There is no evil in death — no matter how widespread

January 3, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 9:46 pm   Category: Theology

The recent Tsunami in Asia has been cause for great mourning the world over. Many have turned to blogs to try to determine how they can help. Many have questioned God in blogs as well. It is on God’s role in the disaster I will opine.

I suppose there has never been a disaster that hasn’t caused some to cry out: “Where is God? Why did he let this happen?” Some at Times and Seasons questioned why God didn’t send President Hinckley to the rescue before the disaster. Many called this disaster a great “evil.”

A few years ago I finally read the entire Old Testament from cover to cover and came away with a startling conclusion: In general, God doesn’t much care about human life or death. It was startling because I and everyone I know care about death very much. But this life can, and often does, end in an instant and God rarely seems to intervene. The scriptures seem to say to me over and over that God only really cares about human choices and He mostly lets nature take its course, even when it cut many lives seemingly short. In other words, He only seems to really care whether we are choosing right or wrong, to become more righteous or wicked, to repent or regress, to improve or worsen. I guess it is the ancient doctrine of the Two Ways.

How can I defend this idea about God’s opinion of mortal life and death? Well I think the whole of scripture defends the statement, but logically it is not to hard to defend either. Elder Maxwell was fond of reminding us that “you’ve never seen a star that is older than you”. In other words, we are eternal and coming and going from this world is of little consequence to God. The choices we make in between mean everything. And this is true no matter who we are or where we live(d) in our mortal probation. The prophet Ezekiel said it best in chapter 18. Basically, the person who is repenting (improving, changing for the better or more righteous) is infinitely better off than the person who is not actively repenting. The parable of the talents adds more to this concept.

So is a natural disaster an evil? Many seem to think so.

My Random House dictionary gave the following definitions of evil:
1. morally wrong or bad.
2. harmful or injurious.
3. unfortunate or disastrous.

While horrible natural disasters certainly fit the secondary definitions of the word – are they “morally wrong or bad”? If so, then only God can be charged with this “evil”. I am unwilling to indict God of evil – He knows what He is doing.

It seems that it is popular to call all things awful evil. Philosophers talk about the problem of evil while lumping all the meanings of the word into one sloppy whole. Why use the word “evil” for death if the meaning you are after is not the primary meaning of “evil”?

(Why does any of this matter? Because “evil” is a powerful and evocative word and a vital word we use to teach the gospel – and there is little in life more important than teaching the gospel. If we allow the word to become so diluted that it loses its primary meaning and becomes a catch-all for all things bad, harmful, or injurious we lose a valuable tool.)

So I believe there is no “evil” in death itself – no matter how widespread or tragic – because death in itself is not a moral wrong. There is only evil in choices. This horrible disaster is a chance for evil or good to occur… and both will. Charity will be shown and property will be looted. Some will act and others will ignore. For me it is a question of will I act and change for the better or ignore the pain of others. My plan is to do the one thing I know I can do… Open my checkbook and put off that planned purchase so some poor grieving Sumatran father can have a something to start rebuilding with…

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