God’s “plaiting” of evil

This will not be a commentary but a question. And I really do want some answers. I’m posting it on T&S, but I hope bloggers from all over will add insights. I want a deeper understanding and recognize that people like Jim Faulconer, Kevin Barney, Julie Smith, and others who have studied the scriptures better than I and looked at the etymology of the words can help me understand.

The scripture is Genesis 20:50, and applies beautifully to Easter. It is variously translated, but says basically, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” It is Joseph addressing his brothers, who have sold him into slavery and are now at his feet asking for deliverance. It is clearly a type and shadow of everything we celebrate on Easter.

From my very amateur studies, I see that the word “intended” in its original literally meant “to plait, weave, or to braid.” So we get something like “What you wove into evil, God wove into good.”

I suspect all of us could testify that the worst moments in our lives where the very times we found how strong we could be, but I’d like to go a little deeper. Of course, all religions address the question of whether of not God invented evil. What I want to explore is how God can take our own evil acts and “braid” them into a miracle. Does He already know that we (speaking of us as humanity) will commit atrocities–and specifically which ones we’ll commit? Did he know that it would be Judas who would betray Jesus Christ? Was there a plan to weave that evil into Judas’ own tapestry, and not just to leave him hanging as an example for Dante to use centuries later? Can God possibly weave our evil deeds into acts chapters of deliverance and mercy if we refuse to ask for that miracle? Or if we don’t know the miracle is available?

A very brief context: My dad raised me with hard questions. I remember him asking me when I was about ten years old if I would serve coffee to a guest in my home who was a coffee drinker. Not a terribly difficult question, but fraught with ambiguities for a ten-year-old. (Grandma was a coffee drinker, and made her own coffee when she visited us.) A few sundays ago, Dad asked my kids, “So can good ever come out of evil?” Most of us would give quick responses to that question, but my kids were being invited to think about the nature and purpose of evil, and I had a sweet flashback of all the times Dad had posed difficult questions to me over the dinner table. (I wish Bruce and I did better with that. Our questions tend to be, “So what did you learn in Sunday School?”)

So this little blog is simply a request for deeper understanding and insights from the people I have come to know through the bloggernacle. I want to know more about that verb which we translate as “intended” or “meant.” How else has it been used in the scriptures? What does it imply about the workings of God? What does it tell us about God’s foreknowledge? How early in our lives does the braid begin?

A final observation: I mentioned _Places in the Heart_ on another blog. Another film I love (very different from _Places in the Heart_) is _Judgment at Nuremberg._ In it, a great German judge, Ernst Janning, is being judged by an American judge for his part in the Nazi judicial system. After sentencing, Janning requests an audience with the American judge and says, “You must understand. Those people [referring to the murdered Jews]–all those people. I never knew it would come to that.” The American judge answers, “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you condemned to death a man you knew to be innocent.”

Thus, the braid was begun and its end apparently inevitable from the first time Janning allowed himself to dip into evil. But is there another braid or weaving begun at the same moment, which anticipates exactly what the final picture will look like and begins its own design to weave the evil into good?

32 comments for “God’s “plaiting” of evil

  1. Let me just apologize straight off for all those typos. Unlike just about everybody else, I don’t know how to return to a post and edit it. So be patient with the errors and know that if I were grading this particular blog, I would write, “Don’t you know how to proofread? Please consult with a tutor at the writing lab.”

  2. This is one of the hardest and deepest of all religious questions, Margaret. It is one thing to have faith that Jesus, through His atonement, will return “beauty for ashes,” making all our sins and weaknesses into strengths. But that transformation is the result of an intervention in the meridian of time, an interruption of the moral order as we know it, an interruption that we have to respond to. Here, you ask if it might not have been case that God wove evil, and evil that turns into good, into the fabric of our lives from the beginning, meaning those threads are there whether we know it or not, act on it or not.

    I suspect the answer is “yes.” And what that means for our “agency”…well, I’m not sure.

  3. Margaret,

    Good post. I have absolutely nothing to add on the Hebrew translation point.

    As for the larger question, like Russell, it’s a question that I ask myself sometimes (in my case, I tend to think about it most often when it might be personally relevant). I can’t claim to have any deep answers, but I discussed a relatively similar point a year ago, in a post titled “The Spiritual Benefits of Sin,” wondering about whether spiritual benefits that we ultimately receive after sin could have been received without sin, or whether some benefits actually depend on and grow from sin. That post is at http://timesandseasons.org/?p=2851 , and a nice discussion followed in comments.

