The question of whether I believe in the devil has long seemed interesting to me. I remember walking down a street in Hamburg, Germany, knocking on doors with Elder Barton one day and asking him if he had a testimony of Satan. He looked at me as if wondering what he would ever do with his greenie (we actually called new missionaries “goldens” in my mission) and I said, “Well, if we have a testimony of God and of the doctrine of the Church, we must have a testimony that Satan is actually a real, live, specific person.” He agreed.
While I do, indeed, believe in the doctrine of the Church and that Satan is real, I’m honestly not all that certain what to think about his influence in my life or in the lives of others. I think there’s a lot of it, to be sure, but I don’t understand how direct it is. That is, I don’t understand how directly he or his Screwtape-like minions (and I do think he is not alone) influence events or circumstances or my thoughts and feelings. How directly do they create temptation? How directly do they mess with my thinking, understanding, and vision? At any rate, I am sure he exists. I am sure there is evil in this world and other places and that he is the author of much of it. And I am sure that “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
A few days ago I was asked to consider methods Satan uses to deceive us. I misunderstood my assignment a little and, instead, started creating a list of lies he gets us to buy into. Here is the list I’ve come up with. If I think of more, I’ll probably come back and add them. If you think of other important ones before I do, please shoot me your thoughts. (By the way, with a nod to “full disclosure,” I’ll tell you I keep hearing the Thompson Twins singing “lies, lies, lies, yeah” in my head when I think about this. Perhaps that is one way Satan gets into my head. ;-)
- I’m unworthy to receive God’s help. I am so bad or I’ve done so many bad things that God either can’t or won’t help me. The saving grace of the Atonement is beyond my reach and hope. That is never true for any of us, but if Satan loves to do anything, it is to extinguish hope. For that reason alone, we ought to embrace optimism and shun pessimism. (Not to make light of an important subject, but Mariners fans know this intuitively, even though the aspiration of our hopes remains unrealized.)
- The fact that I can repent later makes it more acceptable for me to sin now. Well. It is true that our sins, though scarlet and crimson, shall be as white as snow. (And it is true that Ute fans are Ute fans in spite of the clear association—and biblical warning, even—between crimson and sin.) But that “shall” is conditioned upon the state of our heart, and hearts that choose to make a mockery of the Savior’s suffering will find the road to a legitimately broken heart and contrite spirit difficult to find. “White as snow” can always happen (see #1 above) but not without sincerity from us—which sincerity, once brushed aside, will be all the harder to achieve later.
- Tolerance is a virtue, so the more of it, the better. If I do not show tolerance for things other people say I should show tolerance for, I am wrong and un-Christ-like. Tolerance is a virtue. So are patience and acceptance and compassion and understanding. We ought to have all of those things, at least to some degree (perhaps there’s a limit with acceptance) with regards to people. But not with people’s actions or words. In fact, nobody in their right mind thinks that literally all behaviors should be tolerated. The lie is that if I don’t accept the same behaviors that others accept, then I’m bad. But Christianity in its best forms has always rejected popular behaviors that depart from God’s plan and His commandments. Good is good and evil is evil. Ours is to understand how God sees them and to be as generous with people as appropriate.
- This problem will never be fixed. My spouse or child will never change. I’ll never change. This circumstance will never improve. Satan loves to mess with our perspective. One of his best tools is to extinguish hope through short-term thinking and a distraction from what should be a long-term, even eternal, perspective. People do change. Usually slowly, but they can and do change. (Surely I change—at least for the better—mostly slowly of all!) Circumstances do change. Some problems go away on their own; some we can fix; most can be endured. My wise pharmacologist father used to tell us that 90-something percent of all physical ailments will fix themselves no matter what you take, so think twice before introducing medicines with inevitable side-effects into your body. Patience, hope, and endurance are virtues for us to embrace. And they are well justified. Just wait and see.
- Men and women are the same—or, at least, they should be. Manly men should be less manly. Women should be more manly. There are no true gender roles. There isn’t even gender—or, at least, it’s whatever I want it to be. Yikes. Vive la difference, I say. And so does God. At least, He does if you believe in living prophets, the plan of salvation, and the Proclamation to the World. Check, check, and check for me (even if the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice is in my list of top movies). Man up, men. Woman up, women.
