A Testimony of the Devil

John NilssonDevil, doubt, faith, Mormon, mormon, questioning, religion, testimony, theology 54 Comments

“I know that the Devil lives in outer darkness surrounded by concourses of ghastly minions amidst weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth”.

Why don’t we hear this from the pulpit in LDS testimony meetings? It’s just as much an article of faith as the existence of God, right? There must needs be an opposition in all things, as Lehi said.

Here’s the problem: many modern LDS leaders have told us that truth feels GOOD, and that we can recognize spiritual truth by the good feelings it engenders in us. Barring a rational way to arrive at a conviction of the existence of Satan (which I have yet to find, although both Hitler and Hannah Montana could be cited as evidence of Old Nick’s meddling in our world), the spiritual method appears to be the only method for being sure that Scratch exists. But to have GOOD feelings about the existence of our ultimate adversary, the being of pure redolent evil whose every thought and action is bent on our destruction, physically and spiritually? So I would bet a lot fewer LDS folks have firm convictions of the devil based on spiritual subjective evidence like the kind mentioned above.

I say this knowing that many people have had experiences which they interpret as Satanic, from possession narratives to bump-in-the-night phenomena to mysterious movings of Parker Brothers’ Ouija Boards. Creepy feelings may convince many LDS folks that the devil is real. Or the ubiquitous references to Lucifer in Holy Writ and LDS culture fulfill the same function. But aren’t we supposed to gain a testimony for ourselves of spiritual matters, and not take the word of others as our deepest source of conviction?

Evil makes sense to me. The Devil does not.

Here’s why: For the concept of the Devil to make sense, you have to posit that he or she (do you capitalize references to the Anti-Deity?) chooses to be evil not just once or twice, or even as an overall pattern of life. He ALWAYS chooses the wrong. To choose the right even once after becoming the devil would render one unfit for the post, and another powerful sub-demon would angle for your position. Think of Satan’s blood pressure! Which means Lucifer misunderstands God’s ultimate design and needs help to clearly understand (metaphysically stupid), or is genuinely convinced that the cause he is advocating is right, in which case he is mentally confused and again needs our sympathy and help (metaphysically ill). If Satan desires his own ultimate unhappiness, because it makes him happy, I confess I just don’t get it. For a being to be absolutely evil, I can see no other option. In either case, the Devil is something less than he is made out to be in our tradition.

I believe that evil is real, but am not sure that it can be personified the same way that good can. Not usually believing in things that don’t make a bit of sense (but sensing that I’m expected to), can you help me gain a testimony of the Devil?


Comments 54

  1. I, too, have wondered about the existence of an actual devil. The idea of an actual person (spirit though he may be) who somehow tempts people to do evil (does he literally whisper? is there a way to spiritually whisper?) feels unreal sometimes.

    But I choose to believe in the Devil based 100% on faith and 0% on personal testimony/spiritual confirmation of his existence. I choose to believe he is a spirit being who wants to destroy my soul and the souls of everyone on earth. I choose to believe he wants to thwart Heavenly Father any way he can.

    There are enough scriptural references to the Devil, that I think it is a safe bet to believe in him, so that’s where I’m putting my spiritual chips. And if the Devil turns out to be a figurative concept personifying evil, it won’t make a difference, because it won’t change how I try to avoid evil on a day-to-day basis.

    P.S. I have to amend my second paragraph. I believe the existence of Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are proof that there is a devil. They are conniving, evil, useless plants. They are devil-spawn. Amen.

  2. I know those faces….where DID you get that picture?

    You know, it’s funny because I think I’ve seen some of the most cogent speculation on the nature of evil and satan from non-LDS sources (actually in a fantasy novel–Raymond E Feist’s recent work does a lot of that type of speculation), and it’s led me to think about it. That philosophy, mingled with my own, and with some of the scriptural sources (which not surprisingly are a bit scant on anything other than the the idea that there is a devil and that he wants to destroy us), have led me to some conclusions:

    First, in order for evil to be persistent, it must be convinced that it is not evil. This is the absolute, inalienable and unadulterated truth. You cannot get around this. Satan does not believe that he is evil. He recognizes that he is in opposition to Heavenly Father, but he does not believe that this makes him evil. Our perspective disagrees with that reasoning, but you have to understand that his take is different. His ultimate goal is to supplant the Father, I believe. He believes that if he is able to have his way he can arrange things such that everyone, regardless of their actions or worthiness, can have exaltation. That was the plan he presented, and he sees no great evil in this. He believes it to be good, and he has always thought himself good. If you keep this single fact in your mind, everything else makes sense.

    It comes down to this–someone can only do the the vile acts that we call evil in two conditions–insanity or convinced that they are acting in moral rectitude. If a person knows that an act is despicable and they are rational, they will not commit the act. Moments of personal weakness lead to small transgressions (and when a person has great power, then these can have far-reaching consequences), but for truly great acts of evil, such as what Hitler or Stalin perpetrated, the person must either be insane or convinced that their actions are that of personal righteousness. Hitler did not do what he did, knowing the while that it was wrong and evil. Instead he thought it right and good to rid the world of a great blight. In retrospect, it becomes obvious to virtually everyone that it was an act of great evil, but to him it was not. Will it be counted as righteousness in the last day? I doubt it, because it seems to be that perhaps he should have known that it was an evil act–but then again, I don’t know that.

