Summary: Throughout the history of the world there has been almost a continual scene of warfare, bloodshed, violence, persecution, and hatred on both a large scale as well as within small units of society, such as the family. The names of infamous rulers who have put to death millions of people, either upon those living in foreign lands through their conquests of war, or upon their own people, ruling as tyrannical and brutal dictators. The question has often been asked, “If God is all-powerful and is a person of supreme love, then why does he allow such evil to exist?” This article examines this question in light of God’s plan for our salvation.
Perhaps the most despised name in history is that of Adolf Hitler, who deliberately and systematically killed over six million Jews, and is responsible for the deaths of nearly twelve million people during his infamous reign of terror known as World War II. However, Joseph Stalin is responsible for the murder of 20 million people who he either deliberately starved to death or had executed, while Mao Zedong is responsible for the deaths of 45 million people.
But there are other rulers throughout history, both modern and ancient, who were every bit as brutal, such as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, ISIS, Robespierre Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Caligula, Nebuchadnezzar, Tiglath-Pileser, Sennacherib, and the list goes on and on. In fact, as we study the recorded history of mankind, we see nearly a constant scene of warfare, bloodshed, violence, persecution, revenge and hatred on both a large scale as well as within small units of society, such as the family.
In the 14th chapter of Alma we read where the people of Ammonihah became so enraged with hatred towards Alma and Amulek, that they took the women and children of those husbands and fathers who had believed on their words and burned them alive while Alma and Amulek were forced to helplessly watch this sickening, gruesome act of savagery. Such behavior can only be described as being utterly depraved and lacking any sense of decency, morality, or conscience.
The question has often been asked, “If God is all powerful, and is a being of supreme love, then why does he allow such injustices to exist, and why does he allow innocent people to suffer?” To say that it’s because God has given man his agency to do what he wants and that agency is so sacred that not even God will interfere with it doesn’t really answer the question because when God wants to stop evil he can and is able to do so with ease.
Amulek was so appalled by the scene of horror he and Alma were forced to watch that he wanted Alma to stretch forth his hand and use the power of God that he possessed to stop this atrocity, “But Alma said unto him: “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day” (verse 11).
There are a number of things we can learn from Alma’s statement. The first is that God clearly could have stopped this slaughter of innocent life if he had wanted to but instead, he constrained or prevented Alma from taking any action. Therefore, since God could have stopped this carnage but didn’t, it clearly implies that God wanted it to continue. The question is, Why?
Alma gives us two reasons. The first is that it was necessary for the believers to suffer because in doing so they would be received up onto God and be given greater glory than if they had not suffered for their beliefs. In the first and second chapters of the book of Revelation we read numerous times where those who overcome persecution and remain faithful will receive greater rewards than those who have not been as faithful. In the case of those women and children who were burned alive, all they had to do to save their life was to renounce their belief in God. The fact that they didn’t shows their faithfulness to God even in the face of torture and death, and as a result, their reward in heaven will be great.
The second thing we learn is that by allowing the people of Ammonihah to commit such an atrocity, God would be justified in completely destroying them along with their city. To understand why this was necessary, in the 8th chapter of Alma we read where an angel of the Lord told Alma that the people of Ammonihah were already in the process of coming up with a plan whereby “they may destroy the liberty of thy people, which is contrary to the statutes and judgments and commandments which he (the Lord) had given unto this people (verse 17).
Since the majority of the Nephite nation were righteous, God was not going to allow the people of Ammonihah to destroy their freedoms. To prevent that from happening, God sent Alma back into the city to warn them of God’s wrath. Had they heeded his message, they and their city would have been saved from destruction and it would have kept them from destroying the liberty of the Nephite nation. But since they refused to heed that warning, God deliberately did nothing to stop them from burning innocent women and children which then justified him in inflicting a devastatingly severe punishment upon them. Because their crime was so horrible, the penalty for those crimes could be justifiably as terrible, which penalty would prevent them from forever being able to take away the liberty of a righteous people.
What we see then is that God allowed one local evil to take place in order to stop a greater evil from happening. Thus, what appeared to be God doing nothing to stop the commission of an evil deed actually turned out to be a blessing for the Nephite nation as a whole.
This is just one example of countless others where God uses evil to bring about his purposes, and his purposes are always good. The problem is that we tend to focus on what is happening in the immediate moment while not taking into account the bigger picture of what God is trying to accomplish. And, yet, even this one example is only a small snapshot of yet a much larger picture of what God is doing with us.
We often talk about the plan of salvation as it pertains to our time here in mortality but in reality, that plan started long before the grand council in heaven was ever convened, and it will continue long after we leave this phase of our existence. In fact, there are indications that it will continue even after the resurrection.
We are all familiar with the fact that God’s glory comes from bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, but when we quote that scripture, we most generally focus on the part about eternal life, however, helping people gain immortality is a very significant thing in and of itself.
The scriptures indicate that those who possess an immortal body are more advanced in their spiritual growth than those who don’t, therefore, even those who inherit the telestial kingdom are more advanced in their spiritual progression than those who have never experienced mortality.
