Part I is an analytic assessment of the problem of evil (and) Alma 14. I take the analytic approach in Part I partly because the style of analytic philosophy lends itself to clear introductory exposition, and partly for reasons I will discuss in Part II. Part II will be decidedly…not analytic.
1.0 “The problem of evil is the most serious intellectual difficulty for theism,” writes Stephen Davis. Within Christian theism the problem of evil can be briefly formulated as attempting to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil and/or suffering. When we say that this particular problem poses the greatest challenge to theism, we are presupposing certain ideas about both God and evil that are not prima facie reconcilable.
The problem first arises when we define who or what “God” is and what “evil” is. Traditionally, God is an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly loving being. Evil can be assigned several meanings, but two of the more common are that A) evil is that than which the world would be better if a certain event e did not obtain, and B) the intentional suffering produced and inflicted upon one moral agent by another moral agent. There are other varieties of “evil” and even gradations within these two definitions, but these will suffice for present purposes.
Mormonism, of course, as with other theistic religions, confronts the problem of evil. Or perhaps better said for our intellectual purposes here, Mormon theology confronts the problem of evil in particular ways while Mormonism confronts evil in other very distinct ways (more on this in Part II). Recent work by Mormon philosophers and theologians has gone far in responding to the problem, though Mormon philosophers also run into difficulties by the ways they define “God” and “evil” (more on this below). In spite of the problems, I believe their position is on the whole logically strong, particularly when compared to other Christian theological responses; nevertheless, they do not seem to take into account one particular response to the problem of evil found in the Book of Mormon, naturally an essential part of the Mormon canon. The Book of Mormon contains a theodicy unlike any other found in uniquely Mormon scripture. In the main, however, the theological and doctrinal implications of this theodicy have not been explored. In order to provide the strongest possible intellectual response to the problem of evil, this theodicy must be taken into account. Here I’m going to explore some ramifications of this theodicy for Mormon theology. In particular I am interested in whether this theodicy is an asset for the construction of a viable Mormon theodicy or if it poses a genuine, possibly irreconcilable challenge.
2.0 Refutations, Defenses, Theodicies. We can see that if God has the traditional attributes of omni-theism and if evil fits, at minimum, the definitions described in A and B above, the theist appears to run into a logical dilemma in asserting both. But, of course, the dilemma is not merely logical. It is also practical, or existential. How can the theist not only assert the co-existence of both God and evil, but also the rationale behind the trust and worship of such a being in the midst of evil? Consequently, the problem of evil is both theoretical and practical. As Daniel Howard-Snyder has observed, “Although we can separate [these two problems] in the abstract, they typically come together in our experience.”
The usual way of dealing with this fusion of the theoretical and practical problems of evil is to formulate a theodicy. Before we discuss theodicy any further it is important to note two other ways of dealing with the problem of evil: 1) what can be called a Complete Refutation and 2) the Free Will Defense.
2.1 Complete Refutation. A Complete Refutation (CR) involves a denial that there are any facts about the world that serve as even prima facie evidence that it is unreasonable to believe that God exists. This argument attempts to render the argument from evil–that the fact and/or amount of evil in the world make it unreasonable to believe in the existence of God–totally invalid. CR would, of course, in theory, be the most compelling argument to the theist attempting to defend God’s existence. However, there are (at least) two things that make it implausible: 1) No theistic argument (to my knowledge) has succeeded in proving the argument from evil to be utterly invalid, and proving the argument from evil to be invalid seems to be the burden of CR. Thus, this type of theistic argument appears to have an abysmal track record in responding to the problem of evil, and that, of course, is the strongest criticism against it. 2) The second reason is closely related to the first. In fact, it provides perhaps the fundamental reason for the aforementioned abysmal track record: it fails to take evil seriously enough. Remember, the purpose of CR is not merely to show the general implausibility of the argument from evil, or to demonstrate why it is not logically inconsistent to propose that both God and evil exist. Rather, the purpose is to demonstrate that there is no evil which has ever existed or could ever exist that could ever logically lead someone to deny the existence of God. Of course, we already know that this is not the case; many people have experienced evils that have led them to that conclusion and we can expect the same to continue to happen in the future. We may, in fact, even sympathize greatly with such people. Furthermore, most of us can probably think of theoretical situations in which our encounter with particularly horrendous evils may lead us at least to consider the possibility that God does not exist. Hence, a Complete Refutation does not work theoretically or practically. Fortunately for the theist, it doesn’t have to.