    So Satan must be convinced that what he does is righteous. Or he must be insane, which seems to be track you are taking, but I’m a bit leery of suggesting insanity as an affliction that extends to beings of spirit. Perhaps so, but I sincerely hope that this is not the case. Now there are some that would argue that his position that trying to save everyone by taking away their moral agency (and thus being in opposition to Christ and convinced of his own righteousness) is a form of insanity, but I’m not convinced of that. To me it is a philosophical difference based on a difference in understanding what is necessary to produce exaltation. One that I’m sure that we (as mortals) are not fully qualified to discuss without having first been privileged to glimpse into the immortal realms.

    Overall, however, how does one gain a testimony of Satan? I think it’s simple, honestly. There are two ways. The easy way is to study the relevant scriptural passages, and the ask God for confirmation that those things are correct. This works well enough, and can lead to a real testimony. The second way is dangerous, and not recommended, but as many who have long strayed can tell you, Satan is real. Simply put, start sinning and looking for temptation, then start trying to go back to church. You’ll find out soon enough how hard Satan works to keep you from returning. Having seen enough people return from either inactivity or excommunication to full activity (and even temple worthiness and attendance), I can tell you that Satan doesn’t let people leave his camp easily, while Heavenly Father is really serious about agency, despite what you hear about obedience. You only hear about obedience because those giving the talks know how easily the Lord will allow you to make the decision to leave while Satan will hold onto you fiercely.

    I’ve rambled enough, hope it was insightful.

  3. I am not supposed to post… but I CAN’T resist…

    The guy on the left in your picture at the top is a friend of mine and I used to home teach him. So you all better be REAL nice to me in the future now that you know my dark secret. 😛 (Some of you may be shocked that such a being is a member of the Church and accepts hometeachers… All I can say is James 2: 19)

    His son says that he always wins the “my Dad can beat up your Dad fights” because all the other Dad’s cower in fear before him.

    Incidently, belief in a devil is sort of a moot point if you aren’t certain it matters if God exists or not. So it’s sort of all relative to the over all worldview one holds.

    Because I personally believe that the existence of God does in fact matter and in fact is the single most important part of the Mormon (or any Christian/Monotheistic) religion, obviously this assumption leads to a chain of logic that logically requires the existence of a devil and I have no need to take it any further than that.

  4. John…I think your concluding paragraph is somewhat casuistic. You say that the devil will ALWAYS choose the “wrong”. I see him as being able to choose the right but with the wrong motives. Just as he wanted to have us all return to live with God…which is a good thing…but his motives were selfish..

    Think of the devil as a politician, only interested in himself and believes he is right to do so, then I think it is pretty easy to personify Satan. 🙂

  5. You know, when investigators would tell me they believed in God but not in the devil, I always wondered about telling them to pray for a testimony of Hell. I never actually did, because no one who didn’t believe this got very far anyway, but it was an interesting thought exercise of Moroni 10:3-5.

  6. What are you talking about?

    It is not required that Satan always choose the wrong.

    All that is required is that he rebelled against God our Father and attempted to seize God’s authority for his own. He did so in full knowledge of what he was doing.

    How is such a being difficult to understand or believe in? Since he is of the same intelligence and spirit that we are, I find plausible examples of Lucifer’s pride, arrogance, and traitorous greed in the lives of many I have observed.

    If you find Lucifer hard to have a testimony of then I suspect you do not fully understand our relationship with God or with each other before our earthly existence. Studying those areas of the gospel would do more to help you understand Satan then trying to directly study Satan.

    I especially don’t get how you that if Satan ever chose to do something right that some sub-demon would angle for his position. Satan’s power and “authority” come not from his evilness, but from his inherent glory as a great intelligence, and also from his ability to deceive and manipulate others.

  7. Post

    Benjamin O,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. What doesn’t get cleared away for me by your explanation is the idea that Satan honestly thinks he can force anyone into exaltation. If everyone who lives on earth today understood this, and our scriptures make it clear that character development is the prerequisite for exaltation, how does he not grasp this?

    Not to mention that we were always free as spirits: witness taking sides in the War in Heaven. How did he honestly think he could take that mental freedom away? If he was this metaphysically stupid, where did his standing and power in the premortal realm come from?

    I suppose it could have come from empty rhetoric, as Stephen encourages me to think, as if Satan were the Ultimate Politician (although he lost the election!)


    I do have a testimony of the existence of God. I am not 100% certain there is a God, but I choose to fill in the gaps of evidence with faith, since to me the evidence is strong that God exists. The logical entailment that there is then a devil still escapes me. The worldview you espouse seems to be Manichean, where two equal opposing forces of darkness and light slug it out for eternity. Doesn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t Satan be subordinate to God, and therefore not logically necessary? That is, his existence is an accident, historically speaking? That there might not have been a devil for the plan of salvation to work? The fall and our biological drives alone explain evil to me, but not fully the good, which is partly why I look to God as the answer.

  8. I don’t think that Lucifer honestly thought he could force us into exaltation, I believe it was a lie, so that he could obtain power.

    As for how he thought he could take our mental freedom away, I figure he thought he could convince us to surrender it.

    Such a Faustian deal has always been attractive to intelligent but imperfect beings who are arrogant enough to believe that they are always going to end up on top.

    Hitler is a perfect example of this kind of surrender of mental freedom that soon became a nightmare- but the Germans never managed to take their own freedom back- did they?

