Replies to Thomas

Tag: devil

The Devil’s Rebuttal

Dear Joseph,

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.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

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).

temptation of Christ

“If thou…wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”

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).

—Joseph

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Revelation, Truth, and Error: Laws of Detection

Dear Joseph,

I still haven’t got around to changing my world view, as you suggested. But I feel concerned that even if I begin to see God’s hand in my past, I may not recognize it in my future. Some people would suggest that the LDS church is actually the devil’s church. But couldn’t that be said of any religion? I mean, I’m not sure that the devil’s that interested in all of this. I haven’t felt that God’s even that interested in all of this, so why would the devil care?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

The first thing to be aware of is that God’s Kingdom is one of perfect order; there are laws that govern everything:

“Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
“Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
“Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
“And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
“I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8-12, emphasis added).

This concept, that everything the Lord does with regard to us is by law, is crucial to understanding how revelation works because it too is bound by certain laws. I intend to lay before you some of these rules and principles so that you may be aided in perceiving truth from error, which leads me to the second thing you ought to be aware of: the devil is in fact very interested in religion. If you want evidence of this, just look at the several factions and sects of religion throughout the world. God is the author of order; Satan is the author of confusion. There is ultimate truth and a true religion, the Kingdom of God in embryo, but the devil would have such knowledge obscured, and he would prefer to destroy it if he could. Nonetheless, the devil rejoices when he goes on undetected in the world, and sometimes in the church—he laughs when his lies go unperceived.

In fact, that’s really at the core of the laws of Heaven: perceiving truth from error. But let’s be clear on what truth is. If we’re going to understand the mind of the Lord on this subject, we ought to use His definition:

“…Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
“And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24-25).

So there it is, pretty straight forward, with a little reminder that anything that is not true is error, which is the devil’s domain. Truth is the ‘knowledge’ of what was/is/will be—the ways things really are—not the mumbo jumbo we make up to try and explain things.

You might be thinking, “So if the Lord always communicates in truth, all I have to do is make sure that I’m learning true things and it’s of God guaranteed, right?” Right! But it’s not as easy as it sounds. “There are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. […] And also Satan…” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:2-3). The struggle for humanity is that most people are oblivious to the ‘knowledge’ that would help them detect the false spirits from the spirit of God—the error from the truth. You must know the laws that govern such things if you desire to ‘come unto the Father.’

In The Book of Mormon, we find this statement: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5, emphasis added). What the devils seek to do then is confuse error for the truth, and they are really, really good at doing just that. And, unfortunately, probably more than at any other time in earth’s history, mankind is worshipping these errors and believing fiction for truth almost ubiquitously. And, even more unfortunately, the devils don’t stop with passing error as truth, they are also ensuring that mankind stomps out the truth when it does pop up. This is not a new campaign—true prophets have always been stoned by the unbelievers—but it’s like a landslide against all things “good[, which are] just and true” in our modern world (Moroni 10:6).

So how do you distinguish what is true from what is error? Note that I use the word error instead of false. I do this to emphasize that just because something is false doesn’t mean that it’s immediately recognized as such. I feel that the word error carries with it a sense of deception. I doubt that the world at large would love to claim that they’re idolizing falsehoods instead of solid truth, but that’s why the false spirits deceive—“it’s a trap!” The devils are out to blind us from finding our way to the glory of God. For those who have not found the truth, the false spirits’ actions are to keep them from the truth; for those who have found the truth, the false spirits’ actions are “calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God…” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 214). Again, we must know the laws that God has instituted to tell his commands from all others.

Law no. 1: The Fruits

The scriptures deliver this message with clarity and great power. Read for yourself:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

“For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water….
“Wherefore, take heed… that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
“…The way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
“…Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (Matthew 7:16-18Moroni 7: 11,14-17, emphasis added).

This is the first law to distinguishing truth from error. If you pray to know if The Book of Mormon is true and your mind is filled with arguments from an anti-Mormon pamphlet saying things like, “The Bible should not be added to,” etc., then I dare you to open to almost any page in The Book of Mormon and ask yourself, “Am I being invited to Christ? Am I being taught to do good?” or better yet, “Am I being persuaded to do evil?” Open The Book of Mormon to 3 Nephi chapter 11 and answer those questions. The fruit of The Book of Mormon can silence all invented arguments in an instant if you just take the effort to seek for the fruit. You can have a perfect knowledge of its truthfulness.

This same test can be applied to a prompting or revelation you receive from the Spirit. If the fruit of the prompting is good (invites to believe in Christ and do good), then you know that the spirit was of God. If the fruit is bad (do evil, don’t believe in Christ, don’t serve God, etc.), then you know that the spirit was not of God but was a false spirit, a spirit in the domain of error.

Law no. 2: Peace vs. Comfort

In a dream given to Brigham Young after the prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, Joseph Smith gave Brigham Young this direction:

“Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright…. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good” (quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873, 114, emphasis added).

The presence of truth, that which the Spirit of the Lord communicates, will bring peace to our hearts. The devil may bring a convincing argument to your mind, but he cannot imitate peace. He can, however, lull and pacify, or create the feeling of carnal security—something I’d bet most people would term comfort (see 2 Nephi 28:21).

Someone I know recently joined the church once she discovered the truth inside of it. She described to me how that she would wonder about the Gospel and its tenets, which were opposed to her lifestyle choices up to that point, and feel something tell her that she was fine, that there was nothing wrong with her, but that the Gospel was simply false. She said that such a justification would sweep over her and she would feel comfort in her situation. She could receive this comfort over and over. And, importantly, that’s what she needed to do to retain that comfort because It never lasted. She thought her comfort was the answer to her question of whether or not the church was true. It was not until she yielded to the inviting of the Spirit of God, to believe in Christ’s restored Gospel, that she was introduced to true peace. It was a different feeling altogether, and, importantly, it lasted. Truly, she testified to me that “Jesus… said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of [the devil’s] water shall thirst again: […] But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14-15).

