On the personhood of Satan

May 20, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 2:56 pm   Category: Theology

The theological assumption of most church members and leaders is that Satan is a person; not just a symbolic figurehead representing the source of evil and temptations in the world but a real spirit person who is really at work on the earth tempting us to do evil and generally working hard to make all humankind miserable. Elder Spencer W. Kimball expressed this opinion rather clearly in The Miracle of Forgiveness (as quoted in the SWK manual):

In these days of sophistication and error men depersonalize not only God but the devil. Under this concept Satan is a myth, useful for keeping people straight in less enlightened days but outmoded in our educated age. Nothing is further from reality. Satan is very much a personal, individual spirit being, but without a mortal body. His desires to seal each of us his are no less ardent in wickedness than our Father’s are in righteousness to attract us to his own eternal kingdom.

My problem is that I can’t figure out what Satan actually does in the world. Frankly, Satan as a person maliciously roaming the earth seems like an utterly superfluous part of the plan of salvation to me. We are quite naturally prone to being wicked and mean and rotten and selfish without evil spirits telling us to be those things.

Do we need a literal Devil and his army of fallen angels in order to be tempted in this world? Our scriptures indicate that we do not:

55 And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. (Moses 6:55)

The idea here seems to be that sins originate from within our own hearts naturally as a result of the mortal condition. It is a variation on the natural man is an enemy of God concept. So if we naturally sin as mortals and sin naturally conceives in our hearts then what purpose does allowing an army of devils roaming the earth serve in this probationary state? Wouldn’t we be plenty prone to sin without them? And if “the devil made me do it” is a unsupportable excuse for sins (based on our firm belief in free agency/will) then why would God bother letting the literal devil hang out here at all?

What do you think oh ye bloggernacle theologians?

156 Comments »

  1. We are quite naturally prone to being wicked and mean and rotten and selfish without evil spirits telling us to be those things.

    I agree with this, of course. However, the conclusion you draw from this observation doesn’t necessarily follow from this premise. It is equally true that we have natural tendencies to love and do good. These natural tendencies to do both good and evil cause each of us to have the kind of multiple personality problem Paul talks about in Romans 7.

    However, I don’t think it follows from this that there is no role for temptation. We can readily see the role of temptation as we observe peer pressure, which, like tempation, can be an influence of good or of evil. The scriptures do talk about “the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one” (2 Ne. 9:39), but they also talk about yielding “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19). So, we are enticed in both directions according to the scriptural language.

    Does the idea of the Holy Ghost enticing you to do good seem equally superfluous as the idea of Satan enticing you to do evil?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  2. I find the concept of Satan and his minions as actual people (at least actual spirits) a rather hard one to grasp. Mostly because it is hard for me to imagine someone, made up of the same stuff that we are, who is motivated and has been motivated since the war in heaven eons ago to make people do bad things. Sure we have had Hitlers and Dahmers but I suspect those people were motivated by as much mental illness as pure evil. And I don’t think Satan is mentally ill, nor are there indications that he was pure evil, just power hungry.

    What further muddies the issue for me is the lack of a literal Hell in LDS theology. At least in other Christian sects, they imagine Satan as collecting souls to populate his kingdom as opposed to them inhabiting the Father’s. But even if Satan tempts people to do all manner of evil short of murder or apostasy, he doesn’t even get their souls eternally, they just wind up in a lower kingdom. Does he really get his jollies off that, and if not, how does Satan stay motivated?

    Comment by Katie — May 20, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  3. Jacob,

    One of the very early posts I published here at the Thang asked whether or not there is a “quiet, creepy whisper” in opposition to the “still, small voice”. I suspected there must be at the time based on an opposition in all things logic. I am not so certain now though.

    As I see it, we can do three basic things: (1) Act in evil ways, (2) act in righteous ways, 3) or do neither (either by not acting at all or by acting in ways that are neither). The problem is that God requires us to do (2) while (1) is a sin of commission and (3) is sin of omission. So we already have the deck stacked against us in mortality. To level the playing field we are given the promptings of the Holy Spirit to help us avoid both sins of commission and sins of omission. If this is the case then to also allow us to be tempted by “the quiet creepy whisper” would once again stack the deck against us.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  4. Geoff,

    My point is not that there must be a quite, creepy whisper, but that our proclivity to sin is not an argument against such an idea. There might be both, just as we have some tendencies to do good as well as the enticings of the Holy Spirit.

    Similarly, your “the devil made me do it” sentence in the post seems to make the same error. I agree with you that we have free agency and cannot blame the devil for what we do, but that does not preclude the idea of a real devil who really tempts us to do evil things. Just because we can’t blame him for what we do does not mean that he does not exist.

    It is interesting that both Jesus and Joseph Smith seemed to believe in the literal existence of Satan. We have stories from early church history of demonic encounters and casting out of evil spirits. These seem to me to be the best evidence for literal evil spirits, not the sort of theological considerations you bring up in the post. I am just trying to point out that I don’t think the points you bring up in the post argue very forcefully against the reality of devils. You seem to be basing all of the concerns you expressed on the fact that we are prone to sin on our own. True enough, but it seems like a leap to go from this to the idea of there being no Satan. If there is really no Satan, which I am open to, then it seems there must be better reasons to disbelieve in his existence.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  5. For an example of Joseph Smith believing in a literal Satan:

    16 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. (JSH 1:16)

    This seems like a relatively good scriptural evidence for a real devil. Now I will shut up and let some other people comment, sorry.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  6. Jacob,

    No need to try to appeal to authority here. I did that already in my post. It is pretty clear that Joseph Smith, like Spencer W. Kimball, assumed that there was a person who is the devil. And it appears that the writers of the New Testament assumed that as well.

    But my real question is what do you think the Devil actually does? Do you think there is a quiet creepy whisper in opposition to the still small voice? How far does God allow the devil to go in such “promptings”? When does God allow such promptings on top of our natural proclivity to not proactively act righteously as we are commanded to do? (AKA our natural proclivity toward both sins of commission and sins of omission) Why does God need Satan’s “service” at all here? (These are similar questions to those asked by Katie, BTW)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

  7. I think Satan’s job is and how he keeps motivated is to keep us as far away from exaltation as possible. If he cannot rule kingdoms and be a god, well no one should be able to have that power!

    His job is to keep those creepy quiet whispers coming to distract us from the still small voice of the spirit. He creates dissonance that can interfere with our clear spiritual signal we would otherwise receive.

    Why does God need Satan’s service here? I don’t know. I suppose to balance the sweet and still small voice of the Holy Ghost so that there can be that opposition in all things?

    Comment by meems — May 20, 2007 @ 7:54 pm

  8. To address Katie’s question:

    Satan stays motivated out of hatred, anger and bitterness. He can not return to God’s presence and every bit of distance he can tempt people to put between themselves and God, even though it’s not as far or as profound as his particular exile, is a kind of twisted victory for him. He’s very much one of those “If I can’t have it, no one can!” types. What’s more is when you realize that we are God’s children you must also realize how much every child that does not come back to him hurts God. So by tempting us away from God, Satan manages two goals: he prevents others from having that which he himself cannot have and he causes God pain.

    Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — May 20, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  9. No need to try to appeal to authority here. I did that already in my post. It is pretty clear that Joseph Smith, like Spencer W. Kimball, assumed that there was a person who is the devil.

    To say that Joseph Smith assumed the personhood of Satan is to miss the exact point I was making by including the quote. While one could discount the quote you used from SWK on the grounds you suggest, the quote from JS is a first hand experience with “this enemy” which cannot be so easily dismissed.

    All the standard answers for why the scriptures might still talk about a devil even if none existed don’t seem to work very well on that particular verse, in my opinion.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

  10. Meems: I think Satan’s job is and how he keeps motivated is to keep us as far away from exaltation as possible.

    That is an answer I’ve heard and given for years too. I don’t mind it really. But try this retort on for size:

    If God is counting on Satan to tempt us with his evil promptings (or to provide opposition here) it seems to me that the best way for him to screw up God’s plan would be to provide us with no opposition at all so we would not be tested in any way here… Why doesn’t he try that?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  11. Jacob,

    One could suggest (and I’m not saying I am doing this — I’m just providing an example) that the feelings that Joseph felt in the grove were not actually from some evil spirit person but rather something God provided to Joseph to help him more deeply comprehend the nature of the glory of God or something. Sort of a revelation of the absence of the spirit or something prior to the manifestation of the glory of God. If that were the case the claiming Joseph assumed it was an evil person he felt would be accurate.

    However, I agree that the most plausible answer is that you are right and there was some evil spirit that attacked Joseph and it was Satan. If that were the case, do you think Satan is an office that some unembodied spirit occupies on every inhabited planet throughout all time?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

  12. Great discussion! Two things to say mainly: I agree with Jacob that our spirits have a natural proclivity for righteousness that balances out the the natural man’s temptation to the opposite. I think that this is real and it balances the equation. The other thing is that Satan seems to directly introduce men to ways to sin. He’s the one who teaches Cain and others about secret combinations. Even if he’s not creating new ways to sin, he can easily introduce ideas of specific sins to commit for personal gain. See also his temptations of Christ. It’s the one thing I can think of that the scriptures teach us about what Satan actually does.

    Comment by lxxluthor — May 20, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

  13. Geoff: I think Satan being Satan, he couldn’t possibly leave us alone. It’s not in his personality. Heavenly Father knows that, too.

    Besides, let’s say he were to leave us alone and provide us with no opposition. This still wouldn’t entirely thwart the plan of salvation because we, being the “natural man” would screw up a lot anyway. However, with his influence, we’re more likely to not follow the true path. And he’ll have more of us that he will have kept from the presence of God. Maybe.

    Satan could very well be an office that is occupied in every realm, just as if we view “God” as an office.

    I don’t know if this is true, false, or whatever (total folklore), but I was told in my younger days that (and you’ve all heard this), we’re the only planet out of all of God’s creations that had the mortal Jesus on it (all the other planets and peoples inhabiting them could have had a visit from the resurrected Jesus but no baby Jesus was born on them). “Why?” young meems asks. Because we have the wickedest and most righteous spirits here on earth, out of the many planets God has created.

    Now, if this is the case, then maybe we’re the only ones who have the presence of Satan on our planet too? Maybe Satan is confined to our planet and to mess us up because we’re the most righteous. Of course, this sounds like total hooey, but if this were so, perhaps Satan’s “office” is that he has stewardship over Earth.

    I have no idea what I’m saying. Sorry.

    Comment by meems — May 20, 2007 @ 10:00 pm

  14. lxxluthor: our spirits have a natural proclivity for righteousness that balances out the the natural man’s temptation to the opposite

    Really? What do you base that claim on? If spirits sans bodies have such a natural proclivity for righteousness then how do you explain that “third part of the hosts of heaven” that reportedly chose the opposite even without the temptations the natural (mortal) man encounters?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

  15. Eeep! I wrote a giant comment! Where did it go??!?

    Comment by meems — May 20, 2007 @ 10:28 pm

  16. Thanks for the note meems (#15). I saved that comment (#13) from the spam filter. (Not sure how it got there…)

    I think Satan being Satan, he couldn’t possibly leave us alone. It’s not in his personality.