  9. I have often pondered the same questions because I have thought that members wish to use the influence of Satan to mask the fact that they sometimes choose the wrong. We know the world does this and certain faiths strongly beleive that they can be unwillingly “possessed of the devil.”

    Satan has his mission to thwart the plan of the Father and the Son. Whether it is manifest as a spiritual being or not may not really matter. Evil does and must exist in order for us to know the good. I had a great epiphany in Church one day when someone emphasized knowing “good FROM evil” rather than knowing “good AND evil.” I realized that one does not have to do evil to know the difference.

    WE have a problem trying to analyze the motives of Satan through our own intelligence and understanding. perhaps the complexities are beyond us at this point.

    If we look at the world’s most evil people that existed (Hitler, for example), along with their evil designs, there must have been a good act in there occasionally, even though they may have been inherently evil. So I suppose Satan acts in the same manner.

    Satan does not always lie, but also tells the truth in a deceiving manner.

  10. I have seen enough people who act in the same way that Lucifer is described as acting in the pre-existence that I am able to conceive of Satan as a real being.

    I will not name names, but, as has been mentioned, there are politicians who obviously believe they know better than anyone else what is good for everyone – and who will do and say whatever it takes to reach a position of power where they believe they can save us sorry simpletons from ourselves. There are people who openly flaunt lifestyles that are degrading and destructive and manipulative and simply evil. There are people who amass great fortunes explicitly by abusing others and keeping them chained in poverty.

    If we believe in Godhood as perfect (complete and whole) goodness, I can believe in “Devilhood” as perfect (complete and whole) badness – defined not by what they say, but rather by what they do. If I believe one is possible, I can believe the opposite also is possible. I have a hard time believing I could fall that far, but I know previously “good men” who ended up sexually abusing their daughters – and I can’t think of much that is more evil than that.

  11. >>> I do have a testimony of the existence of God.

    I’m glad to hear you say that John. That explains a lot about your position. I believe what you are saying (to restate to for the sake of checking my undertanding) is that you believe and in fact have faith there is a God but you do not claim a perfect knowledge of His existence. (Which, if you get down to it, is really my position too. See Alma 32)

    I believe I misunderstood your previous statement that you are “somewhat less certain that God exists”

    And since misunderstandingss can go both ways, let me assure you I believe in nothing even remotely close to a ” Manichean, where two equal opposing forces of darkness and light slug it out for eternity” and in fact I view such a model as a logical impossiblity and irrational.

    However, I can’t really take the time to explain myself in full because it would require a lot of effort I can’t afford to take right at the moment. Let’s do lunch and talk. You free today? Email me. 🙂

  12. From a Mormon perspective, the existence of satan is indeed necessary. The Book of Mormon teaches “there must needs be opposition in all things,” and Brigham Young commented directly on the necessity of “devils.” At the same time, I’m not convinced that the typical LDS/christian concept of satan is an accurate one. To much of christianity, satan is depicted with horns, hoofs, tail, pitchfork, etc., nearly all of which is the result of Catholic reinterpretation of pagan deities (i.e. various horned deities within paganism were characterized as demonic by Catholic clergy). I’m informed that Judaism never included the concept of a personified satan until relatively late in its development.

    Mormonism relies on the existence of satan as an opposing force to deity. Without this opposing force, mankind is supposedly left without an impetus to choose wickedness, and thus cannot choose good. The Mormon deity increases his glory by the glorification of his children, but his children can’t be glorified without being tested by an opposing force. In short, the Mormon deity actually needs satan. Suppose for a moment that satan, after his plan was rejected in the councils of heaven, simply acquiesced, and chose not to tempt mankind. Oddly enough, that decision would bring a screeching halt to the plans of the Mormon deity. The Mormon plan of salvation requires a satan, and cannot operate without him.

    So….here’s my thought. From a Mormon perspective, perhaps satan is simply a calling, necessary for the fulfillment of the plan of salvation. Perhaps satan is fulfilling his calling every bit as effectively as Jesus did, and with the same level of necessity. Perhaps satan’s “evil” is actually done in the service of deity, because in the end, it leads to the further glory of deity as individuals overcome that evil. Imagine the surprise to some, if at the last “winding up scene,” satan returns as Lucifer (the light-bearer) in the heavenly council, thanked and rewarded for his faithful performance of a difficult role!

  13. From the Mormon perspective , the actual existence of Satan/Lucifer is scriptural. So, we have to consider it part of the doctrine.

    But I like Nick’s idea of it being a calling rather than a defined being. It goes along with the idea that Adam and Eve are also titles bestowed on our first parents.

  14. This may be really simplistic, but along the lines of Nick’s comments: It seems to me that Satan is not the source or embodiment of evil. Evil is the opposite of good. Satan chooses evil and, I guess sometimes entices others to do the same. Unfortunately, it is not necessary that he (I don’t see much support for the idea of a female Satan) be directly involved to get me to “choose evil” – – my own “natural man” tendencies and agency are enough in this regard. But, understanding how Satan operates and what became (will become) of him is instructive to me.

    As for gaining a testimony of the Devil, I would put that far down my list of priorities for principles of which I need to gain a testimony. It would fall, for example, well below gaining a testimony of journal writing or food storage.

  15. “I feel impressed to sound a warning voice against the devil and his angels—the source and mainspring of all evil. I approach this prayerfully, because Satan is not an enlightening subject. I consider him to be the great imitator. . .”