  4. (Margaret, I think your scriptural reference is mistaken. Are you referring to Genesis 45:5-8?) I look forward to the discussion.

  5. I found my personal, painful answer to this some years ago. I became caught up in sins that hurt my family and others as well as myself. After some time, a confession, accelerated by my daughter’s prompting, led me to the amazing grace of God’s forgiveness and healing. My confession also resulted in felony conviction, disfellowshipment, and eventual divorce.

    As I learned how to enjoy life, with the new heart God gave me, I also learned the depth of the pains I’d caused other people by my self-centered earlier existence. This caused me a new kind of pain until my SP and my wife taught me to forgive myself.

    I then came upon my version of your question. I had the weaknesses of character in me that led to the sins I committed against others. I would not get near the Celestial Kingdom with that natur(al man) in me. God set this life for us to repent of sins, change our natures, be healed through Christ’s atonement, and be able to dwell with him in glory. I could have repented of my nature (or however that should be phrased) without comitting my sins but I did not. The exceeding guilt I felt from those egregious sins was what got me over the hurdle to repentance, change of nature, etc. God, in His infinite love, wanted me back and knew this would be what would trigger what I needed to do to return. He likely set it up.

    This is all fine for me but it means that His plan was that my children would suffer my abuses to trigger my healing. My wife (long before our divorce and her death) planted the seed of this concept when she once told me that God knew this would happen to our daughter and sent her anyway. A decade later, I still don’t know how to respond/accept/comprehend this. It just sits in my heart and in my gut as a dead weight. And sometimes I wonder whether God sees that I need this weight now to keep old nature from returning until I mature in my new nature sometime later – much as Korihor’s curse remained as a governor after he confessed. This is exacerbated by my wife leaving the Church after our divorce and taking our children out with her.

    Pride hasn’t been much of a problem for me since. With the new humility, I’ve grown in spiritual insights and have been able to help other men save their marriages, do work to help the poor, find ways to help others repent of their serious sins, and felt God’s approbation in much that I do. But every time I find ways to help others and myself to grow spiritually, I feel that I’m standing on the spiritual bodies of my wife and children to do it. I do find joy in others’ and my growth but it’s always tempered by the recognition of the price I made my family pay for it.

    Fortunately, the gospel offers me hope: the same healing I received through the atonement is available to my family (and everyone else). My daily prayers are that people will come into their lives to help them come back, that the Spirit will soften their hearts, that the seeds planted when they were at Church will sprout. I also find hope in JS’s comment about sealed children returning (third paragraph from end here) – at least our sealing survives, tenuously, my disfellowshipment and my wife’s apostasy.

    So, my answer to your question is that God found a way to bring healing to me through evil I caused to my family and, I hope, eventual healing for them also. Thank you for asking about this now because Easter’s hope makes it easier to reflect upon this issue.

  6. Margaret,

    You have your Gen reference chapter and verse flipped, its 50:20.

    God does make good from evil, does it all the time. That is the very idea behind the covenant curses of Lev. 26 and Deut. 28. If Israel does well, then they are blessed. But, if they rebel, then they will be afflicted until they humble themselves and repent and return to the Lord. This pattern is all through the rest of the OT and is liberally applied throughout the BofM as well. Nephi is shown at the very beginning that it is a necessary thing to have Laman and Lemuel make it to the Promised Land so that their seed might afflict his seed and keep them righteous for as long as possible. The Lord planned this from the start, because he did not want the children of Abraham to end up like the Jaredites:extinct.

    In the particular case of Joseph from Genesis, Joseph starts out a rotten spoiled brat who tattles on his brothers, so his brothers cannot stand him. What they do is inexcusable, but it put Joseph into an adverse situation, which chastened him and brought about a great change in him, made him work hard, stop whining and recognize the hand of God in all things. And, in the long run, his position in Egypt made it possible for him to preserve his family from famine. Sure, they ended up in bondage later on, and all that, but adversity keeps people humble. And the Lord knows it.

  7. Thank you for that beautiful response, Manaen.
    Rosalynde–I think you’re right that I gave the wrong citation, though the one I gave says something similar to Genesis 45:5-8. (See why I need you wonderful scriptorians?)
    Kaimi–you know, I remember learning once that Dostoevsky said he sinned so that he could fully enjoy the depths of repentence. I don’t have an exact quite. Quite an idea, though. Not something I’d put in “For The Strength of Youth.”
    RAF–Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful “beauty for ashes” verse.