    This assumes either that Satan doesn’t have free will (and thus he can’t choose otherwise — but of course if that were the case he would not be morally responsible for his actions) or that he isn’t very smart (not likely and contrary to most of what people believe about him) or that he isn’t really interested in thwarting God’s plans after all (perhaps, if one goes for the “service mission” version of the Satan role — which I don’t).

    As for that other stuff — I don’t believe Jesus was the only savior on any world. In fact I think the King Follet sermon by Joseph Smith and its follow up in June of 1844 give strong evidence that the Father was formerly a savior. And the “because we’re the most righteous” people on any planet ever line that occasionally get tossed around in Mormon folklore is an example of ego-centricism gone horribly, horribly wrong in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 20, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  17. The problem for Satan, of course, is that he doesn’t appear in his diabolical form until after the Old Testament period, so one wonders what he was doing all that time. (And don’t point to Job: there he’s clearly working for God, something that will only win you theological problems not solutions.)

    Comment by Ronan — May 20, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

  18. Geoff,

    I have always felt that Satan is not necessarily disembodied and may be an actual god of sorts competing with God the father including the council of Gods. He likely obtains his power via those who follow him much in the way evil tyrants in this world rule.

    I see his motivation as a means to acquire more power for selfish reasons as opposed to God actually wanting our benefit. I have a stronger testimony of the reality of evil forces than many things in the gospel and truly believe there is much more going on vis a vis God and satan than we may realize.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 21, 2007 @ 12:23 am

  19. Ronan, you mean in the Jewish accounts? There are incidents of diabolic Gods in Egyptian, Babylonian myths etc.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 21, 2007 @ 12:25 am

  20. Joshua,
    Sure. I’m not sure of the diabolical gods in Mesopotamian religion, though. We have demons and gods who do nasty things, yes, but I wouldn’t call any of them “the Devil.” The Christian Satan reminds me a lot of Ahriman, the great anti-God of Zoroastrianism.

    Comment by Ronan — May 21, 2007 @ 3:04 am

  21. There is a line from Ghostbusters that I like. THe Bill Murry character says something like – pretend that I don’t know anything about physics, metellurgy, or engineering, and tell me what is going on.

    This post reminds me of this a little bit. Pretend that we don’t have the scriptures, or the words of modern prophets, and let’s try to figure out what is going on.

    I believe Satan thinks he knows what is best better than God does, and wants to prove Him wrong. ‘Look at how many you lost!’ may be the big I told you so he is looking for.

    Satan is a spirit child of Heavenly Father who was allowed to rebel, and has his own free agancy like everyone else. I am not sure how I feel about how necessary Satan is to the plan, or whether he is just doing whatever he wants.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 21, 2007 @ 5:52 am

  22. I’ve typically thought of Satan as the beginning point of a sort of butterfly effect. I think I got this idea stuck in my head from Pratchett and Gaiman’s “Good Omens” and the devil character, Crowley, within the book. There the devil character is especially proud that he has been able to make wireless phones not work for about half-an-hour at lunch, which frustrates a man enough that he takes it out on his secretary, who takes it out an a fellow driver on the way home, who goes home and beats his wife, etc…

    Satan, being the great deceiver, if he did have direct influence, I would think would have the capability to disguise himself well enough that we would never know he had any power in the situation. After all, Satan’s greatest trick is to make us feel he has no power over us. On the othe rhand, we are promised that if we keep our temple covenants, Satan does not have pwoer over us…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  23. Ronan,

    Very good point. An argument could be made that the modern Christian conception of Satan is a stowaway into Judaism from Zoroastrianism or some other ancient tradition much in the way that segments of Greek thought etc found their way into revealed Judaism and was then passed on to Christianity. (God does seem to allow stowaway notions into even his revealed religion — see section 19.)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 8:09 am

  24. Meems, #13 — you rock! The most evil planet — I love that one.

    Leave it to lxxluthor #12 to talk about balance of temptation. Is this idea of balance for good and evil even real? In the millenium when Satan is bound there won’t be balance — in the pre-existance (pre-fallen angel lucifer) there wasn’t this balance? and yet there is still clearly agency and the possibility to fall. So why do we need this balance?

    Where idoes all of the peronality of Satan coming from? That he’s constantly angry, relentless, trying to bring us down, etc.

    Screwtape Letters, Paradise Lost, Bedazzled (okay, that third one is a joke) — all great introspective investigations into the mind of a temptor.

    My question is(and Geoff, you are there in #10, #16), did Lucifer HAVE to fall in order for the plan of salvation to come to pass? Wouldn’t God’s plan had been frustrated if Lucifer would have towed the line and kept his first estate?

    What if Jesus was supposed to give Adam and Eve the fruit, but Lucifer usurped that role because he wanted to be the God of this world, and he saw that that is how it was done previously on other worlds.

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  25. Joshua,

    Interesting take. It is sort of on the other end of the spectrum from the idea that there might not be an actual person in the role/office of Satan — your idea has a person in that role who is actually independently powerful and not even within the control of God. I think that concept has had some traction for a long time with a lot of people so you are not alone at least. It is the basis of the Ransom Theory of atonement too actually.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 8:23 am

  26. By the way, Meems’ evil planet reference reminded me of a section in the D&C that I was taught was “evidence” that there were in fact twelve planets as part of the creation (I’m saying this is what I was told), and that ours was the twelfth (and wickedest). See if you can extrapolate this at all from the parable given in D&C 88:51-61.

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 8:27 am

  27. Now, if this is the case, then maybe we’re the only ones who have the presence of Satan on our planet too?

    I think there is certainly evidence in the temple for this idea.

    Comment by Katie — May 21, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  28. Geoff,

    incidentally I am not a big fan of ransom theory. I know this is way out there, but Satan almost seems to me like an evil god, one who gains power through his followers who follow out of fear, control, manipulation, and at times for the love of evil. whereas the council and God rule via persuasion, love, and exalting their followers. I have always wondered whether there is some cosmic conflict that even God is engaged in or maybe I’ve watched too much sci-fi.

    I know that in LDS circles Satan is considered a spirit child of God, why? I have always found this somewhat problematic. First and foremost if I was in the preexistence and saw God in all his glory and then a spirit child somewhat equal to myself, would it really be a hard choice to know who to follow. I find the idea that he was a member of the council or an exalted man/god of sorts much more understandable. Satan wanted to do things differently,differently from the pattern done for eons. So what Im wondering is if satan is spirit or exalted man then fallen? and what are the implications of either?

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 21, 2007 @ 8:55 am

  29. Eric — If the scriptures and words of modern prophets univocally answered these theological questions then we wouldn’t be discussing any of this. So since they don’t, here we are.

    Matt — I sort of like that version. But of course it assumes that a person named Satan is roaming about prompting people to do evil in ways that they wouldn’t have naturally done anyway as reactions to the great causal chain in the universe. That brings us back to the same questions we have been dealing with here: Are such external evil promptings necessary for the plan? And if so wouldn’t refraining from playing along work best? In other words, it doesn’t address the core questions we are getting at.

    Glenn — You seem to suggest that the role of Satan is an unnecessary position in the plan. If that is the case then what purpose is being served by a person roaming around in that role now?

    Katie: I think there is certainly evidence in the temple for this idea.

    I’m afraid I see evidence quite to the contrary in the temple. Nibley did as well. As I read him, he saw the temple teaching us that the basic plot of our planet is the same as the basic plot of every inhabited world throughout time.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  30. This will get me labeled as a nut.

    I would be much less inclined to believe in Satan and his minions having personhood if I had not had an encounter with one of them.

    I think that people do plenty of evil through their own free will. I don’t know the exact role that Satan plays in such decisions, but I’ve decided/understand that he exists.

    Comment by a random John — May 21, 2007 @ 9:26 am

  31. Geoff J. asks:

    the best way for him to screw up God’s plan would be to provide us with no opposition at all so we would not be tested in any way here… Why doesn’t he try that?

    Here are a couple of other questions about why Satan and his followers do what they do if they want to screw up God’s plan:
    Why didn’t he just leave Adam & Eve alone in the Garden?
    Why don’t they just refuse to shake our hands?
    It appears there is something that only extreme discipline prevents that “makes” the spirit children of God act contrary to the way they should; e.g., like NOT staring at a really bad toupee.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — May 21, 2007 @ 9:35 am

  32. Glenn (#26),

    I think the more oft cited scripture to support the idea that this is the most wicked of all God’s creations is this scripture where he says this to Enoch:

    Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren. (Moses 7:36)

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 9:50 am

  33. By the way, the question:

    Are such external evil promptings necessary for the plan?

    seems to me to miss the point of the plan. The plan exists because there is evil, and there are evil influences. The plan does not depend on evil, it is in response to evil.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  34. The plan exists because there is evil, and there are evil influences. The plan does not depend on evil, it is in response to evil.

    I don’t know what you mean by this. Can you expand?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  35. GeoffJ: Are such external evil promptings necessary for the plan? And if so wouldn’t refraining from playing along work best? In other words, it doesn’t address the core questions we are getting at.

    There are a few different takes on this.

    1. There is Mondo Cool’s take, where Satan, due to the choices he has made, is not really free to stand back and not oppose the plan. This wuld make since in that the atonement does not apply to Satan due to his unrepentant state and thus, he is not free to act for himself, and not be acted upon.

    2. Satan doesn’t understand the plan of salvation, so doesn’t know that not playing along would be best.

    3. Satan is self-deceived.(ala C. Terry Warner’s “Bonds that make us free.”) He thus is living in a distorted view of reality and is thus trapped by his errors.

    4. You can leave the plan, but you can’t leave the plan alone. (this is probably the combination of all of the above…)

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 10:13 am

  36. Excellent point, Jacob.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  37. arJ,

    Believe it or not, I personally find the idea of disembodied spirits (who are among the “third part” who don’t get a body here) milling about here easy enough to understand and buy. It is the additional idea that they have a supreme leader who has them organized and carrying on a guerrilla war with us that I have trouble fitting into the plan of salvation as I understand it.

    (I have posted on the third part concept in the past here)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  38. Matt,

    If you think #34 is an excellent point perhaps you can explain what it means to me then…

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:18 am

  39. I’m afraid I see evidence quite to the contrary in the temple. Nibley did as well. As I read him, he saw the temple teaching us that the basic plot of our planet is the same as the basic plot of every inhabited world throughout time.

    Geoff-Then why is Satan so surprised for being punished for merely doing, as he says, the same stuff he has been doing elsewhere in other inhabited worlds?

    Comment by Katie — May 21, 2007 @ 10:19 am

  40. Or in other words, Satan’s surprise seems to indicate that there is some deviation in the “basic plot” when it comes to our world.

    Comment by Katie — May 21, 2007 @ 10:20 am

  41. Matt,

    The responses you gave in #35 face a few problems.

    1. If you are saying he no longer has free will then he is also not morally culpable for his actions. Are you ok with that? The problem with that is then responsibility for his behavior must lie outside of him and eventually the buck would stop with God. I doubt you are ok with that.

    2. This assumes Satan is an idiot. I don’t think this will get much traction. Surely he can see and read, right?

    3. The sounds like a combination of 1 and 2 to me so it bears the same problems as 1 and 2.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:22 am

  42. Katie,

    The problem is that you are begging the question (aka using circular reasoning). You are assuming that a) Satan is a literal person (the question we are addressing here) and 2) that the narrative in the temple is literal history (another issue entirely.)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  43. Geoff (#34),

    I don’t view the plan as some arbitrary test God concocted. Rather, God found himself in the midst of spirits who were less advanced than himself, and he came up with a plan to help them advance as he was already advanced.