When one of the first converts to the church wondered at whether God had answered his prayers concerning the truthfulness of the restored Gospel, God counseled him, saying:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23, emphasis added).

Law no. 3: Commandment vs. Prophecy

There’s a story from back when the church was just newly arrived in Utah wherein a church member rode on horseback as quickly as he could from his home to the prophet Brigham Young’s residence to tell him an important message. According to the man, an angel had appeared to him with a commandment for Brigham Young. Before he could tell Brigham Young his message, however, Brigham Young told the man to go back and “tell that angel to go to Hell,” since that’s where the angel had came from.

How could Brigham Young have spoken so boldly without even hearing the message? Simply, he knew the laws, and he knew the supposed angel had broken one of those laws, entering the domain of error. The principle here is that when a commandment comes to a person, even if by an angel of light (which Satan can impersonate; see 2 Corinthians 11:14), it must fall within that person’s jurisdiction. Simply put:

“If worthy, we are entitled to receive revelations for ourselves, parents for their children, and members of the Church in their callings. But the right of revelation for others does not extend beyond our own stewardship” (James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 4).

This means that if you, Thomas, walk into a meeting with the missionaries one day having felt prompted to tell one of them that they need to return home as soon as possible, you can know by this law that it is not of God. This message—this command—would have come through the proper channels to reach that missionary. Per the quote above, it would have to have come to his Mission President. Hence the only person in God’s orderly kingdom who can give commandment for the whole world is the person at its head, the living prophet. Read the scriptures and you will see that this pattern is consistent and ancient.

But God can and does give revelatory experiences—prophecies, visions, etc.—to all those who are worthy and prepared. As Joseph Smith taught:

“How do men obtain a knowledge of the glory of God, his perfections and attributes?… By devoting themselves to his service, through prayer and supplication incessantly strengthening their faith in him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they obtain a manifestation of God to themselves” (Lectures on Faith, 2).

An example of the compatibility of concurrent prophecy and commandment of the Lord can be found in the New Testament. Paul was visiting with the saints in Cæsarea before leaving on assignment to Jerusalem. The account then states:

“And as [Paul] tarried there many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus.
“And when he was come… he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
“…And they of that place… besought [Paul] not to go up to Jerusalem.
“Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
“… [But Paul] would not be persuaded… saying, The will of the Lord be done.
“And after those days [Paul]… went up to Jerusalem.
“[There,] the chief captain came near, and took [Paul], and commanded him to be bound with two chains…” (Acts 21:10-15,22).

Agabus, filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesied a bad ending to Paul’s journey, which came true. Yet Paul knew that the Lord had commanded him to go and face it, and so he went. As an Apostle, Paul was “up the chain of command,” as it were, from Agabus, so that Agabus would not receive a revelation telling Paul what to do. But, unlike Brigham Young, Paul did not tell Agabus to send the spirit that prompted the prophecy to go to Hell. The reason is that Agabus did not receive a command for Paul that would have contradicted Paul’s earlier revelation to go to Jerusalem, but simply prophesied future events. This is a very important distinction, for it can make the difference in one’s understanding and perception of truth and error.

When the Holy Ghost—the spirit of truth itself—inspires prophecy, it follows that the prophecy would be the truth. Had Paul not been bound hand and foot in Jerusalem to fulfill Agabus’ prophecy, it could be well assumed that Agabus was not filled with the Spirit of the Lord, but with some deceiving, false spirit. But how would it be known to Paul that Agabus was full of either the right spirit or a wrong one? Joseph Smith answered the question when writing about a sect of Christianity he called “the Irvingites” who made false prophecies while under the influence of “the spirit,” so called:

“Some will say, ‘try the spirits’ by the word (1 John 4:1). ‘Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.’ (1 John 4:2-3) One of the Irvingites once quoted this passage whilst under the influence of a spirit, and then said, “I confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” And yet these prophecies failed, their Messiah did not come; and the great things spoken of by them have fallen to the ground. What is the matter here? Did not the Apostle [John] speak the truth? Certainly he did—but he spoke [in context] to a people who were under the penalty of death, the moment they embraced Christianity;… [so] this was consequently given as a criterion to the church or churches to which John wrote. But the devil on a certain occasion cried out, “I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God”! (Mark 1:24). Here was a frank acknowledgment under other circumstances that Jesus had ‘come in the flesh.’ On another occasion the devil said, “Paul we know, and Jesus we know”—of course, ‘come in the flesh’ (Acts 19:15) No man nor sect of men without the regular constituted authorities, the Priesthood and discerning of spirits, can tell true from false spirits. This power they possessed in the Apostles’ day, but it has departed from the world for ages” (STPJS, 213).

Is it no wonder that I started off this letter by informing you that most all of the world is ‘oblivious to the knowledge’ that could bring them out of darkness and into light? This precious knowledge is bound by the laws of God, which laws are governed by the priesthood as restored by Joseph Smith (another topic for another time!). Suffice it to say that the knowledge I’m now presenting you would not be around without the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith the prophet.

Law no. 4: Test by the Word

When the Spirit of the Lord speaks to us, it is a subtle sensation. As President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught:

“The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all….
“Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, ‘Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.’” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).

As an investigator to the church, Thomas, you may occasionally receive light and truth to your understanding from the Holy Ghost. But when you are baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost, you have the right to constant revelation as long as you stand worthy, as opposed to intermittent insights. Your ability to understand the scriptures, and draw out from them the mysteries of God, will be instantly enhanced.

