Belgian Theodicy

God rarely infringes on the agency of any of His children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them, as He did for Alma’s people in the land of Helam (see Mosiah 24:13–15). He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside, as He did with the uniquely powerful cyclone that threatened to prevent the dedication of the temple in Fiji; or He does blunt their effects, as He did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels airport but only injured our four missionaries.

-Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Opposition In All Things, April 2016 General Conference

Because Elder Oaks is an Apostle and a man I’ve sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator, I’m going to believe him here. I’d like to talk about how God answers our prayers to turn aside disasters, that God turned aside a cyclone to facilitate the temple dedication in Fiji, and that God intervened in the Brussels bombing to preserve the lives of four missionaries. I would argue that if any human being can know whether or not God was involved in those events, that human would be a prophet, seer, and revelator. Here, a man I sustain as such has stated his belief that this is exactly what God has done. Who am I to say otherwise? Elder Oaks would definitely know better than me — and I don’t mean that as a tongue-in-cheek expression, simply that if people we sustain as prophets don’t actually know when God is at work, then I’m not sure anyone does.

Further, if God is working His hand among us, if He is intervening in natural disasters and horrible atrocities, then He is doing today what He has done throughout history. The Bible tells us so, as does the Book of Mormon. God spares His messengers many times in scripture — can He not do so today at an airport in Belgium?

Preaching an interventionist God should not be an offensive thing for a Christian to do. We believe in miracles, and there’s no shame in that belief.

However: it is problematic that God spares the lives of missionaries but not these people. It is problematic that 44 people died and thousands and thousands had their homes devastated, but God made sure the temple building was ok. In other words, it’s not the sparing of good people and good buildings that is the problem; it is the loss of other good people and good buildings. We are led to ask, why did God act as He did? We start to make assumptions about why He acts this way. Missionaries are saved and temples are preserved because God favors them (note, however, that Elder Oaks begins by emphasizing how rare this sort of divine intervention is). A central difficulty: this is something that scripture teaches us, that God preserves His servants, protects His holy ground.[1] Elder Oaks is saying what prophets have always said. For the faithful, sensibilities about the value of all life must be reconciled with the knowledge that God does intervene in human events, but that He does not always do so and that His ways are fundamentally mysterious.

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[1] Note, however, that scripture also teaches us that prophets are martyred, that temples are destroyed, that all is vanity and that the only surety we can have in this life is in the love of God. So, YMMV.

Comments

  1. M Miles says:

    Love this. Thanks.

  2. Kristen says:

    There are plenty of other instances where LDS missionaries have died while serving. So it’s not only problematic that He saves His messengers and lets other non-messengers perish, but that He saves only some of His messengers. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out. I think it’s best just not to go down that road…I have no trouble feeling like Elder Oaks wasn’t necessarily speaking prophetically when he said God intervened in those cases. He may honestly believe that God intervened but just because he said it doesn’t make it so. And that doesn’t mean I’m discounting him as a prophet,seer and revelator. I’m just saying that the GAs have said plenty of things over the pulpit which have been questionable.

  3. Kristen, yes, there have been lots of weird stuff spoken over pulpits. And I hear you about not wanting to go down that road. But then we’re really putting our leaders in a narrow box. We call them prophets, but we don’t want them to be such when we don’t like what they say?

  4. If the missionaries had been killed in the Belgian attack, we’d find a way to make that faith-promoting. And if the missionaries had walked away unscathed, we’d make that faith-promoting too. That tells us a lot more aout us than it does about God.

  5. I’m struggling to square this line of thought with the many instances in which missionaries are injured or killed but non members are spared. For instance, several times in the past few years missionaries were killed in car accidents, but non members in the same accident walked away.

