience everything we experience in life.