  8. Here’s a thought: we tend to see events as distinct and separate from each other, but perhaps from God’s perspective, since he is omniscient and has a perspective on the world that is not as limited as ours, he sees everything that happens as one great whole. That is, he sees how everything is interrelated, and when he sees an event, he not only sees that event but how everything else in the universe ties into that event. Therefore, although there is good and evil, God uses his infuence such that at the end, the whole is good. Perhaps the problem is that we need to learn how to look at evil and bad, not as separate events, but as how they relate to the whole. It’s all a cycle, and we need to see that.

    Not sure if that ties in with what you meant by the question. And now I think I’ll stop mingling the philosophy of onelowerlight with scripture.

  9. Margaret,

    Ahh, those crazy Russians. Rasputin is said to have used the same line of reasoning to great effect among the beautiful married women of Russian nobility. You’re probably right, though, that it’s not something to put into “For the Strength of Youth.”

  10. Wow–I really like that thought, onelowerlight.
    My own sense of things (subject to all sorts of eternal correction) is that mortal life is pre-school. Kindergarten starts after death. The core lessons we learn here are to repent, to forgive, and to love. We may not learn them completely, but we will be given MANY opportunities, painful and often beautiful, to begin learning them. Death teaches us so much about love as we recognize how important a deceased loved one really was to us, how much of our world has changed because of their passing. (Twelve years after her death, I still have an impulse to call my best friend when something interesting happens in my life.)
    In my fantasies, I imagine that when we all meet again beyond this life, we will be able to feel the anguish we caused each other, and others will be able to feel ours–but it’ll come with joy, because it’ll be covered in grace. Braided throughout with grace.
    I remember reliving the birth of my youngest son AFTER it was over. The birth itself, since I can’t have epidurals, was very painful, and since I had already given birth three times, I knew exactly what was ahead of me in that last push. (That was when I told Bruce, “I don’t want to do this.” He answered, just like a man, “It’s too late.”) Then, just an hour later, I literally relived it–this miracle of bringing a human life through my body. I remembered everything. I was completely aware of how beautiful it was, but none of the pain was there. I kept repeating, “Beautiful. Beautiful.”
    Please excuse all of this speculation, but I personally think our mortal experience will be collective as well as individual–which is similar to what you expressed, onelowerlight. We will meet God as a family, newly educated in the hard lessons intrinsic to mortality and ready to learn more. All of human experience will be available to us–and must be.
    Thanks for these great thoughts.

  11. It can’t possibly mean that God has a better perspective on everything than we do, so that he’s somehow directing our lives in spite of the apparent problems we face. That’s just Panglossian nonsense.

    You have to take it in context with the narrative. After mercilessly toying with his brothers, Joseph has come clean and they are (rightly) afraid of his wrath. Joseph must assuage their fears in order to come to reconcile with them. This is Joseph’s way of saying, “No harm, no foul.” I’m not a big believer in the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” tragic misfortune only rarely has a silver lining. Life either goes on or it doesn’t. There is such a thing as dumb luck. I think it’s a mistake (perhaps harmful) to try to read a deeper doctrinal significance into this one.

  12. I really like the scripture and your post in general. I have a different take on how God might work with us. I tend to think that, with precious few exceptions, God does not actively intervene in our lives other than through the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Life\’s experience plays out depending on our own and others\’ agency and choices. Our understanding (or embracing) of the gospel allows us to look at our experiences with a certain perspective. The \”coincidences\”, \”little miracles\”, \”warm-fuzzy stories we read in the Ensign\”, are not a result of God choosing to proaactively intervene in our life at that moment. Rather, they are a result (or by-product) of God ever-constantly trying to influence all His children through the Holy Spirit. As we follow the spirit and choose righteously, we are blessed and we bless others.

    On the flip side, evil happens when we or others choose evil. Not when God \”allows\” it to happen to us.

    I have to say that I don\’t pretend to know how God works. This is just the way that I\’ve made sense of it. I leave room in my interpretation for grand miracles. This is just fine. Who am I to say that God can\’t do what he wants. He won\’t, however, do a whole lot to get in the way of his childrens\’ agency–I feel pretty confident in that. We fought a battle over that one.

    ps. I know that ever-constantly isn\’t a word!

  13. In #7, Margaret writes: “I remember learning once that Dostoevsky said he sinned so that he could fully enjoy the depths of repentence.

    Really? To me, it doesn’t sound like him at all. Would Raskalnikov want to kill another pawnbroker so that he could go through that all over again? Dostoyevsky was devout and seems likely to have taken Romans 3:8 seriously.