    Joseph taught that a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such. I imagine the same is true for seers and revelators. In instances where an apostle teaches something, but does not expressly say he is prophesying, seeing or revealing (which frankly is 99.999% of the time) I’m not sure it is wise to hold the statement up as if it were a revelation. That undermines the apostles ability to revise the statement – which frankly happens not infrequently with conference addresses. Case in point, a few years ago President Packer declared in conference that the family proclamation was a revelation … only to retract that claim in the official published version of his remarks. Perhaps it’s best to wait and see if a similar retraction takes place in this instance too.

  6. Didn’t Mitt Romney get into a car accident on his mission that killed members of his mission president’s family? I presume the victims were quite faithful and the Lord had every reason to protect them.

    In any case, all of this relates to anecdotal evidence, which is worse than useless because it ends up being subject to so many biases. You only hear about people who were healed after a blessing, not the many who weren’t. To say anything meaningful, you’d need to subject these sorts of claims to the same kind of scrutiny that other claims in science or medicine face – statistical tests, preferably randomized controlled trials.

    Likewise, the fact that someone relates a “miracle” in GC isn’t terribly surprising; anything less wouldn’t get mentioned. You never hear stories about the nice, faithful mormons who get murdered each year for no apparent reason, for example. Did God not care about them? (Of course He did). I view Oaks’ story about the safe missionaries as unconvincing, and in some ways, as quite offensive. Oh….and I also *sustain the brethren*. (Best to include those magic words in all LDS discussions).

  7. Kristen says:

    Joni, exactly.

    Steve,
    “We call them prophets, but we don’t want them to be such when we don’t like what they say?”
    Yep. It’s a problem But It’s not even necessarily that we don’t like what they say. It’s nice to hear that God is looking out for people. That sounds good to me. It probably sounds good to most people except when you’re one of the people who’s loved ones were not looked after. So why even go there?

  8. You have an apostle in General Conference say that these were examples of divine intervention, but you want a randomized controlled trial before you’re willing to consider the statement meaningful? Tell me, when would you be willing to actually consider an apostle’s statements as being true without such evidence?

    Dave K: there will be no retraction here. Remember that President Packer’s words were changed between the delivery of his talk and the printed version. Elder Oaks’ words are done and done.

    Kristen: we have to go there because Elder Oaks went there, and because the scriptures go there. We cannot, I think, simply throw up our hands and disbelieve the notion that God intervenes.

    Again: if we take seriously the possibility that these men are prophets, seers and revelators, then this strikes me as exactly within their purview. So far the responses are either to (1) say he wasn’t speaking as a prophet or (2) just say he’s wrong. Why is it that we cannot believe that he is right?

  9. Kristen says:

    He may be right. And you certainly can take everything the GAs say as the word of God. That is certainly your right. But I think some of us have been around long enough to have a healthy dose of skepticism and I think that is okay too. Remember November 5th. I think I remember you saying that you didn’t believe that IT was from God. Yet, it came from the top 15.

  10. Sr. Missionary says:

    One semi-related tangent: why did it take 3 people to drop off one sister? Was this a case of the insane policy where women cannot be alone with two elders so there has to be another adult male to babysit the elders and/or protect the woman? Perhaps the Senior missionary was babysitting/chaperoning the Elders or the elders were babysitting/chaperoning the senior missionary. Just struck me as odd why it took so many missionaries to drop off a single sister. I fully acknowledge there are other possible explanations for the 3:1 ratio but it smacks of that crazy policy. Perhaps there was collateral damage (thankfully not fatal) caused by the assumption that a 2:1 ratio is too dangerous for boy Mormon missionaries and a single woman.

    Otherwise, good comments.

  11. (grin) Yeah, I can skeptic with the best of them. But I don’t think that necessarily helps us here. By the way, I do think that it’s okay to be skeptical here. It is super problematic if Elder Oaks is right. But I think our faith demands that we not only hold open the possibility that he is right, but that we give serious consideration and thought to that notion, and probably a presumption that he is right.

  12. And — I think we need to be prepared to figure out what our faith means and who God is when we presume that Elder Oaks is right. I certainly don’t think that Elder Oaks is speaking ascripturally or out of step with accepted doctrine.