2.2 Defenses. The other way of dealing with the problem of evil is to simply invoke a defense against it. A defender merely needs to be able to show that it is not logically incompatible to assert both the existence of God and the existence of evil. The most famous defense is the Free Will Defense (FWD), which asserts that, given that God has given all creatures genuine freedom, what creatures do with that freedom is necessarily beyond God’s control. Thus, it may be that God cannot actualize a world in which all persons choose good over evil. FWD has much to commend it, not the least of which is that even some atheists believe it solves the logical problem of evil.
However, Free Will Defense is not, strictly speaking, a full-blown theodicy (and, of course, it certainly is not nor does it purport to be a complete refutation). FWD seems more apt to serve the purpose of defending against the central logical contradiction of the problem of evil, asserting both the existence of God and evil. FWD provides the theist with “breathing room” within which she can continue to maintain her interpretive faith-world without being judged as “irrational.” Thus, it deals mainly with the theoretical dimension of the problem. Peter van Inwagen describes a defense as “a story that is put forward, not as true, but as ‘true for all anyone knows.’” Hence, a defense does not seek to provide justifying, positive, explanatory reasons for the problem of evil, as does a theodicy.
2.3 Theodicies. Theodicies are mainly distinguished from defenses by their assertion of positive justifications for the co-existence of God and evil. In other words, they attempt to marshal constructive reasons for such a seemingly inconceivable co-existence. Nevertheless, FWD has been seen as so logically strong that it has come to be a part of most contemporary theodicies. The idea of genuine human freedom is highly attractive to a great number of theists, probably most likely because it appears to be intuitively true. Thus, if God has granted humankind this genuine freedom then it logically follows that he does not control the decisions we make with such freedom, leading to the natural conclusion that both good and evil are chosen by human persons. Taking this as a foundation, a theodicy will then seek to explain the likely consequences of such freedom, what God can or cannot do on account of it, and what the nature of God must or must not be for the same reasons. Hence, FWD is a necessary condition for most contemporary theodicies, but it is not a sufficient condition, nor, in my view, does it seek to be.
For the average Christian theist, the essential purpose of a theodicy is not to attempt to comprehend or show whether God intervenes in the world; this is already assumed. Rather, the much more crucial question is: why does God intervene at certain times to prevent evil and at other times does not intervene? For the Process theodicist this point is moot; God never coercively intervenes and in fact does not have the power to do so. But for the traditional Christian theist this explanation is not satisfactory; God has the power in any given situation to intervene and explaining why he does or does not intervene is the central focus of theodicy. Mormon theology tries to walk a line between traditional Christian formulations and Process formulations, but for purposes of this paper it is important to note that in the scriptural instance under investigation God does appear to have the power to prevent an occurrence of horrendous evil and does not. It is to this scriptural instance that we now turn.
3.0 Background. As I will explain shortly, Alma Chapter 14 is a theodicy. That is, it offers an unequivocal explanation for why God chooses not to intervene to prevent an act of evil. Before we investigate the theology underlying this theodicy, however, it will be necessary to briefly explain its contextual background.
3.1 Context. The events leading up to the central event around which this theodicy is articulated are somewhat complex, so I will attempt to describe only what is absolutely essential to an understanding of the theodicy.
The prophet Alma, along with a newly converted companion, Amulek, are charged by God with declaring repentance to the people of a particularly wicked city. The message is, essentially, repent or be destroyed. Upon hearing the message a certain number of people are converted; however, the majority of the people do not change their ways and instead act to separate the male converts from their wives and children and expel them from the city.
