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 Fatherâ€™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?