  13. Kristen says:

    I hear you Steve, and believe me, I want to believe that God is looking after the people I love. And I do believe that God intervenes. But the GAs have recently given me plenty of reasons to doubt that they are always speaking for God. I wish that were not the case but sadly, it is.

  14. Kristen, my read of Church history is that the leaders of the Church have with regularity given people reasons to doubt that they are always speaking for God, but that they do, in fact, speak for God some of the time. It’s that potential that is really interesting to me.

  15. Kristen says:

    I sure hope so. I have faith they do. But like you said, it’s problematic the way it’s presented here. And the problems are interesting too. Faith to me is the opposite of certainty. If we were certain they were always speaking for God, well then? That’s not really faith.

  16. Kristen says:

    There were other problematic things said in Oaks’ talk. Like when he said there is no room for opposition in this church. But I understood that revelation is supposed to be presented and accepted by common consent. Right? Implicit in that is the notion that someone might be opposed. We are also asked at every conference, when sustaining the leaders, if anyone is opposed. So if opposition has no place then, why?

  17. Who is this “Steve Evans” anyway? Sounds like an imposter. The Steve Evans I usually read is much different – much more independent minded and much less willing to say “that’s the way it is cuz the Brethren said so.” What happened? I miss the old Steve.

  18. FGH, it’s not being independent minded if I just agree with everything you say! Besides, read me carefully. I’m not being as simplistic as you might think.

    Kristen: I’m totally not talking about those other aspects of his talk. One enormously difficult notion at a time please.

  19. Kristen says:

    Sorry! Do another post then. :)

  20. Write us a guest post!

  21. This very clearly is not simplistic and I appreciate the care with which it’s written to bypass the argument (which comes to too many with little or no effort) that Elder Oaks was just wrong. A theodicy presumes or begins with examples of seeming randomness attributed to God. And calls upon me to examine who God is, what God means, how does a God who saves four and allows 44 to die make sense?
    So far in my life I’ve spent quite a lot of time on the contemplation and close to zero time enjoying an answer. Therefore, I have nothing to add here except appreciation for the nice spin.

  22. Christian – bingo. But that examination is not one I think we can avoid.

  23. I think that the core message of the Book of Job (which I also happen to agree with) is that we are never able to inhabit God’s perspective long enough, or thoroughly enough, to reason out the connection between anybody’s moral state and their physical circumstances. This includes being able to declare that something is either “God’s will” or that anybody’s righteousness or prayers caused any specific thing to happen or not to happen.

    On the other hand, according to Mormon belief, 15 male human beings at any given time are “prophets, seers, and revelators” who DO have access to the divine perspective, or who are at least authorized to declare the mind and will of the Lord in very specific circumstances.

    There is an easy way to reconcile the first and the second points, which is to acknowledge that Elder Oaks is correct in calling these two incidents (sparing the temple dedication and sparing the lives of missionaries) divine interventions, but that this is a prophetic pronouncement that cannot be generalized to any other situation. We do not believe that these were divine miracles because they saved missionaries, or protected temples, or because people prayed for them. There is no connection between any of this stuff that we are capable of reasoning out.

    We can believe that these were acts of divine intervention because a prophet told us so and for no other reason that we can generalize from or draw conclusions about. These were two sui generis acts of divine grace that we just happen to have found out about through a prophet of God–but we are not authorized to use them to form ANY conclusions about ANY other situations where God may or may not have intervened.

  24. Mike, yes, I think that is probably where this takes us, or at least it takes us until the next time a prophet makes a declaration of this sort.

    Re: Job, what makes you such an expert? Huh????

  25. Oh. That.

  26. I agree that there is an “easy way to reconcile” but suggest that it’s not good enough. Elder Oaks himself asks us to generalize when he says “He does blunt their effects, as He did with . . .”
    So I for one am still working at this, with no expectation that there is an end to the working.

