As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the problem of evil, I want to talk about Sterling McMurrin's surprisingly positive evaluation of the LDS view: "It is in the explanation of moral and natural evil, the most persistent problem with which theistic philosophy must contend, that Mormon theology exhibits its chief theoretic strength" (p. 91; all quotes are from the Signature edition of his short book The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion). The key to Mormonism's approach is its willingness to embrace "the heresy of the finitistic concept of God" (p. 95).
Remember that the essence of the problem revolves around these three statements: God is good, God is all-powerful, and there is evil in the world. The "problem of evil" is that we want to affirm all three but we can only have two. Approaches to the problem either deny one of the three (which requires a lot of explanation) or try to accept all three despite the inconsistencies (which also requires a lot of explanation). Here is McMurrin's analysis and placement of Mormonism in this schema:
The thesis that God being conditioned by his own uncreated environment is not absolute in his power reconciles the doctrine of the infinite goodness of God ... with the reality of evil. Clearly the three concepts of the absolute goodness of God, the absoluteness of his power, and the positive reality of evil are not mutually compatible as ingredients of a theistic world view. One of them must be compromised to save the other two. No cultured religion can sacrifice the first; traditional orthodox Christianity has at times lived with inconsistency and at times hesitantly sacrificed the third; Mormonism, much liberal Protestantism, and some philosophical theology have sacrificed the second. (p. 105)
What McMurrin calls "Mormon Finitism" is the essence of the Mormon approach to the problem. The following passage fleshes out that concept a bit.
In Mormon thought evil is seen as a positive factor in the natural world and in human experience, and the primary meaning of human existence is found in the struggle to overcome it. ... The demonic factors, whether moral or natural, are given elements of the world. Moral evil, the evil that men do, is the inevitable consequence of genuine moral freedom. Natural evil, the evil that the world does, results from the moral neutrality of the universe. God is not ultimately responsible for either that freedom or that neutrality. They are among the elemental uncreated facts of existence. But by entering creatively into human and natural history, God struggles endlessly to extend his dominion over the blind processes of the material world and to cultivate the uses of freedom for the achievement of moral ends. (p. 96-97)
McMurrin freely admits that his sketch of the Mormon approach is not necessarily accepted, appreciated, or even recognized by most Mormon commentators on the subject:
Mormon literature and Mormon sermons are, of course, replete with the common rationalizations of evil that are more or less standard for theistic religion: that natural or nonmoral evil is a consequence of moral evil, administered by God as either punishment or discipline; that both natural and moral evils are instruments or occasions for the achievement of greater goods, or are partial or incomplete or unrecognized goods; and that evil is a necessary contrast to give meaning and reality to the good, for without evil there could be no good. (p. 97)
He adds, "Perhaps it is the ready accessibility of these facile but superficial explanations of evil that has so commonly prevented the Mormon theologians from discerning the great theoretical advantage available to a Mormon theodicy by reason of the non-absolutistic character of the Mormon metaphysics and theology" (p. 97).
If you like this kind of stuff but haven't read McMurrin's book before, you should buy a copy and do so immediately.