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Evil

David L. Paulsen
Elder Bruce R. McConkie


by David L. Paulsen

In ordinary discourse, the term "evil" has a very wide definition and, along with the term "bad," is used in English most often to refer to morally wrong intentions, choices, and actions of agents (moral evil); to the operations of nonhuman nature such as disease, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tornadoes (natural evil); and to the human and animal pain and suffering (psychological evil) that moral and natural evils may cause. In more technical philosophical discourse, it is applied also to inherent human limitations and defects (metaphysical evil).

The term is used with additional meanings in LDS scripture and discourse. In the Old Testament, the term is translated from the Hebrew term, ra', and its cognates, whose applications range widely from (1) what tastes nasty or is ugly, displeasing, or sad, through (2) moral wickedness and the distress, misery, and tragedy that ensue from it, to (3) willful disobedience of God and his intentions for human beings. The latter two senses of the term predominate in the New Testament and in latter-day scriptures. Given its widely variant meanings, the precise meaning of evil must be ascertained from its context.

LDS scripture further illuminates biblical suggestions about God's purposes for his children and, thereby, helps to clarify one fundamental sense of evil. God disclosed to Moses: "This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality [resurrection, with everlasting bodily duration] and eternal life [Godlike quality or mode of being] of man" (Moses 1:39). Thus, anything inconsistent with, contrary to, or opposed to the achievement of these ends would be evil.

There seems to be no basis in latter-day scripture for either the privative or relativistic views of evil advocated by some philosophers. In the fifth century, St. Augustine, puzzled by the existence of evil in a world that was created by God, concluded that evil must not be a substance or a positive reality in its own right, but only the absence of good (privatio boni). Yet, in the Old and New Testaments, evil is depicted as menacingly real, a view shared by latter-day scripture. Nor is there any scriptural evidence that good and evil are simply matters of personal preference. Rejecting this kind of relativism, Proverbs declares, "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12); and Isaiah warns, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isa. 5:20). Relativism is also rejected in latter-day scripture (2 Ne. 28:8).

Nonbelievers and believers alike often question why God would allow evil of any kind to exist. The question becomes especially acute within an Augustinian worldview that affirms God to be the ex nihilo or absolute creator of whatever exists other than himself. On that premise it appears that God is the ultimate source or cause of all evil, or, at least, a knowing accessory before the fact, and thus omniresponsible for all evils that occur.

Latter-day Saints reject the troublesome premise of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), affirming rather that there are actualities that are coeternal with God. These coeternal actualities include intelligences (sometimes perceived as primal selves or persons), chaotic matter (or mass energy), and laws and principles (perhaps best regarded as the properties and relations of matter and intelligences). Given this plurality of uncreated entities, it does not follow, within an LDS worldview, that God is the ultimate source of evil. Evil is traceable, alternatively, to the choices of other autonomous agents (such as Lucifer, the Devil) who are also coeternal with God, and, perhaps, even to recalcitrant properties of uncreated chaotic matter.

Though on the basis of latter-day revelation it is evident that God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil, the question still arises as to why he does not prevent or eliminate it. The ancient philosopher Epicurus posed the problem in the form of a dilemma: Either God is unwilling to prevent the evil that occurs or he is unable to prevent it. If he is unable, then he is not omnipotent; if he is unwilling, then he is not perfectly good. Epicurus' statement of the dilemma is based on two assumptions: (1) a perfectly good being prevents all the evil it can; and (2) an omnipotent being can do anything and, hence, can prevent all evil.

From an LDS perspective the first assumption appears to be false. A perfectly good being would certainly wish to maximize the good, but if, in the nature of things, allowing an experience of evil were a necessary condition of achieving the greatest good, a perfectly good being would allow it. For example, it seems evident that the existence of opposition and temptation is a necessary condition for the expression of morally significant freedom and the development of genuinely righteous personalities (see 2 Ne. 2:11-16; Moses 6:55).

Latter-day Saints would also reject the second assumption. Since there are realities that are coeternal with God, his omnipotence must be understood not as the power to bring about any state of affairs absolutely, but rather as the power to bring about any state of affairs consistent with the natures of coeternal realities. This insight makes possible an instrumentalist view of evil. With Epicurus' basic assumptions thus modified by latter-day revelation, it seems possible to construct a coherent LDS concept of the nature, use, and existence of evil (see Theodicy).

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Evil

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company


by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

Evil is the opposite of good; it consists in disobeying the laws of God. It is of the devil. Everything which is fostered, inspired, and spread forth by the power of the Evil One is in its nature evil. Accordingly, evil is that which is morally corrupt, wicked, and bad; which neither edifies nor enlightens; which chooses darkness and secrecy to cover its doings; which is destructive of faith, good morals, and godly virtues; which is in opposition to all righteousness; which leads away from God and from salvation. Evil is sin, transgression, unrighteousness, wickedness.

Philosophers and certain religionists are forever seeking to find the origin and purpose of evil, but until they accept the gospel truths, they will never succeed. To understand the nature and source of evil, together with its place in the eternal scheme of things, it is necessary to know the basic truths of the great plan of salvation.

As far as men on this earth are concerned, evil had its beginning in pre-existence. The Eternal Father begat spirit children, ordained laws to enable them to progress and endowed them with agency. Disobedience to those laws was in its nature evil, and consequently without the possibility of committing evil there could be no hope of progression toward exaltation. Lucifer and one-third of the spirit hosts of heaven chose evil rather than good, failed to exercise their agency in righteousness, and finally coming out in open rebellion against the Lord, they were cast out onto the earth and denied bodies. (Moses 4:1-4; Abra. 3:24-28; D. & C. 29:36-40; Rev. 12:7-13.)

Continuing their rebellion against God, their self-appointed mission is to entice men to violate the laws of God and thereby commit evil and be damned. Thus, as far as this mortal life is concerned, Lucifer is the author and creator of evil. "That which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually." (Moro. 7:12.) "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." (Jas. 1:13.)

The presence of evil in this world, with the ever present possibility that each accountable person may do that which is evil, becomes a basic reality without which the great plan of salvation would not operate. "It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things," Lehi said. (2 Ne. 2:11.) Without virtue in contrast to vice, good as the opposite of bad, and evil as the opponent of righteousness, men would not be able to overcome the lusts of the flesh and thus work out their own salvation in the kingdom of God. Thus the existence but not the partaking of evil is essential to the attainment of salvation.

As part of the gospel plan, men are commanded: "Forsake all evil and cleave unto all good" (D. & C. 98:11); "cease to do evil" (D. & C. 124:116); "Keep yourselves from evil." (D. & C. 136:21.) "Deliver us from evil," is the approved petition for divine grace as it is found in the Lord's prayer. (Matt. 6:13.)

"The wicked," those "who are evil," those who choose "evil works rather than good," shall be thrust down to hell to suffer the torments of the damned until they have paid the penalty for their evil deeds. (Alma 40:13-14.) At the end of their imprisonment they shall come forth in the resurrection of the unjust to receive a telestial inheritance. (D. & C. 76:17, 105-106.)

Copyright by Bookcraft


(See also Devils; Great and Abominable Church; Sin; War in Heaven; Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page)

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