  27. Is this sort of Providence outside canon, or inside? I know it seems like it’s outside, given the comments about a conclusion-free interpretation. But I’m not sure it’s that simple.

  28. Christian, I think that it is at least within the interpretive range that the text will bear to say that Oaks was arguing that God intervenes, but we can never be sure how, when or why unless we are told so directly by somebody who happens to know. After all, his larger point was that bad stuff happens for all kinds of reasons and we should be willing to accept it. So I think that it is at least possible to read his remarks as something like:

    “Very bad things happen and we don’t always understand why. I know that this can make it seem like God is not interested in our lives, but, since I am a prophet, seer, &etc. I can let you know that He is. Here are two times in the past year or so that, I just happen to know that He intervened to mitigate the effects of a disaster. So, understand that God loves you and is interested in you, but also understand that his reasons and perspectives are not usually available to us (well to you anyway; they are available to me, but I’m not supposed to blab too much), so when really bad things happen, keep in mind my prophetic statement that God does love us and does intervene sometimes, but don’t go crazy trying to figure out why something happened, or whether or not God loves you, because that’s not the way that it works.”

  29. Michael, I think I can see that the text will bear your suggested reading. I honestly don’t think that’s what was running through Elder Oaks’ mind, partly because “as He did” suggests pattern and human comprehension. But then mind-reading is not on my short list of talents. More importantly, to my mind your reading would reject any human understandable form or substance to Benevolence, and while I understand that’s a way out for some it doesn’t (hasn’t yet) worked for me. (The problem being partially illustrated by the almost contradiction in your telling: “understand that God loves you” but “don’t [try to figure out] whether or not God loves you.”)

  30. Aussie Mormon says:

    If we go on the premise that God intervened in these cases, we still don’t know the full extent of his intervention.
    There were two cases listed
    1) He turned aside the disaster of the Fijian cyclone to allow the temple dedication.
    2) He blunted the effect of the bombing so that the missionaries only got injured.

    1) Now, did He turn aside the disaster by physically nudging the cyclone in a different direction? Did He slow it down/speed it up earlier so it naturally went that way? Did He turn aside the thoughts of the people planning the dedication so it didn’t happen at the time the cyclone was going to be at its worst? Perhaps He intervened when the temple was planned so that it wouldn’t get hit.

    2) It’s a similar situation. A third bomb was found that didn’t go off with the others. Did He stop this going off? Did He cause a minor traffic delay or speed up so that the missionaries would be where they were rather than closer to a bomb? Did he prompt the bombers to put their plan into action at that particular time?

    There are many ways that God can intervene for the same outcome. The when, why, and how are each interesting aspects of the same intervention.

  31. What’s the point of having a prophet identify rare cases of divine interventions, especially when a) the examples identified simply confirm what our guts have known all along, that God goes to bat for the home team (just not as often as we’d like); and b) the interventions are sui generis and cannot be universalized?

    Michael’s post on Alma the Younger, for example, argues that “God intervenes for very different reasons to change the lives of two different kinds of people who are guilty of different kinds of sins. […] The two narratives, in this case, encourage us to universalize the possibility of conversion–to remove the possibility of context-specific interpretations and understand that real, meaningful change is ALWAYS possible for us and for those we love.”

    But in the case of Belgium and Fiji, context is apparently everything. If that is so, what’s the point of identifying specific cases rather than teaching general principles, e.g., God will intervene occasionally for the home team? Are the prophets offering through their concrete pronouncements over the pulpit the suffering faithful an occasion once every six months to learn whether God was involved in their disaster? Can we then conclude he wasn’t involved in the rest?

  32. Laurie in KC says:

    Have our prophets, seers, and revelators acknowledged the protection of the Lord extended to those who are not LDS? We hold that these 15 are prophets of God on the earth. Why then are such pronouncements limited to recognize benefit only to Mormons? Is God confined only to us?