  14. If only authors were as good as their characters, Chris! Why would Tolstoy have left his wife when he so obviously believed in marriage? What familiarity did Dostoevsky have with sin and sensuality to be able to CREATE Raskalnikov at all? Or Ivan? And can it possibly be that the very man who wrote so compellingly about marriage in _Much Ado About Nothing_ , _As You Like It_ and _Measure for Measure_ had a problem with fidelity in his real life? (Or maybe he couldn’t have written MforM if he didn’t know the dimensions of lust.) I wish I could give you the quote I heard, and I grant that I may very well not be remembering it correctly. I recall a phrase like “the luxury of repentence,” but I know that my memory is faulty.
    But the post isn’t really about Russian novelists or British playwrights, but about a particular scripture (Genesis 50:20–#6 was right that I flipped it) which I’m trying to understand better.

    DKL–I think “panglossian” is a very cool word, and I intend to use it frequently now. The problem implied by God’s foreknowledge or lack of it is one we all faced in Seminary. (Didn’t we?) I don’t recall hearing anyone come to a consensus. What about that “toying” Joseph engages in? Why is that included in the scriptures? Especially with Joseph serving so clearly as a type of the “Suffering Servant of Israel,” why do we see him entrap his brothers? (And for that matter, there’s all sorts of cheating/tricking throughout the OT, which seems ultimately to be aimed at a good outcome–like getting the birthright blessings to the RIGHT son, which his mother recognizes though his father is blind. [Put that under scriptural documentation of feminine intuition.]
    But I think you seriously underestimate the “braiding” going on throughout Joseph’s story. I don’t think the brothers’ betrayal of Joseph (even if Pesash Chummitz is right that young Joseph was a little bratty) was necessarily planned by God; after all, it’s told in retrospect. But once the evil begins, that other, divine braiding also seems to begin. Everywhere Joseph goes, he is braided into a larger plot even as he acts on his own.
    Then again, we do have Jesus knowing beforehand that Judas would betray him. What we don’t know is when Judas’s free act became something the Lord knew would happen. And we have Jesus telling Peter what will happen thrice before the cock crows. Why is this very specific, individual prophecy included?
    And then there’s Adam and Eve…
    Maybe Shakespeare is a good example after all. He took some lousy plays and made them into masterpieces. He used elements of character and plot and then wove them together with his own genius, transforming them into works which would long outlive him.
    If Shakespeare were God…

  15. Margaret, Joseph’s story is told from retrospect, and it’s told because it’s remarkable (leaving aside the question of whether it’s true). Nobody else who was sold into slavery seems to have become the 2nd-in-command to Pharaoh. Are we to conclude that God forsook them?

    Art Spiegelman’s Maus portrays Art talking with a holocaust survivor about how he (Art) felt that his own (Art’s) father survived the holocaust. Art says that he admires the courage and resourcefulness that it demonstrates in his father. The survivor with whom Art is speaking responds by asking a question to the effect, “And do you think that those who died in the holocaust were cowardly and unresourceful?”

    I just don’t see anything particularly revealing about the way that God interacts with man in this story. I understand that the author of the book sees God’s hand in Joseph’s life, but that’s just a way of making the story clean and simple — as I’ve written elsewhere, that’s all that invoking God’s name in history seems to accomplish much of the time. In the end, I don’t see too many key takeaway’s in the story besides the lesson of forgiveness demonstrated by Joseph’s reconciliation with his family; thus, we see Joseph dismissing the evil of their dead by pointing out the position that it put him in.

    For my part, it seems to me that, whatever other skills he might have had, Joseph is just lucky and unlucky at intervals. Sure, a lot of history seemed to ride on the fact that Joseph came through. But a lot of history also rides on the fact that Caesar was assassinated.

    It’s worth noting, by the way, that Joseph’s gift of interpreting dreams is the first supernatural power attributed to a man in the Old Testament. (We can’t count Jacob’s funny trick with the sticks, because it’s not clear what he’s doing.) Ultimately, it functions as a Deus ex machina to resolve the Joseph’s problem in jail and promote him to the 2nd in command over Egypt.

  16. Actually, DKL, I thought about several of your points while I was composing my last post. I thought about them BEFORE you posted, which means that you are braided into my own ideas, probably by divine intent. Welcome to my world.

    I read your link, and I plan on reading it again when I finish the other things I’m doing besides blogging. Lots to think about, and lots which applies to my own life and past–but that’s not for now.