And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scripture, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore, let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
At this point it should be mentioned that two additional elements make this passage even more disturbing. The first is that, taking into account earlier passages leading up to this one (which I won’t go into here), the reader must assume that Amulek’s own wife and children are among those burning in the fire. Secondly, in several earlier passages the author emphatically notes that Alma and Amulek were given power by God such that they could not be confined in prison or killed, but that they chose not to exercise this power until a later date. In other words, the author has presented this narrative in such a way that it is an unambiguous fact that God, through Alma and Amulek, has the power to intervene in this situation. Thus, there is no “Process” theological option to declare that God’s power is simply not the kind of power that makes it possible to prevent this evil occurrence. God unequivocally does have this power. The next verse offers an explanation of the reason:
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 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.
Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.
And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.”
Alma and Amulek are then bound with strong cords and imprisoned for several days, during which time they are beaten and mocked, and food and water are withheld from them. Finally, when Alma can endure it no longer, he asks God how long they were to suffer and cries for deliverance. God then grants them the aforementioned power they had previously held in abeyance and they break the cords which bound them. God then causes the prison walls to collapse, killing their persecutors who were inside. Alma and Amulek then emerge from the prison as its sole survivors. Finally, we later discover that God has destroyed the unrepentant city as he promised.
4.0 Mormon Response. Is this a satisfying theodicy? In other words, is the explanation Alma gives for why God does not prevent the horrendous suffering and death of innocent women and children satisfactory? Many Mormons do not think so. On September 14th, 2007 a Mormon blog discussed the Ama 14 text, a discussion which generated over a hundred comments. Many commented that perhaps Alma was simply mistaken in his assessment of why God did not want to intervene in this situation. Some were generally satisfied with the notion that the women and children were received by God in glory, and that it was the evil use of the freedom of the people that was the direct cause of the problem, but they nevertheless admitted that it still troubled them. Others commented that they wanted to glue the pages of Alma 14 together so that they would no longer have to deal with this disturbing explanation. Very few of the respondents viewed this theodicy as an adequate explanation for why God would not prevent evil, and none without reservations.
Given the above response, it appears that Alma 14 does indeed pose a challenge to the construction of a fully adequate Mormon theodicy (fully adequate meaning that it accounts for all the elements of uniquely Mormon theology). At first glance, it would appear that God is more concerned with “justly” judging and condemning the wicked than he is in sparing the innocent from horrible suffering and death. Just as problematic is God’s intervention on behalf of Alma and Amulek at the end of the chapter; are they deemed more important than a large group of innocent women and children? Why did God not allow the people to continue to torment Alma and Amulek and perhaps kill them for the same reason that he did not earlier intervene on behalf of the innocent, namely, in order to justly judge and condemn their evil persecutors? Perhaps it would not be unreasonable to say that if God is required by his own justice to act in such a way (or chooses, Euthyphroically, to act this way thus making it just) then so much the worse for God. Or, more to the point, so much the worse for those who believe in such a God. D.Z. Phillips pointedly describes the burden of the theodicist in assessing situations such as these:
Philosophizing about the problem of evil has become commonplace. Theories, theodicies, and defences abound, all seeking either to render unintelligible, or to justify, God’s ways to human beings. Such writing should be done in fear: fear that in our philosophizing we will betray the evils people have suffered, and, in that way, sin against them. Betrayal occurs every time explanations and justifications of evils are offered which are simplistic, insensitive, incredible, or obscene.”
Even more appropriate for the theodicy under discussion is the following from Irving Greenberg: “No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” Perhaps, if we take this statement seriously, no conceivable theodicy can meet such a standard. Whether this is true nor not, would-be Mormon theodicists do more damage than good to their position by either employing trite explanations for this Mormon theodicy or by ignoring it altogether. Before we further consider what Mormons can or should do with this disturbing theodicy, it will be necessary to consider other ways that philosophers and theologians have dealt with horrendous evil and more specifically how Mormon philosophers and theologians have outlined a Mormon response to the problem of evil.
5.0 Theodicy in Mormonism. The premier Mormon academic response to the problem of evil is an article written by LDS authors David L. Paulsen and Blake Ostler, entitled, “Sin, Suffering, and Soul-Making: Joseph Smith on the Problem of Evil.” While it is not my purpose here to analyze the article as a whole, we will need to highlight important points that emphasize why these authors believe that other theodicies are insufficient as responses to the problem of evil.