  33. Laurie, good last question, and I’m sure that answer to it is no.

  34. eponymous says:

    Why did God intervene though? We hold too much value – with good reason – to our own lives and those of our loved ones. We want them to be here with us now and yet isn’t a different better perspective that we should want for ourselves and our loved ones that we progress to the next stage as soon as our time has come and no sooner nor later?

    With that in mind, perhaps the different approach to this, riffing off of Michael’s reading, is that God intervened in Belgium but we cannot know if He intervened specifically to protect His servants or instead there was some greater ripple effect that doing so would impact in the lives of others as well. I think of the movie, “Sliding Doors,” where the concept of parallel universes based on a butterfly like effect decision or accident such as dropping an earring has radical impacts on a person’s life.

    Whose lives will be changed as a result of 4 missionaries surviving and their stories being broadcast on the news? Is there perhaps a family in Brussels, Belgium or Lille, France with a future Relief Society President who will take interest in the young women who knock at their door because of what they learned about these four on the news? How many other lives will be altered as a result?

    Sui generis indeed.

  35. Laurie in KC says:

    Steve, I suspect all of us hold dear a God that is not confined to Mormons. This in itself can create some disquietude over statements that imply that we alone have the corner on His care and attention. Any encouragement to exclude the multitude of others not of our faith who are devout, faithful, and giving their lives in the service of God, does Mormonism and its members a disservice.

  36. Martine says:

    Every missionary who dies in service was “needed on the other side and will continue their service there.” Are there not enough dead Mormons already to accomplish that service? Surely the occasional missionary who is killed doesn’t add that much to the missionary force on the other side of the veil.
    Would the 4 missionaries have been saved had they been in the metro car instead of at the airport?

    Mormon rational will say that the publicity the Church received from the missionaries being wounded will open doors.

    Great question, Laurie. Lots of non LDS, non missionaries survived the attacks. Thousands, in fact. I’ve yet to see anywhere in the media–Belgian or US–a reliable map showing where the bombs blasts occurred and where various wounded individuals were standing, including the missionaries.

  37. John Mansfield says:

    Missionaries, collectively and individually, are among the most prayed for people in the world. A member of my ward told a funny story of a situation where she wanted something that a lot of other people also wanted, a parking space at a mall during Christmas shopping, and she prayed, “I know everyone wants this, but I’m probably the only one who is praying to you asking for it.” In connection with the idea that our Heavenly Father would favor some with his care is the idea that He can be entreated through prayer.

  38. Actually, John, there are about 300 times as many people who pray for the Pope and the cardinals as for the mormon missionaries. You recognize that LDS make up 0.15% of the world’s population, right? 99.85% couldn’t care less about mormons or their missionaries.

  39. Does God answer prayers? Yes. Are His answers limited to warm fuzzies? No. Is that problematic? Yes, but that does not negate the reality of God’s intervention in our lives.

  40. FGH: This is very true. But when was the last time that the Pope or a Cardinal was hit by a tornado or killed in a terrorist bombing ;-)

  41. Clark Goble says:

    For any act it seems barring some spiritual revelation there’s no easy way to tell if God was acting in a significant factor. That said I think it’s fair to say there’s a prima facie reason to assume highly improbable events are divine for Mormons. (Even if statistically they’d happen without divine intervention)

    However it seems to me equally problematic to simply dismiss divine intervention. We’d be better off saying we simply don’t know, but still giving thanks to God that it did happen regardless of the level of involvement.

  42. Interestingly, Elder Cook also referenced the “hand of the Lord” regarding the Fiji cyclone in conference. He said “I was privileged to participate with President Henry B. Eyring at the rededication of the Suva Fiji Temple two months ago. It was a special, sacred occasion. President Eyring’s courage and strong spiritual impressions allowed the rededication to proceed in the face of the worst cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. Physical and spiritual protections were provided to youth, missionaries, and members.29 The hand of the Lord was clearly evident. The Suva Fiji Temple rededication was a refuge from the storm. Often as we experience the storms of life, we witness the Lord’s hand in providing eternal protections.”

