If you are looking for a post that explores the rich theological possibilities of theodicy, this post is not it. While I find the topic interesting, I don’t want to address the questions associated with it here. Rather, I want to use the topic of theodicy as a starting point for a discussion on how we use Joseph’s teachings.
Mormon scholars from B.H. Roberts to Sterling McMurrin to, most recently, David Paulsen and Blake Ostler have (persuasively, in my opinion) suggested that Joseph laid the groundwork for a gospel which helped solve the problem of evil. In their writings they explained that the doctrines Joseph revealed a God who did not create everything ex nihilo, and therefore provided a framework that allows things to happen without God’s will. This, then, makes it appear that we believe in a “finite” God.
But, did Joseph really believe that?
When I read Joseph’s writings and teachings, I see someone who saw God’s hand in everything that happened. He saw meteor showers as signs of Providence, natural disasters as divine warnings, and fully expected God to punish those who persecuted the Saints (often in very Old Testament-like ways). I think there are several possible reasons for this, including:
1. My reading of Joseph is completely off (which is very possible).
2. Joseph’s teachings really taught that God is omnipotent in the same sense that other Christians believe, and hence our understanding of theodicy is flawed.
3. While Joseph revealed the doctrines that help solve the problems of evil, he did not fully understand them in his lifetime.
Personally, I tend to lean towards the final of the three. This brings up an important issue: Does it matter if Joseph didn’t understand these things? For those who believe that Joseph really received divine revelations this is an acceptable approach because they believe that the teachings come from a higher source. Those who take a humanist perspective, however, must either find an alternative meaning or believe that we are misreading Joseph.
What do you think?