First, they note that, in addition to holding that God is omnipotent and morally perfect, traditional Christian theologians also assert that God creates all things out of nothing and has absolute foreknowledge. The upshot of this, in the authors’ view, is that God is responsible for everything that occurs, including all evil events.
Paulsen and Ostler then turn to the Soul-Making theodicy of John Hick. It is important to briefly explain Hick’s theodicy (or more accurately Paulsen and Ostler’s explanation of Hick’s theodicy) because Paulsen and Ostler utilize it in order to construct a Mormon theodicy that they find more viable. They do, however, find much of Hick’s theodicy appealing. Specifically, they agree with two aspects of Hick’s theodicy: First, that “soul-making,” or spiritual development is a highly valuable good that can only occur in an environment fraught with hardship, pain, and suffering, and where there exists genuine risk. Second, genuine spiritual development and a genuine relationship with God cannot be coerced; they must be freely accepted and embraced. However, they see four problems with Hick’s theodicy: 1) Given that God creates out of nothing, he could have created us at least a little better (perhaps more morally sensitive) than we are; 2) Hick’s Universalist belief that everyone will eventually be lured to God negates the freedom of individuals and furthermore calls into question the purpose of allowing some to suffer far worse than others; 3) Not all suffering is soul-making; some suffering is soul-destroying. The authors do not agree with Hick’s assessment that all suffering will be rendered insignificant in the Eschaton. They assert that in such a view God is finally generous, but this does not exonerate God from failing to prevent things like devastating disease and horrendous hunger throughout time; 4) Hick asserts that we will all finally be in the “finite likeness of the infinite God,” but given his belief in creation out of nothing, there is an unbridgeable ontological gulf between humankind and God, and this precludes the possibility of becoming like God in any way.
Paulsen and Ostler utilize Hick’s theodicy in order to promulgate what is, in their view, a much stronger philosophical response to the problem of evil. Four points are relevant to this discussion. 1) God’s power is conditioned by an eternal environment not entirely of his making; 2) The ultimate “essence” of persons is uncreated. This essence includes inherent freedom of the will. Therefore, there is more than one eternal will in the universe; 3) Because humans are ultimately uncreated “facts” of the universe, they existed before this life in what Mormons call a “Pre-existence.” God informed us about the nature of his soul-developing plan and informed us of the dangers fraught within it if we consented to it. That is, we knew that we would suffer and that some would suffer horribly. Nevertheless, if we are here it is because we consented to come here with adequate knowledge of what may happen to us; 4) God shares in humanity’s struggle with evil; that is, because all agents are ultimately eternal, evil is an eternal part of the universe in some way. Consequently, humans are increate self-determining selves and intelligence and growth are facts of the primordial universe, not products of God‘s creative choice.
The authors believe that though John Hick’s thesis of soul-making is a part of the Mormon view, it is not sufficient to combat the problem of evil, and that furthermore his eschatological views simply do not work at all. Paulsen and Ostler believe that these above-elucidated theses take into account the main theoretical difficulties associated with the problem of evil.
It is not my purpose here to evaluate if they succeed or fail in their general assessment. My purpose is to assess Alma 14 in light of this, the most articulate response to the problem of evil in Mormon thought. I must conclude, however, that while Paulsen and Ostler’s theodicy is philosophically strong on several points, it does not address the theodicy found in Alma 14. Of course, I highly doubt that their purpose was an all-encompassing LDS analysis of the problem of evil; I do not think they were attempting to develop an all-sufficient theodicy that takes into account all uniquely Mormon doctrines related to the problem of evil. If this was in fact their purpose then they have failed, because the theodicy in Alma 14 differs vastly from the conclusions in their article. No doubt they could formulate a response to the burning of women and children within their conceptual framework, but it would not be an explanation that resembles Alma’s. This is important to consider from a Mormon perspective: if the most scholarly, philosophical treatment of the problem of evil in Mormonism cannot fully explain a major, highly disturbing theodicy in the Book of Mormon then Mormons must look elsewhere for a potential explanation. Consequently, we’ll now take a closer look at Alma 14 itself for further elucidation.