    It is not good practice to become intrigued by Satan and his mysteries. No good can come from getting close to evil. Like playing with fire, it is too easy to get burned: “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission.” The only safe course is to keep well distanced from him and any of his wicked activities or nefarious practices. The mischief of devil worship, sorcery, witchcraft, voodooism, casting spells, black magic, and all other forms of demonism should always be avoided.” (James E. Faust, “The Forces That Will Save Us,” Ensign, Jan 2007, 4–9)

    There is your answer as to why you shouldn’t bear testimony of the devil.

  16. “It seems to me that Satan is not the source or embodiment of evil.”

    I agree with this. I don’t believe Satan is necessary for opposition, for he is not the source of evil, nor is God the source of good, for that matter. Lucifer chose to rebel… who was he tempted by? There is opposition in all things regardless of the existence of satan.

    Also, the very idea of Satan being necessary (which many believe, I think) is absurd because by that reasoning, Satan’s sacrifice was greater than Christ’s. What greater sacrifice is there than an eternity in hell for the fulfillment of your role? Of course, I don’t believe this, and don’t believe the devil is necessary, it just happened that way.

    Now I realize this idea has some flaws as well, e.g. if Satan is not necessary, why did God allow him to come to earth? Agency perhaps? I don’t know.

  17. It seems that Satan is personified in scripture. However, I think Jesus’ use of Satan in his language such as calling peter Satan gives us some clues into other uses of the word. I feel that Satan is in each of us. Not a personified Satan but what he/it represents. The real Satan we are all striving to cast out, is the one in our own hearts. This is what makes a scandal as Christ calls Peter. The scriptures tell us Satan is the accuser. On the other hand, the comforter (or paracletes) which means the defender of the accused stands in stark contrast. Are we accusers and scapegoaters or are we the defender of the weak, the victims. Christ’s speech in Luke 4, his teachings, and eventually his death as a victim seem to me to point towards the idea that we are called to be saviors on mount Zion; those who defend the pariahs and victims of this world. Satan on the other hand is manifest whenever we seek to accuse, to not show compassion, to not forgive, which arises from our own selfish desires and pride.

  18. Satan aids and abets human evil, but there would still be evil without him. Someone else—a mortal—would no doubt figure out shortcuts to power and wealth and gratification and start abusing others and/or himself or herself. But an original agent of evil was necessary to precipitate the original fall; I don’t have an answer for how that could have happened otherwise. Obviously Lucifer knew what had already happened on other worlds and somehow got the idea that he needed to take things into his own hands for this world too. It will be interesting to learn the full story of his development and self-justification and how he became the devil—and I have no doubt that it will be a thoroughly satisfying story on all levels, if we can wait to hear it at some point in the afterlife.

    My own conversion to Mormonism hinges on an encounter with the devil. After a couple of years of rejecting religion and doing whatever the hell I wanted, I started to tire of it and to realize that I was setting patterns of behavior and addiction that would increasingly become my unavoidable life-long identity. Plus, I was rattled during a drug trip when I hallucinated that everyone around me was turning into animals, and some outside force was very blatantly whispering to me that humans are just animals and it doesn’t matter what we do. After my Mormon upbringing, deep down I knew that this was Satan showing his hand.

    So I started wondering about whether I should return to church and serve a mission. One night, I was writing about this in my journal, and I felt a very strange disturbance in the force. I didn’t see anything, but I could FEEL something trying to punch its way into the room to get me. It was very real, and of course it drove me to prayer. To this day, whenever I tire of Mormonism, I just remember the looming dead end of the worldly way I was following and, even more so, the reality that some unseen supernatural being(s) would love to destroy me. That experience remains the foundation of my acceptance of a spiritual world beyond our physical world and thus of the need for a religion to guide our spiritual journey.

    Also, I come from a line of Mormons who can actually see evil spiritual personages at work, although I haven’t personally. My mom once saw a withered-looking, angry female demon besetting one of my sisters who suffered from bulimia. And our ancestor Heber C. Kimball had the following well-known experience, which happened the night before he and his companions baptized their first converts in the River Ribble in Preston, England:

    “I was struck with great force by some invisible power and fell senseless on the floor as if I had been shot, and the first thing that I recollected was that I was supported by Brothers Hyde and Russell, who were beseeching the throne of grace in my behalf. They then laid me on the bed, but my agony was so great that I could not endure, and I was obliged to get out, and fell on my knees and began to pray. I then sat on the bed and could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth upon us. They came towards us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh who were angry and desperate. We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. Their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations and hellish grins amply convinced me that they were no friends of mine. I fought them and contended with them face to face, until they began to diminish in number and to retreat from the room.

    “The last imp that left turned round to me as he was going out and said, as if to apologize and appease my determined opposition to them, ‘I never said anything against you!’ I replied to him thus: ‘It matters not to me whether you have or have not; you are a liar from the beginning! In the name of Jesus Christ, depart!'”

    So I personally take the devil and his demons quite literally and very, very seriously. I don’t want or need to see or experience anything else along these lines–I’m already fully convinced. No one could ever talk me out of what I experienced that night when I was writing in my journal.

  19. Nick-
    I love your post!
    two thoughts…
    First: I believe that if you want to see the devil, just look in the mirror. the only devil that we need to worry about is us.