Hopefully by studying some of the material I have given you thus far in this letter, you will be able to begin recognizing the difference between your own thoughts and the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the promptings of a false spirit. When you are governed by correct principles, you can set sail with confidence in the seas of revelation; lose sight of those principles, however, and the devil will seek to capsize you in an instant. Always “have [your revelations] tested by the word of God; [otherwise] …proving that [you love] darkness rather than light, because [your] deeds are evil” (STPJS, 215). Truth by its nature cannot be contradicted, so always “compare your [revelations] with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets” (Preach My Gospel, 98). If what you receive works against established doctrines and procedures, “[you] should be very wary about accepting it, and [you] should not share it with others” (Gerald N. Lund, “Is It Revelation?” New Era, July 2004).

Nonetheless, the seas of revelation are an exciting place to be, and by and by, as your faith and experience increase, you may have the heavens opened up to you just as the ancient prophets we read about in the Bible.

Law no. 5: Signs and Tokens

No surprise then that with the restoration of God’s priesthood and laws, a revelation has come through the prophet Joseph Smith detailing how to distinguish between good and bad angels. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, good angels wear white and bad angels wear red, right?” If the devils were not trying to deceive us, then yes, it could be that easy. But Satan’s work has always been the work of counterfeit; if he can’t get us to choose evil outright he gets us to choose evil dressed up as good—error disguised as truth.

(One law I do not know, though I assume it is related to belief and faith and the message being delivered, is upon what grounds the economy of Heaven determines to send an angelic minister versus something lighter like the still small voice. It seems self-evident to me, though, that an angel won’t be sent to tell someone that praying is good—there’s enough conscience [Light of Christ] within even an unbaptized person to receive that type of revelation on their own. Likewise, the scriptures are replete with instances of angelic appearances and visions and dreams that are given for strictly portentous communications.)

Now, back to the concept of error disguising itself as truth. As mentioned earlier, the devil can appear as an angel of light, attempting to deceive those who know not the laws. Joseph Smith instructs:

“There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
“For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
“Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
“When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
“If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
“If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
“Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
“If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.
“These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God” (Doctrine and Covenants 129:1-9).

Did you catch the giveaway between good spirits and bad ones? It comes back to the principle of truth. Only the devil or a false spirit will enter the domain of error. In the three examples above of a being appearing in light bearing a message from God, the only one who attempts to do something he cannot do (physically shake hands) is the evil spirit. A spirit attempting to respond to the request that hands be clasped is a deception because it cannot be done. A good spirit would not enter the domain of error, whereas an evil spirit would, outstretching his arm as if he were capable of actually shaking your hand.

Whether it be the spirit of prophecy, a prompting to action by the Holy Ghost, or a message from an angel, the Lord has instituted laws whereby counterfeits may be detected and eliminated. If you have the knowledge, you may even detect a false angel by the color of his hair, or the presence of wings (Angels do not have wings; See STPJS, 162 & 214).

In God’s kingdom of perfect order, there is no room for blame or aspersion. Several years ago I saw an article in a Utah newspaper describing a deranged mother’s slaying of her husband and children. When questioned as to her motives, she responded that she had been told by the spirit of God to do so as a test of her willingness to obey. She believed that at some point her obedience would be proven and her family would be miraculously returned to her. But she was imprisoned instead for the senseless murdering of her family.

Was she justified in her atrocities because she was being obedient, even if the end result seemed non-miraculous? I will state with complete firmness that no man or woman who submits any degree of obedience to a false spirit will find any degree of justification in God’s eyes.

“But what about Abraham?” You might ask. “He followed a command to take his son up and sacrifice him on an alter. Wasn’t that just like this woman who killed her family? Was this her Abrahamic trial?” No it wasn’t. In one case, we find a false spirit at the head; in the other, the spirit of God. That is why it is so important to be able to detect the Lord’s true servants.

If a true messenger of God delivered the message, and I confirmed the truth that the message was of God, I would then have the certain knowledge that it was of God, and not knowing the end from the beginning, I would have faith “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” just as Abraham had to fulfill the command (Hebrews 11:19).

Abraham: Father of the Faithful

In summary, Thomas, I want you to know that God has established laws whereby every ministration from Him may be known with certainty, ‘as daylight is from the dark night.’ Though these are not all the laws that exist, the principle remains here exemplified that you may gain a knowledge of the truth of all things. You may come to know that The Book of Mormon is true. You may gain a knowledge that what the missionaries just shared with you is true. You may gain a knowledge that Heavenly Father exists as the missionaries have taught He does, and as the scriptures teach He does. You may come to know, as you know that I live having seen me face to face, that the Savior, Jesus Christ, lives. And you may not be deceived.

A knowledge of such things does not negate the need for faith. When you know that Christ lives, then you must give your life to Him. Then if you are asked to deny that Jesus is the Christ or die, what will your faith bring you to do? If you know that The Book of Mormon is true and you are asked to be baptized and to lead your family to the same, what will your faith bring you to do? Jonah tried to sail away from his knowledge. David thought Bathsheba was worth more than his knowledge. But Abraham became known as the father of the faithful because he was true to his knowledge.

Detect the truth, Thomas. Do everything in your power to have a knowledge of the truth. Then ask yourself, “What will I do now?” That will be the measure of your faith.

—Joseph

P.S. I think that I would like to write you another letter soon detailing the differences and relationships between faith, belief, and knowledge since we dipped our toes into it at the end here.

The Invisible War

Dear Joseph.

So I had kind of an intense meeting with my missionary friends a few hours ago. I’ve been very deep in thought since they left. I felt like I needed to write you about it because I shared a very personal experience with them, which I would also like to share with you.