    I really did think about POV and authorial intent as I wrote my last post. Joseph’s story would be a much different if Judah were telling it, and much, much different if Asenath were telling it. If Potipher’s wife told it, Joseph would be quite a scoundral. We have no way of knowing what embellishments the writer plugged in, how he or she chose what details to include and what not to include. Clearly the writer meant to tell a particular “our side of the” story. But it is not overtly about God’s interactions with man, but about the way God weaves the events towards something different than the original direction the story seemed to be headed.

    To be honest, I have had events in my own life which have gone from being quite trivial to becoming something far beyond me, and I’ve felt almost unwittingly involved in a much bigger picture–and someone else was in charge, a greater artist than I could ever hope to be. My faith suggests that these have been miracles, not dumb luck. (I loved Kevin Barney’s letter to his younger self where he recommends looking for and acknowledging miracles.)

    Then again, I come to Eli Wiesel’s poignant, simple expression of how his faith disappeared at Auschwitz. We want a redemptive story to come from the Holocaust, don’t we? We have _Schindler’s List_, but it doesn’t quite cover the massiveness of what happened, and what has happened many times before in history.

    As a kid, I asked my SS teacher why God let so many people be killed in the Holocaust. I stumped him. But my grandmother was very ready with a smiling answer: “God needed the Jews to go to Israel, Dear. It’s in the scriptures. This was the only way to do it.”

    Don’t think that that last paragraph indicates that I agree with all of your assumptions. I don’t. But you make some good points nonetheless.

  17. “God needed the Jews to go to Israel, Dear. It’s in the scriptures. This was the only way to do it.”

    Reminds me of the apocryphal explanation from a pioneer for journey westward: “We came voluntarily, because we had to.”

  18. Ah, Providence. How shall we understand you? This central tension of a present God and a potent God in the face of the vagaries of existence. I think DKL is being a bit strenuous about the melancholy semi-nihilist view which is easiest to accept on rationalistic grounds. I am more interested in the notion of the present God, something like Gene England’s weeping God. In that sense (and with considerable exegetical license), I see the metaphor of Joseph’s account as a statement of God’s unwavering commitment to us at some confusing but holy level, a belief that God will be with us on the journey. I’m probably a little more Calvinist than DKL but would not be well-received in the orthodox Evangelical fold. I see God as more than the traditional dichotomy; I see his presence in the good and bad, though not necessarily his authorship of particular events. And though I hate the potential for Covey-esque distortion of ideas, I do believe that God is forward-looking rather than backward-looking (recognizing that this temporality may be metaphorical), and that he can sanctify even something as horrifying as the trauma disclosed in #5. Was God in the concentration camps? I believe he was, seeking earnestly to sanctify a situation of nearly unparalleled horror. Was he the author of the concentration camps? No.

  19. I don’t think God MAKES good from evil. He knows, and he plans. I see it more that he doesn’t take the same thread and “turn” it; he starts a thread the same time we do, and weaves beside us.

    One of the biggest regrets in my life was returning to Ricks when I probably shouldn’t have. Perhaps it “ruined” my life and the lives of others. The greatest consolation I have is, at the end of the semester, having helped a sister repent. I received her temple marriage invitation the last day of my mission. I thank God that at least there was one thing good that came from it.

    I think God wants us all to do all the good we can, wherever, and however “wicked” we are; and often gives us opportunities to do so.

  20. Bertrand Russell said,

    Religion has, however, other appeals besides that of terror; it appeals specifically to our human self-esteem. If Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be; they are of interest to the Creator of the universe, who takes the trouble to be pleased with them when they behave well and displeased when they behave badly. This is a great compliment. We should not think of studying an ants’ nest to find out which of the ants performed their formicular duty, and we should certainly not think of picking out those individual ants who were remiss and putting them into a bonfire.

    I’ve quoted part of this in a comment I made to another post. In this case, I wish to point out that Russell’s initial inference, “If Christianity is true, mankind are not such pitiful worms as they seem to be” is incorrect. Christianity is true, and we are such pitiful worms as we seem to be (nothing personal, everybody). The self-aggrandizing aspects of religion are also the most transparently preposterous from the scientific and rational points of view. All these humans swarming like an incalculable number of ants or gnats — sure, God knows exactly which ones are going to do what just by looking. But how many of them are really in the critical path of God’s plan? The answer is none, if we’re to believe the reprimand that Joseph received when he lost the 116 pages. Anyway, that’s how I deal with the problem of God’s foresight.

    With Joseph of Egypt’s story, the braiding that you describe strikes me more as plot devises to move the story through its different conflicts.