    Second: But from a mormon perspective, Aren’t we supposed to be forgiving and merciful? and I mean completly merciful (because that is what we expect in return).
    In the Mormon Narrative, If our brother Lucifer and 1/3 of our other brothers and sister Made some “mistakes” in “pre-Earth life, shouldn’t we forgive them and offer mercy (they are Gods children). As a parent, I would ALWAYS love my Child and offer mercy and love. I also feel that way as a brother (or I at least should).

    I think it is interestesting that we are quick to say that Mormons don’t believe in “original sin” and that Eve was “just doin’ her job” in the Garden with Adam and the fruit. We say “Eve was a hero”. Sounds good to me, but why is it that Lucifer and the 1/3 (or Judas for that matter) are written off as unredeamable characters in our narraitve?

    Our wonderful narrative is way too rich for us to limit it. There is so much to learn from these stories. We should continue to explore!

  20. Post

    “As for gaining a testimony of the Devil, I would put that far down my list of priorities for principles of which I need to gain a testimony. It would fall, for example, well below gaining a testimony of journal writing or food storage.”

    Thanks, Martin Willey. That’s one answer I was hoping to hear. I think it would take a awful lot of effort on my part to try to convince myself of something which isn’t important even if true. More important by far to record my experiences and impressions and prepare for natural disasters. Until then, I’ll live on others borrowed darkness :).

    Joshua Madson,

    That’s pretty much where I am with the Satan concept right now. It’s an internal thing to struggle with. I don’t think Christ meant Peter was literally Satan, but he was definitely his adversary in that moment, which is the translation of Satan from the Greek, right?

  21. “which is the translation of Satan from the Greek, right?”

    No. Satan is a Hebrew word, but yes, it means adversary.

  22. I got a knowledge of the devil a few years before I got a testimony of God, in my late teens. I had a series of terrifying, if interesting, experiences. In fact, my belief in God was, for that period, tentative and an extension of my pretty much certain knowledge of the existence of a Devil, or at least devils. One can’t say this. It means that you’re mad – even more mad than beleiving in a God. But these experiences are common.

    But, after all, why shouldn’t a universe that can produce Stalin, or any of the other number or horros that we’ve seen, not also produce a Satan?

    I don’t believe Satan is neccesary,- our own natures are apt to evil without any additional help,- but the emergence of such beings is inevitable.

    I think the idea of Lucifer being tempted to rebel is both more frightening and more plausible that has been expressed. Even if he wasn’t tempted, the fact of his rebellion presumes a more fundamental evil than himself which infused his rebellion with its negative charge. I’m sure I can explin this if I have to. 😉 In these thoughts we learn something about the power of evil in its domain, and we are very very right to keep a distance from it.

    Several months ago I read an account by a Catholic exorcist. He says that during the process he will get the demon to speak his own name. He says they resist that above any other thing. That the sound of their own name is a horror to them. Whether or not you believe that the exorcism is what the exorcist claims, I thought that was telling, horrifiyng and a profoundly sad comment on the ultimate nature of evil.


  23. I think the scriptures that explains the “character” of Satan (which Benjamin O was alluding to in his discussion of persistent evil) are these ones:

    And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind…
    …for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
    2 Nephi 2:18, 27

    I can understand that, with the darker parts of my fallen nature. I can understand being proud and miserable and unwilling to humble myself right in God’s face; I can understand being so filled with rage and misery that the only salve to put on the burning wound comes from making others miserable. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve felt it. So I have no trouble understanding a being who could dedicate himself to such a mission until it was all he could know and all he could feel.

  24. May I add one more thing – the reduction of spiritual experiences to either Good or creepy feelings (emotions) seems to me a reduction and misunderstanding. We do not feel the Holy Spirit the way we feel great that someone loves us, or that hurray it is finally the weekend. Rather, the Holy Spirit is an actual entity that speaks to our hearts and minds. That such an expereicne can also produce feelings of peace, happiness, hopefulness, etc. is secondary – a reaction, not the thing itself. Similarly, an expereince with an evil being isn’t the creepy feeling. It may prodcue a creepy emotion, or a fearful emotion – but those are secondary reactions to the primary experience.

    As long as we think that the revelation of the Holy Spirit is a matter of something making us feel good – well, then we wil continue to be trapped by our own subjectivity, yes?


  25. >>> In the Mormon Narrative, If our brother Lucifer and 1/3 of our other brothers and sister Made some “mistakes” in “pre-Earth life, shouldn’t we forgive them and offer mercy (they are Gods children). As a parent, I would ALWAYS love my Child and offer mercy and love. I also feel that way as a brother (or I at least should).

    [insert Brigham Young’s (and others) “theories” on the dissolutionment and eventual redemption of Satan and minnions here. Deleted due to overly specultative nature that I shouldn’t even bring up. Just make no assumptions either way.]

  26. “And behold, others he flattereth away . . . and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” (2 Ne. 28:22.)

    Verily, on this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. John, thanks for helping create yet another fulfilled prophesy from the Book of Mormon. 🙂

  27. Post

    Thanks Andrew. Now I’m waiting for the Korihor comparison! 🙂

    Seriously though, I didn’t say there was no devil, just that the concept makes no sense to me. We may be in the business of saying we should believe things that make no sense, I don’t know. In fact, some I know believe BECAUSE a proposition makes no sense. Credo ad absurdum and all that.