    29. Missionaries and youth brought in from outer islands were housed in safe Church schools and Church buildings and were safe from the worst aspects of Cyclone Winston.

  43. We are told that the Lord is angered when we fail to recognize His hand in all things. Therefore we cannot avoid the problem of evil here.

  44. John Mansfield says:

    Nephi entered right into this, telling us at the outset of the Book of Mormon that he would demonstrate that “the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

  45. Peter, your comment expressed the point I think needs to be made — thank you. On that note, and because his comments had very likely unintended theodicy implications, I think it would have been much better if Elder Oaks had just expressed gratitude that the four missionaries were only severely injured and not killed since God did not see fit to intervene and prevent the terrorists from being able to do their works of evil.

  46. “Any encouragement to exclude the multitude of others not of our faith who are devout, faithful, and giving their lives in the service of God, does Mormonism and its members a disservice.”

    So well said, Laurie.

  47. John, perhaps it would have been better, but he did not do things that way, hence the need for us to sort through what it all means.

  48. Angela C says:

    These arguments in the wake of tragedy, no matter who puts them forward, often have a tinge of “whatever happened is God’s will.” Imagining a world in which someone more powerful and insightful than we are is in charge of events is the best of two bad alternatives when we see how little power and insight we have. But fatalism also contradicts agency. I’m never completely convinced that God intervenes, but as you say, maybe so.

  49. “the need for us to sort through what it all means”

    If this was just an aside which Elder Oaks meant to support the overall point of his talk about God’s general non-intervention, an aside he thought could highlight an exception, then I’m not sure we need to focus on any theodicy implications. He was really just saying, “even though God does not usually intervene to undermine people’s agency, and he did not intervene to take away the terrorists’ agency in order to prevent them from executing this attack, I am so grateful that the four missionaries involved were only injured and not killed.”

    If he realized the theodicy implications of his comment, he could have perhaps added, “Perhaps God intervened to protect them even though we know that he does not always intervene to protect missionaries, many of whom have died in tragic accidents or at the hands of others while serving their missions. We don’t know the ways of God in choosing when to intervene and when not to intervene, but we know enough to express gratitude for perceived blessings.”

  50. I think it was just an aside, but I don’t think he hesitated with respect to the theodicy implications.

  51. Angela C. — Fatalism also contradicts love, in my opinion.
    To the broader point, it does feel too soon to talk about or use Belgium in this conversation. (But I suspect Brother Evans will say that Elder Oaks started it.) More generally, theodicy always starts with terrible events–usually death–and perceived unfairness. From my reading I think it just a truism that the Holocaust forced a whole new generation of thinking on the subject and it hasn’t settled out yet. (Including “who’s in charge here anyway?”)

  52. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    While sustaining Elder Oaks as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, I also want to believe he’s not a complete idiot. I want to believe that he understands the implications of what he is ‘revealing’. Therefore, I want him to acknowledge how God’s hand in delivering His missionaries raises important questions about how He works, and that this instance should, in no way, be an indication of the righteousness or worth of those who were not spared. Sure, this is complicated and messy, but expounding upon such things is EXACTLY what a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator is supposed to do. I just feel like Elder Oaks’ throwing that out there, without following it up with a discussion of the implications, is careless. And I don’t usually judge Elder Oaks to be careless. In addition to this, it’s also a tad insensitive at a time when so many are still suffering from such a recent event. I’m torn between being grateful that there was such a swift declaration (revelation?) of God’s hand in world events, and wishing Elder Oaks had waited until October. If I was in Belgium, having lost a loved one to this horrible act, I would find the declaration from this Mormon leader offensive.