    So, what are the obstacles to this plan? Well, the first is that he is starting with a bunch of low-level intelligences. Individuals do not naturally live together in harmony and love. It takes effort and it requires each one to develop a godly character. This requires each one to overcome their own inherent selfishness, envy, shortsightedness, etc., as well as becoming strong enough to choose righteousness even when surrounded by evil and negative influences. If you raise children, you know that these two things are not redundant.

    So, it is not the case that God needs a Satan to tempt us in order to create his concoted “test.” Rather, his whole plan is designed to help us advance despite the existence (the pre-existence if you will) of personal inadequacy compounded by negative influences in the universe.

    Does that help explain my view?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  44. Geoff (#11),

    The untenableness of your suggestion is exactly the sticking point I was trying to point out. Yes, one could suggest any number of things to explain it which are hard to accept. The fact that you couldn’t come up with one explanation which you were willing to sign your name to is an example of why the quote in #5 is hard to get around. By contrast, it is easy to come up with explanations of the SWK quote which I, myself, would sign up for.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:52 am

  45. Sorry, haven’t had time to read the commments yet.

    Just a thought. If we believe God has servants helping out here, wouldn’t balance dictate that Satan would be necessary? Just as one need not have angels to have people be good, one doesn’t need satans to have people be bad. Yet God intervenes in some measure and it appears Satan has a role to play as well.

    Yet this is something in which not a lot has been revealed. My guess is though that for most people both God and Satan aren’t really that involved in their choices.

    Comment by Clark — May 21, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  46. Just one more brief thing. In Jewish thought there were two inclinations: the evil inclination and the good inclination. The latter corresponded roughly to our notion of the light of Christ plus a bit of the Holy Ghost. The former is something in our scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, albeit in slightly different language. But it isn’t something really formally thought about much theologically. Is there a necessary “influence” from Satan paralleling that from God? Possibly, although there’s no scriptural need that I can see.

    Even much of our good inclination (and perhaps thus the light of Christ) can be seen as a manifestation of the evolutionary structures in our bodies. Ditto with the bad.

    So if God is enticing us beyond what our body provides (and I think he does) then there is an influence. I personally think there is a Satan and he does as well although I couldn’t for the life of me say how.

    Comment by Clark — May 21, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  47. I didn’t want to post here, but the Devil made me do it!

    Comment by Brian D. — May 21, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  48. Man, I missed the second half of #11 the first time, sorry about that. Soften my previous comment appropriately.

    do you think Satan is an office that some unembodied spirit occupies on every inhabited planet throughout all time?

    No, I don’t think “Satan” is an office. I share your misgivings about there being one head Satan who marshals the forces of all evil. Sometimes I think we assume to much order and organization for the forces of evil. I’m with you on that.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  49. Ronan (#17), the problem of Satan in the OT (independent of Job which problematizes things even more) is an interesting one. My rejoinder is simply to say it sure would be great to discover a store of pre-exilic Jewish scripture, wouldn’t it. I tend to see the compilation of the Torah and related books post-exile as highly selective. So I don’t see this silence as necessarily being invocative of much.

    Plus some of the merkabah and ascent literature provides an other interesting tradition. Perhaps more in line with Job. There we have demonic like powers trying to stop people from going to God – but more in line with a trial of fire or a test. That’s quite in keeping with an LDS anthropology of life. However it’s not at all in keeping with an LDS theology of Satan since these forces are hardly enemies to God in a strict sense.

    Of course they do develop as such. We end up with extensive demonology and angelology in the Jewish texts – especially merkabah ones. And those demons do come to take the diabolical form we’re familiar with. (Indeed that development is probably the original source of a lot of Christian view)

    But as others have said, it’s not as if the other near eastern religions didn’t have good gods and bad gods all fighting amongst themselves.

    Turning to scripture though I think the Book of Mormon and the JST offer the most compelling reasons to think there’s a real Satan.

    Comment by Clark — May 21, 2007 @ 11:05 am

  50. Geoff J: (38) You may not recall my still incomplete atonement theory. Jacob’s point that there was evil already before the plan, I think of as part of that atonement theory. Jacob above calls it personal inadequacy, I called it “deficiencies”

    And (41)

    1. This also ties to the atonement I think. Satan is still morally culpable because even though he is not free to not be in opposition the plan now, he is/was free to accept/reject the atonement, which would give him the other freedoms.

    2. Satan being an idiot is a common effect of this stream of thought, I think. I don’t elieve him to be an idiot though. If we go with the Butterfly affect idea, Satan’s only interaction with man could have been in the Garden, and all other interaction past that point could be ripple effects only. What was there to read and see then? I also think that even if Satan had all the literature and information in front of him, his undertanding may be blocked based on the “self-deception” I previously mentioned, where he rejects the plan based on some thing he knows he ought to do, but doesn’t want to do, so he rationalizes that heshouldn’t do it. We could think of it like this, Satan didn’t want to follow the plan and “take the test” because he was afraid he would lose some of his then exalted status or because he is afraid he won’t succeed (he doesn’ want to risk it.) He thus rejects the plan and justfies rejecting the plan (the plan is not fair, etc…) Finally, he begins to try and get others to reject the plan, seeking to gain support for his view and overturn the plan, which he views as unjust.

    I will say that I do not see Satan as the source of all evil, as I think evil has always existed, even before Satan.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  51. Clark: If we believe God has servants helping out here, wouldn’t balance dictate that Satan would be necessary?

    No.

    As I’ve expressed in a couple of different ways in this thread, the playing field is slanted against us already and allowing for Satan to prompt us would make our probation less fair, not more fair.

    I discussed this larger principle at some length in this post. The idea is that simply reacting to our stimulus and doing positive things is hardly morally commendable at all. In other words, if I only go on a mission because I am born into a culture where that is where my life track leads me then the best that can be said about my choice is that I didn’t proactively choose evil. (Sorry for the jargon with proactive but the word serves my purposes here.) I just went with the flow. But I don’t think that just going with the flow is the goal of our time here on earth. Rather, we are supposed to proactively choose righteousness no matter what life track we are on. So the promptings of the Spirit give us a fair chance to actually use our free will and jump tracks upward rather than go through our lives reacting and allowing earthly stimulus to entirely dictate our lives.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  52. Clark,
    I think there’s pre-exilic literature in the Bible despite the hands of later editors. An in none of those pre-exilic tales is Satan anywhere to be found, not even in the most axial events.

    Comment by Ronan — May 21, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  53. If anyone is interested, here is what I hope is a welcome and interesting link to lds.org regarding Satan.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 21, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  54. Well yes, but the pre-exilic stuff is fragmentary so I don’t think silence should be taken as entailing much.

    Geoff, the issue of “morally commendable” is complex. I think that if the ultimate issue is the test for Celestial beings that more opposition than what’s normally here is in order.

    How do deal with the issue of the desert, as the free will folks like to put it, is a bit complex. However I think the degrees of glory deal with that quite well. I’m not sure your conclusions follow though (i.e. that Satan is unnecessary)

    Comment by Clark — May 21, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  55. allowing for Satan to prompt us would make our probation less fair, not more fair.

    I don’t think its supposed to be fair. We have already proven to ourselves we will follow God’s plan when in His presence, now we must discover if we will do so when we are not hovered over (so to speak.)

    There are many definitions for evil. In the sense I most easily understand, evil is opposition to God’s plan. In that sense, it would not have existed before God’s Plan. However, I believe there is something more existential about God’s Plan that we do not and cannot comprehend as mortals.

    Like arJ, I’d find it easier to disbelieve in Satan had I not had personal experiences with him and his minions. I don’t see why it’s difficult to believe evil could be at least somewhat organized. It seems to me that organized evil is the most evil because it seems the most good. I think spirits followed Satan because his plan seemed better to them. After the war in heaven, their pride made it better to them to be right and separated from God than wrong and humble.

    How many people purposefully separate themselves from God, even after feeling His love? It’s not uncommon.

    How many prefer to be right than to be humble? One must look no further than the Bloggernacle. ;)

    Comment by SilverRain — May 21, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  56. Note to all:

    There is an important technical difference between the existence of Satan and the personhood of Satan. For instance the God that much of creedal Christianity preaches about (or at least the one that the theologians from those religions describe) is an absolute who is omnipresent and without body parts or passions. That version of God cannot properly be called a person while “he” can be called God. (The view of God that LDS apostle Orson Pratt held could not properly be called a person either BTW). So this post is not at all about the existence of Satan — that seems as obvious as the existence of God in LDS thought to me. Rather, the question I am addressing here is about the personhood of Satan.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 12:23 pm

  57. Good point, Geoff. I still think Satan is a person. I don’t think the sort of malevolence Satan exhibits can exist outside of a being with agency. I think Satan was a being who was like Jesus Christ in potential for Light. Where Jesus submitted, Satan did not. The ramifications of that story cease to have meaning if Satan is only allegorical.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 21, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  58. Geoff: sorry, I think Jacob and I got sidetracked by your framing of the question: Are such external evil promptings necessary for the plan?

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  59. I think Satan is motivated mainly by an extreme jealousy and the desire to enter in to the story — the flow of history, of generation, of civilization. He seeks to destroy because he can not create, and I would imagine that in whatever sense he can influence individuals he is incredibly frustrated by the ways in which they act (as well as the very fact that they can act) even when he succeeds in abetting destruction.

    But I’m not sure that I can argue or even express this in philosophical or theological terms. My stance tends to be solely one of literary speculation.

    Comment by William Morris — May 21, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  60. Matt,

    There is no question that we have “promptings” to be less than righteous. There is some question as to what source(s) such promptings originate from. Is it necessarily a spirit person? If not is it ever from a spirit person?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  61. Perhaps none of us are righteous enough for Satan to bother with us, and that is why we have a hard time believing he is real. Since we are already weak, he doesn’t need to waste his time dealing with us. If we were stronger, like when Joseph received his First Vision, we would be an object that he might deem worthy of attack.

    Comment by Jeff Day — May 21, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  62. Jeff — No one here is expressing doubt that Satan is real. The question being discussed is if Satan is a person. (See #56)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  63. Geoff: (60) I don’t think it is necesarily a spirit person, at least external to the spirit-self. However, I do believe it can be an external spirit person, and as I’ve stated, that initial external beginning could be quite removed from the instance of “temptation”. I think this is relatively obvious up to this point.

    The real question is the external person who ever initiates the prompting the person we call Satan who appears in the story of premortality, and how far removed is his connection to prompting us…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  64. er.. I meant: Is the external person who initiates the prompting the person we call Satan? How far removed is his connection to prompting us? (is it as far removed as the fall, or is it like he is there like with JS and the darkness? or is it both?)

    Comment by Matt W. — May 21, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  65. Geoff (62)

    If Satan is real, and is not a person. Then what the he** is he?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 21, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  66. Eric, let me give you an example. The Holy Ghost is a person in our doctrine. However the “influence of the Holy Spirit” is not a person. When we say we “feel the spirit” we don’t me that we feel the literal spirit body of the person who is the Holy Ghost. Rather, we feel some sort of radiant influence of deity. So the term “the spirit” represents a real force that is not a person. It seems possible to me that “the devil” could also represent some force or concept that has real effects on us without being a person too.