Because of the atonement of Christ, all who have ever had a physical body will be resurrected with an immortal body, and that includes even the most wicked. More than that, because of the atonement, nearly everyone will go to heaven. The scriptures tell us that even the telestial kingdom is a degree of glory, and it is reported that Joseph Smith said that if people could see how glorious the telestial kingdom is, they would kill themselves to get there. Since suicide is self-murder, and all murderers will go to the telestial kingdom, that shows how wonderful it is to live even in lowest degree of heaven.
However, although the telestial kingdom is a part of heaven, we can compare it to the slums of heaven because by comparison, its glory is far, far inferior to that of the celestial glory. But, even so, those immortals who live in this lowest degree of heaven are more advanced in their spirituality than spirit beings living in the celestial kingdom who have never had a physical body. When viewed from this wider perspective, it opens up a window through which we can gain a better appreciation for why God allows wickedness to exist.
We often lose sight of the fact that our Father in heaven is God precisely because he obeys eternal laws. If he were to ever violate any of those laws “behold, the heavens [would] withdraw themselves… and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37). Therefore, if God wants to maintain his power, he must obey the laws of eternity,
For this reason, in order for God’s plan for our salvation to be effective, it depends on him following two particular eternal laws. The first is the law of restitution. What this law says is that what we sow is what we reap or, put another way, what we give is what we get. The concept of karma is yet another way of describing this law. Alma explained it this way to his son Corianton: “At the last day, [good will] be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, everything to its natural frame” (Alma 41:3,4).
We can liken the law of restitution to a weighing balance. If you put something on one side of the scale, in order to keep things in balance you must put something of equal weight on the other side of the scale. In the same way, if we do good to someone, in order for the scales of justice to be balanced, an equal amount of good has to be done to us. And the same principle applies to evil. This is what Alma means when he says that “all things shall (must) be restored to their proper order.”
There is another law that says that no unclean thing or person can exist in heaven. Since every one of us have sinned then, by law, no one can be allowed to live in heaven, and the telestial kingdom is a part of heaven. Therefore, by law, we must forever be cast out of heaven into a kingdom that has no glory, which is exactly where Satan and his angels are consigned to live. Then how can God allow us to not only live again in the celestial kingdom but to someday inherit eternal life? The answer is by obeying a reciprocal law.
To illustrate this point, we know that the law of gravity will not allow an object weighing just 10 pounds to stay elevated in the air above the ground without any physical support. Yet we can take an airplane weighing 375 tons and keep it suspended in the air for hours. But in doing that we have not done away with the law of gravity. Instead, we have applied the law of aerodynamics to counteract the effects of gravity. Thus, the law of aerodynamics becomes a reciprocal law, reciprocating, or counterbalancing the law of gravity. But the moment we violate the law of aerodynamics, then the law of gravity comes into full force.
In the same way, God has applied the law of the atonement to counteract the law of restitution, but in applying one law, he hasn’t done away with the other one. Both laws are still very much in force, except one is able to counteract the force of the other. Jesus explained, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). Thus, because of Christ’s atonement for our sins, if we repent of them, Christ’s atonement is able to wipe away each and every one of them. As Isaiah put it, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
The atonement is what allows us to repent which then allows God the ability to forgive us of our sins. If it wasn’t for his atonement, we could repent all day long and it would be meaningless, because there is no way we can restore or bring back into balance even one minor sin. But Christ’s death paid the penalty for every sin anyone in mortality has ever made, therefore as far as the law of restitution is concerned, the sins of every person has been brought into balance – almost.
Even though Christ paid the penalty for each of our individual sins, his atonement hasn’t done away with the law of restitution. We must still repay Christ for what he has done for us. That is only fair and just. However, if Christ says that he forgives us of the debt we owe him, then we owe him nothing, and in that case the law of restitution has been completely satisfied.
The means by which Jesus says he will forgive us of our sins is through the process of repentance. But what happens if we don’t repent? Jesus explained, “But if they would not repent [then] they must suffer even as I… , and your sufferings [will] be sore–how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not” (D&C 19:17, 15). When we have fully suffered for our sins, then we will have paid back the debt we owe Jesus, and when that happens then everything will have been restored to its proper order.
At that point, we will have become sinless and are therefore qualified to live in a sinless heaven. This is why Christ’s atonement can allow murderers, whoremongers, liars, and wicked people into heaven. So when we see people who apparently are getting away with doing evil things, that is a short-sighted view because the time will come when they will have to pay the penalty for every one of their sins if they haven’t sufficiently repented of them, and the greater their sins the greater their penalty will be. While, at the same time, those who have endured the evil done to them without becoming evil themselves, will have restored to them the good they have done in overcoming evil with good.
