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Why do bad things happen to good people?

I have not written in a very long time. Due to a whirlwind of events in my life I simply have not taken the time to keep this blog going on a consistent basis. This, however, does not mean I have had nothing to share over the past few years.
My post today focuses on an issue that every inquisitive soul thinks about. This problem has been put eloquently by many people:

“Are all men’s lives . . . broken, tumultuous, agonized and unromantic. . . . Who knows? . . . I don’t know. Why can’t people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody, yet everybody got the wrong thing. . . . It’s beyond me. It’s all darkness.”  [PBS production of “The Good Soldier,” by Ford Madox Ford, viewed in early 1983]

“Can infinite wisdom and power make any excuse for the creation of failures? . . . Is [God] responsible for all the wars that have been waged, for all the innocent blood that has been shed? Is he responsible for the centuries of slavery, for the backs that have been scarred with the lash, for the babes that have been sold from the breasts of mothers, for the families that have been separated and destroyed? Is this God responsible for religious persecution, for the Inquisition, for the thumb-screw and rack, and for all the instruments of torture? Did this God allow the cruel and vile to destroy the brave and virtuous? Did he allow tyrants to shed the blood of patriots? Did he allow his enemies to torture and burn his friends? What is such a God worth? Would a decent man, having the power to prevent it, allow his enemies to torture and burn his friends?” (Robert G. Ingersoll, “What is Religion,” in Ingersoll’s Greatest Lectures (New York, Freethought Press, 1944), 480–81)

“We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before (and during) the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.” (Anthony Flew, section D of “Theology and Falsification,” chapter 6 in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, eds., New Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 107)

“All of my life I have struggled to find the purpose of living. I have tried to answer three questions which always seemed to be fundamental: the problem of eternity; the problem of human personality; and the problem of evil. I have failed. I have solved none of them. … And I believe no one will ever solve them.”  (Daily Express, London, England, 13 July 1953, 4)

In short, why does evil exist? Why does an infinitely benevolent God permit human suffering, agony, depression, and all things that could be considered “evil” or “bad”? The purpose of this post is to explain these things to the best of my ability. It is my opinion that the inability to answer this question satisfactorily to people will result in the loss of faith and the dismissal of faith for billions! I hope my explanation does not come off as the usual trite explanations we hear that neither edify nor make sense. I take full responsibility for what I have written and this should not be interpreted as official doctrine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


First, let us trace the origin of evil. The Prophet Joseph Smith has succinctly said:

“There are three independent principles; the Spirit of God, the spirit of man, and the spirit of the devil.” (Teachings, p. 189)

I personally interpret “independent principles” as meaning “eternal principles”. In other words, these three things (the spirit of God, the spirit of man, and the spirit of the devil) exist independently from the other three; none of the other three created the other. It is axiomatic to see how the spirit of God is an independent/eternal principle, but the spirit of man and the spirit of the devil are not so obvious. Thankfully, we have some statements on the subject.

Orson Pratt taught that the origin of evil predates even the rebellion in the Pre-earth life:

“I do not suppose that this was the first origin of evil. We do not consider that this creation on which we dwell was the first one that was made. We do not consider that the rebellion which took place in heaven prior to this creation was the first rebellion that had ever existed. We do not consider that those beings who rebelled [were] the first ones that ever had their agency; but we believe that God has always been at work, from all eternity; and that the creations which he has made are innumerable unto men.” (JD 21:287)

Brigham Young spells it out plainly:

"The principles of truth and goodness, and of eternal lives and the power of God are from eternity to eternity. The principle of falsehood and wickedness, the power of the devil and the power of death are also from eternity to eternity. These two powers have ever existed and always will exist in all the eternities that are yet to come." (JD 11:234-235)

Joseph Smith speaking about the eternal nature of the spirit of man:

“The mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so. . . . I am going to tell of things more noble… The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal [co-eternal] with God himself.” (Teachings, p. 352-353)

From this I think we can safely speculate that the true nature of our mortal life is the intertwining of three independent forces. Two of those forces (the spirit of God and the spirit of the devil) seek to persuade the other independent force (the spirit of man) to choose the blessings and lifestyle that they offer.

What implications does this have to our understanding of suffering and evil? First, we cannot “charge God foolishly” (Job 1:22) because to blame Him or to ask “why?” is to naively misplace the blame and to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of existence. In short, “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, s.v. “evil”).