    If the view that Satan is a real person with an army of angels is indeed 100% correct we just have a lot of sticky questions to answer is all. He must have a “darkness of the devil” that radiates from him in opposition to the “light of Christ” right? And he and his angels must be able to move through time and space just like angels can if they are all over tempting people a la The Screwtape Letters. And they must be able to communicate together over massive distances like we assume God and angels communicate. How far are we going to take this opposition in all things concept here?

    (Also, all of that freedom and movement around our beautiful earth sounds like a pretty good deal– is that really what people think Outer Darkness consists of?)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  67. A pretty good deal? Or the ultimate hell? Being able to see progression in all its messy forms, physicality in all its glory and not being able to be part of that stream of mortality except in a very indirect way, and then, still at the mercy of some other spirit enrobed in flesh who may or may not listen* to you.

    * Whatever it means to listen — on that I have no idea and I’m not sure the mechanism [i.e. forces or?] fully matters.

    Comment by William Morris — May 21, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  68. I read D&C 76 as a fairly clear advocation of the personhood of Satan/Lucifer: “an angel of God who was in authority”

    There doesn’t seem to me to be a concrete “need” for Satan to exist in terms of balance or opposition. I think rather that the existence of someone like Satan is an effect/result, not a cause or other integral part. If the person who is now Satan had not rebelled against God when he did, I am certain that there would have been someone else who did.

    I think the myriad ways in which evil men organize themselves on earth is shadow of the many ways that the 1/3 are likely to organize themselves. I can’t picture one single giant organization because I don’t imagine that much anger/hatred/pride/etc would permit it. (Something of a side thought but, if a devil doesn’t do as he’s told, what more punishment can other devils heap on him?) I imagine some devils acting alone, some following various leaders, and a large percentage following Satan.

    I also don’t picture myself to be of sufficient importance to warrant any direct attention by Satan himself. But I do suppose that several others (at the very least, Cain, Jesus, Joseph) have received very direct attention/temptation from Satan. The rest of us are affected more indirectly, perhaps by the whisperings of devils, but more often by less obvious means such as peer pressure. I don’t however buy the idea of a butterfly effect rippling from the Fall without any further influence.

    The concept that Satan provides a source of ideas that an average evil man would not have otherwise thought of is intriguing. However, those sins most likely only require planting occasionally for them to repeated frequently. Certainly there’s an issue of decreased accountability if more than a very small percentage (if any) of our sins are due to direct influence.

    Comment by Robert — May 21, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  69. Glenn — You seem to suggest that the role of Satan is an unnecessary position in the plan. If that is the case then what purpose is being served by a person roaming around in that role now?

    Excellent question Geoff J (#29). Yes, I do think that the role of Satan is unnecessary in “the plan” – and let me be specific about that. I can’t believe – or choose to not believe – that God’s plan (i.e. to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man) really hinges on this role of an adversary – that in order for us to progress, others must digress. That seems neither merciful nor just. I believe that agency and opposition exist whether you have a personified evil or not. Was there a Satan who tempted the pre-rebellious-Lucifer towards perdition – or was there just the opportunity to follow or rebel? (To put this ridiculously into Star Wars terms, who was the previous Satan/Palpatine who seduced Lucifer/Anakin to the dark side of the force?)

    So, what purpose is being served by a person roaming around in that role now? Well, in my reckoning, it isn’t any divine purpose. To be honest, I am not sure how much I really see the devil as an actual “person roaming around the earth” or a traditional, symbolic representation/archetype that we use to focus on the things we should avoid. But I believe there naturally exists the opportunity for goodness or evil, compassion or cruelty, selflessness or selfishness, etc etc whether we have a devil tempting us in one direction or not.

    I agree with Jacob in #33 –

    The plan exists because there is evil, and there are evil influences. The plan does not depend on evil, it is in response to evil.

    According to our accepted LDS mythology, the reason we have the plan that we have is because of the way mankind came in to the world (i.e. through sin). I think there is still the possibility, however, that mankind could have entered mortality without sin and would still have experienced death and a need to reunite the spirit and the body – don’t we talk about the distinction between spiritual death and physical death? Did they have to be connected in order for God to fulfill his work and glory? I don’t think so.

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  70. Geoff (#666) oh, I guess it is just (66) :)

    I tend to think of ‘the spirit’ as a form of communication that comes through God/Holy Ghost to us. At least indirectly if not directly. My point is, that without the individuals involved there would be no communication, no spirit. So I do not quite go along with your premise.

    Darkness can be considered an absence of light, and not some ‘energy’ of itself. I am also not opposed to there being some type of communication between spirits that can beat our current technology all over the place (at super low rates and no roaming charges. You just have to get in the circle of friends).

    Oh, and you don’t believe angels can travel through time anyway do you?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 21, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  71. What a great discussion to wake up to this morning. I have so many things I want to say.

    Where Jesus submitted, Satan did not. The ramifications of that story cease to have meaning if Satan is only allegorical.

    Silverrain (#57), by this reasoning, do the ramifications of the Good Samaritan (and other parables) cease to have meaning because they are only allegorical?

    I think Ronan (#17, #20, #52) is right, by the way, about the traditional (and syncretic) evolution of the idea of Satan. Look at the stark contrasts between the Book of Job Satan (where he “reports” to God and has access to heavenly councils – almost an extension of divine purpose) and the popular conception of Satan (as a rebellious and warring combatant against God who cannot abide the presence of God).

    Jeff Day (#61) “Perhaps none of us are righteous enough for Satan to bother with us…” But what about the old “**how many devils does he have on his back” story? :) I remember being very concerned about this as a teenager and using it to justify some mildly inappropriate behavior – if I was “too good” then Satan would pay too much attention to me and scary things might happen. It was less scary to just fly under the radar a bit – and it was also more fun on dates.

    Geoff J (#62) “No one here is expressing doubt that Satan is real.” Actually, I think I am. I certainly have doubts. But at present I am undecided and not fully convicted one way or the other.

    Robert (#69) “If the person who is now Satan had not rebelled against God when he did, I am certain that there would have been someone else who did.” Why are you so certain? You know, the more I read and think about the organizational behavior of devils, the more ridiculous it sounds to me.

    “The rest of us are affected more indirectly, perhaps by the whisperings of devils, but more often by less obvious means such as peer pressure.”

    Change that to “more obvious means” and I am right there with you.

    **You know the story of the man who was looking through spiritual eyes and saw a man with a dozen devils on his back and another man with only one devil on his back? His initial assumption was that the man with twelve devils was the more wicked, but he was told (by his angel guide, I guess) that he was incorrect – the man with only one devil was more wicked because it only took one devil to tempt him into evil (he was easier to sway) whereas it took twelve to influence/tempt the other more righteous man.

    So fair warning for those of you (i.e. ME) claiming that maybe no devil is whispering in your ear — what does that say about your righteousness :)

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

  72. Glenn — I think you might have missed the point of my comment #62. The issues is whether there is person in the role of Satan not whether there is something (not a person but something else) that the scriptures refer to as Satan. The latter is undeniable; the former is what we are talking about here.

    Eric — Oops. That space and time comment should have just said space.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

  73. I do not think the existence of Satan is the least bit necessary for the plan of salvation. There is something horribly perverse about that idea.

    There is also plenty of scriptural support for the idea that we sin due to our own deficiencies, without external prompting of any kind. See James 1:14-15 for example.

    That said, granting the fact that Satan exists, I do not see how he could be anything other than a person of some sort. The idea that he is literally some sort of mystical cloud of darkness sounds like the sort of idea we usually ridicule when applied to God, too much like some sort of magical thinking.

    And finally, the question of the personhood of the devil is quite independent of the effectiveness of his opposition. It might well be that only unusually disturbed or evil seeking individuals are regularly susceptible to his influence for example, and that the vast majority of temptations are driven of one’s own lusts, as the scripture says.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 21, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  74. I don’t believe that there is a necessity for a literal Devil and his army of fallen spirits to personally tempt humankind. But our doctrine seems to support the idea that there must be a juxtaposition of Good and Evil in order that we exist in a condition of free will. I don’t know that our own proclivity to sin can fully satisfy this condition. Perhaps an outside evil force is needed, as well as a Savior; and that is why a literal Satan is not superfluous.

    I am also open to the idea that the Devil might be a symbolic personification of evil, but I would hate to go against SWK as quoted in your original post!

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 21, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  75. Geoff J., I am certain I missed several points — it’s not the first (or last) time it will happen. And you are right, it is undeniable that the scriptures refer to Satan. But it is absolutely deniable whether or not the scriptures are right (or even consistent) about the way they define Satan. The scriptures were written by men and men are influenced by tradition and tradition changes because of the influences of men. I don’t have a firm conviction/testimony of Satan, either as a real person in a “role” or whatever you want to call it. But I do recognize his literary relevance as an antoginist and foil — as the personifcation of evil — in both official (i.e. scripture) and unofficial traditional narratives as. To me, he is a character in a story — several characters in several stories really.

    You start out by saying, “The theological assumption… is that Satan is a person; not just a symbolic figurehead…” . If it’s an assumption, it can be challenged, right?

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  76. Glenn (#71) “If the person who is now Satan had not rebelled against God when he did, I am certain that there would have been someone else who did.” Why are you so certain? You know, the more I read and think about the organizational behavior of devils, the more ridiculous it sounds to me.

    I am certain because the alternative is this: NONE of the 1/3 would have rebelled if not for Satan’s actions. That would imply that they were all just mindless lemmings and beg’s the question of whether or not they therefore deserved the resulting punishment.

    As for the organizational behavior, I was imagining gangs, mafia, tyrant governments, etc. That is, no one central government, just lots of small groups full of either weak or aspiring individuals with a few leaders. And I imagine about as much loyalty as you would get in any of the above. So lots of dissent, mutiny, takeovers, divisions, betrayals, etc. I base that belief off of the idea that devils are not that different from humans (or at least, the worst possible examples of humans) and many (though not all) would still feel a need to congregate and associate with one another. Their jealousy of us may even lead them to create church like organizations that would put any Satanic cults here in mortality to shame. But now I’m speculating just a little too much.

    Change that to “more obvious means” and I am right there with you.

    I actually meant to say “less direct means” which fits better with the first half of the sentence.

    Comment by Robert — May 21, 2007 @ 8:11 pm

  77. I am also open to the idea that the Devil might be a symbolic personification of evil, but I would hate to go against SWK as quoted in your original post!

    Hehe. I’m with you sista! You have captured my conundrum on this topic very well.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 21, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  78. Robert, to me the 1/3 is just another three-pattern reference that suggests that perhaps this story is a human creation rather than a divine pre-mortal history. But that’s just the skeptical part of my nature that is constantly trying to pin down the believer in me.

    Milton’s Paradise Lost has an interesting interpretation to the organizational behavior question (and I am doing this by memory, and it has been several years, so forgive me if I am off). When it opens in hell, all of the devils are too weak and frail to even move, but Satan (who was the angel-person Lucifer, but can not even hear that name now because it is too painful a reminder of the glory he once held and has now lost) convinces them each to give him a portion of their power so that he can ascend and take the fight back to God — they agree — this makes him larger and more powerful (because he doesn’t give it back, you see) than the others and establishes his role as their leader.