    I should also add that the scripture you quoted makes no sense to me out of context either. Wouldn’t Jesus Christ be the deliverance from the devil’s awful chains? And who is this disembodied weirdo whispering to me anyway? 🙂

  28. Actually, Andrew, that Book of Mormon passage was aimed at Universalism, the religious choice of Joseph Smith Sr. and his father. It was “fulfilled” before it was ever written in English.

  29. Re: As for how he thought he could take our mental freedom away, I figure he thought he could convince us to surrender it.

    In a sense, he convinces us to surrender it by leading us to believe that the physical reward of sin outweighs the less immediately gratifying reward of obedience. Many addictive behaviors, including addiction to pornography involve release of the neurochemical dopamine. Certain areas of the brain become more highly activated, in theory, of those who regularly view pornography and their neurochemistry is altered. One study cites that a portion of the brain called the “nucleus accumbens” receives the signal from the increased release of dopamine and it relays a signal to the “reward system” that “whatever it was attending to was better than expected.” This feeds back to reinforce learning. The learning pathways are made more efficient, a sort of rewiring of the brain. The new medication “Chantix” helps smokers to quit smoking by preventing the attachment of nicotine to brain receptors that release dopamine. The absence of this stimulus/reward cycle help overcome those rewired pathways in the brain.

    If he couldn’t take our mental freedom away with politics, then using mortal neurochemistry to take it away is “another chance”.

  30. BTW, if you have pictures to post, how bout the blonde Eve with the intoxicating accent from the older “pre-musical score” portrayals? She was the subject of more than one conversation at the MTC back in the days.

  31. For me, the temple session is most interesting when trying to comprehend Satan. He is an intriguing character, and one tries to understand his reasoning. I have come away with an evolved view of him. For this, you have to separate separate individual desires and emotional responses, which I believe are inherent in a body and our chemical responses. An unembodied spirit does not have them. The spiritual motives (drives that are inherently spiritual) pride and self-aggrandizement are deeper and I believe, at the root of who Satan is. He will use lust, fear, anger, loneliness, despair as secondary motivators to prove a point–that he is right and that the plan is flawed. Its all politics for him, IMO. He does not believe himself as inherently evil, more that he is inherently right. War, drugs, lust, horror, fear, loathing, and despair are but tools used to show the flaw. He probably believes he is playing a part and maybe his motivation is that if he can drag as many of us down–playing on our weaknesses, that God will acknowledge that he, Lucifer, was right all along, and that he will be vindicated. It’s a chess game to him. I also believe that our natural man (the secondary motivators) need no Satan to get in our way–we lust, we fear, we covet, we depair, all on our lonesome mostly. If there are angels to a devil, they are the qualifiers, the one’s that explain to us in our spirits that it is all not worth it, that faith is useless, as dark demotivators AFTER the fact of normal natural man getting in the way of ourselves. Therein lies the true power of Satan, convincing us that is no big deal BEFORE the fact and this it is no use AFTER. If I could outline a mission statement for Satan it would be thus:

    To bring to pass the misery and eternal damnation of man, to show the Father how wrong he was about His children.

  32. I wish I had more time to explain or elaborate some of my personally-held, non-doctrinal and totally heretical beliefs about the Devil. I’ll just jot down a few with little to no explanation or no real citations.

    1. The Devil as a being isn’t the source of evil or temptation. Inherent/eternal moral agency is. “Opposition in all things” springs from human agency and not a whisperer. The plan would have gone on just as well without a devil-like being, especially if you don’t believe the fall to be “caused” by the devil. In this sense I disagree with Nick L.’s conclusion about the necessity of a devil.

    2. The Devil wanted to be god, but on his own terms (as sole controller). Honor, glory, and power flow to Deity from his children. In order to get glory and power, he feels like he needs the adoration of “his” children. He got a number of them from his behavior at the pre-mortal council by promising them a chicken in every pot. He notices this still doesn’t make him a god (God’s power only functions in righteousness and flows to him by non-compulsory means only), he feels like he needs to get more followers/worshippers.

    3. In the allegory/story/history of the Garden, he is trying to usurp again, making a play for the remaining 2/3 of heaven. God isn’t displeased with the fruit incident as much as he’s displeased that it was Satan that was trying to hand out the goodies. In my opinion, the job of handing out the fruit was supposed to be one of the Godhead, a gift of knowledge when the time was right, as has been done with other creations. Satan was trying to take over global operations, as it were. (This to me explains why he thinks he’s the god of this world, and is proud of his pre-mortal accomplishments, authority, and “powers.”)

    4. Since he sees he gets more deific power/glory/honor/priesthood/whatever from worshipping children, he’s playing the zero-sum game with humanity. Everyone who *isn’t* worshiping the Father is taking away from His glory, and is fair game to co-opt for Satan’s glory. Since he knows that eventually every impure person will be cast out at the last day, he’s willing to wait for his sum total of deific power until then.

    5. Satan’s misery comes from unfulfilled desire, covetousness, and the inability to satiate his controlling urges. Although I can see how he might want to do his work out of spite, and I(sadly) have felt the same way sometimes, I think he’s just thinking “just one more hit/soul/convert, *then* I’ll be worshipped, loved, powerful. Then I’ll show them I was better/smarter/etc.” So he wants us to be with him, not to suffer, but to alleviate his suffering by our adoration. However, in doing so, he brings his torment to his followers, rather than being healed by having them.