After I shared it with the missionaries, they advised me to pray about it, naturally, but that has been sort of a hurdle for me as I’ve mentioned. It’s sort of a catch-twenty-two. I can’t pray sincerely until I’ve felt the connection prayer brings, and I can’t feel the connection prayer brings until I’ve prayed sincerely. So I would like your input.

A good five years ago at least, probably more by now, I had this experience I’m referring to. I told these missionaries about it for two reasons:

  1. The experience has given me certain theological questions that no self-proclaimed Christian has ever been able to adequately help me answer. They’re usually fun questions to throw out because they make people squirm, but these two missionaries had immediate, thorough, and completely relevant answers—things I’d never heard before but which seemed intrinsically true to me and which made perfect sense.
  2. The Mormon faith is established upon the experience of physical beings physically visiting a flesh and blood man. What I mean is this: If you tell a Methodist or a Baptist that God answered you prayer and has healed your cancer, they’ll believe you no problem. If you tell a Methodist or a Baptist that an angel came to you, in your hospital room and told you that God was healing your cancer, they smile politely and figure your morphine drip got a little high; But tell a Mormon that same thing and I feel like they’d have no hesitation whatsoever that such a thing were not only possible but may very well have happened.

So, the story, without getting into too much detail, is basically this:

On a hot summer day, I went into a bedroom to lay down and get cooled off by the air conditioning. I was laying there enjoying the cool air when I got the sudden urge to look at the corner of the room. I had the curtains tightly closed so I could get some shut eye too, so the room was very dark. Despite that, the midday sun made a soft glow illuminate the room pretty evenly. But when I looked into the corner as I was laying down I saw that it was completely black. In the blackness was the silhouette of a body, as though in deep shadow.

Only one thing was not in the shadow: the head.

I won’t go into detail describing the truly horrifying nature of what I saw, but I can safely say that it did not appear human besides having a head atop a vertical torso. Whatever this hideous thing was, it was staring at me with an evil grin.

As I tried to move, I found that I couldn’t—I was invisibly restrained. Though I couldn’t escape, I wasn’t scared; I was filled with some kind of inexplicable anger. After probably a minute of it staring at me and me staring at it, It’s head was lost in the shadow, the shadow was lost in the darkness, and then the darkness cleared away leaving behind the softly lit and empty corner.

As soon as it was gone, I felt like I could sit up if I wanted to and the anger in me left.

The missionaries, seemingly at a complete loss, probably a little shocked, haltingly suggested a possibility. “Perhaps,” they said, “in the same way that we had friends and people we knew and were close to in the pre-life, it might be possible that we also made enemies during the war in which a third of our premortal spirit siblings were cast from heaven when they chose to follow Satan instead of God.” They said sometimes the veil of forgetfulness gets very very thin and perhaps this was an encounter between an old enemy of mine and me.

Could that possibly be the case? I want to know your thoughts.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

“‘Perhaps,’ they said, ‘in the same way that we had friends and people we knew and were close to in the pre-life, it might be possible that we also made enemies during the war in which a third of our premortal spirit siblings were cast from heaven when they chose to follow Satan instead of God.'”

That was actually the thought I had as I read your story. Who would know us better—and would be most apt to tempt us with terrible efficiency—than those who were once close to us? I mean, the devil himself could do it, but we know there’s an army at his disposal undoubtedly made up of some of our friends who did not support Christ in the premortal council (as I wrote to you before).

I knew a blind man in Taiwan who had a similar experience to yours. Perhaps by sharing it with you, you can find some more meaning to your own experience.

This man (I’ll call him Timothy) was also meeting with the missionaries but he was just playing along during their meetings; he felt bad for wasting their time because he wasn’t actually praying or reading from The Book of Mormon like they had asked him to.

Prior to his meeting with the missionaries, Timothy’s house had been possessed to some degree by an evil spirit that his wife sometimes saw (remember, Timothy is blind). She only ever saw it in mirrors and all she would see was a head, the head of a woman in fact.

One day before his scheduled baptismal date that he was not planning on attending, he was buffeted by this spirit as he sat at home alone. He said the air smelled bad and the spirit was taunting him by saying dark things and laughing at him. At this moment of fear he decided to finally take the missionaries up on their invitation to pray. As he knelt down and asked Heavenly Father to remove the evil spirit, he said that he felt a sensation like electricity flow from the crown of his head down to his toes. Then a rushing wind swept through his home and the previous foul odor was replaced with a pleasant fragrance.

Knowing that Heavenly Father had really heard and answered his prayer—knowing that Heavenly Father was real—he immediately threw away the Daoist idols that he had previously been praying to. Needless to say, he attended his baptism the next day. The evil spirit never bothered him again.

The principle I want to bring up is this: when we talk of things of the Lord, a calm serene feeling comes upon us because the Spirit of the Lord comes and, though not visible, its presence affects our emotional state. These feelings of peace are then a spiritual quality at their root. Likewise, when we tell scary ghost stories or talk about evil things, there sometimes comes a different feeling that also is felt by all those present because it is also the presence of a spirit, but it is not the spirit of the Lord.

The negative feeling, or one of hatred, that you described feeling would seem to be that of the attendance of an evil spirit. The fact that for a moment the veil was thin enough for you to see this particular spirit seems to correlate to your heightened state of emotional disruption.

“I won’t go into detail describing the truly horrifying nature of what I saw, but I can safely say that it did not appear human besides having a head atop a vertical torso.”

There are different classes of spiritual beings beyond the veil of our perception but all around us. Those that pertain to a given level have knowledge and awareness of anything at their level and below but do not have a knowledge or awareness of anything above their level. This may explain why those who restrained you were less distinguishable to you while the evil spirit was not; the level you reside in given your life choices would place you above the evil spirit but perhaps below others. Beings who belong to higher levels are privy to those of the lower levels, but typically not vice versa, so perhaps you were being restrained by higher beings. (When I refer to higher and lower levels, I am referring to righteousness; in other words, perhaps good angels were also present.)