  21. Panglossian DKL … seems like a Snarkernacle post …

    But seriously. How many of you have ever played a game on your computer? How many would keep playing if all you did was push a single button and it came up “You win” every time? (There are variants of that game, btw, and they are not terribly successful). How many of you play games where you lose, and keep playing them? Solitaire, for example?

    As I’ve taken another look at games, especially role playing games after a long hiatus (mostly because I had some papers that sold for several thousand dollars after I was contacted by someone looking for insight into them, it got me looking back at the industry for a while), things like Life With Master, or Dogs In The Vineyard (LDS themed role-playing that is considered a critical and commercial success), I’ve been impressed by how much hardship is important to the lives people choose to simulate.

    For the most part, with most people, if they were an unseen force guiding their own lives, their own lives would have more hardship in them than their lives have now, or so it seems.

    But if we provide the threads, God weaves the tapestry from them, making use of what we provide in order to make what we need from it. So yes, this is the best of all *possible* worlds (though perhaps not the best of the impossible ones).

    Hmm, I’ll have to blog on this at http://ethesis.blogspot.com/

  22. In #14, Margaret Young writes: “If only authors were as good as their characters, Chris! . . .What familiarity did Dostoevsky have with sin and sensuality to be able to CREATE Raskalnikov at all?

    I’m confused. In the first sentence you seem to be arguing against the autobiographical nature of fiction writing, while in the second sentence you seem to be arguing for it.

    I wish I could give you the quote I heard, and I grant that I may very well not be remembering it correctly. I recall a phrase like “the luxury of repentence,” but I know that my memory is faulty.

    Google knows of a total of 6 uses of the phrase “luxury of repentance”, none of them having anything to do with Dostoyevsky. There are, however, on the order of thousands of Google hits confirming what Kaimi said in #9. Until you come through with your quote, I’ll consider this the Gospel According to Rasputin.

  23. I think that’s fine, Chris. The point of the post never was Dostoevsky’s views on the gospel–though that would make a fine (albeit lengthy) post indeed.
    You have such a good mind. I really would like to hear your insights about the actual question I posed–which was posed with a sincere intent to understand the scriptures better.

  24. My favorite scriptures on this topic are:

    D&C 59: 21, And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

    Romans 8: 28, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

    Epictetus, one of the great Stoic philosophers, starts out his work “The Enchiridion” (or here for alternate translation) dividing everything into things in our control, and things outside of our control.

    I love The Enchiridion because it helped me understand some Christian and LDS principles that I was having problems with. Epictetus goes a long way to helping one understand, or at least giving one philosophical tools with which to underand why people suffer, and how to deal with it.

    Though not a Christian, Epictetus’ Stoicism seems to have much overlap with Christianity. And being an outsider, he used vocabulary outside of the Christian paradigm, which helps in understanding, and avoiding circular reasoning. His practical analysis also reminds me of C.S. Lewis.

    Our contact with things outside of our control, most of which are the result of others’ agency, can be ascribed to God’s hand, because he decreed the bounds of our habitation, the where and when of our birth, and also the where and when of those who take action which affects us.

    I have to conclude that God allows evil at the same time he allows agency, yet he plans around it.

    One of the first logical deductions that must be made from the assumption or belief that there is an omniscient being with power over our world and our existance is that everything that such being doesn’t directly cause, said being allows.

    The ultimate thing that God is in control of is where, when and to whom we are born. As far as we know, only God has the ability to infuse a pre-mortal spirit into the baby in the womb.

    I believe that to most people it probably seems easy to reconcile God’s hand in someone’s death if they die by accident or disease. But what if they are murdered, or die by someone else’s carelessness? Epictetus has a remarkable rejoinder: “What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back?”. An alternate translation is equally poignant, ”What is it to you by whose hands he who gave it has demanded it again?

  25. About authors being acquainted with sin or not. Remember it is darkness that does not comprehend the light, not the other way around. The spirit can teach all things which means we don’t really need to learn from experience. However, Christ suffered in the flesh despite the Spirit knowing all things that he might succor us in our afflictions.

  26. I have pondered the same thing for years. I like to take these deep question and work on them until I have an answer. It may not be the perfect answer, but it is to the best understanding that I currently have. Which will change as I gain more understanding.

    Joseph and all his brothers had agency. Joseph used his agency wisely. I don’t believe that God set his brothers up to do evil. But he in his knowledge knew that they would choose to do it. He knew that they would be come jealous of their younger brother. That they would let this jealousy turn their hearts against him. Was there some guidance from God as to how things turned out? Yes, mostly because of Josephs faithfulness and the promises made to the fathers.