    And even the believer side of me doubts very much that the devils are jealous of us (to my ears, that sounds like another rhotrical construct we use to pat ourselves on the back). I would expect that, if they are real, they are contemptious, and mocking, but in my imagination they would feel superior to us rather than inferiour, and to me, jeolousy is an admission of inferiority.

    Anyway, interesting stuff.

    Comment by Glenn — May 21, 2007 @ 8:38 pm

  79. I understand the skepticism. Certainly the 1/3 can’t be taken too literally and as soon as you start accepting parts of the story to be figurative, its hard to draw a line. I use 1/3 as a shorthand for “the original, never-to-be-embodied followers of Satan” because its a lot shorter. And I don’t assume it to be mathematically very accurate.

    Admittedly, I was getting a little overly romantic when I came up with that jealousy bit. But certainly there’s a element to the mythos of Satan (person or not) that his “works” tend to mimic God’s messengers and God’s revelations. I think therefore that duplicated church-like institutions and other forms of organization would not be surprising, though at the same time not guaranteed.

    Here’s a slightly adjusted proposition that I’ve been mulling over after reading several comments.

    What if there was a unique person (call him Lucifer) who initiated a rebellion in the beginning. Now take the SWK quote:

    Satan is very much a personal, individual spirit being, but without a mortal body.

    Is it possible that there is always A Satan but that the actual individual changes, perhaps frequently? In other words, there is always one individual with the most power and control (which I interpret to mean the most followers) but that he can be usurped by another ad nauseam. Perhaps this is the same as the concept of Satan as an “office” but it seems subtly different to me. In particular, since I reject any notion of Satan being a requirement in the plan it’s hard for me to imagine how he could maintain any sort of permanent control over his followers.

    Is this a feasible perspective? Is it semantically different from the “office” perspective?

    Comment by Robert — May 21, 2007 @ 9:36 pm

  80. Geoff,

    Thanks for articulating what I’ve been saying to folks for a long time. (I don’t have time to read the commments right now, so I don’t know what everyone else’s reactions are).

    If our natural selves (the “natural man”) and Satan are doing the same work, why do we need both? Subtract Lucifer from the theology … and nothing changes.

    Aaron B

    Comment by Aaron Brown — May 21, 2007 @ 10:02 pm

  81. Aaron B,

    Subtract Lucifer from the theology … and nothing changes.

    But if you subtract Lucifer from history is it true that nothing changes? (see comment #5, for example)

    Comment by Jacob J — May 21, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  82. It seems the discussion has been whether Satan is necessary or not, a very different question than whether he is real.

    As to his necessity, Im not convinced.

    As to his reality, I am more convinced.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 22, 2007 @ 12:09 am

  83. WARNING – this is long, and for that I apologize. I think Satan is both real and necessary.

    #71 – The story of Satan may still have some meaning without his literal personhood, but the ramifications do not. Namely, that there are those who have rebelled against God, even in full knowledge of Him and His love. Also, that there are those who have attained near-perfection of Light only to turn from it and plunge into evil. It is so much more than simply saying “this can happen.” It has happened and is a very real threat. It is much like the story of Job. If Job’s sufferings are only a story, than his submission to God is nothing more than an ideal. It means so much more to know that it not only can be done, but has been done by one not very different from us.

    Parables are powerful because they aren’t just stories. People have done those things. Good Samaritans do exist. Widows do search all hours of the night for their lost coins. Seed scattered on hard ground doesn’t root properly. If it were not for the reality behind the parables, they would mean very little.

    I think BiV is right on the money. I think a person in Satan is necessary. I don’t think that means that God predetermined that this person would rebel and become Satan. We don’t know the exact order of premortal events. It is possible that a rebellion of some kind was inevitable. Perhaps God waited to put His Plan into effect until there was that definitive rebellion. I think we’re putting the cart before the horse to equate a necessity for a Satan with the perversion of God’s plan. God knows us and knows what we will choose – that does not take away our agency because we don’t know.

    In addition, I think Robert’s dead on. More than one of God’s children rebelled. It was just a matter of which was the most charismatic – which had the most Light. That one turned out to be Lucifer. The Plan is what it is because there are two steps to rebellion – rebellion with knowledge and rebellion in uncertainty. We have passed the first course, Satan and his followers did not. Now we must pass the second. Whether or not it was exactly 1/3 of the hosts who rebelled is moot. There were other rebels. I imagine they are like most bullies – they tell themselves they are superior to hide a deeper feeling of inferiority. They know they screwed up, but are too prideful to allow themselves to back down. But that’s just a guess based on earthly, human, behavior.

    However, I do think that Lucifer has ascendancy because he was the one with the most light before his fall. I think it’s like a swing in the sense that the higher you go on one side, the higher you go on the other. It would be about power, and Satan has the most of that, just as Jesus has the most power on God’s side. The sadness is that all of Satan’s power cannot overcome the power we gain with a physical body. In that sense, I think he is very jealous.

    I definitely think Satan is both real and necessary. Without the opposition of one like Satan, there is no plan. It is more than just tossing our spirits into the air, so to speak, and seeing where they land. It is more like two people calling the same dog. As the dogs (no bad connotation intended) we can choose whether to follow God, Satan, or run off on our own. As far as Satan is concerned, running off on our own is a victory because it ruins our happiness. Sort of like the Soloman dividing the baby story, he doesn’t care so long as God doesn’t have us. That doesn’t mean he is unnecessary. Even though there’d be a chance we’d run without Satan there, the chances are much greater with him there. In other words, the test of ownership is much more valid. Though we might succumb to the natural man anyways, Satan’s enticings make the outcome much more definitive.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 22, 2007 @ 6:56 am

  84. SilverRain,

    I tend to believe that the plan was in place before Lucifer fell. Opposition in all things does not mean there has to be evil in the form of a person tempting us in order to be truly tested. Al that must really take place is for us to be left on our own to make choices and to overcome the natural man.

    To say that Satan somehow makes the plan work better or is more effective makes God out to be some sort of crazy person who would enjoy the fact that some of his children must fall and become evil so that the rest od his children become better. That to me is just trouble. God never designed a plan that called for a Satan in order for the perfection of his remaining children.

    Comment by Rob Osborn — May 22, 2007 @ 7:42 am

  85. Joshua M: It seems the discussion has been whether Satan is necessary or not, a very different question than whether he is real.

    The intention of this discussion was to simply discuss whether Satan is a person or not. “Satan” could be real without technically being a person (as in something like “the symbolic embodiment of all (real) evil and temptation”). That is what this post is about. Too many participants in this thread seem to be missing that important distinction.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2007 @ 9:32 am

  86. Geoff J:

    From the LDS Bible Dictionary, we learn there are many titles, but my take from the Scriptures is that there is a person:

    The devil is called the prince of this world (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11); the adversary (1 Pet. 5:8); Beelzebub, meaning the prince of the devils (Mark 3:22); the wicked one (Matt. 13:38); the enemy (Matt. 13:39); Lucifer (Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:26); Satan (Rev. 12:9); prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2-3); Perdition (D&C 76:26); son of the morning (D&C 76:26-27); that old serpent (Rev. 12:9; D&C 76:28); the great dragon (Rev. 12:7-9); a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44); a liar from the beginning (D&C 93:25); and the accuser (Rev. 12:10).

    That his power or influence may also be referred to as “him” may occur. But, I don’t see him as just sitting back and doing nothing. As is said above, he has interacted with individuals since the Fall (Cain, Moses, Jesus, JS, etc.) Also, 1 Pet. 5:8 says “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Walking about implies Satan is still busy.
    Why he does what he does is a result of his choice. My take is that some choices limit free will to a very great extent. Rather than responsibility for his behavior lying outside of him (see #41 above), the consequences of Satan’s choices lie outside of him. (Maybe some similarity to addiction?) Good and evil have existed eternally. Elohim chose principles of good and became indistiguishable from good. Lucifer chose evil and became indistiguishable from evil.

    Man, because of his mortal condition, has a unique circumstance. Because he is corruptible, he is separated from God… and subject to/likely to “getting it wrong” without the influence, or person, of Satan. Satan, however, uses that flaw for his purposes.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — May 22, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  87. Mondo, all of those scriptures still work if we see Satan as a symbol of evil. In fact, I think that the Hebrew language is notorious for presenting abstract ideas and concepts with concrete forms. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong!) I think Satan works wonderfully as a personification.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 22, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  88. Good point BiV. I should also point out that the word Elohim is a plural word and means, among other things, “the council of the gods” in Mormon parlance. So contrasting “Elohim” with Satan seems to work against the case for the individual personhood of Satan in many ways.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2007 @ 11:38 am

  89. BiV:
    Yes, I see how your points can be and, in many respects, are valid. However, the linchpin of these scriptures is D7C 76:25-29:

    25 And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son,
    26 And was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning.
    27 And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!
    28 And while we were yet in the Spirit, the Lord commanded us that we should write the vision; for we beheld Satan, that old serpent, even the devil, who rebelled against God, and sought to take the kingdom of our God and his Christ—
    29 Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.

    My take is that scripture is not describing a personification/symbol. Can a personification be/do all those things?

    Comment by Mondo Cool — May 22, 2007 @ 12:01 pm

  90. Geoff,

    That is what this post is about. Too many participants in this thread seem to be missing that important distinction.

    I must be slow, but I still can’t tell exactly which things you include in the debate and which you do not. Which of the following are on topic?

    1) the existence of evil spirits
    2) whether or not evil spirits tempt us
    3) the organization (if any) of evil spirits, should they turn out to exist
    4) the role of temptation in the plan of salvation

    Comment by Jacob J — May 22, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

  91. Jacob,

    The only thing I am objecting to is comments about how “there is a devil” or “there is a Satan”. The scriptures are emphatic on this point (and there is a a devil in some form or other) so I don’t want anyone assuming I or anyone else here are trying to push there idea that there is no devil. (Partially because that is the kind of inaccurate accusation that could get people in trouble…) So I chafe at people conflating the question about the personhood of Satan with the question about the existence Satan in any way. See the distinction?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 22, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  92. Partially because that is the kind of inaccurate accusation that could get people in trouble

    What kind of trouble are you referring to… pregnancy?

    Comment by Glenn — May 22, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  93. Geoff,

    Yes, that explanation clears up my misunderstanding. I take it from your answer that all the questions in #90 are fair game. You just don’t want to be misunderstood to be saying that there is no Satan. Good call.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 22, 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  94. Mondo #89,
    You’re right, I’d have a hard time wresting that scripture as describing a symbol!

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 22, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  95. I guess where I am getting off the track from where Geoff J wants this discussion to go is in this disctinction between person vs. symbol. It looks like we are operating from different understandings of what a symbol is/does.

    Comment by Glenn — May 22, 2007 @ 4:07 pm

  96. Glenn,

    I doubt that the disagreement is actually over what a symbol is, or what it does. Can you expand on what you mean by that?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 22, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

  97. Rob – I disagree. I think Satan as a person is necessary for us to truly be tested for the reasons stated before. I don’t think that necessarily makes God crazy or one who enjoys seeing His children fall. You might as well argue that He enjoys it, since He allows it to happen. I think God is wise enough to let His children fall without necessarily enjoying it. There are many scriptures which speak of Satan as a spirit, and as a person. (D&C 29:45, 10:5, Mosiah 2:32, Alma 3:26, Moses) Though they don’t eliminate any chance that Satan could be a personification, one could say the same of most of the scriptures about God. They all speak of him as a real being. Most importantly, there have been several accounts of encountering Satan as a person by prophets and by average people.

