As a formal logical conundrum, the problem of evil is probably not known to most Mormons; as an emotional reaction, I do not doubt that everyone with some basic sense of God is acquainted with it. Essentially, it’s what happens whenever one’s capability to make sense of undesirable circumstances is taxed unto failure, and the other-than constructive questioning begins. Simply put: it’s hard to make sense of bad things happening to good people.
There is no shame in this; it’s a tremendously human reaction and ofttimes indicative of compassion. I want to ruminate on five potential sources of undesirable circumstances, reflecting on the likelihood of each: God, Satan, one’s own self, other people, and chance.
1.God: When I hear anyone suggest that God gives trials, I wince and recoil; I do not believe that God sends trials. I know that scripture gives examples to the contrary, like Abraham sacrificing Isaac; keep in mind that the Old Testament reflects how the ancient Jews interpreted God waaaaaay after the fact. I know it helps many people cope with trials to believe that God sent those trials because they needed to learn something; how then, does He, and our Heavenly Mother, decide who of Their children “needs” to be murdered and/or raped, what minor “needs” to be abused by an adult in a position of trust, or “needs” an incurable disease?
To be clear, I am denying that God dispenses misfortune. I fully accept that He (and She) participates in human history, in mortal affairs. Our Heavenly Parents are involved, not cruel.
Also, I believe that God can give purpose to any trial (2Ne2:2).
2.Satan: In Mormonism, he’s an unembodied being, and Joseph Smith taught that embodied beings have more power than the unembodied. Satan affects people indirectly, through the agency of others who elect to submit their will to him. On the one hand, being the father of lies makes him sorta’ responsible for, or at least an accessory to, all evil choices; on the other hand, as he never gained a body, he has never been physically capable of forcing anybody to do anything, so I can’t ever blame him directly for anything.
3.One’s own self: An undeniable source of trials. We all know when we’ve screwed up; but that’s ok, it’s the only path to repentance!
4.Other people: Another undeniable source of trials; basically, when source number three results in collateral damage.
5.Chance: Mortality is fraught with built-in perils. If God, Satan, yourself, and everyone else were never sources of trials, your body would still wither and expire; and all our bodies wither and expire at different rates and by different means. Although Mormonism is unique for viewing the Fall as an ascent, a step toward God, we are still physically fallen, corruption; we tend toward entropy. Some live to a great age and pass peacefully after a full life. Others encounter terrible illnesses or fatal accidents at a bitterly young age. Such circumstances, such faulty bodies, are a condition of mortality, and unavoidable.
So, turns out I have about two and a half sources for trials: oneself, others, and the hazards of mortality. There’s probably more still.