    Joseph’s brothers also learned from the experience. They humbled themselves, repented and had a change of heart. This experience helped them overcome some of their internal evil and further progress toward perfection. So in Gods wisdom he allowed them to use their agency for evil, repent and draw closer to perfection. They did evil, but in God’s wisdom he turned their evil, for their good. Which was accomplished through their repentance and Joseph’s faithfulness. Could the brothers have learned this lesson more powerfully than to believe they were responsible for their brother’s death?

    I believe God is much more involved in our lives than we give him credit for. In the end, if we are faithful, all the evil will be used to teach us to become better and progress toward perfection. We either, learn from and overcome our evil, or we allow ourselves to become destroyed by it. Joseph’s brothers learned and become leaders of the tribes of Israel.

    The symbolism of the story has effect on our lives today. Are we not descendants of Joseph and are we not seeking to gather the remainder of Israel and provide for them both temporally and spiritually. Below are some other thoughts; to better express what I’m trying to say.

    1. “How early in our lives does the brain begin?”. It is clear for the teaching of Joseph Smith that we existed as intelligences before the world was. Those intelligences grew and progressed to become Spirits that grew and progressed to become Us.

    Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

    (Pearl of Great Price | Abraham 3:22)

    2. Next is an understanding of Agency. Free agency is an eternal principle. It has always existed and will always exist. We had agency as intelligences, as spirits and as mortals. Agency is a God given gift.

    But does agency only exist with man. Clearly not. We clearly had agency in the pre-existence. Did we not choose between God and Satin? Was not this a form of agency?

    36 And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency;

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 29:36)

    Did not Satin use his agency to rebel against God? Also a third of the host of heaven used their agency to follow him. In his rebellion he sought to destroy the agency of man, making us subject unto him. Seeking to force us to follow his will.

    3. The principle of progression. I have long considered the existence of all things. How do all these things exist? Why do they exist and by what principles are they governed. I do believe that all things are in a state of progression, so long as they follow Christ. When we study the creation or attend the temple we come to better understand the eternal plan of progression as laid out by God. We understand that we are in a state of progression; but how did we get to this stage in our progression? Are all the other creations simply for our progression or do they have a greater purpose in Gods eternal plan. To understand these things we must understand that the principles that govern the universe are the same principles that God hopes for us to develop in our lives. Principles like faith, obedience, agency, light and truth, intelligence, diligence.

    Gods eternal plan is to help us progress toward perfection. That progression began a long time ago as intelligence. Some progressed more than others, Christ became a God in the preexistence, Adam was chosen as father of the earth. Satan and his followers rebelled and were cast out.

  27. If I put the paddle of a mill into the river so it will turn and do work, have I changed the direction the river flows? No, the water keeps flowing. Similarly, Heavenly Father, from his perspective, sees the flow of human choices before him. Knowing which way the movement is going, he dips a hand here and removes a stone there, changing the mixture, but not the direction. This analogy can be taken lots of directions, but would generally involve a discussion of cause and effect, such as water = us, gravity = trials, blessings etc… .

  28. Great post Margaret and great comments all. DKL, I fear that if I were to succumb to your arguments on this one, I would need to go worship the god of chance whose temples, I’m told, are prevalent in Las Vegas.

    Perhaps paradoxically, it seems to me that questions concerning God’s relationship to evil demand more than a little self examination on the part of the questioner before it is clear what is really being asked (or sought). If my quest is to destroy evil via an explanation I will only end up hurting those who have suffered evil. I remember a horrifying scene I once witnessed on the news where a woman who had suffered serious head injuries was being consoled by a nurse who kept repeating “It’s all right.” The injured woman responded in screams and tears, “It’s not all right.” Explanations have no more power to do away with evil than the “It’s all right” mantra. When Jesus cried “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he wasn’t looking for an explanation (He knew the answer). I do believe, however, that at times when the questioner asks in despair, being totally undone, God sometimes gives glimpses of a power that I cannot even imagine – the power of the cross.

  29. Craig V–you and I will undoubtedly meet in Narnia sometime. You bring me back to C.S. Lewis. In _Shadowlands_, Lewis’s own words “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world” come back to haunt him when he actually faces the loss of Joy (which could even be interpreted metaphorically). Upon her loss, he faces the REALITY of what he has previously and brilliantly explained but not lived–at least not as an academically trained adult. (As a child he had lost his mother.)

    There is a huge chasm between evil and pain, of course, but evil often INVOLVES pain and our ability to give and receive it. I remember how angry I got when people told me God needed my friend or she wouldn’t have died. God needed her more than her five children did? How could that possibly be?