    I also think that if one accepts God as a real person, one must accept Satan as one. There is a balance in opposition. It would hardly be real opposition if it were only our natural tendencies pitted against the active enticings of the Spirit.

    At the same time, it’s possible that Satan is both – a person and a symbol. Christ is a symbol and a person, so I see no reason for Satan to not be the same.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 22, 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  98. Jacob (#96),

    When I hear “symbol” I think of a concrete object (ie, a piece of art, a written text, a ritual, etc) that represents abstract ideas. So when I read D&C 76:25-29 (#89), because it is a written text I see how it could be a symbol according to my understanding. So when Silver Rain said in #94 that she has a hard time wresting that scripture as a symbol, it made me think that we have different understanding of “symbol” (and I’m not saying one is more right than the other, just that it is different), so my suggestion was that perhaps that is where I am missing what Geoff J has been looking for in this post.

    So let me try to go back to Geoff’s original questions:

    If we naturally sin as mortals and sin naturally conceives in our hearts then what purpose does allowing an army of devils roaming the earth serve in this probationary state?

    I don’t know. I don’t think it had to be that way. I don’t think that Lucifer had to fall in the first place in order for God to bring to pass his work and glory. I really like the way Mark D. put it in #73. There is something horribly perverse about that idea. Maybe there is no purpose. Maybe there is not really an army of devils. That’s just the direction my mind goes based on the juxtapositions Geoff gives in his original post. (so sorry SWK — I still love and support you, but Geoff asked the question – Geoff made me do it).

    Wouldn’t we be plenty prone to sin without them?

    Yes. You are right. I think the story of Lucifer’s own rebellion makes that very clear.

    And if “the devil made me do it” is a unsupportable excuse for sins (based on our firm belief in free agency/will) then why would God bother letting the literal devil hang out here at all?

    Unless I am missing the significant distinction between “army of devil” and “the literal devil” here, I think that is pretty much the same as the first question, and my answer again is: you’re right – it doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Maybe this really is just part of our mythology.

    But you’re right, Jacob. The disagreement is not completely about our understanding of “symbol.” It may also be the things we take away from reading each other’s statements. For example, when I read and re-read the following statement:

    My problem is that I can’t figure out what Satan actually does in the world. Frankly, Satan as a person maliciously roaming the earth seems like an utterly superfluous part of the plan of salvation to me.

    - the take-home message to me is “Satan as a person… seems like an utterly superfluous part of the plan of salvation.” Perhaps Geoff J meant that the utterly superfluous part is the “malevolent roaming” piece – not the piece about Satan being a person. And so we take a different path here – I consider the possibility that perhaps he is not a real person – that the stories and references we have in the scriptures are a human creation – a symbolic representation of abstract ideas. To me, that path leads rather naturally to questioning the actually existence of Satan.

    But that is apparently (and my “apparently” here is not intended to be snarky) not what Geoff intended. What he apparently intended was something like “since these juxtaposed ideas don’t make a lot of sense, and since we know for certain that it is undeniably real, what is the space in between?”

    Are we on the same page here? (beware – if you say “no,” I might actually write MORE :) )

    Comment by Glenn — May 22, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

  99. Rob, SilverRain (#84, #97)

    I would say without hesitation that Satan is not necessary for us to sin. I do hesitate to state whether or not he is necessary “for us to truly be tested”. Can you be more specific in what you mean by “truly be tested”? Do you mean that this life would be too easy because our own imagination is not sufficient?

    As I noted previously, I think that Satan was an inevitability when God presented his plan. Free will begets both obedience and disobedience. That’s not the same thing as saying that Satan’s disobedience was necessary. Necessary means, if he had not rebelled (and no one else did either), then the plan would have fallen apart. That seems impossible to me, but then, so does the premise that no one rebelled.

    For those who have argued the necessity of Satan, why specifically is he necessary? And what would it mean if he and all his followers had chosen to obey? I mean, are we talking “God would cease to be God” types of consequences? Jacob’s (#33) comment that the plan is necessary because of evil not the other way around is I think the biggest hurdle to anyone who wants to argue that Satan is necessary. And to attempt to keep on target per Geoff, do you mean that “Satan is a person” is necessary or “Satan exists” is necessary?

    Comment by Robert — May 22, 2007 @ 10:39 pm

  100. #99 – I didn’t say he was necessary for us to sin. I said he was necessary in God’s plan. To put the cart after the horse, that’s not to say that Satan had to fall for God’s plan to work, it is to say that God’s plan is necessary because it was possible for Satan to fall. It is not to say that the Plan would have “fallen apart” had it not been for rebellion, but the Plan was created because of the potential for rebellion. If we did not possess the potential for rebellion, we would not possess the potential for obedience. Without that potential, we could not become as God, and the Plan would be unnecessary, since its purpose is to help us become as God.

    God would not cease to be God, but we would not be gods-in-potential. Therefore, Satan-as-a-person – as a being capable of choosing – is necessary. Without beings capable of choice, the Plan is unnecessary to help those beings become like God. It is inevitable that with so many intelligences (gods-in-potential) at least one would choose against, rather than for. If no one rebelled for whatever reason, than it is arguable that the choice never really existed.

    What I mean by “truly tested” is best illustrated in my calling-the-dog analogy. If you set up two people on either end of a field and put a dog in between them, letting them call to it so it can choose which is its owner, it has the choice to follow either “owner” or to stay put or run away from both. If only one person is calling it, it can still stay put, but the chances of it going to the one become much greater. Sure, it can stay put either way, but such a choice is one of inaction, not one of active choice. In order to see whom we “list to obey,” we need to have both voices calling us.

    I would also argue that “natural man” tendencies to sin wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the Fall. Adam and Eve had no “natural man” in the Garden – they were innocent and pure, without knowledge of good and evil. The Fall would never have happened had it not been for Satan – as a person and Eve’s brother – tempting her to disobey the Father. Eve didn’t give Satan the time of day until she knew who he was and what his relation to her was. If Satan were no person, he would have no relation to Eve. As a nebulous force, he could not have tempted Eve to partake because he would not have had the relational power to persuade her.

    Comment by SilverRain — May 23, 2007 @ 6:33 am

  101. Glenn,

    Let me try to explain the nuance I am getting at better. An argument could be made that the terms Satan means “evil” or “spiritual adversity” (aka the source of temptations to do evil). That Satan or Devil is real even if there is no person who holds those titles as well. Based on the revelations I believe there is no question that evil and spiritual adversity are real. So either we title that evil and spiritual adversity itself as Satan; or there is a spirit person who is Satan who helps cause that spiritual adversity in the world; or perhaps both (as some people have suggested here). Satan is “real” in all three of those scenarios but Satan is only a person in two of them whereas Satan is not a person in one of them.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2007 @ 9:26 am

  102. While I am already declared in the “both” camp, let me say that I think a major issue here is that we have a tendancy to over-conflate “evil” with “the devil” and “good” with “God”. I think this comes from the scripture somewhere in moroni where everything good comes from God and everything not good comes from the devil. This is confusing though, since our doctrine is that we have always existed and so we do not come from God ex nihilo. So are we good, bad, or neautral? This leads me to believe the good from God, bad from Devil statement is limited to within the bounds of this live only. Now, since we know that the weather isn’t tempted to be bad, but is a natural cause and effect, I think we can say that the evil inthe world coming from the devil can generally be traced back to his actions in the “creation story”, as put forth in the Temple. Since our “fallen nature” is a result of that instance, and our temptations are a result of our fallen nature, this seems logical enough, and is what I meant by butterfly effect.

    So, whether Satan is a person holds equal position as “Were Adam and Eve persons?” I think we have had that conversation before, but I can’t recall where…

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  103. Matt,

    Since our “fallen nature” is a result of that instance, and our temptations are a result of our fallen nature…

    For what it is worth, the first half of this is one of the things I am disagreeing with in #33 and #43.

    The second half (that temptations are a result of our fallen nature) seems to be too limited a view of temptation. Sometimes we say things like “I am tempted to eat that whole chocolate cake,” especially if we are women, but this seems like a fairly “loose” use of the word temptation. If I were trying to be more accurate I would say something like “I have a weakness for chocolate cake.” Temptation in the context we are talking about seems to be something where one person entices another person to do something evil. The statement above seems to blur the lines between temptation and weakness, which seems problematic for this discussion.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

  104. Come to think of it, I guess Geoff is trying blur the lines between temptation and weakness more than Matt. Hmm…

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2007 @ 3:13 pm

  105. What is the difference between temptation and weakness that you see Jacob? As I understand the scriptures, they indicate that we are all tempted by three general categories:
    1. Greed
    2. Pride, Praise of the world, Popularity, Power
    3. Appetites (physical appetites in this case). (I call this The Devil’s GPA — see my posts on it here.)
    Our weaknesses lead us to succumb to these temptations and only through the often difficult exercise of our free will can we overcome them in this life. So what line do you see between our weakness and temptations?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  106. Geoff,

    I don’t really see the devil’s GPA as a list of temptations, but of weakness (of in the case of appetites, potential weaknesses if abused). I think of temptation as one person trying to influence another person negatively. So, I might tempt you by offering you a cigarette and telling you that everyone is doing it and it will make you look cool. That’s why I brought up peer pressure early on. I think people typically imagine the devil doing something similar to this but by giving us ideas and thoughts. There is the standard cartoon representation of this with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other trying to influence the person. People talk about being tempted by the devil and this is what I understood them to be meaning.

    Maybe I’m off base with this, but that is the distinction I was thinking of. I am open to correction (hence the hmmm… of before, still mulling on whether I am using language appropriately here).

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  107. Well people can intentionally tempt each other I suppose. But I think most of the temptation we face in life has nothing to do with any temptation from another person.

    For example, let’s say a non-Mormon friend offers you an ice cold glass of iced tea on a hot summer day (not realizing drinking tea is prohibited by your religion). You know that tea is off limits for you as a Mormon but it looks really good to you and you don’t want to look weird to your friend. Is that friend tempting you or are your physical appetites (A) and your desires to not look weird for your friend (P) tempting you? I say it is the latter.

    Or let’s say at a business dinner some friends/co-workers know you are Mormon but try to get you to order wine with your meal anyway. Sure they are tempting you but again I think it is (A) and (P) (your physical appetites and your desires for the acceptance and praise of others from “the Devil’s GPA”) that are really tempting you in that case as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 23, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  108. I’m with Geoff on this one. Because if tempting is only person to person, then it is a problem reliant on our “weakness” to peer pressure.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 23, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

  109. Thinking though your examples and some others I was able to imagine on my own, I think you have a good case.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 23, 2007 @ 8:35 pm

  110. Joshua #28: “I know that in LDS circles Satan is considered a spirit child of God, why? I have always found this somewhat problematic. First and foremost if I was in the preexistence and saw God in all his glory and then a spirit child somewhat equal to myself, would it really be a hard choice to know who to follow. I find the idea that he was a member of the council or an exalted man/god of sorts much more understandable. Satan wanted to do things differently,differently from the pattern done for eons. So what Im wondering is if satan is spirit or exalted man then fallen? and what are the implications of either?”

