Is there Joy without Misery? Good without Sin/Evil?

Can we have one without the other? Possibly not. These may be polar opposites which only find expression when both are possible.

There is a popular Mormon scripture that reads:

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

-2 Nephi 2:25

We could probably translate this better now without the gendered language as:

Divinity fell that humanity might be; and humans are, that they might have joy.

-2 Nephi 2:25 BHT

Or perhaps even better, extending it beyond humanity:

Divinity fell that life might be; and life is, that it might have joy.

-2 Nephi 2:25 BHT

Fell from what? From the presence of God, or perhaps from being God, for “Adam” was known as “Michael” the archangel, one of the Gods, of the “Divine Council,” prior to his incarnation as “Adam” in Mormon theology and ritual. That’s not to mention the abandoned Adam-God doctrine in Mormonism, in which LDS president Brigham Young once taught that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” Of course Christianity more generally has a similar idea embedded in it as well in the Incarnation, that God became human in Jesus, God incarnated its Self in human form in Jesus.

So this Mormon scripture says that God fell from its divine estate to incarnate as humanity, so that humanity could be or have being, and that beingness was so that it could experience joy, bliss, or happiness.

But in the same chapter, and just a few verses earlier, we find a much less popular verse:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen… wherefore they [Adam & Eve] would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

-2 Nephi 2:22-23

In other words, in order to experience joy, humanity also had to experience misery or suffering. It was the opposition, the contrast, the dialectic, the duality, the juxtaposition of misery and joy that made both possible in reality. One could not exist without the other.

We might understand this principle better in considering the contrast between day and night, which defines both. For if there was no night, “day” could not exist as a definable object of knowledge. I’m not referring to night suddenly disappearing from life, but never existing in the first place. If we didn’t have this contrast between light and dark time periods, then we would not label only one side of the equation as “day.” There would be no reason to. We would not be able to recognize “day” as any thing. It would not be distinguished as a thing from anything else. It would have no qualities, no edges, no attributes, no boundaries, no features. We might think that there would still be light present, and we would call that something, but “day” only has meaning when there is night, its opposite, the absence of light.

The same principle applies to all seeming opposites. Opposites exist so that reality may be, that it may be recognizable, intelligible, known. This idea finds even explicit mention in the same chapter:

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.

-2 Nephi 2:11

We might also see this principle in the mythology of Adam & Eve eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the eating of the duality of good/evil that allowed them to have knowledge of either and both. They could not know them otherwise. But what seems like a duality in the knowing mind is in a transcendent sense a single nondual reality, and this may be realized in the substrate of mind, or pure consciousness.

The road up and the road down are the same thing.


The Singularity of Ultimate Reality must express itself in this contrast, these polarities or dualities, in order for anything “to be,” or to be known to be, to be actualized in manifest intelligible perception of the mind. This is perhaps known in mysticism as the unity of opposites, or coincidentia oppositorum. The oppositions are not actually separate things, but qualities of a singular existence on a single spectrum, presence and absence, or positive and negative, which define both interdependently. One doesn’t exist without the other, which is what the scripture in verse 23 explicitly notes. Joy or bliss doesn’t exist without misery or suffering. We could know of no such thing as joy without also experiencing misery.

The Mormon prophet-mystic Joseph Smith perhaps also noted this principle when he said, “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” Both contraries are proven right, or necessary and real qualities of existence, and only in that is Truth realized.

It’s also interesting that the scripture says that good was not possible without sin. This recalls the Christian mystic of the Middle Ages, Julian of Norwich, who said, “it behoved that there should be sin.” In other words, sin was a necessity in the grand scheme of things. “Sin,” or the seeming separation/alienation/falling from God, was necessary in order for there to also be good, or a reconciliation/at-one-ment/Love in God. Without separation/alienation there can be no reconciliation/at-one-ment. Or in other words, good could not exist without sin, or what some might call “evil.” These are interdependent qualities of Ultimate Reality or God.

So does God create evil? Not exactly. I think God allows evil, which is something else entirely. God must allow there to be an absence of the good so that good may also be manifest. For without an absence of the good being possible, there could not ever be its presence either. All cannot be good, or we could not know it as “good.” There would be no knowing of anything good without the possibility of good being absent. It is its absence that makes its presence intelligible, recognizable, realizable, noticeable, possible, perceptual. The potential of good only is actualizable when its opposite or absence is also actualizable or allowed. This separation of qualities on a spectrum of possibility allows reality to exist, to have being, to become, for creation to unfold, to incarnate. It seems it is not actualized otherwise.

This is what the Sufi mystic, Rumi, seemed to be pointing to in his poem “A Great Wagon,”

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing [or evil and good], there is a field. I’ll meet you there.


There can be no such thing as rightdoing without wrongdoing, good without evil. Reality allows both. This is hard for us to accept. We think we can imagine a world in which all is good, and there is no evil, misery, or suffering, but we can only think of such a world in the context of evil, misery, and suffering. What would that world look like? Green meadows, rainbows, and harps? At first glance it sounds wonderful, but if we actually lived in that world, and knew of no other world, we could not know it as anything “good.” It would simply be what is. We would not recognize it as good. It would not be good. It could not be good. Because good only has meaning when it is contrasted with its opposite, an absence of good, or “evil.”

If we extend this thought to its implications, there is no quality of our lives that could exist without some kind of polarity, some contrast, some duality, some juxtaposition, in order to give it its expressed manifest reality in our perceptions. It cannot exist otherwise. It cannot be known to the human mind. The One must seem to become two, the manifold multiplicity and diversity of the world, including everything from hot to cold, white to black, male to female, up to down, left to right, noise to silence, subject to object, sweet to bitter, life to death, young to old, soft to hard, day to night, light to darkness, love to hate, health to sickness, etc.

Reality is not manifested otherwise. God is not incarnated otherwise. Our lives do not exist otherwise.

I think this is the deep meaning in the suffering or passion of Christ. God became humanity, yes, including you and me, but not without the consequence of suffering, not without paying the price of experiencing sorrow and misery, darkness and death, because that was the only way that joy, love, bliss, goodness, life, and happiness were possible. It is often only through descending through deep suffering and even death and hell that we realize great Love and Light and Oneness in the Divine or Ultimate Reality. The one reveals the other.

God fell into what we are, suffering it all, so that God could also experience joy, so that there could be joy. We are that God that is experiencing it all. God is experiencing it through us.

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