However, under Christ’s atonement, the suffering that the wicked will endure is not for the sake of punishment. Like all good parents, punishment is administered for the purpose of teaching correct behavior. For example, a child who touches a hot stove may have their fingers burnt, but the pain they suffer teaches them not to touch a hot stove again. In the same way, when the wicked have paid the utmost farthing by suffering for their evil deeds, they will have learned through an extremely painful experience not to sin anymore.
In fact, this is exactly what happened to Alma, the younger. In his youth he went about persecuting the church of God until he encountered the power of an angel. Of that incident he said, “I was racked with eternal torment… I was tormented with the pains of hell… and for three nights I was racked, even with the pains of a damned soul,… [and was] in the gall of bitterness and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:12-18).
But then he cried unto the Lord who forgave him of his sins. Of that encounter he said, “Oh what joy and what marvelous light I did behold, yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain. Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains… on the other hand there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:20,21).
That incident had such a terrifying effect on Alma that he never wanted to go through the pain of that experience again, and because of that, it caused him to have such a mighty change of heart that the thought of anyone having to suffer for their sins drove him to spend the rest of his life fearlessly preaching the doctrine of repentance.
In the same way, even the most wicked sinner will come to have a change of heart because of what they will have to suffer, and it is through this process that God, our eternal Father and Parent, is able to help all of his children to learn to always choose good over evil. Thus, God is being merciful to all of his children, even the wicked ones, by making it possible for all of us to live eternally in heaven when our real reward should be to live in outer darkness with Satan and his angels.
So why doesn’t God stop evil each and every time it happens? Because it is necessary for each of us to learn from our own experiences why we should choose to do good rather than evil. This is the purpose of repentance and it is by going through this process that we become fit to live in the kingdom of God. Some people learn this lesson easier than others, and for some they must learn the principle of repentance the hard way. Therefore, if God were to stop all evil – which includes even minor sins – he would be denying us the kinds of experiences necessary to help us learn to abhor sin.
The second eternal principle we have to understand is that of agency. It’s been said that God will never interfere with man’s right to choose for himself, but why? Jesus explained “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
God would be absolutely delighted if every one of his children wanted to have eternal life, but the truth is that not everyone wants to live that kind of a life. Unlike the Protestant view of heaven that envisions us sitting around on clouds throughout eternity singing praises to God, each kingdom has certain rules or laws that must be obeyed and not everyone has the desire to abide by the rules that govern eternal life.
If God were to put everyone into the highest degree of heaven after the resurrection, there would be a lot of miserable people living there because they would find no joy in abiding by the laws that govern that kingdom. That would be like taking someone who hates doing math and forcing them to become an accountant. Such a person wouldn’t consider having that job as being a gift, nor would they be grateful to the person who gave them that job.
When we lived with our Father in heaven before coming to earth, we all thought it would be wonderful to be just like him, but that’s because we didn’t know any other kind of life. Therefore, God has put us in an environment where we could choose for ourselves to either follow the laws of heaven or disregard them. If you will, this earth life is like a trial run, where we are given the opportunity to see if we really do want to become perfect as our Father in heaven or if we’d prefer living a life that’s not quite so perfect.
Since God wants what’s best for his children, he teaches, persuades, encourages, and strives to convince us to seek after eternal life, but he will never force us to choose that path. Therefore, the reason why he allows evil to exist is in hopes that some people will comes to their senses and realize that there is no real joy in being wicked. There are numerous stories of people whose lives have hit rock bottom and were at the end of their proverbial rope, where things looked so bleak that, in desperation, they turned to the Lord and found the road to salvation. In such cases, their evils ways became the path that led them to God.
This was certainly the case with the Lamanites who were converted to Christ by the sons of Mosiah. They had been a murderous people but after they accepted Christ, they refused to take up their weapons of war, even to defend themselves against the Amalakites who sought to kill them. King Lamoni explained the reason why when he said, “now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain— Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren..” Mormon, then commented “And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin” (Alma 24:11,12,19).
But there are many others who never turn to God no matter how bad things become, and God allows them to make that choice because to do otherwise would be to make their choice for them. A common misconception is that on judgment day God stands behind a tall podium looking down on the souls who come before him and points his finger at each individual as he says, “You go to heaven. You go to hell,” while we wait for our name to come up, wondering and trembling to find out where we will be sent.
The truth is that we will be the ones who determine which kingdom we want to go to. To become perfect takes a lot of time and effort. Those who truly want eternal life will put in the arduous time and effort to qualify for it. On the other hand, even though someone might like the idea of being able to become like God, when they find out what it takes for that to happen, their desire wanes because they don’t want to do what it takes to become perfect.
We are told in the scriptures “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there” (D&C 130:2). In other words, after the resurrection we will want to associate with the same kind of people we did in this life. If we were good in this life, we will want to associate with people who are just like us in the next life. This is the same message Alma taught his son Corinaton when he said, “if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil” (Alma 41:3).
As we look at the broader, more eternal scope of God’s plan for our salvation, we see that God allows evil to exist so that each of us might have ample opportunities to choose for ourselves the kind of a life we want to live, not only during our time here on earth, but also throughout all of eternity.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation