Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
“There Are Two Problems with This Life:
(1) There’s too much Suffering, and
(2) It’s too Short”—Woody Allen
[p. 35] About twenty years ago, I thought “Leaves of Grass” was an album by Lynard Skynard, and “theodicy” a poem by Homer. I trust my current misconceptions will be equally as humorous to me twenty years from now, for as Will Rogers said, “We’re all ignorant, just on different topics.” Of course, now I know that “theodicy” refers to the theological problem regarding the existence of evil in the universe and goes something like this: If God is all-powerful and approving, then why does he allow suffering, both moral evil (where we hurt each other) and natural evil (where nature hurts us)? And it goes without saying that I [p.36] now know “Leaves of Grass” was a Cheech & Chong dialogue on their “Smokin’” album.
Back to the theodicy. I’m sure we’re familiar with some of the standard arguments used to solve the problem. Moral evil is necessary for free will. Okay, I can buy that. It doesn’t help much with natural evils such as cancer or earthquakes, though. Someone once argued that evil simply doesn’t exist (an argument favored by Christian Scientists), and this is the first line of argument I suspect a lawyer might try, although the proof is difficult to demonstrate for the jury. See how forcefully that argument can be made by a lawyer you’ve pushed into the path of a careening dumptruck. Other arguments have been made as well, such as the argument favored by Candide and lampooned by Voltaire that “this world is the best of all possible worlds.” And for all the fanfare the Book of Job gets, I tend to squirm when I read it, uncomfortable with some of its premises. First, Satan seems to be able to just waltz right into the Celestial Kingdom at will and not only have an audience with God (Job 1:6-12), but gets God to agree to place a wager about Job! For me, at least, this argues strongly for Job being a drama, unintended in all particulars as history. Then God’s answer to Job seems less than satisfying (a slightly distorted paraphrase follows): “Where were you when I created the earth? Can you hook Leviathan’s nose? Well, then be still and [p.37] know that I am God.” In spite of my sniping, though, I think it important that the Book of Job is in the canon, because it rids us of the idea that all suffering is caused by personal sin.
Mormon theologians, in treating the problem of suffering, have often taken advantage of our rejection of an “ex nihilo” (from nothing) creation and its corollary that, as pre-earthlife existent entities, we “assumed the risk” of coming into a mortality in which bad things could happen to us, sometimes even if God could stop them from happening (which still remains inscrutable, since sometimes God does, and sometimes he doesn’t). Although suffering is no laughing matter, J. Golden Kimball, of all people, made a contribution to Mormon thought regarding the problem. There was a sister whose brother had died, a young man who left a young family and who had been a pillar in the community. She asked J. Golden why God would allow this to happen, and of all things, especially when her other brother, a scoundrel at best, was left as healthy as a horse with no promise of dying any time soon. J. Golden pondered the question for a moment, and then said, “Sister, I reckon the Lord didn’t want that jack-ass of a brother any more than you do.” She then smiled, gave Brother Golden a hug, and said, “That’s the best answer I’ve heard yet. “
[p.38] All of this brings us to Doctrine and Covenants 121 and 122. In my book, this is the climax of the D&C, both as literature and as inspiration. While incarcerated inside the intolerable conditions of Liberty Jail and awaiting an uncertain fate, after having witnessed the depredations of Missouri mobs against his people, Joseph Smith records the deepest questions of his heart: Why has God suffered his people to suffer, why hasn’t he avenged them, and why is his face hidden? God responds: “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment” (D&C 121:7); “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7); “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8). Life, although many things, is suffering. And, surprisingly enough, at least to Enoch (Moses 7:28-29), emotional suffering—grief—appears to be a part of eternal life as well and must be accepted.
A couple of years ago I read The Tao of Pooh in which a fairly well-known picture of Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-Tse standing by a vinegar vat is discussed. The vinegar represents life. Confucius and Buddha reject its bitter taste, but Lao-Tse smiles as he tastes it. I suspect the painting was made by a Taoist. As I read this passage, I had a vision/daydream in which I saw this scene and recognized an additional person stand- [p.39]ing next to these oriental sages: Joseph Smith. They all dipped their goblets into the vat. Confucius tipped his goblet just to barely fill its bottom and drank it. His face bunched up together in a Sour expression like a prune. He rested his goblet on the side of the vat. Buddha rubbed his stomach, dipped his glass into the vat, and took a sip only to spit it out behind him. He tossed his glass to the ground. Lao-Tse dunked his goblet into the vat, drank its contents, and smiled. Then Joseph Smith rolled up his sleeves, picked up his and Confucius’ goblets, splashed them into the vat, and quaffed both of them down. Joseph sat the goblets on the vat, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, slapped Lao-Tse on the back, and leaned backwards laughing, his eyes watering.