    6. I’m really starting to warm to the new-to-me idea that Satan is a “calling.” It’s a great thought-experiment.

  33. N – “I’m really starting to warm to the new-to-me idea that Satan is a “calling.”” Wow. Worst. Calling. Ever. It might actually trump nursery.

  34. Nusery is great. No need to wear a suit – take off the tie right after Sac Mtg – play with kids on floor – take them to their parents if they mess themselves – eat crackers and drink water during church – in other ways, kick back and relax (even with the screamers breaking it up now and then). I LOVED nursery, probably because I wasn’t the nursery leader. Primary Pres. might rival devil, however – or LDS Scoutmaster.

  35. The Lord makes available “gifts” to his son and daughters. We’re taught that everyone is born with a gift of the spirit. In my opinion we see the evidence of these gifts all around us. Those who excel in various academic disciplines and in music and the arts are easily seen and accepted. I’m amazed at the talent I see in those who are gifted in the trades. I had my car repaired recently and I spent some time with the mechanic who replaced a timing belt. His knowledge and skill were evident.

    The Lord also extends gifts that are not readily seen or accepted. These gifts are manifest in many ways as outlined in the scriptures. A few who have commented in this post referred to having experience with their gift that allowed them to know that satan exist. They have a healthy respect and understand he is a being with power and is not to be trifled with—I’ve had several encounters.

    One thought about feelings and emotions. In recent months as I’ve surfed the bloggernacle there are those who demean relying on feelings and emotions as a source of inspiration. I understand where they are coming from—they cannot always be relied on. It takes time and spiritual effort to develop sensitivity to the things of the spirit so that we can tell the difference between the workings of our mind and those promptings that come from the Holy Ghost. If a person wants to grow in this “gift” they can. However, I find that few are interested. I’ve set up a blog to aid those who are interested.

    I know from my own experience that when Heavenly Father wants to communicate something to us He has many ways to accomplish this and feelings is one way—-dreams, visions, ministering of angels and etc are used as well.

  36. The devil has always perplexed me as well. The idea of Satan doesn’t make sense generally, but it makes even less sense when try to juxtapose Mormon theology. Consider this:

    There must be opposition in all things. We accept that as a truism. In general Christian theology, the devil is portrayed as the SOURCE of opposition or sin–not just an instigator and perpetrator of it. He is commonly known as the “father of lies” for instance. But if the devil is the actual source of sin and opposition, it would be impossible for the plan of happiness to exist without a “devil.” And if that is true, then when all of you go off and create your own worlds to populate will one of your angels NECESSARILY fall from grace so as to act as that source? That seems to go against the concept of free agency as an eternal principle.

    What if in the pre-existance 100% of the Lord’s children had chosen to follow Christ’s plan? If free agency is in fact an eternal principle, and everyone has a fair chance to choose one path over another, this has to be a possibility. And if that HAD happened, where would opposition have come from? Would Adam and Eve simply remained in the Garden forever refusing to break God’s commandment to never partake of the fruit and just stay forever confused as the other commandment to “go forth and replenish the Earth”?

    Here’s what I think. I don’t know if the Devil is necessary or even actually who we tend to think he is. I do believe in sin and, of course, I believe in opposition. But it seems that these things exist pursuant to our human nature and nothing more. I think one could easily have written the bible and substituted “Satan” with “the Natural Man”, side-stepped the whole issue of a great war in heaven, and achieved an identical result.

    On the other hand, if the Devil is a necessary part of the plan of salvation, then every world which has ever been made subject to that plan MUST include a devil, which further means at least one spirit child of Deity must necessarily rebel. But again, this seems to be at odds with free agency.

    Is the Devil necessary, or were we just lucky enough to get one?

  37. Let me try this again–now that there have been a few more comments, and it’s obvious that what I was trying to explain didn’t quite come through. I think Lucifer believes that the position or calling of Savior allows whomever holds that calling to extend exaltation to whomever they choose. That’s the first premise. This is extremely important.

    The second premise is that Lucifer also believes that whomever holds this calling deserves glory, honor, power, and laud not just equal with the Father, but beyond the Father. In other words, that person should supplant the Father.

    The third premise is that he believes, and has always held, that he, not Christ should be the chosen Savior. To that end he has set himself against Christ, and by extension the Father.

    He has always taught that it doesn’t matter what our actions are in this life because the grace of the Savior should be extended to everyone without regard for their actions, thus giving exaltation without regard for whether or not that would be best for the individual in question (this is where some might say “what, of course exaltation is best”, but the careful student knows that someone exalted without being worthy will be miserable, a fact that Satan has always tried to deny, I think because he himself does not believe it to be completely true).

    There is one thing that must be understood here. The scriptures make one thing clear about Lucifer–he has never been truthful. He has always been a Liar. This is one of the most serious charges levied against him in the scriptures in my mind because it gives us more insight to his motivation than almost anything else. The thing to remember about habitual liars is this (and this is always true)–they cannot imagine that anyone else is capable of being more honest than them. A person who will consider a white lie in some circumstances may imagine a person who would not, but a person who is a compulsive liar, which is what the scriptures are charging, cannot imagine what it is like to always tell the truth about everything. They so habitually conceal their emotions, true motivations, and true feelings that they imagine that EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO. I put Lucifer in this category, probably from the beginning, which means that he likely assumed from the beginning that certain parts of the plan of salvation were a lie.