    Joshua asked a good question and I didn’t see a response (perhaps I missed it). The reason that Satan is considered to be a “son of God” is that Satan, the accuser, is one of the “sons of God” in Job 1. He is a member of the divine counsel. Satan was present before the creation of the earth acording to Job. That has been expanded in Abraham 3 where Satan is one of the sons of God: “27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. 28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.”

    So Satan is connected with events in the council of gods, a very well established motif in ancient Near Eastern literature and the Hebrew bible that continued into the era of Second Temple Judaism. I believe that the role of Ahriman in Zoroastrian thought — the eternal opposition to Ahura Mazda the great and good God — was elided with the role of the accuser in the Hebrew Bible to give flesh to the notion of a personal devil in Christian and Second Temple Jewish thought.

    Comment by Blake — May 24, 2007 @ 10:42 am

  111. Woohoo! Blake is back.

    I find your theory about Ahriman being mixed with the Hebrew accuser quite persuasive Blake. I think this is what Ronan alluded to earlier as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 24, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  112. I read all of the posts, but still not sure if this has been said, but maybe in a different way, so please be patient if it has.

    I think for pure evil to exist, there must be some real form for it to take. So I do believe Satan and his followers do exist in some real form. Someone here said he had an experience with evil. I did not see any response to that, but I also have had an experience with pure evil.

    It is very scary. Not like being afraid of being bitten by a mean dog, but like my very existence could be snuffed out.

    I do not understand what would make someone turn from God and turn into pure evil, but I believe that is what happened to Satan and his followers. I think without pure evil in the world, we would still do bad things, but nothing like we can do with the influence of pure evil around.

    When Satan is bound during the millennium, I understand we will not be as bad as we are now. I think we will still do bad things, just not evil things.

    Comment by CEF — May 24, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  113. Blake,

    I agree that those two accounts indicate Satan is a son of God which many would take to mean he has a spirit body. Now if we follow that path, I am curious as to what would compel one to follow a spirit with much less glory over the father

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 24, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  114. Also, is there anything that prevent Satan from being a resurrected being?

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 24, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

  115. Joshua: I suspect that no one was following Satan per se. Rather, they simply were afraid of the additional challenges that would be necessary to progress in relationship with God toward being like him. What Satan said played to the fears of the other spirits (Satan was a good politican). Our Father is so loving that he always leaves the choice whether to progress in relationship with Him up to us. Since the decision to enter into and progress in a loving relationship must always be a free choice, God left us all free to make it and it follows that what Satan proposed was salvation without progression. We could be saved from the challenges and dangers inherent in freedom; but we cannot progress without such challenges.

    As I read the texts, I am more convinced that Satan has taken on a role that furthers our progession by taking on the role of prosecuting attorney. It is Satan’s very opposition that is the engine of our growth in this life according to several LDS scriptures. Our Father is so wise that he can use even rebellion to further his plan.

    Comment by Blake — May 25, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  116. Blake,

    So it seems you are siding squarely in the Satan-as-a-person camp. Yet you describe Satan as playing the role of prosecuting attorney. Does that mean we will have no interaction with him until final judgment or do you believe Satan tempts people throughout their lives?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 25, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  117. So if we naturally sin as mortals and sin naturally conceives in our hearts then what purpose does allowing an army of devils roaming the earth serve in this probationary state? Wouldn’t we be plenty prone to sin without them? And if “the devil made me do it” is a unsupportable excuse for sins (based on our firm belief in free agency/will) then why would God bother letting the literal devil hang out here at all?

    I think this is a wierd question. Things in Mormonism don’t exist only if there is a need for them to exist. Its quite possible for there to be a fallen spirit consumed with evil and dedicated to the destruction of souls even if the plan doesn’t require such. Just as its quite possible for me to skip my hometeaching this month even if the plan doesn’t require that I do so. In both cases, its just free agency. The testing of the first estate and the testing of the second estate.

    So the question really is not why Satan exists but why God allows him to have any influence. In fact we know that God allows evil people to have influence all the time, so there’s no particular reason why we think Satan should be treated differently. I suppose you could argue that God allows evil people to continue acting in the world because He has hopes still of redeeming them. But this is only a difference from Satan if (1) you believe that Satan has no possibility of redemption and (2) that God never lets evil people continue to live and influence others once they have become irredeemably committed to evil. I’m pretty sure the story of Cain refutes at least #2.

    I see several reasons why God might allow Satan to act–and allow evil people in general to act. God could give them room to act out of love–its one of the few gifts they are still willing to accept. God could give them room to act as a just punishment, because the evil they do makes them more miserable than before. Additionally, God probably eiher feels that He can make right any additional damage they may cause or else that at least some of us are better off for the additional level of trial Satan and others gives us above and beyond our own evil impulses.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 29, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  118. Pure speculation here, but a Satan might be necessary to the Atonement. Perhaps our collective sins needed to belong to and emanate from one being that Christ could then overcome.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 29, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

  119. And even the believer side of me doubts very much that the devils are jealous of us (to my ears, that sounds like another rhotrical construct we use to pat ourselves on the back). I would expect that, if they are real, they are contemptious, and mocking, but in my imagination they would feel superior to us rather than inferiour, and to me, jeolousy is an admission of inferiority.

    Embodiment is indisputably a Good Thing in Mormonism. I’ve no doubt the devils act and even feel superior, but I would be surprised if they don’t sometimes feel angry at the gifts that sheep like us enjoy while superior, independent persons such as themselves are denied them.

    In any case, while I think hate and envy and malice are a main motive for the devils, its possible that in some times and some places the devils have tried to do at least a few things that are good, to show that they can be a real alternate to God. A passage in the temple seems to imply this.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 29, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

  120. Mondo, all of those scriptures still work if we see Satan as a symbol of evil.

    The scriptures that talk about the evil and wilfulness of the human heart can also be interpreted as symbolic, either of Satan’s action on us or of the fact that we are susceptible to Satan’s blandishments.

    This thread has taken it as given that we do a bunch of wickedness on our own without temptation from Satan and the devils. I would probably disagree. I’m betting that the peace and tranquility of the Telestial Kingdom, for example, is brought about simply by barring Satan’s influence, and suddenly liars and murderers and adulterers become peaceable, friendly philosophes.

    If we believe that it is redundant to have both Satan and our own personal weaknesses, then we should be as willing to explain away or symbolize references to our personal weaknesses as we are willing to explain away or symbolize references to Satan.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 29, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  121. Re #119.

    Thanks for putting it that way, Adam.

    Yes, that’s what I mean. I don’t think that that’s a rhetorical construct we use to pat ourselves on the back.

    Assuming that one takes the concept of possession seriously (I’m not sure what I think about that), it would seem that the fallen spirits are incredibly jealous of our ability to interact physically, to experience embodiment and progression.

    Comment by William Morris — May 29, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

  122. Adam (#120): This thread has taken it as given that we do a bunch of wickedness on our own without temptation from Satan and the devils.

    True — we have taken that as a given. So it appears that you are proposing that in the absence of a person acting as devil and tempting us to do evil none of us would feel tempted to sin. Interesting idea. It sounds like a bit of a chicken or egg problem to me though. If nobody sins in the absence of a devil, what tempted Lucifer to rebel against God to begin with?

    Comment by Geoff J — May 29, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  123. Adam (#117): I think this is a wierd question. Things in Mormonism don’t exist only if there is a need for them to exist.

    I suppose that was a mixture of a couple of different questions. One question addressed in this discussion is if there really is a person (with a spirit body and all) who is acting in the role of Satan here. A second question is even if we agree there is such a spirit person, why does God let him and his cronies roam around on the beautiful earth if they are superfluous to our being tempted. (I realize those are big ifs though)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 29, 2007 @ 6:53 pm

  124. So the question really is not why Satan exists but why God allows him to have any influence.

    Maybe the prior question is can God prevent Satan from having influence? I doubt he can.

    Comment by Joshua Madson — May 29, 2007 @ 8:03 pm

  125. Adam G. (#120):
    Sure hope you’re not fond of Vegas because your bet goes against the odds – based on what is taught in the scriptures. The peace and tranquility of the Telestial Kingdom do NOT come suddenly, but after the liars, murderers, whoremongers, et al. have suffered 1000 years for their own sins (rather than accepting Jesus’ suffering for themsleves). Maybe I should bet that their millennial experience will greatly alter their appreciation for what Satan had been advocating and the peace & tranquility of the Telestial Kingdom will be a “been there; done that; no thanks, not any more, ol’ Scratch, ol’ buddy” consequence. Like my daddy says, “There’s no school like the school of hard knocks.” We can learn by sad experience. Who’s wants to take the book on this?

    My take is that it is not redundant to have Satanic temptation and personal weakness. I don’t know all the reasons God allowed Lucifer to tempt us, but I believe it must be because _not_ having the situation would not be as beneficial to our eternal quest. Or, it is better in someway for us to have two avenues to separate us from God than not. I haven’t satisfied myself on exactly how it is better for us to have both or how that is essential in God’s plan. But, I have faith that it is.

    Comment by Mondo Cool — May 29, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

  126. In a recent Relief Society lesson on forgiveness, a woman made a profound comment. She said, “we should hate Satan rather than hold a grudge because he’s the one who rejoices when hearts are broken.” It put things in a different perspective for me. Although that’s not quite the subject.

    Comment by annegb — May 30, 2007 @ 2:36 pm

  127. So it appears that you are proposing that in the absence of a person acting as devil and tempting us to do evil none of us would feel tempted to sin. Interesting idea. It sounds like a bit of a chicken or egg problem to me though. If nobody sins in the absence of a devil, what tempted Lucifer to rebel against God to begin with?

    I think the answer could be that there are two classes of spirits–those whose wills are evil enough that they can initiate sin and those who need to be acted upon to sin. The first class would be the class that did not keep their first estate.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 30, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  128. Sure hope you’re not fond of Vegas because your bet goes against the odds – based on what is taught in the scriptures. The peace and tranquility of the Telestial Kingdom do NOT come suddenly, but after the liars, murderers, whoremongers, et al. have suffered 1000 years for their own sins (rather than accepting Jesus’ suffering for themsleves).

    Excellent point. I see three possible responses: (1) though these people were originally not the kind to spontaneously act evilly, their character has worsened as a result of their sin and needs reforming for a thousand years; (2) because they have continually ceded a place to Satan, Satan cannot simply be banished from these people. A thousand year process is necessary for them to escape his grip; or, (3) Satan can be instantly banished and these sinners do in fact become instantly telestial but a thousand years suffering is the just punishment for their sins.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 30, 2007 @ 8:08 pm

  129. A follow-up to #127:

    Whether this is an accurate speculation or not, it does suggest why there would be a need for a Satan. If we have any evil in us that’s not self-actualizing, we need a Satan to draw it out and expose it and give us a chance to reject or accept it.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — May 31, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  130. Adam (#127): I think the answer could be that there are two classes of spirits–those whose wills are evil enough that they can initiate sin and those who need to be acted upon to sin. The first class would be the class that did not keep their first estate.