All of that said, the spirit world is still typically invisible to us. We are all beset by beings of light and dark, and, regardless of our spiritual level of attainment, we mortals are not normally able to see the things of the spirit world though they can see us.

“Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:2).

When we do see them, spirits can appear deformed or hideous to us if they are evil because their true natures are manifest in their spirit body’s appearance, unlike those who have bodies of flesh and bone and can be hideous on the inside but not so on the outside. When such spirits were good, they would have looked pleasant and beautiful; however, as they began to lose their light and follow darkness, their appearance also became dark and foul (kind of like how orcs were once elves, [not to make light of this topic]).

But then there are evil spirits who can transform themselves into beings of light to try and deceive us. These are very powerful beings, like the devil himself. These beings, however, would not be accompanied by the feelings of serenity and peace that accompany a true angel of light, and this is one way you may detect them in their deception (for example, see Moses’ experience confronting such a being as found in Moses 1:12-15).

It seems as though in your experience, an evil and perhaps familiar spirit appeared to you and filled you with its feelings, as is the power of such a being. Since it was a being of hatred and anger, it filled you with hatred and anger. When it left you, those feelings left with it for they did not originate with you. There is the possibility that you first harbored the anger, which would have acted like a homing beacon for this spirit—seeking to make as many around you as possible miserable together. But I have not come to know you as a person who gets angry, so you will have to ask that question of yourself introspectively.

The key is to not allow such a being to have any influence over you. They will come to us all and tempt us to do that which is not right in the sight of God and drag us down to their level (a real possibility, even though our spirits are embedded in our bodies currently), but we must resist them and keep ourselves pointed towards that which is bright and beautiful. If you do slip down to their level, and you lose your perception and awareness of distinct beings of evil having joined their throng, do you think that when your life is over and you go on to the spirit world that your temptations will cease and everything will become illuminated to your view? It will not be so, and you will go on as you did in this life only more miserable, being as unaware as when you lived of the angels and demons who beckon you left and right.

If you have gotten your spirit to a higher level and died while there, you will find yourself as illuminated and aware of the spirits of good and evil as you were before you died, though enhanced by the fact that you are then exclusively a part of that invisible world. Hence, “…if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:19). This then is another understanding of the differences between those of spirit prison and those of spirit paradise (please reread my previous letter on that subject if you need a refresher on that).

—Joseph

Is There No Other Way?

Dear Joseph,

In between this last visit and the one, the missionaries stopped by while I was upstairs and gave my boy (who was in fact Batman at the time and as such they addressed him much to his delight) a printed out copy of an essay by John Sutton Welch entitled Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity Among the Problems of Evil. I read through it once to take it in as a whole and then went through it again highlighting interesting bits and making my own comments in the margins.

I don’t know what the chances are that you’ve read this yourself, but the general impression I got, by way of summary, was this: I should be content to allow others to suffer and die just so that I can be aware of how glad I am that it’s not happening to me.

At one point, Mr. Welch writes, “Slowly but surely I have seen, in case after case, how evil, suffering, and injustice serve as essential creative conditions that allow us to develop nearly every Christian virtue, creating opportunities for goodness and the grace of the Atonement to cure us.”

I pointed out to myself that these are virtues and an Atonement that we would not need to employ or receive if there was no evil in the first place. What point is there in a cure if there’s no disease to begin with?

Welch goes directly on to say, “The development of such interpersonal virtues as forgiveness, mercy, generosity, compassion, and charity logically requires the prior existence of some form of evil, suffering, or injustice.”

Well, sure. But again, who needs forgiveness when there’s nothing to forgive? Who needs charity or compassion when there’s no suffering? Who needs generosity when you want for nothing? God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.

—Thomas

P.S.

I got home about half an hour ago from a Mormon church service. Three hours, they said it’d be. I thought that sounded like a long-winded service, but they included what amounted to a Sunday school class and another gender specific service in there, so we got to stretch our legs in between.

It was a lot less formal than I thought it’d be, for all that they wear ties, button-ups, and slacks when they go knocking door-to-door.


Dear Thomas,

I have never read John Sutton Welch’s essay. From what you are saying, it sounds like he’s trying to explain the existence of evil by saying that it is a necessary element of creation in order to furnish a world where we can develop attributes of the opposite nature. That’s an interesting way of looking at it and, if that is his total explanation, I would say that it serves better as a description of our current circumstances than it does an explanation of the origins of evil.

Before I give my full explanation of the matter, I must give you a little aside. By giving you this essay from a dubious source (I’m actually surprised they didn’t provide you something written by a prophet or an apostle, as this topic has been covered before by higher authorities) it’s apparent that the missionaries are trying to think of anything they can to help answer your profoundly deep questions. I know they’re hoping that something they give you may strike a chord with your understanding at some point. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to ask such questions; remember, the restoration of the Gospel began with a question! But I do think the Lord allows us to be backed up to the wall of faith at times where we must make our stand or otherwise falter.

This is why they want you to read the Book of Mormon and gain a witness of whether or not it is true. If it is, then—though you may not know the exact reasons behind the forces of good and evil—you can acknowledge their existence with an assurance that the truth of it may be learned when the Lord sees fit to reveal it. I don’t mean to make a witness of the Book of Mormon seem like an excuse for not being able to explain something, but it is the keystone of our religion and if it is true, then all that is claimed by it and the religion it supports is also true; If YOU find out that it is true, then your holdup in logic would transform from a brick high on a wall to a step high on a staircase: at some point, you will be given to understand it step after step.

Nonetheless, I don’t mind trying to help answer your questions where I am able. As you said, it is ‘enlightening and entertaining.’