  53. I am someone whose worldview was shattered when tragedy struck my family. I had believed that my prayers, tithing, and worthy priesthood service would protect those that I love. I do not have a problem with God sometimes randomly intervening (He could roll a die or flip a coin). What was soul crushing to me is to believe that we can have some influence (through prayer, righteous living, etc.) on when and where God intervenes. This would naturally lead to thoughts that when something bad happens it was our fault for not being fervent enough in securing God’s divine protection. This I believe is the dark underbelly of this thought process.

    Unfortunately, this is exactly what I believe Elder Oaks is hinting at. Why would the temple or missionaries be spared? Because of their place in the gospel of Mormonism. IOW, being Mormon can provide access to such blessings.

    Yes, I agree that Elder Oaks is saying the same things that the prophets have said in the scriptures. I believe that the prophets of olden times (influenced by their surroundings as all of us are) interpreted God’s hand pretty liberally in the happenings of the day. I further believe that later
    scribes and religious leaders might have then exaggerated the miraculous nature of past events for dramatic effect (similar to the Mormon cricket story from our own history).

    I do not think there is any sinister intention in this. “God loves you and will bless you if you do X,Y,Z.” The job of Elder Oaks is to get people to do XYZ. It does not surprise me that he would take this approach to accomplish his task. I even concede that I prefer this approach to the brimstone and hellfire damnation approach that he could have taken.

    However, given my experience, I must take these ideas with a grain of salt or it will take me right back to thoughts of failure and unworthiness for God’s intervention.

  54. Roy, I’m sure there were many other people who also felt stung by Elder Oaks words. It’s just really difficult to make any sense of it.

  55. Steve,
    “We are told that the Lord is angered when we fail to recognize His hand in all things. Therefore we cannot avoid the problem of evil here.”
    This idea in the scriptures has never completely made sense to me. If we must recognize God’s hand in ALL things then does that mean that God was also involved in the attacks and the cyclone? Was there some purpose that He was trying to accomplish through those unfortunate events? When some awful tragedy happens are we supposed to acknowledge God’s hand in it? Or do we only acknowledge God’s hand when something that, we as humans, deem as good? Elder Oaks said that God rarely infringes on the agency of others…but if His hand is in all things then what does this mean? Around and around we go.

  56. Indeed. You got that guest post ready for us yet, Kristen?

  57. I didn’t think you were serious.

  58. Totally serious.

  59. Clark Goble says:

    Steve (8:58) I think Elder Oaks point in the opening section of his talk is that even evils have a functional role for God. This is a fairly fundamental aspect of our theology of the pre-mortal council of Abr 3 along with 2 Ne 2. My favorite talk of all time (which I lost in a basement flood and haven’t been able to find since) was I think by Elder Ashton in which he said many of our judgements of what is a curse or a blessing are inverted if we could see from God’s perspective. If this life is ultimately developmental of our spirits then living in a suburban home with little opposition can’t be seen as a blessing if it develops us less.

    That said this character building theodicy, while it give a general shape to a full theodicy, doesn’t ultimately resolve the problem of evil due to not being able to explain why these particular evils occur.

    EmJen (8:47) I think it’s much easier to see the hand of God when you are spiritually prompted to do something prior to an event happening. I’ve certainly experienced that before. Effectively the common Mormon belief in preparedness which is repeatedly emphasized helps us in many of these events.

    John F (9:02) Unless of course he felt prompted in what he said. I’m not sure we know enough to criticize Elder Oaks for his comments. I’ve not followed the story closely so I don’t know what these missionaries said about the circumstances of their survival. They may have reasons for why they think there was intervention.

    Angela (9:19) The fatalism that everything is God’s will certainly is disturbing and I think ignores the fact Mormons reject determinism ala Calvin or most Islamic scholars. It’s not all God’s will.

    Roy (10:03) I think the key textual passage for Mormon understanding of events like this is Alma 14:9-13. Bad things do happen to good people and God will sometimes not only not intervene but stop people from intervening.

    That doesn’t make it any easier to think about. If anything it makes it more difficult since we want God to intervene to protect us from tragedy.