    This idea is an interesting one but it collides with others Mormon concepts I think. For instance, there is the scriptural teaching that there have been innumerable inhabited worlds that have come and gone already. There is also the teaching that spirits are without beginning. So if you are going to go with a two-class notion of spirits you are left to explain why Satan would ever have been considered a son of the morning or why the third part that was cast out would ever have been called part of the hosts of heaven. If they are beginningless and of a different class of being than God and us then they are the eternal “them” vs. the eternal “us”. How could that different class have ever been considered children of God? It sounds like you are describing a class of being that is ontologically different than God and all of us. Is that what you are really implying here? Also, what becomes of the notion of a council in heaven before our particular planet if that other class of spirits has eternally been a different class of being than God and all of us?

    (PS: Sorry for the delayed response — I was away from the Web for a bit there.)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 4, 2007 @ 6:40 pm

  131. Excellent response, Geoff J. Agreed that Satan and his followers cannot be ontologically not men and still children of God, sons of the morning, co-equals in the great council, and all the other roles that scripture gives them.

    So you’d have to think that the affirmative ability to sin wasn’t an ontological difference but just a character difference or a free choice.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 4, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

  132. So you’d have to think that the affirmative ability to sin wasn’t an ontological difference but just a character difference or a free choice.

    Yeah, I think this — especially the free choice part — is a good explanation for our affirmative ability to sin in our pre-mortal state even in the absence of a spirit person in the Satan role tempting us all there. That is also why we have “taken it as given that we do a bunch of wickedness on our own without temptation from Satan and the devils” in this thread (closing the loop with your comment #120).

    Comment by Geoff J — June 4, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

  133. Not so. Putting aside character differences, I’m suggesting that at some point we may have made a choice to be the sort of people who self-actualize evil or who have to be tempted. That being so, those who chose not to self-actualize would no longer be able to “do a bunch of wickedness on our own without temptation from Satan and the devils.” If you disagree, I’m betting its fundamentally got to do with different views of free will, which is another discussion.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 4, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

  134. If you want, you could profitably disentangle this from any questions about fundamental differences between Satan and us, and premortal choices. See #129.

    If you agree that (1) there is somebody, somewhere, who has some tendency to sin that they will never act on without tempting and (2) ordinary human life isn’t guaranteed to supply the temptation, than (3) a Satan is “needed.” In effect, if you accept that free will only works within parameters, you might agree that absent temptation there are some sins that we are never freely able to reject, because our parameters prevent us from initiating the sin.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 4, 2007 @ 11:45 pm

  135. Adam (#134): If you disagree, I’m betting its fundamentally got to do with different views of free will, which is another discussion.

    I think you would win that bet (if you found a taker on it at least). I believe functioning adult humans have free will in the libertarian sense of the word and I don’t think that libertarian free will is something that can be taken away from such sentient beings. In fact, I don’t think that people without LFW could really make a “a choice to be the sort of people who self-actualize evil or who have to be tempted” — or at least I don’t think they could be held in any way responsible for such a choice. That’s because if they didn’t have free will they had no power to choose otherwise to begin with.

    (I feel a free will post coming on…)

    Re: #134 — I don’t think there is any sin, or at least any class of sin, that ordinary human life does not provide ample temptation for. That is why I have a sneaking suspicion that Satan may not actually be a spirit person but rather the name we give to that temptation that arises from “the flesh” or perhaps even from the reality of our free will.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 5, 2007 @ 6:22 pm

  136. I really think it does come down to different views of free will. In my view freedom is fundamentally the ability to choose one’s character and the choices can be irrevocable. So it wouldn’t be nonsensical to talk about choosing whether or not to be the sort of person who self-actualizes evil and then have that choice irrevocably remove the possibility of choosing otherwise in the future.

    I don’t think there is any sin, or at least any class of sin, that ordinary human life does not provide ample temptation for.

    Here’s where I disagree. I think we might be using “temptation” in different senses, though. I think ordinary human life provides opportunities and incentives for most classes of sins, but it doesn’t necessarily provide the desire, the wicked craving rising within.

    That is why I have a sneaking suspicion that Satan may not actually be a spirit person but rather the name we give to that temptation that arises from “the flesh” or perhaps even from the reality of our free will.

    I have experienced Satan as a personal being, so suspicions don’t cut it for me. Anyway, you’re returning to the error that you made earlier in the thread of thinking that Satan can only exist as a personal being if it would be useful for him to exist as a personal being.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 6, 2007 @ 7:16 am

  137. A perhaps pertinent question. Would Adam and Eve have fallen w/o Satan? Perhaps his role in creating this existence is what allows him to be here now.

    Comment by madera verde — June 6, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  138. Adam: In my view freedom is fundamentally the ability to choose one’s character and the choices can be irrevocable.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Certainly choices are irrevocable in the sense that we can’t go back in time and unchoose something we chose in the past. But it doesn’t sound like that is what you mean. It sounds like you are saying we can make choices that lead to a certain type of character and that there are certain types of characters we can arrive at and then have no power/choice/freedom to change. Is that what you mean? If so, I think the notion of opposition in all things in Mormonism works against that. In Mormon scripture we are taught that God has an exalted character — and presumably he attained that character through free choices (thus his character is morally commendable). But because God retains free will he has the ability to choose wickedness too. The scriptures say that if God ever did that he would cease to be God. So even though God doesn’t cease to be God he could. The flip side assumption is that even to most wicked and evil spirits retain their free will too and could always choose to repent for all eternity. Maybe they won’t make that choice but based on the opposition in all things principle why shouldn’t we believe that they could?

    See my post on the idea of Lucifer repenting here. (Note that I was assuming Satan is a person in that post.)

    Also, if we have always existed we have always had a character of some kind. So we have always either been changing that character to be more perfect (Godlike) or less perfect. The minute we lose our free will is the minute we are no longer morally responsible for our actions. So if you are saying devils (presumably human-class spirits acting in the role of tempters and our spiritual adversaries) don’t retain their free will then you are releasing them from any moral culpability for their behavior. Is that what you want to claim?

    BTW — You are right that my inability to see the use of Satan as a person is not an actual argument against the proposition that he is.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2007 @ 12:52 pm

  139. It sounds like you are saying we can make choices that lead to a certain type of character and that there are certain types of characters we can arrive at and then have no power/choice/freedom to change. Is that what you mean?

    Yup.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 6, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  140. So then if you think that Satan is a spirit that has no free will (whereas God and we do have free will) one could argue that Satan is not properly designated a person anyway since “he” has no more real choice in his behavior than a tsunami or any other causally determined force. If that is the case Satan is not morally evil (as free willed persons can be) but more akin to a natural evil of some kind… Interesting idea really.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 6, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  141. That is interesting, Geoff J., and don’t let me stop you from playing around with the idea, but its not what I believe. In my mind, God, us, and the devil all have free will, which I see as the freedom to choose at some point what kind of character to have and the subsequent ability to act according to that character.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 7, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  142. Hmmm… So you believe the devil still has free will after all? So that means he could choose to repent today, right? Or, using the terms you like, he could choose to change his character right now. I agree with that sentiment but it seems to be at odds with your earlier assertion that the devil’s previous choices have irrevocably removed the possibility of him choosing otherwise in the future.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  143. If there was a possibility God could fall he would be taking a huge risk on our parts.

    But God is the same yesterday, today and forever. One reason might be because God has all knowledge including foreknowledge. So at some point all possible paths were revealed to him. He already made his choice while knowing everything. Why would he now change his mind?
    Therefore the point at which we choose irrevocably is the point when we know all things because we know what we want, and we know the exact consequences of all of our choices.
    Whether Satan is at that point I do not know.

    Comment by madera verde — June 7, 2007 @ 9:55 am

  144. Geoff J.,

    the devil has free will if he had the ability to choose his character at some point in the past and he currently is allowed to act according to his character.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 7, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

  145. madera verde: because God has all knowledge including foreknowledge

    I don’t think this is accurate. See an entire category of posts on this subject here.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  146. Adam,

    You say you believe that the devil had the ability to choose his current character at some point in the past. I agree with this and think it is true of all free-willed persons. But it does not follow that having a character precludes any of us from making choices that will change that character. The devil, like all of us, has always had a “character” (though this term is pretty nebulous). So having a character certainly doesn’t preclude the freedom to make choices to improve that character. If that were true then the entire concept progression would collapse.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

  147. Geoff J.,
    I disagree.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 7, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  148. Hehe. I said quite a few things in #146 Adam. Which parts do you disagree with?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  149. All but the first two sentences, I think.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 7, 2007 @ 4:36 pm

  150. Ok, I guess I’ll dig in to sentences 3 and beyond to try to understand your position better.

    But it does not follow that having a character precludes any of us from making choices that will change that character.

    So you do believe that anyone who already has a character is eternally stuck with that character? How does that jibe with the notion of repentance?

    The devil, like all of us, has always had a “character” (though this term is pretty nebulous).

    Do you think there was a point in time when Lucifer had no character whatsoever? Do you think we all are stuck with our current characters forever? Can you help me understand this better? Perhaps I am not understanding the definition of “character” that you are employing…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

  151. I don’t know if this aside has been covered – but here is something I find interesting.

    If it is neccesary to be tempted to commit evil, or great evil, who tempted Lucifer in the first place? Right under the nose of God, Lucifer got a really bad set of ideas and ran all the way with them. It’s tough to know what is more disturbing: that he came up with it all on his own, or that there was some more primordial evil “tempting” him.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — June 7, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

  152. Thomas,

    That is an interesting subject (whether there was a devil that tempted Lucifer or not). We actually have been discussing it starting at about comment #122.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 7, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

  153. Geoff,

    *smirk* sorry.

    ~

    Comment by Thomas Parkin — June 7, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  154. satan excists in all humans who are evil because we all have the ability of self control but in order to defeat satans temptings in our lives we must have faith in god. satans greatest feet is convincing the world he doesnt exist but he does and he will be defeated once again by god. the closer we are to god the more he hates us and tempts us because he is losing the fight for souls

    Comment by al — June 11, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  155. and also dont people feel a pull towards doing good and doing evil i know i do. so whos pulling these strings, its god and the devil pulling us either way. god has said that satan will excists untill the day he comes again to judge us. and as far as god stepping in to do away with satan, he wont do that because he gave us the holy spirit which, for those who have faith will always protect us from satans bs!

    Comment by al — June 11, 2007 @ 4:32 pm

  156. So you do believe that anyone who already has a character is eternally stuck with that character? How does that jibe with the notion of repentance?
    Do you think there was a point in time when Lucifer had no character whatsoever? Do you think we all are stuck with our current characters forever? Can you help me understand this better? Perhaps I am not understanding the definition of “character” that you are employing…

    Well, for this discussion to make sense, lets make two assumptions that I’m actually not sure about. Lets assume that free will exists. Lets also assume that its possible to reject grace; in other words, that if a being is enough determined to reject having their traits changed for the better, God cannot change them for the better.

    Given all that, I believe that free will is principally the freedom to choose traits irrevocably. In this discussion I have been using “character” to mean the sum total of an individual’s irrevocably-chosen traits.

    So, to answer your questions: by definition once one has fully acquired character one is stuck with it forever. Repentance would be possible prior to the point of irrevocable choice. I think that at some point Satan probably didn’t have a fully formed character; he was still free to choose his fate and what he’d be.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — June 14, 2007 @ 10:13 pm

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