6.0 Alma 14 and the Hebrew Bible. Many LDS commentaries on the Book of Mormon are currently extant. However, the method for dealing with Alma 14 is generally the same in each. The following is an example of one such commentary:
It appears only natural that Amulek should plead with Alma to exercise the power of the priesthood and save the righteous people from being burned to death. However, Alma, through the impressions of the Spirit, was able to see things through the eyes of eternity and said [highly problematic theodicy quoted].
This is not so much a commentary on the theodicy given by Alma, but more a repetition of what is asserted in the text itself. Furthermore, if we take what D.Z. Phillips and Irving Greenberg say in their above quotations at all seriously–and I believe we should–comments such as these are vacuous at best and a betrayal of the suffering of innocents at worst. Unfortunately, every LDS commentary I have been able to peruse on this section of the Book of Mormon is not much different from the above commentary. No different from Mormon laymembers in general, published commentators also apparently wish to deal with it quickly and move on to more pleasant passages.
One important aspect Mormon commentaries have failed thus far to grasp is the central theological concept promulgated by Alma in these verses. One might call this theological concept the Fullness of Iniquity Principle, or FI:
(FI): In order for God to justly judge the evil actions e of a person p, God must allow p, to a certain, unnamed limit, to perform e, such that God may justly act against p when e reaches aforesaid limit.
This is no doubt a strange notion, but this same idea is found in the pages of the Hebrew Bible and the Apocrypha. Some examples will be relevant:
And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Genesis 15:16)
At the end of their rule, when the transgressions have reached their full measure, a king of bold countenance shall arise, skilled in intrigue. (Daniel 8: 23)
For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. (2 Maccabees 6: 14-15)
For the evil about which you ask me has been sown, but the harvest of it has not yet come…Then I answered and said, “How long? When will these things be? Why are our years few and evil?” He answered me and said, “Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High. You indeed are in a hurry for yourself, but the Highest is in a hurry on behalf of many. Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will the harvest of our reward come?’ And the archangel Jeremiel answered and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, and measured the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled. (2 Esdras 4: 28, 33-37)
Various authors in the Hebrew Bible are concerned regarding why and how God punishes or waits to punish foreign nations and why he does the same with respect to Israel. The principle in the Hebrew Bible does not seem to directly apply to individuals as much as it does to nations; that is, it theologizes upon the view of corporate rather an individual sin. Jewish scholar Jacob Myers, commenting on this concept, has written that, “Judgment had to wait until the ‘times of the Most High,’ that is, until his Harvest. The Lord has in mind the many, which suggests that sin is cosmic in dimension and universal in scope.”
Like the Hebrew Bible, Alma 14–and, indeed, a large portion of the Book of Mormon–is concerned to explain God’s justice. The focal point is that God would not be just if he prematurely cut off the wicked in their evil actions. They must be allowed to commit a certain number of misdeeds or act wickedly for a certain amount of time before the Lord will “harvest” them and pronounce righteous judgment upon them. The question, of course, is: does this work as a theodicy?
This is certainly not a popular explanation of how and why God does or does not intervene to prevent evil. N.T. Wright, who argues that the Hebrew Bible was written “to tell the story of what God has done, is doing, and will do about evil,” nevertheless does not find this sort of justification at all appealing: “There are dark hints about wickedness being allowed to go on for a while so that, when God judges, that judgment will be seen to be just…these questions are in the Bible, but frustratingly they don’t receive very full answers.”
The rest of the Book of Mormon and other uniquely Mormon scriptures do not provide very clear answers for this type of theodicy either. What then, can we say about it?
First, we can look at one aspect of this theodicy that has been overlooked: the eschatological element. Alma says, in effect, that part of what makes God’s lack of divine intervention just is that he receives up the victims unto himself in glory. Let’s look at the role of eschatology in theodicies.
