Lately there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about identity. It’s made me think about what you have written before, that I am supposedly a son of God. But when I look about myself, I find that I am evidently just a menial laborer barely scraping by to provide for my family. No goodness here; no greatness here.
You know, I tried praying and fasting, like the Elders told me to do, to see if I was really a son of God. I don’t think they expected my answer: fear. Fear and a little loathing for the blows dealt me over the years that haven’t landed me that executive job in the big city. Thanks for all of that, God.
Maybe you are; but am I not a son of God? I seem to have been made for lesser things.
First things first: we are all children of God. Identity theft has been Satan’s big gig lately, and he’s really stealing the show in our generation—and he’s laughing about it. I’m going to share a story with you that will demonstrate why this particular peculation is so damning.
In the Book of Moses, which is the first few chapters of Genesis with restored material (including some serious prologue), there is an encounter between Moses and Satan that is very applicable to your situation and feelings. In the spirit of Nephi, I will “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).
In his instructive, typical experience, Moses, having first been enlightened by the truth of God’s existence, is tempted of the devil—he is given the choice of the two paths: “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12). As the Book of Mormon principally enumerates, “Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other”—good or evil, God or Satan, etc. (2 Nephi 2:16). In other words, Moses can now demonstrate where his loyalties lie—he can prove his metal. No one can be considered to be truly good unless he has had evil presented before him and he has rejected it; likewise, no one can be considered truly evil unless he has had opportunity to refuse the good. The candle’s light is only bright when compared to the darkness that surrounds it.
So it appears that Moses has a simple task before him: refuse the devil—cast out the evil influence. And this he does, though the fight is far from over. Moses says:
“Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?… Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten…. Depart hence, Satan” (Moses 1:13,16,18).
In essence, Moses is saying what you said, Thomas, though in a more certain tone, ‘Am I not a son of God?’ The implication being that if he is a son of God—if any of us are—then his very nature ought to point his affections and worship to his Father in Heaven and no one else. Yet we are tempted away from that; yet Moses was tempted away from that. Mark it well: the presence of temptation does not constitute inherent evil in our hearts—it is part of our earthly visa. Even Moses, surely one of the greatest prophets to ever live, was tempted of the adversary (as also the Savior, as we shall read).
But, as stated above, the fight doesn’t end with Moses’ refusal to give in to the devil’s demands. After being cast out, something peculiar—yet, again, typical—occurs between the devil and Moses. I call it “The Devil’s Rebuttal.” It is an identifiable pattern in the lives of those who attempt to draw close to God and choose the good path in their daily choosing. Yet it is a subtle and easily misidentified reaction, often considered a reemergent aspect of an inherent evil as opposed to an outside attack.
“And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell” (Moses 1:19-20).
Now, I know I just said this is a ‘subtle’ reaction though the scripture describes Satan as ‘ranting’ with a ‘loud voice,’ but keep in mind that Moses’ spiritual eyes were open and he could see what most other mortals only feel, which feeling is usually dim and uncertain depending on our spiritual experience. Consider this: if Satan were to scream in your ear, “Thomas, you are nothing!” would you note the intensity of his tone or the depth of what you begin to feel is your nothingness? What I’m trying to say is that though we typically misidentify the source of these feelings in ourselves due to spiritual ignorance, the reality beyond the visible is that Satan’s counterattack is a violent retaliation, and we only sense it in our heart and mind (our spirit).
Though we are typically unaware of Satan’s workings, Moses’ described feelings are certainly relatable: he experienced ‘exceeding’ fear and felt a bitterness that could only be described as hellish. And this is “The Devil’s Rebuttal.” It isn’t enough for us to have chosen the better path—to run from Satan’s temptation—but he chases after us and tries to tell us that the choice was wrong after having made the choice. In this case, Moses emphasized that his knowledge of his true identity (‘I am a son of God, in the similitude of [the] Only Begotten’) made Satan’s offer of worshipping him the obvious wrong choice, which led to the rebuttal, ‘[No,] I am the only begotten, worship me’!
The Devil’s Rebuttal was designed to undo Moses’ convictions.
But how could any argument stand against the very bodily witness of God and inspire fear and bitterness? The answer comes in knowing that Satan is the god of this world (see Luke 4:5-6). This world, with its temporary fads and fashions, its towers of wealth, and its pillars of learning, worships a god that is not our Father in Heaven (see 1 John 5:19; D&C 84:49). Satan has dominion over the whole of the earth for now, and so he can rightly be called the god of this world, sometimes referred to spiritually as “Babylon.”
In other words, the world at large has given in to the Devil’s Rebuttal, and they have set up Satan as the only begotten, the one to be worshipped. (This could lead us into the whole identity debate that’s raging right now, but we’ll leave that for another time.)
And with this influence at his sway, the devil can fill our minds with his false credentials, attempting to authoritatively “put us in our place,” so to speak; to use his priesthood to remind us of our nothingness in his kingdom; to bring us to our knees in desperation and resignation when he forces us to realize that we have been seeking the wrong kingdom if it was not his.
If Satan had power to inspire Moses with fear and bitterness, then he can surely bring others of us mortals low with his influence. He makes each of us feel as though we were created ‘for lesser things’ (trust me, it’s not just you).
It may sound strange to your ears, Thomas, if you—as I—have never physically heard the loud voice of a unembodied spirit ranting upon the earth, to think that our own feelings of shortcomings and inadequacies come from a real, foreign source, designed to keep us from lifting our eyes above the horizon of this world. But think of the towering skyscrapers of New York City, or the showy cufflinks of successful suits, or of big returns on smart investments, and so on. All the worldly things you’ve ever wanted, even if just for your family’s sake, any of these things—all of these things—are just the Devil’s illusory kingdom, and the honest seeker of truth will find himself tempted by such things (just as Moses), tempted to worship mammon (Luke 16:13).
When we encounter the Devil’s Rebuttal, he shows us our lowliness in all of his kingdom, which is all of his power, and he says to us:
“All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:6-7, emphasis added).
What do you do then, Thomas, when all the world is turned against your spirit to inspire fear and to question your path? You reply as the Savior and as Moses did:
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
“Nevertheless, calling upon God, [Moses] received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory” (Moses 1:20-21).
Remind yourself, and Satan (while you’re at it), that you are a Son of God, a stranger and a pilgrim in his world (see Hebrews 11:13), and that your destination and kingdom are not of his world (see John 8:23; 15:19). And then press on as he “rage quits” and tries to make you flinch. He has no power next to the God of endless worlds (our Father). It may take more fasting and praying, and certainly studying the scriptures, but such things constitute that ‘worship’ Moses and the Savior both refused to yield when Satan demanded attention.
I can promise, Thomas, that if you will turn your heart to God fully daily—and especially in the face of violent, ranting opposition—you will receive of a strength and a knowledge of that Father you’ve only forgotten. As Moses experienced after Satan finally left him:
“And it came to pass that when Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, that Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and the Son; and calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: ‘Blessed art thou, Moses…. And lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days….’ And behold, the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face” (Moses 1:24-26,31, single quote marks added).