Let me begin with a scripture:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
“Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

What Lehi here is teaching is that some things never had a beginning and will never have an end. This includes good and evil, light and dark, gods and devils, and you and I. Our doctrine teaches that all of us are eternal, meaning that our intelligence (what we might consider as our minds) never had a beginning and will never have an end. The interesting thing is that the implication here is that we are all as old as God Himself.

Accordingly, God doesn’t and cannot see Himself as better than any of us but—within the spectrum of eternal progression (for He is more progressed than us)—He knows that He is greater than us. The words I emphasized in the last sentence carry very different connotations. This is important. What I am trying to say is that to be better than another implies a differing degree of intrinsic worth, whereas to be greater than another implies a differing degree of development or attained attributes.

This is part of the reason God will not take our agency away from us, for if we cannot choose between opposing forces as He does, we lose our ability to act for ourselves, which thing defines existence (I wrote quite a bit to you about this before). Therefore if we are eternal, and if we exist due to the ability to choose, and the ability to choose requires things to choose between, then those options to us are also eternal. Those options are good and evil, or light and darkness, etc.

“God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.”

The thing to understand is that God did not create the evil and the darkness of the universe—like the matter with which He organized this world, it was already there when He came to it (remember that Hebrew bara means “to organize” and not “to create”). I agree that it would be bad parenting to throw your kids into a fire pit under any circumstances, but this analogy simply betrays your limited understanding of what this life really is (which limitation is completely acceptable at this point). This life certainly manifests evil—your ‘fire pit’—in its varied forms, but it is not a unique aspect to existence on this earth; evil is an aspect of all existence.

The difference is that in the holy company of Heaven, evil appears as it truly is: a detestable sludge that you wouldn’t touch with a 40 foot pole (or maybe it’s 40 lightyears); on earth, this same evil appears as a finely dressed gentleman to whom the world gives praise and power. In both places evil is a constant, but from the higher plane its mask is removed.

(It is possible to attain to that higher plane while living down here because perspective is an individual matter. To get there requires obedience to the principles of righteousness so that you may become righteous and more easily distinguish between good and evil. This is provided by obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

“…They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).

But the question that begs to be asked is why, why must we come to a place where evil is so disguised? The answer brings us back to the fact that many things are as old as God Himself. When God was not yet a god, what was He? Recall my previous letter about the head of the gods, or the family of the gods, wherein I wrote that He was once a mortal, like you and I. The process, then, by which He became God—by which you and I are to become gods—is the way it has always been done on any other world that has ever been.

Combine this knowledge with these two facts:

  1. Our bodies have been created in a fallen world and so the flesh is prone to weakness (sin and evil).
  2. The veil of forgetfulness placed over our minds, which causes us to choose goodness by faith, also causes us to choose the opposite by faith.

Perhaps you can begin to see that this mortal probation is a place where evil can be presented to us in an appealing way because of where we are—a fallen world. We are left relatively alone to pick between good and evil for that is part of the test of this life, but it’s not because God created the evil or that He created a fallen world. The world became fallen when Adam and Eve fell, and they fell “that man might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added; also read my letter to you on the necessity of the fall).

The analogy you must consider should not be ‘[would I] throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll’? But rather this: would I subject my child to the shocking and undoubtedly unpleasant experience of being torn from the warmth of the womb to breathe cold air and lose all feeling of previous security just so they could learn to walk, talk, and grow?

The answer is a deliberate and ultimately merciful yes because whether cesarian or natural birth there is no other way to further your child’s development.

Think about that. I know that you would not go back and change a thing if it meant not having those precious ones in your life. Likewise is God a good parent to us, and we are born into a fallen world simply because of this same reason: there is no other way. There is only one way by which a body of flesh and bone can be created, and “it is sown in corruption[, and] raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

And when we learned we could come to this world in that premortal council that you and I attended, all of us “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

—Joseph

P.S.

You made it through all three hours of church! That can be a feat for someone used to shorter stints. In our ward this past week, my wife and I gave the sermons during the sacrament meeting (that first and longest meeting). My wife spoke about Joseph Smith’s first vision and I spoke on the nature of the Godhead.

What did you think of the services? Anything strike you as peculiar?

Free Agency: Raise the Hand and Bow the Knee

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for that in-depth breakdown of Hebrew and Genesis 1:1. That’s the kind of stuff literally no one knows or would ever feel comfortable talking about. But you laid it out like you were teaching me how to use a fork or something simple like that. I like it, and it’s quite profound.

You’ll be surprised to learn that I’ve enjoyed having some Mormon missionaries coming to visit the last three weeks. I like talking about theology and it’s not easy to find people around here who are both interested and knowledgeable on the subject. They’ve ended each get-together with a question. The first one was like “if you come to know that the Book of Mormon is true, and if you gain a testimony of that, and if you decide that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true path to God, then would you want to be baptized?” Something like that. And I was like, “well, there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in there, some really big ones, but I suppose the only possible way to answer that rather loaded question is with a yes. So… yes.” It was a true answer, but I’m not sure how honest it was. I don’t feel like I was lying, I just think there were a lot of variables that went unaddressed.

Today, the question was if all of that happens by August, would I be willing to be baptized on that date. I told them I’ve got a lot of obligations on my time, promises and commitments I’ve already made over the years to a lot of things; as in, I’ve got kids to raise, a job to do, things to write, so forth and so on. I can’t ignore everything else I’ve committed to do in order to hunker down and study The Book of Mormon, and receive whatever expectations I do or don’t have.

I do want to give it an honest effort. I said I know August is months and months away, but I just don’t feel like I can promise I’d be ready by then if I ever am ready. But again—all those ifs! So IF I have received a divine message from God that the Book of Mormon is true BY August, then again, the only way to answer that is with a ‘yes’ whether I feel that way NOW or not because IF all those things come to pass I assume I WILL feel that way THEN.