7.0 Eschatology and Theodicy. In her theodicy designed to make sense of God in the face of horrendous evils, Marilyn McCord Adams observes that a focus on the global defeat of evil fails to consider the force of horrendous evil within individual lives. She correctly sees that, given the fact of horrendous evils, and also given the apparent fact that God does not normally intervene in preventing them, she must produce a theory or framework within which an individual life ravaged by the horrors of evil can be made meaningful. Like Diogenes Allen but taking his thesis further, she sees wisdom in positing that all suffering has a positive aspect because suffering is occasion for intimacy with God. She escapes a valid critique of Allen, however, by asserting that realization of such intimate contact with God will come in the Eschaton, in participation in the Beatific Vision, in which the victims of horrendous evils will be enabled to see the positive aspects of their suffering, and thus will not wish to banish from their memories any of these occasions for intimacy with God through suffering. Allen, on the other hand, theorized that the suffering soul in this life can draw upon the experience of suffering and become more spiritually mature and cognizant of the presence of the divine, thus defeating the ever-looming question of where to find God in the face of evil. However, his position can be heavily criticized when one considers the necessarily spiritually immature, such as infants, the mentally retarded, etc. There seems to be no recourse for their sufferings in Allen’s theodicy; Adams’s theodicy, on the other hand, accounts for this shortcoming.
Does Adams’s theodicy in fact fully account for an explanation of God and evil? Adams and those who support her eschatological reasoning want to say yes. Whatever happens in this life, no matter what that may be, will be more than compensated in the next life with the Beatific Vision. Thus, this theodicy can account for any horrendous evil imaginable.
However, once again this theodicy fails to provide a sufficient condition to render it complete. Alma 14, for example, does not consider this to be the case; it is only one component of a theodicy that also seeks to examine God’s justice. While an appeal to eschatology may be a necessary condition for the formulation of any (Christian) theodicy, it is not sufficient. For the Christian theist any world without a future hope of conquering evil and living in peace would be decidedly un-Christian and unappealing. Nevertheless, I think we have a right to question what meaning or sense we can make of evil in this world both A) in light of a belief in an omni-benevolent Creator and B) if we truly believe what we do and experience in this life is significant both to us and to God in any way. N.T. Wright describes the relevance of discovering what God might have to say about this life in the Hebrew Bible:
It might have been easy [for the author of Job], if he had been of a different theological position, to say after Job’s death the angels carried him to a paradise where everything was so wonderful that he forgot the terrible time he’d had on earth. But that is emphatically not the point. The question is about God’s moral government of this world, not about the way in which we should leave this world behind find consolation in a different one. That is the high road to Buddhism, not to biblical theology…But it [the Book of Job] insists that if God is the Creator (and that, after all, is the premise of the whole book), then it matters that things be put right in Creation itself, not somewhere else.
Whatever else it says, Wright does point to the importance of trying to say something about evil now. An eschatological view may be necessary to formulating an acceptable theodicy, but it is simply not sufficient for an adequate theodicy.
Alma 14, of course, does not exclusively appeal to eschatology. We are still stuck with this strange notion of God’s justice and the seeming paradox of divine intervention within the chapter: how can God be just in not intervening on behalf of innocent children but intervening on behalf of adult men (albeit righteous, God-fearing men)? It isn’t unreasonable to conclude that this paradox does indeed pose a challenge to a broad Mormon theodicy. Of course, there are still options, but none seem fully satisfying. We could treat this episode as many Christians treat the slaughter of an entire community in Joshua 1o (and other problematic passages) and simply say that it was not an historically real event, and even if it was, the author was not justified in asserting that God commanded it. The reasons for the slaughter could be interpolations inserted by politically and ethically conscious scribes who needed to provide reasons for a troubling occurrence in Israelite history. This will of course be problematic for mainstream Mormons for whom the Book of Mormon is an historical account, but even setting that issue aside, we cannot erase or revise the text and its explicit theological content. We must deal with what is given.