    Think about the implications of that for a moment. Satan knows God is real. He knows the Father has real power, and is afraid of the Father. He fears Christ, and he knows the Plan. But he still strives to win. The logical explanation is that Lucifer is either insane or is assuming that their are parts of the plan as presented to those mortals who do have the truth that are a lie. If what the LDS church has is the truth, then Lucifer doesn’t believe it.

    Satan doesn’t believe the idea that we will be miserable if we are all returned to exaltation regardless of our actions here because he thinks it is a lie. That or he is insane. Those are the options, and they are not mutually exclusive, unfortunately. The implications of insanity extending to spiritual beings frightens me deeply, however and I choose to believe that Lucifer simply thinks of certain parts of the plan of salvation and the Order of Things as a lie. I’m not ready to consider Lucifer insane. Please let that not be true. Please.

  38. Post

    I have appreciated everyone’s comments. Thinking of the devil as a calling, as an personification of human wickedness, as a cosmic politician, as a pathological liar, and as insane have almost persuaded me to be a diabolist (one who believes in the devil?)…

  39. The Devil is real. I like the idea of Satan as a calling, rather than an individual. At any given time, there would be some individual playing that role, though not necessarily the same being.

    Of course Satan’s misguided and unhappy, and has the option of converting someday. He’s pretty invested into his whole worldview, and would find it very hard to change, but of course he has the light of Christ, even. God still loves him greatly. Satan does have feelings he tries to scoff at or deny, feelings of tenderness and the joy of innocence. He could choose to follow those, to expand them, and could change and grow to become a great force for good in the universe.

    If he does that, someone else will be there to follow his former calling, no doubt. He will certainly bring his own personality and individual tastes to the job. It’s interesting to speculate what would be the effect at our level to a satanic conversion and succession in the universe. For a while, evil might be greatly abated, then renew with growing force in the different flavor the new satan brought to the job.

    I do know that evil far greater than my ability to comprehend exists in the universe. J.R.R. Tolkien, a prophet in his own way, wrote about the Nazgul, beings of almost pure evil. I’ve met a couple of guys in real life who chilled my blood like Nazgul. Cruising by in a battered pick-up truck, they looked with predatory delight on a seven year old African American boy in my care. I’ve never seen nor felt evil as strong and pure as that at any other time in my life. It completely froze and panicked me. I wanted to wave a flaming branch at them and yell out “Elbereth Gilthoniel”. Instead I spoke to the boy quietly and told him to get back in the car. I stood there and looked at them with a courage I did not feel. I think they decided I didn’t look like fun sport, and would be boring and tiresome to deal with. In no way did they seem even the slightest bit afraid. They simply chose to find other amusements that day. I’ll never forget that encounter.

    It seems that, just as there are beings at all levels of exaltation, from ordinary humans, to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni, and onward to Christ, there are beings of darkness at all levels of power as well. If you think about it, we ourselves are beings of unimaginable power and capacity for good and evil to the lesser creatures like our pets or wild birds, squirrels, etc. I try always to represent the good, to be a good demigod, to those other creatures I encounter. Not always with success. I wonder to how many small creatures in the world I have seemed like a horrible Satan?

    Good is always more powerful than evil, though. Good will inevitably win out in the end. Because good beings join together and become greater than the sum of their parts. Evil beings are always and forever alone. They tear each other down and don’t enhance each other’s existence. They subtract and do not add. All satans ultimately choose exaltation, or else the darkness of nonexistence. Only the christs move forward and upward to higher planes of being. May I choose to become one of those.

  40. Post


    Both Darryl Yeager and Michael Ballam, who are pictured above, are LDS actors who have portrayed the devil in LDS temple dramas.

  41. John, you’ve ruined it! Of course, I’ve never known Darryl’s mortal name before this…

    For some reason they don’t post the credits at the end of the film like you normally see… 🙂

    Oh well.

  42. I believe, in part, my testimony of a Heavenly Father came in consequence of an experience with the adversary. The darkness, hopelessness was so complete and powerful, only a countervailing power could stop it from consuming the person we were teaching. Additional scriptures (Book of Mormon) and a prayer invoking the power of the Priesthood removed the darkness. The profound contrast in spirits was indescribable. It was as if a blanket of peace and clarity enveloped the whole room. This was witnessed by 3 individuals.

    I have a testimony of the adversary’s power. I believe we will be surprised one day at the protection from it we receive day to day.

  43. I don’t think it’s been mentioned that the First Vision (JSH version) is in essence both a testimony of God the Father, Jesus and also Satan.

  44. Post


    Very true. And yet when I learned the missionary discussions to teach them to others, the bit about Satan is skipped over in Joseph Smith’s history. Many potential reasons for that, I suppose.

  45. What bugs me is that Satan has become the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong. Many things that go bad in our lives are consequences of our own or other’s stupidity and incompetence. For the rest, instead of standing up and saying “I chose to do this”, it becomes a mealy-mouthed “I was tempted” boo hoo fest.

    (Theologically, an all powerful adversary is only needed if you have an all powerful, infinitely good God. Interestingly, there is no true Satan figure in Judaic beliefs. That belief comes directly from Zoroastrianism. My own belief is that if there is a God, he isn’t all that good, which I find infinitely more interesting than the Mormon version.)

  46. There’s a reason Joseph Smith’s first audible prayer in the grove is a primary reference point in the church. The Lord is well organized. It includes a testimony of the reality of the Devil and his power:

    “After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages[…]

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