- He (or she) did that on purpose! Some years ago, I sat through two days of corporate training on “Crucial Conversations.” (Interestingly, it was conducted by a woman who just knows I’m going to hell because of my false (her word) form of Christianity. Bless her heart, her prayers, love, and caring for me are so sincere! My sincere assurances to her that I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and that I believe I can only be saved by and through his grace bring her no relief.) Anyway, all I remember from those two days is that we hear people say things and/or see them do things and then we tell ourselves stories—often negative stories that fuel our anger—about what that person meant or what their bad intentions were or about how they wanted to hurt us. Truth is, people are generally good, they’re generally trying, they usually don’t want to hurt us, and we’re just plain wrong about ascribing negativity to them. Too often, unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from sharing our (mis)interpretations about other people’s badness with anyone who will provide a sympathetic ear, so we get a second dose of positive reinforcement for our self-deception to go along with our sense of victimized indignation.
- The Church has in it sinners, posers, and self-righteous hypocrites, so it must be a bad place. Further, Church leaders have said erroneous and, occasionally, stupid things, so the Church’s authority must be hollow. In my mind, this is akin to saying that since hospitals are full of sick people and doctors frequently mistaken, then hospitals and are bad and doctors have nothing to offer. (By the way, teenagers often do something similar with their parents: my parents are flawed parents so I’ll do well to distance myself from them.) Truth is, “they that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” We’re all sick and the more of us sick people who get together in search of real healing, the better. That men are fallible ought not be a shock to our naiveté. Moroni, himself, acknowledged this as he closed the Book of Mormon: “If there be faults, they be the faults of a man…” but he warned, “he that condemneth, let him be aware.” Let us reject neither the hospital nor, too broadly, those practicing medicine within it. (And, regarding those practitioners, see #6.)
- Women are sexual creatures. I’m half shaking with fear and half chuckling at my foolishness for broaching a topic here I don’t know how to wisely articulate, but here goes. Of course, all human beings are sexual creatures to some extent or Adam and Eve would have been the end of it. And sexuality varies in healthy ways between genders and individuals. But. Satan is the master of the half-truth. Young women, often ill-equipped to even perceive Satan’s marketing tactics, are taught to sexualize their look and behavior and to view modesty (in appearance and behavior) as passé. Some mature women have gotten so much positive reinforcement (from men and women) from immodesty that they still don’t see the problem with it. And boys and men are living in a virtual swamp of fantasy about how women want sex all the time just like they do. Everybody loses. I suspect we need mothers to explain the female view of sexuality more clearly and effectively to their children (and perhaps to their husbands—who ought to try hard to understand).
- This will make me feel better. Addiction. He’s really good at this one! And, as is so often the case, he’s half right. Nephi described Satan’s method: “He leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” Indeed. As I have come to understand addiction (and, as on every other topic, including that last one, I’m no expert, I know), most addictions, chemical or sexual, are inspired by a desire to avoid, cover, or replace pain. Unfortunately, as the man in black, lying limp and helpless, said, nay, shouted to Prince Humperdinck too correctly, “Life is pain!” So our desires for relief can be strong and frequent. The real lie is in believing that there isn’t a better way to handle life’s pain or that life, itself, can’t be made better through other means. The real solution is in finding the real source of pain and addressing it emotionally and spiritually. Easier to say than to do, to be sure. Addicts (a term which may describe you and me more than we care to acknowledge) should be granted patience and very consistent support.
- A little breeze is good; I really don’t need to lean into it. (This one was inspired—post original publication—by alert reader, Jim Golden. Thanks, Jim!) Most of us are probably ready and willing to stand up to substantial, obvious adversity when it comes our way, but Satan can sometimes get us to drop our guard by convincing us that things are going well enough and a little relaxation won’t hurt. “I’ve said my prayers 12 days in a row; it won’t hurt any if I skip them now when I’m so tired.” Or, “My family knows I have a testimony; I don’t really need to bear it again publicly this year.” While it is true that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up to excess over our shortcomings, it is essential that we maintain a constant striving for progress and not let our guard down—and keep leaning into the wind, so to speak. Cliché, maybe, but it seems true: if we’re not progressing we’re regressing. Getting us to relax out of comfort can win the same effect for Satan as getting us to give up from discouragement.
I am convinced that truth isn’t just nice and doesn’t just help provide fairness and justice. It is essential to happiness. Living “after the manner of happiness” includes seeing and dealing with things the way they really are. The Savior spoke, when he spoke of motes and beams, of the necessity to “see clearly.” Life gets really unhappy when we lose our vision or it becomes blurred by lies and half-truths.
Some of the ways that I can tell that I am seeing clearly include seeing myself as being acceptable and OK while needing significant improvement; seeing others as good people trying hard and dealing with their own pain; seeing God as willing—and He is much more than that—to embrace not only me but those I’ve taken offense from; seeing his commandments (such a tough word for us sometimes!) as guard rails along the proverbial road of (not to) happiness; and being optimistic. Almost always, when I am unhappy, it is, at least in part, because I am not seeing something clearly.