I like these chats, but I don’t want to waste these boys’ time. If I spend months on this, do all the things they’re asking me to do to get that testimony and then it doesn’t take, I’ll feel bad. They said I had to read it with a “real intent.” I don’t know if I can muster that intent. Not because I am completely closed to the idea of The Book of Mormon being l true, but because I am of two minds about God to begin with: part of me no longer believes he exists at all and is quite comfortable with the surprising peace of mind that realization brings; the other part of me believes God may exist but does not understand why he is a being worth worshipping and is actually rather upset at the prospect. No, upset isn’t the right word: angry.

Here’s the bit that has these two wonderful people and I at an impasse:

God has given us free agency—the ability to make whatever decisions I want. And along with that comes a world full of sin and evil and despair, but it also means the opportunity to ascend to something better—a better form of being, a better place to be. But what, I ask, is so great about free agency? I don’t feel like it’s worth all the horrible things it allows people to choose to do. “But,” they say, “if there’s no free agency then there’s no chance of becoming better.” Then I pointed out that if there’s no free agency then there’s no evil and therefore nothing to be better THAN. There’s no point to any of it.

They didn’t really have any reply to that, so I re-broke the ice by assuring them that I was aware that they must have thought I wasn’t making any sense at all. They agreed but seemed bemused by the whole thing, like we all realized there was something each of us was trying to say here that neither side was able to adequately express.

I understand what you’ve said about the fall and such, but my concern is that the world needn’t have fallen in the first place. Why did things have to get much worse before we could have the choice on whether or not to make ourselves better than that which is worse? We’re not really ascending then, we’re just getting back to where we were in the first place. That’s not really improvement, and so much hurt has had to happen for us to get back to where we were before we fell. Some won’t make it back either. Makes me think of the old adages, “leave well enough alone” and “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

The world wasn’t broken until God gave us our free agency.

What are your thoughts?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Your heartfelt honesty is refreshing for the missionaries, I’m sure. I mean, they asked you to have real intent and you’re honest enough to say that you’re not sure you can muster it, therefore you should not be surprised if a divine response is just out of reach for the next few months. I don’t say that to sound like a detractor or anything, but I’m simply restating what you said yourself. Thus you can’t blame the missionaries, the message, or God if the heavens remain closed to you. In other words, you know what you must do if you really want an answer.

“…’If there’s no free agency then there’s no chance of becoming better.’ …[But] if there’s no free agency then there’s no evil and therefore nothing to be better THAN.”

Your question about free agency is an interesting one, not because it’s impossible to answer—it’s not as paradoxical as it may seem—but because the answer may fundamentally imply truths that I think you may find hard to accept.

Now, before we delve into the logic that I want to employ here, an important point to keep in mind through all of this is that—with reference to the Gospel—when logical conversion precedes and/or takes the place of spiritual conversion the result is, usually, a fad-like commitment to the principles you will covenant to keep at baptism and onwards. What I mean by that is that—unless you have a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Gospel—the winds of doubt and the latest “scientific” finding could easily take your conviction (or conversion) away from you, which, you see, constitutes no real conversion in the first place. Put scripturally, you must plant the word deep in your soul if you don’t want it to be taken away (see the parable of the sower in Mark chapter 4).

My point is, despite any perceived hang-ups in logic, your spiritual witness is far more important in the short- and the long-run of things. Logic has its place—and let’s be clear that when I refer to logic I’m referring to logic arguments, not sanity itself—but this same logic would have kept Isaac tucked safely in bed the morning Abraham was commanded to offer a sacrifice in the similitude of the Son. Logic, if a precedent to faith, would have kept Moses away from Egypt for good, let alone on the dry floor of the Red Sea. Yet these and many other figures of faith were convicted in spirit long before the logic of the Lord was ever revealed to them. If the foolishness of God is wiser than anything of men (1 Cor. 1:25), then surely the perfect logic of eternity will always take faith on our part to accept (1 Cor. 2:14).

With that said, here’s my two logical cents on free agency:

“The world wasn’t broken until God gave us our free agency.”

First, free agency did not begin at birth. In fact, free agency is a principle that enables existence itself (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:30). With a little bit of applied thought, this truth can be made self evident fairly easily. Just think about it. Are you thinking about it? Well then your exercising the most basic principle of existence right this moment simply by thinking, which thinking is defined by your choice of what to think about. If we did not have agency before this life, then a third of our spirit siblings before this life could not have chosen to uphold Lucifer’s plan and thus miss out on progression (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).

When you realize that when God speaks of giving man his agency He is really speaking of allowing man to retain his agency, and that agency exists as a principle independent of God’s operations (for He too would have no existence without it), it becomes easier to accept that man’s wickedness is not God’s doing—and certainly not His will—but the devil raging in the hearts of man (like wild beasts, remember?). A man left to his own devices without principle of refinement or civilization—qualities of God’s society—will naturally become an enemy to God (see Mosiah 3:19 and 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Surely the missionaries introduced you to Lucifer’s counterfeit plan, right? Recall that in the council in Heaven before the world was, two plans were championed before us, God’s spirit children. One plan was authored by “the Head of the gods” and the premortal Jesus Christ upheld it and volunteered to fill the needed role of a Savior to make it work, and the glory would be to the Father; the other plan was championed by Lucifer who proposed that no Savior would be needed because—without free agency—there would be no chance for wickedness to occur (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and thus no need for an atoning sacrifice needed to save, and the glory would be his. As Joseph Smith interestingly worded it:

“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all,  and laid his plans before the grand council,  who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.

“…For Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition.”