    Kristen (10:43) I think Elder Oaks’ comment about rarely infringing on agency (i.e. acting in an overt way) was more about God’s actions usually being indirect by prompting free agents with those agents being free to act on the prompting or not.

  60. I found his comments on this hurtful and distressing. People died. Children lost their parents, parents lost their children. And here is an ‘authority’ of the LDS church saying that ‘our’ people were kept safe (because God loves us more and hears our prayers) and ‘your’ people died, ( because God doesn’t love you or hear your prayers). I thought it was shameful and insensitive and so I got up and left the room.

  61. Clark Gable (11:17) I mentioned in my post how questioning your worthiness for blessings when everything goes wrong is one negative side-effect of this thinking. Another is that if our life is going pretty well we can become smug. We might feel justified in looking down at the unfortunate because they too could have all that you have if only they would follow the gospel formula as closely. Clark mentions that to have a semi-charmed mortal life can actually frustrate our eternal development and those that suffer might even be having their eternal development expedited. Unfortunately, this too can become an excuse to dismiss the suffering of others. If God is placing an obstacle in their path to educate them, who am I to remove it? Unfortunately such justifications for uncharitable behavior are part of human nature and are definitely not confined to the religious realm.

    I do believe that each of these theories brings comfort and meaning to certain individuals at certain phases of their journey. I do not believe that any of them are inherently bad (even when they contradict each other).

    Overall I wish that, whatever position you may take on this question, each of us could be better at mourning with those that mourn and strengthening the feeble hands. In short, to be more charitable with our fellow beings.

  62. Attributing nature and life events to divine intervention is fraught with risks. Elder Oaks surely knew about the recent missionary death in PA. 4 sisters on transfers hit by a bus, which was only in service due to early school dismissal due to an unusual snowstorm. One died, 3 survived. Why? God too preoccupied with the cyclone to watch out for the bus? That’s too messy for a GC talk.
    Elder Oaks was trying to find anecdotes to fit his narrative, that’s it.

  63. As has been said, whatever the outcome, we attribute it to God such that it all becomes utterly meaningless. We had some faith promoting tape on my mission about a missionary whose righteousness got him killed — he was so good the devil had him knocked down by a train.

    Elder Oaks has offered nothing useful here at best and something very problematic at worse.

  64. I have been reading a lot of missionary letters lately (our ward has a lot of missionaries out), and miracles are a common theme. It’s a miracle that they met so-and-so at the bus stop, and they would never have been there if they hadn’t gotten a flat and were in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s a miracle that a person had been praying to God for guidance for months and the missionaries just happened to knock on her door. Almost every miracle these missionaries recite could just as easily be explained by coincidence, and there’s no way to establish whether God truly intervened.

    Clearly, though, the missionary mindset is to be focused on the work and to believe that God will assist them. So of course they’re finding God, because that’s what their looking for. On the other hand, they’re exercising faith, which is exactly what the scriptures teach us will lead to miracles. I cannot fathom why delaying a temple dedication is a crisis worthy of intervention, but to the people in charge, who are also exercising their faith, it can truly appear that the Lord diverted the tempest.

    I guess my feeling is that it’s generally better to believe that God is involved than to believe it’s all just random. It means we also have to resist the temptation to be angry with God when things don’t turn out the way we’d like or expect, but we can do that if we have faith that from God’s perspective, everything turned out just fine.

    By the way, I recently read a sci-fi book, The Sparrow (by Mary Doria Russell), which explores this very topic in a very engrossing way. I recommend it.

  65. I’m on my hand held device and it is late at night. I just found common consent a few minutes ago. This comment from oaks was so disturbing to me. I don’t care if he calls himself an apostle with esoteric knowledge of the divine order of things. He’s dead wrong. How does he dare explain gods justice in these horrible events. I’m going to bed to try to forget what was said above and come back and read, looking for more sensible comments that take in the whole of all of gods children not just the preservation of a few worthless bricks of a temple on Fiji.