Which is why saying that Alma was mistaken, or scared, or just plain cold-blooded won’t work either. We are not given anything concerning his motivations for announcing God’s reasons for not intervening, other than communication by the Spirit that told him not to. Projecting this out to the editor-at-large, Mormon, (who tells the account of Alma and Amulek in Alma 14) is similarly not feasible. It may make us feel better to believe that Alma or Mormon (or biblical editors) were merely theological simpletons or unthinking primitives but private feelings are hardly the basis for dealing with difficult scriptural texts and are highly variable and unreliable among other interested individuals besides. Where I would like to sit for awhile before moving to Part II is within the Alma-Amulek narrative and Philips’ and Greenburg’s injunctions: the fear that we betray the suffering of others (and our own sufferings) with our philosophizing, and our attempts to say something about suffering in the presence of burning children. The primary thing to ponder, the task of all scriptural interpretation: what to do with what is given?
 Stephen T. Davis, “Introduction” in Stephen T. Davis, ed. Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, 2nd Edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), ix (emphasis author’s).
 Daniel Howard-Snyder, “God, Evil, and Suffering,” in Michael J. Murray, ed. Reason For the Hope Within (Eerdman’s: 1999), 2 (emphasis author‘s).
 See William L. Rowe ed. God and the Problem of Evil (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing: 2001), 76.
 Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), emphasis mine.
 See David Ray Griffin, “Creation Out of Nothing, Creation Out of Chaos, and the Problem of Evil” in Davis, Encountering Evil, 122.
 D.Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), xi.
 Irving Greenburg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity After the Holocaust,” in John K. Roth and Michael Berenbaum, eds. Holocaust: Religious and Philosophical Implications (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1989), 315, quoted in John K. Roth, “A Theodicy of Protest: A Rejoinder,” in Davis, Encountering Evil, 30-31.
 David L. Paulsen and Blake T. Ostler, “Sin, Suffering, and Soul-Making: Joseph Smith on the Problem of Evil,” in Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, eds. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo UT: FARMS, 2002), 237-284.
 Concerning FWD, Paulsen and Ostler admit that “[Alvin] Plantinga [the foremost expositor of the modern Free Will Defense] is not interested in a position that is true or plausible, but merely to show that the proposition that ‘God exists’ is compatible with the proposition ‘evil exists.’” However, then they assert, “yet such a defense is wholly inadequate to respond to the problem of evil that actually confronts believers. He treats the problem as a mere exercise in logic. Such a limited response does nothing to vindicate trust in God in a world wracked with horrendous evils” (Paulsen & Ostler, 249). But the authors are not being totally fair to Alvin Plantinga or FWD; they are arguing that Plantinga regards FWD as a total and complete response (a theodicy) to the problem of evil. In other words they are insisting that FWD is more than a defense, that is, that it provides a sufficient and affirmative explanation for why God does or does not intervene to prevent evil. But Plantinga does not argue for this conclusion. He merely says, “The existence of God is neither precluded nor rendered improbable by the existence of evil. Of course, suffering and misfortune may nonetheless constitute a problem for the theist; but his problem is not that his beliefs are logically or probabilistically incompatible.” See Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1974), 63, emphasis author‘s.
 It is likely that, because Hick’s theodicy is the only theodicy (besides their own) that they include within their article, that the authors consider it to be the strongest theodicy in the mainline Christian tradition.
 Another criticism of the view that the Eschaton constitutes not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition to account for horrendous suffering can be seen in my “The Grandest Principle of the Gospel’: Christian Nihilism, Sanctified Activism, and Eternal Progression,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 41:3 (Fall 2008).
 Some Mormons believe that God has absolute foreknowledge, and because of this we were informed of exactly what we would undergo in this life. Paulsen and Ostler, however, do not believe that God knows the future and therefore reject this theory.
 Daniel H. Ludlow, commentary on the Book of Mormon.
 All translations from the NRSV Bible.
 In the New Testament this principle is active in Matthew 13 where we encounter the parable of the weeds and wheat.
 N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 45, emphasis author‘s.
 Ibid., 44.
 Other Mormon scriptures that assert FI are Alma 60:13, Doctrine and Covenants 103:3; 101:11.
 Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” in Marilyn McCord Adams & Robert Merrihew Adams, eds. The Problem of Evil (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 219.
 Diogenes Allen, “Natural Evil and the Love of God,” in Ibid., 207-208.
 Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 71.