    The night before Buffy’s death, her oldest daughter came into her bedroom and said, “Mom, I’m afraid. I feel like you’re going to die.” Buff answered calmly, “Honey, I have a new baby. Heavenly Father is not going to take me.” The daughter returned a second time with the same concern, and Buff gave the same answer. “I’m not going to die.” But of course, the events of the next day happened. Was this daughter being prepared? Something was going on. She had a sense of something looming. I won’t venture to explain it.

    The next year, we took Buff’s daughter with us to England. (The daughter was also my daughter’s best friend.) They were very much like sisters and fought sometimes. One day they had a terrible fight, and my daughter stormed upstairs with the solemn vow that she would never speak to her friend again. Then she got extremely restless, and finally said, “I have to apologize. Damn it.” She didn’t feel that she OWED an apology, but that she had to do it anyway. When she approached her friend (I’d rather not name her), the friend broke down. “Today my mom died.” I hadn’t kept track. It was the one-year anniversary of Buffy’s death. The two girls embraced and wept together.

    Certainly I never tried to give any quick lesson on “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” The loss of Buffy hurt me almost as much as it hurt the daughter, and I didn’t really want anyone to attempt to ease the pain with easy answers. The only thing to do was to embrace and weep together. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are they that mourn for it’ll all get nicely explained to them,” but “for they shall be comforted.”

    I have to add that the braiding I referred to in the original post does indeed appear present in those anguished words the Savior spoke from the cross, because (as I know you know–probably better than I), the Lord was not only voicing his sense of abandonment; he was quoting Psalm 22. He was testifying to his identity. (“They pierce my hands and my feet…”) Right there, he was weaving the foreknowledge of the Atonement into the bloody tapestry of his crucifixion.

    Thank you for these insights, Craig. Did you know that many Christians in Germany formed a human cross and prayed unitedly for the wall to come down? I suspect that their act of faith ultimately had more power than anything the diplomats said.

  30. I feel myself not very expressive either as a writer or a speaker. When I read the thoughtful responses posted to this blog I stand somewhat amazed and wished I could be as polished. As to our Father in Heaven turning bad into good, my own experience goes something like this- As a young boy (ages 11 to 18) I committed and untold amount of sin. While I attended primary and was ordained a Deacon the teachings of the Church didn’t seem to stick very well. We lived in East Los Angeles and everywhere one looked there were negative influences and I was one of them. If you have ever lived in narcotic driven community you would know that you trust no one. Your best friend is only a score away from being your worst enemy. You feel alone no matter how many associates you seem to have. When the feeling came no longer bearable I returned the Church. Where else was there to go? I have since completed a mission and served as a Bishop. When ever I feel over worked or strained because of temporally lost child I remind myself of just how blessed I am. The thought of returning even in the slightest way to my extremes as a youth brings pain and at the same time a feeling of thank to my Father in Heaven for helping me see the marvelous light of the Gospel. In other words the weaving of evil that once was my life style has turned into something much better. Perhaps wrongly I feel that had I grown up in a Mormon community I would today be only a nominal member. I see gray sometimes but it is mostly black and white for me.
    Called out of darkness into a marvelous light.

  31. I not very expressive either as a writer or a speaker. When I read the thoughts and responses posted to this blog I stand, to some extent amazed and wished I could be as polished. As to our Father in Heaven turning bad into good, my own experience goes something like this- As a young boy (ages 11 to 18) I committed and untold amount of sin. While I attended primary and was ordained a Deacon the teachings of the Church didn’t seem to stick very well. We lived in East Los Angeles and everywhere one looked there were negative influences and I was one of them. If you have ever lived in narcotic driven community you would know that you trust no one. Your best friend is only a score away from being your worst enemy. You feel alone no matter how many associates you seem to have. When the feeling came no longer bearable I returned the Church. Eventually I completed a mission and served as a Bishop. When ever I feel over worked or strain because of temporally lost child I remind myself of just how blessed I am. The thought of returning even a little bit to my extremes as a youth brings great pain and at the same time a feeling of thank to my Father in Heaven for helping me see the marvelous light of the Gospel. In other words the weaving of evil that once was my life style has turned into something much better. Perhaps remiss I feel that had I grown up in a Mormon community I would today be only a nominal member. I see gray sometimes but it is mostly black and white for me. I believe had I grown up in an other community and had not witnessed the contrast between good and evil I would now be lukewarm.
    Called out of darkness into a marvelous light.

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