Joseph Smith

How exactly Lucifer proposed to take away agency is a mystery to me, but the only conclusion I can come to is that it would be less like a utopia and more like an Auschwitz—bound hand and foot to literally be slaves to Lucifer’s will to all gain salvation. Granted, we wouldn’t see him as the devil in that scenario, but as God to whom all are forced to obey whether you like it or not—whether you choose to or not. But, luckily, the God to whom we ‘gave [our] vote in favor’ (we were part of that ‘grand council’) is a being of justice and truth. He too desires all to gain salvation, but will not—nay, cannot—force us to obey those principles of truth that would result in salvation.

This then explains Joseph Smith’s wording above. What is the price for respecting our value as free agents—to respect us as much as He respects Himself? It is, unfortunately, that a few of us would will ourselves away from God and into oblivion.

“…[But from the preexistence to the Celestial Kingdom] we’re just getting back to where we were in the first place. That’s not really improvement….”

Second, you will recall that Heavenly Father’s purpose in sending us here is multifold: one aspect is to be tested; another is to gain crucial experience; yet another is to gain a body. It is this last aspect that I’d like to emphasize. Remember that though we once lived with God, we were not like Him—we were not matured as His offspring. He gave us the choice to continue the path to become like Him (again, agency being key) but to do so would require us to know the good from the evil, so we had to come to this fallen world. Why? Because it is the only place where we could gain a physical body and keep climbing the ladder of eternal progression. (I know it’s sometimes hard to think of this life as a step in progression, but that just brings us back to the testing aspect of this life.) Remember, “Adam fell that man might be” or the striking corollary, “Had Adam not fallen man could not be” (2 Nephi 2:25; also, I wrote much more on this before).

So, no, we’re not ‘just getting back to where we were in the first place’; we’re moving onward and upward, just some not as upward as others, and a select few (the ‘sons of perdition’) are going backward. Let me put this ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ talk in perspective for you:

The plan of salvation teaches that every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (Philippians 2:10-11), and we know that the lowest degree of glory that any man (excepting the sons of perdition) will inherit, the Telestial Kingdom, will be a place in the “Kingdom of Heaven,” a place greater than this existence. So, it follows that the ordinance required to enter into God’s secular ‘kingdom’—literally the dominion of the King—is the bowing of the knee and admittance of Christ’s rulership as King (makes one wonder where medieval kingdoms got their pattern, eh?). I want you to remember this for later.

Now, to believe that man in his wickedness will land nearer to God eternally than he now is almost makes sin appear to be nonexistent. But sin is still sin—and a fire of guilt, for lack of a better word, will always burn in the hearts of the Telestial who realize they have fallen short of their potential (this is the true meaning of the fire and brimstone of the Bible)—but to understand that a glory yet awaits even the sinner in this life is to understand what this life really is: a test to ‘[give our] vote in favor of Jesus Christ’ again but under more trying circumstances.

To do this, to choose Christ again, requires sacrifice that will prove to God who the King’s truest servants will be, who He will make His truest rulers in His kingdom.

The ‘sons of perdition’ are those who sin against the Holy Ghost. They are those who have had the heavens opened to their view and they deliberately choose to deny it. They move backwards because they essentially change their ‘vote in favor of Jesus Christ’ that they made before this world. For them, bowing the knee and admitting Christ as King would be contrary to their will (that’s why I once alluded to the fact that accepting the Gospel and then rejecting it is worse than never having accepted it in the first place).

So the story changes from the all-too-familiar mainstream-Christianity one of “Okay mankind, you get one shot to pick the right answer. If you do, you win a big prize, folks!” to one of “You each get to choose just how much you’d like to follow Christ, as you all have already said you will before this life, but the closer you want to be the more that will be asked of you. Will you really be happier there? That’s up to you.”

“Why did things have to get… worse…? …So much hurt has had to happen….”

Remember, God has placed us on this earth—a Telestial sphere itself currently, the bottom of the bucket eternally speaking—to see if we will choose light over darkness. If we remain true to our choices in the preexistence, we will have an “exceeding and eternal weight of glory” added upon us (2 Corinthians 4:17). But mankind, as a whole, loves darkness more than light, and this is the condemnation the world is under (John 3:19). A man may choose to be vile and use his agency for evil—you and I see it everyday almost everywhere—but that man will fall short of the glory of God, which thing is eternal damnation by definition, never having more than the angels (I wrote about this a while back).

So it’s not that sinning will land you in a glorious state, for it is a matter of perspective: you’ve forgotten that relative to all creation, you’re standing in the refuse pit—for a reason! Sinning—or specifically not repenting—will prove the end of your glory, for in all the kingdoms except one there is an end to glory, and though Telestial glory is greater than that which we now experience, it is still a lamentable end.

When we, as part of the ‘grand council,’ put up our hands for Christ, we understood that Christ would be our king after all was said and done. When that future day comes when we bow the knee and formally sustain Him as such, it will not be a surprise to us or a begrudging notion to accept that we are under His rule. We will rejoice in the happy day. The question you are faced with by the missionaries is this: “Will you be baptized by authority to enter Christ’s ecclesiastical Kingdom? You are here, evidencing that you are part of his secular Kingdom, but He desires for you to be part of His inner circle of disciples.” Those who will take that ordinance upon themselves in this life and endure faithful to it (the sacrifice part) are those who will be given dominion with the King to rule and organize the heavens along side Him, to inherit all that the Father has (Doctrine and Covenants 84:38).

That is the definition and the difference between the Celestial Kingdom and all the others.

Christ invites men unto Him, to be joined to Him in ordinances and covenants that they must obey, that they—through Him—may be “joint heirs” of the Father (Romans 8:17). And all of this requires faith, born of a witness, born of real intent—which ofttimes precedes logic.

—Joseph