To understand this better we can ask the question, “Ok, I can accept that God is not the creator of evil, but does he not have power and control over it? Does not Satan exercise as much power as the Lord allows? Does this not make God a little guilty?” This is a great question. The answer to this question is found in D&C 93:29-30.

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.”

In explanation, this verse is speaking of the co-eternal nature of man with God. Because it is co-eternal, in order for it to progress there needs to be an environment where that intelligence can act for itself. This is where it gets interesting. If the intelligence is not put into a state of opposition (see 2 Nephi 2:11-13) it cannot act for itself. It cannot be an agent. The consequence for such is stated as “otherwise, there is no existence”. WOW! In other words, there are eternal constraints upon our Father in Heaven to provide an estate with opposition. It is not some willy-nilly constraint. It is something so expansive and so important that existence itself is predicated upon it. I do not pretend to understand this perfectly, but this does show that our Father in Heaven is operating in eternal realities. Elder Neal A. Maxwell explains it well:

“… One distant day, brothers and sisters, it will even become more apparent than it now is that-given whatever constraints within which God began His work (so far as whatever each of us was, way “back of the beyond”), and also given the agency and independency of man-our loving Father God is doing all even He possibly can do to help us!" (O How Great the Plan of Our God, Address to CES Religious Educators, 3 February 1995, Temple Square Assembly Hall)

In summation, our Father Heaven is not the creator of evil AND He cannot eradicate it with His omnipotence. Remember that people are independent entities with an eternal nature of reason and capacity to act. We are only made agents and have agency when that eternal nature is put in a position to be tugged by opposition. That truth, somehow and someway, is the fundamental law of existence. We can picture our Father in Heaven in much better context now in Moses 7:28-33. He weeps over our mistakes. He groans in agony when evil plagues the lives of his children. When we understand the constraints even He is operating under we can see the cause of weeping. All men are agents, but God will force no man to heaven. He will not force them, not because he chooses not to, but because he cannot. The consequence of force is too much.

Bad things happen to good people because of the eternal nature of the cosmos. That is about as succinctly as I can put it. Other’s choices affect us for the worse, but before we blame God foolishly and before we desire to put a stop to their choices, we might want to remember the consequence for such a desire. “Otherwise, there is not existence”. This agency has been preserved unto us by the atonement of Christ as it cushions the Fall so that we are literally suspended between the two opposing eternal forces, instead of becoming complete angels to a devil. Professor C. Terry Warner explains what implications this has on our explanations to those who are looking for answers:

“Human agency was purchased with the price of Christ’s suffering. This means that to those who blame God for allowing human suffering, Latter-day Saints can respond that suffering is less important than the gift of agency, upon which everything else depends, and that none of us has paid a greater price for this gift than Christ.” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), s.v. “agency,” 1:27)

In closing I share a choice statement by Elder B.H. Roberts wherein he defines our true predicament:

"What is the value of this doctrine of the eternal existence of uncreated intelligences?... he (the intelligence) has his choice of moving upward or downward in every estate he occupies; often defeating, for a time, at least, the benevolent purposes of God respecting him, through his own perverseness; he passes through dire experiences, suffers terribly, yet learns by what he suffers, so that his very suffering becomes a means to his improvement; he learns swiftly, or slowly, according to the inherent nature of him, obedience to law; he learns that "that which is governed by law, is also preserved by law, and perfected and sanctified by the same; and that which breaketh law abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself and willeth to abide in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice nor judgment. Therefore they must remain filthy still." (Doc. & Gov. sec. 88: 34, 35.) This conception of things relieves God of the responsibility for the nature and status of intelligences in all stages of their development; their inherent nature and their volition make them primarily what they are, and this nature they may change, slowly, perhaps, yet change it they may. God has put them in the way of changing it by enlarging their intelligence through it change of environment, through experiences; the only way God effects these self-existent beings is favorably; he creates not their inherent nature; he is not responsible for the use they make of their freedom; nor is he the author of their sufferings when they fall into sin: that arises out of the violations of law to which the "intelligence" subscribed, and must be endured until its lessons are learned."  (Seventy's Course on Theology, p. 190-191)


  1. Great read. I enjoyed this and was edified. Keep studing, learning, and teaching. The world needs more edification like this. In all your learning stay humble and teachable that you may not be deceived. Thanks for teaching.


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